From Ephemeralization and Stigmergy to the Global Brain

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* Article: Francis Heylighen. Accelerating Socio- Technological Evolution: From Ephemeralization and Stigmergy to the Global Brain.



Cadell Last:

"Global Brain theorist Francis Heylighen's paper identified globalization within GB theory as composed of two complimentary processes (2008, p. 284):

A) Growing connectivity between people and nations: Flows of matter, energy, and information that circulate across the globe become ever larger, faster, and broader in reach, thanks to increasingly powerful technologies for transport and communication, which open up ever-larger markets and forums for the exchange of goods and services

B) Emergence of global institutions: Fundamentally political and so- cial these increasingly powerful flows that cross the national bor- ders –and therefore the boundaries of most jurisdictions –need to be regulated efficiently. This requires the development of a complex, global system of agreements between all the actors in- volved, specifying the rules to be followed and the mechanisms to enforce them.

The first process, the ‘growing connectivity between people and nations’, is in some sense simply happening on its own as part of an immanent becoming of the global sociotechnological sphere. The Internet is increasing the potential flows of matter, energy, and information that circulate the globe, and this circulation is every year becoming larger, faster, broader in reach, and so forth. In the political context, this first process is totally embedded in neoliberal institutions that support the sublimation of all human life within the organizational contours of free market capitalism, a process that is principally driven by corporate forces that fundamentally seek to commodify basic necessities. However, the second process, the ‘emergence of global institutions’(a fundamentally sociopolitical process), is what now requires the attention of GB theorists because the emergence of genuinely ‘global institutions’ does not simply ‘happen’ via magical coherence (i.e. the contemporary ‘international community’ as a ‘traditional sorcerer ’“left to act irresponsibly without adequate guidance or constraints”(Judge, 2015)), but instead requires conversation, reflection, and ultimately, decision-making of human actors with real structural consequences for socioeconomic development.

The issue of what are large-scale political collectives and how they could actually form will become increasingly problematic as the ‘first process’ of ‘growing connectivity between people and nations’ inevitably accelerates while the ‘second process’ of the ‘emergence of global institutions’ appears to be totally non-existent, i.e. these complimentary processes identified by GB TS theory do not appear to be proceeding in a complimentary fashion. Even, for GB TS theory, the ‘emergence of global institutions’(in contrast to the ‘emergence of AGI post- humans’), could be framed as ‘the impossible beyond’, as tensions be- tween various political communities rise under the pressures of plane- tary convergence. In other words, nation-state egos are too big and absolute for a converging world as a consequence of being subsumed into a universal socio-technological medium at the planetary level. How do we build qualitatively new large-scale political collectives? What form will they take? What will be their internal logic? What is the chance that our idealized conception can translate into a coherently functioning intensified actuality? These are the types of questions GB theorists must confront if the consequence of ‘neoliberal globalization in the age of intelligent machines’ is to be taken seriously.

The alternative to developing a coherent GB TS grounded theory of large-scale political collectives in the direction of distributed mechanisms (post-state) and open-access (post-capital) is to create the void for an AGI TS grounded theory of large-scale political collectives (a theory which, as discussed above, does not even have an elementary un- derstanding of collective superintelligence in its distributed or open-ended form). Indeed, this is not a potential issue, but a real and already emergent issue. In the first case a type of (Kurzweilian) ‘neoliberalism to the end of humanity’ has been the dominant philosophy of AGI TS grounded theory of large-scale political collectives. Indeed, this was the specific political/economic formula presented in The Singularity Is Near, where the forces of free market capitalism are envisioned as a higher vital agent capable of producing ‘god-like’ machines that will in turn create utopia. Thus, in this view all we have to do is ‘wait’ and ‘let capitalism happen’ and an inclusive abundant world (and eventually transcendence) will simply happen as a natural consequence (Kurzweil, 2005, p. 74):

- “The law of accelerating returns is fundamentally an economic theory. It's the economic imperative of a competitive marketplace that is the primary force driving technology forward. By the time [this process leads] to the Singularity, there won't be a distinction between humans and technology. This is not because humans will have become what we think of as machines today, but rather that machines will have progressed to be like humans and beyond.”

However, besides this ‘Kurzweilian variant’(i.e. free markets will take care of everything as the invisible vital agent of cosmic evolution leading us towards our ‘post-human’ ‘utopia’), there is another emerging AGI TS grounded theory of large political collectives that is problematic in a different dimension, i.e. the ‘State dimension’ instead of the ‘Market dimension’. To give a specific example, philosopher and AGI TS theorist Nick Bostrom (the aforementioned author of Superintelligence (2014), addressed issues of collective political development in re- lation to advanced superintelligence at the United Nations (UN). In this presentation Bostrom gave an overview of the “challenges” posed by the emergence of machine learning software (see: UN WEB TV, 2015) that focused exclusively on the existential risks of machine learning technologies future development and, as a result, a focus on how such advanced technological development needs to be rigidly controlled. The practical result is that we get the offer of an approach to large- scale political collectives founded, not on distributed mechanisms (post-state) and open-access (post-capital), but instead on tightly con- trolled and hierarchically centralized elite groups (the emergence of some form of Global State that develops advanced technology in secret and actively attempts to prevent it from being developed openly.)"