“Let us remember that the automatic machine is the precise economic equivalent of slave labour. Any labour which competes with slave labour must accept the economic consequences of slave labour.” (Norbert Wiener, 1948).
Many smart people are getting worried about the implications of growing machine intelligence: will the robots take our jobs? What happens when we lose control over the complex systems on which our society and economy rely, things like energy or finance? What will these machine intelligences do about us if they ever acquire sentience and agency?
These worries are not new. They go back to the initial bouts of automation of the first and second industrial revolutions. They were however articulated most precisely, and in a way that connects more strongly to the situation today by the father of cybernetics, Nortbert Wiener, in a prescient response to early computers.1
Cybernetics, by setting machines in the wider context of the human, social systems with which they interface, provides an answer to the challenges of automation: to build systems that integrate machines and humans in a way that enhances human capabilities: we go from AI to IA (Intelligence Amplification).
The Hieroglyphic Being & J.I.T.U. Ahn-Sahm-Buhl We Are Not The First collaboration recently released by RVNG International provides an excellent illustration of what we are talking about. Listen to the aptly named Cybernetics is an Old Science, where the boundaries between human and machines in this Ahn-Sahm-Buhl dissolve in a chaotic melange from which wild, exhilarating order emerges.
Hieroglyphic Being’s legendary techno scrunch skips and rattles with disciplined unpredictability. Free jazz winds glide and soar like birds of fire and human intuition one moment, metal angels in a Richard Brautigan fantasy the next.
We experience futuristic visions of man-machine symbiosis where the machines overwhelm us not to create a grey goo of homogeneity, but extreme, baroque expressions of our own subconscious, like a non-apocalyptic version of Tetsuo in Akira, or the bio-technological fairy-tale palace gone sick Nostalgia For Infinity spaceship in Alisdair Reynold’s Revelation Space sequence.
Physical constrains to creativity are removed, and the absolute levels of freedom in the universe increase. We can’t wait.