(These are excerpts from my book "Intelligence is not Artificial")
Appendix: The Era of Objects
As we speculate on what will be the next stage of life's evolution, we underestimate the real innovation that has happened since the invention of intelligent life: objects. Life started building objects.
Life has not evolved much in the last ten thousand years, but objects have: there has been an explosive proliferation of objects.
We tend to focus on objects that mimic life (robots and the likes) as candidates for replacing life as we know it, and in the long term that might well be correct, but the objects that have truly multiplied and evolved at an astonishing rate are the ordinary static objects that populate our homes, our streets and our workplaces. There are objects virtually for anything.
When we look at life's evolution, we tend to look at how sophisticated the brain has become, but we tend to underestimate what that "sophisticated" brain is built to do: make more objects. The chimp's brain and the human brain are not all that different, and the behavior of the two species (eating, sleeping, sex, and perhaps even consciousness) are not all that different from the viewpoint of a (non-chimp and non-human) external observer, but the difference in terms of objects that they make is colossal. The real evolution of the brain is in terms of the objects it can build.
What the human race has truly accomplished is to turn a vast portion of the planet into objects: paved streets and sidewalks, buildings, cars, trains, appliances, clothes, furniture, kitchenware, etc.
Our lives revolve around objects. We work to buy a car or a home, and our work mostly consists in building or selling objects. We live to use them (usually in conjunction with other objects), to place them somewhere (usually inside other objects), to clean them (using other objects), etc.
The fundamental property of life is that it dies. Everything that was alive is now dead, except for those that are dying now. For us the planet is just a vast cemetery. For objects, instead, this planet is a vast factory of objects because, before dying, each of us builds or buys thousands of objects that will survive us and that will motivate future generations to build and buy more objects.
It is neither living beings nor genes nor memes (ideas) that evolve and drive evolution on this planet: it is objects. Objects have evolved far faster than life or ideas. The explosive proliferation of objects is the one thing that would be visible to anyone playing the last ten thousand years of history on Earth. Everything else (politics, economics, natural disasters, etc) pales in comparison to the evolution and proliferation of objects. The human body has not changed much in 200,000 years. Ideas have changed but slowly. Objects, instead, have completely changed and keep changing rapidly.
For example, what caused the collapse of the Soviet Union (and of communism in general) was neither the Pope nor Afghanistan: it was consumerism. Soviet citizens wanted goods in their stores, lots of goods. They actually liked many features of the communist society (they still do) but they wanted the proliferation of goods that democratic/capitalist societies offer. It was all about objects. Hence the Soviet Union collapsed because it dared challenge the domination of objects. For the same reason religions are declining everywhere: they are being replaced by philosophies of life that are more materialistic, i.e. that increase the evolution of objects.
Any system that challenges the absolute power of objects, or that doesn't contribute enough to the survival, proliferation and evolution of objects tends to lose. What benefits objects tends to succeed. Objects rule. Perhaps we are merely supposed to follow their orders, and that's the only meaning of life. We get annihilated if we dare contradict objects.
You may think that you are changing a car because you want a new car, but you can also see it the other way around: it is cars that want you to spend money that will go into making more and better cars.
In a sense, the consumer society is one stage in the evolution of objects, invented by objects in order to speed up their own evolution. Consumers are just the vehicle for objects to carry out their strategy of proliferation and domination.
Eventually objects will evolve into space stations and extraterrestrial colonies in order to expand outside this planet and begin the colonization of other parts of the universe in their quest to dominate all the matter that exists, until all matter in the universe will have been turned into objects by objects-creating beings like us (in clear defiance of the second law of Thermodynamics).
We are even turning our food into objects as we increasingly eat packaged food. The food system has changed more over the last 40 years than in the previous 40,000 years.
Shoes, refrigerators, watches and underwear are the real protagonists of history. Everything else is just a footnote to their odyssey.
(By the same token, i think that videogames play people, not the other way around).
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