Change, Technology, Learning and Adaptation

Euan Semple concluded a recent post with an interesting observation:

Comparing the levels of technical competence of my kids with those of my non internet friends and comparing the peaceful majority at the student demonstrations in London to the wistful recollection of more politically engaged times amongst my middle class friends, I find myself wondering if the children are becoming grown ups and the adults are succumbing to voluntary infantilisation.

via – The Obvious? – Parents, children and wikileaks.

More than three years ago I asked another question that somehow seems rather on target:

After all, secrecy is still the currency of power. What are the power gate-keepers to do when secrecy ceases to be a valid currency because what was secret has become common knowledge?

In the face of change, inertia takes you into denial, survival will force you to adapt.


About Problems and Nobel Prizes

I had the opportunity to attend three lecture-presentations by Frank Wilczek recently, and if ever you are near such an opportunity, go for it. He has enough of a website and media presence that it is sort of besides the point to hyperlink to any of it; and yes, of course, he is on Wikipedia. However besides his discussion of Majorana fermions and supersymmetry (SUSY), what struck me were the side remarks about problems, and our ability to solve them. Certainly our understanding of matter at a fundamental level has come a long ways and all the easy problems have been solved. What remains are problems that are rather complex, and that may or may not be amiable to solutions or scrutiny. The art in our continued exploration of the fundamental nature of matter is then in finding questions or problems for which we can reasonably hope to find solutions with the available tools. Indeed, in my view there is no scarcity of complex problems that challenge us with questions for which we can provide no answers.

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Technology and Human

There was one LIFT08 moment for me. It happened during the Gaming session while both Guy Vardi and Paul Barnett spoke. The energy and content of their presentations delivered something into the discussion that Nada Kakabadse and I were having over what is the basis of Theoretical Man. What intrigues me is how technology enables humanity’s evolution. Nada and I cracked the one pièce de résistance that I have been pondering for the past few months. I could not have done it alone – not that quickly – it was two brains thinking as one. It was one of those magic moments when you know that alone you are nothing, and together you are everything. I was elated!

Now, for the long story. Some years ago I decided that I was going to get to the root of what had my geeky son spend hours on end playing multiplayer games over the internet. There was a certain sense of responsibility for having gotten him started with the whole thing, when I myself apparently could never quite get much into the game mode. To add insult to injury, I was also the one who taught him the basics of building PCs, changing motherboards and CPUs. For all I knew, I had created a monster, this monster knew something that I did not and I was bent on not letting it stay that way. I wanted to find out. We have moved on, he confesses to getting bored with most multiplayer games and I use a mac. He has new interests, I have new hardware. While researching some of the aspects of gaming and the internet, I stumbled on another idea that beaconed much brighter. I decided to write an epic that is taking place a few thousand years from now. All of a sudden my most dreaded subject was really fascinating, and I regretted instantly knowing so little history, being clueless about antiquity, and really not knowing much at all. I started reading and traveling, I started counting the grains of sand in Arabia. At that time, whenever I was asked what I was doing, I would tell that I was counting the grains of sand in Arabia.

Why count the grains of sand in Arabia? I like the desert and I like Arabia and the Middle East. It is just another place where I feel very at home. It is a place where it is easy to just be myself. But in going through books and discussions about humanity’s history on earth, technology started to show its face to me in a way that I had not seen before. Science fiction is just not my genre, I read little of it, but slowly I start to develop more of an interest as the motivation for writing science fiction becomes more and more transparent to me. Still, that is not the direction that I have taken, I have gone into the philosophy direction right straight into what are some of the more controversial debates of our times. Would I have settled for anything less?

In the process of re-fluxing – not really reflecting – the cognitive hangover after the three days of LIFT08 I wrote a synopsis of my present state of affairs across all areas of my life to a colleague and friend in Italy who promptly replied that it was “amazing, but not unexpected, knowing your talent and constitution.”

The pièce de résistance that Nada and I tackled during the games at LIFT has to do with the nature of one of three technological quantum leaps that have marked us all and influence our evolution and culture. This is fun stuff to think about, and while one year ago in my quest to get to the nature of what is ownership and knowledge and what they have to do with each other – relationship – stumbled on an incredible piece of natural logic, it was the inquiry of what makes humans different from dogs that has yielded an interesting distinction that goes beyond abstraction and language, and takes us right to literature and its relationships to being human and to technology.

For somebody who started intellectual intercourse at the level of science, my fascination with technology ought to be arousing your curiosity. First however I tried agriculture and planted a few coins, they did not grow and multiply. It is all a logical game, isn’t it?