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Out of Control

The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World

By Kevin Kelly
  • Read in 16 minutes
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  • Contains 10 key ideas
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Out of Control by Kevin Kelly

Though written from the perspective of 1994, these blinks paint a startlingly current and still futuristic image of how technological developments like the internet and artificial intelligence could affect society and humanity.

Key idea 1 of 10

The future of technology will see the merging of natural and artificial characteristics.

Think back to the year 1994 – if you were alive then. Remember how back then the internet had not yet really caught on, and there were no social networks, tablets or camera phones?

Well, despite this technological “primitivity” scientists and technologists back then were already asking the same questions raised today about the future of technology.

One such key question is: How can we drive technological progress by learning lessons from nature?

As an example, consider artificial intelligence. At the moment, computers and machines can only perform the tasks they are programmed to do: they only exhibit clockwork logic. For instance, if you program a machine to build a car door, it can repeat this task over and over again, but it can’t do anything else without being reprogrammed.

But in nature, we find far more complex “technology.” Take the human brain, for example. It can think, learn and evolve thanks to the experiences it gathers. This is known as vivid logic, and if we wish to improve on artificial intelligence, we need to emulate this vivid logic in machines too.

Yet learning from nature is just one lane in a two-way street: we can also add elements of technology to nature. In other words, while we can learn from nature to build machines that are capable of learning, we can also enhance natural systems with the help of technology.

One example of this is bioengineering: breeding and modifying plants and animals in specific ways designed to benefit mankind – for example, by selectively breeding cows so that their offspring produce more milk.

Going even further, we can also see the convergence of nature and technology in bionic vivisystems: networks of individuals and machines in which the network itself is a living entity. One natural example of a vivisystem in nature is a beehive, which is capable of learning, adapting and surviving, but is not an individual organism in itself.

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