What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly (2010)

technology wants“It [the technium] compounds the good in the world because in addition to the direct good it brings, the arc of the technium keeps increasing choices, possibilities, freedom, and free will in the world, and that is an even greater good.”  263

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Kelly argues that the totality of technology—computers, phones, law, software, hand tools, trains, etc—which he calls the technium, is an outgrowth of biological evolution.  It is not precisely life, but is an extension of the same types of creative forces.  Technology is growing, becoming more complex, and becoming a quasi-living ecosystem that has its own tendencies, drives, and desires.

To a large degree, he argues, the evolution of technology is preordained.  Just as many biological creatures share certain traits (like eyes, bilateral symmetry, and DNA), future technologies will face constraints and follow impulses that will lead them toward certain qualities.  Among other traits, technology will become ever more efficient, ubiquitous, complex, and sentient.

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Ethics: A Very Short Introduction by Simon Blackburn (2001)

Ethics“In any event, we cannot get behind ethics.  We need standards of behavior, in our own eyes, and we need recognition in the eyes of others.  So our concern is not to ‘answer’ the relativist by some cunning intellectual or metaphysical trick. Our concern can only be to answer the challenge from within a set of standards which we uphold.”  114

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Blackburn structures his book in a very surprising and engaging way.  The book opens with “seven threats to ethics”; seven realities or problems that have been suggested to render ethics groundless, arbitrary, or even nonexistent.  Among the seven: the death of god, relativism, Darwinism, and determinism.

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The Secret of Our Success by Joseph Henrich (2016)

Domestication“…we don’t have tools, concepts, skills, and heuristics because our species is smart; we are smart because we have culturally evolved a vast repertoire of tools, concepts, skills, and heuristics.  Culture makes us smart.” 7

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Henrich argues that culture has become the primary driver of human genetic evolution.  The effects of culture on our genetic makeup, combined with the cultural adaptations themselves, have allowed humanity to dominate the globe.  The abilities and intelligence of particular individuals are relatively limited and comparable to other primates, but culture and our predisposition for cultural learning allow us to access a collective brain that finds solutions to survival challenges that no individual could discover alone.

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