Throughout most of human history both progress and its horizontal transmission was an extremely slow and occasionally tedious process. Well into the classical period of Alexander the Great and his glorious library in Alexandria (now modern Egypt’s main Mediterranean port) – antiquity’s centre of both learning and Hellenistic culture – the speed of our knowledge transfers, however moderate and conservative, always outpaced our snail-like development cycles or any of our major social breakthroughs.
When our sporadic breakthroughs finally became faster than their infrequent transmissions, this marked a major turning point in the history of human development. Simply put, our civilizations started to significantly differentiate from each other in their respective techno-agrarian, politico-military, ethno-religious, ideological, and economic structures.
Faster cycles of technological breakthroughs occurred primarily in Europe. Those events, with all of their re-organisational effects, radically reconfigured Western society and eventually marked the birth of several great European empires, as well as the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment, all of which were rooted in their (mainly) liberal schools of thought, education, science, and innovation. This led to the overall lasting dominance of Western Civilisation that we still experience today.
For the past few centuries, at times we’ve had to live in fear while also hoping that the hard timed would lead to more stability as society embraced more and more elements of what we usually call ‘modernity’. More than 10,000 years ago, during the Agrarian Age, the first inevitable questions about economic redistribution were first brought up. The Industrial Age of the 19th-century then added to that basic question what role political participation would plays in society. Now in the era of artificial intelligence, a new underreported challenge has emerged – when will humans become obsolete?
If one believes that this question is yet another example of philosophical melodrama, it is important to consider that society will soon have to redefine what it considers to be life itself.
Successful trials involving organic and inorganic elements as well as intrinsic and artificial creations have already been completed. AI now has it all – quantum physics, quantum computing, nanorobotics, bioinformatics, and organic tissue tailoring. All of this could eventually lead to a synthesis of all of the above into what are usually referred to as xenobots – a sort of living robot – and biodegradable symbiotic nanorobots that exclusively rely on self-navigable algorithms.
Although life remains to be lived, human introspection is the biggest factor that makes us human. Therefore, what does the history of technology tell us about the history of human development tell us so far?
Elaborating on a well-known argument by Francis Fukuyama, it is evident that throughout the entirety of human history as a technological movement aimed to satisfy the security and control of an objective. It was rarely, if at all, driven by a desire to gain knowledge that would make human existence easier or to bolster humanity’s emancipation and the liberation of societies at large. Thus, unless it was part of a wider concept, both intellectualism and technological breakthroughs were traditionally felt and perceived as a threat.
All cyber-social networks and related search engines never developed into the positive information and educational tools that they were originally portrayed to be. When they first appeared in the public’s conscious, they were seen as tools that would lead to a decentralised, but unified, forms of intelligence and knowledge writ large. Instead of promoting and opening up other cultures, however, they have more often served to maintain and further strengthen dominant themes/powers that were or are already deeply entrenched in the psyche of society. They have also, so far, only offered answers to our already existing anxieties in which the fear of so-called “free time” has become widespread as these are the moments when most people feel creative and often use the time for self-reflection.
Cyber-tools have become data-sponges that add to the predictability and calculability of control before they ever serve as en masse, user-friendly options for the public. Social media platforms are now dustbins for human empathy and are of particular interest as they have eliminated any real human presence in favour of technologies, which is now readily accepted by most of society as being entirely normal.
Looking back into the mists of history, how did we reflect on any new social dynamics that were created by the deployment of new technologies? In Ancient Greece, the brilliant minds of Socrates, Archimedes, Plato, Pythagoras, and Aristotle never concerned themselves with everyday life or something that they saw on every corner, every day of their lives. If they had, they would have discussed how Ancient Greece could simultaneously be the birthplace of mathematics, science, literature, philosophy, political theory, and drama, but also a slave-holding society. This myopia, this absence of critical thought, is highly disturbing and a warning for the present day.