Documenting the Coming Singularity

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Tech: It's What Separates the Men from the Beasts

What makes us (homo sapiens) different from all other animals? Is it our upright locomotion? Kind of, but other animals can and do walk upright on occasion, formal affairs and such. Is it our capacity for abstract thought? That's difficult to say for certain, since we can't (yet) read animals' minds. Is it our artistic flair? Sorry, not if you consider the songs of whales and the webs of spiders to be artistic displays. Is it tool-making? You're getting warmer, but you're not there yet. Chimps (as I posted some days ago) have been known to fashion spears, which they use to stab at bush babies in their holes, and so on. If you've had enough of guessing games (and if you read the title of this post) then I will get to it. It's not simply the making of tools that make us different. It's that our tools evolve.

Other species have been able to make crude tools to help them in their quest for survival, but they have not been able to build on previous designs to create better tools. Obviously, we have. How has this happy (if you're one of us) state of affairs come about? We are the only species on this planet that has developed the capacity to record and transmit our designs to future generations, who can then improve on those designs.

First, we developed language, which allowed us to pass on oral histories. Then we developed writing, which made the recording and transmission more effective. Now we use computers to record, manipulate, and transmit our data, building on past designs. Obviously, the speed with which our designs are being improved upon is accelerating, as we use more and more powerful tools to work on the improvements.

Today, computers assist humans in the designing of the next generation of computers. We are not far off from the time when computers will be designing their next generations without our involvement. That's when things will begin to move very quickly indeed.

I can't wait!


AlvaroF said...

what about the relative larger size of our frontal lobes, and their connections with other brain areas, that enable us humans to be more goal-oriented than other animals?

Don Cox said...

I think the key new feature is grammar, which I define as "a method of communication that uses interchangeable components to model the logic of a situation". Grammar allows humans to plan a hunt or an attack on another tribe.___Early human tols are simpler than a bird's nest or a termite mound. Indeed many humans today live in dwellings that are simpler than a thrush's nest.

bmahfood said...

Good points Don. However, humans are the only species on earth that can improve their tools (technology). Those early tools were very simple, but over time they became complex. And they are becoming more powerful every day. Language certainly has a lot to do with that.