Notes Book

Tick-Tock Government

Traffic lights rule. Millions all over the world obey traffic lights. It's a matter of trust. A traffic light is so dumb that it works for practically nothing and is pretty much incorruptible. It makes a great bureaucrat. Cash registers and other business machines are steadily growing in influence.

Computers are like traffic lights. They don't lie--at least not yet. We are turning a greater and greater percentage of our governance over to machines.

Perhaps it all started with the invention of writing. When you write something down, it just stays there for a long, long time. Forgery is possible, but rare enough that documents have a great deal of credibility.

But the invention of writing meant that those who could write and read became politically powerful. They ruled by have superior means of storing and transmitting information.

When the printing press was invented, it shook up the established order. Those who controlled printing pressed and distribution of mass quantities of information became more powerful than those who could merely read and write.

Telegraph, telephone, radio, TV, cell phones, digital and video cameras, and the Internet have all been blows to established interests that controlled older forms of information and distribution. These changes are coming at an accelerated rate. The price of information, and the price of distributing information are falling rapidly.

Authoritarian social institutions based on the control of information are losing traction. The credibility of media, government, the educational system, and the corporate economy are suffering. The credibility of computers and the Internet is rising.

Some say this will eventually lead to a takeover of the world by machines. I don't think that's likely. I rather think it will always be people against people. Our machines will help us in the struggle against our opponents. The machines of our enemies will also be our enemies.

But the dividing line between us and our machines will probably blur until there is no real way to tell the difference. The bandwidth of the communications channel between man and machine will continue to increase until machine and man are essentially one entity.

If technology continues to develop, our descendants will be cyborgs. But they will, for the most part, be moral cyborgs. The forces of social evolution that have made honesty the best policy for humans so far will not be repealed. They might be enhanced. More and more of our survival is determined by our ability to manipulate symbols, and morality is a mechanism for a team to enhance its ability to manipulate symbols.

Our cyborgs descendants will have more information processing capacity than we do, but the teams that are most honest will continue to be the most effective. Evil may flourish for a while, but it cannot compete against good in the long term.

Death, destruction, and a failure to provide for the future will continue to be evolutionary dead ends, and will gradually fade away, assuming that some short-term evil impulse does not destroy our world and our civilization.