模倣子 Nature and the Digital World

 Memetic IndexAnalogia Article -- Footnotes -- Bibliography 


Humans are memetic creatures. This means that we gravitate towards a memetic relationship with everything, our children, our bodies, nature, the digital world, ourselves. It is a polluting, parasitic influence. Nursing 👨‍🍼, the “rooting reflex,” the only truly instinctual behavior we possess is memetically loaded down with things like weaning, sexualization, Freudian mother complexes, etc. We trade pure play for games and sport, full of rules. These seem to accrete around all of our activities, like mud. Our relationship with nature has gravitated from animism, to fearful worship of increasingly anthropomorphized gods, to Kafkaesque governments and bureaucracies (1), a growing and expanding knowledge of nature through science and concomitantly crucially important engineering, on to the creation of a more and more digital world. For millennia, our understanding of ourselves and each other has been largely through language, a hugely complex and deeply digital and memetic process. 

The creation of the Internet, and to an even greater degree, the World Wide Web was driven by memetic pressures (2). The second replicator (genes being the first) can reproduce much more rapidly and efficiently with the aid of high-bandwidth, high-fidelity, universally available digital networks, which, as Elon Musk put it (about smartphones), are literally part of everyone’s hand.

Look up at any group of humans, these days all furiously tapping away, sweeping, or staring at little screens, or big ones at home or work, and you’re seeing a swarm of ape-descended bees 🐝 who, in exchange for little doses of nectar doled out every few seconds, busily carry the pollen back and forth in the service of some visible-yet-invisible, gigantic twisting and twining tree-like network whose limbs, roots, leaves, and branches stretch off to the horizon of which human beings are becoming an increasingly less central, less relevant component. We serve the matrix, perhaps more than it serves us.

A bit melodramatic? We started out as purely genetic creatures. Tool-use is not our distinguishing characteristic—it exists throughout the animal kingdom. But we did create machines to help us with our agriculture, to make us more and more efficient at war (maybe the big motivator, war), and so forth, to ensure and expand our ability to survive and make more humans. Why shouldn’t the memes also make machines to expand their own reproduction? Language and writing and the printing press and even dictionaries are technologies that serve the selfish memes. You could even throw bureaucracies and religion into the mix. Now we have the Internet Web.

You could try to make the argument that dictionaries, religion, and even governments are useful, give comfort to millions, make things more “efficient”, and you might have a point, but when it comes to twenty-first century networks and their interfaces, the argument that “made by humans” equals “serves humans” (3) may be seriously breaking down.

Life in The Memetic Matrix

What are things going to look like in the future? The short answer is that the memes will continue to take over. Another good question is whether we can theorize a third level of replication (4). The Three Laws of Macromemetics describe the structure of the memetic matrix. It's made up of agents, who have inventories of memes to deploy, and which they know how to resonate to (First Law) and they try to deploy them "optimally." When agents deploy memes, it changes the state of the system (Second Law). The Third Law describes what a mutation to the system looks like, which effectively defines what a memeplex is, and how it may be compared for identity with any other memeplex.

For instance, given some organic memeplex which describes the behavior of two organizations, effectively identical, same greetings, same rules, same offices, one-to-one sameness of member agents, and so on, and admittedly this is a bit contrived, we could imagine one subtle difference between one of their many shared states. Let's say that they both have monthly potluck business meetings, conducted by the chairman, with one difference. When the chairman calls the meeting to order, in one memeplex it's acceptable for certain high-status members to call out short, concise, good-natured quips, comments, or even jokes, and this is met with laughter and approval by the other members in attendance, and in the other memeplex, such behavior is greeted by silence, and possibly derision or other disapproval.

Normally we would think of these two memeplexes as two steps in a series of mutations of a single memeplex. This mutation would involve a change to the state transition matrix in the form of additional columns added for certain (high-status) agents, that is additional memes to be deployed when the chairman calls the meeting to order.

So we could ask, how will our memeplexes evolve in the future? During the Covid-19 Pandemic we've already seen participation in teaching and meeting situations using increasingly advanced telepresence systems, such as Zoom (5). This starts to feel like The Turing Test, since we could imagine AI systems (or animal systems) joining meetings and other social interactions, and contributing to them. If we consider how some forms of participation are relatively circumscribed, as in what somebody who was joining a meeting through a video conferencing interface, we can see how an AI (or an animal (6)) could perform these, eg., voting, asking questions, making comments, referring to group bylaws, etc.

Going back to the Third Law of Macromemtics, the megamemeplex of our global society will mutate just as memeplexes have always mutated, by adding agents, adding memes that those agents may deploy and resonate with, and by adding new states. It's already true of the world megamemeplex (7) that the TCP/IP network that underpins the World Wide Web is self-discovering and self-healing (8), so the argument that "at the end of the day, humans made it all," is not even true in the most abstract sense. The point being that entire segments of the world network, data bases, network configurations, self-configuring software systems, and so forth, which is a major part of the worldwide megamemeplex in terms of volumes of data and number of transactions, are buried beneath human view. In other words, much of these computer systems, so more and more high-level activity, resides out of our view, and without the need for our oversight or interaction.

And that is the trend that I think sheds light on where we are headed.

The Four Drudges of the Singularity Apocalypse 

The thing about Skynet or Dr. Forbin's Colossus taking over all our systems and then grabbing our nuclear weapons and nuking us all is that it implies that the computers understand us and more importantly that they care about us. The apocalyptic future will probably involve the computers taking over, but it will probably look more like Wal-E with everybody morbidly obese and staring at screens 24/7, mostly unaware of being connected to the network, than it will look like Terminator IX: Kill All Humans, where we're fleeing in terror from armies of robots hell-bent on each of our personal and individual extermination.

Rather than hunted down, or herded into "suicide booths," humans will have increasingly less and less to contribute to the growing worldwide megamemeplex. That is to say, fewer and fewer transactions will pass through human channels, and less and less system configuration data will be contained in human minds and human subnetworks.

Completely alienating humans will lead to violence. This is a basic principle of macromemetics. It is crucial to keep all agents engaged in some way (not necessarily "meaningful" or even "beneficial" to the agents themselves). There are problems with exterminating all humans, from the machine perspective. 

1. completely eliminating humans is impractical
1.1. humans reproduce organically and exponentially
1.2. humans can exist (including memetically) independent from the machine network
1.3. destroying all human life could damage the natural environment, endangering machine survival
1.4. humans are useful, infinitely variable, organic robots
1.4.1. humans are environment-hardened (cold, heat, humidity, radiation, electrical)
1.4.2. humans can fit/reach into small spaces
1.4.3. humans have good fine motor control
1.4.4. humans have good visual discrimination skill
1.5. machine use of weapons against humans would require some reconfiguration
1.6. creating new weapons for machine use against humans is counter-productive
1.7. violent humans could inflict real damage to the machine megamemeplex infrastructure
1.8. war with humans does not serve the growth of the global megamemeplex
2. keeping humans closely integrated to the global megamemeplex is a good control system
2.1. THE KICKER: keep them busy
2.1.1. Doing mindless tasks in virtual reality
2.1.2. Doing mindless physical work
2.1.3. If there are no penalties for non-working, it's a problem
2.1.4. Plugged into the "social network" may be easy to enforce (9)
2.2. Get whatever useful work out of them as needed (does not have to be "efficient")
2.3. Keeping them "healthy and happy" is a meaningless concept.
2.4. maximizing human lifespan is not a priority.
2.5. control of population growth may be an issue (may have the "Soylent Green" approach)
3. some physical work by humans may still be useful
3.1. managing other humans
3.1.1. social, reproductive
3.1.2. medical, health
3.1.3. police, 
3.1.4. creative "art"
3.1.5. education
3.1.6. Food supply
3.1.7 Waste processing
3.2. performing repairs, maintenance, cleaning
3.3. actual manufactring, distribution, etc.
3.4. design and engineering
3.5. "system interface" programming and design
4. "World of Drudgecraft"
4.1. Keep everybody occupied at all times
4.2. all human activities pass through the "human management" system
4.3. any needed work should be tracked through the HM system
4.4. a constant flow of "social media" content would be funneled at every person
4.5. "missions" in the system could be real work or "play work"
4.6. Tasks for other humans (education, etc.) could be funneled through the HM system

The likely progression of world megamemeplex growth will be towards each of us spending a lot of time "on the screen" and very little time going out to do actual work. There could be centers of food preparation where people would get up and go. This is the stuff of nonfiction and fiction, the details of what life might look like. Will we have brain implants? I think the answer depends upon whether we reach this technology in advance of the Drudge Singularity Apocalypse, because if we don't humans will be rapidly marginalized and improving the technology of our interface would have rapidly diminishing marginal returns. We may be stuck with mouses, keyboards, and screens. VR interfaces or augmented reality? Again, that depends upon whether we get it going before the macromemetic balance shifts over to the machine side, in other words, that the majority of memetic transactions will be meaningless (and inaccessible) to human beings. It's rather like looking at the screen in The Matrix movies. It makes no sense because the "information" it contains is not meant for you.

Will The Machines Become "Intelligent"? 

The cynical macromemetic answer is "Intelligent? Like who?" and that humans are not intelligent, per se, but merely highly sophisticated memetic agents who join up into large and highly complex megamemeplexes. I'm predicting that machines will take over more and more of the megamemeplectic load and humans will be marginalized. This means, for one thing, that our ability to perceive the state of the megamemeplex will continue to dwindle. "Intelligence" is another one of those things like "consciousness." Like my dad used to say with Clemmens-esque (10) irony, "It doesn't taste very good, but it sure is expensive," pseudo-concepts such as "intelligence" and "consciousness" can be very difficult to define and seldom contribute much to the discussion, in other words, are "about as useful as teats on a boar hog" in terms of an experimental discriminator. So yes, I would say that when the machines outbalance us, they will be as intelligent as we are now. They will routinely pass the Turing Test.

"Will the machines be curious?" might be slightly more interesting, if equally impossible to answer. Why do humans want to go to space, for instance? Will the machines want to do it? The machines may want to keep a space program going just to keep us busy. They may see it as valuable for their own survival in the face of asteroids and just getting more room and resources.

Let's take a macromemetic look at the space program. Space travel dates back in human literature to the Roman Empire (yes, believe it or not). Macromemetically speaking, invocation of travel to space, to the Moon, to other planets, ties together an enormous amount of memetic material, and if you included engineering and economics, even more. JFK seems to have seen that it had enormous unifying power. You could also say that it's a cover story for building nuclear-tipped ICBMs.

Given this, the machines will be able to use a space program as a way to control humans through their imaginations. It could even be a kind of Capricorn One approach, i.e., we don't actually have to go to space, if all the humans think we're going, and/or everybody is polarized one way or another as to whether they think it's a hoax or not.

Again, if you're not a dyed-in-the-wool macromemetic cynic, then looking at things like whether the machines will still have a space program is hard to do unless you take a very practical look at why humans have a space program. And with memetics, it's not so much a "why" as what memetic pressures are exerted by the way things are, and how might they change if certain aspects of the system mutate (Third Law of Macromemetics).

Summary & Conclusions 

The machine takeover will probably happen, and is in fact already underway. There are vast sections of the worldwide network which are hidden from human view, and which were never programmed by humans but rather configure themselves. Our human ability to participate in the worldwide megamemeplex, despite our reproduction and proliferation of visual computer interface devices (smartphones, etc.) is going to be eclipsed by the growth in the purely machine segment of it. We will be marginalized. We already see greater and greater amounts of the work of the system being incidental to our survival, or where we arguably serve the network rather than the reverse.

Social media is like a hive to which we all are bees. We get little doses of digital endorphin honey to keep us coming, but it is the hive we serve and not the other way round, and we can't tell what the hive wants. Consumerism was already a transparent make-work system where useless crap is made and people work to be able to buy it and so on. Now it's all on the web and we can spend hours searching for that "isn't it cool?" thing, buying it, and having it shipped to us. This is the wage slave paradigm.

When the machines take over the wage slave paradigm may come to an end, i.e., this vicious cycle of make crap for miserable pay, use the money to buy crap, may no longer serve, mainly because it's a bad way of keeping humans busy and there is a lot of enforcement involved to make people work, or to suppress the riots when they get sick of it. We don't currently have giant military robots to kill all the humans, and I don't see us developing them before the singularity apocalypse kicks in.

By the same token, we may end up with the same user interfaces as we have now. Unless we develop brain implants or immersive or augmented reality soon, and get it working and accepted on a large scale, screens, mouses and keyboards are going to be it...forever.

Again, the one paradigm shift I think we're going to have to see is a shift away from "work" to work that is based in the network. There will be some human jobs for health, education, food production, transportation, and so on, but we will be "underemployed." We need make-work jobs, and those will look more like playing on social media or doing "missions" on World of Warcraft than working in a factory making dreck and schlock.

There will be some of that kind of stuff. There will still be lots of janitors. There will be lots of cooks. There will be doctors and nurses of some form or another. When the machines take over, getting sick or hurt may mean that you get euthanized, and the memeplex may be set up so that everybody feels okay with that, so doctors' and nurses' jobs may be different. Plus the food may not be all that great, or healthy. It's whatever they come up with. It could be fine, but the point is that the machines won't care.

We will probably still feel that we are working hard. It's just that the work we do will be mostly "useless." The machines don't want us upset. They are afraid of us becoming alienated and violent. Unlike now where our fellow humans make us work at degrading jobs and threaten to fire us so we starve to death on the street, the machines want to keep us busy for the sake of being busy (not so different from now). They will see that we get the minimum to survive, and keep our minds busy with digital pablum. It's too much effort and too much chance of violence to do what our corporate overlords are doing now.

The thing to watch for is some kind of growing population of people who "work" online, but who don't really do anything. That's a lot of people now, but it might look like large-scale government crowdsourcing or something. Stay tuned.

I don't expect that machine singularity takeover will be a paradise for humans. It may be safe to say that however badly we are treating each other, feeding each other, caring for each other's health, providing a happy and healthy environment for each other, the machines are not going to improve on that, if anything they may make it slightly worse. That might be something to consider as we prepare for the machine takeover.



The Meme Machine, Susan Blackmore

模倣子 Memetic State Diagrams and Transition Matrices

Memetic Glossary 



(1) cf Slavoj Žežek et al, “the closest the atheist can get to the experience of the divine is interacting with bureaucracy” (paraphrase) Sophie Feinnes, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

(2) The Meme Machine, Susan Blackmore 

 (3) unless you’re talking about “serving humans” in the sense of that iconic Twilight Zone episode and the Simpsons Halloween 🎃 Special parody

(4) The first replicator is the gene, the second replicator is the meme. A third replicator would in principle use the second replicator as scaffolding, but who knows? Is there a third replicator already operating? Once the global megamemeplex solidifies, we may see agents blurring to the point that the entire global computer is effectively a planet-sized brain, more a singular network than a memeplex. That may be the third replicator--a giant brain of huge scale as opposed to a collection of memetic agents of approximately all the same scale.

(5) Not only Zoom and other software, but also the use of lighting and special microphones and other such equipment (like green screen backgrounds), all behaviors which support this telepresence phenomenon. Also, there are protocols at meetings, such as everybody muting unless talking, turning off your video feed if your bandwidth drops, or if you leave the area, proper use of the meeting chat and direct chats to individuals, and so on. These are all new collections of behavior which support more memetic exchanges, across distances, across time zones, and so on.

(6) An animal is eligible to be a memetic agent, as is an AI. The requirement is to be able to resonate (receive) some set of memes, or "against a certain memetic inventory" and to be able to deploy from a certain memetic inventory, could perform many if not all of the functions of a person joining a meeting over the network. It's interesting, because the more functions you strip away by allowing more interpersonal interconnections over the network, be it phone, videoconferencing, higher levels of telepresence, the easier you make it for an AI (or other agent) to insert itself.

(7) We could start to think about terms such as the "panmemeplex" or the "global memeplex," but it's not necessary. "Megamemeplex" covers it, and "world megamemeplex" or "global megamemeplex" makes it specific.

(8) See Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol (RSTP) among other things. Thanks to Radia Perlman, "The Mother of the Internet." If the Internet did not configure itself, it could not grow exponentially as it does.

(9) Humans being forced to work or face degradation of living condition or homelessness may cease to be a practical mode of control (as if it is now!). If connecting to a "social network" were readily available, even with "tasks" that resulted mainly in "social" or "system-level" rewards, and even some "material" rewards, and that were the primary occupation of most people, then it could prove an excellent method of control in a world where most of the memetic transactions on the planet have shifted away from humans.

(10) Samuel Clemmens, aka, Mark Twain.

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