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.
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 Meme Machine, Susan Blackmore
(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.