There was no empty seat last Friday at the Future Salon with Jaron Lanier, and the people who came were greatly rewarded.
I didn't use my Sidekick, so I don't have very good notes, but Mike Rowehl on his Bitsplitter Blog has summarized some of it already:
The main thrust of the talk was that there are lots of different “ramps” which people can use to judge progress. There’s a ramp of technology, which progresses from the most basic innovations such as fire and the wheel and moves out to a life that looks something like the Jetsons or something called the technological singularity. Of course we’re not sure exactly where the ramp ends up, which is part of the reason we as humans find satisfaction in advancing it. There’s also a ramp of morality, starting with brutal kill-or-be-killed life and progressing to some kind of rainbows and sunshine perfect existence.
If I remember correctly Jaron said, that no one could ever show how you have a moral system and still allow people that don't agree with that moral system to coexist. So there will be bloodshed.
I would call this moral system tolerance, and it worked for quite a while in Spain before the Inquisition:
In the Moorish cities Muslims, Jews, and Christians (see Mozarabs) lived side by side in relative harmony and mutual tolerance. Their excellent artisans and industries were famous throughout Europe, and their commerce prospered. [AllRefer.com]
Back to Mike's post:
I do agree with his proposed replacement ramp. He says that we should instead be striving for ever increasing levels of interpersonal connection, which he has termed the McLuhan ramp (named after Marshall McLuhan, a very influential figure in the analysis and study of media culture)
There is a big gap between what we can imagine and what we can influence. Which is one of the two major shocks that we humans have to cope with in our lifetime. The other one is, that our life is finite.
We have developed sophisticated mechanisms to cope with the gap between our imagination and the real world. One of them is language or words as an abstraction/crude representation of our thinking.
Jaron is fascinated by the cuttlefish. They are a step further as he describes in an article about the Giant Squid:
The most entrancing cephalopods are the giant cuttlefish and the mimic octopus, which are creatures that come with virtual reality as a built-in feature. They can project patterned images on their skin and change shape like a special effect from Industrial Light and Magic. The ultimate cyber fantasy, they communicate with each other and their environment by morphing. I am inconsolably jealous of their abilities.
The goal of what Jaron Lanier calls the McLuhan Ramp is to create a system/world, where we are able to create what we imagine instantaneously and to be able to share that creation with our fellow humans, or even better: Weave our imagination with the imagination of others and create together.
The difference between the Technological Ramp and the McLuhan Ramp was exceptionally crystallized in an anecdote where AI father Marvin Minsky meets Doug Engelbart . Marvin is telling Doug all the great things he is going to do with the computer, making it faster and how he is going to make it intelligent, ... and Doug replied: "And what are you going to do for the human?"
Doug Engelbart and a team of researchers invented in 1968 the mouse:
But the mouse was only one of many innovations demonstrated that day, including hypertext, object addressing and dynamic file linking, as well as shared-screen collaboration involving two persons at different sites communicating over a network with audio and video interface.
If you haven't seen the video of that 1968 demonstration. Check it out. It is one of the most astounding things I have ever seen.
Let's use the McLuhan Ramp as a framework to what we do. (Although I admit, that I haven't fully grasped the concept yet :-) Jaron urges us to ask ourselves whether what we are doing brings the machine forward, or does it lead to a better understanding and communication between us humans. The later is the McLuhan Ramp.
There was lots more and I hope the video worked out so you can check for yourself. Jaron even played one of his exotic flutes, using circular breathing. I am envious :-) The flute was the origin to our pipe organs. It was a great evening. Thanks Jaron and everyone else who came out.
P.S. One thing was a bit frustrating though. I organized the event, wine, beer, cake and pizza(had some help there) and put out a bucket to collect for the expenses. After counting the dollar bills, not even two thirds of the pizza bill was covered. There were two people that apologized for not having any money on them and promised to give it to me next time they see me. Please send some dollars to my PayPal account mark at finnern dot com.
Seufz, how I hate that I have to do that. Come on, you get an intimate evening with top notch people talking about the latest and greatest in their field for free, and the one time in two years that I ask for some money to cover the extra cost, you are mostly Scrooges? I can hardly believe this.
In case people are interested, I finally collated my notes on Lanier's talk at http://www.nehrlich.com/blog/2004/04/27#jaron_lanier
Of course, you have to wade through my editorializing as well :)
Posted by: Eric Nehrlich | April 27, 2004 at 13:48