Friday, February 25, 2011

Androidology or How much longer will humans control the planet?

The recent victory of the machine over the human,
IBM Watson vanquishes human 'Jeopardy!' foes
raises questions about the place of humans in the evolving global culture. While it may seem to be a wonderful advance in human creativity one wonders about its long term impact on the humanistic side of human life.

Is it time that we create a new science, Androidology which would be the study of the evolution and development of self actualizing machines capable of performing the functions that biological organisms currently perform. This is an interesting question when we consider the implications of these devises on the power relationship between humans.

Western culture is beginning to experience what many non-western cultures have long experienced under western colonization. The value of the average human is no longer determined by one's contribution to the local society. Instead, it is determined by a global market which places humans against humans, and humans against capital in the form of technology.

One aspects of an androidology will be determining the evolutionary mnemonics of the android species. For example, Jennings Explains Jeopardy Loss to Watson And 'Know Your Meme' explains his comment in Final Jeopardy comments on the similarities and differences between his Jeopardy strategy and Watson's strategy.

How will androidology relate to anthropology and the other social sciences? Will it compete with the humanistic side of anthropology and the other social sciences?

What happens when humans are bred and enculturated by androids just like what we do with our domesticated animals?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Nuclear Winter -- Can this be avoided?

Nature has demonstrated what a catastrophic explosion can do to the environment and life on this planet.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the eruption of the Tambora Volcano in Indonesia in 1815 lowered global temperatures by as much as 5ºF and historical accounts in New England describe 1816 as “the year without a summer.”

Growing up during the height of the Cold War and learning to "duck and cover" in elementary school. I am fully aware of the dangers of nuclear war not just to the combatants but also to the planet. I remember waiting for the Russian ships to challenge the American blockade of Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis.

While anthropologist, especially archeologist, have studied climate change among "primitive" cultures and extinct civilizations, there has been very little anthropological attention given to the culture of nuclear warfare and the threat it poses to the planet. The threat of volcanoes are natural phenomena; nuclear war is a superorganic threat. Both can have the same effect on the planet. The former is beyond our immediate control, the latter should be under our control.

What does anthropology have to contribute to our understanding of process that leads societies and cultures to embark on a military policy based on nuclear weaponry?

Richard Rhodes has studied the history of nuclear weaponry and the political and military maneuvering associated with it, from the building of the first A Bomb to today's proliferation of nuclear technology.

Rhodes presents one scenario that illustrates the danger facing the planet if a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan were to take place.

This is an example where the insights of anthropology might be applied to help to prevent that one mistake that might bring about the results projected here or in other hot spots such as Israel and Iran, North Korea and the US.

Can anthropologists identifying the socio-cultural forces that might be employed to resolve the outstanding issues that make this scenario a real possibility?

Here is a related resource that gives a perspective of how those charged with the nuclear weaponry have seen their mission during the Cold War period:

How the USAF Envisioned Nuclear War

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Second Life and Anthropology

The virtual worlds of the Internet pose an interesting challenge to modern American Anthropology. Comprised of memes in a virtual electronic universe, the Internet is a transorganic organism that is changing how organic human beings and superorganic institutions conduct their relationships. As Internet technology spreads around the planet and as the means for accessing becomes more diverse, powerful and cheaper, it becomes easier for individuals and institution to form, develop, and evolve relationships unconstrained by physical time and space. One of these virtual worlds is Second Life.

Here is an example from the FRONTLINE program Digital Nation showing how IBM (a global superorganic institution) has moved into this new world.

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

The anthropological question is: Is Second Life, a social network or an alternative socio/cultural universe? How does Second Life compare to Facebook as a human enviroment and as a superorganic institution?