Archive for December, 2008

Albert Borgmann, Philosopher of Science

Excerpt from Albert Borgmann’s Crossing the Postmodern Divide.

The section ‘Hyperintelligence’ from the chapter Hypermodernism pp. 102-109:

With security and liberty reasonably provided for, hyperintelligence seems destined to be the final instrument of fulfilling the promise of technology; it will enable us at last to “make ourselves the masters and possessors of nature” as Descartes has it.” That is the way it appears. But in reality, hyperintelligence, left to its hypertrophic tendencies, will lead to a severe diminution of human intelligence. Not that the hyperintelligent assault on the substance of human life will be an unprecedented and incomprehensible campaign. After all, pieces of hyperintelligence have been in place for a generation or more. What will be new are the intensification and coordination of these presently incipient and scattered effects.

Again we can get a sense of the gathering force of hyperintelligence by considering its analogy to human intelligence. While our native nervous system animates us and allows us to move with purpose and grace, the hyperintelligent system will be so extensive that it is everywhere already, obviating the need to move anywhere. It allows us to be in touch with everyone all the time. This ubiquity is often thought to favor universal connection and community, and this is surely so in a superficial sense. More deeply considered, however, the nervous system of hyperintelligence will disconnect us one from the other. If everyone is indifferently present regardless of where one is located on the globe, no one is commandingly present. Those who beas come present via a communication link have a diminished presence, since we can always make them vanish if their presence becomes burdensome. Moreover, we can protect ourselves from unwelcome persons altogether by using screening devices. Since I in turn am unwelcome to others, it will not be strictly true that everyone will be indifferently accessible to me. Yet that leaves a practical infinity of conversation partners.

The telephone network, of course, is an early version of hyperintelligent  communication, and we know in what ways the telephone has led to disconnectedness. It has extinguished the seemingly austere communication via letters. Yet this austerity was wealth in disguise. To write a letter one needed to sit down, collect one’s thoughts and world, and commit them laboriously to paper. Such labor was a guide to concentration and responsibility. One was brought face to face with one’s circumstances and forced to gather them into a succinct account. Correspondingly, readers of letters, faced with so spare and brief a document, had to concentrate on their correspondent and immerse  themselves thoughtfully in the sender’s world. A correspondence  used to amount to a life’s monument, carefully constructed and gratefully treasured.

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