6 Apr 2012

Emergence of the Rank-5 society

The evolution of cognition by William Benzon and David Hays is an endlessly fascinating read. I get the same sort of inspired buzz as when watching the Matrix and probably for the same reasons.

Their basic proposal is that human societies can be classified according to different ranks representing different modes of thought as we edge towards more complex societies. As an overview, they explain that Rank 1 is associated with the invention of language, Rank 2 with the invention of writing, Rank 3 with the invention of calculation, and Rank 4 with the invention of computation. Each stage of that procession, they explain, is dominated by a certain way of seeing the world that adds something new and valuable to our collective understanding in the previous stages. It has as much to say in sociology as it does in the science of computation.

I take away a lot of new ideas and questions in this piece. One curious absence in the entire article is a direct mention of a Rank-5 society. What would that entail? What would its hallmark invention be? I come to the conclusion that it's a society that through the medium of machine language has delegated the process of algorithm creation to digital agents, through the process of universal induction and by a mechanism of conscious adaptive system design.

In such an age, I gather that beyond our need to "control" systems, as now, the new way of seeing the world will recognize that a means to balance is paramount in all lasting systems. The notion of "control" thus will evolve to a point where we accept a hands-off approach by creating a good system to begin with that suits our needs, a system that no longer requires our direct involvement because its embedded balance keeps it dependable. Self-managing systems will become the norm, breeding a whole new way of seeing the world and our place in it. The beginning of this age then will be announced by the emergence of AI.


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