Four thousand years BCE in the ancient Near East, a region we have come to describe as the cradle of civilisation, Sumerian scribes made replicas of their minds in mud and created the clay tablet - the world's first silicate chip.
Five thousand years later, silicon semiconductors, ferromagnetic films and floating gate transistors have amplified the recording power of clay a quintillion times. Trends in processing and storage technology suggest to futurists that before too long, human thought, as the Babylonian mythology Enûma Eliš described so presciently, "shall be bound" and "to a unity brought together".
The technological singularity - that moment when humanity is surpassed by intelligent machines and absorbed by them - was first described by the mathematician Stanislaw Ulam, as a defining moment when "the ever accelerating progress of technology" leads to a point "beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue". For the engineer Ray Kurzweil, this event marks overcoming the limitations of biological brains.
There is a tendency to view one's own time as uniquely sophisticated, to conceive of the past as primitive. Yet with clay tablets, humans overcame the limitations of their brains 5,000 years ago. The first singularity took place in the Stone Age. It is only recently that we have grasped what it means for individual brains to extend into the world of culture, fuse with the thoughts of society through the properties of physical artefacts and technologies, and then reabsorb the experience of the collective by accessing these technologies.
And what we have learnt is that the evolution of human intelligence is a continuous process of alternating outsourcing and reintegration, an endless series of fusions and fissions among individuals and collectives. To make this organic-inorganic narrative clear, let's consider numbers.
In the western world, we have grown complacent about our Indian-Arabic number system. These numbers possess both a zero and a place-based value. One might assume that previous number systems were less able and that our decimal numerals are a late and highly evolved means of representing magnitude and relation. This is far from the case. The two earliest number systems were Egyptian and Sumerian. The ancient Egyptian numbers were also base ten, and each power of ten was represented by a different hieroglyph - from strokes (one), to cattle (ten), ropes (100), and lotus flowers (1,000). The Sumerians used base 60, written in cuneiform characters, one for units and one for powers of ten. A legacy of the sexagesimal base persists in our units of time - 60 seconds to the minute and 60 minutes to the hour. Cultures are swimming in unfamiliar number systems: base 27 among the Oksapmin people of New Guinea; base 20 among the Yoruba of West Africa; and base 12 among the Nimbi of Nigeria.
|Scooped by Wildcat2030|