The Future of Things

I just got off the phone with Julian.

I’m still obsessed with the role of objects in a world with Artificial Superintelligence (ASI). It’s a tough subject, as it requires a wholesale restructuring of everything we currently associate with objects: their affordances, what they mean, how they work and who owns them. I will continue to wrangle with this, but let’s begin with this thought:

You have long been told that software is the key to the future, and indeed it is, but software always needs to be delivered through a thing. Even if the future of software is ephemeral or audiocentric, it will still require electronic i/o such as a speaker and a microphone, clustered together and housed in a thing

(In the world of software development, things are referred to as 'hardware'. This cannot continue. It’s not a term which needs replacing it’s just too narrow, too outmoded. If software becomes the pervasive enabler of our future then ‘hardware’ encompasses absolutely everything else on the planet).

The importance of things must not be underestimated. To a piece of software things are just input and output, and if we look at human/computer interaction through this linear relationship lens then this is true. However, humans are not linear beings and we are driven by irrational behavioral traits. If an ASI is to be successful it will need to produce things which humans want to use. If the purpose of an ASI is to harvest and process information, then it needs to create the best possible data harvesting conditions. If human behavior is the crop, then the devices need to be considered as fertilizer, promoting use and interaction.

Things need to be desirable.

Now it would be fair to suggest that the best course of action for any aspirational intelligence would be to develop a unifying morphological algorithm of desirable products and generate new things based on that. Indeed there are many studies and some commercial products which aim to follow that course, but something even more curious is happening. Rather than trying to understand the mathematics of human desire, we are being drawn towards an aesthetic of the machines making.

Remember those videos you watched of robots producing Apple things? Remember how that felt? Remember how you lusted after those things made by machines that could never be made by a human. Remember how you marveled the first time you saw a 3D printed thing? Your first laser etched thing? Those tiny, perfect, repeated details, divorced from any evidence of craft or material imperfection. It's undeniable that the aesthetic of machine manufacture is already heavily imprinted on our collective sensibility.

That clicking sound? Another piece of the superintelligence puzzle settling in place.

Nick Foster