invention of writing

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pages: 294 words: 96,661

The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity by Byron Reese

agricultural Revolution, AI winter, artificial general intelligence, basic income, Buckminster Fuller, business cycle, business process, Claude Shannon: information theory, clean water, cognitive bias, computer age, crowdsourcing, dark matter, Elon Musk, Eratosthenes, estate planning, financial independence, first square of the chessboard, first square of the chessboard / second half of the chessboard, full employment, Hans Rosling, income inequality, invention of agriculture, invention of movable type, invention of the printing press, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, James Hargreaves, job automation, Johannes Kepler, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, lateral thinking, life extension, Louis Pasteur, low skilled workers, manufacturing employment, Marc Andreessen, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, Mary Lou Jepsen, Moravec's paradox, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, pattern recognition, profit motive, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, Rodney Brooks, Sam Altman, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Skype, spinning jenny, Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak, Steven Pinker, strong AI, technological singularity, telepresence, telepresence robot, The Future of Employment, the scientific method, Turing machine, Turing test, universal basic income, Von Neumann architecture, Wall-E, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, women in the workforce, working poor, Works Progress Administration, Y Combinator

It is the same reason that you can remember song lyrics better than a page of prose. Our brains are wired that way, and it is that fact that allowed The Iliad and The Odyssey to be preserved in oral form before the invention of writing. This also explains why the opening theme songs for TV shows like Gilligan’s Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Brady Bunch are forever etched into my mind, in spite of my not having seen those shows for decades. It is notable that those songs are stories themselves, even including the words “story” and “tale” in their lyrics. It is speculated that our oldest stories, like the epic of Gilgamesh, probably existed in oral form for millennia, until the invention of writing allowed them to be jotted down. We don’t know much about our earliest language other than what we can infer from our languages today. The original tongue of humans is long gone, as are the many forms that came after it.

It seems also to have been developed independently at around the same time in Egypt and China; some scholars give the “earliest writing” award to the Chinese. It would later be developed independently in what is modern-day Mexico. Writing changed humanity because for the first time, what a person knew could live after him or her, perfectly preserved. Knowledge could be flawlessly copied and transported around the world. Ideas could live outside a human mind! None of these benefits was the cause of the invention of writing. Writing in its earliest forms was about keeping track of assets and transactions. From there, it spread out to cover legal records, legal codes, and religious texts. Creative writing such as plays and poetry would come later. At first, very few of the planet’s ten million people could read, as would be expected. Widespread literacy was slow in coming, due to the high costs associated with writing.

Writing does hurt our memories. Just as we use fire to outsource some of our digestion, writing outsources our memory. Before writing, if you wanted to know something, you had better remember it, because there was no way to write anything down. Ancient history brings us tantalizing hints of a time when we had better memories, while I struggle to remember my ATM PIN. But our memories didn’t degrade immediately with the invention of writing, because books were still uncommon. Now that most knowledge is a Google search away, our memories may further decay. Like the other pivotal technologies we have explored, writing also had concurrent new technologies it helped bring about or promote. The first of these was the wheel, which came along at the same time, about five thousand years ago. The wheel and writing go together like PB and J, for as a pair they increased commerce, aided the flow of information, and promoted travel.


pages: 274 words: 66,721

Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Shaped the Modern World - and How Their Invention Could Make or Break the Planet by Jane Gleeson-White

Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Bernie Madoff, Black Swan, British Empire, business cycle, carbon footprint, corporate governance, credit crunch, double entry bookkeeping, full employment, Gordon Gekko, income inequality, invention of movable type, invention of writing, Islamic Golden Age, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johannes Kepler, joint-stock company, joint-stock limited liability company, Joseph Schumpeter, means of production, Naomi Klein, Nelson Mandela, Ponzi scheme, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Simon Kuznets, source of truth, spice trade, spinning jenny, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, trade route, traveling salesman, upwardly mobile

But the most significant advance occurred in around 3300 BC, when the record-keepers transformed the token-and-sealed-envelope system into something utterly new: they flattened out the clay balls and pressed the tokens into their flat surface—thus creating the world’s first clay tablets. The last step in the invention of writing was taken when the ancient traders realised they could simply draw the tokens’ shapes on the tablets with a stylus, thus bypassing the tokens altogether; in other words, the 3-D tokens could be represented by 2-D symbols. And so spheres became circles, cones became triangles, ovoids became ovals and writing was invented. Writing remained the exclusive domain of account-keepers until about 2000 BC, when it began to be used in funerary rituals to commemorate the dead, and was subsequently taken up by a range of wordmongers, including lawmakers, priests, historians and storytellers. Apart from its role in the invention of writing, accounting is significant for human civilisation because it affects the way we see the world and shapes our beliefs.

., ‘Pacioli’s De Scripturis in the context of the spread of double-entry bookkeeping’, Spanish Journal of Accounting History, www.decomputis.org/dc/articulos_doctrinales/yamey.pdf. abacus 19, 38, 40, 154 abbaco mathematics 40–1, 42, 44, 48, 56 schools 41, 44, 45, 63 texts 63, 64 ABC Learning 208–12 accountability 15, 141 accountancy (profession) 136, 142, 145, 146, 150–5, 158–9, 193, 199–200 enhanced role 203, 205–6 in need of reform 217 accountants 149, 150 increased workload 144, 145 invention of writing 11–12, 13–14 professional organisations 150–3 accounting 125–6, 215–16 arbitrary 236 art or science 156–7, 158 with clay tokens 12–13 for the Earth 249 father of 27–8, 34 firms 217 ‘good’ 125–6 governmental 120 green 244 international 189, 207 in modern era 141 origins 132, 133 principles-based 211 significance 14 standards 206–14 use of numbers 218 see also accountancy; accounts Accounting Standards Committee (UK) 206 accounts books for 99–100, 117–18, 119, 166, 170 meaning of 11, 218 with public offices 107–9 setting up 97 accrual accounting see corporate accounting Addison, Joseph 125 Adelard of Bath 39 Adler, Rodney 213 Aho, James 172 Ahrens, Frank 220 AIG 5 Alberti, Leon Battista 32, 58–61, 69, 117, 126, 171 algebra 38, 40, 41, 58, 67, 76 derivation of word 39 al-Haytham, Ibn 64 al-Khwarizmi, Muhammad ibn Musa 38–9, 66 Amazon rainforest 224 America see United States American Civil War 145 Amman, Jost 119 Anghiari, Battle of 30, 34 Anglo Irish Bank 5 Antwerp 119, 120 Arabic mathematics 18–19, 38–9, 63 Arabic numerals 18–19 Archimedes 37, 66, 73, 75 Aristotle 96, 172 arithmetic 20, 36, 38, 40, 41, 81 commercial 36, 41 Arte di Cambio (Guild of Money Changers) 26 Arthur Andersen & Co. 199, 204, 207, 208, 212, 214–15, 216, 217 Asia 22, 188 asset valuation 146, 218–19 astrology 29–30, 36, 38, 42 Athens 15 auditing 149, 200–1, 204, 215, 216 audit expectations gap 210 Augustine 35 Australia 153 corporate scandals 207–14 environmental accounting 233–6 Australian Bureau of Statistics 230, 232, 236 Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) 209–10, 213 Bacon, Roger 40 Badoer, Jachomo 52–5 bahi-khata 22 balance sheets 5, 219 Balfour, Robert 151–2 Bank of Credit and Commerce International 207 Bank of England 124 banking 25–6, 50, 54 bank accounts 109 bank transfers 54 bankruptcy 145, 150 barter 55, 60 Belcher, John 153 Bell Resources 208 Bellini, Gentile 56–7 Belmont Report (1979) 173 Bentley, Thomas 137, 138 Bible 116 Big Macs –4 bills of exchange 25, 53–4 biodiversity 9, 247–8 bioethics 173 Blake, William 154 Blanc, Louis 162–3 Boethius 38, 43 Bond, Alan 208 Book of Addition and Subtraction According to the Hindu Calculation 39 bookkeeping in Antwerp 119 early Renaissance 96 in Florence 21–2 Marx’s view 164–5 moral dimension of 124–6, 172 and planet Earth 8–9 texts 117, 118–21 Venetian 6–7, 27, 55, 56, 58, 67, 78, 92, 100, 117, 146 Botticelli 65 Bragadino, Domenico 58 Braudel, Fernand 61 Britain see United Kingdom Brougham, Henry 150 Brown, Richard 144 Brunelleschi 44 Bubble Act 142 Buffett, Warren 198, 200 Burckhardt, Jacob 59 Burroughs, William S. 203–4 Burton PLC 205 Bush, George W. 214, 215 business 96, 132, 136, 172 changes to 248 setting up 93–4, 96 see also commerce Byzantine Empire 18, 51 currency 55 Caetani, Daniele 89 calculating machines 203–4 California, electricity cuts Canada 153, 188 capital 101, 103, 143, 147, 231 international 253–4 regulation 144–5 see also human capital; natural capital capital accounts 112, 163, 166 capitalism 8, 29 derivation 162–3, 171 and double entry 159–60, 161–75 mercantile 170 modern era 183, 221, 224, 249 Sombart’s definition 162, 164 Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (Schumpeter) 169–70 Capitulare de Villis 16 carbon sequestration 240 Cardan, Girolamo 76 Carnegie, Andrew 156 Carruthers, Bruce G. 172–3 cash 101, 103, 122 cash-flow statements 5, 219 Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore 44, 59 Certified Public Accountants 157 Charlemagne 16–17, 38 Charles V 23 Chartered Accountants 152, 157 cheques 24–5 chess 87–8 Chiapello, Eve 163, 164, 171 Christian Church 38, 40, 51, 54, 59, 62, 68, 85 Christoffels, Jan Ympyn 119, 120, 121 Christofle, Charles 125 Churchill, Winston 183 Cicero 15, 126, 172 Clarke, Anthony 32–3 Clarke, Frank L. 203 clay tablets 13 clay token accounting 12–13, 14 climate change 232, 245 clocks 23 Code of Hammurabi 14 coinage 15 Columbus, Christopher 18 commerce 140, 167, 168, 173 13th century Florence 21 and art Italy, Dark Ages 6 medieval Europe 26, 42, 67, 96 recording transactions 14, 105–7, 108 and religion 24, 96 see also business Companies Act 1862 144 Companies Act 1900 149 Companies Act 1929 202 Constantinople 29, 34, 50, 52–3, 54, 61 consumption 179, 248 Cooper, William 145 Copernicus 167 copyright 63, 78 corporate accounting 193, 216 scandals 194–203, 206, 207–14, 215, 225 corporations 123, 144–9, 155, 199–200, 206 in need of reform 221–5 transparency cost accounting 138–9, 149, 156 cost-benefit analysis 250–1 costs fixed/variable 138 measuring 218–19 counting 19 credit see debit and credit entries Cremonensis, Jacobus 66 Crosby, Alfred W.


pages: 289 words: 87,292

The Strange Order of Things: The Biological Roots of Culture by Antonio Damasio

Albert Einstein, biofilm, business process, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, double helix, Gordon Gekko, invention of the wheel, invention of writing, invisible hand, job automation, mental accounting, meta analysis, meta-analysis, microbiome, Norbert Wiener, pattern recognition, Peter Singer: altruism, planetary scale, profit motive, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Feynman, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Steven Pinker, Thomas Malthus

We know for certain that by 50,000 years ago such processes were well under way around the Mediterranean, in central and southern Europe, and in Asia, regions where Homo sapiens was present, though not without the company of Neanderthals. This was long after Homo sapiens first appeared, about 200,000 years ago or earlier.3 Thus we can think of the beginnings of human cultures as occurring among hunter-gatherers, well before the cultural invention known as agriculture, about 12,000 years ago, and before the invention of writing and money. The dates by which writing systems emerged in varied places are a good illustration of how multicentered were the processes of cultural evolution. Writing was first developed in Sumer (in Mesopotamia) and in Egypt, between 3500 and 3200 B.C. But a different writing system was later developed in Phoenicia and eventually used by Greeks and Romans. About 600 B.C., writing also developed independently in Mesoamerica, under the Mayan civilization, in the region of contemporary Mexico.

The ultimate purpose was assuaging the pain, reducing the need. The form and efficiency of the response is another issue. The homeostatic benefits of philosophical inquiry and scientific observation are endless: in medicine, obviously, and in physics and chemistry as enablers of the technologies on which our world has long depended. They include the harnessing of fire, the invention of the wheel, the invention of writing, and the subsequent advent of written records external to the brain. The same applies to later innovations that are responsible for modernity, from the Renaissance onward, and, all along, to the ideas that have informed, for better and worse, the governance of empires and countries, as expressed, for example, in the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Enlightenment, and more generally modernity.

Among them were a powerful, image-based memory function capable of learning, recalling, and interrelating unique facts and events; an expansion of the imagination, reasoning, and symbolic thought capabilities such that nonverbal narratives could be generated; and the ability to translate nonverbal images and symbols into coded languages. The latter opened the way for a decisive tool in the construction of cultures: a parallel line of verbal narratives. Alphabets and grammars were the “genetic” tools of this latter and enabling development. The eventual invention of writing was the crowning entry into the toolbox of creative intelligence, an intelligence capable of being moved by feeling to respond to homeostatic challenges and possibilities. Fourth, a critical instrument of the cultural mind resides with a largely unsung function: play, the desire to engage in seemingly useless operations that includes the moving about of actual pieces of the world, real or in toy form; the moving of our own bodies in that world, as in dancing or playing an instrument; the moving of images in the mind, real or invented.


pages: 196 words: 54,339

Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff

1960s counterculture, autonomous vehicles, basic income, Berlin Wall, big-box store, bitcoin, blockchain, Burning Man, carbon footprint, clean water, clockwork universe, cloud computing, collective bargaining, corporate personhood, disintermediation, Donald Trump, drone strike, European colonialism, Filter Bubble, full employment, future of work, game design, gig economy, Google bus, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Internet of things, invention of the printing press, invention of writing, invisible hand, iterative process, Kevin Kelly, knowledge economy, life extension, lifelogging, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, means of production, new economy, patient HM, pattern recognition, peer-to-peer, Peter Thiel, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, ride hailing / ride sharing, Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan: Tear down this wall, shareholder value, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, social intelligence, sovereign wealth fund, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, technoutopianism, theory of mind, trade route, Travis Kalanick, Turing test, universal basic income, Vannevar Bush, winner-take-all economy, zero-sum game

The digital media environment expresses itself in the physical environment as well; the production, use, and disposal of digital technologies depletes scarce resources, expends massive amounts of energy, and pollutes vast regions of the planet. Before we surrender to the notion that we live in a world entirely determined by our media, we must remember that the influence goes both ways: each of these media was itself the product of the society that invented it. The invention of writing may have made slavery easier to manage at scale. But writing may have itself arisen out of the preexisting need that tyrants of the period had to manage their hordes of slaves. We humans are partners with our media, both in their invention and in the ways we choose to respond to their influence. Knowing the particular impacts of a media environment on our behaviors doesn’t excuse our complicity, but it helps us understand what we’re up against—which way things are tilted.

In a cyclical understanding of time, the consequences of one’s actions can never be externalized or avoided. Everyone reincarnates, so if you do something bad to another person, you’ll have to meet them again. If you spoil the natural world, you will be reborn into it yourself. Time and history are nonexistent, and the individual is living in the constant present. As a result, everything and everyone is interdependent and emanating from the same, shared source of life. The invention of writing gave people the ability to record the past and make promises into the future. Historical time was born, which marked the end of the spirituality of an eternal present, and the beginning of linear religion and monotheism. Before the notion of a past and a future, it was difficult to explain how a single, all-powerful god could exist if there was still so much wrong with Creation. With the addition of history, the imperfect world could be justified as a work in progress.


pages: 357 words: 110,017

Money: The Unauthorized Biography by Felix Martin

bank run, banking crisis, Basel III, Bernie Madoff, Big bang: deregulation of the City of London, Bretton Woods, British Empire, business cycle, call centre, capital asset pricing model, Carmen Reinhart, central bank independence, collapse of Lehman Brothers, creative destruction, credit crunch, David Graeber, en.wikipedia.org, financial deregulation, financial innovation, Financial Instability Hypothesis, financial intermediation, fixed income, Fractional reserve banking, full employment, Goldman Sachs: Vampire Squid, Hyman Minsky, inflation targeting, invention of writing, invisible hand, Irish bank strikes, joint-stock company, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Arrow, Kenneth Rogoff, mobile money, moral hazard, mortgage debt, new economy, Northern Rock, Occupy movement, plutocrats, Plutocrats, private military company, Republic of Letters, Richard Feynman, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Scientific racism, scientific worldview, seigniorage, Silicon Valley, smart transportation, South Sea Bubble, supply-chain management, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, too big to fail

The ancient system of three-dimensional objects had been translated into a new system of two-dimensional symbols. It was an epochal development: nothing less than the birth of literacy. Stimulating the invention of writing was no mean achievement on its own; but the increasing complexity of the Mesopotamian economies meant that the pressure to devise ever more efficient and flexible techniques was unrelenting. Reckoning number using the new, written symbols was certainly more efficient than shaping, firing, and then storing thousand upon thousand of little clay tokens. But both techniques still relied upon correspondence-counting—one token or symbol corresponding to each thing being counted. Soon after the invention of writing, however, another momentous improvement was made. Instead of writing five sheep symbols to signify five sheep, separate symbols for the number five and the category sheep were introduced.

When one considers that on a single surviving tablet the receipt of 140,000 litres of grain is recorded it is obvious that the practical advantages were considerable.24 The longer-term implications were even greater, however. Correspondence-counting requires no notion of abstract number; no concept, that is, of number separate from the things being counted. The new system did. Not only had Ur invented writing, it had almost simultaneously invented the concept of number—and thereby opened the way to the development of mathematics. The invention of writing and abstract number set the stage for the development of the third technology at the heart of Mesopotamian society: accounting. The hierarchical control of economic activity by clerical bureaucracies required a management information system: a technique for quantifying stocks and flows of raw materials and finished goods, for using these quantities in forward planning, and for checking that the plan was being correctly carried out on the ground.


pages: 404 words: 110,942

A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order by Judith Flanders

computer age, double entry bookkeeping, en.wikipedia.org, index card, Index librorum prohibitorum, invention of movable type, invention of the wheel, invention of writing, trade route, Y2K

The chests used to store papers for most of history – the arks – subliminally return us to the Bible, to the Ark of the Covenant and to Noah’s Ark, containers of God’s word and of humanity and the animal kingdom. Arks are mere wooden boxes to hold books and documents, and yet as such they symbolize the wisdom of the ages, of God’s promise for humanity.12 Bill Gates once identified the development of the transistor in 1947 as ‘a key transitional event in the advent of the information age’. Other key moments, according to historians, include the invention of writing, of double-entry bookkeeping, printing, the telegraph and the computer. What is notable in this list is that none of these are inventions that created new knowledge themselves, but are instead inventions that created new ways of accessing knowledge. It was not the machines – not the telegraph, not the printing-press, nor even the computer – that revolutionized the world, but the processes behind those machines: they were the software to the hardware of the printing-press or the telegraph or the computer.

., 1727) Leedham-Green, Elisabeth, ‘A Catalogue of Caius College Library, 1569’, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 8, 1, 1981, pp. 29–41 Le Men, Ségolène, Les abécédaires français illustrés du XIXe siècle (Paris, Promodis, 1984) Lendinara, Patrizia, Loredana Lazzari and Claudia Di Sciacca, eds., Rethinking and Recontextualizing Glosses: New Perspectives in the Study of Late Anglo-Saxon Glossography (Turnhout, Brepols, 2011) Lerner, Fred, The Story of Libraries: From the Invention of Writing to the Computer Age (New York, Continuum, 2009) Lieshout, H.H.M. van, The Making of Pierre Bayle’s Dictionnaire historique et critique (Amsterdam and Utrecht, APA-Holland University Press, 2001) Locke, John, ‘A New Method of Making Commonplace Books’ (London, J. Greenwood, 1706) Logan, Robert K., The Alphabet Effect: The Impact of the Phonetic Alphabet on the Development of Western Civilization (New York, St Martin’s Press, 1986) Loveland, Jeff, The European Encyclopedia: From 1650 to the Twenty-first Century (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2019) Lund, Roger D., ‘The Eel of Science: Index Learning, Scriblerian Satire, and the Rise of Information Culture’, Eighteenth-century Life, vol. 22, no. 2, 1998, pp. 18–39 Lyall, R.J., ‘Materials: The Paper Revolution’, in Book Production and Publishing in Britain, 1375–1475, Jeremy Griffiths and Derek Pearsall, eds.

Wellisch (Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), pp. 226–7, who also attributes the alphabetization to Zenodotus. Others assert without hesitation that Callimachus was the author of the Pinakes, and they were ordered alphabetically. See, for example, Margaret Zeegers and Deirdre Barron, Gatekeepers of Knowledge: A Consideration of the Library, the Book and the Scholar in the Western World (Oxford, Chandos, 2010), pp. 12–13; Fred Lerner, The Story of Libraries: From the Invention of Writing to the Computer Age (New York, Continuum, 2009), pp. 16–17. 26. Hatzimichali, ‘Encyclopaedism’, in König and Woolf, Encyclopaedism from Antiquity, pp. 76–7. 27. Daly, Contributions, pp. 23, 40. 28. Ibid., pp. 45–50, 75. 29. Werner Hüllen, English Dictionaries, 800–1700: The Topical Tradition (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2006), pp. 30–31. 30. Daly, Contributions, pp. 20–21; Blum, Kallimachos, p. 185. 31.


pages: 239 words: 70,206

Data-Ism: The Revolution Transforming Decision Making, Consumer Behavior, and Almost Everything Else by Steve Lohr

"Robert Solow", 23andMe, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Albert Einstein, big data - Walmart - Pop Tarts, bioinformatics, business cycle, business intelligence, call centre, cloud computing, computer age, conceptual framework, Credit Default Swap, crowdsourcing, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Danny Hillis, data is the new oil, David Brooks, East Village, Edward Snowden, Emanuel Derman, Erik Brynjolfsson, everywhere but in the productivity statistics, Frederick Winslow Taylor, Google Glasses, impulse control, income inequality, indoor plumbing, industrial robot, informal economy, Internet of things, invention of writing, Johannes Kepler, John Markoff, John von Neumann, lifelogging, Mark Zuckerberg, market bubble, meta analysis, meta-analysis, money market fund, natural language processing, obamacare, pattern recognition, payday loans, personalized medicine, precision agriculture, pre–internet, Productivity paradox, RAND corporation, rising living standards, Robert Gordon, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, six sigma, skunkworks, speech recognition, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, The Design of Experiments, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, unbanked and underbanked, underbanked, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!

Often, he explains, the schism results from people staring across a cultural divide of misunderstanding, of the false choice between fully human and fully automated decision making. King, as an emissary from quantland, says he offers an olive branch and cooperation. “My pitch,” he says, “is, We’re going to help you.” Still, the drift of things seems clear. Alex Pentland, a computational social scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, sees the promise of “a transition on a par with the invention of writing or the Internet.” The ranks of data scientists—people who wield their math and computing smarts to make sense of data—are modest compared to the workforce as a whole, but they loom large. Data science is hailed as the field of the future. Universities are rushing to establish data science centers, institutes, and courses, and companies are scrambling to hire data scientists. There is a trend-chasing side to the current data frenzy that invites ridicule.

Unless otherwise noted, the quotes from Hammerbacher come from a series of interviews, both in New York and San Francisco, from November 2012 to April 2014. a “paradigm shift” in medicine: An interview on Nov. 1, 2013, with Dennis Charney. a “revolution” that is just getting under way: An interview on Jan. 31, 2012, with Gary King. “There is a war in every field”: An interview on Oct. 16, 2013, with Gary King. “a transition on a par with the invention of writing or the Internet”: From an article by Alex Pentland, “The Data-Driven Society,” Scientific American 309 (October 2013): 78–83. a school paper he wrote as a seven-year-old: I was given a copy of the original. His father, Glenn, a factory worker for General Motors: The descriptions of Hammerbacher’s upbringing and family life come from my conversations with Jeff and a lengthy interview on Oct. 14, 2013, with his parents, Glenn and Lenore.


pages: 476 words: 132,042

What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly

Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Buckminster Fuller, c2.com, carbon-based life, Cass Sunstein, charter city, Clayton Christensen, cloud computing, computer vision, Danny Hillis, dematerialisation, demographic transition, double entry bookkeeping, Douglas Engelbart, en.wikipedia.org, Exxon Valdez, George Gilder, gravity well, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, interchangeable parts, invention of air conditioning, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, Joan Didion, John Conway, John Markoff, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge economy, Lao Tzu, life extension, Louis Daguerre, Marshall McLuhan, megacity, meta analysis, meta-analysis, new economy, off grid, out of africa, performance metric, personalized medicine, phenotype, Picturephone, planetary scale, RAND corporation, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, refrigerator car, Richard Florida, Rubik’s Cube, Silicon Valley, silicon-based life, Skype, speech recognition, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Stewart Brand, Ted Kaczynski, the built environment, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, Vernor Vinge, wealth creators, Whole Earth Catalog, Y2K

We can decide slavery is not a good idea. We can decide that fairly applied laws, rather than nepotistic favoritism, is a good idea. We can outlaw certain punishments with treaties. We can encourage accountability with the invention of writing. We can consciously expand our circle of empathy. These are all inventions, products of our minds, as much as lightbulbs and telegraphs are. This cyclotron of social betterment is propelled by technology. Society evolves in incremental doses; each rise in social organization throughout history was driven by an insertion of a new technology. The invention of writing unleashed the leveling fairness of recorded laws. The invention of standard minted coins made trade more universal, encouraged entrepreneurship, and hastened the idea of liberty. Historian Lynn White notes, “Few inventions have been so simple as the stirrup, but few have had so catalytic an influence on history.”

The major transitions in the technium are:Primate communication ➔ Language Oral lore ➔ Writing/mathematical notation Scripts ➔ Printing Book knowledge ➔ Scientific method Artisan production ➔ Mass production Industrial culture ➔ Ubiquitous global communication No transition in technology has affected our species, or the world at large, more than the first one, the creation of language. Language enabled information to be stored in a memory greater than an individual’s recall. A language-based culture accumulated stories and oral wisdom to disseminate to future generations. The learning of individuals, even if they died before reproducing, would be remembered. From a systems point of view, language enabled humans to adapt and transmit learning faster than genes. The invention of writing systems for language and math structured this learning even more. Ideas could be indexed, retrieved, and propagated more easily. Writing allowed the organization of information to penetrate into many everyday aspects of life. It accelerated trade, the creation of calendars, and the formation of laws—all of which organized information further. Printing organized information still more by making literacy widespread.


pages: 349 words: 86,224

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott

agricultural Revolution, clean water, David Graeber, demographic dividend, demographic transition, deskilling, facts on the ground, invention of writing, joint-stock company, Louis Pasteur, mass immigration, means of production, the built environment, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, trade route

There was apparently, prior to state formation, a proto- cuneiform in use a few centuries earlier in large urban institutions—presumably temples—for recording transactions and distributions. David Wengrow, personal communication, May 2015. 33. Nissen, “The Emergence of Writing in the Ancient Near East.” Nissen adds, “The emergence of writing as here elaborated, should by no means lead one to proclaim the invention of writing as one of the great intellectual steps taken by mankind. Its impact on intellectual life was not so sudden as to justify the differentiating of a dark ‘pre-historic’ age from bright history. By the time writing appeared, most of the steps toward a higher, civilized form of living had been taken. Writing appears merely as a by-product along the course of rapid development towards a complex life in towns and states” (360).

., Susan Sherratt, and John Bennet, eds. Interweaving Worlds: Systemic Interactions in Eurasia, 7th to 1st Millennia BC. Oxford: Oxbow, 2011. Wilkinson, Tony J. “Hydraulic Landscapes and Irrigation Systems of Sumer.” In Crawford, The Sumerian World, 33–54. Wilson, Peter J. The Domestication of the Human Species. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. Woods, Christopher. Visible Writing: The Invention of Writing in the Ancient Middle-East and Beyond. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Wrangham, Richard. Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. New York: Basic, 2009. Yates, Robin D. S. “Slavery in Early China: A Socio-Cultural Approach.” Journal of East Asian Archaeology 5, nos. 1–2 (2001): 283–331. Yoffee, Norman. Myths of the Archaic State: Evolution of the Earliest Cities, States, and Civilizations.


Guns, germs, and steel: the fates of human societies by Jared M. Diamond

affirmative action, Atahualpa, British Empire, California gold rush, correlation does not imply causation, cuban missile crisis, discovery of the americas, European colonialism, Francisco Pizarro, Hernando de Soto, invention of movable type, invention of the wheel, invention of writing, James Watt: steam engine, Maui Hawaii, QWERTY keyboard, the scientific method, trade route

They had to decide that a writing system should ignore all of that variation. They then had to devise ways to represent sounds by symbols. Somehow, the first scribes solved all those problems, without having in front of them any example of the final result to guide their efforts. That task was evidently so difficult that there have been only a few occasions in history when people invented writing entirely on their own. The two indisputably independent inventions of writing were achieved by the Su merians of Mesopotamia somewhat before 3000 B.C. and by Mexican Indians before 600 B.C. (Figure 12.1); Egyptian writing of 3000 B.C. and Chinese writing (by 1300 B.C.) may also have arisen independently. Proba- bly all other peoples who have developed writing since then have bor- rowed, adapted, or at least been inspired by existing systems. The independent invention that we can trace in greatest detail is histo- ry's oldest writing system, Sumerian cuneiform (Figure 12.1).

W I T H THE POSSIBLE exceptions of the Egyptian, Chinese, and Easter Island writing to be considered later, all other writing systems devised any- where in the world, at any time, appear to have been descendants of sys- tems modified from or at least inspired by Sumerian or early Mesoamerican writing. One reason why there were so few independent origins of writing is the great difficulty of inventing it, as we have already discussed. The other reason is that other opportunities for the independent invention of writing were preempted by Sumerian or early Mesoamerican writing and their derivatives. We know that the development of Sumerian writing took at least hun- dreds, possibly thousands, of years. As we shall see, the prerequisites for those developments consisted of several features of human society that determined whether a society would find writing useful, and whether the society could support the necessary specialist scribes.

Only later did the alphabet's easily learned vehicle of private communication become co-opted for public or bureaucratic purposes. Thus, the developmental sequence of uses for alphabetic writing was the reverse of that for the earlier systems of logo- grams and syllabaries. THE L I M I T E D USES and users of early writing suggest why writing appeared so late in human evolution. All of the likely or possible indepen- dent inventions of writing (in Sumer, Mexico, China, and Egypt), and all of the early adaptations of those invented systems (for example, those in Crete, Iran, Turkey, the Indus Valley, and the Maya area), involved socially stratified societies with complex and centralized political institutions, whose necessary relation to food production we shall explore in a later chapter. Early writing served the needs of those political institutions (such as record keeping and royal propaganda), and the users were full-time bureaucrats nourished by stored food surpluses grown by food-producing peasants.


pages: 479 words: 144,453

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

23andMe, agricultural Revolution, algorithmic trading, Anne Wojcicki, anti-communist, Anton Chekhov, autonomous vehicles, Berlin Wall, call centre, Chris Urmson, cognitive dissonance, Columbian Exchange, computer age, Deng Xiaoping, don't be evil, drone strike, European colonialism, experimental subject, falling living standards, Flash crash, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane: The New Division of Labor, glass ceiling, global village, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invention of writing, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, job automation, John Markoff, Kevin Kelly, lifelogging, means of production, Mikhail Gorbachev, Minecraft, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, Monkeys Reject Unequal Pay, mutually assured destruction, new economy, pattern recognition, Peter Thiel, placebo effect, Ray Kurzweil, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley ideology, stem cell, Steven Pinker, telemarketer, The Future of Employment, too big to fail, trade route, Turing machine, Turing test, ultimatum game, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, zero-sum game

Even today fans still buy the King’s posters and albums, radio stations go on paying royalties, and more than half a million pilgrims flock each year to Graceland, the King’s necropolis in Memphis, Tennessee. Brands are not a modern invention. Just like Elvis Presley, pharaoh too was a brand rather than a living organism. For millions of followers his image counted for far more than his fleshy reality, and they kept worshipping him long after he was dead. Left: © Richard Nowitz/Getty Images. Right: © Archive Photos/Stringer/Getty Images. Prior to the invention of writing, stories were confined by the limited capacity of human brains. You couldn’t invent overly complex stories which people couldn’t remember. With writing you could suddenly create extremely long and intricate stories, which were stored on tablets and papyri rather than in human heads. No ancient Egyptian remembered all of pharaoh’s lands, taxes and tithes; Elvis Presley never even read all the contracts signed in his name; no living soul is familiar with all the laws and regulations of the European Union; and no banker or CIA agent tracks down every dollar in the world.

Hence the first phase of history involved an increase in the number and variety of human processors, at the expense of connectivity: 20,000 years ago there were many more Sapiens than 70,000 years ago, and Sapiens in Europe processed information differently to Sapiens in China. However, there were no connections between people in Europe and China, and it would have seemed utterly impossible that all Sapiens may one day be part of a single data-processing web. The second stage began with the Agricultural Revolution and continued until the invention of writing and money about 5,000 years ago. Agriculture speeded demographic growth, so the number of human processors rose sharply. Simultaneously, agriculture enabled many more people to live together in the same place, thereby generating dense local networks that contained an unprecedented number of processors. In addition, agriculture created new incentives and opportunities for different networks to trade and communicate with one another.

In addition, agriculture created new incentives and opportunities for different networks to trade and communicate with one another. Nevertheless, during the second phase centrifugal forces remained predominant. In the absence of writing and money, humans could not establish cities, kingdoms or empires. Humankind was still divided into innumerable little tribes, each with its own lifestyle and world view. Uniting the whole of humankind was not even a fantasy. The third stage kicked off with the invention of writing and money about 5,000 years ago, and lasted until the beginning of the Scientific Revolution. Thanks to writing and money, the gravitational field of human cooperation finally overpowered the centrifugal forces. Human groups bonded and merged to form cities and kingdoms. Political and commercial links between different cities and kingdoms also tightened. At least since the first millennium BC – when coinage, empires and universal religions appeared – humans began to consciously dream about forging a single network that would encompass the entire globe.


pages: 290 words: 94,968

Writing on the Wall: Social Media - the First 2,000 Years by Tom Standage

Bill Duvall, British Empire, Edmond Halley, Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, invention of the printing press, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, knowledge worker, Leonard Kleinrock, Marc Andreessen, Mark Zuckerberg, Menlo Park, Mohammed Bouazizi, New Journalism, packet switching, place-making, Republic of Letters, sexual politics, social intelligence, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, theory of mind, yellow journalism

This is simply the desire to pass around information about common acquaintances’ control of resources, sexual activity, alliances, and disputes operating at a societal level. The innate human propensity to share such information, it seems, will take advantage of any available means to do so. For most of the one hundred thousand years or so since the dawn of language, however, the only available means to convey specific items of news was speech. A new way to exchange information with others only emerged five thousand years ago, with the invention of writing. The development of writing was pioneered not by gossips, storytellers, or poets, but by accountants. The earliest writing system has its roots in the Neolithic period, when humans first began to switch from a nomadic existence of hunting and gathering to a settled lifestyle based on agriculture. This transition began around 9500 B.C. in a region known as the Fertile Crescent, which stretches from modern-day Egypt, up to southeastern Turkey, and down again to the border between Iraq and Iran.

Instead they are a means of recording and transmitting spoken words from the sender to the recipient, using scribes to turn speech into written marks at one end, and then back into speech at the other. Rather than beginning with a salutation, such as “Dear so-and-so” or “To so-and-so,” Mesopotamian letters from this period begin with direct instructions to the scribe reading out the letter: “Say to so-and-so.” The ability to read and write was limited to a tiny fraction of the population for the first fifteen centuries after the invention of writing, for a number of reasons. Acquiring literacy required extensive training, which was time-consuming and expensive, and therefore available to only a small subset of the elite. And the scribal class that emerged wanted to protect its privileged position as an information priesthood. It had no interest in making literacy easier to acquire and thus more widely available. Egyptian scribal-training texts emphasized the superiority of being a scribe over all other career choices, with titles like “Do Not Be Soldier, Priest or Baker,” “Do Not Be a Husbandman,” and “Do Not Be a Charioteer.”


pages: 317 words: 101,074

The Road Ahead by Bill Gates, Nathan Myhrvold, Peter Rinearson

Albert Einstein, Apple's 1984 Super Bowl advert, Berlin Wall, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, Bob Noyce, Bonfire of the Vanities, business process, California gold rush, Claude Shannon: information theory, computer age, Donald Knuth, first square of the chessboard, first square of the chessboard / second half of the chessboard, glass ceiling, global village, informal economy, invention of movable type, invention of the printing press, invention of writing, John von Neumann, knowledge worker, medical malpractice, Mitch Kapor, new economy, packet switching, popular electronics, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, speech recognition, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Ted Nelson, telemarketer, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, transaction costs, Turing machine, Turing test, Von Neumann architecture

A telephone conversation is also synchronous, because both parties must be on the line at the same time. When you tape a television show or let an answering machine record an incoming call, you are converting synchronous communications into a more convenient form: "asynchronous" communications. It is human nature to find ways to convert synchronous communications into asynchronous forms. Before the invention of writing, 5,000 years ago, the only form of communication was the spoken word and audiences had to be in the presence of the speaker or they missed his message. Once the message could be written, it could be stored and read later by anyone, at his or her convenience. I am writing these words at home early in 1995, but I have no idea when or where you'll read them. One of the benefits bestowed by the information highway will be more control over our schedules.

I think Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who wrote so eloquently about how people came to think of railroad locomotives and other forms of technology as friendly, would applaud the information highway and dismiss as backward-looking those who resist it. Fifty years ago he wrote: "Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice, transport of flickering pictures—in this century as in others our highest accomplishments still have the single aim of bringing men together. Do our dreamers hold that the invention of writing, of printing, of the sailing ship, degraded the human spirit?" The information highway will lead to many destinations. I've enjoyed speculating about some of these. Doubtless I've made some foolish predictions, but I hope not too many. In any case, I'm excited to be on the journey. AFTERWORD The information highway will have a significant effect on all of our lives in the years to come.


pages: 379 words: 109,612

Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net's Impact on Our Minds and Future by John Brockman

A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Albert Einstein, AltaVista, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Asperger Syndrome, availability heuristic, Benoit Mandelbrot, biofilm, Black Swan, British Empire, conceptual framework, corporate governance, Danny Hillis, Douglas Engelbart, Douglas Engelbart, Emanuel Derman, epigenetics, Flynn Effect, Frank Gehry, Google Earth, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, index card, information retrieval, Internet Archive, invention of writing, Jane Jacobs, Jaron Lanier, John Markoff, Kevin Kelly, lifelogging, lone genius, loss aversion, mandelbrot fractal, Marc Andreessen, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, meta analysis, meta-analysis, New Journalism, Nicholas Carr, out of africa, Paul Samuelson, peer-to-peer, Ponzi scheme, pre–internet, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, Ronald Reagan, Schrödinger's Cat, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, SETI@home, Silicon Valley, Skype, slashdot, smart grid, social graph, social software, social web, Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, Ted Nelson, telepresence, the medium is the message, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, theory of mind, trade route, upwardly mobile, Vernor Vinge, Whole Earth Catalog, X Prize

If you were asked a question in those days, you thought of what you had seen and heard and done yourself and what others had said to you. I’m rereading Thucydides this winter and watching the way everything depended on whom you knew, where the messengers came, from and whether they were delayed en route, walking from one end of Greece to another. Thucydides was literate, but his world hadn’t absorbed that new technology yet. With the invention of writing, the eyes took on a new role. Knowledge wasn’t all in memory but was found in present, visual stimuli: the written word in one form or another. We have built a mighty culture based on all the things humankind can produce and the eye can study. What we could read in the traditional library of twenty-five years ago was orders of magnitude richer and more diverse than the most that any person could ever see, hear, or be told of in one lifetime.

After several conversations and a grant application, my colleagues and I launched the GoodPlay project, a social science study of ethics in the digital media. Even though I myself am a digital immigrant—I sometimes refer to myself as a digital paleolith—I now spend many hours a week thinking about the ways in which nearly all of us, young and old, are affected by being online, networked, and surfing or posting for so much of the day. I’ve become convinced that the “digital revolution” may be as epoch-making as the invention of writing or, certainly, the invention of printing or of broadcasting. While I agree with those who caution that it is premature to detail the effects, it is not too early to begin to think, observe, reflect, or conduct pivotal observations and experiments. Indeed, I wish that social scientists and/or other observers had been around when earlier new media debuted. Asked for my current thinking, I would make the following points.


pages: 137 words: 36,231

Information: A Very Short Introduction by Luciano Floridi

agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, bioinformatics, carbon footprint, Claude Shannon: information theory, conceptual framework, double helix, Douglas Engelbart, Douglas Engelbart, George Akerlof, Gordon Gekko, industrial robot, information asymmetry, intangible asset, Internet of things, invention of writing, John Nash: game theory, John von Neumann, Laplace demon, moral hazard, Nash equilibrium, Nelson Mandela, Norbert Wiener, Pareto efficiency, phenotype, Pierre-Simon Laplace, prisoner's dilemma, RAND corporation, RFID, Thomas Bayes, Turing machine, Vilfredo Pareto

What all these and many other metrics have in common is that they are all historical, in the strict sense that they all depend on the development of systems to record events and hence accumulate and transmit information about the past. No records, no history, so history is actually synonymous with the information age, since prehistory is that age in human development that precedes the availability of recording systems. It follows that one may reasonably argue that humanity has been living in various kinds of information societies at least since the Bronze Age, the era that marks the invention of writing in Mesopotamia and other regions of the world (4th millennium BC). And yet, this is not what is typically meant by the information revolution. There may be many explanations, but one seems more convincing than any other: only very recently has human progress and welfare begun to depend mostly on the successful and efficient management of the life cycle of information. The life cycle of information typically includes the following phases: occurrence (discovering, designing, authoring, etc.), transmission (networking, distributing, accessing, retrieving, transmitting, etc.), processing and management (collecting, validating, modifying, organizing, indexing, classifying, filtering, updating, sorting, storing, etc.), and usage (monitoring, modelling, analysing, explaining, planning, forecasting, decision-making, instructing, educating, learning, etc.).


pages: 695 words: 194,693

Money Changes Everything: How Finance Made Civilization Possible by William N. Goetzmann

Albert Einstein, Andrei Shleifer, asset allocation, asset-backed security, banking crisis, Benoit Mandelbrot, Black Swan, Black-Scholes formula, Bretton Woods, Brownian motion, business cycle, capital asset pricing model, Cass Sunstein, collective bargaining, colonial exploitation, compound rate of return, conceptual framework, corporate governance, Credit Default Swap, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, debt deflation, delayed gratification, Detroit bankruptcy, disintermediation, diversified portfolio, double entry bookkeeping, Edmond Halley, en.wikipedia.org, equity premium, financial independence, financial innovation, financial intermediation, fixed income, frictionless, frictionless market, full employment, high net worth, income inequality, index fund, invention of the steam engine, invention of writing, invisible hand, James Watt: steam engine, joint-stock company, joint-stock limited liability company, laissez-faire capitalism, Louis Bachelier, mandelbrot fractal, market bubble, means of production, money market fund, money: store of value / unit of account / medium of exchange, moral hazard, Myron Scholes, new economy, passive investing, Paul Lévy, Ponzi scheme, price stability, principal–agent problem, profit maximization, profit motive, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, random walk, Richard Thaler, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, shareholder value, short selling, South Sea Bubble, sovereign wealth fund, spice trade, stochastic process, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, time value of money, too big to fail, trade liberalization, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, tulip mania, wage slave

While other scholars of the ancient Near East were studying big problems like the evolution of temple architecture, the political history of ancient city-states, and the question of how the ancient climate affected farming and urbanism, Denise concentrated her efforts on laboratory analysis and documentation of the tokens. She established that tokens predated even the ancient city of Uruk. They appeared in prehistoric sites throughout the Near East as early as 7000 BCE. Whatever these things were—counters, game tokens, or mystical symbols, they were used by many different peoples and cultures long before the invention of writing. The objects are about the size of game pieces. Their stylization and simplification suggest that they were standardized for easy recognition—abstract and simple rather than realistic. A systematic organization of the tokens by form and place of discovery led Denise to a stunningly novel hypothesis. Her analysis linked them iconographically to the earliest pictographic writing on clay tablets found in the oldest parts of Uruk.

Schmandt-Besserat’s theory is not universally accepted—some scholars question the basic idea of a transition from tokens to writing and point out discrepancies in the notion of a temporal evolution from models to signs. For example, tokens were used for thousands of years in the ancient Near East—not just in the preliterate period. Why, for example, did the bullae system survive after the invention of writing? Also puzzling is that the widest variety of tokens appeared after the first writing began, not before—suggesting that the token and bullae system was alive, well, and developing in parallel to cuneiform. While tokens and bullae may have led to the discovery of writing, it appears that this technology continued to respond to needs that were not completely met with the written word. ANCIENT CONTRACTS Why would the ancient accountants of Uruk use a cumbersome bullae system for their records—and then keep using it even after they could simply write the information down?

Everything we think of as a financial instrument today is a contract. A government bond, for instance, is a contract between the government and the bondholder to guarantee a series of payments in the future. A share of stock is a contract between the shareholder and the corporation that guarantees participation in the profits of the firm and a right to vote on its management. Although contracts existed before the invention of writing—and even before the invention of bullae—the hollow clay balls and their tokens are arguably the earliest archaeological evidence of contracts. Each bulla evidently meant that someone made a promise to give some commodity—jars of honey, sheep, cattle, perhaps even days of work—to the temple. The writing on the outside of the bulla allowed the contracting parties to refer to the amount owed over the term of the contract or to the people entering into the contract.


pages: 485 words: 126,597

Paper: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

Ada Lovelace, clean water, computer age, Edward Snowden, invention of the telephone, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, lone genius, Marshall McLuhan, means of production, moveable type in China, paper trading, trade route, Vannevar Bush

Socrates was one of the interlocutors in Plato’s dialogues, and the question remains unresolved of how many of Socrates’s words were actually his and how many were Plato putting his own ideas into the mouth of Socrates. One of these works is Phaedrus, which is presented as a series of conversations between a young man and Socrates, an older man who is barefoot and slightly iconoclastic. One of its dialogues is titled “The Superiority of the Spoken Word. The Myth of the Invention of Writing.” Whether Socrates once expressed the ideas contained within the dialogue, perhaps to his young student Plato, or whether they represent Plato’s own reservations about the written word, or whether they are just an expression of other intellectuals’ reservations isn’t known. Among the thoughts expressed in the dialogue are: Shouldn’t we be exercising our memory? Are we just mechanically producing knowledge without asking important questions?

Emperor Fu would randomly throw stalks of yarrow flowers on the ground and find meaning in the pattern they created, thus establishing the idea that patterns carry symbolic meanings. The second emperor, Shennong, established agriculture and trade and initiated a system of keeping accounts on string. The third Emperor, Huangdi, also known as the Yellow Emperor, frustrated by the limitations of recording everything with knotted string, ordered his officer Cangjie to come up with a better system, which led to the invention of writing. Cangjie had four eyes and taught writing to four students. The idea of Chinese characters came to him when a hoofprint of an unknown animal was dropped from the sky by a bird. Local hunters told him that this was an unseen creature, a kind of winged lion called a pixiu. Cangjie decided to interpret the hoofprint in a line drawing. He then decided that studying and interpreting other special objects in nature would be the ideal written language.


pages: 665 words: 146,542

Money: 5,000 Years of Debt and Power by Michel Aglietta

bank run, banking crisis, Basel III, Berlin Wall, bitcoin, blockchain, Bretton Woods, British Empire, business cycle, capital asset pricing model, capital controls, cashless society, central bank independence, collapse of Lehman Brothers, collective bargaining, corporate governance, David Graeber, debt deflation, dematerialisation, Deng Xiaoping, double entry bookkeeping, energy transition, eurozone crisis, Fall of the Berlin Wall, falling living standards, financial deregulation, financial innovation, Financial Instability Hypothesis, financial intermediation, floating exchange rates, forward guidance, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, full employment, German hyperinflation, income inequality, inflation targeting, information asymmetry, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invention of writing, invisible hand, joint-stock company, Kenneth Arrow, Kickstarter, liquidity trap, margin call, means of production, money market fund, moral hazard, Nash equilibrium, Network effects, Northern Rock, oil shock, planetary scale, plutocrats, Plutocrats, price stability, purchasing power parity, quantitative easing, race to the bottom, reserve currency, secular stagnation, seigniorage, shareholder value, special drawing rights, special economic zone, stochastic process, the payments system, the scientific method, too big to fail, trade route, transaction costs, transcontinental railway, Washington Consensus

The second part of the book ventures, then, into the extended longue durée. Anthropologists teach us that money has existed at least since human populations first became sedentary and the division of labour first appeared. Further, money acquired the capacity to express value in the form familiar to us today – that is, it defined a space of equivalence called accounting – once the state had centralised sovereignty over its members. The invention of writing and the invention of money as a unit of accounting go hand-in-hand. Starting out from this basis, we search here for an interpretative thread that provides, in very broad terms, an overview of the historical trajectory of money. In so doing, we ground our study in the most salient lessons of historical research. Our analysis follows two interconnected lines of interpretation: first, the historical links between money and debt, and therefore between money and finance; second, the historical links between money and sovereignty.

And money is the most eminent of these institutions. The great transformation of human societies, in the leap from the logic of the sacred to the logic of equivalence, arises as we become more distant from the sacred (Figure 2.1). This process represents the autonomisation of the political and of civil society. Its material basis is the building of cities, from Sumer onwards; it achieves its formal representation through the invention of writing and numbers. According to David Graeber, a movement of concentrated human settlement in Mesopotamia after 2500 BC gave rise to slavery, the foundation of the market.8 Since its origin, the market has oozed violence. Slavery is the ultimate violence. Indeed, slavery strips human relations of all ethics. As Marx shows, wage labour was not so different in this regard, when it lacked the social rights later established in reaction to the violence of the market.


pages: 285 words: 58,517

The Network Imperative: How to Survive and Grow in the Age of Digital Business Models by Barry Libert, Megan Beck

active measures, Airbnb, Amazon Web Services, asset allocation, autonomous vehicles, big data - Walmart - Pop Tarts, business intelligence, call centre, Clayton Christensen, cloud computing, commoditize, crowdsourcing, disintermediation, diversification, Douglas Engelbart, Douglas Engelbart, future of work, Google Glasses, Google X / Alphabet X, Infrastructure as a Service, intangible asset, Internet of things, invention of writing, inventory management, iterative process, Jeff Bezos, job satisfaction, Kevin Kelly, Kickstarter, late fees, Lyft, Mark Zuckerberg, Oculus Rift, pirate software, ride hailing / ride sharing, self-driving car, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, six sigma, software as a service, software patent, Steve Jobs, subscription business, TaskRabbit, Travis Kalanick, uber lyft, Wall-E, women in the workforce, Zipcar

Remember the power of networks, and create one around you to help guide your company toward a more competitive and profitable future. To start, you could turn to a group of your peers, preferably those with some diversity in their thinking. Ask them to join you on this exciting journey. PRINCIPLE 1 TECHNOLOGY From Physical to Digital The digital revolution is far more significant than the invention of writing or even printing. —Douglas Engelbart, internet pioneer PEOPLE OFTEN HAVE TROUBLE IDENTIFYING WHAT THEY REALLY VALUE, but priorities emerge during times of crisis. In the summer of 2015, waves of Syrians fled the civil war in their homeland. Although the refugees carried food, water, and money in their backpacks, for most of them, the most important survival asset was their smartphone.1 When these refugees enter a new country, the first to-do item is to get a new SIM card and get online.


pages: 855 words: 178,507

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick

Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, AltaVista, bank run, bioinformatics, Brownian motion, butterfly effect, citation needed, Claude Shannon: information theory, clockwork universe, computer age, conceptual framework, crowdsourcing, death of newspapers, discovery of DNA, Donald Knuth, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, en.wikipedia.org, Eratosthenes, Fellow of the Royal Society, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Henri Poincaré, Honoré de Balzac, index card, informal economy, information retrieval, invention of the printing press, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, Jaron Lanier, jimmy wales, Johannes Kepler, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, lifelogging, Louis Daguerre, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, microbiome, Milgram experiment, Network effects, New Journalism, Norbert Wiener, Norman Macrae, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, PageRank, pattern recognition, phenotype, Pierre-Simon Laplace, pre–internet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, RAND corporation, reversible computing, Richard Feynman, Rubik’s Cube, Simon Singh, Socratic dialogue, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, stochastic process, talking drums, the High Line, The Wisdom of Crowds, transcontinental railway, Turing machine, Turing test, women in the workforce

Since the paradoxes seem to be in language, or about language, one way to banish them was to purify the medium: eliminate ambiguous words and woolly syntax, employ symbols that were rigorous and pure. To turn, that is, to mathematics. By the beginning of the twentieth century, it seemed that only a system of purpose-built symbols could make logic work properly—free of error and paradoxes. This dream was to prove illusory; the paradoxes would creep back in, but no one could hope to understand until the paths of logic and mathematics converged. Mathematics, too, followed from the invention of writing. Greece is often thought of as the springhead for the river that becomes modern mathematics, with all its many tributaries down the centuries. But the Greeks themselves alluded to another tradition—to them, ancient—which they called Chaldean, and which we understand to be Babylonian. That tradition vanished into the sands, not to surface until the end of the nineteenth century, when tablets of clay were dug up from the mounds of lost cities.

Claude struck her as dark in temperament and sparkling in intellect. They began to see each other every day; he wrote sonnets for her, uncapitalized in the style of E. E. Cummings. She loved the way he loved words, the way he said Boooooooolean algebra. By January they were married (Boston judge, no ceremony), and she followed him to Princeton, where he had received a postdoctoral fellowship. The invention of writing had catalyzed logic, by making it possible to reason about reasoning—to hold a train of thought up before the eyes for examination—and now, all these centuries later, logic was reanimated with the invention of machinery that could work upon symbols. In logic and mathematics, the highest forms of reasoning, everything seemed to be coming together. By melding logic and mathematics in a system of axioms, signs, formulas, and proofs, philosophers seemed within reach of a kind of perfection—a rigorous, formal certainty.


pages: 604 words: 161,455

The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life by Robert Wright

"Robert Solow", agricultural Revolution, Andrei Shleifer, Asian financial crisis, British Empire, centre right, cognitive dissonance, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, fault tolerance, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, George Gilder, global village, invention of gunpowder, invention of movable type, invention of the telegraph, invention of writing, invisible hand, John Nash: game theory, John von Neumann, Marshall McLuhan, Norbert Wiener, planetary scale, pre–internet, profit motive, Ralph Waldo Emerson, random walk, Richard Thaler, rising living standards, Silicon Valley, social intelligence, social web, Steven Pinker, talking drums, the medium is the message, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, trade route, your tax dollars at work, zero-sum game

All can ease the mobilization of groups with a common goal. You could in principle have started the Protestant Reformation via TV. (Luther was a preacher, after all, like Billy Graham.) But TV didn’t exist. Moreover, when TV was invented, the core similarities between video and the written word were concealed by the fact that, at the time, the two media had different economic properties. Since the invention of writing in ancient times, a series of innovations—paper, ink, mass-produced paper, the printing press, better printing presses, better mail service—had made this means of ending signals quite cheap. But the cost of producing and widely distributing video—whether movies or TV shows—was still high. In the case of TV, the preciousness of video was further heightened by the finiteness of the broadcast spectrum—a finiteness that led to government control of the medium via broadcast licensing.

And it will, at least in the sense that all of the above trends are likely to continue. On the other hand, even long-standing trends move slowly at times and faster other times, and this may be one of the other times. With the coming of TV, the computer, the microcomputer, and allied technologies, this century has seen breakthroughs in information technology that rival all past such breakthroughs, even the inventions of writing, money, and the printing press. Given the centrality of information technology to non-zero-sumness, and the centrality of non-zero-sumness to social structure, is it possible that we are passing through a true threshold, a change as basic as the transitions from hunter-gatherer village to chiefdom, from chiefdom to ancient state? And if so, what lies on the other side? Is it the promised land?


pages: 533

Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech by Jamie Susskind

3D printing, additive manufacturing, affirmative action, agricultural Revolution, Airbnb, airport security, Andrew Keen, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, automated trading system, autonomous vehicles, basic income, Bertrand Russell: In Praise of Idleness, bitcoin, blockchain, brain emulation, British Empire, business process, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, cashless society, Cass Sunstein, cellular automata, cloud computing, computer age, computer vision, continuation of politics by other means, correlation does not imply causation, crowdsourcing, cryptocurrency, digital map, distributed ledger, Donald Trump, easy for humans, difficult for computers, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, en.wikipedia.org, Erik Brynjolfsson, Ethereum, ethereum blockchain, Filter Bubble, future of work, Google bus, Google X / Alphabet X, Googley, industrial robot, informal economy, intangible asset, Internet of things, invention of the printing press, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, John Markoff, Joseph Schumpeter, Kevin Kelly, knowledge economy, lifelogging, Metcalfe’s law, mittelstand, more computing power than Apollo, move fast and break things, move fast and break things, natural language processing, Network effects, new economy, night-watchman state, Oculus Rift, Panopticon Jeremy Bentham, pattern recognition, payday loans, price discrimination, price mechanism, RAND corporation, ransomware, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Stallman, ride hailing / ride sharing, road to serfdom, Robert Mercer, Satoshi Nakamoto, Second Machine Age, selection bias, self-driving car, sexual politics, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Skype, smart cities, Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia, smart contracts, Snapchat, speech recognition, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Levy, technological singularity, the built environment, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas L Friedman, universal basic income, urban planning, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, working-age population

Without writing, words as such have no visual presence, even when the objects they represent are visual. They are sounds. You might ‘call’ them back— ‘recall’ them. But there is nowhere to ‘look’ for them. They have no focus and no trace (a visual metaphor, showing dependency on writing), not even a trajectory. They are occurrences, events. Think for a moment about how different law was before the invention of writing. Instead of precisely codified rules, communities lived according to customs, folkways, and habits. Acting lawfully meant behaving in a way that was generally understood to be decorous, seemly, and appropriate. There was no detailed regulation. Rules were rehearsed in the form of maxims, sayings, and poems. The general principles were well-known to most, but mastery was reserved to a small class of learned elders.31 Oftentimes, legal principles were not expressed in general terms but indirectly through folk tales and parables.

Says the US Director of National Intelligence:33 In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials. Imperishable We tend to think of forgetting as a vice. We curse our poor memories when we lose our keys or forget to call our mother on her birthday (a mistake the wise son only makes once). In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates criticizes the invention of writing for its inevitable effect on men’s memories: For your invention will create forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it, through lack of practice at using their memory, as through reliance on writing they are reminded from outside by alien marks, not from within.34 Yet forgetting actually plays an important social function.35 Sometimes, in order to change and move on, we need to be able to put aside our old failures, regrets, embarrassments, and prejudices.


pages: 266 words: 67,272

Fun Inc. by Tom Chatfield

Alexey Pajitnov wrote Tetris, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Boris Johnson, cloud computing, cognitive dissonance, computer age, credit crunch, game design, invention of writing, longitudinal study, moral panic, publication bias, Silicon Valley, Skype, stem cell, upwardly mobile

Like society itself, media are better understood as a constantly evolving and interlocking system than as a discrete series of trends and ventures. There is competition within such a system, of course, sometimes of a brutally Darwinian nature. But there are also synergies and shared fundamentals, the most significant of which is the users themselves, whose natures have not shifted perceptibly over the millennia between the invention of writing and the present day, let alone between the creation of cinema and the birth of the games console. Older media must continue to adapt, and governments, societies and families must continue to support and value them. But the apparent war between different media is emphatically not a struggle for the human soul between debasing and ennobling tendencies. There is bad and good in each medium, as well as great power, and the recipe for progress remains much the same as it has always been: investigation, rigour, understanding, specificity, context, education and, perhaps above all, the refusal to succumb to glib hysteria.


pages: 255 words: 68,829

How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid by Franck Frommer

Albert Einstein, business continuity plan, cuban missile crisis, dematerialisation, hypertext link, invention of writing, inventory management, invisible hand, Just-in-time delivery, knowledge worker, Marshall McLuhan, means of production, new economy, oil shock, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, union organizing

All kinds of lists: simple, alphabetical, hierarchical, graduated, disseminated, illustrated, animated, linear, and vertical for agendas, summaries, actions, objectives, results, and so on. PowerPoint did not invent the list, the use of which can be detected at the very beginnings of writing. In a pathbreaking study of the relationship between oral and written expression, the American anthropologist Jack Goody notes that “the making of tables, lists, and formulae” is characteristic of the earliest forms of writing.13 The invention of writing made it possible to provide a concrete, permanent, and “objective” medium for speech. This form of neutrality provided to language by writing is, however, a two-edged sword. At the outset, writing had two primary functions: preserving speech and shifting from the oral to the visual. The great interest of writing was its combinatorial aspect: words became autonomous units that could be shifted, extracted, changed, transposed, and so forth.


pages: 210 words: 67,361

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Lewis Galantiere

invention of writing

The energy I burn up in listening to him is dispensed in the same instant by a lake formed in the River Yser which, four thousand miles from him and five hundred from me, melts like snow in the action of the turbines. Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice, transport of flickering pictures - in this century as in others our highest accomplishments still have the single aim of bringing men together. Do our dreamers hold that the invention of writing, of printing, of the sailing ship, degraded the human spirit? It seems to me that those who complain of man's progress confuse ends with means. True, that man who struggles in the unique hope of material gain will harvest nothing worthwhile. But how can anyone conceive that the machine is an end? It is a tool. As much a tool as is the plough. The microscope is a tool. What disservice do we do the life of the spirit when we analyze the universe through a tool created by the science of optics, or seek to bring together those who love one another and are parted in space?


pages: 291 words: 77,596

Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything by Gordon Bell, Jim Gemmell

airport security, Albert Einstein, book scanning, cloud computing, conceptual framework, Douglas Engelbart, full text search, information retrieval, invention of writing, inventory management, Isaac Newton, John Markoff, lifelogging, Menlo Park, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, performance metric, RAND corporation, RFID, semantic web, Silicon Valley, Skype, social web, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Steve Ballmer, Ted Nelson, telepresence, Turing test, Vannevar Bush, web application

One thing that has defined our progress as the preeminent species on the planet has been our ability to develop better and better systems of memory. Our greatest innovation was language, a unique system for representing, storing, and sharing knowledge. Language made us into the first and only truly cultural animal, able to share both highly specific and powerfully abstract bits of knowledge across societies and down through generations. The next great turning point in human development was the invention of writing, which it became necessary to invent as the needs of record keeping in agrarian city-states outstripped the limits of naked memory. Thanks to writing, human knowledge snow-balled over just a few thousand years and brought us most recently into the Information Age. Around the middle of the last century the digital computer joined our mnemonic arsenal and rapidly precipitated another epochal change in how we manage our knowledge.


pages: 272 words: 83,378

Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto by Mark Helprin

Albert Einstein, anti-communist, Berlin Wall, carbon footprint, computer age, crowdsourcing, hive mind, invention of writing, Jacquard loom, lateral thinking, plutocrats, Plutocrats, race to the bottom, semantic web, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley ideology, the scientific method, Yogi Berra, zero-sum game

Even as a child, I was intoxicated by the greatness of the written word, and took refuge in its power as the gift and protection of God. Like music, it is a direct route to the truths that lie beyond understanding, taking those who will follow to a height from which it is possible to see something too bright to comprehend. This attitude and belief has been preserved among the Jews since the invention of writing and the advent of revelation. It is so deeply ingrained in Jewish culture and nationality—apart from religion, where it is certainly not absent—that I am controlled by it atavistically and thus can never be a modern man. When I chose my profession, which I was sure would keep me poor all my life, I did so not because I wanted to copy the existence of Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Nabokov, but because I was compelled to follow the lead of the people from which I am descended, in the most rewarding and satisfying exercise I can imagine: something that, when done with great effort and an honest heart, touches upon the holy; that, even in the face of death and destruction, offers warmth, comfort, promise, and a shield.


pages: 304 words: 85,291

Cities: The First 6,000 Years by Monica L. Smith

clean water, diversified portfolio, failed state, financial innovation, hiring and firing, invention of writing, Jane Jacobs, New Urbanism, payday loans, place-making, Ponzi scheme, South China Sea, telemarketer, the built environment, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thorstein Veblen, too big to fail, trade route, urban planning, urban renewal, wikimedia commons

A Springboard for Everything In cities, people transformed their prior capacities into new inventions designed to make urban life easier and faster. Entrepreneurs supercharged architecture by creating new types of spaces, supercharged the economy by creating new strategies of production, and supercharged language through changes in the technology of expression, among which the most striking was the invention of writing. It was in Mesopotamia, the home of the world’s earliest cities, that we have evidence for the first writing in the form of clay tablets with tiny, wedge-shaped cuneiform impressions. The first scribes used their invention to keep accounts, augmented with a healthy dose of divine oversight. (“You owe me one sheep, and may the Gods smite you if it dies”.) People immediately put writing to use keeping track of commerce, as well as keeping track of workers and wages.


pages: 267 words: 82,580

The Dark Net by Jamie Bartlett

3D printing, 4chan, bitcoin, blockchain, brain emulation, carbon footprint, creative destruction, crowdsourcing, cryptocurrency, deindustrialization, Edward Snowden, Filter Bubble, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, global village, Google Chrome, Howard Rheingold, Internet of things, invention of writing, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Julian Assange, Kuwabatake Sanjuro: assassination market, life extension, litecoin, longitudinal study, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, moral hazard, moral panic, Occupy movement, pre–internet, Ray Kurzweil, Ross Ulbricht, Satoshi Nakamoto, Skype, slashdot, technological singularity, technoutopianism, Ted Kaczynski, The Coming Technological Singularity, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, WikiLeaks, Zimmermann PGP

All information is derived from interviews I conducted with members of pro-ana websites, and is accurate to the best of my knowledge. I have also cloaked quotes where necessary. Conclusion Zoltan vs Zerzan TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOLOGIES HAVE always been accompanied by optimistic and pessimistic visions of how they will change humanity and society. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates worried that the recent invention of writing would have a deleterious effect on the memories of young Greeks who, he predicted, would become ‘the hearers of many things and will have learned nothing’. When books began to roll off Johannes Gutenberg’s press, many suspected they would be ‘confusing and harmful’, overwhelming young people with information. Although Marconi believed his radio was helping humanity win ‘the struggle with space and time’, as his invention became popular, others feared that children’s impressionable minds would be polluted by dangerous ideas and families rendered obsolete as they sat around listening to entertainment programmes.


pages: 297 words: 83,651

The Twittering Machine by Richard Seymour

4chan, anti-communist, augmented reality, Bernie Sanders, Cal Newport, Cass Sunstein, Chelsea Manning, citizen journalism, colonial rule, correlation does not imply causation, credit crunch, crowdsourcing, don't be evil, Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Erik Brynjolfsson, Filter Bubble, Google Chrome, Google Earth, hive mind, informal economy, Internet of things, invention of movable type, invention of writing, Jaron Lanier, Jony Ive, Kevin Kelly, knowledge economy, late capitalism, liberal capitalism, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Mohammed Bouazizi, moral panic, move fast and break things, move fast and break things, Network effects, new economy, packet switching, patent troll, Philip Mirowski, post scarcity, post-industrial society, RAND corporation, Rat Park, rent-seeking, replication crisis, sentiment analysis, Shoshana Zuboff, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley ideology, smart cities, Snapchat, Steve Jobs, Stewart Brand, Stuxnet, TaskRabbit, technoutopianism, the scientific method, Tim Cook: Apple, undersea cable, upwardly mobile, white flight, Whole Earth Catalog, WikiLeaks

But what does that mean? In a sense, drives are already virtual. Freud used the term ‘virtual’ to describe the space of mental life, of fantasies, dreams and desires. He defined drives, not as physical instincts, but as the mental representation of bodily impulses, which is to say that they virtualize physical realities. Meatspace was already virtual reality. All that we have added, first with the invention of writing, then with print and finally with digital writing, are new layers of virtualization. It is for this reason that Lacan defined all drives as potential death drives. If a drive is virtual, then, unlike an instinct, it can’t be satisfied. It spins on eternally, immortally, indifferent to decency, pleasure or organic survival. And it wages asymmetric war against all constraints, including the deathly constraints of identification.


pages: 339 words: 94,769

Possible Minds: Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at AI by John Brockman

AI winter, airport security, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, artificial general intelligence, Asilomar, autonomous vehicles, basic income, Benoit Mandelbrot, Bill Joy: nanobots, Buckminster Fuller, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Danny Hillis, David Graeber, easy for humans, difficult for computers, Elon Musk, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, finite state, friendly AI, future of work, Geoffrey West, Santa Fe Institute, gig economy, income inequality, industrial robot, information retrieval, invention of writing, James Watt: steam engine, Johannes Kepler, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, Kickstarter, Laplace demon, Loebner Prize, market fundamentalism, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, Norbert Wiener, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, personalized medicine, Picturephone, profit maximization, profit motive, RAND corporation, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, self-driving car, sexual politics, Silicon Valley, Skype, social graph, speech recognition, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, strong AI, superintelligent machines, supervolcano, technological singularity, technoutopianism, telemarketer, telerobotics, the scientific method, theory of mind, Turing machine, Turing test, universal basic income, Upton Sinclair, Von Neumann architecture, Whole Earth Catalog, Y2K, zero-sum game

Fortunately for civilization, the more a person’s creativity is forced into a monomaniacal channel, the more it is impaired in regard to overcoming unforeseen difficulties, just as happened for thousands of centuries. The worry that AGIs are uniquely dangerous because they could run on ever better hardware is a fallacy, since human thought will be accelerated by the same technology. We have been using tech-assisted thought since the invention of writing and tallying. Much the same holds for the worry that AGIs might get so good, qualitatively, at thinking that humans would be to them as insects are to humans. All thinking is a form of computation, and any computer whose repertoire includes a universal set of elementary operations can emulate the computations of any other. Hence human brains can think anything that AGIs can, subject only to limitations of speed or memory capacity, both of which can be equalized by technology.


pages: 317 words: 98,745

Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace by Ronald J. Deibert

4chan, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Brian Krebs, call centre, citizen journalism, cloud computing, connected car, corporate social responsibility, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, data acquisition, failed state, Firefox, global supply chain, global village, Google Hangouts, Hacker Ethic, informal economy, invention of writing, Iridium satellite, jimmy wales, John Markoff, Kibera, Kickstarter, knowledge economy, low earth orbit, Marshall McLuhan, MITM: man-in-the-middle, mobile money, mutually assured destruction, Naomi Klein, new economy, Occupy movement, Panopticon Jeremy Bentham, planetary scale, rent-seeking, Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan: Tear down this wall, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Skype, smart grid, South China Sea, Steven Levy, Stuxnet, Ted Kaczynski, the medium is the message, Turing test, undersea cable, We are Anonymous. We are Legion, WikiLeaks, zero day

You’ve heard all the ecstatic metaphors used by enthusiasts and your thoughts turn elsewhere. “Hell is other people,” Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote in No Exit, and now teeming billions of them are potentially in your living room, or at least in your email inbox, that silent assassin. You cherish your privacy. Of course, there have been previous revolutions in communications technology that have upset the order of things and caused outrage and celebration. The alphabet, the invention of writing, the development of the printing press, the telegraph, radio, and television come to mind. But one of the many things that distinguishes cyberspace is the speed by which it has spread (and continues to spread). Those other technological innovations no doubt changed societies but in an “immersive” sense only over many generations, and more locally than not. Cyberspace, on the other hand, has connected two-thirds of the world – has joined, that is, more than 4 billion people in a single communications environment – in less than twenty years.


pages: 330 words: 99,226

Extraterrestrial Civilizations by Isaac Asimov

Albert Einstein, Cepheid variable, Columbine, Edward Charles Pickering, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, invention of radio, invention of the telescope, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, Louis Pasteur, Magellanic Cloud, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

That means, if we follow the principle of mediocrity, that 40 percent of the habitable planets in existence are not old enough to have developed a civilization and 60 percent are old enough. That gives us our twelfth figure: 12—The number of planets in our Galaxy on which a technological civilization has developed = 390,000,000. In other words, one star out of 770 in the Galaxy today has shone down on the development of a technological civilization. We can go a little bit further. Our own civilization, if we count from the invention of writing to the first venture into space, has lasted 5,000 years. If we want to be glowingly optimistic about it, we can suppose that our civilization will continue to last on Earth as long as the Earth can support life—for another 7.4 billion years—and that our level of technology will advance in all that time.* Suppose we say, then, that the average duration of a civilization is 7.4 billion years (we’ll have more to say about that later on in the book) and that space flight is reached in the first 5,000 years.


pages: 325 words: 99,983

Globish: How the English Language Became the World's Language by Robert McCrum

Alistair Cooke, anti-communist, Berlin Wall, British Empire, call centre, Charles Lindbergh, colonial rule, credit crunch, cuban missile crisis, Deng Xiaoping, Etonian, failed state, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, invention of movable type, invention of writing, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, jimmy wales, knowledge economy, Livingstone, I presume, Martin Wolf, Naomi Klein, Norman Mailer, Parag Khanna, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Republic of Letters, Ronald Reagan, sceptred isle, Scramble for Africa, Silicon Valley, Steven Pinker, the new new thing, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas L Friedman, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, transcontinental railway, upwardly mobile

In any culture, it is impossible to quantify the tides of influence between the written and the spoken word but, comparable to the impact of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, the spread of printing in the late fifteenth century was a milestone of incalculable consequence. Printing introduces a crucial modern separation between spoken and written mass communications. In the digital twenty-first century you will not always find ink and paper, but you cannot escape the printed word; it defines our civilization. Printing has been described as ‘the third revolution’ in human communications, after the invention of writing and the alphabet. It began in the 1450s with Johannes Gutenberg, a German businessman from Mainz. 4 Before Gutenberg, books were costly, rare and handmade. The composition of a single volume was a laborious business, closer to an art than a craft. A single copy might take a month or two to produce (one 1,272–page commentary on the Bible took two scribes five years, 1453–8, to complete).


pages: 287 words: 99,131

Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom by Mary Catherine Bateson

affirmative action, Berlin Wall, Celebration, Florida, desegregation, double helix, estate planning, feminist movement, invention of writing, Ronald Reagan, Rosa Parks, sexual politics, Silicon Valley, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, urban renewal, War on Poverty, women in the workforce

Homo sapiens is also Homo ludens and Homo faber. Alfred Korzybski described our distinctive quality as “time binding,” a characteristic that includes the ability to recall the past and to plan for the future, as well as the capacity to recognize and analyze sequences of cause and effect, a capacity that is amplified as knowledge is developed and passed on from generation to generation.1 The invention of writing offered the possibility of time binding across millennia. Not only do human beings learn and teach but they do so across generations and across centuries. The accumulation of scientific knowledge and technological possibility, however, has created a process of accelerated change in which the challenge of keeping up from day to day has actually undermined our capacity for long-term thinking and vision even as it has increased the future costs of bad decisions taken in the present.


pages: 398 words: 100,679

The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch by Lewis Dartnell

agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, clean water, Dava Sobel, decarbonisation, discovery of penicillin, Dmitri Mendeleev, global village, Haber-Bosch Process, invention of movable type, invention of radio, invention of writing, iterative process, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, lone genius, low earth orbit, mass immigration, nuclear winter, off grid, Richard Feynman, technology bubble, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, trade route

PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, “Ozymandias” (1818) TODAY, WITH THE INTERNET, ubiquitous wireless networks, and handheld smartphones, communication with one another anywhere in the world is effortless and instantaneous. We keep in touch via e-mail and Twitter, websites disseminate news and information, and we can access the wealth of human knowledge from the palm of our hand. But in a post-apocalyptic world you’ll need to return to more traditional communication technologies. WRITING Before the invention of writing, knowledge circulated among the minds of the living, conveyed only by the spoken word. Yet there is only so much data that can be stored in oral history, and the danger is that when people die ideas are lost forever. But once committed to a physical medium, thoughts can be stored faithfully, referred back to years later, and built up over time. A culture that has developed writing can accumulate far more knowledge than could ever be cached in the collective memories of its populace.


pages: 379 words: 99,340

The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium by Martin Gurri

Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Albert Einstein, anti-communist, Arthur Eddington, Ayatollah Khomeini, bitcoin, Black Swan, Burning Man, business cycle, citizen journalism, Climategate, Climatic Research Unit, collective bargaining, creative destruction, crowdsourcing, currency manipulation / currency intervention, dark matter, David Graeber, death of newspapers, en.wikipedia.org, Erik Brynjolfsson, facts on the ground, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, Frederick Winslow Taylor, full employment, housing crisis, income inequality, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invention of writing, job-hopping, Mohammed Bouazizi, Nate Silver, Occupy movement, Port of Oakland, Republic of Letters, Ronald Reagan, Skype, Steve Jobs, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, too big to fail, traveling salesman, University of East Anglia, urban renewal, War on Poverty, We are the 99%, WikiLeaks, young professional

“Digital age” is lame, “digital revolution” better and I will use it it some contexts, but it implies change by means of a single decisive episode, and fails to communicate the grinding struggle of negation which I believe is the central feature of our time. An earlier candidate of mine, “age of the public,” I discarded for the same reason. The old hierarchies and systems are still very much with us. So let me return to my original point of departure: information. Information has not grown incrementally over history, but has expanded in great pulses or waves which sweep over the human landscape and leave little untouched. The invention of writing, for example, was one such wave. It led to a form of government dependent on a mandarin or priestly caste. The development of the alphabet was another: the republics of the classical world would have been unable to function without literate citizens. A third wave, the arrival of the printing press and moveable type, was probably the most disruptive of all. The Reformation, modern science, and the American and French revolutions would scarcely have been possible without printed books and pamphlets.


pages: 360 words: 100,991

Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence by Richard Yonck

3D printing, AI winter, artificial general intelligence, Asperger Syndrome, augmented reality, Berlin Wall, brain emulation, Buckminster Fuller, call centre, cognitive bias, cognitive dissonance, computer age, computer vision, crowdsourcing, Elon Musk, en.wikipedia.org, epigenetics, friendly AI, ghettoisation, industrial robot, Internet of things, invention of writing, Jacques de Vaucanson, job automation, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, Law of Accelerating Returns, Loebner Prize, Menlo Park, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Metcalfe’s law, neurotypical, Oculus Rift, old age dependency ratio, pattern recognition, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, Rodney Brooks, self-driving car, Skype, social intelligence, software as a service, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, superintelligent machines, technological singularity, telepresence, telepresence robot, The Future of Employment, the scientific method, theory of mind, Turing test, twin studies, undersea cable, Vernor Vinge, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Whole Earth Review, working-age population, zero day

And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.36 While there may be some truth to what Plato says about writing’s impact on pre-literate society and oral memory, we’d be hard-pressed to find a voice today that genuinely believes the world would have been better off without the invention of writing. As with every technology, it’s been put to uses both good and bad, but in this instance the balance definitely seems to have been toward the positive. While it can be argued that some number of written works have contributed to the detriment of humankind through the ages, this can hardly be seen as justification for the elimination of writing as a whole. Similar fearful views of new technologies can be found throughout history.


pages: 734 words: 244,010

The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins

agricultural Revolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, complexity theory, delayed gratification, double helix, Drosophila, Haight Ashbury, invention of writing, lateral thinking, Louis Pasteur, mass immigration, nuclear winter, out of africa, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Spread Networks laid a new fibre optics cable between New York and Chicago, Steven Pinker, the High Line, urban sprawl

Triangulation Linguists often wish to trace languages back through history. Where written records survive it is rather easy. The historical linguist can use the second of our two methods of reconstruction, tracing back renewed relics, in this case words. Modern English goes back via Middle English to Anglo-Saxon using the continuous literary tradition, through Shakespeare, Chaucer and Beowulf. But speech obviously goes back long before the invention of writing, and many languages have no written form anyway. For the earlier history of dead languages, linguists resort to a version of what I am calling triangulation. They compare modern languages and group them hierarchically into families within families. Romance, Germanic, Slavic, Celtic and other European language families are in turn grouped with some Indian language families into Indo-European.

Some authorities are so impressed by the Great Leap Forward that they think it coincided with the origin of language. What else, they ask, could account for such a sudden change? It is not as silly as it sounds to suggest that language arose suddenly. Nobody thinks writing goes back more than a few thousand years, and everyone agrees that brain anatomy didn't change to coincide with anything so recent as the invention of writing. In theory, speech could be another example of the same thing. Nevertheless, my hunch, supported by the authority of linguists such as Steven Pinker, is that language is older than the Leap. We'll come back to the point a million years further into the past, when our pilgrimage reaches Homo ergaster(erectus). If not language itself, perhaps the Great Leap Forward coincided with the sudden discovery of what we might call a new software technique: maybe a new trick of grammar, such as the conditional clause, which, at a stroke, would have enabled 'what if' imagination to flower.


The Future of Money by Bernard Lietaer

agricultural Revolution, banks create money, barriers to entry, Bretton Woods, business cycle, clean water, complexity theory, corporate raider, dematerialisation, discounted cash flows, diversification, fiat currency, financial deregulation, financial innovation, floating exchange rates, full employment, George Gilder, German hyperinflation, global reserve currency, Golden Gate Park, Howard Rheingold, informal economy, invention of the telephone, invention of writing, Lao Tzu, Mahatma Gandhi, means of production, microcredit, money: store of value / unit of account / medium of exchange, Norbert Wiener, North Sea oil, offshore financial centre, pattern recognition, post-industrial society, price stability, reserve currency, Ronald Reagan, seigniorage, Silicon Valley, South Sea Bubble, The Future of Employment, the market place, the payments system, Thomas Davenport, trade route, transaction costs, trickle-down economics, working poor

They are transforming what money is, who creates it, what it means, what emotions it encourages, and how people will behave towards each other and the environment when using it. We know that the technological changes that have the most radical revolutionary impact on societies are those that change the tools by which people relate to each other. Fundamental shifts in civilisation have been traced back to the invention of writing, the alphabet and to the printing press. The breathtaking social, political and economic implications of the invention of the telephone, car, and television are classic examples of such shifts that occurred during the 20th century. Changes in the nature of money will have at least as great an impact as any of the above examples. Money is our key tool for material exchanges with people beyond our immediate intimate circle.


pages: 372 words: 110,208

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich

23andMe, agricultural Revolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, European colonialism, Google Earth, invention of agriculture, invention of the wheel, invention of writing, mass immigration, meta analysis, meta-analysis, new economy, out of africa, phenotype, Scientific racism, supervolcano, the scientific method, transatlantic slave trade

Coanalyzing them with present-day Britons, including those from the “People of the British Isles” study, we expect to be able to connect the dots between the past and the present in this one small part of the world. Ancient DNA studies with large numbers of samples also offer the promise of being able to estimate human population sizes at different times in the past, a topic about which we have almost no reliable information from the period earlier than the invention of writing, but which is important for understanding not just human history and evolution but also economics and ecology. In a population of many hundreds of millions (such as the Han Chinese), a pair of randomly chosen people is expected to have few if any shared segments of DNA within the last forty generations because they descend from almost entirely different ancestors over this period. By contrast, in a small population (like the indigenous people of Little Andaman Island, who have a census size of fewer than one hundred), all pairs of individuals are closely related and will show evidence of relatedness through many shared segments of DNA.


pages: 396 words: 107,814

Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything by David Bellos

Clapham omnibus, Claude Shannon: information theory, Douglas Hofstadter, Etonian, European colonialism, haute cuisine, invention of the telephone, invention of writing, natural language processing, Republic of Letters, Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, speech recognition

What we probably meant in the distant past when we asserted that something was “literally true” in order to emphasize that it was really true, true to a higher degree than just being true, was that it was among those rare things that were worthy of being “put into letters,” of being written down. All the uses of literal with respect to meaning and translation implicitly value writtenness more highly than oral speech. They are now among the surviving linguistic traces of the fantastic change in social and cultural hierarchies that the invention of writing brought about. They carry the shadow of the early stages of literacy in the Mediterranean basin between the third and first millennia B.C.E., when alphabetic scripts first arose together with the texts that through translation and retranslation have shaped and fed Western civilization ever since. This is presumably why the same words and the same terms still persist in debates about how best to translate.


pages: 397 words: 102,910

The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet by Justin Peters

4chan, activist lawyer, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Bayesian statistics, Brewster Kahle, buy low sell high, crowdsourcing, disintermediation, don't be evil, global village, Hacker Ethic, hypertext link, index card, informal economy, information retrieval, Internet Archive, invention of movable type, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, John Markoff, Joi Ito, Lean Startup, moral panic, Paul Buchheit, Paul Graham, profit motive, RAND corporation, Republic of Letters, Richard Stallman, selection bias, semantic web, Silicon Valley, social web, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, strikebreaker, Vannevar Bush, Whole Earth Catalog, Y Combinator

Using a Teletype terminal,27 Hart typed it up in capital letters—computers did not yet support lowercase text28—saved the document on a hard-drive pack, and informed the other network users that the Declaration of Independence was now available in computerized format.29 It was the first e-book. Years later, Hart would burnish this act into legend—the genesis of a movement that would eventually spread across the world, one that would “undoubtedly become the greatest advance to human civilization and society since the invention of writing itself.”30 At the time, though, it seemed less like an opening salvo than a misfire; just another unnoticed folk song. (According to Hart, the Declaration was accessed only six times.)31 The upload had its most profound effect on the uploader himself, Michael Hart, who was convinced that he had hit on something big, even if, or perhaps because, no one else shared his optimism. The story of the modern free culture movement essentially begins here, in the early days of digital computing, on the margins of mainstream consciousness; its first protagonists unsupervised misfits such as Michael Hart who accomplished all they did simply because there was nobody around to stop them.


pages: 484 words: 120,507

The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel by Nicholas Ostler

barriers to entry, BRICs, British Empire, call centre, en.wikipedia.org, European colonialism, Internet Archive, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Machine translation of "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." to Russian and back, mass immigration, Nelson Mandela, open economy, Republic of Letters, Scramble for Africa, statistical model, trade route, upwardly mobile

But the British and their kin are only the latest nations to distinguish themselves, and potentially their language, for links with international (and cross-linguistic) trade. By now, the historical record has enough such nations to form a few judgments about the careers and likely destinies of lingua-franca communities grown on this basis, the voluntary exchange of goods for profit. The recording of commercial transactions is accepted as one of the fundamental uses of literacy—even perhaps the original motive for the invention of writing— so in principle one might expect the history of such languages to be well documented. In practice, the rec ords of such languages—which would include Phoenician, Aramaic, Greek, Sabir (the eponymous Lingua Franca of the Mediterranean), Sogdian, Persian, Portuguese, Malay, Nahuatl, Mobile Trade Language, Chinook Jargon, Tupi (Lingua Geral do Brasil), Swahili, as well as French and English— if they were ever written down, have only tended to survive if they were noncommercial.


pages: 403 words: 111,119

Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist by Kate Raworth

"Robert Solow", 3D printing, Asian financial crisis, bank run, basic income, battle of ideas, Berlin Wall, bitcoin, blockchain, Branko Milanovic, Bretton Woods, Buckminster Fuller, business cycle, call centre, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, Cass Sunstein, choice architecture, clean water, cognitive bias, collapse of Lehman Brothers, complexity theory, creative destruction, crowdsourcing, cryptocurrency, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, dematerialisation, disruptive innovation, Douglas Engelbart, Douglas Engelbart, en.wikipedia.org, energy transition, Erik Brynjolfsson, Ethereum, ethereum blockchain, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, experimental economics, Exxon Valdez, Fall of the Berlin Wall, financial deregulation, Financial Instability Hypothesis, full employment, global supply chain, global village, Henri Poincaré, hiring and firing, Howard Zinn, Hyman Minsky, income inequality, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invention of writing, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Arrow, Kenneth Rogoff, Kickstarter, land reform, land value tax, Landlord’s Game, loss aversion, low skilled workers, M-Pesa, Mahatma Gandhi, market fundamentalism, Martin Wolf, means of production, megacity, mobile money, Mont Pelerin Society, Myron Scholes, neoliberal agenda, Network effects, Occupy movement, off grid, offshore financial centre, oil shale / tar sands, out of africa, Paul Samuelson, peer-to-peer, planetary scale, price mechanism, quantitative easing, randomized controlled trial, Richard Thaler, Ronald Reagan, Second Machine Age, secular stagnation, shareholder value, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Simon Kuznets, smart cities, smart meter, Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits, South Sea Bubble, statistical model, Steve Ballmer, The Chicago School, The Great Moderation, the map is not the territory, the market place, The Spirit Level, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, too big to fail, Torches of Freedom, trickle-down economics, ultimatum game, universal basic income, Upton Sinclair, Vilfredo Pareto, wikimedia commons

‘It’s about broadening economic power from the few to the many and about changing the mindset from social indifference to social benefit.’68 These are the foundations of a dynamic and inspiring movement, but critics point out that mainstream corporate practice, driven by shareholder primacy, still dominates. ‘Ultimately we will need to change the operating system at the heart of major corporations,’ Kelly acknowledges. ‘But if we begin there, we will fail. The place to begin is with what’s doable, what’s enlivening – and what points toward bigger wins in the future.’69 Who will own the robots? ‘The digital revolution is far more significant than the invention of writing or even of printing,’ said Douglas Engelbart, the acclaimed American innovator in human–computer interaction. He may well turn out to be right. But the significance of this revolution for work, wages and wealth hinges on how digital technologies are owned and used. So far, they have generated two opposing trends whose implications are only just beginning to unfold. First, the digital revolution has given rise to the network era of near zero-marginal-cost collaboration, as we saw in the dynamic rise of the collaborative commons in Chapter 2.


pages: 419 words: 125,977

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang

anti-communist, Deng Xiaoping, estate planning, financial independence, index card, invention of writing, job-hopping, land reform, Mason jar, mass immigration, new economy, Pearl River Delta, risk tolerance, special economic zone

On different journeys, I saw people carrying an ancient TV set, a wicker basket of electric cables, a mud-encrusted bucket of stonemason’s tools, and a murderous-looking wrench a yard long. Once I saw a young woman with a six-foot-long broomstick handle. Bus stops were unmarked, and there were never signs showing the routes. You had to ask: Information was conveyed by word of mouth, as if we lived in ancient times before the invention of writing. Twice I bought city maps with bus schedules but both times the routes were already out of date; things were happening too quickly to be written down. The other passengers were as confused as I was, often calling out the names of stops that had already passed and making panicked departures. Wherever I went, I was asked directions. One afternoon, I puzzled over routes with a migrant woman, who asked me after a while, “Are you from Hubei?”


pages: 481 words: 125,946

What to Think About Machines That Think: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Age of Machine Intelligence by John Brockman

agricultural Revolution, AI winter, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, algorithmic trading, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, basic income, bitcoin, blockchain, clean water, cognitive dissonance, Colonization of Mars, complexity theory, computer age, computer vision, constrained optimization, corporate personhood, cosmological principle, cryptocurrency, cuban missile crisis, Danny Hillis, dark matter, discrete time, Douglas Engelbart, Elon Musk, Emanuel Derman, endowment effect, epigenetics, Ernest Rutherford, experimental economics, Flash crash, friendly AI, functional fixedness, global pandemic, Google Glasses, hive mind, income inequality, information trail, Internet of things, invention of writing, iterative process, Jaron Lanier, job automation, Johannes Kepler, John Markoff, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge worker, loose coupling, microbiome, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, natural language processing, Network effects, Norbert Wiener, pattern recognition, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, planetary scale, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, Republic of Letters, RFID, Richard Thaler, Rory Sutherland, Satyajit Das, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, self-driving car, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Skype, smart contracts, social intelligence, speech recognition, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, strong AI, Stuxnet, superintelligent machines, supervolcano, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Thorstein Veblen, too big to fail, Turing machine, Turing test, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y2K

Such objects, however powerfully they may be enabled to elicit unmediated responses from us, will remain automata. The truly significant developments in thought will arise, as they always have, in a biotechnical symbiosis. This distinctively human story is easy to follow in the body (wheeled transport is one of many mechanical inventions that have enabled human skeletons to become lighter) but is probably just as present in the brain (the invention of writing as a form of external intellectual storage may have reduced selection pressure on some forms of innate memory capacity while stimulating others). In any case, the separate terms human and machine produce their own Denkraumverlust—a loss of thinking space encouraging us to accept as real an unreal dualism. Practically, it’s only the long-term evolution of information technology, from the earliest representations and symbolic constructs to the most advanced current artificial brain, that allows the advancement of thought.


pages: 578 words: 131,346

Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

Airbnb, Anton Chekhov, basic income, Berlin Wall, bitcoin, Broken windows theory, call centre, David Graeber, Donald Trump, experimental subject, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Frederick Winslow Taylor, Hans Rosling, invention of writing, invisible hand, knowledge economy, late fees, Mahatma Gandhi, mass incarceration, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Milgram experiment, Nelson Mandela, New Journalism, placebo effect, sharing economy, Shoshana Zuboff, Silicon Valley, social intelligence, Stanford prison experiment, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, The Spirit Level, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, transatlantic slave trade, tulip mania, universal basic income, World Values Survey

How many crimes, how many wars, how many murders, how many misfortunes and horrors, would that man have saved the human species, who pulling up the stakes or filling up the ditches should have cried to his fellows: Be sure not to listen to this imposter; you are lost, if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong equally to us all, and the earth itself to nobody! Ever since the birth of that cursed civil society, Rousseau argued, things had gone wrong. Farming, urbanisation, statehood – they hadn’t lifted us out of chaos, but enslaved and doomed us. The invention of writing and the printing press had only made matters worse. ‘Thanks to typographic characters,’ he wrote, ‘the dangerous reveries of Hobbes […] will remain for ever.’ In the good old days before bureaucrats and kings, Rousseau believed that everything was better. Back when humans existed in a ‘state of nature’ we were still compassionate beings. Now we’d become cynical and self-interested. Once we’d been healthy and strong.


pages: 436 words: 140,256

The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond

agricultural Revolution, assortative mating, Atahualpa, Columbian Exchange, correlation coefficient, double helix, Drosophila, European colonialism, invention of gunpowder, invention of the wheel, invention of writing, longitudinal study, out of africa, phenotype, Scientific racism, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, the scientific method, trade route

Hence we age more slowly than do our closest relatives. Some of that slowdown may have developed recently, around the time of the Great Leap Forward, since quite a few Cro-Magnons lived into their sixties while few Neanderthals passed forty. Slow aging is crucial to the human lifestyle because the latter depends on transmitted information. As language evolved, far more information became available to us to pass on than previously. Until the invention of writing, old people acted as the repositories of that transmitted information and experience, just as they continue to do in tribal societies today. Under hunter-gatherer conditions, the knowledge possessed by even one person over the age of seventy could spell the difference between survival and starvation or defeat for a whole clan. Thus, our long lifespan was important for our rise from animal to human status.


pages: 444 words: 130,646

Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest by Zeynep Tufekci

4chan, active measures, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, AltaVista, anti-communist, Bernie Sanders, British Empire, citizen journalism, collective bargaining, conceptual framework, crowdsourcing, Donald Trump, Edward Snowden, feminist movement, Ferguson, Missouri, Filter Bubble, Howard Rheingold, income inequality, index card, interchangeable parts, invention of movable type, invention of writing, loose coupling, Mahatma Gandhi, Mark Zuckerberg, Menlo Park, Mikhail Gorbachev, moral hazard, moral panic, Naomi Klein, Network effects, new economy, obamacare, Occupy movement, offshore financial centre, pre–internet, race to the bottom, RAND corporation, ride hailing / ride sharing, Rosa Parks, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Skype, Snapchat, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Thorstein Veblen, We are the 99%, WikiLeaks

Although the recent changes have been rapid, digital technologies are not the first technologies that have affected how we interact over space and time and have shaped our sense of community, identity, and the public sphere. Looking at some past transitions is helpful in understanding the scope and scale of newer ones. Writing, for example, is among the earliest technologies that changed the relationship between our words and the passage of time.11 We are so used to writing that it is difficult to imagine societies without it and to realize that writing is a technology that shapes our society. Before the invention of writing (a long process rather than a single breakthrough), people relied on memory in passing on knowledge or stories. This affected the type of content that could be effectively transmitted over time and space; for example, a novel or an encyclopedia can exist only in a society with writing. An oral culture—a culture without any form of writing—is more suited for poetry with repetitions and proverbs, which are easier to remember without writing down, that are committed to memory and passed on.


pages: 541 words: 146,445

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

airport security, Colonization of Mars, invention of writing, invisible hand, John von Neumann, lateral thinking, Mahatma Gandhi, megacity, oil shale / tar sands, rolodex, Stephen Hawking

"Stick out your arms," he'd say, "straight out at your sides," and when he had you in the appropriate cruciform position he'd say, "Left index finger to right index finger straight across your heart, that's the history of the Earth. You know what human history is? Human history is the nail on your right-hand index finger. Not even the whole nail. Just that little white part. The part you clip off when it gets too long. That's the discovery of fire and the invention of writing and Galileo and Newton and the moon landing and 9/11 and last week and this morning. Compared to evolution we're newborns. Compared to geology, we barely exist") Then the NASA voice announced, "Ignition," and Jason sucked air between his teeth and turned his head half away as nine of ten boosters, hollow tubes of explosive liquid taller than the Empire State Building, detonated skyward against all logic of gravity and inertia, burning tons of fuel to achieve the first few inches of altitude and vaporizing seawater in order to mute a sonic event that would otherwise have shaken them to pieces.


pages: 511 words: 148,310

Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide by Joshua S. Goldstein

Albert Einstein, Ayatollah Khomeini, Bartolomé de las Casas, Berlin Wall, Black Swan, business cycle, colonial rule, cuban missile crisis, Doomsday Clock, failed state, immigration reform, income inequality, invention of writing, invisible hand, land reform, long peace, microcredit, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, purchasing power parity, RAND corporation, selection bias, Steven Pinker, Tobin tax, unemployed young men, Winter of Discontent, Y2K

These Australians, an estimated 300,000 people, pursued an extremely simple hunting-gathering way of life, and were so isolated until Europeans arrived in the late eighteenth century that they did not even have bows and arrows. But “warfare, with spear, club, stone knife, and wooden shield (unlike the others, clearly a specialized fighting rather than a hunting device) had been widespread. . . .” Dating of fortifications at Jericho (6000 B.C.) and Catal Huyuk in Anatolia (7000 B.C.) show “that Neolithic men were waging organized warfare centuries before the invention of writing or the discovery of how to work metal.” Going back further, to Neanderthals who lived more than thirty thousand years ago, “more than 5 percent of . . . burials show violence of one form or another. This is about as high a rate of evidence for violent deaths as is found for much more recent skeletal samples from around the world. Since many violent deaths do not leave skeletal evidence, one can surmise that Neandertal deaths from warfare were about the same as the 5 to 25 percent for more recent foragers. . . .”


pages: 286 words: 94,017

Future Shock by Alvin Toffler

Albert Einstein, Brownian motion, Buckminster Fuller, Charles Lindbergh, cognitive dissonance, Colonization of Mars, corporate governance, East Village, global village, Haight Ashbury, information retrieval, invention of agriculture, invention of movable type, invention of writing, longitudinal study, Marshall McLuhan, mass immigration, Menlo Park, New Urbanism, Norman Mailer, post-industrial society, RAND corporation, social intelligence, the market place, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, urban renewal, Whole Earth Catalog, zero-sum game

If technology, however, is to be regarded as a great engine, a mighty accelerator, then knowledge must be regarded as its fuel. And we thus come to the crux of the accelerative process in society, for the engine is being fed a richer and richer fuel every day. KNOWLEDGE AS FUEL The rate at which man has been storing up useful knowledge about himself and the universe has been spiraling upward for 10,000 years. The rate took a sharp upward leap with the invention of writing, but even so it remained painfully slow over centuries of time. The next great leap forward in knowledge—acquisition did not occur until the invention of movable type in the fifteenth century by Gutenberg and others. Prior to 1500, by the most optimistic estimates, Europe was producing books at a rate of 1000 titles per year. This means, give or take a bit, that it would take a full century to produce a library of 100,000 titles.


pages: 573 words: 157,767

From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds by Daniel C. Dennett

Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Andrew Wiles, Bayesian statistics, bioinformatics, bitcoin, Build a better mousetrap, Claude Shannon: information theory, computer age, computer vision, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Elon Musk, epigenetics, experimental subject, Fermat's Last Theorem, Gödel, Escher, Bach, information asymmetry, information retrieval, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, iterative process, John von Neumann, Menlo Park, Murray Gell-Mann, Necker cube, Norbert Wiener, pattern recognition, phenotype, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, self-driving car, social intelligence, sorting algorithm, speech recognition, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, strong AI, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, theory of mind, Thomas Bayes, trickle-down economics, Turing machine, Turing test, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y2K

Whereas “Greensleeves” has no canonical pitch (key) or tempo, “Hey, Jude” and “Satisfaction” do, and fans of these records were surprisingly good at humming/singing these songs from memory with close to the right pitch and tempo. When we consider whether memes are replicated faithfully enough to permit the accumulation of adaptations, we should include the enhancing technology in culture just as we do with genes. A lot of evolutionary R&D went into improving the replication machinery of DNA during the first billion or so years of life. The invention of writing has similarly boosted the fidelity of linguistic transmission, and it was the product of many minds in many places over several millennia. Few if any of the “inventors” of writing had—or needed to have—a clear vision of the “specs” of the machine they were inventing, the “problem” they were “solving” so elegantly. (Compare their work to Turing inventing the computer or the “top-down” designing of the elevator controller program.)


pages: 459 words: 144,009

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis by Jared Diamond

anti-communist, Asian financial crisis, Berlin Wall, British Empire, California gold rush, clean water, correlation coefficient, cuban missile crisis, Dissolution of the Soviet Union, Gini coefficient, illegal immigration, interchangeable parts, invention of writing, Jeff Bezos, medical malpractice, mutually assured destruction, Nelson Mandela, nuclear winter, oil shale / tar sands, peak oil, post-work, purchasing power parity, rising living standards, risk tolerance, Ronald Reagan, The Spirit Level, traffic fines, transcontinental railway, women in the workforce, World Values Survey

The telephone appeared in 1890 but didn’t saturate the U.S. market until around 1957. Radio rose to saturation from 1923 to 1937, and TV from 1948 to 1955. The biggest change has been the more recent rise of the internet, cell phones, and text messaging. We use radio and TV for information and entertainment, and the telephone and those more recent electronic media for those same purposes plus communication. But, before the invention of writing, all human information and communication used to be face-to-face, by people either talking to each other or else watching/hearing performers together (speakers, musicians, and actors). While the motion picture theaters that arose after 1900 didn’t provide face-to-face entertainment, they at least got people out of their houses into social groups, and were often enjoyed with friends as a straightforward extension of enjoying live speakers, musicians, and actors with friends.


pages: 661 words: 169,298

Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris

Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Alfred Russel Wallace, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Atahualpa, Cepheid variable, Commentariolus, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, delayed gratification, Edmond Halley, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Gary Taubes, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, John Harrison: Longitude, Karl Jansky, Lao Tzu, Louis Pasteur, Magellanic Cloud, mandelbrot fractal, Menlo Park, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, planetary scale, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Searching for Interstellar Communications, Solar eclipse in 1919, source of truth, Stephen Hawking, Thales of Miletus, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Wilhelm Olbers

Also located is the remnant of the Vela supernova, which blazed forth in the southern skies some six to eight thousand years ago, casting long shadows across the plains of Eden. (The word Eden is Sumerian for “flatland,” and is thought to refer to the fertile, rock-free plains of the Tigris-Euphrates.) The Sumerians identified that supernova with the god Ea (in Egypt, Seshat), whom they credited with the invention of writing and agriculture. The Ea myth thus suggests that the creation of agriculture and the written word were attributed by the ancients to the incentive provided by the sight of an exploding star. 5 THE WORLD IN RETROGRADE Pure logical thinking cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical world; all knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it…. Because Galileo saw this, and particularly because he drummed it into the scientific world, he is the father of modern physics—indeed, of modern science altogether.


pages: 692 words: 189,065

The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall by Mark W. Moffett

affirmative action, barriers to entry, Berlin Wall, California gold rush, delayed gratification, demographic transition, eurozone crisis, George Santayana, glass ceiling, Howard Rheingold, invention of agriculture, invention of writing, Kevin Kelly, labour mobility, land tenure, long peace, Milgram experiment, out of africa, phenotype, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ronald Reagan, shared worldview, Silicon Valley, social intelligence, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, World Values Survey

Yet barring a disability such as agoraphobia or monophobia (a fear of crowds and of being alone, respectively), people existing cheek by jowl exhibit few pathologies.9 Proximity is just one, very low-tech, way for people to stay in tune with the identity of others. Even still, it is not essential. After all, part of the population of any state must live in rural areas to cultivate the crops. Societies developed other methods of maintaining contact throughout their realms. The domestication of the horse in Eurasia, the invention of writing by Mesopotamians and of ocean-going ships by Phoenicians, the long-distance roads of the Inca and Romans, the printing press in Europe—all such innovations promoted the stability and expansion of societies. In addition to facilitating the transport of goods and the extended control of central authority, such innovations improved the spread of information—and notably, information about identity.


Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society by Nicholas A. Christakis

agricultural Revolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, Amazon Mechanical Turk, assortative mating, Cass Sunstein, crowdsourcing, David Attenborough, different worldview, disruptive innovation, double helix, epigenetics, experimental economics, experimental subject, invention of agriculture, invention of gunpowder, invention of writing, iterative process, job satisfaction, Joi Ito, joint-stock company, land tenure, Laplace demon, longitudinal study, Mahatma Gandhi, Marc Andreessen, means of production, mental accounting, meta analysis, meta-analysis, microbiome, out of africa, phenotype, Pierre-Simon Laplace, placebo effect, race to the bottom, Ralph Waldo Emerson, replication crisis, Rubik’s Cube, Silicon Valley, social intelligence, social web, stem cell, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, theory of mind, twin studies, ultimatum game, zero-sum game

The fundamental changes wrought by the agricultural revolution were mirrored by parallel changes in the way humans thought about nature and their place in it. The domestication of animals and plants implied human mastery over (or at least stewardship of) the natural world. Urbanization and the transformation of natural landscapes, the construction of religious monuments, and, of course, the invention of writing, commerce, and technology—all of these developments served to distance people from a natural world that must have seemed increasingly wild and dangerous, a place to be restrained and controlled. In time, dominating nature or willfully separating from it came to be seen as the source of a good life. One of the earliest written records, The Epic of Gilgamesh, which was inscribed on clay tablets around 1800 BCE in Mesopotamia, addressed our species’ place in nature.


When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures by Richard D. Lewis

Ayatollah Khomeini, British Empire, business climate, business process, colonial exploitation, corporate governance, global village, haute cuisine, hiring and firing, invention of writing, lateral thinking, Mahatma Gandhi, mass immigration, Nelson Mandela, new economy, oil shale / tar sands, old-boy network, open borders, profit maximization, profit motive, Scramble for Africa, Silicon Valley, trade route, transaction costs, upwardly mobile, urban sprawl, women in the workforce

., the stability engendered by the development of agriculture led to the emergence of mud-brick dwellings constituting, in effect, the world’s first farming villages. These became in time the world’s first city–states. Wood, stone and metal were all rare or entirely absent in Mesopotamia; the raw material that epitomizes Mesopotamian civilization is clay. It is visible in the almost exclusively mud-brick architecture, and in the number and variety of clay figurines and pottery artifacts, none more important than the clay tablets that led to the invention of writing. 424 WHEN CULTURES COLLIDE Mesopotamia was inventive: the potter’s wheel, architectural techniques, irrigation, elaborate drainage and, above all, writing gave the region superiority over neighbors in terms of power and advantageous trade. The Sumerians, the original owners of writing, set up large, compact social organizations. Cuneiform spread to influence the writing systems of Egypt, Crete and the Indus Valley.


pages: 607 words: 185,487

Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by James C. Scott

agricultural Revolution, business cycle, clean water, colonial rule, commoditize, deskilling, facts on the ground, germ theory of disease, informal economy, invention of writing, invisible hand, Jane Jacobs, Kenneth Arrow, land reform, land tenure, Louis Pasteur, new economy, New Urbanism, Potemkin village, price mechanism, profit maximization, road to serfdom, Silicon Valley, stochastic process, the built environment, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the scientific method, Thorstein Veblen, urban decay, urban planning, urban renewal, working poor

Such errors are largely due to an arrogation of pretended knowledge, which in fact no one possesses and which even the advance of science is not likely to give us" (Studies in Philosophy, Economics, and Politics [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967], p. 197). 35. At its most extreme, this strategy is analogous to that of tracking body counts during the Vietnam War-a technique that offered at least one precise measure, it was thought, for military progress. 36. Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness, p. 99. 37. Ibid., p. 302. 38. Ibid., p. 125. Thus in the Phaedrus, Socrates, speaking through Plato, deplores the invention of writing and claims that books cannot reply to questions. He argues for the organic unity of a work of art, one whose arguments and style should take into account the prospective audience. In his Seventh Letter, Plato writes that his deepest teachings are not written. See R. B. Rutherford, The Art of Plato: Ten Essays in Platonic Interpretation (London: Duckworth, 1996). 39. See Harold Conklin, Hanunoo Agriculture: A Report on an Integral System of Shi jting Cultivation in the Philippines (Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1957). 40.


The Life and Death of Ancient Cities: A Natural History by Greg Woolf

agricultural Revolution, capital controls, Columbian Exchange, demographic transition, endogenous growth, Eratosthenes, European colonialism, global village, invention of agriculture, invention of writing, joint-stock company, mass immigration, megacity, New Urbanism, out of africa, Scramble for Africa, social intelligence, social web, trade route, urban planning, urban sprawl

Peter. 1995. Remus: A Roman Myth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Witcher, Robert. 2000. “Globalisation and Roman Imperialism: Perspectives on Identities in Roman Italy.” In The Emergence of State Identities in Italy in the First Millennium B.C., edited by Edward Herring and Kathryn Lomas, 213–225. London: Accordia Research Institute. Woods, Christopher, ed. 2010. Visible Language: Inventions of Writing in the Ancient Middle East and Beyond. Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Woolf, Greg. 1993. “Rethinking the Oppida.” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 12 (2): 223–234. Woolf, Greg. 1994. “Power and the Spread of Writing in the West.” In Literacy and Power in the Ancient World, edited by Alan Bowman and Greg Woolf, 84–98. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Woolf, Greg. 1997.


pages: 685 words: 203,949

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin

airport security, Albert Einstein, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Anton Chekhov, Bayesian statistics, big-box store, business process, call centre, Claude Shannon: information theory, cloud computing, cognitive bias, complexity theory, computer vision, conceptual framework, correlation does not imply causation, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, delayed gratification, Donald Trump, en.wikipedia.org, epigenetics, Eratosthenes, Exxon Valdez, framing effect, friendly fire, fundamental attribution error, Golden Gate Park, Google Glasses, haute cuisine, impulse control, index card, indoor plumbing, information retrieval, invention of writing, iterative process, jimmy wales, job satisfaction, Kickstarter, life extension, longitudinal study, meta analysis, meta-analysis, more computing power than Apollo, Network effects, new economy, Nicholas Carr, optical character recognition, Pareto efficiency, pattern recognition, phenotype, placebo effect, pre–internet, profit motive, randomized controlled trial, Rubik’s Cube, shared worldview, Skype, Snapchat, social intelligence, statistical model, Steve Jobs, supply-chain management, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Thomas Bayes, Turing test, ultimatum game, zero-sum game

It was around 3000 BCE that our ancestors began to trade nomadic lifestyles for urban ones, setting up increasingly large cities and centers of commerce. The increased trade in these cities put a strain on individual merchants’ memories and so early writing became an important component of recording business transactions. Poetry, histories, war tactics, and instructions for building complex construction projects came later. Prior to the invention of writing, our ancestors had to rely on memory, sketches, or music to encode and preserve important information. Memory is fallible, of course, but not because of storage limitations so much as retrieval limitations. Some neuroscientists believe that nearly every conscious experience is stored somewhere in your brain; the hard part is finding it and pulling it out again. Sometimes the information that comes out is incomplete, distorted, or misleading.


pages: 743 words: 201,651

Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World by Timothy Garton Ash

A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, activist lawyer, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Andrew Keen, Apple II, Ayatollah Khomeini, battle of ideas, Berlin Wall, bitcoin, British Empire, Cass Sunstein, Chelsea Manning, citizen journalism, Clapham omnibus, colonial rule, crowdsourcing, David Attenborough, don't be evil, Donald Davies, Douglas Engelbart, Edward Snowden, Etonian, European colonialism, eurozone crisis, failed state, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Ferguson, Missouri, Filter Bubble, financial independence, Firefox, Galaxy Zoo, George Santayana, global village, index card, Internet Archive, invention of movable type, invention of writing, Jaron Lanier, jimmy wales, John Markoff, Julian Assange, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, mass immigration, megacity, mutually assured destruction, national security letter, Nelson Mandela, Netflix Prize, Nicholas Carr, obamacare, Peace of Westphalia, Peter Thiel, pre–internet, profit motive, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, Ronald Reagan, semantic web, Silicon Valley, Simon Singh, Snapchat, social graph, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Wisdom of Crowds, Turing test, We are Anonymous. We are Legion, WikiLeaks, World Values Survey, Yom Kippur War

Key advances in the history of one individual communicating with another include the development of postal services, the telegraph, the telephone, the mobile phone, email and the smartphone. The smartphone has given access to the ‘mobile internet’, where one-to-one converges with one-to-many and all other variants, including many-to-many and many-to-one. One-to-many has a long prehistory in the invention of writing, inscribed on tablets of stone or clay (as were, for example, the edicts of the third-century-B.C.E. Indian emperor Ashoka), on paper (in China, around the second century C.E.), the handwritten scroll and, by the third century C.E., the codex—a handwritten book with pages you turn. A great leap forward along this line was the development of printing with movable type, which was originally invented in China in the eleventh century, using ceramic type, with metal type being developed in Korea some two centuries later.


pages: 789 words: 207,744

The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning by Jeremy Lent

"Robert Solow", Admiral Zheng, agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Atahualpa, Benoit Mandelbrot, Bretton Woods, British Empire, Buckminster Fuller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, cognitive dissonance, commoditize, complexity theory, conceptual framework, dematerialisation, demographic transition, different worldview, Doomsday Book, en.wikipedia.org, European colonialism, failed state, Firefox, Francisco Pizarro, Georg Cantor, happiness index / gross national happiness, hedonic treadmill, income inequality, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Internet of things, invention of gunpowder, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johannes Kepler, Lao Tzu, Law of Accelerating Returns, mandelbrot fractal, mass immigration, megacity, Metcalfe's law, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nicholas Carr, Norbert Wiener, oil shale / tar sands, out of africa, peak oil, Pierre-Simon Laplace, QWERTY keyboard, Ray Kurzweil, Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, Scientific racism, scientific worldview, shareholder value, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Simon Kuznets, social intelligence, South China Sea, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, technological singularity, the scientific method, theory of mind, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, Turing test, ultimatum game, urban sprawl, Vernor Vinge, wikimedia commons

If you can't rely on the gods to do it for you, they seemed to believe, you may as well accomplish what you can on your own. Mesopotamian firsts It was in the turbulent cities of Mesopotamia that many of the conceptual foundations of modern civilization were invented. The Mesopotamians were responsible for the first libraries and maps and for devising new disciplines such as mathematics, medicine, chemistry, botany, and zoology.34 Perhaps their most resounding achievement was the invention of writing, the first in human history. In contrast to the Shang, whose writing system revolved around divining the intentions of the ancestors, and the Egyptians, whose hieroglyphs record prayers to the gods, the earliest cuneiform of the Mesopotamians had a more prosaic purpose: bookkeeping. The Mesopotamians came up with writing as an ingenious form of keeping track of things, of making lists of such items as receipts of tribute, itemization of war booty, distribution of rations, and payments to officials.35 In their attempts to organize the world around them, the Mesopotamians were far ahead of any other civilization.


pages: 725 words: 221,514

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber

Admiral Zheng, anti-communist, back-to-the-land, banks create money, Bretton Woods, British Empire, carried interest, cashless society, central bank independence, colonial rule, commoditize, corporate governance, David Graeber, delayed gratification, dematerialisation, double entry bookkeeping, financial innovation, fixed income, full employment, George Gilder, informal economy, invention of writing, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, joint-stock company, means of production, microcredit, money: store of value / unit of account / medium of exchange, moral hazard, oil shock, Panopticon Jeremy Bentham, Paul Samuelson, payday loans, place-making, Ponzi scheme, price stability, profit motive, reserve currency, Right to Buy, Ronald Reagan, seigniorage, sexual politics, short selling, Silicon Valley, South Sea Bubble, Thales of Miletus, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, too big to fail, transaction costs, transatlantic slave trade, tulip mania, upwardly mobile, urban decay, working poor, zero-sum game

Promissory notes usually circulated within merchant guilds, or between inhabitants of the relatively well-off urban neighborhoods where people knew one another well enough to trust them to be accountable, but not so well that they could rely on one another for more traditional forms of mutual aid.6 We know even less about the marketplaces frequented by ordinary Mesopotamians, except that tavern-keepers operated on credit, and hawkers and operators of market stalls probably did as well.7 The origins of interest will forever remain obscure, since they preceded the invention of writing. The terminology for interest in most ancient languages is derived from some word for “offspring,” causing some to speculate that it originates in loans of livestock, but this seems a bit literal-minded. More likely, the first widespread interest-bearing loans were commercial: temples and palaces would forward wares to merchants and commercial agents, who would then trade them in nearby mountain kingdoms or on trading expeditions overseas.8 The practice is significant because it implies a fundamental lack of trust.


pages: 761 words: 231,902

The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil

additive manufacturing, AI winter, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, anthropic principle, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, artificial general intelligence, Asilomar, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, Benoit Mandelbrot, Bill Joy: nanobots, bioinformatics, brain emulation, Brewster Kahle, Brownian motion, business cycle, business intelligence, c2.com, call centre, carbon-based life, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, complexity theory, conceptual framework, Conway's Game of Life, coronavirus, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, cuban missile crisis, data acquisition, Dava Sobel, David Brooks, Dean Kamen, disintermediation, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, en.wikipedia.org, epigenetics, factory automation, friendly AI, George Gilder, Gödel, Escher, Bach, informal economy, information retrieval, invention of the telephone, invention of the telescope, invention of writing, iterative process, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, job automation, job satisfaction, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, Law of Accelerating Returns, life extension, lifelogging, linked data, Loebner Prize, Louis Pasteur, mandelbrot fractal, Marshall McLuhan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Mitch Kapor, mouse model, Murray Gell-Mann, mutually assured destruction, natural language processing, Network effects, new economy, Norbert Wiener, oil shale / tar sands, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, phenotype, premature optimization, randomized controlled trial, Ray Kurzweil, remote working, reversible computing, Richard Feynman, Robert Metcalfe, Rodney Brooks, scientific worldview, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, selection bias, semantic web, Silicon Valley, Singularitarianism, speech recognition, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Stewart Brand, strong AI, superintelligent machines, technological singularity, Ted Kaczynski, telepresence, The Coming Technological Singularity, Thomas Bayes, transaction costs, Turing machine, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, Y2K, Yogi Berra

That is one of many profound limitations of the biological paradigm we now use for our thinking, a limitation we will overcome in the Singularity. . . . on Work If every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, if the shuttle could weave, and the pick touch the lyre, without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not need servants, nor masters slaves. —ARISTOTLE Before the invention of writing, almost every insight was happening for the first time (at least to the knowledge of the small groups of humans involved). When you are at the beginning, everything is new. In our era, almost everything we do in the arts is done with awareness of what has been done before and before. In the early post-human era, things will be new again because anything that requires greater than human ability has not already been done by Homer or da Vinci or Shakespeare.


pages: 846 words: 232,630

Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life by Daniel C. Dennett

Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, anthropic principle, assortative mating, buy low sell high, cellular automata, combinatorial explosion, complexity theory, computer age, conceptual framework, Conway's Game of Life, Danny Hillis, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Drosophila, finite state, Gödel, Escher, Bach, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, John von Neumann, Murray Gell-Mann, New Journalism, non-fiction novel, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, price mechanism, prisoner's dilemma, QWERTY keyboard, random walk, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, Schrödinger's Cat, selection bias, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, strong AI, the scientific method, theory of mind, Thomas Malthus, Turing machine, Turing test

The peculiarities of human psychology (and human digestion, for that matter, as the Mornay-sauce example shows) are important eventually, but they don't stand in the way of a scientific analysis of the phenomenon in question. In fact, as Sperber himself has persuasively argued, we can use higher-level principles as levers to pry open lower-level secrets. Sperber points to the importance of the invention of writing, which initiated major changes in cultural evolution. He shows how to reason from facts about preliterate culture to facts about human psychology. (He prefers to think of cultural transmission along the lines of epidemiology rather than genetics, but the direction of his theory is very much the same as Dawkins' — to the point of near-indistinguishability when you think of what the Darwinian treatment of epidemiology looks like; see Williams and Nesse 1991) Here is Sperber's "Law of the Epidemiology of Representations": In an oral tradition, all cultural representations are easily remembered ones; hard to remember representations are forgotten, or transformed into more easily remembered ones, before reaching a cultural level of distribution.


pages: 1,034 words: 241,773

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker

3D printing, access to a mobile phone, affirmative action, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, anti-communist, Anton Chekhov, Arthur Eddington, artificial general intelligence, availability heuristic, Ayatollah Khomeini, basic income, Berlin Wall, Bernie Sanders, Black Swan, Bonfire of the Vanities, business cycle, capital controls, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, carbon footprint, clean water, clockwork universe, cognitive bias, cognitive dissonance, Columbine, conceptual framework, correlation does not imply causation, creative destruction, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, dark matter, decarbonisation, deindustrialization, dematerialisation, demographic transition, Deng Xiaoping, distributed generation, diversified portfolio, Donald Trump, Doomsday Clock, double helix, effective altruism, Elon Musk, en.wikipedia.org, end world poverty, endogenous growth, energy transition, European colonialism, experimental subject, Exxon Valdez, facts on the ground, Fall of the Berlin Wall, first-past-the-post, Flynn Effect, food miles, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, frictionless, frictionless market, germ theory of disease, Gini coefficient, Hans Rosling, hedonic treadmill, helicopter parent, Hobbesian trap, humanitarian revolution, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, income inequality, income per capita, Indoor air pollution, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invention of writing, Jaron Lanier, Joan Didion, job automation, Johannes Kepler, John Snow's cholera map, Kevin Kelly, Khan Academy, knowledge economy, l'esprit de l'escalier, Laplace demon, life extension, long peace, longitudinal study, Louis Pasteur, Martin Wolf, mass incarceration, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Mikhail Gorbachev, minimum wage unemployment, moral hazard, mutually assured destruction, Naomi Klein, Nate Silver, Nathan Meyer Rothschild: antibiotics, Nelson Mandela, New Journalism, Norman Mailer, nuclear winter, obamacare, open economy, Paul Graham, peak oil, Peter Singer: altruism, Peter Thiel, precision agriculture, prediction markets, purchasing power parity, Ralph Nader, randomized controlled trial, Ray Kurzweil, rent control, Republic of Letters, Richard Feynman, road to serfdom, Robert Gordon, Rodney Brooks, rolodex, Ronald Reagan, Rory Sutherland, Saturday Night Live, science of happiness, Scientific racism, Second Machine Age, secular stagnation, self-driving car, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley ideology, Simon Kuznets, Skype, smart grid, sovereign wealth fund, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, Stuxnet, supervolcano, technological singularity, Ted Kaczynski, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, The Spirit Level, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, total factor productivity, union organizing, universal basic income, University of East Anglia, Unsafe at Any Speed, Upton Sinclair, uranium enrichment, urban renewal, War on Poverty, We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters, women in the workforce, working poor, World Values Survey, Y2K

Thanks to language, ideas are not just abstracted and combined inside the head of a single thinker but can be pooled across a community of thinkers. Thomas Jefferson explained the power of language with the help of an analogy: “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”30 The potency of language as the original sharing app was multiplied by the invention of writing (and again in later epochs by the printing press, the spread of literacy, and electronic media). The networks of communicating thinkers expanded over time as populations grew, mixed, and became concentrated in cities. And the availability of energy beyond the minimum needed for survival gave more of them the luxury to think and talk. When large and connected communities take shape, they can come up with ways of organizing their affairs that work to their members’ mutual advantage.


pages: 1,205 words: 308,891

Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World by Deirdre N. McCloskey

Airbnb, Akira Okazaki, big-box store, Black Swan, book scanning, British Empire, business cycle, buy low sell high, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, clean water, Columbian Exchange, conceptual framework, correlation does not imply causation, Costa Concordia, creative destruction, crony capitalism, dark matter, Dava Sobel, David Graeber, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, deindustrialization, demographic transition, Deng Xiaoping, Donald Trump, double entry bookkeeping, en.wikipedia.org, epigenetics, Erik Brynjolfsson, experimental economics, Ferguson, Missouri, fundamental attribution error, Georg Cantor, George Akerlof, George Gilder, germ theory of disease, Gini coefficient, God and Mammon, greed is good, Gunnar Myrdal, Hans Rosling, Henry Ford's grandson gave labor union leader Walter Reuther a tour of the company’s new, automated factory…, Hernando de Soto, immigration reform, income inequality, interchangeable parts, invention of agriculture, invention of writing, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, John Harrison: Longitude, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Arrow, knowledge economy, labor-force participation, lake wobegon effect, land reform, liberation theology, lone genius, Lyft, Mahatma Gandhi, Mark Zuckerberg, market fundamentalism, means of production, Naomi Klein, new economy, North Sea oil, Occupy movement, open economy, out of africa, Pareto efficiency, Paul Samuelson, Pax Mongolica, Peace of Westphalia, peak oil, Peter Singer: altruism, Philip Mirowski, pink-collar, plutocrats, Plutocrats, positional goods, profit maximization, profit motive, purchasing power parity, race to the bottom, refrigerator car, rent control, rent-seeking, Republic of Letters, road to serfdom, Robert Gordon, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Ronald Coase, Scientific racism, Scramble for Africa, Second Machine Age, secular stagnation, Simon Kuznets, Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits, spinning jenny, stakhanovite, Steve Jobs, The Chicago School, The Market for Lemons, the rule of 72, The Spirit Level, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, total factor productivity, Toyota Production System, transaction costs, transatlantic slave trade, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, uber lyft, union organizing, very high income, wage slave, Washington Consensus, working poor, Yogi Berra

In 1725 Bishop Samuel Butler was already complaining about “the strange [and then recent] affectation of many people of explaining away all particular affections and representing the whole of life as nothing but one continued exercise of self-love.”23 “It is the great fallacy of Dr. Mandeville’s book,” wrote Adam Smith in 1759, “to represent every passion as wholly vicious [that is, a mere matter of profit-making prudence and self-interest] which is so in any degree and any direction.”24 And so down to Marxian and Samuelsonian and Beckerian economics. Contrary to the prudence-only model, we have always known, and have recorded since the invention of writing, that intrinsic virtues beyond prudence—love, justice, temperance, and the rest—are parts of what motivate adults. Internalization of ethics beyond having a profitable career is the way children become ethical adults. As the psychologists put it, the “internal locus of control,” as against an external one, is what characterizes maturity and professionalism.25 “Incentivizing” sounds tough and businesslike and is taught relentlessly in modern business schools, to the point of recommending that their faculty members be assessed for their scholarship by the “impact factor” of journals they publish in rather than by actually reading and assessing what they have written.26 But it is at best a partial account of humanity, and tends to corrupt its internal locus.