Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Future of Society

David Hunter Tow, Director of The Future Planet Research Centre, predicts the emergence of a global human superorganism within the next thirty years.

Recent research by a team of scientists from the University of Florida, has shown that insect colonies follow the same evolutionary “rules” as individuals; a finding that suggests insect societies operate like a single “superorganism” in terms of their physiology and life.

The researchers believe that the rules that guide social insect species and group behaviour may also have applicability to other species, including humans and human society.

A process of evolutionary convergence is a major driver governing this process.

Evolutionary convergence occurs when many critical feedback loops allow key knowledge-based processes such as computation and communication, to be optimised or reach convergence very quickly - eventually almost instantaneously from local to global and back to local again. At the same time new knowledge is generated, which continuously triggers change, feedback and problem solving on a continuously accelerated cycle. This has the capacity to create social complexity on a grand scale.

On the business and scientific front, global collaboration is now the norm, encompassing international networks of researchers, project alliances and commercial consortiums and involving diverse countries and cultures. Pluralist political, economic, trade, educational, cultural and environmental systems are also developing on a global basis including institutions such as the UN, WHO, UNESCO, EU, APEC, WTO, NATO, G20 etc. With increasing coverage and frequency of communication mediated by the Web, explosive growth in such social systems is already occurring.

This enmeshment process is now leading to a new phase in life's development, the realisation of a global human entity or intelligence. In other words, the same type of social Superorganism as emerges for insect species. According to Tow, such a global entity will eventually encompass all forms of human existence- biological, artificial and virtual.

Virtual communities will manifest in the form of groups of intelligent software agents- programs which cooperate to perform specific tasks and achieve goals. These are already being deployed within the cyberspace of the Web to solve communication and knowledge-based problems. Their current service capability includes locating, categorising, assessing, computing and negotiating information. More importantly however, they now have the capacity to learn, adapt, mutate and replicate- that is, to evolve in a primitive way.

Intelligent agents are only one example of the prototypes of virtual societies, with the eventual potential to evolve to a level of complexity similar to and symbiotic with our own. Eventually all such communities will merge with biological life throughout the universe. The evolution of society and civilisation, from the emergence of homo sapiens 200,000 years ago, to the sophisticated global society that we experience today will continue to be guided by this accelerating process, leading inevitably to the emergence of a global superorganism structure and intelligence.

The overriding outcome of evolutionary convergence ensures the continuing realisation of individual and social potential through the accumulation of knowledge and complexity. Enhancing the potential at the individual level expands the potential of the group, which in turn enhances the potential of society at large. Benefits at the societal and group level in turn feed back to each individual, so that knowledge gained at all levels is constantly recycled through a diffusion process. And so the cycle repeats endlessly, allowing life to continuously leverage its opportunities and extend its horizons.

This leads to an accelerating convergent process, where each increment of information gained catalyses the generation of all other elements, producing new knowledge at an accelerating rate. Concurrent with this process is the generation of meta-knowledge; a set of guiding principles which are continuously extracted from the base lode of information; designed to ensure that all knowledge contributes to the survival and the realisation of benefits for society at large.

These principles may be termed ethical codes, morality, human rights or principles of social justice. They include the set of modern democratic principles that encode the rights and responsibilities of the individual in relation to the group, such as equality under the law and freedom of speech. These become the rules that set the social and behavioural boundaries of human evolution, formulated through trial and error over eons.

The forces governing such historical outcomes according to this thesis are manifestations of the flow, exchange and refinement of information within a social context. Only at the local level is history therefore contingent. At the global level it is convergent, with the deep undercurrents of evolution guiding its progress.