My last days in New Mexico for now, beautiful land, the mountains serene and majestic. It is managed though by different people and institutions having diverging interests, where Los Alamos borders Indian land, where fracking operations are destroying and poisoning land and water. Home also to the Santa Fe Institute, the cradle of complexity science, where big questions are asked and investigated. Stated on their website, “complexity arises in any system in which many agents interact and adapt to one another and their environments, such as the nervous system, the internet, ecosystems, cities and civilizations.” Maybe the land of New Mexico begs for the big complexity questions to be addressed, where, as a human, it is easy to feel part of something grander. The biggest question maybe whether we are we smart enough to understand it all, or could there be a ‘being’ that could, and could we actually create it? It is a serious endeavor: enter AI

Artificial Intelligence: we are placing our bets on a being of our making that will supersede us, can do all our work, only better, we just sit back and relax. Self-driving cars, robots that clean our house and can even give us emotional support. Not just any kind of intelligence, we are talking super intelligence as our ultimate invention. And once these super intelligent machines are able to create even more intelligent machines, our days may be numbered. Somehow this is not how I imagine this will play out.  Somehow it sounds too old-fashioned and unilinear to me.  

Sideways: People have done it since our early days, manipulated material and shaped tools to make our life possible and possibly better, whatever that entails. In archaeology such artifacts can be called ‘extrasomatic means of adaptation’, simply meaning that we can adapt, not by natural evolution but by creating an artifact that is not part of our biological body, a chainsaw to chop some wood for instance. These are not intelligent tools, they are no-brainers, they require our manipulation. But boundaries are fuzzy, biologically, philosophically. A prosthetic, as a specific artifact, is defined as an artificial body part and these have also been around for a long time, false teeth, and Captain Hook; functional, cosmetic and at times giving the body something extra, a bodily extension. We are lost without our prosthetics today, our communication devices that are coterminous with our bodies, as our brain extensions. We seem to coevolve, a symbiotic relationship that at least for us seems beneficial, although we may surrender some of our innate brain power in the process. Not coercively, simply lack of use. 

Intelligence: to define intelligence is not so easy, but a general way of doing so refers to the ability to perceive or infer information, retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviors  within an environment or context – not exclusive to our species. What constitutes the neural network through which we are connected by means of our prosthetics? Does it make us a superorganism or are we enabling monsters in our midst, overarching creatures slowly infiltrating, manipulating, usurping our organic elements, electronically, while other metacreatures do it synthetically, collectively we consent. Maybe it is time to come up with different categories for these creatures, take away their personhood, to distinguish them based on the harm they inflict. For instance, toxic substances sprayed on our fields, killing life, killing part of our collective intelligence on which we depend.

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I hike up the Sangre de Cristo mountains, my phone says ‘no service’, I am free to roam,  it is comforting to perceive the world around me with my bodily sensors, the wind through the trees, the sun heating up the ground, releasing all kind of smells. Then I see her, the little flower. I bend down, she stares me in the face. It makes me smile, but then I realize she shows me a different face. We tend to forget we are not the only intelligent creatures on our planet.

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https://www.santafe.edu

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