IBM and the Anthropocene

1981 brought the cybersphere into people’s homes offices with the launch of the IBM personal computer. This article from the Telegraph records the event and includes an advert from the time which started the massive technological breakthrough that changed the world in such a big way. The Machine World created by human intelligence was now expanded in a new way. Human ingenuity and capital-driven enterprise added to the planet’s airwaves an exponentially exploding cybersphere with an undreamed of capacity to process and store the ‘memes’ (units of cultural meaning) by which humans make sense of existence.

Earth Spheres Diag To the ‘spheres’ of the natural world – the outer skins around the planet (litho-hydro-cryo-hydro-atmo-biospheres) – we now have the ‘memosphere’ embedded, not only in human brains, but also in an infinitely expanding cybersphere. Artificial intelligence (AI) is now ominously poised to outstrip the organic form of human intelligence and has both the potential for both intended and unintended consequences for future existence.

In only around 10000 years, human activity has created the ‘technosphere’ on the surface of the ‘blue dot’ Spaceship Earth and imposed it on the natural spheres. The natural world’s spheres have been evolving for 4,500,000,000 years but in the last 300 years the technosphere has exploded exponentially and in the last 40 years (just over half my lifetime) the growth of computing power has expanded by doubling every 18 months to 2 years (Moore’s Law). The scale of human impact on the planet means that we are now in a new geological Epoch – the Anthropocene -where humans are the greatest geologica force in transforming the earth’s natural spheres.

Although human-made global warming and climate disruption are now much in the news, the rise of computing and the expansion of the cybersphere underlie the globalised financial, economic and commercial systems  have become incredibly complex and inherently unstable as they expand at an exponential rate. Deregulated ‘market forces’ encouraged by neo-liberal values have limited the capacity for political control of the processes unleashed within the Machine World’s invented systems accelerated by computing.

The Telegraph article does not make the leap to the planetary implications of the launch in 1981 of the small home computer. But thinking globally is an urgent need if we are to grasp the reality of contemporary existence and should be a major task for all those who run the world and those who research and teach about our contemporary predicaments. Unfortunately, as we sit before our home computers or access our hand-held computing devices, the mass of distractions divert us from reflecting on the ‘big picture’ and the unpredicatable trajectories and the unintended consequences that lie ahead.

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