Alex Wright

Steven Johnson feels the need

February 22, 2003

Steven Johnson feels the need to clarify his position that we're not ants, responding to a discussion on Joi Ito's site about whether weblogs constitute a form of emergent intelligence.

the argument goes something like this: just as ant colonies seem to evolve higher-level intelligence through information pooling and distributed processing, so, it could be argued, weblogs represent at least the possibility of a distributed form of intelligence with its own emergent properties.

personally, i think that line of reasoning amounts to an enormous stretch, at least today. as Johnson himself avers:

[H]umans are both more nuanced than ants in their assessments of the world and their decision-making capacity, and ... they're capable of understanding the dynamics of the larger system in ways that ants cannot.

and here's hoping we're not too much like ants. as Lewis Thomas observed:

Ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment. They farm fungi, raise aphids as livestock, launch armies into war, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies, capture slaves, engage in child labor, exchange information ceaselessly. They do everything but watch television.

File under: User Experience

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