Opening Remarks, Mark Nelson, Chairman
It is my great delight to welcome you all to Synergia Ranch and to the Institute of Ecotechnics’ annual conference.
Last year we considered the Noosphere, a sphere of intelligence emerging as humanity seeks to find a harmony between the biosphere and the world of human technics and invention. This year we turn our attention to the most dynamic, unstable, destructive and creative force in our world – the technosphere. Analogous in scale and planetary significance to the atmosphere, lithosphere or biosphere, a truly global technosphere is still in the process of evolving around the planet. It is believed that humans first migrated from our African genesis into Europe in the teeth of Ice Ages, empowered by our technological ability to domesticate fire, create shelter, clothing and hunting weapons. Technology, therefore, may be one of our species’ most characteristic and defining traits.
I first encountered the concept of the technosphere in the writings of Vernadsky, the great Ukranian/Russian scientist who pioneered our modern understanding of the biosphere. He saw the power of life, the billions of years of ceaseless metabolism through which the biosphere has transformed our planet. Life is far more active a participant on spaceship Earth, not a mere passenger enjoying the ride. Vernadsky, by training a geochemist, also clearly saw the enormous and exponentially growing impact on the biosphere from humankind and our technics. Vernadsky called the technosphere “a planetary geological force”. As a mover of matter, humanity’s reach is incomparably greater than that of any other species. Over a decade ago, it was calculated more than half of Earth’s energy flow is diverted to the support of humans, our agriculture and industry. There has been an enormous increase in this flow…… after just two centuries of the technosphere’s scientifically-based expansion.
Lewis Mumford, a pioneering historian of technology, traced its evolution from the predominant use of water, wind and wood, the pre-industrial “eotechnic” era, through the rise of centralized factories for mass-production using coal and iron (the “paleotechnic” era), through the 20th century’s technics, dominated by alloys and electricity (what he termed “neotechnics”). Now with global communications networks and off-planet satellites, the reach of the technosphere ever increases. Technology pushes the envelope in a dazzling array of fields. Machines approach molecular size in the hands of the nanotechnologists. Molecular biologists decipher and change the DNA blueprint underlying life and speciation itself. The computer becomes ever-more connected, giving rise to electronic, virtual worlds and communities, changing the way we interact in our now global neighborhood. The technosphere draws ever stronger on the world’s natural resources, at least temporarily defying doom-sayers and Limits to Growthers, and pushing other technologists to search for alternative, renewable sources of energy, and for sustainable ways of enhancing our natural capital. Sustainable technosphere – the latest oxymoron or a worthy goal which will require our intelligence and collective efforts?
Mumford, writing in the middle of the 20th century, saw the Industrial Revolution as the triumph of what he called “the machine culture” displacing the biosphere as a prime center of evolutionary significance for an ever increasing proportion of our species. He wrote, prophetically: “The displacement of the living and organic took place rapidly…for the machine was the counterfeit of nature; nature analyzed, regulated, narrowed, controlled by the mind of men. The ultimate goal of its displacement was not the mere conquest of nature but her resynthesis: dismembered by thought, nature was put together in new combinations: material syntheses in chemistry; mechanical syntheses in engineering.” Alarmed by the implications for human life of the decline of the organic, Mumford optimistically called for a “bio-technics” – a technology based on the laws of life and responsive to and allied with life. It was an extension of this analysis which motivated my colleagues and I to found our Institute devoted to developing the theory and practice of “ecotechnics”, a term we invented in the early 1970s. Technics, we saw, must be harmonized, not just with individual life species, but with local ecosystems and our global biospheric life support system.
Now in the early years of the 21st century, we meet to consider the present state and future prospects of this technosphere. Are we indeed “post-industrial” or have we seen nothing yet!? We subtitled the conference: Revolution, Evolution and Involution, as certainly the dramatic possibilities of all three must be ever-present to anyone contemplating these works of man, this Second Nature humanity is creating, to borrow the term used by Tom Hughes, the distinguished historian of technology we have with us this weekend. What is the future, fraught with danger and hope, of this genie released from its bottle. The blinders imposed by the “techno-fix” mentality, ignoring subtleties of cultural and natural context, are increasingly apparent. But knowledge is not necessarily wisdom or understanding. We may know the Law of Unintended Consequences that arise from human invention but how do we deal with it? Perhaps the financial cliché is true on many levels – the greater the potential gain, the greater the risk. Many have argued that the push for “technological invention” is an unstoppable force; that for modern men, to invent has become a duty, to use ever more modern technics the route to greater profit, power and prestige, if not always progress as measured by personal satisfaction, quality of life or environmental health. But who, of those of us immersed in our mod-cons would go back willingly? Or to pose the question another way, which traditional technics are worth preserving? What would the technosphere evolve to if liberated from other forces, and social/economic structures which push it currently? It remains true that for nearly half of humanity, technology is still subsidence, manual farming and handicraft,. But there is little evidence that given the opportunity these people and cultures would not embrace newer technologies. Is the relevant question then, how can we shape the technosphere to reflect and enhance our individual needs, cultural values and historic destiny. How can we start (as Barry Commoner expressed it so long ago) “making peace with the planet”?, ending the perhaps unwitting and certainly ultimately unwinnable war between technosphere and not only biosphere but also ethnosphere. Cultural diversity is as endangered as biological diversity under the current form of the relentless technospheric advance.
Shall we entertain a more optimistic viewpoint? The technosphere may be inevitably evolving in ways which will ultimately ephemeralize our use of resources, that will close the cycle in eliminating waste driven not by goodwill but by necessity and economics, expanding our capacities to fully participate in the co-evolution of the worlds of life, culture and technics?
In its ever-increasing complexity, diversity and ubiquity, the technosphere may evolve to subsume the natural and organic, blurring the distinct lines between life and matter. Questions then arise as to what is the essential nature of a machine? Machines of sufficient complexity may, like life, have the properties of operating far-from-equilibrium, self-regulating and self-organizing, generating free energy and increasing potentiality rather than entropic disorder. Is a biosphere, whether on the scale of man-made construction or planetary phenomenon, ultimately a machine for living, and with intelligent species onboard, inevitably a harmonized blend of life and technosphere?
What are we humans, we optimistically self-titled Homo sapiens? What are we in the process of becoming? We think we are creating a technosphere, but will it ultimately re-create and transcend humanity? The technologies already exist in incipient form that can transform not only our world but ourselves in profound and unprecedented ways. The prospects arise for a future evolution of man under rules quite different from the Darwinian mechanisms of natural selection of competing life forms. Is that good news or bad news? Bad news: the technosphere may create Frankensteins that dwarf that primitive 19th century monster. Good news: we may eliminate the most fundamental of human diseases, and through redesign expand our potentiality for intelligence, longevity and creativity.
Now for the strange news: All species, it is known, have a certain life-span by Darwinian rules – they give rise to their descendent species, or go extinct. Humanity, however, may soon have the power to self-evolve at the molecular and genetic level, as a consequence of deliberate if not always conscious and ultimately intelligent steps. Are we thus on the verge not only of a post-industrial, but even of a post-human era of technospheric evolution?
Just a few of the incredibly enticing and frightening perspectives that arise from a contemplation of this astonishing and rapidly evolving technosphere.
Now time to embark on the first leg of our weekend’s exploration by introducing our opening speaker.
Closing Remarks, Mark Nelson, Chairman
Our Technosphere conference and exploration has drawn to a close.
I’d like to thank everyone that helped make our weekend so enjoyable – this extends from our thought-provoking speakers to the incredible work and fantastic cuisine crew including Margret, Michel, Cesco, Chili, Christine, Nicole and all our friends who worked with them. Laser, Rio, and Gessie who kept the A/V and documentation digitizing. Marie Harding, Sally Silverstone and the hospitality team of Synergia Ranch for making us all feel so welcome, Deborah, Cynthia Jurrs and her team for managing the conference, and the Techno Lounge crew (Ferdi, Kira, Orla and 3T). And to our friends, new and old, who have added their energy and insight to our stimulating weekend.
Our technosphere exploration revealed a wide diversity of perspectives and a goodly dose of healthy controversy.
Tom Hughes opened our exploration with a thoughtful consideration of the driving forces for control, reliability and order behind the push to the technosphere, humanity’s creation of a “second nature”. Tom posed a central dilemma of the evolving technosphere – that technical systems have become so complex and intricate, they defy simple control algorithms. He left us with the challenge: what should be the role of mind in a world of machines; what responsibility and intelligence is required – and what forces must be brought to bear to usher in a truly ecotechnological era to counteract technological determinism and the dysfunction caused by unintended consequences of our technologies.
Marty Hoffert reviewed the predicament humanity is facing in developing energy alternatives to our current heavy reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels. The urgency is increased by the environmental dangers associated with the accelerating greenhouse effect. He underlined the magnitude of the challenge, and reviewed some of the most promising alternative ways to deliver the energy supply which powers industrialization and our current form of civilization. A techno-optimist, Marty believes this can be achieved by technologists and engineers, “disciplined dreamers” and made the case that our current situation requires an effort similar to that of the Manhattan project to produce an energy revolution for the Greenhouse century.
John Allen reviewed the recent emergence of a global technosphere, tracking key historical steps from the Chinese discovery and mapping of the world oceans, and through the rise of science and the materials revolution. He reviewed the dangers that arise from the current control of the technosphere by mercantile capitalism with its focus on profit, conquest and power. He urged that the ethnosphere, the planetary value system, which is emerging as recently as the global technosphere itself, is needed to pilot the technosphere. John toured the evolution of a series of ecotechnic projects, illustrations of how techne and ecology can be brought together in projects with regional relevance and planetary significance.
Constance Adams looked at space architecture and the architected space from the perspective of the MotherShip, Planet Earth where all systems are interdependent. She reviewed the learning curve of designing TransHab as an example of how new thinking can be implemented including computer simulation and taking human factors as the prime design driver. This thinking can be extended to rethinking how we meet the needs of humans in our terrestrial architecture, producing architectural forms that enhance our basic human needs for a sense of time, place and feeling of wellness.
Gene Youngblood looked at the reinvention of the moving image, emphasizing that technology, especially media, is a powerful force in how we create ourselves, since it shapes our reality-construct of the world. He warned of the increasing corporate control of mass media, what he termed “the broadcast,” with its covert agenda. He argued that the potential remains for regaining contact with reality, for resocializing, if one can remain mindful about the conditioning power of mass media. Concurrently, new technologies are allowing alternative, counterculture viewpoints to be increasingly aired in the media democracy movement, through the internet, public access TV and new satellite-delivered media.
Woody Vasulka shared with us his artistic engagement with video and digital imaging technology. He recounted his early focus on the deconstruction of the image and understanding the nature of the new technology; the effort to escape the limits of the film frame, and to honestly deliver the new image and sounds of first video and now digital technologies. He ended with an illustration of the power of using digital images to create new narrative and metaphorical strategies in his Art of Memory. The technosphere will be enriched by artistic dialogues with the machine and the new visions it inspires.
Jack Thorpe traced the evolution of networked simulation – and the convergence of a number of key information technologies including commercial gaming, modeling, simulation, war gaming and control and command operations. He discussed the emergence of these cyberspace applications – and the most difficult element to control, human behavior. Jack tracked the significant cultural events that synchronized with the technical advances, underlining both the unpredictable and diverse societal needs driving development of distributed simulation. These applications are increasing, making the ability to simulate and game the key to successful real-world realization, in both military and civilian applications.
Alan Goldstein brought us up to speed on the quiet revolution underway in nanobiotechnology and the fateful promise and menace of where it’s headed. He reminded us that at the molecular level there is no inherent difference between living and non-living molecules. Nanotechnology’s goal is allow humans to build devices at the molecular level with atomic precision. This combined with biotechnology allows fusion at the atomic level. Alan cautioned that we will soon master the technologies required to break the carbon barrier which defines the nature of all previous Earth life. On the upside this may result in synergies never seen before but raises the danger of a wholly new type of evolution, even beyond what we think of as human.
Bruce Damer mapped the topography of this new mind space/cyberspace. He took us on an historical and evolutionary tour of the emerging worlds of virtual reality, cyberspace. He illustrated new forms of human community via avatars and shared virtual communities, the emergence of multiplayer gaming, and educational and therapeutic learning spaces. Bruce also reviewed some new powers of simulation his Digital Commons group have created, such as virtual space colonies, and extra-planetary off-road vehicles. He ended with a meditation on Biota-space, the evolution of virtual and physical creatures, and the evolutionary destiny of the expansion of life within the solar system and even cosmos.
Daniel Kranzler communicated to us the powers of the 5th media, cell phones – mobile media, the latest addition to the media of newspaper, radio, TV and internet. He reviewed the explosive growth of cell phones and the demographics that drive it – along with its convergence with gaming, text-messaging, and video streaming. It is the fastest growing medium by an order of magnitude in the technosphere – the entertainment for a new generation who value lots of short bursts of communications (snacks) that must be simple, relevant, compelling, and fun. He ended with a query on how this rapidly evolving technology will impact our global village and change our society.
Andrew Wight shared with us his passion for exploration and the technics of making film, especially deep underwater. He took us backstage to the filming of Aliens of the Abyss, and the challenge of making a 3-D IMAX film of the deep vent communities at the ocean floor. The stunning film, even seen here in two-dimensions, illustrates that the technosphere allows us access to parts of our world, the deep biosphere never before seen – and in the future, to planetary exploration which would be otherwise impossible. Such technologies open opportunities for scientists and the rest of us to experience the wonder of the origins of life on our planet and the mysteries of our cosmic neighborhood.
Amory Lovins outlined a strategy to entirely break our energy dependence on oil through the combined applications of enhanced energy efficiency and the use of a variety of renewable energies. The energy efficiency will be largely achieved through the use of ultralight and safe vehicles made possible through new composite materials. Amory argued that intelligent design and efficient energy use can be implemented with immediate economic profit. The long-term benefits to our economy, energy security, and to cease the carbon dioxide emissions that threaten the biosphere with global warming, make the necessity of overcoming inertia and business crucial. The time-frame for this transformation is within the next 40 years, as we have already entered the “oil endgame.”
Rick Satava took us to some of the new frontiers of the technical and scientific revolution – especially those “DARPA-hard” biomedical projects of the future. Many of these involve “disruptive visions” which change the contours of the future. In medicine, from visible human to virtual soldier including total body scan for total diagnosis. Rick explored how the information age is transforming health care: from VR simulators for training and education to the operating room of the future. He outlined some of the next horizons – the emergence of the Bio-Intelligence Age driven by modeling and simulation, where stunning technological breakthroughs will require careful re-examination of societal ethics and responsibilities of their profound implications.
Our Institute of Ecotechnics conferences often have the feel of journeys of exploration. We set out this year to examine some of the frontiers of the world of technics, the global technosphere exponentially increasing and innovating. We have seen some of its power of creation and destruction; its confrontation and potential co-evolution with the biosphere and human culture on all fronts. Virtually every presentation reinforced the profound uncertainty of whether these technologies will enhance or endanger our well-being and that of our biosphere. With complex technologies that inherently challenge conventional notions of control, can we come to grips with the challenges of living well and sustainably on planet Earth? Will we shape the technosphere to fulfill our heart’s desire, and learn to deal intelligently with its unintended consequences for us, our cultures and our planet?
On such issues there can be no consensus, no conclusions. Arthur Clarke warned of those who try to prophesy the future that they are too often beset by failures of nerve or failures of imagination. He argued that “the spirit of curiosity and wonder is the driving force behind all of Man’s achievements,” and warned, “if it ever fails, the story of our race will be coming to an end.”
In seeking words appropriate to our technosphere meeting, I was drawn to a poem of Walt Whitman, that still contemporary though 19th century poet.
“Years of the modern! years of the unperform’d! Your horizon rises, I see it parting away for more august dramas, I see not America only, not only Liberty’s nation but other nations preparing, I see tremendous entrances and exits, new combinations, the solidarity of races, I see that force advancing with irresistible power on the world’s stage, (Have the old forces, the old wars, played their parts? Are the acts suitable to them closed?) I see Freedom, completely arm’d and victorious and very haughty, with Law on one side and Peace on the other, A stupendous trio all issuing forth against the idea of caste; What historic denouements are these we so rapidly approach? I see men marching and countermarching by swift millions, I see the frontiers and boundaries of the old aristocracies broken, I see the landmarks of European kings removed, I see this day the People beginning their landmarks, (all others give way;) Never were such sharp questions ask’d as this day, Never was average man, his soul, more energetic, more like a God, Lo, how he urges and urges, leaving the masses no rest! His daring foot is on land and sea everywhere, he colonizes the Pacific, the archipelagoes, With the steamship, the electric telegraph, the newspaper, the wholesale engines of war, With these and the world-spreading factories he interlinks all geography, all lands; What whispers are these O lands, running ahead of you, passing under the seas? Are all nations communing? Is there going to be but one heart to the globe? Is humanity forming en-masse? For lo, tyrants tremble, crowns grow dim, The earth, restive, confronts a new era, perhaps a general divine war, No one knows what will happen next, such portents fill the days and nights; Years prophetical! The space ahead as I walk, as I vainly try to pierce it, is full of phantoms, Unborn deeds, things soon to be, project their shapes around me, This incredible rush and heat, this strange ecstatic fever of dreams O years! Your dreams O years, how they penetrate through me! (I know not whether I sleep or wake;) The perform’d America and Europe grow dim, retiring in shadow behind me, The unperform’d, more gigantic than ever, advance, advance upon me.
And in closing: may we take heart from our weekend shared exploration of the technosphere – and with courage, imagination and compassion, continue our journeys, forging our new “Songs of the Open Road”.
Friday, October 7
18:00 Welcoming Cocktails 19:00 Dinner Opening Remarks by Mark Nelson, Chairman 20:00 Thinking About Technology and Culture Thomas P. Hughes, Professor (Emeritus) of History, University of Pennsylvania Considered one of the most influential historians of technology, Tom’s work has changed the way we think about technology by expanding the history of technology to reflect the central position this endeavor plays in the modern world. His work has created a new way of understanding the technological culture by drawing on sources that range from art, architecture and cultural thought. His books include pioneering studies of the importance of systems thinking and systems engineering in technology 21:30 Techno Lounge
Saturday, October 8
08:30 Breakfast 09:00 An Energy Revolution for the 21st Century Martin Hoffert, Professor of Physics, New York University, New York Marty is an expert in biogeochemical cycles, oceanography, global environmental change and alternate energy technology. Marty was lead author of important papers published in Science, Nature and other prestigious journals on the topic of advanced technology paths to global climate stability, reviews of renewable energy options and a landmark paper entitled “Fourteen Grand Challenges: What engineers can do to prove we can survive the 21st Century.” 10:30 Coffee/Tea Break 10:45 History and Overview of the Technosphere John P. Allen, FLS, Chairman, Global Ecotechnics Corp., Santa Fe, New Mexico The inventor of the Biosphere 2 facility, co-founder of the Institute of Ecotechnics with a background in metallurgical engineering, John is a macro-thinker who has dealt with the successful integration of the technosphere and biosphere in a series of demonstration projects around the world. His engineering work has included developing special metals for Allegheny-Ludlum Corporation, and regional development projects in Iran and Central Asia. John envisioned a new discipline, ecotechnics, which works on the harmonization of technology and ecology. 12:30 Lunch 13:30 Space Architecture and Architected Space Constance Adams, AIAA, Space Architect, Synthesis International, Houston/New York An internationally practicing architect, and one of the world’s leading space architects, Constance was a key designer of the revolutionary Trans Hab inflatable space structure designed by NASA for planetary exploration and crew quarters in space. Constance has used her experience in meeting the challenge of space architecture to rethink how we architect on the Home Planet. 15:00 Break 15:15 The Reinvention of the Moving Image Gene Youngblood, Media Arts Dept., College of Santa Fe Gene Youngblood is an internationally known theorist of media arts and politics, and a respected scholar in the history and theory of experimental film and video art. He is the author of Expanded Cinema (1970), the first book about video as an art medium, which was influential in establishing the field of media arts. Gene is also widely known as a pioneering voice in the media democracy movement. 16:15 Break 16:30 Dialogue with the Machine #2 Woody Vasulka, Video Artist, Santa Fe, New Mexico Woody Vasulka, along with his wife Steina, founded “The Kitchen” in 1971 in the East Village of New York and was a pioneer in video and intermedia art. He continues to push the boundaries of the syntactical potential of electronic imaging, with sophisticated explorations of the narrative and metaphorical meaning of technological images. 19:00 Dinner 20:00 The Technics of War in the InfoAge Jack Thorpe, Consultant, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Military/Battlefield Simulation, San Diego, California Jack is considered the inventor of cyberspace for his pioneering work in the 1980s as the visionary behind the concept of networked simulation (SIMNET) that has revolutionized the field. Long-time program manager for DARPA, Jack now consults on advanced technology applications of networked simulation for a variety of civilian applications. Considered the “father of networked simulation,” Jack helped innovate related applications such as desktop simulators, video arcade trainers, interactive history, and seamless simulation. 21:30 Techno Lounge
Sunday, October 9
08:30 Breakfast 09:00 Decline and Fall of the Carbon Empire: the Coming Age of Nanobiotechnology (via up-link) Alan Goldstein, Industrial Nanobiotechnology Consultant, Professor of Biotechnology Engineering, Alfred University. Alan is a pioneer in nanobiotechnology. His laboratory focuses on developing new biomaterials for implanted medical devices, biotechnology instrumentation and simulation of the interaction between biomolecules and non-living materials. The fusion of the fields of biotechnology and nanotechnology offers the prospect of revolutionizing both preventative healthcare and new approaches to chronic diseases; and the challenging prospect of human evolution past Darwinian selection to the emergence of Homo technicus. 10:30 Coffee/Tea Break 10:45 The Technics of Virtual Space and Communities Bruce Damer, CEO and Founder, Digital Space Commons, Santa Cruz, California Bruce is one of the world’s leading virtual reality and virtual community theorists and practitioners. He consults to both Fortune 500 companies and NASA (for computer simulations of spacecraft and planetary exploration). Bruce gained extensive product development and team leadership experience gained through projects for Xerox, IBM, and Siemens-Nixdorf. He established software development laboratories in the U.S. and in Prague, Czechoslovakia where he lived for many years, and was in charge of large-scale software architecture efforts. 12:30 Lunch 13:30 Communications Daniel Kranzler, Chairman and CEO, MFORMA Corporation, Seattle, Washington Dan is a telecommunications pioneer entrepreneur, currently involved in dozens of companies worldwide. He was one of the pioneers in the wireless industry, founding in 1980 a company which became the largest paging company in the Northwest. The company was purchased by McCaw Cellular Communications (later AT&T Wireless), where Mr. Kranzler became the first General Manager for the cellular and paging operations. In 1986, he became president and CEO of AccessLine Technologies, a telecommunications software company that originated the single person-single number concept. Dan founded Mforma Group, which is now a global leader in wireless game and media content distributed through virtually every major wireless operator in the world. 15:00 Tea Break 15:15 Cinetechnics — Aliens of the Deep Andrew Wight, President, Great Wight/Earthship Productions, Malibu, California A master cave and open-water diver, Andrew has made some 40 underwater documentaries in remote and challenging environments in his native Australia and around the world, custom making much of the camera gear. For the past five years, Andrew has been head of production for James Cameron’s documentary division, and was key in successfully mastering the challenges of filming deep underwater at the sunken battleship, Bismarck, and in bringing us to the deep ocean floor vents which may hold the secrets to the evolution of life here and elsewhere in the cosmos. 16:30 Group Photo (Speakers and Participants) 19:00 Dinner 20:00 Technics for Winning the Oil End Game Amory Lovins, Founder/President, Rocky Mountain Institute, Snowmass, Colorado Since the 1970s, Amory has been a leading voice and theorist for the adoption of intelligent, sustainable alternative sources of energy and use of natural resources, utilizing market forces. He challenged conventional thinking, then dominated by supply-side thinking, and urged alternative approaches to energy, including the new paradigm of end-use/ least-cost approach to resource issues. He was selected as a “Hero of the Planet” by Time magazine, and his influential books and strategic analyses influence business, government and environmental thinkers worldwide. 21:30 Techno Lounge
Monday, October 10
08:30 Breakfast 09:00 Technology and the Revolution in Science Rick Satava, Program Manager, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA),and Department of Surgery, University of Washington, Seattle. Rick has been in the forefront of the development of advanced technics of tele-medicine, including virtual surgical techniques, delivery of care to remote locations, medical bio-sensing and monitoring of patients. He will bring us a preview of the next generation of technologies in biomedicine, including roboticized surgery, advanced sensor monitoring of both environmental and vital life systems for military and civilian medical applications. 11:30 Buffet & Conference Wrap-ups