Votum separatum

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Whatever positive things we can say about our civilization, we can be sure of one thing: its development has certainly not been harmonious.

Stanislaw Lem Summa Technologiae 2013 … we are talking about Intelligence! Yet it would have been impossible to reach the Atomic Age without the Age of Coal and the Age of Electricity that preceded it. Or a different environment would have at least required a different sequence of discoveries, which would have involved more than just rearranging the calendars of Einsteins and Newtons from other planets. In an environment with a high degree, of disturbance that exceeds the regulatory capacity of a society, Intelligence can manifest itself not in an expansive form, as a desire to take control over the environment, but rather as a desire to subjugate itself to that environment. I am referring here to the emergence of biological technology prior to physical technology: creatures inhabiting such a world transform themselves to function in a given environment, instead of transforming that environment so that it serves them—the way humans do. “But this is not intelligent behavior any more; this is not Intelligence!” we hear in response. “Every biological species behaves in this way in the course of evolution …”

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“Summa Technologiae” – Lem’s grim, sober Singularity

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Summa Technologiae Stanislaw LemIf Summa Technolologiae had been translated to English immediately after publication, some of the neologisms coined by Lem for technologies that didn’t exist at the time would be still used today. So Google would do “ariadnology” (a guide to the labyrinth of the already assembled knowledge), virtual reality would be “phantomatics,” neuroscience would be “cerebromatics,” and artificial intelligence would be “Intelectronics.” In all cases, Lem imagines developments more advanced than today’s technology – for example phantomatics and cerebromatics provide full stimulation of all senses via direct neural interfaces with instant feedback loops, influencing mental processes while bypassing afferent neural pathways, and intelectronics achieves consciousness and intelligence amplification in machines.

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Forgotten Masterwork

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Stanislaw Lem’s forgotten masterwork Summa Technologiae, now in English half a century after publication, is a heady mix of prescience, philosophy and irony.

lem_summa_technologiae_minnesota_pressThe collection of Stanislaw Lem’s philosophical essays “Summa Technologiae” was first published in 1964 in Poland. The English translation however – the work of Joanna Zylinska, professor of new media and communications at Goldsmiths, University of London – appeared only in 2013, i.e. almost fifty years later. How does a book dealing with problems of the future pass the test of time? Astonishingly well, actually. According to New Scientist (May 20, 2013) “Stanislaw Lem’s forgotten masterwork (…) is a heady mix of prescience, philosophy and irony.” It is amazing “how much Lem got right or even predicted” in fields of artificial intelligence, theory of search engines, bionics, virtual reality, nanotechnology and technological singularity. The reviewer quotes an essay by biophysicists Peter Butko who describes “Summa” as an “all-encompassing discourse on evolution: not only… of science and technology… but also evolution of life, humanity, consciousness, culture, and civilization”.

see full article from “New Scientist”: A brilliant trip back to the technological future

This book’s title alludes to Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologiae” for a reason. In effect Lem creates an entire atheistic paradigm for the Cosmos with God replaced by Reason; the latter, a creative force independent from biology, drives the evolution towards its own, enigmatic goals.

prof. Jerzy Jarzębski