Planetary Intelligence: Animals, Plants, AI and Machines

I recently read one of the most original, comprehensive, and thought-provoking books I’ve seen in a while called Ways of Being: Animals, Plants, Machines: The Quest for a Planetary Intelligence by writer, artist, and technologist James Bridle, and I’m thrilled he was able to answer a few questions about his landmark book.1.2

Why did you write? Ways of being: animals, plants, machines

I am an artist and writer. In recent years I have focused my practice on ecology and Areacreating artworks on the theme of renewable energy and redistribution current, learn how to build physical, sustainable things and try to live a more mindful and regenerative life. Moving out of town to a small island, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s useful in what I already know: technology, the internet, AI— to initiate discussions about the planetary crisis.

Ways of being is a result of this: an attempt to understand where we went wrong, how we misunderstand the world, the other beings in it, and how we relate to them. It’s part of my own process of moving from a place of uncertainty and fear to one of agency and even hope, accompanied, I think, by a whole host of new friends and associates.

    James Bridle, used with permission.

Source: James Bridle, used with permission.

The definition of intelligence that we have used for so long – that is, “what people do” – is woefully inadequate and largely inaccurate, especially when conceptualized and deployed by powerful and predatory corporations, whose profit motives and lack of concern for humanity and the rest of the planet are woven into the code they write. However, by showing us that other, non-human forms of intelligence are possible, AI opens the door to a re-evaluation and a reimagining of what intelligence is – something more than human, and something that doesn’t just happen in our heads, but is a quality of our relationships with each other, perhaps even an emerging quality of life itself.

Who is your intended audience?

The book is really meant for everyone.

What are some of the topics you weave into your book, and what are some of your key messages?

I realized quite early on researching and writing the book that “intelligence,” as we usually think of it, isn’t always a useful way of determining how we should relate to each other and the world, but it is important. to understand how we always done. The history of how we evaluate the abilities of others is key here, so I look at the ways we assess the abilities of other creatures, from putting monkeys and elephants in front of mirrors to see if they recognize themselves to giving of tools to open doors or find food. It turns out that most of these methods are deeply flawed – indeed, the skills they supposedly test for also vary widely across human cultures – but they are revealing.

For example, Gibbons have long been considered less intelligent than other monkeys because in experiments they refused to use sticks to pick up food or lift cups under which snacks were hidden. But eventually it was realized that gibbons simply see and experience the world differently because they mostly live in the trees: their long fingers are not adapted to pick up things from the ground, and they grab their tools from above their heads. Gibbons are intelligent in many ways, but their intelligence differs because it is embodied: it reflects the pattern of their lives and the pattern of their bodies, just like ours and that of all other beings.

Other intelligences differ in much greater ways. Slime molds, for example – strange single-celled critters somewhere between fungi and amoebae – can solve complex math problems much faster and more efficiently than humans or our most advanced supercomputers. And we don’t really know how they do it, and maybe we can learn, but we can also recognize this as intelligence and learn from it how to better interact with other beings when we see that they have their own agency, intelligence, and ways of interacting with other beings. to be world.

It turns out that most of our categories and processes for recognizing agency and intelligence in other beings, as well as the hierarchies of species and abilities we have built up, are fundamentally flawed and detrimental to our mutual understanding and ability to thrive. If we recognize this, we can do it differently. In the book, I explore ways to construct technology that may be more generative, such as: non-binary and biological computer science, delving into the history of cybernetics, scratch computers and random number generation, drawing lessons from music, math, and cephalopods. And I also suggest that a meaningful realization of this consciousness is the construction of a new species politicsone that recognizes and trusts the intelligence of other beings, learns from them and moves forward together.

How does your book differ from others dealing with some of the same general topics?

There is a huge cultural interest in AI right now, and that in itself is fascinating. Why are we so obsessed with a technology designed to make us out of a job, take over the things we love, and eventually replace us? Most of the writing about it is either tech boosterism or doom-laden eschatology.

I take a different route: first, by stating that there is nothing ‘artificial’ about AI; second, by treating this new form of intelligence as a colleague and compatriot rather than as a slave or potential master; and third, by bringing it into dialogue with all the other intelligences that surround us, revealing something new about both our own conception of it and the wider world in which it is inevitably entangled.3

Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers?

Everything is alive and everything is intelligent. The fear and pain that many of us are experiencing right now – whether it be political and social unrest or the collapse of our ecological relationships that are at the heart of the climate crisis – are the result of deep-seated Western ideas about power, domination, human superiority, racismand speciesism. But the world knows differently, and by looking outside ourselves, by listening and relating to the billions of other lives we share the planet with, we can discover new ways of being and doing that can change our perspective, and therefore our ability to change and move forward together.

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