Sociologist considers “Humanity 2.0”

A sociologist who is “Auguste Comte chair in social epistemology in Warwick University’s Department of Sociology” discusses his new book titled Humanity 2.0. In my opinion, here is the most interesting part of the interview:

Let’s put it this way: we’ve always been heading towards a pretty strong sense of Humanity 2.0. The history of science and technology, especially in the west, has been about remaking the world in our collective “image and likeness”, to recall the biblical phrase. This means making the world more accessible and usable by us. Consider the history of agriculture, especially animal and plant breeding. Then move to prosthetic devices such as eyeglasses and telescopes.

More recently, and more mundanely, people are voting with their feet to enter Humanity 2.0 with the time they spend in front of computers, as opposed to having direct contact with physical human beings. In all this, it’s not so much that we’ve been losing our humanity but that it’s becoming projected or distributed across things that lack a human body. In any case, Humanity 2.0 is less about the power of new technologies than a state of mind in which we see our lives fulfilled in such things.

Wouldn’t someone like Archimedes describe us as Humanity 3.0 compared to his era?

Yes, Archimedes would probably see us as pretty exotic creatures. He would already be impressed by what we take for granted as Humanity 1.0, since the Greeks generally believed that “humanity” was an elite prospect for ordinary Homo sapiens, requiring the right character and training. Moreover, he would be surprised – if not puzzled – that we appear to think of science and technology as some long-term collective project of self-improvement – “progress” in its strongest sense. While the Greeks gave us many of our fundamental scientific ideas, they did not think of them as a blueprint for upgrading the species. Rather, those ideas were meant either to relieve drudgery or provide high-brow entertainment.

What is considered “normal” for human beings has changed quite a bit over the centuries. This reminds me of something I read months ago about the concept of “normal” in medicine: we tend to focus on more unusual circumstances so don’t know as much what the possible ranges of “normal.” When first introduced, many technological changes were not “normal” but humans adapted. As Fuller suggests, perhaps we need to have a conversation about what is “normal” and how much change we are willing to accept and how quickly it might be implemented.

Were Archimedes and the Greeks correct in focusing more on “character and training” rather than scientific progress?

When people talk about these sorts of topics, readers start thinking about things like robots, prosthetics, and computer chip implants and don’t think so much about eyeglasses or common crops. Indeed, the book cover plays off these common stereotypes with its “futuristic” look at a human head. Does this jump to future technology and the potential problems immediately turn some possible readers off while a cover that played around more with “safer” ideas like eyeglasses would be attractive to more people?

How the honeybee problem was identified: through the social networks of scientists

Learning about how exactly scientific advances are made can be very interesting. While people might have images of people squirreled away in offices feverishly conducting experiments and reading articles, social networks play a large role in solving problems. Buried in this story about the discovery of the fungus and virus combination that is killing honeybees is how the two teams that solved the problem came together:

But it took a family connection — through David Wick, Charles’s brother — to really connect the dots. When colony collapse became news a few years ago, Mr. Wick, a tech entrepreneur who moved to Montana in the 1990s for the outdoor lifestyle, saw a television interview with Dr. Bromenshenk about bees.

Mr. Wick knew of his brother’s work in Maryland, and remembered meeting Dr. Bromenshenk at a business conference. A retained business card and a telephone call put the Army and the Bee Alert team buzzing around the same blossom.

The first steps were awkward…The process eventually was refined.

By working through this family connection, two teams that each had their own expertise were able to pool their knowledge and resources and come to a solution.