Scientists like to think that they are objective and unbiased, driven by hard facts and evidence-based inquiry. They are proud of saying that they only go wherever the evidence leads them. So it might come as a surprise to realize that not only are scientists as biased as non-scientists, but that they are often driven as much by belief as are non-scientists. In fact they are driven by more than belief: they are driven by faith. Science. Belief. Faith. Seeing these words in a sentence alone might make most scientists bristle and want to throw something at the wall or at the writer of this piece. Surely you aren’t painting us with the same brush that you might those who profess religious faith, they might say?
On the playground in the park today, my daughter and I played with some carpenter ants and the aphids they were farming. The phenomenon never ceases to fascinate me - the aphids being sheltered from natural predators under leaves and sap-rich areas of trees by the ants; the ants milking the aphids for their tasty, sugary honeydew in turn by gently stroking them.
It's doubly fascinating because as recounted in George Dyson's "Darwin Among the Machines", in his groundbreaking 1872 book "Erewhon", Victorian writer and polymath Samuel Butler wondered whether human relationships with machines will one day become very similar to those between ants and aphids, with humans essentially becoming dependent on machines to provide them with constant, nurturing stimulation and feeding: "May not man himself become a sort of parasite upon the machines? An affectionate machine-tickling aphid?", wrote Butler.
In this scenario, there's no need to imagine a Terminator-style takeover of human society by computers; instead, humans will willingly give themselves over to the illusions of tender, loving care provided by machines, becoming permanently dependent and parasitic on them and becoming, in effect, code's way to replicate itself. Clearly, Butler's vision was incredibly prescient and ahead of its time, and resoundingly true as indicated by the medium in which I am typing these words.