Chapter 2: Darwin’s Cloud
If ideas evolve, leaping from one person and one generation to another, is it a stretch to believe that technology could likewise evolve? Call it “selfish software.” This is similar to what French anthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan has called the “freeing of tools,” as tools are envisioned in the imaginations of the inventors before they are “freed” to materialize on the workbench.
To be sure, technology doesn’t always go forward in a linear fashion. When less-advanced technologies compete by being more efficient, by being cheaper, or by opening new markets, the march of technology frequently takes the shape of an S curve (as noted in the book The Innovator’s Dilemma).10 But neither is biological evolution uniformly upward (in fact, Darwin wrote a note reminding himself not to term particular evolutionary changes “good” or “bad”). In both cases, it is not about progress but about the march of evolution.
Could it be, then, that the selfish gene became frustrated with the slow evolution of the human brain (we haven’t had a decent biological advance in about fifty thousand years) and so leapt the fence from the organic world to the inorganic? Could selfish genes have created selfish memes to do their work? And is that what has led us to selfish software? Is that why humankind, imprisoned as we are in carbon molecules, is driven to invent machines made of sand and metal? I’m not completely convinced. But when you consider the history of technology as the evolution of technology, the perspective is exhilarating.