Month: May 2011

Technocene?

In the latest issue of Nature there is a short article about the International Commission on Stratigraphy currently studying the case for making official the term Anthropocene.

The Anthropocene would be a peculiar addition to the geological timescale. So far, it is more a prediction than a fact of Earth’s history, because many of its defining features are only starting to register in the rock record. And the driving force behind the geological transition it labels is not a continental rearrangement, massive volcanism or an extraterrestrial impact — forces that have reshaped the planet in the past. Yet the Anthropocene does deserve proper recognition. It reflects a grim reality on the ground, and it provides a powerful framework for considering global change and how to manage it.

But a reader (Neville Woolf) suggests that the notion of anthroposcene is limited, because it ignores the existence of what he calls “a third kind of life form”:

There is an implicit assumption that humans are the key aspect of this transition, rather than that it is the addition of a third kind of life form characterized by external memory/analysis systems. The bulk of life forms use a single genetic memory. There was a transition during the Cambrian Revolution to add a second type of life form with a sensory-cognitive-motor capability. Now we have a third kind of life form which also uses the storage capabilities of inorganic matter and the analytic capabilities of computers. The result is now that machines are better at prediction than are brains. This is the driving capability of the new life form, and the assumption that the control will remain with humans rather than move to the machines seems implausible

This is an interesting idea and would suggest that the current period could be termed technocene, although I am struggling to think of the ways in which this third form can be said to be life.

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