Over the bank holiday weekend, my family visited Rodbaston animal centre. There, we saw all sorts of creatures, some cute, some endangered, some terrifying.
They were all incredible.
The leafcutter ants stick most strongly in the memory. Their mass co-operation to strip a plant, carry its components — up to 5000 times their body weight— across metres of rope and down into their nest was a sight to behold. Inside the nest is a fungus that the ants cultivate to feed their young. Yes, the ants are farmers, growing a fungus they domesticated millions of years ago.
We’ve invented everything
At the turn of the 20th century, the US Commissioner of Patents is purported to have said:
“Everything that can be invented, has been invented”
He didn’t. But the phrase is oft-repeated because I think it captures something of the sense at the time. A sense that there had been so much progress that surely there was not much more to achieve. A sense of pride, but also perhaps a touch of arrogance.
I think we risk the same arrogance now.
We are not gods
The tech news now is awash with talk of human-grade artificial intelligences. AI stands to have a dramatic impact on our world in the next 20 years. But just because a machine can replace a human in certain contexts, that does not make it equivalent to a human. A hammer knocks down nails better than a fist, but that doesn’t mean you’d want a hammer instead of a hand.
We should be proud of our achievements but we shouldn’t be under any illusion that we are close to matching nature’s billions of years of evolved complexity and wonder. Or even understanding it.