Recursive relationship between humans, computers and human societies

This post is influenced by a talk I had with Marcos Vaz Salles and a debate that happened between Foucault and Chomsky in 1970.

The relationship between humans and societies is a recursive relationship. Human beings influence societies and societies in turn influence human beings. Next, humans are influencing the societies that they themselves have been influenced by. Total entanglement. A composite and recursive organism.

Recently, we have added a new recursive layer to the already recursive organism of humans plus society, namely the computer. When computers were first created, the relationship between humans and computers seemed non-recursive. Naïvely, in the good old days, humans coded computers, not the other way around. That may no longer be true, and perhaps it never was. Increasingly, computer algorithms are influencing the structure of human societies, e.g. through algorithmically controlled social networks. By transitivity, the influence that computers have on societies is propagated to humans. Furthermore, computers have recently gained the ability to code human beings directly. Computer algorithms are now used to synthesize new gene sequences for human beings, some of which are actually born. These human beings in turn can code computers, and again we come full circle. At this point in history we are a three-way recursive organism: humans plus computers plus societies.

In a debate between Foucault and Chomsky, Foucault raises the question whether we can discover and encode the system of regularity and constraints that makes science possible, outside the human mind. This question was preceded by the consensus that the human creative process can achieve complex results exactly because it is limited and governed by finite rules. Furthermore, it was agreed that humans, because we are limited, can only formulate certain theories. Do societies have the ability to construct classes of theories that human individuals can not, and what happens when we add the computer to the recursive definition? If so, can these otherwise unreachable theories be codified in a way so they can be understood by humans? Can humans instruct computers to use theories that we do not have the ability to discover or even understand ourselves?

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