From Biosphere To Technosphere

It takes the expansive perspective of an astrobiologist and theoretical physicist who ponders the origins and unfolding of the universe to place today’s parochial debates over intelligent technology in the context of planetary evolution.


In Noema, Sara Walker bends the modern mind to link the coming future to the primordial past. “The technologies we are and that we produce are part of the same ancient strand of information propagating through and structuring matter on our planet,” she writes. “This structure of information across time emerged with the origin of life on Earth.”

Walker asks us to consider how “thinking” technologies are an extension of evolutionary history that represents “the next major transition in the planetary evolution of life on Earth. It is what we might expect as societies scale up and become more complex, just as life simpler than us has done in the past. The functional capabilities of a society have their deepest roots in ancient life, a lineage of information that propagates through physical materials. Just as a cell might evolve along a specific lineage into a multicellular structure (something that’s not inevitable but has happened independently on Earth at least 25 times), the emergence of artificial intelligences and planetary-scale data and computation can be seen as an evolutionary progression — a biosphere becoming a technosphere.”

Technology Is Life

For Walker, human technologies are not much different from other innovations produced in our planet’s 3.8-billion-year living history. By way of example, she writes that “multicellular organisms evolved vision; what I will call ‘multisocietial aggregates’ of humans evolved microscopes and telescopes, which are capable of seeing into the smallest and largest scales of our universe. Life seeing life.” Indeed, for Walker, “technology is not artificially replacing life — it is life.”…