Uncovering the Physics of Culture. How Algorithms shape our world

The natural realm and our understanding of nature is govern by the laws of physics as expressed and depicted from the universal language of mathematics. On  the other hand the human world and all its wonderful manifestations either these are expressed by any form of art or social, cultural and human behaviour have for many many years been considered almost mystical and the human brain as something so complex that we thought we would never fully understood its workings.

However we have never stopped trying to reach to a complete, comprehensive understanding of people’s behaviour. It is simple to, at least, understand why. Because we quickly came to realize that, as with everything else, understanding how something works and why it works the way it does is essential if you want to control it. Control is power!

Humanity employed over the centuries various disciplines and combined different theoretical and empirical methodologies to understand and translate human behaviour into a quantified tool. From psychology to biology scientists tried to use the universal language of mathematics to transcend human behaviour and its various cultural artistic products into models.

And we love models!! We love them because they are the basic tools to our struggle for optimization. They are the mirrors that reflect through the experimental process of trial and error the best way forward.

This process demands we make use of certain equations in our brain to calculate our collected data from our observations and interpretations to either break them into million other type of relevant and useful information or to combine them into a new idea or realization. We make use now what is known as algorithms and our brains absorb all the input our senses collect and create a sort of meaningful perception. Then with a similar process people pour out their emotions that their perceptions generate expressed in the thousand different forms of unique cultural, arts and traditional folk customs.

Therefore algorithms exist in nature. They exist in the millions ways proteins combine into a string of DNA, in the millions combinations the chemical elements come together to create new elements and even in the billion synaptic messages the brain is constantly sending to every organ of our bodies through our neural system.

So once we have mastered the art of creating algorithms and developing machines that operate with Artificial Intelligence we sent them off to model our world and behaviours by making very difficult calculations very fast. In other words we have outsourced our tasks to machines once again in order to commercialize and to profit from the various benefits unlocking the secrets of the human mind can bring.

First we used the power of algorithms to computers to facilitate and to speed up some calculative processes. Time is money and the faster you can process some actions the greater the advantage against your competitors. Taking it a step further, algorithms have automated this process. As Mr Slevin explains in his talk here, we have created algorithms that have automated the transaction of millions of shares worth billions based on the parameters of a model. This is done on a global basis 24/7. Limited human interaction during these processes. What is interesting from what Mr Slevin is also saying is that ok these are financial numerical figures and calculations but now the same methods are applied to decide what music albums will be produced, what movies what cultural events etc..

So culture and arts are stripped away from our human instinctual intuitions and narrowed down to simply economical figures and commercial analysis. The loss could be great. Giving it another thought though I come to realize that things may always been like this. Or even more, we waste precious resources on intuition or our just on one’s own instincts? Can we stop one second and think how much crap we are creating every second?!

I will take this string of thought into another level like I always do. I know maybe this is becoming a bit tiring but I always need to find interpretations and connections between things, ideas, behaviours etc..

What if we put this same algorithmically optimization idea back into nature and biology. I have already stated that algorithms exist in nature. Natural selection is a theory based on optimization models of an organism. However, since we have decoded the DNA of many species around us and also our own human DNA, is it crazy then to start imagining a period in our not so distant future were we would use similar algorithms and models to genetically modify not only natural biological products but even our own offspring? Our bioethical track record is not a good one I am afraid.

In finance trading through algorithms and models is called black box trading. So we can expect that using algorithms and models to analyze the results of two DNA stings coming together and using genetic artificial code to tamper with the DNA of our children can be also called black box genetics.

The goal is the same. OPTIMIZATION!


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