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We are creating our successors

Still working on The Singularity is Near, by Ray Kurzweil.

These opening excerpts to chapter five (on the overlapping revolutions of genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics) are striking:

There are few things of which the present generation is more justly proud than the wonderful improvements which are daily taking place in all sorts of mechanical appliances. … But what would happen if technology continued to evolve so much more rapidly than the animal and vegetable kingdoms? Would it displace us in the supremacy of earth? Just as the vegetable kingdom was slowly developed from the mineral, and as in like manner the animal supervened upon the vegetable, so now in these last few ages an entirely new kingdom has sprung up, of which we as yet have only seen what will one day be considered the antediluvian prototypes of the race. … We are daily giving [machines] greater power and supplying by all sorts of ingenious contrivances that self-regulating, self-acting power which will be to them what intellect has been to the human race.

Samuel Butler, 1863 (Four years after publication of Darwin‘s The Origin of the Species)

Who will be man’s successor? To which the answer is: We are ourselves creating our own successors. Man will become to the machine what the horse and dog are to man; the conclusion being that machines are, or are becoming, animate.

—Samuel Butler, 1863, Letter, “Darwin Among the Machines”

Also can be found at Project Gutenberg: The Note-Books of Samuel Butler. (Or

Also summarized in bygone days, similar to Kurzweil’s paraphrasing, but with the addition of:

He then speaks of the minute members which compose the beautiful and intelligent little animal which we call the watch, and of how it has gradually been evolved from the clumsy brass clocks of the thirteenth century.

—Henry Festing Jones, Samuel Butler: a sketch by Henry Festing Jones

Makes you think… all the way back in 1863, people were anticipating this. And now we’re approaching the threshold. I only hope our creations will treat us better than we have treated the animals and the environment in our care.

Not to mention how we treat ourselves.

Science, like Nature, must also be tamed; with a view towards its preservation.” —Neil Peart