Darwin Among the Machines

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Butler, Samuel (as "Cellarius"). "Darwin among the Machines" (sic: "among"). Article in The Press newspaper in Christchurch, NZ, 13 June 1863.[1] Along with other articles, developed into "The Book of the Machines" chapters in Butler's Erewhon, q.v.

Serious playing with the application of evolutionary theory to machines, as a kind of new species competing with Homo sapiens and possibly winning that competition and replacing us. As quoted in the Wikipedia article (deletions ours):

We refer to the question: What sort of creature man’s next successor in the supremacy of the earth is likely to be. [...] it appears to us that we are ourselves creating our own successors; we are daily adding to the beauty and delicacy of their physical organisation; we are daily giving them 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. In the course of ages we shall find ourselves the inferior race. ... Day by day [...] the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; more men are daily bound down as slaves to tend them, more men are daily devoting the energies of their whole lives to the development of mechanical life. The upshot is simply a question of time, but that the time will come when the machines will hold the real supremacy over the world and its inhabitants is what no person of a truly philosophic mind can for a moment question.

Therefore, the article concludes, "War to the death should be instantly proclaimed against them. Every machine of every sort should be destroyed by the well-wisher of his species. Let there be no exceptions made, no quarter shown; let us at once go back to the primeval condition of the race."[2] Cf. and contrast the climactic revolution in K. Vonnegut's Player Piano: both works use satiric hyperbole and what Y. Zamyatin called "Reductio ad finem"[3] — pushing a trend to a grotesque conclusion — but with Vonnegut's Player Piano rather more in earnest.

Compare and contrast — but do not confuse with — George B. Dyson's book-length Darwin Among the Machines: The Evolution of Global Intelligence. Dyson calls attention to the earlier Darwin, Erasmus, in his ambiguously-titled 2nd chapter, "Darwin Among the Machines," and, after giving the key quotation we have just noted, calls attention to Butler's essay "The Mechanical Creation" in the London Reasoner of 1 July 1865, where Butler asserts that he "can see no a priori objection to the gradual development of a mechanical life, though that life shall be so different from ours that it is only by a severe discipline that we can think of it as life at all" (quoted Dyson, p. 25). Dyson goes on to quote an introductory adverbial clause of Butler's to credit Butler with an early consideration of AI and AL, and long after Darwin Among the Machines, in 1880, consider in a modern formulation the recurring idea of the (Wo)Man/Machine.[4]

If, then, men were not really alive at all, but were only machines of so complicated a make that it was less trouble to us to cut the difficulty and say that that kind of mechanism was "being alive," why should not machines ultimately become as complicated as we are, or at any rate complicate enough to be called living [...]? If it was only a case of their becoming more complicated, we were certainly doing our best to make them so. (Unconscious Memory [London, UK: David Bogue 1880]: 13, 15; rpt. The Shrewsbury Edition of the Works of Samuel Butler [London, UK: Jonathan Cape, 1924]; quoted Dyson, p. 28)


RDE, finishing, 20Dec20, 21Jan22/24