Small individual things are radically unpredictable. Put them into a large group however and the thrashings of the group organism are eminently less so. Case in point: subatomic particles as opposed to bricks. Case in point: individual termites as opposed to colonies. Case in point: human beings as opposed to mobs.
Understanding how gnarly objects (such as German citizens, circa late 1930s) scale up to predictable (and more importantly) manipulable (see: Hitler) systems is key to our survival in the next century. Why?
We are a scarcity-evolved lifeform. I can only assume that all lifeforms are too. It’s essentially thermodynamics: energy flows from points of higher concentration to points of lower. In the process, it sometimes latches on here and there and clings for a while resulting in what we know as complexity. This can only be referred to as life.
In any case (our case specifically), scarcity leads to competition. Competition leads to conflict. Conflict leads to … well, I don’t need to point that out now do I? The trouble is this: unlike unpredictability of behavior which seems, to an extent, to be inversely proportional to population, the urge to conflict scales up and down more or less seamlessly. That’s why kids fight on the playground, that’s why countries fight wars.
So. What do we do? Can we eliminate scarcity? Perhaps. Can we eliminate the competitive drive from human beings? Again, perhaps. But if we did the former without the latter, nothing would change – we’d simply find new things to fight about. If we did the latter without the former, dieback would reduce the nearly volitionless populace to a manageable (yet unmanaged) herd of intelligent cattle. Nearly all our motivation is tied up with our competition reflexes – be it sex or the acquisition of resources.
Suppose we did both. Suppose we advanced our technology and understanding to the point where scarcity, while still extant in the cosmological paradigm, was no longer a practical problem. Suppose, with scarcity effectively gone, we decided we no longer needed to compete, so we cut out that circuitry. Result? Peace and love for all. Then what?
Suppose an external force, still bound by predatory or competitive drives, entered the equation. (Note: I am not using the word “aliens” but I’m thinking it :D ) Basically, we’d be screwed. Therefore, competition is definitely necessary for our long-term survival but the toxic aspects are too dangerous to keep. What do we do?
The solution is to found in my first paragraph; remember that? The behavior of a group can be radically different from the behavior of its constituent individuals. The way I see it, one must find a way to eradicate aggressive competitive urges within the individuals of the human race but in such a fashion that we are still capable of engaging in conflict as a group
. End result is peace within, but anyone fucks with us, we band together and kick their asses.
(written two days later)
Upon further thought, it occurs to me that figuring out how to do that i.e. tweak starting conditions among individual objects so as to alter the behavior of crowds in a precise way
would also allow us to do it to termite colonies, bacterial colonies and pretty much any kind of swarm/hive/mob/crowd. That, by the way, includes a)neuron analogues and b) subatomic particles. Take that as far as it can go and what do you have?
I think you have a) the ability to custom-grow artificial intelligences from seed to pre-determined mind and b) the ability to make pretty much whatever macroscale object you want by smacking a few gazillion subatomic particles together.