RE: Major Technologies--Memetics

Billy Brown (
Mon, 25 Jan 1999 10:10:42 -0600

James Ganong wrote:
> OK, we've gone over several physical technologies so far, but
> what about memetics?
> Could it ever be developed to the point of being an actual
> technology/engineering discipline?

Of course it could. IMHO, you don't even need nanotech brain surgery to do it. People actually seem to be pretty easy to influence, as long as you approach the problem the right way. The hard part would be developing a technique for testing the effectiveness of competing approaches in an objective fashion. Once you have that, experimenters can begin building a sound base of knowledge in the field. Once you have enough empirical data to be able to say you know how to do some limited set of things reliably, you have an engineering discipline.

> Why or why not? What could happen if it were so developed?

That's the catch. Memetic engineering would could benefit us all by making it possible to build better mental immune systems, weed out false memes more reliably, and so on. It could also be used for mind control - a large fraction of the human race appears to be very susceptible to infectious memes, after all. Oppressive governments would use it to subdue the populace, megalomaniacs would use it to create cults, and activists of every sort would use it to support their pet causes. The result could easily be an increasing polarization of the human race into warring ideological camps.

Now, I'm not suggesting that this means we shouldn't try to do it. Any ability can be used for evil, after all. I just think we should keep our eyes open.

BTW - This is one reason why some of us are so nervous about the idea of confronting an SI. Circumstantial evidence seems to suggest that humans have very weak mental immune systems. An entity a great deal smarter than we are might well be able to exploit those weaknesses to manipulate us into doing just about anything, just by engaging in conversation that leads subtly in the desired direction.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I