Re: future technology as animism

From: Greg Burch (
Date: Sun Oct 07 2001 - 07:24:16 MDT

(...still largely skimming the list, so forgive me if this doesn't quite
"fit" ...)

I think there's a lot to this idea -- that robotics, AI, VR and advanced
nano could in essence create a "magical" world once imagined by our
ancestors (and unfortunately still fervently believed in by the majority of
humanity). One "legal" take on this idea that's occurred to me before (and
that I think I've mentioned here before):

One of the primary sources of modern Western law is Roman culture. Roman
law, while quite rational and systematic in its development, was based on a
deep foundation of mythic belief. Looking at its early substance and
practice, we see no sharp dividing line between what we would call today
"law" and what we would see now as religion and superstition. One small
example that has struck me as resonant with this concept of a world
"animated" with high technology is the ritual and legal procedure for
conveyance of real property. In Roman legal practice an essential element
of a proper conveyance was joint communication by the seller and buyer with
the boundary gods or "terminii" of the piece of land involved. The parties
to the contract would ritually communicate their desire to transfer
ownership to the terminii, so that they would thereafter perform their
magical functions on behalf of the new owner.

I can see a similar practice and mentality developing with regard to "smart
property" (see Nick Szabo's development of this idea for newcomers here). A
piece of smart property that would have within it both the intelligence and
effective means to know and enforce property rights would also have to be
"propitiated" in any transfer of ownership or even temporary rightful
possession. In some important respects, this would be indistinguishable
from the Ur-law of Rome.

Clarke's Third Law, indeed . . .

Greg Burch
Vice-President, Extropy Institute

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