In time, a new perception gradually emerged, based upon trying to understand the history and effect of a single, fascinating capacity: The Capacity to Receive, Utilize, Store, Transform and Transmit Information (for the adherents of brevity in the form of acronyms, CRUSTTI ).
Not information from the common misperception of alphanumeric data, but from Gregory Bateson's perspective that "information is a difference that makes a difference." If something perceived cannot be distinguished from its surroundings in a relevant way, it's just noise. If it can be differentiated and truly makes a difference, then it becomes information. As such, it is capable of informing us, of forming us within, and allowing us to formulate differences that can make a difference to others.
To understand CRUSTTI, it is essential to start at the beginning. If one examines early examples of single-celled life, it is apparent they possess the Capacity to Receive, Store, Utilize, Transform and Transmit Information. In fact, it precedes even such simple forms, for to do so is the very essence of DNA. It even precedes DNA, for when physicists attempt to examine the smallest known particles of matter, the particles change their behavior. And when they do, the physicists change their behavior in response. Particle and physicist find themselves in a fascinating, quantum, cosmic dance. Clearly each is perceiving a "difference that makes a difference." They are exchanging information.
In ways we haven't begun to understand, information escapes particles, transcends them and binds them together into more complex systems within which all particles constantly exchange information. It seems a principle of evolution, perhaps the fundamental principle, that the greater the capacity to receive, store, utilize, transform and transmit information, the more diverse and complex the entity. It holds true from neutrino, to nucleus, to atom, to amino acids, to proteins, to molecules, to cells, to organs, to organisms. From bacteria, to bees, to bats, to birds, to buffalo, right on through to baseball players.
CRUSTTI didn't stop there. In time, information transcended the boundaries of organisms and led to communication between them. Whether the dance of the bees, the pheromone of ants, the sonar of bats, the song of birds, or the language of people, once that capacity transcended organisms, there was immediate evolution of complex communities of organisms – hives, flocks, packs, colonies, herds and tribes.
Let’s follow that capacity with respect to our species. Throughout history, many of our finest minds have argued that the two characteristics that most distinguish the human species are memory and language. Memory, but the ability to store and recall images. Language, but the means to share those images.
Over the centuries, we have ascended a ladder of diversity and complexity. With language, information escaped the boundaries of a single mind and experience became shared. Immediately, there was a corresponding leap in societal diversity and complexity. With written language, came expansion to that which could be manually recorded and personally transported. Another leap in capacity---another leap in societal diversity and complexity.
Leap followed leap, each exponentially greater and more frequent. With mathematics came expansion to that which could be commonly understood by means of a global language. With the printing press came expansion to that which could be mechanically recorded and transported. A library, after all, is nothing more than the collective memory of the species. With the telegraph came electronic-alphanumeric capacity. With the telephone came phonic capacity. With television came visual capacity, followed by multimedia capacity. Each was immediately followed by an even greater leap in societal diversity and complexity.
One could paraphrase Einstein's most famous equation as follows:
The capacity to receive, utilize, store, transform and transmit information equals societal diversity times societal complexity squared.
Then it happened! Suddenly, with the explosion of microelectronic technology in the last quarter of the twentieth century we developed a thousand times better algorithms, a million time more computing capacity per individual, and a billion times more mobility of information. Software to efficiently navigate that immensity of information rapidly emerged. The entire collective memory of the species will soon be no more than a few keystrokes away. We haven't begun to understand the significance of that, let alone the societal diversity it will unleash, or the institutional change it will demand.
But that is nothing compared to what lies ahead. Already present are other revolutions of enormously greater significance, such as nano- and biotechnology. Simply stated, nanotechnology is the engineering of self-replicating assemblers and computers so tiny they can manipulate atoms, the basic building blocks of nature, as though they were bricks. The necessary science has already been discovered. What remains to be done is the engineering of tools at the atomic scale which is already well along.
In his book Engines of Creation, K. Eric Drexler, a pioneer in the field, wrote: "When biochemists need complex molecular machines, they have to borrow them from cells...advanced molecular technology will eventually let them build nano circuits and nano machines as easily as engineers now build micro circuits or washing machines." In answer to the question, "What could we build with these atom-stacking mechanisms?" Marvin Minsky, Professor of Science at MIT, wrote: "...we could manufacture assembly machines much smaller even than living cells...make materials stronger and lighter than any available today, hence, better spacecraft, hence, tiny devices that can travel along capillaries to enter and repair living cells."
The possibilities are profound. Efficient solar collectors durable enough to re-pave highways and parking lots or to surface buildings. The ability to create large structures on-site swiftly at little cost from material as common as dirt and air by arranging atoms into a desired object. Even more important, the deconstruction into atoms of garbage, industrial waste, and atmospheric pollutants, thus, turning them into abundant, cheap, raw material.
There is nothing new in all this. It is the fundamental technique which nature has used to create everything since the beginning of time, whether trees, monkeys to climb in them, or people who cut them down. Information in the form of DNA is endlessly replicated at no cost and distributed in seeds. A process of replication driven by the power of the sun begins. Molecules and cells assemble on the spot into known patterns from atoms of surrounding air, soil, and water. In the case of animals, it happens not only on the spot, but on the move.
When such creations are no longer viable, nature breaks them down into atoms once again for re-creation into something new and useful – a never-ending, effective, non-polluting chain of events of ever-evolving diversity and complexity. No factories, no waste, no despoiled resources, no pollution, no mechanistic organization and no command and control. Nature does it all with a complex, diverse flow of information which mobilizes physical materials into both animate and inanimate forms. You can search in vain the universe, the earth it contains, and all of nature for hierarchical, mechanistic, command and control organizations such as those we created to control and manage the Industrial Age--organizations that now dominate our lives.
How soon and how likely are such things? One need only remember that a few decades ago the atomic bomb was scarcely a theory, travel to the moon a fantasy, television the dream of a few odd engineers, a plastic card for the global exchange of value unthinkable, and genetic engineering securely locked up in the secrets of DNA. Yet none of these had a better theoretical or scientific foundation than nanotechnology or biotechnology have today, and none were being driven by the incredible forces of change now common throughout the world.
As micro technology builds down and nanotechnology and molecular biology build up, they will come together. Within two or three decades, for better or worse, we will be constructing products and services from the atom up, and the capacity to receive, store, utilize, transform and transmit information will be at the heart of it. The message is simple. Fasten your seat belts; the turbulence has scarcely begun. We are in the midst of an explosion of societal diversity and complexity much greater than we can imagine.
And we're going to manage such an explosion of societal diversity and complexity with archaic, seventeenth-century, mechanistic, industrial-age concepts of organization and management? Not the chance of a snowball in the Sahara. Within a few decades, either we will look on our present methods of organization and management as quaint relics of an archaic Industrial Age, or our descendants will be forced to live through a period of social carnage and environmental devastation too horrible to contemplate.
If you think to perpetuate the old ways, try to recall the last time evolution rang your number to ask your consent. In the words of T. S. Elliot, we must "come full circle to the place from which we set out and see it for the first time." (Emphasis added)