Thursday, May 03, 2012

TED Talks: When ideas have sex

Discipline: Design
iTunes U Course: Reimagine the Designer
Lecture (iTunes): Matt Ridley: When ideas have sex

Reflection: in his opening words, Mr Ridely discusses how bleak the world seemed during the 1970s and he points out that none of the predicted events actually happened. We did not have a global famine, the population did not overflow, we did not run out of oil, and we did not experience a global nuclear war.

He then correlates this to the evolution of the species and how this is because out ideas "had sex" and took on the benefits of multiple sources.

He discusses the tools of prehistoric man vs the confection of ideas and solutions making up modern tools like the mouse.

In an asexual species, the stronger mutations beat out the weaker ones and only one wins. However in a sexual animal, the traits resulting from multiple sources Adam indeed live on.

He believes that the same can be said for ideas. He points out that this is because of the exchange that is possible with humans and only seen in humans. He recalls that Adam Smith stated that "no man has ever seen a dog make a fair exchange of a bone with another dog". While there is some culture in some animals, parents handing down traditions from parent to offspring, these cultures of animals never expand or grow.

This habit of exchange is uniquely human and raises the standard of living for our species. In 1817 David Ricardo documented that if Adam can make a spear in 4 hours and an axe in 3 hours, whereas Oz takes 1 hour to make a spear and 2 hours to make an axe, one would think that Oz does not need Adam, he is better at both. However, with the exchange process, Oz can make 2 spears in 2 hours, and Adam 2 axes in 6 hours, through exchange (trade) they are both better off. Instead of spending 7 hours making an axe and a spear, Adam has spent only 6 hours working and making 2 spears in 2 hours Oz can work only 2 hours and they are both better off when they trade. In addition, when they start specializing, they both will naturally get better at their tasks.

This saving of time is prosperity.

He discusses a similar set of facts related to the improvements we have achieved as humans in making 1 hour of reading light. Today vs 1950s vs 1880 vs 1800.

In the past you had people literally working for you, however today there are literally thousands of people working for you. These are the people who make the coffee for the guy who work on the oil rig to drill oil for the guy who drives to work, etc... This same phenomenon is not found in other species, animals only work for the benefit of their colony, not the species as a whole.

Both sides of the sex help benefit the other, hunters benefit gatherers and gatherers benefit hunters. They raise each others standards of living.

There is no evidence that Neanderthal man shared between sexes nor between groups. However eventually early man started trading thousands of years ago. We see this as we have found widespread of tools in archeological digs. We also see that when there is separation of groups, the species can actually regress (Tasmania).

Further, today we take simple things for graded that we do not even understand. For example, almost nobody can make a pencil from scratch. Most people can' mine for graphite and fell trees and mull the wood, etc...

He wraps up by saying that what we have created is a collective brain and we are all just nodes in the network, the neurons of the brain and incrementally benefiting all humanity.

The cloud and crowd sourcing is helping accelerate this rate of innovation...brilliant!