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A digital cosmology
Une cosmologie digitale

Foreword : the Saga

Once upon a time, some two billion years ago, the first digital entity entered Earth : Life emerged of the primeval soup.

Some millions years ago, another fundamental jump happened, when our ancestors invented the articulated Language, with its deep but clearly system of binary oppositions, hence digital.

Some hundred years ago, the Modern times drew Mankind out of the static views of the World, and more and more clearly perceived History as something progressive. And digitization was a major component of the new impetus, from a neatly digital way of writing the numbers and computing and the digital slicing of time ("foliot") to the philosophical division of problems recommended by Descartes.

In the 1940's, a lot of theoretical and technical led to the modern computer systems, and showed how central the binary concepts and devices were, from mathematics to corporation management, including nuclear physics and military applications. Von Neumann was perhaps the best at tying all these trends into the digital synthetic concept.

In 1953, Watson and Crick deciphered the DNA, and Life began conscious of its intimate digital nature.

In 1965, Moore formulated its law of growth for digital integrated circuits, which has been transposed to all electronic devices. This exponential development law could be adapted to cover all kinds of technologies and to the whole span of World history.

Since then, the digital coverage of the World thickens and densifies each year, tending even to replace the hitherto dominant processes of production, consumption and entertainment by a transfer into "second worlds". These could be anyway the only one safe way for the future of Mankind, if they prove able reduce the matter/energy dissipation/pollution.

Still more fascinating, for the best and the worst, the two digital tracks tend to merge into one, where bionics unite the digits of DNA (natural life) with those of electonic devices (artificial life).

The main concern is the weakening of all the borders which hitherto protect our individuality. Our body extends beyond skin with the proliferation of "protheses", but is penetrated by rays, ultrasounds, drugs, chirurgical interventions, transplants and implants. Our soul projects iself to the limits of the universe, multiplies itsefl in virtual words, but our privacy has little resisitivy to the commercial, administrative and military information networks. And it will go further with direct link of the brain to the external word, to control it, or be controlled by it. And a the end, the brain to brain, telepathic relation ? At present, properly unconceivable.

The commentators ot today part themselves in pros an antis. The opposition is often expressed in dramatical terms, be they optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Human species.That does not prevent a bit of schizophrenia, with persons spending their time on the web to stress the dangers of computers, and others who claim both a simplification of Administrative processes and a strict protection of privacy.

Let us try to unify the knowledge fields implied in this saga. Let us try go go further, to show the depth of digitization, the riches of its perspectives and the subtlety of its possible theorization... while aiming to propose, wih modesty, some guidance into our present and the building of our future.

We shall bring some answer to these fears by showing that the digital entities have themselves their intrinsic limits and weaknesses, which we call globally "digital relativity". In some way, the global centralized control imagined by Orwell in his 1984 novel is fundamentally impossible. But we pay the price of these frailties with the ever increasing cost of safety, not to say "sanity" in our systems, with heavy anti-virus and firewalls of all sorts, at the individual as well as corporate and political levels.

Looking further, digital relativity opens also the way to the emergence, in digital "machines" of emotion, meaning, and Art. Our Roxame software (among the works of so many "generative" artists or algorists) has begun to show how a "machine" can be considered as an actual artist in its own right, or, symmetrically, as an Art criti. So, explode the last bunkers of the "human exception". In spite of many failures, in spite of the still wide power gap parting our machines from our brains, the visions of AI (artificial intelligence) have still their legitimity. A lot of thresholds have been passed (win over a Chess great master, propose rather correct translations of many text...). At the same time, the limits of human rationality facing the over-complexity of modern World are but too evident. Then, the coming of some kind of post-human entities, possibly hostile but why not friendly and somehow respectul of us, the proto-humans, as we are of our ancestors, is not so mad a perspective (as Asimov told).

At this point, optimism or pessimism is a rather private alternative. And indeed of little pertinence, as such global ways of thinking lead to simplistic or schizophenic action and politics. What we call for is more a due combination of creativity and vigilance. As far as we can, as far as the World evolution depends on us.