Bodily functions and activities are algorithmically monitored, regulated and modulated. In this way, human bodies distributed in space and time are increasingly connected in a worldwide web. The Internet of Things and Internet of Bodies themselves are inextricably interrelated, each requiring the other, in a relationship that I call “intervolution.”
In contrast to evolution, which is an unfolding over time, intervolution is an intertwining over time, a developmental process in which seemingly discrete bodies and things cooperate to weave mutually adaptive webs. The Internet of Things and the Internet of Bodies — think of them as smart things and smart bodies — are thus joined in an intervolutionary network which is gestating nothing less than the human being of the future.
The global network that is emerging around us forms the biotechnical infrastructure for future bodily as well as cognitive development. Extended bodies and extended minds will intervolve to form superorganisms and superintelligence. The expanded mind will not only extend from outer devices and processes to the inner recesses of what we once thought were our private selves but will also extend in the opposite direction — from once-impenetrable inward processing to once-unreachable outer networks.
This interaction of machines and minds is creating a form of superintelligence that already surpasses the cognitive abilities of human beings. Superorganisms, meanwhile, formed by prostheses and implants that communicate across bodies in the cloud, will lengthen the current life span by enacting and exploiting to the full the profound truth that all life is shared.
Diabetes has taught me that I am never only myself, but am always also other than myself. As my pump and I have gotten to know each other and have learned to live together, I have discovered that my very body extends beyond itself.
The intranet of my body, the Internet of Things and the Internet of Bodies share a common language and, therefore, are able to communicate with one another. Sometimes we misunderstand and must recalibrate. Fortunately, my pump is always calculating, thinking and talking to my body as well as to other smart things, even when I am not.
I have become a node in this network of networks and no longer can live without it. Just as mind and body cannot be separated, so superorganism and superintelligence are interdependent and intervolved. I do not impose my intelligence on a recalcitrant world or resistant others; to the contrary, I am but a fleeting moment in a process that both includes and surpasses me.
I now realize that the body and mind I once thought were my own are expressions of an intelligence that is neither simply natural nor merely artificial. As sentient environments and distributed cognition continue to expand, I along with all other smart things and smart bodies will be contributing to the complex intervolutionary process that will continuously shape everything and everyone for a long, long while to come.
Mark C. Taylor is a professor of religion at Columbia and the author of “Intervolution: Smart Bodies Smart Things.”
Now in print: “Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments,” and “The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments,” with essays from the series, edited by Peter Catapano and Simon Critchley, published by Liveright Books.
The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: firstname.lastname@example.org.