Sunday, 6 July 2014

Tim Tyler: Memetic engineering

Hi. I'm Tim Tyler and this is a video about memetic engineering.

The term "memetic engineering" refers to the deliberative creation of memes using techniques from engineering.

The term is derived from "genetic engineering" - which involves the engineering of genes and genomes.

In the modern world, many memes and memeplexes are engineered - rather than being the product of the deliberate breeding or unconscious selection of memes.

Engineered memes are used in marketing, advertising, entertainment, politics, warfare, religion and education - among other fields.

To give an example, Gangnam Style is a memetically engineered music video. It has over 2 billion views - a testimony to the success of its creators.

Techniques for memetic engineering broadly mirror those used in genetic engineering. Transplanting and recombining existing memes is a common source of new variants. Intelligent design is used to create memes to specifications. Deliberate selection is used to filter the results of these techniques.

With DNA-based creatures, classifying organisms into those that have been engineered and those that have not is a relatively straightforward task. However, with memes, it isn't always easy to distinguish between engineering and selective breeding. The problem is that with DNA, only engineered genes pass through the human mind. By contrast, practically all memes pass through the human mind - and so there is much more scope for changes that might be classified as being engineering to take place.

Like most powerful technologies, memetic engineering is a positive force which also has significant negative potential. Social engineers could use memetic engineering to create a benevolent utopia. However, today, memetically engineered pathogens currently cause a significant quantity of damage. In particular the obesity epidemic, addictive drugs, pornography, movies and computer games represent widespread memetically-engineered plagues.

In some areas, indoctrination targeted at children uses memetically-engineered propaganda to turn kids into soldiers. In other cases, memetic engineering is used to recruit new cult members. Memes can have a dark side - and engineered memes are not excluded from this.

While genetically engineered pathogens are rare and cause relatively little damage, memetically engineered pathogens are common, often largely unregulated, and cause damage in a massive scale. While there are some attempts to restrict more addictive drugs, nicotine, alcohol and caffeine are widely available, many millions are addicted. These are cultural products whose spread is promoted by advertising campaigns which are engineered by large corporations.

Engineered products are sometimes regarded as being inferior to ones that are produced more naturally. This phenomenon does not just involve Luddites: many people often prefer wood to plastic and cotton to polyester. Most of those who would choose ice cream over a banana, recognise that the more natural product is more likely to be better for them.

Broadly in line with this widespread suspicion of artificial products, genetic engineering has acquired a dubious reputation. People campaign against the production and sale of genetically engineered goods. Engineered foods have been dubbed 'frankenfoods' by their detractors. With memetic engineering things are a bit different. In practice, few object to the use of engineered memes simply on the grounds that they are engineered - since so many memes are engineered. However some of the drawbacks associated with engineered products do also apply to memes too.

For example, Esperanto is a memetically engineered language. It was designed - rather than evolving over a long period of time. It has a very regular grammar and has been designed to be easy to learn. However it is widely recognized that Esperanto sucks. Part of the reason is that it didn't evolve over thousands of years - and so is poorly adapted to the human mind. This situation with memetic engineering thus mirrors some of the objections that are associated with genetic engineering.

Despite these kinds of problem, memetic engineering seems to have a bright future. Engineered memes are ubiquitous and dominate the planet. In addition to undirected mutations and selection, they can take advantage of the full toolkit of intelligent design - including interpolation, extrapolation, and evaluation under simulation. As a result they tend to evolve faster and adapt more adeptly.

Despite a three billion year head start, DNA genes are already lagging behind memes in some areas. A more eager embrace of engineering has contributed to the success of memes in the ecosystem. Engineering DNA is challenging - whereas for memes, the human mind is their native environment, and so engineering comes to them more naturally. Unless DNA genes similarly embrace engineering techniques, they risk being rapidly left behind in the dust.



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