A two-tiered timescale is emerging – machine time, which is speeding up, and human time, which has already reached its upper bounds, such that many present-day humans are finding it difficult to keep up with the pace of their own machine-run lives. The human today is increasingly compelled to function at greater than human speeds in his attempt to adapt to a background environment that has, for the past decade, been moving, changing, and developing at machine speeds. This has resulted in the collapse, or implosion, of human notions of time into what Douglas Rushkoff calls “the ever-present now.”
To the extent that a human is not merely present and active in the environment but is being individually directed, step by step through his life by machine algorithms, this human lacks the power to slow his life back down to human speeds. The result is that humans so immersed are starting to appear confused, disoriented, overwhelmed. They are finding it difficult to consciously keep up with, or stay connected with, events and forces, even in their daily lives, that are already moving at beyond human speeds. Such humans, no longer able to think outside the contours of machine-like procedures and processes, come to resemble marionettes.
For that human who eagerly seeks to fall into a frictionless life, and who thereby comes to be automated to whatever degree by the constellation of networked algorithms that surround and animate him, his temporal prison – that which compels him to spend his every moment as if trying to outrun time itself – will only become stronger as algorithmic processing speeds continue to accelerate. As machine speeds bounce ahead by leaps and bounds, while human speeds remain the same, those humans of today who are already partially automated may find that their own conscious decisionmaking processes have become too slow to function rationally in those environments. At that time, humans so immersed will, by default, cede their remaining consciousness, initiative, right of decision, and thereby, all of their freedoms – economic, social, and political – to the totalizing logic of the machine and its alien rhythms.
To the extent that machines continue to dominate, and humans continue to abdicate, the gap between the two temporal tiers, the human tier and the machine tier, will continue to widen and accelerate in the coming decades. If it continues unabated, at some point everyone will be in the temporal prison, as it will encompass the entire Earth. Consequently, they will no longer be free people. The Earth, and all the physical and simulated objects and environments in it, will have been set under a fully automated algorithmic control structure without any responsible human oversight. The world will literally have been placed on autopilot, with no chance to back out or alter course. Humanity, in selecting this future, has embarked on a road that has no turns.
There will be no course corrections because those who purport to speak for humanity today, by virtue of the elected and unelected powers they jointly and separately hold, have already opted out of any further responsibility for humanity’s fate, or for that of the Earth more generally. An algorithmic chain reaction created by humans, but over which humans are choosing to afford themselves and their human successors no fail-safe controls, will have been put in charge of the descent of all human progeny into a future that today’s humans have already decided for them shall no longer be their own. It shall not be their own, since they shall not be involved in any way in its making. They will simply be processed through.
At its end-stage, the world will be on purely machine time, no longer anchored to human time in any way. At that time, there will be no more static states, that is, any state or condition that holds a recognizable form at least long enough for a human to apprehend it. The background conditions of human life will appear to jump around so suddenly and frequently that nothing will remain in place long enough for humans to engage with it on their own volition, or for it to be worthy in its own right of meaningful apprehension. The conditions of human life will more and more come to resemble a hazy blur, like trying to apprehend the plot lines of a video in fast-forward mode, except that it will be the real world. Events and objects will be moving too fast to be in any way perceptible to the human mind or senses. Time itself is not anchored to humans, nor to any of the other life that the Earth currently supports, and there is no physical reason why the Earth must necessarily proceed on timescales native to humans or to the multitudes of other life forms it produced.
Humans at that time, to the extent that there are any remaining, will appear to the machines to be standing still.
Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now (New York: Penguin, 2013).
References to machine time moving faster than human time by orders of magnitude – thousands, tens of thousands, or even a million times faster – can be found in Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). It can also be observed directly by conducting a routine Internet search.