Two kinds of technology

I’ve had another thought about the backstory implicit in Avatar (see my previous post). Probably not that profound but it seems worth mentioning.

Humans are tool creators and tool users, our technology consists of tools that have grown bigger and more powerful and become weapons, vehicles, computers, prostheses, etc. That is the human technology we see in Avatar.

Tools are relatively simple (compared with our bodies and minds). Early tools are passive, requiring energy from us or domestic animals. We started making wide us of non-living power in the last couple of hundred years, and only began to build tools that can regulate themselves in significant ways in the last few decades.

But under different circumstances maybe we would have developed biological technology that wasn’t primarily mediated by tools (we have a lot of this such as domestication of animals, brewing, folk medicine, yoga, etc. but it is secondary to our tool use). If we figured out how to build a complete suite of biotechnology this way we might not use tools very much at all.

In this case we’d be almost entirely working with living things including our own bodies. These are active, very complex, and are intrinsically self-regulating.

To create a primarily biological technology, we’d have to learn how to manage evolution, emergent behavior, symbiosis, etc. We’d have to work with the intrinsic self-regulating tendencies of living things, rather than just shaping passive material. We’d develop a very different set of values, assumptions, skills, and probably cultural patterns.

Arguably imagining Pandora and the Na’vi as having developed through primarily biological technology is the best way to understand the world we see in Avatar.