In the March 2015 Scientific American, Daniel Dennett, the Tufts University philosopher and cognitive scientist, and Deb Roy, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and Twitter’s chief media scientist, write about the society-altering consequences of digital transparency. Modern institutions—governments, corporations, armies, churches—developed in what the authors call an “epistemologically murky environment, in which most knowledge was local, secrets were easily kept and individuals were, if not blind, myopic.” But that environment is changing. The spread of digital technology and the advent of social media has made it much more difficult to keep secrets. This new transparency will profoundly influence the evolution of our institutions, the authors argue. “When these organizations suddenly find themselves exposed to daylight, they quickly discover that they can no longer rely on old methods; they must respond to the new transparency or go extinct,” they write.
Dennett and Roy introduce the ideas behind their essay in the talks below. In Dennett’s lecture, given at the skeptic’s conference TAM! 2014, he offers a Darwinian perspective on religion in the 21st century, arguing that organizations today face a situation similar to that of primitive organisms at the beginning of the Cambrian explosion, when the oceans quickly became much more transparent, triggering an adaptive arms race. Roy’s talk “The Birth of a Word,” which he gave at TED in 2011, explores the technologies driving the new transparency and the knowledge they could deliver.