Merlin Sheldrake’s scintillating survey of the world of fungi – particularly recommended for its description of lichen life – touches upon computation and intelligence in its references to network design by slime mold and fungal computing. Those concerned with ethical issues in AI will find much else of pertinence, including discussions of the concept of (biological) individuation, and of the effects of language on habitual thinking:
Today, the study of shared mycorrhizal networks is one of the fields most commonly beset with political baggage. Some portray these systems as a form of socialism by which the wealth of the forest can be redistributed. Others take inspiration from mammalian family structures and parental care, with young trees nourished by their fungal connections to older and larger ‘mother trees’. Some describe networks in terms of ‘biological markets’, in which plants and fungi are portrayed as rational economic individuals standing on the floor of an ecological stock exchange, engaging in ‘sanctions’, ‘strategic trading investments’ and ‘market gains’.
The Wood Wide Web is a no less anthropomorphic term. Not only are humans the only organisms to build machines, but the internet and World Wide Web are some of the most overtly politicised technologies that exist today. Using machine metaphors to understand other organisms can be as problematic as borrowing concepts from human social lives, […] if we understand organisms to be machines, we’ll be more likely to treat them as such.