Sign up for our literacy platform for free for reading at home

The Acceleration of Cultural Change: From Ancestors to Algorithms

Authors: O'Brien, Michael J. & Bentley, R. Alexander
Publisher: MIT Press
BISAC/Subject: SOC002010, SCI027000, PSY053000
ISBN: 9780262343060, Related ISBNs: 0262036959, 0262343061, 9780262036955, 9780262343060
Classification: Non-Fiction
Number of pages: 176,
Audience: General/trade
Synopsis: How culture evolves through algorithms rather than knowledge inherited from ancestors.

From our hunter-gatherer days, we humans evolved to be excellent throwers, chewers, and long-distance runners. We are highly social, crave Paleolithic snacks, and display some gendered difference resulting from mate selection. But we now find ourselves binge-viewing, texting while driving, and playing Minecraft. Only the collective acceleration of cultural and technological evolution explains this development. The evolutionary psychology of individuals—the drive for “food and sex”—explains some of our current habits, but our evolutionary success, Alex Bentley and Mike O'Brien explain, lies in our ability to learn cultural know-how and to teach it to the next generation. Today, we are following social media bots as much as we are learning from our ancestors. We are radically changing the way culture evolves.

Bentley and O'Brien describe how the transmission of culture has become vast and instantaneous across an Internet of people and devices, after millennia of local ancestral knowledge that evolved slowly. Long-evolved cultural knowledge is aggressively discounted by online algorithms, which prioritize popularity and recency. If children are learning more from Minecraft than from tradition, this is a profound shift in cultural evolution.

Bentley and O'Brien examine the broad and shallow model of cultural evolution seen today in the science of networks, prediction markets, and the explosion of digital information. They suggest that in the future, artificial intelligence could be put to work to solve the problem of information overload, learning to integrate concepts over the vast idea space of digitally stored information.

Sign up for our literacy platform for reading at home

LightSail includes up to 6,000 high interest, Lexile aligned book titles with every student subscription. Other titles are available for individual purchase.

Watch the power of

Lightsail in action

×

SUPPORT GROWING READERS

Immediately Engage Students
Immediately Engage Students
Simple intuitive design has classrooms reading within minutes.
Exponentially Grow Reading Time
Exponentially Grow Reading Time
Students love the LightSail experience and naturally spend more time reading.
Accelerate Literacy Development
Accelerate Literacy Development
Students reading 25 minutes a day on LightSail are seeing 2+ years of Lexile growth in a single year.

LightSail Education is a comprehensive Lexile and standards-aligned, literacy platform and digital e-book library. Including multimodal learning functionality and featuring books from leading publishers, LightSail holistically assesses and nurtures each student on their reading and writing-to-learn journey, throughout elementary, middle, and high school.

*LightSail offers a 2,000 or a 6,000 title bundle with its student subscriptions. Other titles are available for individual purchase.