Nugget # 2 Man-Computer Symbiosis

“The fig tree is pollinated only by the insect Blastophaga grossorun. The larva of the insect lives in the ovary of the fig tree, and there it gets its food. The tree and the insect are thus heavily interdependent: the tree cannot reproduce wit bout the insect; the insect cannot eat wit bout the tree; together, they constitute not only a viable but a productive and thriving partnership. This cooperative “living together in intimate association, or even close union, of two dissimilar organisms” is called symbiosis [27].

“Man-computer symbiosis is a subclass of man-machine systems. There are many man-machine systems. At present, however, there are no man-computer symbioses. The purposes of this paper are to present the concept and, hopefully, to foster the development of man-computer symbiosis by analyzing some problems of interaction between men and computing machines, calling attention to applicable principles of man-machine engineering, and pointing out a few questions to which research answers are needed. The hope is that, in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today.”

Truthfully, the mechanics of this article often lost me or made me get lost in an imaginary world where people can actually function megazords from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. However, I think the implications of the first two paragraphs are bigger than most people who read them will consider.

Symbiosis is a fact of life. There are many documented cases of it through the animal kingdom. There is the Egyptian Plover, a bird who’s symbiotic partner in crime is the crocodile. Crocodiles, by the nature of ripping animals to shreds and swallowing  them in huge chunks if not whole, leave a lot of food in their teeth. I imagine it’s quite similar to trying to eat a chicken breast, because I often need to floss pieces of chicken out my mouth afterwards. The Plover is the floss, or toothpick for a crocodile. By picking out the chunks of meat between the crocodiles teeth, it completes it’s diet. The crocodile benefits from the house call dentist, because it keeps the croc’s teeth health and infection free.

Hmm…i think you might have some cavities bud.

Another case is the Pistol Shrimp and the Goby Fish. Pistol Shrimp are pretty much blind, and live in burrows in rocks and sand underwater. Inevitably it has to come out to push the sand, but because it is blind, it is defenseless. That’s where the Goby Fish comes into play. The Goby Fish will block off the burrow and protect the Pistol Shrimp, essentially working as the shrimps eyes. In exchange the Pistol shrimp lets the Goby Fish eat the food it finds while burrowing, allows the fish to store it’s eggs in the burrow, and picks parasites off the fish.

The Pistol Shrimp is holding on to his buddy the Goby Fish, while the fish protects it.

I am even willing to argue that human and pet relationships are symbiotic in nature. A dog gets fed, cleaned, walked, shelter, and a playmate in exchange for being a companion for the human. Most dog owners think of their pets like members of their families, or even their non human babies/kids. In all the above cases, the relationship is mutually beneficial. There is also one big difference when comparing it to Licklider’s article.


They are all living creatures! I do not believe there can be symbiosis between man and computer simply because a computer is a machine. There can be little benefit to a machine because a machine  is an inanimate object. Sure keeping your computer free of viruses is taking care of it, but we are more affected by the computer having malware, adware, spyware, or viruses. We suffer because the computer can’t perform the operations we want it to, or we lose valuable information because the spyware records our keystrokes. For man-computer symbiosis to even be a thing, we would need artificial intelligence that simulates human feeling as well, and if we reach that point, well…

We are the superior beings!

Don’t turn around…

Save us Will Smith!! We need you!

4 thoughts on “Nugget # 2 Man-Computer Symbiosis”

  1. Singularity is something we will see in our lifetimes, so I must disagree with your doubt in any kind of symbiosis between the two. I enjoyed the last paragraph of this! In my opinion, this could be an issue of the furture but I really like how you finished with a little SAVE US WILL SMITH humor!

  2. I had the same thoughts about the use of the word symbiosis and what in entails. How does the computer benefit from us using it? A show comes to mind called Almost Human, where robot counterparts help cops of the future, that is definitely a symbiotic relationship. Because the robot is happy for the companionship and friendship, and the human has all of the data he needs about crime in the city instantaneously.

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