Summa Technologiae

Summa Technologiae (the title is in Latin, meaning "Sum of Technology" in English) is a 1964 (1967 - second edition) book by Polish author Stanisław Lem. Summa is one of the first collection of philosophical essays by Lem. The book exhibits depth of insight and irony usual for Lem's creations. The name is an allusion to Summa Theologiae by Thomas Aquinas.

Paraphrasing the author, the book tries to "examine the thorns of roses that have not flowered yet" - in other words, to deal with problems of the remote (and in some cases, not so remote) future. The primary question Lem's dealing in the book is the problems of civilization in the absence of limitations, both technological and material. He also looks at moral-ethical and philosophical consequences of future technologies.

Despite its age and a number of inaccuracies in specific domains (e.g., mathematics, biology, sociology), the book has lost no momentum in the past years. Surprising as it can be, some issues discussed in the book sound more contemporary nowadays than 30 years ago. Among the themes that Lem discusses in the book and that were completely in the realm of science fiction then, but are gaining importance today, are virtual reality, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and technological singularity.


The book is divided in 8 chapters, each dealing with far-fetched implications of certain concept: 1. Dilemmas
Lem starts by presenting his views on future prognostication and motivations in writing the book. 2. Two Evolutions
This chapter deals with a similarities between several evolutions: biological, technological and social ones. 3. Space Civilizations
An overview of contemporary (to the book) SETI efforts and theories are given, together with a solid portion of their criticism. 4. Intellectronics
A word coined by Lem to speculate on the field that is known today as artificial intelligence: The day will come when machine intelligence will rival or surpass the human one. Moreover, problems facing humankind may surpass the intellectual abilities of flesh and blood researchers. What shall we expect (or fear) in this conception of the future? 5. Prolegomena to Omnipotence
Technological evolution gives us more and more abilities—in fact, sometime in the future we should be able to do everything at all! Or maybe not? 6. Phantomology
Another term invented by Lem. Human perception is limited by biology—so maybe we can bypass the real omnipotence in favor of an imitated one? Even in this case, Lem finds many surprising problems. Note that what Lem called 'phantomology' today is better known as virtual reality. 7. Creation of the Worlds
May it be that instead of painstaking research we can "grow" new information from available information in an automatic way? Starting with this question Lem evolves the concept to the creation of the whole new Universes, including (as a special treat) the construction of heaven/hell/afterlife enabled one. 8. Pasquinade on Evolution
Biological evolution did a rather lousy job designing humans and other animals. Can engineers do better?

No English translations of the book appeared in wide circulation. However chapter I "Dilemmas" and fragments of chapters II "Two Evolutions", IV "Intellectronics" and VI "Pasquil on the Evolution" were translated by Frank Prengel and are available online

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