Faith in a higher (emergent) power

The debate over the birth of a higher (emergent) power continues. Must be the season.
Yesterday, I linked to Chris Anderson's defense of probabilistic systems. Speaking of Wikipedia, Google and the whole of the blogosphere, Anderson says we naturally want to know someone's in charge. He makes the following observation:
But now we're depending more and more on systems   where nobody's in charge; the intelligence is simply emergent. These probabilistic systems aren't perfect,   but they are statistically optimized to excel over time and large numbers.   They're designed to scale, and to improve with size. And a   little slop at the microscale is the price of such efficiency at   the macroscale.
...Both market economics and evolution are   probabilistic systems, which are simply counterintuitive to our mammalian   brains. The fact that a few smart humans figured this out and used that   insight to build the foundations of our modern economy, from the stock market   to Google, is just evidence that our mental software has evolved faster than   our hardware.
...The Web is the ultimate marketplace of ideas,   governed by the laws of big numbers. That grain Graham sees is the weave of   statistical mechanics, the only logic that such really large systems   understand. Perhaps someday we will, too.
To which Nicholas Carr, ever the skeptic, makes a perfectly skeptical point: Chris, you're making faith statements.

Maybe it's just the Christmas season, but all this talk of omniscience and   inscrutability and the insufficiency of our mammalian brains brings to mind   the classic explanation for why God's ways remain mysterious to mere mortals:   "Man's finite mind is incapable of comprehending the infinite mind of God."   Chris presents the web's alien intelligence as something of a secular godhead,   a higher power beyond human understanding. Noting that "the weave of   statistical mechanics" is "the only logic that such really large systems   understand," he concludes on a prayerful note: "Perhaps someday we will, too."   In the meantime, we must have faith.


I confess: I'm an unbeliever. My mammalian mind remains mired in the   earthly muck of doubt. It's not that I think Chris is wrong about the workings   of "probabilistic systems." I'm sure he's right. Where I have a problem is in   his implicit trust that the optimization of the system, the achievement of the   mathematical perfection of the macroscale, is something to be desired. To   people, "optimization" is a neutral term. The optimization of a complex   mathematical, or economic, system may make things better for us, or it may   make things worse. It may improve society, or degrade it. We may not be able   to apprehend the ends, but that doesn't mean the ends are going to be   good.

Carr continues to tilt at the popular notion that we are creating something a bit smarter than ourselves, a position to which I'm both sympathetic and torn. Sympathetic, because in my view something is clearly happening on the Web. It's an unprecedented knowledge-creation machine that can turn up someone, who but for the right credentials, would remain unheard. On matters of fact, Wikipedia's accuracy is roughly equal to the expertly crafted Encyclopedia Britannica, at least when it comes to science. I'm torn because, like Carr, I would argue that probabilistic systems leave precious little room for non-optimized and irrational notions like, say, grace.