Most species are transient. They die out, branch into new species, or change over time due to random mutations and environmental changes. A typical mammal species can be expected to exist for a million years.
modern humans, A wise man, have been around for about 300,000 years. So what will happen if we reach a million years?
Science fiction author HG Wells was the first to realize that humans could evolve into something very alien.
In his 1883 essay, Man in the million year, he imagined what has now become a cliché: creatures with big brains and small bodies. Later, he hypothesized that humans could also split into two or more new species.
Although Wells’ evolutionary models have not stood the test of time, the three basic options he considered are still valid. We could disappear, transform into several species or change.
An additional ingredient is that we have biotechnology which could greatly increase the likelihood of all of them.
Foreseeable future technologies such as human enhancement (making us smarter, stronger or otherwise better using drugs, microchips, genetics or other technologies), brain emulation (uploading our brains onto computers) or artificial intelligence (AI) can produce technological forms of new species unknown in biology.
Software intelligence and AI
It is impossible to predict the future perfectly. It depends on fundamentally random factors: ideas and actions as well as currently unknown technological and biological limits.
But it’s my job to explore the possibilities, and I think the most likely case is vast “speciation” – when one species splits into several others.
Many of us wish to improve the human condition – slow and abolish aging, improve intelligence and mood, and change bodies – potentially leading to new species.
These visions, however, leave a lot of cold.
It is plausible that even if these technologies become as cheap and ubiquitous as cell phones, some people will reject them on principle and construct their image of being “normal” humans.
In the long term, we should expect the most improved people, generation after generation (or upgrade after upgrade), to become one or more fundamentally different “posthuman” species – and a species of resisters declaring themselves the “real humans”.
Thanks to brain emulation, a speculative technology where you scan a brain at the cellular level and then reconstruct an equivalent neural network in a computer to create “software intelligence”, we could go even further.
It is not a question of a simple speciation, it is to leave the animal kingdom for the mineral kingdom, or rather software.
There are many reasons why some might want to do this, such as increasing the chance of immortality (by creating copies and backups) or making it easier to travel by internet or radio in space.
Software intelligence also has other advantages. It can be very resource efficient – a virtual being only needs energy from sunlight and some rocky material to make microchips.
He can also think and change on time scales set by calculation, probably millions of times faster than biological minds. It can evolve in new ways – it just needs a software update.
Still, humanity may be unlikely to remain the only intelligent species on the planet.
Artificial intelligence is advancing rapidly at the moment. Although there are deep uncertainties and disagreements as to when or if it becomes conscious, artificial general intelligence (meaning it can understand or learn any intellectual problem like a human, rather than specialize in niche tasks) will happen, a significant fraction of experts believe it is possible in this century or earlier.
If it can happen, it probably will. At some point we will likely have a planet where humans have been largely replaced by software intelligence or AI – or a combination of both.
Utopia or dystopia?
Eventually, it seems plausible that most minds become software. Research suggests that computers will soon become much more energy efficient than they are now.
Software spirits also won’t need to eat or drink, which are inefficient ways to get energy, and they can save energy by running at slower times of the day.
This means that we should be able to get many more artificial minds per kilogram of matter and watts of solar power than human minds in the distant future. And since they can change quickly, we should expect them to change dramatically over time from our current style of thinking.
Physical beings have a distinct disadvantage to software beings, moving through the slow and picturesque world of matter. Yet they are self-contained, unlike floating software that will evaporate if their data center is ever disrupted.
“Natural” humans may remain in traditional societies very different from those of software people. It’s not unlike the Amish people of today, whose humble way of life is still enabled (and protected) by the surrounding United States. It is not given that surrounding societies should crush small and primitive societies: we have established human rights and legal protections and something similar could continue for normal humans.
Is it a good future? It all depends on your values. A good life can involve having meaningful relationships with others and living sustainably in a peaceful and prosperous environment. From this point of view, bizarre posthumans are not necessary; we just need to make sure the quiet little village can work (perhaps protected by invisible automation).
Some may value “the human project”, an unbroken chain from our Paleolithic ancestors to our future, but be open to progress. They would probably see software and AI as going too far, but they would accept humans evolving into strange new forms.
Others would say that what matters is the freedom of self-expression and the pursuit of your life goals. They may think we should explore the posthuman world widely and see what it has to offer.
Others may value happiness, thoughtfulness, or other qualities held by different entities and wish for a future that maximizes them. Some may be uncertain, arguing that we should hedge our bets by going all the way to some degree.
Here is a prediction for the year one million. Some humans look more or less like us – but there are fewer of them than today. Much of the surface is wild, having turned into a rewilding area as there is much less need for agriculture and towns.
Here and there, cultural sites with very different ecosystems arise, carefully preserved by robots for historical or aesthetic reasons.
Beneath the silicon canopies of the Sahara, billions of artificial spirits swarm. The vast, hot data centers that power these minds once threatened to overheat the planet. Now most orbit the Sun, forming a growing structure – a Dyson sphere – where every watt of energy powers thought, consciousness, complexity and other weird stuff we don’t yet have words for. .
If biological humans are going extinct, the most likely reason (apart from the obvious and immediate threats right now) is a lack of respect, tolerance, and binding contracts with other post-human species. Maybe a reason for us to start treating our own minorities better.
Anders Sandberg, James Martin Research Fellow, Future of Humanity Institute & Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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