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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

3 predictions that will change human evolution as we know it

Lately I have been reading a lot about innovations which could change our world and evolution forever. Frankly, most of them are very interesting, especially if you often wonder what the next big corner stone of humanity will be. These are the ones I've found most fascinating:

1. Mind uploading - this is the prediction that soon we'll be able to "upload", much like we do with photos and other information, human brains onto computers which would then be able to think using information from the brain that was uploaded. There are interesting questions surrounding this idea, such as Would uploaded brains have consciousness like humans do? How much control would they have over the computer on which they "exist"?

It would even be possible to store a brain (not the physical brain of course, just the "code" for a certain brain) on a very small storing device, similar in function to a memory card, and send it off into space to travel for a very long period of time, and then arrive to its destination thousands or millions of Earth years in the future. This would eliminate the complications of keeping a human body alive for so long, and transporting so much food, facilities like showers, and all that comes with the high maintenance human body.

2. Artificial intelligence - inevitably, if we do upload human minds, the issue of artificial intelligence would take a different spin. For example, at the moment, so-called artificial intelligence attempts such as iPhone's Siri and Japanese robots are hopelessly limited to a narrow range of capabilities which come nowhere near what a real human mind can achieve in terms of language and intelligence (other than mathematical and memory-based).

If an uploaded mind can be tinkered with, for example improving memory and processing speed and power, then the realisation of infinite intelligence wouldn't be far off. This concept would abide by Moore's law which in the field of computing states that  "the transistor density of integrated circuits doubles every 2 years". Essentially, this means that the power of artificial intelligence would then increase exponentially, and before we'd know it, artificial intelligence will have surpassed human intelligence to the point that we might not even be able to understand, or relate to, artificial intelligence that ultimately we have created.

Imagine reading a book on the detailed biochemistry of chloroplasts (given that you know nothing about it). It's likely that you will not understand one word at all, except "to", "in", "it", etc. Now imagine that a highly intelligent artificial entity (be it a robot, computer, etc.) has been successfully made, and everyone in the world is eager to find out the answers to all their questions. Upon asking any question whose answer humanity does not know, the highly intelligent entity answers without hesitation, in so much competent detail that it is impossible for us to understand it. Perhaps a different machine would have to be made that could simplify the answers so the average person could understand. Would our own fantasy of infinite intelligence overtake our own abilities to the point that it would alienate us, leave us behind, or even wipe us out?

3. Live forever - most people are convinced that eternal life is not a doable thing. However, experiments on various animals have shown that in fact, doubling one's lifespan is possible. People just like us, in the 17th century, hoped to live to 30. In the most longevity-blessed countries, the people hope to live to 90. A few have surpassed 120. But without fail, all long-lived people have aged. Popular belief states that "The only way to live a long life is to be old". I am convinced, however, that even longer lived, youthful lives will be possible in the future.
If you had the choice of living a very long time as a bionic individual, or a non-bionic individual, you'd probably enjoy to be non-bionic. To be able to feel someone else's human body rather than machine body. 

The implications of much-extended lifespans are many and complex. It's a hotly debated subject, with some people plainly rejecting the idea, and others strongly in favour.

Natural selection relies on diversity which causes differential reproductive success. As humans, we have already created a complex artificial environment which inevitably bypasses natural selection as we know it, and is instead dominated by artificial selection and sexual selection. Our gene pool as a species is hugely diverse, and we measure our reproductive success in brain children as well as, or perhaps even more so than, actual children.

Will the genes and memes that we carry, in their battle for survival, be the end of us? Will the future be made of machines that rule the universe silently, with minds derived from humans who, in their quest to achieve ultimate intelligence and power, have forgotten to maintain the human species itself?