Most species are transient. They go extinct, branch off into new species, or change over time due to random mutations and environmental changes. A typical mammalian species can be expected to exist for a million years.
modern Humans, Homo sapiens, 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 turn into something very strange.
In his 1883 essay, man in the year million, imagined what has now become a cliché: creatures with big brains and tiny bodies. Later, she speculated that humans could also split into two or more new species.
While Wells’s evolutionary models have not stood the test of time, the three basic options he considered still hold true. We could become extinct, become multiple species, or change.
An added ingredient is that we have biotechnology that could greatly increase the probability of each of them.
Foreseeable future technologies such as human enhancement (making us smarter, stronger, or in some other way better through the use of drugs, microchips, genetics, or other technology), brain emulation (uploading our brains into computers), or artificial intelligence (AI) can produce technological forms of new species not seen 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 a large “speciation,” when one species splits into several others.
There are many among us who want to improve the human condition, delaying and abolishing aging, improving intelligence and mood, and changing bodies, which could lead to new species.
These visions, however, leave many cold.
It is plausible that even if these technologies become as cheap and ubiquitous as mobile phones, some people will reject them on principle and build their own image of being “normal” humans.
In the long run, we should expect the most improved people, generation after generation (or upgrade after upgrade), to become one or more fundamentally different people. “posthuman” species – and a kind of resistances that declare themselves the “real humans”.
Through brain emulationa speculative technology in which a brain is scanned at the cellular level and then an equivalent neural network is reconstructed in a computer to create “software intelligence”, we could go even further.
This is not a mere speciation, it is leaving the animal kingdom for the mineral kingdom, or rather, the software kingdom.
There are many reasons why some might want to do this, such as increasing the chances of immortality (by creating copies and backups) or easily traveling over the internet or radio in space.
The intelligence of the software also has other advantages. can be very resource efficient – a virtual being only needs energy from sunlight and some rocky material to make microchips.
It can also think and change on time scales set by computers, probably millions of times faster than biological minds. It can evolve in new ways, it just needs a software upgrade.
However, it is unlikely that humanity will remain the only intelligent species on the planet.
Artificial intelligence is advancing rapidly right now. While there are deep uncertainties and disagreements about when or if AI general intelligence (meaning it can understand or learn any intellectual problem like a human being, rather than specializing in niche tasks) will arrive, a sizable fraction of experts I think it is possible within this century or before
If it can happen, it probably will. At some point, we are likely to have a planet where humans have been largely replaced by software intelligence or AI, or some combination of both.
Utopia or dystopia?
Eventually, it seems plausible that most minds become software. Research suggests that computers will soon be much more energy efficient than they are now.
Software minds also won’t need to eat or drink, which are inefficient ways to get energy, and can save energy by running more slowly throughout 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 evolve rapidly, we should expect them to change enormously over time from our current mental style.
Physical beings are at a distinct disadvantage compared to software beings, moving in the slow and picturesque world of matter. Still, they are self-contained, unlike floating software that will evaporate if your data center is ever disrupted.
“Natural” humans may remain in very different traditional societies than software people. This is not unlike the Amish people of today, whose humble lifestyle is still possible (and protected) by the surrounding United States. It is not a given that surrounding societies have to crush small, primitive societies: we have established human rights and legal protections and something similar could continue for normal humans.
Is this a good future? Much depends on your values. A good life can mean having meaningful relationships with other people and living in a peaceful and prosperous environment on a sustainable basis. From that perspective, you don’t need weird posthumans; we just need to make sure the sleepy little town can function (perhaps protected by some invisible automation).
Some may value “the human project,” an unbroken chain from our Paleolithic ancestors to our future selves, but be open to progress. They would probably consider software people and AI going too far, but they would be okay with humans evolving into strange new ways.
Others would say that what matters is the freedom of self-expression and following your life goals. They may think that we should broadly explore the post-human world and see what it has to offer.
Others may value happiness, thoughtfulness, or other qualities that different entities have and want futures that maximize them. Some may be unsure, arguing that we should hedge our bets by going all-out to some extent.
Here’s a prediction for the year one million. Some humans look more or less like us, but they are less numerous than they are now. Much of the surface is desert, having become a recreation area as there is much less need for agriculture and cities.
Here and there, cultural sites with very different ecosystems appear, carefully preserved by robots for historical or aesthetic reasons.
Under silicon canopies in the Sahara, trillions of artificial minds 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 dial – where every watt of energy empowers thought, awarenesscomplexity and other weird things we don’t have words for yet.
If biological humans go extinct, the most likely reason (aside from obvious and immediate threats right now) is a lack of respect, tolerance, and binding contracts with other posthuman species. Perhaps a reason for us to start treating our own minorities better.
Anders SandbergResearch Fellow James Martin, Future of Humanity Institute and Oxford Martin School, Oxford University
This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the Original article.
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