Gene Expression

Homo sapiens, 2106 A.D.

This week Seed is asking the question:

“Will the ‘human’ race be around in 100 years?”

Since I suggested the question, I have a quick set of answers. I believe there are three primary categories of alternatives:

1) The rate of technological (both bio & computational) change will continue to accelerate, and “humanity” as we know it will be transcended beyond comprehension.

2) Our complex technological society will collapse as our artifactual matrix overwhelms our cognitive substrate, and the sociological response will be like that of lemmings over a cliff. We will revert back to some sort of post-pre-modern scenario where expectation of affluence is attenuated and the liberties and freedoms we take for granted will be constrained back to historical proportions.

3) We continue as we are, basically a very advanced primate leveraging our innate cognitive capacities to the point where we explore creation of the universe itself with our mind’s eye.

I think #3 is the least likely, we’re either headed for a “big crunch” or civilizational correction, or we are going to transcend convential constraints. I don’t know enough really to give good odds at #1 vs. #2, though I would prefer #1 for obvious reasons. But within number #1 there are a host of alternatives…and I would hope that whatever transcendence post-humanism takes (whether it be biological, computational or a cybernetic synthesis) that basic human values like beauty and love are preserved. As for #2, unlike many people I don’t think resource exhaustion and environmental degradation is as much of the problem as the fact that human minds do not naturally scale up to societal levels, and I am not totally sure that irrational herds can’t send the complex integrated modern technological-economic system crashing down. An intelligent ape whose hands are within arms length of a big-red-button that could destroy us all can only be assessed a finite span before it does the deed….

In any case, I will be an optimist and say that #1 is the most likely, and I don’t know that what will follow us can be termed “human,” so I’ll say that our species is gone (or at least marginalized to small sects and cliques like the Amish).

Comments

  1. #1 Boknekht
    May 15, 2006

    “1)… … …..as we know it will be transcended beyond comprehension.”

    This could very well happen, i believe. It almost certainly won’t happen in all areas, & we must adopt more sustainable energy sources, but our continuous gaining in knowledge is almost bound to lead to a transcendence of our current capabilities.

    “2) Our complex technological society will collapse as our artifactual matrix overwhelms our cognitive substrate”

    This, i think, might be less likely in an all-brilliant society. The more rational among us will tend to have minds that have less trouble scaling up to societal levels. Also, irrational herds aren’t typical of people with nobel-level IQ’s, i believe. The men who would destroy the earth with the use of WMD’s aren’t exactly the brightest among us, i would guess.

    “3) We continue as we are”

    I agree that this seems the least likely. Is it possible that even if a big crunch occurs in the “developing” world, some small niche of humanity could still reach technological transcendence? We’re so interdependent that it may not be possible.

    Certainly we are currently using our earth’s resources in an unsustainable way. I’m not a techno-cornucopian, but i do think that there is hope here. I’ve heard statistics revealing that we’d need four to seven additional planet earths if everyone in the world consumed resources at the american average. Clearly, the world will have to settle for a different kind of society than the current american model. It will also have to settle for a population which does need exceed the replacement rate & does not grow unsustainably.

    There are a number of serious obstacles facing us in reaching a way of life that didn’t take much more out of the earth than is replaced. There are many hurdles having to do with the costs, practicality, & implementation of renewables. Will we really use algae to run our engines? Wind(turbines, wind farms, etc.), water(tidal, Ocean-thermal, hydroelectric?, etc.), solar, nuclear(fusion reactors?, etc.) & geothermal, all pose serious obstacles for us, especially having to do with their practicality on a large scale & ability to reliably provide the needs or wants of dense urban or even widely dispersed rural populations – but they remain our only hope really in maintaining our techno-civilization.

    So, A.D. 2106, i’m optimistic about human ingenuity, but also remain uncertain & skeptical about some things. I’d say that if humanity can last another 5 centuries, then it’s probably on a sustainable path.

  2. #2 John Emerson
    May 15, 2006

    “The Singularity” is “The Rapture” for seculars. Gotta scratch that itch somehow.

  3. #3 razib
    May 15, 2006

    “The Singularity” is “The Rapture” for seculars. Gotta scratch that itch somehow.

    to some extent. the problem is that the rapture is for sure…i am not convinced that the singularity will absorb our species, or that at least many of us….

  4. #4 Markk
    May 15, 2006

    I’ll put my money on #3 in the sense that 2006 is like 1906. That is there will be tons of changes , environmental, technological etc. We will be living longer, a lot of land will be underwater, things will still be a mess. :-) I don’t believe in the singularity – I think the problems are a lot harder than people realized – the hardness of the problems we are tackling is going up exponentially faster than our increases in knowledge. I think the focus of change could be anywhere by then. It will certainly go away from the U.S. but by then it could be back – who knows.
    I will say I believe that at least 300 million people will die in catastrophes of some kind in the next 100 years > 5% of the population – not all at once – but we are due for some more big wars, and cataclysms so over time bad stuff will happen, and people will cope.

  5. #5 Boknekht
    May 15, 2006

    “the hardness of the problems we are tackling is going up exponentially faster than our increases in knowledge”

    Markk, would you happen to have a link/s which gave a nice overview of these “problems we are tackling”? I just like informing myself about this stuff.

    “but we are due for some more big wars”

    “more big wars” doesn’t sound so good, especially in the nuclear age. In fact, it rings of extinction.

    An excerpt from the author “An intelligent ape whose hands are within arms length of a big-red-button that could destroy us all can only be assessed a finite span before it does the deed” seems appropriate here:( How much longer before those warheads of annihilation rain on us all, i wonder?

  6. #6 Mengu Gulmen
    May 15, 2006

    Whatever the outcome, we’ll have a lot of chances to destroy our civilization on the way there.

    First, the massive decentralization of information, is bound to lead [as it did throughout history] to a decentralization of the power. And this, as we know, is always a problem with those who wield the power right now.

    Think of all the corporate systems of today: education, government, trade, taxes etc.

    If you can provide all the education for yourself, your children, from the comfort of your home [or maybe just a tiny handheld/embedded device] why would you need schools? universities? if you can vote on all the issues that concern you directly from your home [strangely enough, the 'technology' to do this exists for almost 100 years now] why would you need a “representetive democracy”? You’re selling things/services over the internet to wherever in the world, and you’re paying taxes? to who? why?

    These are losing their meanings every day now, and when the meaning will be “lost enough”, the problems we’ll face will be far greater than any problems any change has brought throughout the history, because of the sheer number of people who’ll be involved.

    And since the very nature of the problems that will rise are very extremely chaotic, it’s not in any sense possible to be sure of the outcomes.

    One thing I’m almost sure of, the church will be there. one way or another, they’ll be adapted to the “new ways” just enough to create a “difference” with the mainstream science, they’ll have possibly accepted everything they deny today, and they’ll have done it so subtly that we’ll be sure that the church always went with science, “but this.. last thing.. is outrageous!”

    They did it with aristotles, they did it with newton, they did it with galileo. Surely they’ll find a way to fit in.

  7. #7 John Emerson
    May 16, 2006

    What was missing in the alternatives was a mediocre or mixed option. Something like “nowhere near as bad as we fear, or as good as we wish”. My guess would be a highly stratified global society governed on the Singapore model, with large impoverished areas governed very harshly, and fair-sized unbelievably prosperous areas without significant political participation or individual rights.

  8. #8 Markk
    May 16, 2006

    “Hardness of problems”

    From the point of view of “The Singularity” the problems are

    - understanding human intelligence enough to create real augments and interfaces directly to our mind – that would change the nature of our conciousness. This one I actually think we may make some very weird progress on.

    - biological research or molecular methods that allow indefinitely extended life with reasonable living conditions. This includes all that nanotechnology goofyness.

    - creating artificial intelligence somehow equivalent to human intelligence with it being capable of re-engineering itself to get a bootstrap effect.

    So transforming our minds, our bodies, and creating something smarter than us that can bootstrap further and further.

    There are a host of subgoals under each of these that are becoming harder and harder. I think the difficulties in the AI area have been discussed by people at “The Edge” website in the past. There are tons of other new areas of knowledge that we are growing in; ecology, materials science, and such that will surely transform the way we live, but I don’t think they will make us ‘post-human” like the three technologies I mentioned above.

    Living to be 120 instead of 90 as a generic ‘max’ age is great (hope I live to see it :-)
    but I don’t think will make us post-human. Having a non-accident ending lifespan of several centuries … that would be over the edge. Understanding conciousness enough and you get to very nasty things that could be done to people as well as wondrous things. Will people with severe dyslexia get some kind of “augment” that would be directly connected to a bunch of their neurons to correctly process words… similarly with Parkinsons and if we could do that what else could we do directly messing with the brain. These are really hard problems.

  9. #9 matoko_singulitarian
    May 18, 2006

    I think….that homo sapiens sapiens will continue to evolve to greater complexity, in the tradition of the mighty paradigm of evolution. But we will have more control of our own genetic destiny. We will evolve to sub-species still capable of interbreeding, homo cyberneticus, homo chimeriansis, homo accelerensis, etc.
    There will be reactionary schism sects that adhere fanatically to ancient religions, and preserve the original genetic stock unaltered–there will also be new religions and cults.
    A time of fantasic speed-up in both genetic and memetic rate of change.
    Or perhaps we’ll just be morlocks and eloi. ;-)

  10. #10 matoko_singulitarian
    May 18, 2006

    And yes, Markk is right–we won’t be posthuman–we’ll be transhuman.

  11. #11 Urinated State of America
    May 18, 2006

    “I think….that homo sapiens sapiens will continue to evolve to greater complexity, in the tradition of the mighty paradigm of evolution. But we will have more control of our own genetic destiny. We will evolve to sub-species still capable of interbreeding, homo cyberneticus, homo chimeriansis, homo accelerensis, etc.”

    BS. You’re not going to see major tinkering with the gene line or with cybernetics that are elective rather than therapeutic. We have plenty of tools to make us faster, stronger, smarter without splicing DNA or metal/plastic into our bodies. The need to overcome safety and efficacy of any elective modification to the body is going to retard such technologies relative to non-invasive technologies. The future world won’t look like Shadowrun, folks. It might look like Gattaca, but I suspect the cost of the required IVF and screening and additional risks to the embryo would limit such screening.

    My prediction: The 21st century will be less shaped by technological change than were the 20th or the 19th century. Hard to beat discovery of the electric motor, thermodynamics, and quantum mechanics in terms of step-changes.

  12. #12 matoko_tranhumanist
    May 22, 2006

    USA, ha ha, bioluddite.
    it is already happening.
    if i may quote the ever adorable godless, “resistance to germline engineering will last only until the latte soccer moms realise they can have designer babies…”
    i myself plan on having additional memory implants so that i don’t run out of space for meme storage a la Dennett’s Edge question this year– (look razib! no links!)

    don’t worry USA, there will be a place for you and your ilk on the antique genome preservation reservations. ;)

  13. #13 matoko_tranhumanist
    May 22, 2006

    i forgot…i want an e-brain too so that i can jack into the Web.
    yur pr3DKshun SUX.
    teh M4P ov teh HUM4N g-nom & teh W3B hav 41redy ch4NGD us.
    and we are only at .06 and counting. ;-)