Evolution has been modifying all life on our planet since the moment it first sprung into existence. Up until very recently this was an entirely natural process that made constant ‘tweeks’ to give all offspring the best possible chance of survival in a world that at times underwent dramatic change while at other times remained largely stable – in local regions at least.
Up until recently…
Man is the first and only creature on the planet to be able to imagine a time in his own lifespan where he is not only able to modify his own structure on an individual basis, but can visualise being able to modify his entire species – to supplement or sidestep the natural pace of our evolution.
We have already given some individuals the capacity to exceed their previous abilities through artificial limbs, hearing implants, computer interfaces that let them communicate via a computer directly to a machine device. It may very soon be possible to command a machine to do our bidding by our brainwaves/thoughts alone.
These are either already happening or are being designed/perfected right now, but what is being considered and planned for by the time our young children or grand children reach their adulthood and middle age can truly be considered the ‘next step’ in human evolution.
One of the things humans are looking at doing is essentially an extension of the eugenics proposed at the beginning of the 20th century, a practice made notorious by Hitler’s Third Reich in it’s attempts to create the Aryan ‘master’ race (which themselves were largely inspired by work done in countries, such as the USA and others).
This was largely a matter of improving the human race through selective breeding, and the forced sterilisation of women (mostly) deemed to be genetically or mentally ‘inferior’ , so as to improve the likelihood of ‘better’ children being born with the aim of making human evolution meet a desired result for his betterment.
With advancement in genetic engineering in the 20th century the plans are now more towards selecting the best gene combinations for our offspring which may be determined by the parents rather than being forced upon them by governments. Parents may soon be able to (some suggest they can already if the money is available) select characteristics such as enhanced athletic performance/body shape/muscle mass; enhanced mental/mathematical/psychological functions; better emotional responses (less fear, less emotional dysfunction); the abolition of medical conditions including such ‘syndromes’ as Autism.; etc.
It is quite possible that starting from babies born in this generation we will be seeing our human evolution progressing rapidly into something significantly more suited to it’s environment (that we are also beginning to modify, if unintentionally for the worse at present). By ‘rapidly’ i mean that initially there may be a small number of ‘super-human beings’ which will likely belong to the most elite family’s in our society’s, thus further improving their advantage over the majority. Then there will either be a rapid trend by others to follow their lead at the risk of being left behind as second class citizens or there will be a restriction by those with the most to lose who will fear that if everyone becomes super smart/strong/healthy they will lose many of their advantage and try to keep it for themselves only.
The genetic evolution trail however is likely to be a much slower progressing one than the other alternative for our future ‘development’/suitability to our environment, as it requires babies to be born and then to breed, in other words it will take many generations before it is species wide.
The second trail involves physical and cerebral integration with machine technology to initially augment our physical and mental abilities, through devices along the lines of Fitbits and Google Glasses and the wristband projector that uses your forearm as an interface screen similar to an i-pad or smartphone screen before moving to actually merging our brains and bodies with machine counterparts (Chip implants directly communicating with our brain neural network or bio-organic ‘ports’ through which we plug into a machine intelligence ). Our evolution may, before the end of this century follow a cybernetic organism path.
Sound like Science Fiction? Think it’s just a curious fantasy? Think that we won’t be so stupid or will choose not to alter our species so drastically or so soon, if at all?
We may be in a position where we either have no say or no choice but to do any of these things as quickly as we can or become as much a part of the planetary society as todays chimpanzees currently are. (our closest evolutionary ‘rivals’).
This is because of the progress being made in both genetic development and more particularly in Artificial Intelligence.
The best brains currently working in the AI field currently give only a 10% chance that they will produce a machine intelligence that is a match for human intelligence in all significant ways by the year 2022 – that’s just 4 years away! But it’s only a 10% probability.
The probability is 50 50 by the year 2050 ( 32 years away – a child born today may have machines every bit as smart and able as s/he is by the time they are 32. There is at least a 1 in 2 chance of that happening.
By 2090 the estimate is it will be a 90% probability machine intelligence will be a match for any human on the planet. And it will be likely that they will be able to learn and think for themselves, without direct human input! (Or possibly human control??)
How humans and machines will get on side by side when they have a level of autonomy and physical and mental abilities at least equal to, and in many cases far superior to, those we now possess is unknowable. It is not however unimaginable. Those designing these machines currently imagine it will be a great perhaps the greatest thing for humankind. which if they are right it could well be. Those whose imagination can be easily influenced by fear can see something much more sinister. We’ve seen it many times on cinema and tv screens – although such imagination was limited by the previously available technologic concepts and ideas.
We’ve come a long way since Terminator and Skynet folks.
Human intelligence has not actually improved all that much, quantitatively, in the last 2 000 years. Machine intelligence has come as far in the last 100 as we had in the first 10,000 years, since our species became the dominant predator on this planet. Machines can currently walk, jump, do backflips, beat us at chess, at scrabble, at quiz shows and at the most technically difficult game to master ‘Go’ (A Chinese strategy board game). They can diagnose medical conditions in patients better than human students, and some doctors; they can write legal depositions better and faster than many para-legal staff and barristers. Their memories are bigger, better and have much faster recall time than ours.
They do not need oxygen, water or food as we do, just an electrical supply and they can access solar, wind and battery power.
They can build themselves and repair and make improvements to their model, their intelligence is not limited to the size of their brain container as ours currently is they can grow much smarter, much faster than we ever can.
The only chance we may have of being even close to in charge of this planet in 80 years time is if we (literally) join them – evolve into and with them.
Or, we could try putting a stop to or limiting their continuing development.
Yeah – good luck with that!