Most species are perishable. They die out, branch out into new species, or change over time through random mutations and environmental changes. A typical mammalian species can be expected to exist for a million years.
modern people, homo sapiens, has been around for about 300,000 years. So what will happen when we make it to a million years?
Science fiction author HG Wells was the first to recognize that humans can evolve into something very alien.
In his 1883 essay man a year million, he envisioned what has now become a cliché: creatures with big brains and tiny bodies. He later speculated that humans might also split into two or more new species.
While Wells’ evolutionary models have not stood the test of time, the three basic options he considered still apply. We could die out, morph into multiple species, or change.
An additional ingredient is that we have biotechnology that could greatly increase the likelihood of each of them.
Foreseeable future technologies such as human enhancement (making us smarter, stronger, or otherwise better through drugs, microchips, genetics, or other technologies), brain emulation (uploading our brains onto computers), or artificial intelligence (AI) may create technological forms of new species, that do not occur 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 frontiers.
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 of us who want to improve the human condition – slow and abolish aging, improve intelligence and mood, and transform the body – potentially leading to new species.
However, these visions leave many cold.
It’s plausible that even if these technologies become as cheap and ubiquitous as cell phones, some people will reject them altogether and build their self-image of being “normal” people.
In the long run, we should expect the most enhanced humans to grow, generation after generation (or upgrade after upgrade), into one or more fundamentally different “posthuman” species — and into a species of holdouts that call themselves the “real people” explain.
We could go even further through 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.”
This isn’t just speciation, it’s leaving the animal kingdom for the mineral or rather software kingdom.
There are many reasons why some might want to do this, e.g. B. increasing the chances of immortality (by making copies and backups) or simply traveling in space via internet or radio.
Software intelligence has other benefits as well. It can be very resource efficient – a virtual being only needs energy from sunlight and some rock material to create microchips.
It can also think and change on the time scales determined by computation, probably a million times faster than the biological mind. It can evolve in new ways – it just needs a software update.
Still, it’s probably unlikely that humanity will remain the only intelligent species on the planet.
Artificial intelligence is currently making rapid progress. While there are profound uncertainties and disagreements about when or if it will become conscious, artificial general intelligence (i.e. it can understand or learn all intellectual problems like a human, rather than specializing in niche tasks) will arrive, a sizeable proportion of experts believe, that this may be the case within this century or earlier.
If it can happen, it probably will. At some point we will likely have a planet where humans have largely been replaced by software intelligence or AI – or a combination of both.
Utopia or Dystopia?
Ultimately, it seems plausible that most minds will become software. Research suggests that computers will soon be much more energy efficient than they are now.
Software heads also don’t need to eat or drink, which are inefficient ways to generate energy, and they can conserve energy by running slower parts of the day.
This means that in the distant future we should be able to get many more artificial heads per kilogram of matter and watt of solar energy than human heads. And since they can evolve quickly, we should expect them to change tremendously over time from our current way of thinking.
Physical beings are at a distinct disadvantage compared to software beings that move in the sluggish, curious world of matter. Yet they are self-sufficient, unlike the flying software that evaporates if their data center is ever disrupted.
“Natural” people can remain in traditional societies very differently from software people. This is not unlike today’s Amish, whose humble lifestyle is still enabled (and protected) by the surrounding United States. It is not self-evident that surrounding societies must crush small and primitive societies: we have established human rights and legal protections and something similar could apply to ordinary people.
Is this a good future? A lot depends on your values. A good life can mean having meaningful relationships with other people and living sustainably in a peaceful and prosperous environment. From this perspective, weird posthumans aren’t needed; we just have to make sure that the quiet little village can function (perhaps protected by invisible automation).
Some may appreciate “the human project,” an unbroken chain from our Paleolithic ancestors to our future selves, but be open to progress. They would probably see software people and AI as going too far, but they wouldn’t mind if humans evolved into weird new forms.
Others would argue that what matters is the freedom to express yourself and pursue your life goals. You might think we should explore the posthuman world fully and see what it has to offer.
Others value luck, thinking, or other qualities possessed by different beings and want a future that maximizes them. Some may be uncertain, arguing that we should hedge our bets by going all ways to some extent.
Here’s a prediction for the year one million. Some people look more or less like us – but they are fewer than today. Much of the surface is wilderness, which has turned into a rewilding zone as there is far less need for agriculture and cities.
Cultural sites appear here and there with very different ecosystems, carefully preserved by robots for historical or aesthetic reasons.
Trillions of artificial heads swarm beneath silicon roofs in the Sahara. The huge and hot data centers that power these minds once threatened to overheat the planet. Now most are orbiting the Sun, forming a growing structure – a Dyson Sphere – where every watt of energy fuels thought, consciousness, complexity and other strange things we don’t yet have words for.
If biological humans go extinct, the most likely reason (besides the obvious and immediate threats right now) is a lack of respect, tolerance, and binding treaties with other posthuman species. Perhaps a reason for us to treat our own minorities better.
Anders Sandberg, James Martin Research Fellow, Future of Humanity Institute & Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford
This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.