Evolution Continues: "Human v. 2.0" and Beyond

We have raised our telescopes and marveled at what we have found. We have built microscopes and learned even more. Based on research, it appears things have been evolving for billions of years. If one accepts what the evidence seems to indicate, the history of the universe goes a little something like this.

Somewhere around 15 billion years ago the big bang occurs. Particles were created. They evolved into gasses, stars, galaxies, solar systems, planets, and eventually, life. On at least one planet, life then continued this steady progression of change. Bacteria arose. Algaes. Vertebrates. Land dwellers. Air dwellers. Primates. Homo Sapiens. Language. Culture. Agriculture. Technology.

The end?

I don’t think so. No matter how much we are fond of humanity, no matter how much we take pride in our existence, there is vast room for improvement. The result of this progression, should it continue, is the removal of Homo Sapiens as the dominate, most powerful, intelligent creature we know of. We are not the end all be all. We are not the best possible. Now is not a good time to discontinue evolution.

What’s next?

Perhaps Primo3M+ Our bodies are terribly fragile. They are pretty well built to handle moderate temperatures on dry land, but crumble and die when exposed to extremes. When we have reversed engineered the body and the brain, we will be able to augment it and improve it. In a brilliant essay, Ray Kurzweil suggests that eventually, via nanomachines, we can eliminate the need for a heart, lungs, red and white blood cells, platelets, pancreas, thyroid and all the hormone-producing organs, kidneys, bladder, liver, lower esophagus, stomach, small intestines, large intestines, and bowels. We could improve the skin skeleton and brain. We could build ourselves to be impervious to most forms of destruction. Can such a thing still be called a human? Perhaps Homo Supremis or Posthuman are better terms.

The real kicker comes when we have finished reverse engineering the human brain and start making it better & faster. Once we can slow down our subjective reality and control our senses, we have established a kind of internal immortality in which we could assume any avatar we wish. I could feel what it is to be an alligator one day and a dinosaur the next. At this point, the human form is useless in many ways. What good is it to swim in a river when a million years pass between each stroke? We will need bodies able to interact with reality much faster. Perhaps, we won’t need bodies at all. It all depends on where the sense of self comes from - a highly debated issue.

This is all just a starter. I will attempt to defend and explain the Transhuman / Extropian position here to any interested. The position states that this transition and emergence (commonly referred to as the singularity) is not a bad thing, but to be welcomed. It is perhaps the very purpose of life. Up for discussion is how much change we can make and still be human, the dangers of the tech involved, the likelihood, the technical pheasability, and the ethics involved. What place will regular old humans have in a world where Posthumans exist? What happens when shared perception and hive minds become possible? What is the essence of awareness and conciousness? Can such be copied? Can it be stored? Does the medium in which such is stored matter?

This stuff may all seem far out, but the latest futurists supsect (based on models charting the exponential growth of progress/capability and extrapolating from there) these changes will be on us somewhere around 2030. I will be in my 50’s. Not so far off . . .

DaLovin’ Dj

My own take on the singularity is that it won’t be singular-
if it were, we would all vapourise…
plenty of factors will slow it down and make it a little more survivable for those who experience it-
but the end result will be very strange

also there are a million ways in which it could end in tears, but it is ‘axiomatic’ to be optimistic, no?

Those who experience it will no longer be human as we know it. I agree there are many dangers and obstacles, but success is possible I suspect, and it is a goal worth striving for. Ultimately, we are aiming for an end to non-consensual death, suffering, and pain. Something that does not have to deal with such issues is not a human as we know it. But if that is what we are capable of becoming/creating, I will forsake the human form gladly.

DaLovin’ Dj

Some links to help get more familiar with current Transhuman thought for those unaquainted with the growing movement and their lingo.

Transhumanist Resources
A great starting point. Introduces the basic tenents and techs involved as well the cultural and ethical challenges involved. Also has some links.

Ray Kurzweil’s Website
A leading respected futurist, this site has a tremendous amount of information and debate in regards to these issues. Not only do the essays (pro and con) contain an incredible amount of technical information, they also raise brilliant philosophical issues and ask some of the toughest questions we have ever known. They also gather links to news articles every day that have to do with advancing machine intelligence, nontech, and reverse engineering the brain (and conciousness). A good place to check in daily.

Extropy Institute FAQ
One of the more vocal organizations in the Transhumanist community, this page details the philosophy and tools used/needed fairly well.

The Singularity
Definitions of “The Singularity” with links to discussion and debate from several sides of the fence.

Well, as a long term science fiction fan, I imagined a long, gradual, slow increase in technology over the next thousand years…a bit of life extension here, a bit of star trekky stuff there-
but the changes we have seen in the last hundred years have been so remarkable, that we might not hit a comfortable plateau like I expected…
a crossfertilisation of different lines of research and an amplification due to improved computer modelling techniques-
the Human Genome project and oh, Eris
every thing could happen very fast-
remember the physical limits to time and space still apply, even to tran’s and po’s

Thanks for the links - as an aspiring speculative fiction novelist this could be interesting research material. I’ve posted the links and some of your comments in my own forum to others to check out as well.

If you are looking for Transhuman Science fiction, much is contained within
We are not all tran’s there though- I am an innocent Bystander myself, but the tropes are fascinating

Absolutely. Even assuming the limits (speed of light) that we have discovered are accurate, a subjective near immortality is still possible:

Bolding mine. We could live a million subjective years a second possibly, and cpnsidering we have trillions of years worth of “actual” seconds left in the predicted life of the universe, that’s a helluva long time without breaking any physical laws.

As do many others. The latest models take into account the exponential growth of technology as well as progress. Basically, the more we learn, the faster we learn more which means we learn to learn faster. If this continues, we should hit the top end of what is possible (assuming the speed of light is actually the fastest speed at which information can travel) within the next 100 years or less.

As progress continues, the rate at which progress continues improves as well. This has been termed “The Law of Accelerating Returns”.

If you were to graph progress it would be exponential, not linear. The ramifications of this get pretty amazing in the near future. We truly live in a time of profound change. It’s only going to get better (or worse depending on your views of these changes).

DaLovin’ Dj

Ray Kurzweil a respected futurologist? That’s a three-way oxymoron. “Respected” and “futurologist” are words that don’t belong together. “Ray Kurzweil” and “respected” may be true among Dungeons and Dragons players who flunked out of school. “Ray Kurzweil” and “futurologist” is like saying Pollyanna is a stockbroker.

Could you describe what changes are predicted around 2030 that will enable a transhuman event?

I said he is a respected futurist. I’ve never heard the term futurologist. A futurist is one who studies current trends and makes an attempt to extrapolate possible future outcomes from there. The process is not worthy of disdain. It is a positive thing. To be able to discuss and anticipate problems/dilemmas before they are upon us is one of the abilities that make humans great. None of this is presented as set in stone. It is an analysis of current trends and predictions based on that analysis. I’m not sure whay you think a futurologist is, or what they claim to be able to do, but you have submitted no reason to dismiss thought of the future as a usefull tool. Read some Dyson sometime. Some Drexler. These are highly respected thinkers.

You wear your ignorance on your sleeve. Here is a little background on Ray:

Sounds pretty respected to me. He typically considers both sides of any issue he discusses, does tremendous amounts of research, has been featured in numerous publications, speaks frequently at presigious events, and like it or not, he is well respected.

Perhaps you could present a case for not respecting this mans achievments rather than hurling insults at him and all futurist thinkers. So far, you have made no case, just hurled invective.

Here is the explanation of the math and data used to pick that date. He examines the rate of progress, the rate of technology, the rate of genomic advances, the rate of computer intelligence advances.

The main technologies/bodies of knowledge that will allow (should they continue to advance in a similar pattern) this are nano-technology, the reverse engineering of the brain, genomics, proteomics, bionics, materials sciences, and probably a couple things not invented yet.

It is all an if, but it is a very compelling if. One must accept that we have advanced more (technology wise) in the last 100 years then we did in the thousand years before that. The date 2030 assumes this trend (progress accelerates exponentially) continues up until then. It is a prediction, and may not be true. No one is claiming that this must or definitely will happen. However, it certainly looks like it will happen if we don’t blow ourseves up first.

DaLovin’ Dj

This much is true-
futurologists are always wrong in detail, and often wrong completely.
take for instance the internet- this is an extraordinary development which few futurologists predicted…
Some things that are likely to develop may be unexpected- unless you listen to all the winds of change.
and even then you may be taken by surprise.

Good luck - you are going to need it. The future will be stranger than you think, and may arrive sooner.

I’ve got my towel.

It looks like futurologist and futurist are interchangable. I get this definition of futurologist from a quick search:

I don’t know about the living in the future part, but other than that the term works. Learn something new every day. Anyway . . .

I would argue that sometimes they get details right, and sometimes they get them wrong. To say they are always wrong or always right would be incorrect. Moore’s Law (computer speeds double every 18 months) is a prediction, not a law at all. However, it is a prediction that has turned out to be correct so far.

The 2030 guestimate is based on the assumption that Moore’s law (and other similar tech-related trends) will continue as they have. It is debatable whether this will be the case. We may very well hit limits that we had not anticipated. The challenges may be far harder to overcome then people like Ray Kurzweil suspect. It may go the other way as well. But any futurist worth his salt does not claim that his predictions are infallible, that certain outcomes are inevitable, nor that the consequences will be as rosy as we may hope. But no one is doing that here. It’s mot witnessing. It is extrapolation which may or may not be correct.

One thing that these guys have shown is that none of our known science forbids these advances. Another is that progress and technology have increased exponentially in the past. I personally think 2030 is a little early, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Whether these things actually do happen, it would seem that they could. Let’s discuss what happens if the transhuman body of thought turns out to be correct. Lets assume the singularity comes in the next 50 years for the sake of debate.

If these futurist are correct, we will have talking smart towels that will be even more effective in drying us off. Unless the towel gets high of course. :slight_smile:

Then it gets you too dry?

Transhumanists…I like these guys. This is the sort of unbridled, take-no-prisoners optimism you don’t see nearly enough of these days. Humans could be immortal…IN THIRTY YEARS! Space travel? No problem; just throw up a nanocarbon skyhook and we’ll be commuting to work in the asteroid belt in no time! These are the sort of people I want in charge of the future.

I have to wonder how posthuman entities would police themselves. Obviously you couldn’t have just anyone drexlering up a universal phage organism or what have you. As the ability of individuals and groups to exercise powerful technologies increases, the policing agencies will have to increase their reach as well simply to avoid catastrophe. Eventually, it may be simpler just to reprogram your citizenry to make such desires impossible. At this point, individuality and identity would no longer exist as we understand them now; at best, such future entities would function much like cells of a greater societal organism, with greatly increased security at the expense of autonomy.

Off the beaten path, I expected that humans would acquire more and more excessive “things” in and on their body, which might lead to (post)humans being born as specialized creatures, kinda like a huge bee/ant colony

I don’t intend to prove Kurzweil and his singularity idea wrong because I am not a futurist. He might be right. I just have many many doubts about his ideas.

First of all, his argument about electronics, Moore’s Law, exponential growth, computers achieving the computational power of the human brain by 2030, and the breathless anticipation that intelligent machines will arise as a result.

His argument is really Hans Moravec’s. I attended the first conference on Artificial Life in Los Alamos in 1988 when Moravec outlined this extrapolation of Moore’s Law. (I also had the pleasure of a short chat with Eric Drexler about nanotechnology). As is typical of people from a hardware background, they think the brain works because there are:

  1. neurons
  2. connections between neurons
  3. neurotransmitters

They ignore the greater complexity of the neuron and dendrite at the biochemical level. The neuron is more of an analog device than a binary device, but they then proceed to make calculations that ignore the state of each receptor, ion channel, and protein synthesis inside the cells.

So, having simplified the brain to a model that is strikingly similar to a collection of binary switches, he calculates the computing power of a brain.

100 billion neurons x 1000 connections = 100 trillion units.

So the logic is that once computers are of that size, then we have machines of the complexity of a human brain! Following Moore’s Law, Moravec predicted (as I recall) this would happen around 2040, and Kurzweil says 2030.

Okay. Maybe. I don’t know the future. I just don’t think that the human brain works like that (neither does he, as it turns out, so he has to resort to the magic of “brain scanning”, but I’ll deal with that later).

If you produce a trillion Pentium IV computers running windows, do you have intelligence?

Obviously not. So the MIT types decided that it must be the connections between the computers that makes intelligence emerge, hence the field of “connectionism”. Sure there have been some successes with connectionist programming, but neural net projects have not yielded the results that its early proponents envisaged. Some people argue that neural net and connectionist schemes really boil down to disguised Gaussian statistics – nothing revolutionary at all. Actually I think they are on the right track, but don’t know enough about how connections are structured in our brain.

The think that bothers me is how conveniently they simplify their brain models to resemble computer metaphors. Instead of defining how intelligence is produced from brains and complex machines, they invoke magic. “Connectionism” is an example.

Kurzweil invokes magic when he says that a brain scanning device with a resolution of 200 nanometers will give sufficient detail to allow us to emulate neural structure. He leaps to the conclusion that these machines will exhibit intelligence. Really? He doesn’t say how he knows this. He just states it’s true, and invokes the magic of some future scanning technology.

He assumes that when we build machines that match the structure of 200 nanometer scans, that the machines will work like a brain. It’s a lovely idea, and maybe he’s right. I just don’t have see any evidence for it. It’s just an idea he’s got based on non-biological models of biological systems.

Then there are the so-called “Laws” of exponential growth, illustrated with examples. I think there is some truth, in general, to what he is saying, but they are not laws. They are conjectures. They ignore economics. I’m sure that there are as many technologies and industries that have not been following exponential curves, but he doesn’t use such examples. Take automobile fuel efficiency. Is it increasing exponentially? According to Kurzweil, this exponential thing is a law. Maybe. Maybe not.

I’m just getting started, but I’m tired and I doubt anyone is reading this, or cares, or knows what the heck I’m talking about.

I gotta say this for him. He’s prolific, smart, and makes the most of his opportunities. Yet, I remain unconvinced by his PR. He sounds like he’s promoting a new company to venture capitalists. I’m not saying he is, it’s just that he’s glitzy and glib, and his ideas are vaguely-supported extrapolations of extrapolations.

I think our best bet towards immortality does not lie in the external components of the body. It lies in the brain. (I will disregard every speculation in the OP after the “Artificial brain” since I am not sure that if one teleports one will keep one’s stream of consciousness.)

Imagine, however, if we could completely replicate the neuron. Yeah, tweak it to make it a bit faster and reliable, maybe, but essentially the same. Oh, and make it have a steady state RAM so that if it doesnt have power, it will keep its memories.

So, we would implant these into people’s brains and they would start to become one with the brains. Then implant more and more. Soon, your personality will have effectively transferred to the artificial brain. I would trust this more to keep my stream of consciousness than teleportation, I can tell you that much.

The bonus is not only improved performance, but a brain that will not die, barring severe trauma. So we would lose people to accident and murder, but thats about it (barring unforeseen techical problems with the artificial neurons.)

And ya know what? The actual development of an artificial neuron is, IMO more feasible than developing a “hard” AI from scratch! The delivery method, however, would be a problem.