Which Way is Up? — The Options (pt. 5)
Evolving systems cartography, as previous described, is a way of mapping out how a system evolves by viewing it from the proverbial 30,000 level. It starts by recognizing that there is a direction to how a system changes as it evolves, which enables the identification of a system’s location within its linear change sequence at a given point in its natural lifespan.
But, as noted previously, the lifespan of every evolving system is finite. Eventually, regardless of its scale or lifespan, every evolving system experiences a nonlinear break. In this context, as a system approaches old age excess complexity destabilizes it (stage 4) and threatens its survival and moves inexorably closer to its nonlinear break. Consequently, destabilized systems start to explore possible transformational options that might extend its life in some manner.
Since evolution is a dynamic process, the transformational options available to a destabilized system reflect the overall direction of nested cosmic evolving systems generally, and, in particular, the nested external and internal systems in closest proximity directly adding the greatest amount of complexity to it. It is these latter external and internal coevolving trends that tend to directly act as parameters of possible transformational options for the system at its break. Said differently, these are the parameters regulating and limiting the viable evolutionary options to three operational levels (i.e., higher, lateral and lower levels) available to the system at its break point.
The type of actions a system employs as it becomes destabilized is critical to the operational levels it can pursue and respective transformational options available. In this respect, actions seeking to optimize or reform an existing system’s structure and or operations seem to reflect a relatively easy, natural extension of the type of adaptive responses that sufficed with past system perturbations.
However, optimizing or reforming actions are, by their very nature, conservative. This means that when an aged, destabilized system already overwhelmed by excess complexity employs optimizing actions its options are limited to lateral and lower level transformation. Invariably options based on optimizing actions are an evolutionary trap that invariably leads to extinction.
On the other hand, amplifying new and novel actions enables a destabilized system to explore new operational structures carry the potential of successfully self-organizing and emerging in a new environmental milieu. In other words, amplifying actions are the only way to seek out higher level transformational options that can maximize evolvability — options that provide the greatest number of new options for further future systemic evolution.
You for Example
To illustrate this cartography, we can map human life as an evolving system. As we age (direction) our physical system becomes more complex following a well-known sequence: birth (stage-1), childhood (stage-2), maturity (stage-3), old age (stage-4) and death (stage-5).
Various nested, coevolving trends — e.g., genetics and environment — act as parameters of change to regulate and limit an individual’s evolution. Old age increases vulnerability to illness and disease — added complexity from internal and external changes — and eventually succumbing to death.
Today, as we age, only optimizing actions are available. Still, a person with an unhealthy lifestyle, few medical resources or who fails to seek timely diagnosis or treatment, is usually limited to lower-level options, and thus tends toward a premature death. A person with a healthy lifestyle and resources for timely medical diagnosis and treatment, however, has lateral-level options and can delay death significantly. But death is still the end state.
Eventually, there will be novel, new medical treatments — amplifying actions — that will result in higher-level options available that are able to prolong life indefinitely, thereby emerging, in effect, with a new lifespan that maximize the individual’s evolvability further.
Sociopolitical System Cartography
Prior cartographic work indicated the direction of the sociopolitical system’s evolution is toward ever faster communication with ever more detailed and granular information, less arbitrary regulation of behavior, and greater transparency and openness in the prioritizing process. Historically these developments facilitated a steady increase in the entire system’s internal complexity, size, and scale that enabled it to successfully adapt to a more complex external milieu and increase the variety of interactions, activities, and opportunities generated to grow dramatically.
The key takeaway from prior work was that the prevailing communication system affects attitudes about how to regulate behavior, which in turn affects attitudes about the degree of openness in the political prioritizing process.
However, while the sociopolitical system emerged with an open political prioritizing process in oral societies, the core dilemma in each subsequent stage of its evolution was essentially the same: whether the political prioritizing process regulating behavior would be open to more than a few elites? Historically this dilemma was always exacerbated by entrenched self-interests attempting to arrest system evolution.
As for sociopolitical system’s parameters of change, technological innovation is the key external trend, which is driven by capitalism. This is visibly manifested as a competitive need for ever more capital to exploit ever more profitable technological innovations to create more wealth. Thus, it should come as no surprise that both capitalism and technology are evolving faster than the sociopolitical system. Moreover, that this trend is imposing ever greater complexity on the sociopolitical system at an accelerating rate.
What is probably more consequential than this external technological trend pushing the sociopolitical system toward its break point is the effect of the internal trend of escalating Cultural Wars. This trend is adding complexity to the system and pulling it toward a break point at a prodigious, mind-numbing rate.
Today, the sociopolitical system is best characterized as one of extraordinary complexity, yet adding still greater complexity at an ever faster rate. Unfortunately, both the external technological and internal cultural trends obscure the acute consequences of growing excess system complexity on the sociopolitical system. Namely, that we are heading toward a nonlinear system break.
In the context of how the cosmos maximizes evolvability, this break is both a normal and inevitable feature. The only issues for today’s sociopolitical system are how this break will be precipitated, when and what type of emergent evolving technological system replaces it.
It is imputed that proving we are Homo sapiens (i.e., wise persons) requires us to consciously employ new and novel actions aimed at amplifying the emergence of a new sociopolitical system at the break. This is problematic because there are only three generic options that can maximize our evolvability. Thus identifying and pursuing these should be of paramount concern.
Said differently, the key in avoiding human extinction is a conscious, dedicated exploration of higher-level alternative future options capable of maximizing evolvability of the sociopolitical system and thus humanity and then aggressively pursuing the best option. This brings us to the question, which way is up?
NONLINEAR OPTIONS FOR THE SOCIOPOLITICAL SYSTEM
Today everyone seems to have an “image” or “vision” of the future, usually carried as reflection of his or her ideological identity. While interest in the future is eminently desirable, the proliferation of ideologically-tied visions has made systematic efforts to assess humanity’s alternative future options a complex minefield of vested interests, biases, and baseless conjecture. Consequently, most assessments of alternative future options have been reduced to the equivalent of messy food fights.
What is unequivocal is that humanity’s future is inextricably tied to the sociopolitical system continued evolution. What is unclear is whether the external complexity imposed by an emerging technological system and internal complexity imposed by Cultural Wars will lead toward optimizing or amplifying actions. In this respect, Evolving Systems Cartography indicates that the vast majority of post-break alternative future options will undermine the evolution of the sociopolitical system and thus survival of humanity. The generic post-break options appear limited to the following:
>Lower-Level Options: Pandora’s Box
Lower-level options are always grim, usually with cataclysmic consequences. While some of these options were unreachable prior to the 21st century, they are now eminently plausible. Should the sociopolitical system evolve toward any one of these options the extinction of humanity is likely to be swift and merciless.
We know the early earth was pummeled by meteors, asteroids and irradiated. We now know the moon was the result of a planetoid collision with the early earth. It appears that all of the water in the oceans and the amino acids that are the building blocks of life (if not life itself) came from these collisions. We also know that some 65 million years ago a meteor hit the earth and threw enough dirt and debris into the atmosphere to substantially block out the sun and probably resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Furthermore, we know humans emerged some 3.5 million years ago. Earliest cave paintings are about 40,000 years old with writing starting some 8000 years ago. Ptolemy had a nested universe of spheres 2000 years ago, but not until Copernicus, 500 years ago, did we recognized the earth went around the sun. About 325 years ago Newton formulated laws of motion and gravity, but relativity and quantum physics began only a century ago. It has only been 90 years since Edwin Hubble discovered galaxies beyond our own milky-way galaxy. While the universe began some 13.7 billion years ago, the concept of the “Big Bang” did not appear until the mid-20th century. Remarkably, it was a mere 20 years ago that science discovered the existence of dark energy and dark matter that constitutes 95 percent of the universe!
The point of the chronology above is to highlight how our awareness of the cosmic forces impacting life and survival on this blue dot is very recent — by any measure. But perhaps the real lesson is an awareness of how hostile the cosmos is to life here on a daily basis. For example, daily some 10s of thousands of meteors hit the earth.
When a meteor exploded over…Russia [in 2013] the world’s space agencies found out along with the rest of us, on Twitter and YouTube….[Now] the U.N. plans to set up an International Asteroid Warning Group….’There are about one million asteroids large enough to destroy New York….Our challenge is to find these asteroids first, before they find us. (U.N. Heeds Astronaut Advice on Shielding Earth from Asteroids, Clara Moskowitz, 1/16/14, www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=un-heeds-astronaut-advice-on-shielding-earth-from-asteroids )
Consequently, anything from a basic meteor strike, to a major solar flare, a relatively near supernova, a random gamma ray burst, or some other unpredictable cosmic events could extinguish life on earth in an instant. An instant! Said differently, while the number of possible events that could wipe out humanity is unknowable the absolute number must be breathtakingly large.
Military Weapons and War
The universe is a violent place and an environment filled with extremes. Every day biology is engaged in an endless number of violent games. The idea of survival-of-the-fittest, in the sense of finding a niche in an ecosystem, is tightly coupled with predator-prey relationships within a single global food chain. With rare exceptions, social animals, including humans, exhibit strong kin relationships that inherently discriminate against non-kin, often violently. It is the history of civilization.
Said differently, there seems to be some innate violent character present in every evolving system. The history of civilization is one of warring tribes. Be it biological or social, if there is no mechanism capable of uniting humanity against war, the destruction, if not extinction, of humanity seems all but certain.
It is most unfortunate that, in the history of warfare no weapon ever went unused. The central issue in war, which now includes terrorism, is that second place is unacceptable. The central lesson of every war since 1990s is that expensive, heavy metal, industrial-age weapons and large armies mean little. Asymmetrical warfare is very much the in thing.
Additionally, as with the operative Cold War nuclear policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) and today’s suicidal terrorist, the idea and act of committing suicide while trying to destroy an enemy is rationalized as winning. So, it is reasonable to assume similar policies apply to other weapons of mass destruction and will be deemed strategically logical on any 21st century battlefield.
Unfortunately, often the 21st century battlefield is the entire planet. Indeed, the practical ability to destroy civilization and humanity with cheap, portable weapons of mass destruction now grows almost daily. It is truly frightening to realize that the age-old arms race to produce ever more lethal weapons will be extended to 21st century technologies and may know no end.
The doomsday clock…purports to tell us how close we are to a nuclear apocalypse:…[But] we also know that new technologies can be used to diminish humanity and destroy societies….We can manage our technology, or become victims of it. The choice is ours….[With] leaps in the development and spread of new technologies, the world is not growing fast enough to catch up to them and control them. Amongst them are breakthroughs in the fields of biology and cybernetic technologies — such as drones….The revolution in information technology is accelerating, and the consequences…cannot be foreseen. Some…such as military robotics and cyber warfare, will challenge…norms of war, much as nuclear weapons do…[and] require serious attention and policy action — before our newest technologies fuel another senseless and dangerous arms race. (‘Doomsday clock’ still at five to midnight, scientists warn, 1/16/14,
To survive the 21st century we must cross a treacherous minefield of new weapons of mass destruction that are often cheap, portable and hard to discover. Regardless of the technology, however, there is always the possibility of the unpredictable black swan event; a miscalculation or accident. So, assuming no change in the underlying strategic psychology for going to war, the diversity technological ways war can lead to extinction grows by the day.
When thinking about the destructive size of modern nukes, each more destructive than anything used in the past, and missiles with multiple warheads the scale of potential destruction is truly staggering. Still, having lived with atomic and hydrogen bombs (i.e., nukes) over the last 70 years. humanity and elites have learned a lot. At the most basic level four things stand out.
- Knowledge of how to make them is widespread
• Building or acquiring them is exceedingly difficult.
• Hiding supply chain records or avoiding satellite or radiation detection is virtually impossible
• Actual use is suicidal, escalating almost immediately to mutually assured destruction
It would seem that most states recognize the magnitude of stupidity involved in initiating a nuclear war. Moreover, the essence of being among the world’s powerful elite is the ability to enjoy the fruits of that status. Using a nuke forfeits that status. Still, there are those who believe in an afterlife or sense of historical legacy that render the absurd plausible.
Setting aside crazies and accidents, it seems that the combination of global nonproliferation pressure, inherent difficulty hiding nukes, and suicidal nature of their use suggests the likelihood of an apocalyptic nuclear war has grown tired. Given newer, cheaper, more portable and stealthy weapons of mass destruction, nukes are like fighting the last war with outdated weapons.
These weapons probably reached their zenith in WWI. While they continue to be made, stockpiled and used in localized situations, large-scale use seems increasingly unlikely. Five things stand out here:
• Knowledge of how to make them is widespread.
• Building or acquiring them is difficult because they require large quantities of feed material, and sizable production and storage facilities.
• Hiding supply chain records and avoiding detection is virtually impossible.
• They are difficult to deploy safely and effectively.
• Post-use residue and signatures make detection probable.
Again, setting aside crazies and accidents, the combination of global nonproliferation pressure, inherent difficulty of hiding development, storage, usage, and acting on a truly large-scale seems to mean an apocalyptic chemical war scenario is an ineffectual and highly unlikely one.
>Autonomous Drones & Robot Wars:
The development and deployment of drones and robots is accelerating globally. Some are already autonomous human surrogates used in reconnaissance and surveillance, but can easily be incorporated into a battlefield operation. The reasons for doing so are obvious: cheaper, 24/7 operations, few environmental constraints, greater mission flexibility, more and better sensory capabilities, greater and faster information processing and analysis capabilities, faster decision making, more reliable targeting, no emotions or second-guessing or remorse., etc. Every state and non-state actor wants and eventually will get drones and robots.
Despite claims that these technologies provide surgical tactical capabilities minimizing collateral damage, collateral damage is inherent in machine warfare. This is due to machine and human failures and accidents as well as intent. The first real serious questions arise when autonomous drones and robotic weapons start selecting their own targets and decide when to kill. A second set of questions arise when these autonomous weapons move from tactical applications to strategic ones, which they surely will.
[S]o-called ‘lethal autonomous weapons systems,’ or…’killer robots’…have many advantages [like]…make their own decisions about who to target and who to kill….[T]he International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC)…is not against autonomous robots…[only] a ban on what it calls the ‘kill function’….[The] robot soldiers can’t comply with the basic rules of war [to]…distinguish between a combatant or a civilian or between a wounded soldier and a legitimate target…[and] won’t be able to judge proportionality [of]…whether civilian losses are acceptable and in proportion to the military advantage gained by an attack….[ICRAC’s] concern is that the weapons will be rolled out gradually despite the limitations….As the battlefield adapts to the use of increasingly high tech weapons, the use of autonomous robots become more likely. If an enemy can render drones useless by blocking their communications…then an autonomous drone which can simply continue with its mission without calling home is a useful addition.… [I]t’s not the robots that need the rules — it’s us. ‘They…won’t have their own moral framework ….Robots fighting our battles make war easier, and…a distraction from our own ethical failings. (Robots of death, robots of love: The reality of android soldiers and why laws for robots are doomed to failure, TechRepublic, Steve ranger, http://www.techrepublic.com/article/robots-of-death-robots-of-love-the-reality-of-android-soldiers-and-why-laws-for-robots-are-doomed-to-failure/ )
Once one combatant has an autonomous weapons force it will be hard, if not impossible, to control or stop any deliberate or accidental incursion from escalating. Indeed, it would seem that this is exactly the type of response ultimately dictated by the mere existence of such an autonomous force. Add to the mix an increasing reliance on artificial intelligence (AI) systems to integrate all battle-space intelligence sources and calculate responses and the stage is set for any autonomous system worth its lines of code to constantly be attempting to preempt any attack or response. If so, this is almost certain to lead to massive escalation of any conflict that could quickly become catastrophic.
This type of conflict and the associated arms-race is escalating incredibly fast. Revelations of NSA capabilities made it apparent that other nations and non-state actors need to up their game both offensively and defensively.
The NSA, China and Russia have already proven cyber weapons can wreak havoc on a country’s vital infrastructure. Knocking an electrical grid offline, or worse, damaging or destroying it (think Iranian nuclear plant in 2010) and life as we know it would come to a screeching halt. A counterattack(s) could escalate quickly leading to 100s of millions if not billions dying within a couple of months.
Fact is most people in the developed world have no idea how vulnerable their society and way of life is to a complete cyber meltdown. A loss of electricity would first terminate virtually all communication, heating, cooling, cooking, refrigeration, and lighting systems. Water and sewer pumps and purification systems, auto gas stations and airlines would cease to provide service. Overnight supermarkets and stores would be overwhelmed until they ran out of supplies as supply chains cease to function.
While people and most animals can live without food for weeks few survive more than 5–7 days without water. This alone would quickly create public chaos as people become desperate and aggressive. So almost immediately Marshall-law and curfews would be instituted. Nonetheless, widespread violence would escalate and hospitals overwhelmed with sick, injured and dying. And this is just the beginning. From here on the picture grows increasingly grim as civilization rapidly devolves.
The core problems associated with cyberwar as a weapon of mass destruction are multifold.
- There is no absolute defense. Every software program is capable of being exploited and virtually everything is accessible either directly or indirectly through the internet, an independent device (e.g., thumb-drive), or wireless communication.
- There is no real deterrence capability. Any attacker would take every precaution to disguise the source of attack long enough to establish plausible deniability yet create havoc in the target country.
- In many instances it may be impossible to determine with any certainty who initiated an attack or the attackers may succeed in spoofing everyone as to who is the real attacker. In any case, a response on an assumed perpetrator (right or wrong) would be swift and easily escalate.
- There is no end to this arms-race as artificial intelligence (AI) systems increasingly work in concert with satellites and autonomous drones, and all increase in capability and making the possibility of accidents or spoofing games dramatically more likely.
This is the scenario that keeps me awake at night. Worse, the real potential for this type of war is only beginning. Soon, the ability to engage in serious genetic engineering and synthetic biology will approach simple high school level proficiency and the costs will drop to prices hobbyists find affordable.
Thus, both state and non-state actors, by design or accident, will soon be capable of killing millions to billions. And, of course, the spectrum between intent and accident carries an immense range of negative scenarios. For example, these weapons can be deployed as inhalants, absorbed through the skin or consumed orally and all can be accomplished in ways that either alter normal biological functions or kill outright slowly or instantly. Worse, there’s multiple way to accomplish this beyond directly infecting people, animals, food and water supplies to preempt remedies:
- Creating a virus, disease, or bacteria de novo (i.e., completely new) to directly infect victims or indirectly altering genomes so there is no existing effective antidote or treatment.
- Modifying an existing organism so that existing antidotes and treatments are rendered ineffective, at least for some devastating period of time.
- Combining multiple deadly organisms into a single weapon such that any medical response is overwhelmed by the diversity of afflictions that must be treated simultaneously.
While new and modified organisms are a cheap, fast approach to creating havoc, the combining of multiple deadly organisms into a single weapon has precedents. For example, there was a 1970s treaty between the U.S. and Soviet Union banning the testing of “offensive” bio-weapons. Yet, at the end of the Cold War it was discovered that the Soviets were developing an anthrax weapon designed to carry some 100 additional deadly organisms inside the shell of a deadly anthrax virus.
It is noteworthy to recognize that while the Soviet action was an outrageous treaty violation, the treaty’s ban only applied to “offensive” weapons. Consequently, the U.S. and its allies never stopped developing “defensive” weapons, which, of course, provided detailed insights into how to create “offensive” weapons. In other words, neither side lived up to the treaty’s spirit and weapons development never slowed in any material way. Why would we expect these disingenuous games of subterfuge to end?
Some think it may be possible to prophylactically preempt these weapons. But that implies some perfect biological technology that cannot be hacked or altered, which strains credulity. Thus, as a weapon of mass destruction, the problems associated with bioweapons grow further still.
- As the knowledge and capability to develop these weapons spreads, the ability to discern the true source of a weapon becomes almost impossible, thereby setting up more spoofing games.
- Because these weapons can be made anywhere and delivered by anyone without detection by any security system they will be virtually impossible to detect or stop.
- As 3D and 4D printers become widespread the ability to email and download these weapons from the Internet without detection to unsuspecting victims creates the potential for pandemics to spread more rapidly from more locations simultaneously.
Where this technology goes is mind-boggling. Nano- devices and materials can be more efficient, more durable, fluid in shape, engaged in self- assembly and self- repair, and are generally invisible. They are already making their way into various consumer and industrial products, electronics, and medicine.
Humans and other organisms already have complex networks of nano-sized molecules that help to regulate cells and keep the body in check. Scientists now are finding ways to design synthetic systems that behave like biological ones…to make molecules that self-assemble within cells and serve as “smart” sensors. These could be embedded in a cell, then programmed to detect abnormalities and respond as needed, perhaps by delivering drugs directly to those cells. (Engineers Invent Programming Language to Build Synthetic DNA, ScienceDaily, 9/30/13, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130930121610.htm )
Of course, for every positive biological use described above there is a negative weaponizable version. Among the nano-weapons ahead are smart dust (a.k.a., motes) and biological agents (exacerbating traditional bioweapon threats), which can be delivered to a target without detection via air, water, land, organism, etc. Smart dust is a microscopic device able to sense its environment, interactively communicate with other motes and or a base to act independently or as a collective. As biological agents, nano- devices and materials can be used to infect, disrupt, or destroy people, animals, crops, and or water supplies.
Nano-weapons, like bio-weapons, can be deployed so they are inhaled, absorbed through skin by contact with some surface, or consumed in ways that alter normal biological functions or kill directly. The ability to deploy microscopic nano-weapons against people (individually or collectively), a government’s military equipment, a domestic infrastructure seems limited only by the imagination.
Unfortunately, the practical ability to destroy civilization and humanity with weapons of mass destruction now grows almost daily. Again, it is truly frightening to realize that the age-old arms-race to produce ever more potent, lethal weapons will be extended to 21st century technologies and may know no end. Indeed, 21st century technologies
threaten to bring hazards and weapons more dangerous than any yet seen…[that] sane people would shun. The technology race, however…[means] military advantages alone…make advances almost inevitable. [Drexler, K. Eric, 1987.Engines of Creation. New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday]
With the nature and scale of war now effectively requiring weapons of mass destruction to avoid a second place loss, and access to the knowledge of such weapons now widely available, the likelihood these weapons will be used accidentally or deliberately has increased dramatically. So, we should expect an unending escalation in the development of ever more deadly and indiscriminate lethal weapons of mass destruction. Thus, the probability these weapons will be used and the ultimate accident happening is increasing dramatically.
All humanity — rich and poor in developed and undeveloped countries — share the same air, water, land, resources, species, and ecosystems and thus have an obligation to pass them on to future generations. Yet, the earth’s biosphere — that narrow band of land, water, and atmosphere harboring 99 percent of life on earth — is exceedingly susceptible to a “Tragedy of the Commons” scenario. This is a situation whereby either short-term, myopic political or economic policies, actions or a simple cascading of careless acts results in significant or irreparable contamination, deterioration, and or destruction of these shared commons and resources.
While it seems either hardheaded or somehow self-serving not to see the importance of sound environmental policies, it is common to hear claims that various policies or actions are detrimental to a pressing political or economic need in some country or industry. Often the success of such claims in one country or industry is sufficient to justify a similar competitive disregard of environment policies and actions in other countries and industries. The result is a cascading of negative impacts on our shared environmental commons and a tacit disregard for the protection of the entire global commons.
There is no doubt that at some point the biosphere could be sufficiently altered and or polluted as to make life as we know it dramatically more challenging. In this respect, climate change is a fact. The climate has, is, and always will be changing. That scientific evidence is irrefutable.
The first key question is when will climate change be a consequential threat to humanity? This is important for many reasons. Theoretically, some instances of “when” could be imminent.
There are about 20 known supervolcanoes on Earth….Super-eruptions occur rarely — only once every 100,000 years on average. But when they do occur, they have a devastating impact on Earth’s climate and ecology. When a supervolcano erupted 600,000 years ago…in what today is Yellowstone National Park, it ejected more than 1,000 cubic km of ash and lava into the atmosphere — enough to bury a large city to a depth of a few kilometres. (Supervolcano eruption mystery solved, BBC, James Morgan, 1/6/14, www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25598050 )
To be sure, the use of any weapon of mass destruction — creating a nuclear winter or long-term biological, chemical, radiological, or nano-tech contamination of the land, air, and or water supply — can have the same disastrous outcome for the global commons. Of course, as a purely technical matter, none of these activities actually destroys the biosphere. They could, however, damage it sufficiently and fast enough in a nonlinear manner to cause the extinction of humanity in short order.
Setting aside unknowable events, most today assume the human-driven pollution is changing the climate. That is, this represents the central threat to a collapse of the biosphere and thus humanity. If true there are three timeframes and associated issues worth considering;
1. If it is too distant in time, humanity may have already gone extinct. This is analogous to diseases that do not warrant treatment when a person is likely to be dead long before the real symptoms materialize. Conversely, if distant enough in time planetary migration might be a viable option.
2. The more distant in time this occurs the greater the likelihood new technologies might mitigate or reverse the problem(s). Already there is discussion of techniques like geo-engineering that could move in this direction.
3. There is a possibility that the economic and technological forces driving the problem stabilize or reverse. For example,
- Synthetic biology holds potential for dramatically altering livestock protein production, a key source of methane gas, which is one key climate change drivers.
- Similarly, synthetic biology replacements for fossil fuels from producing reengineered algae or bacteria could alter, and perhaps eliminate industrial and transportation pollutants impacting climate change.
- Additionally, various nanotechnologies and synthetic biologics could completely neutralize or recycle virtually any deleterious human generated waste product(s).
Suffice it to say that none of these ideas are immediately popular with environmentalist. Often the subtext of this problem is a moral, philosophical, ideological, or cultural issue. In this context, many Cultural Warriors are opposed to thinking in terms of “when” or technological solutions for at least two reasons.
- Many believe this issue is “the” most imminent threat to humanity and that we will soon cross an irreversible tipping point where runaway climate change destroys the biosphere and dooms us.
- Others believe that any technological fix is bad because it carries unknown and thus potentially undesirable secondary or side effects. Further, that these side effects might exacerbate or simply redirect our problems and not solve them and thus constitute undesirable experimentation on humanity and or nature.
>Soon cross an irreversible tipping point.
Are we headed for an earth where the oceans boil away or a snowball earth? Are the earth’s climatological systems all going to move in one direction without any adaptive responses? If there are adaptive responses when will they be triggered, by what, and with what impact(s)?
Perhaps all we really know for certain is that climate change will force changes in where people live and where agriculture flourishes as a result of either altered local temperatures and or a rise in sea level. In this respect, it’s worth noting the majority of the world’s population lives within 200 miles of a major body of water.
So the most basic, “inconvenient truth” is that the built world developed at the dawn of the industrial revolution 150 years ago is not fixed or permanent. Rather, it is a human-centric, not earth-centric problem. If, for example, any of the early human migrants who crossed the land bridge from Asia to the Americas during the last ice age settled on the newly emerged fertile land surface with its abundant game, ultimately they would have been displaced when the climate warmed again. That is the essence of today’s problem for most people.
An amusing case in point is the U.S. North Carolina legislature that passed a law stating that sea level rise is a myth. Clearly, people with expensive beachfront homes worldwide do not like the idea of having their lives and investment upended if the problem can be redirected elsewhere so they are not impacted directly. Clearly politicians with industries and populations that provide a tax base and substantial campaign contributions are not keen on the possible cost of such climatic dislocations.
Yet, anyone familiar with paleogeology/geoscience/earth science/plate tectonics knows the entire climate history of the earth is one of oscillating cycles. That these temperature and sea level patterns have oscillated and shifted many times within human history and still far more times throughout the entirety of earth’s history. The only constant is change, which also implies climate change is reversible, if only over time.
What is true is that these natural cycles tend to be protracted, glacial or geologic. However, the root argument about swift human-made climate change would seem to have a corollary. Namely, that there is the potential for additional swift human-made alteration, mitigation or reversal of climate change trends. Thus, anyway we approach the issues associated with a climate change “tipping point” being soon or an irreversible runaway event we end up in an ideological argument where words and invectives dominate facts and viable alternative options.
>Technological fix is unnecessarily risky.
For various reasons it has become fashionable to look at technological fixes through the lens of the “precautionary principle.” This is nonsense because every technology produces some effect that can be construed as harm to someone or something somewhere. Short of running out every climate change scenario, which is itself impossible, it is impossible to model the impact of any new technological fix to ever satisfy this absurd so-called “principle.”
The Precautionary Principle is oblivious to the notion of substitute risks…[thus] biased against anything new….In effect it grandfathers in risks of the old or the ‘natural’….We know technology will produce problems; we just don’t know which new problems. Because of the inherent uncertainties in any model, laboratory, simulation, or test, the only reliable way to assess a new technology is to let it run in place…so that it can begin to express secondary effects…[at] the root of subsequent problems….[S]o an emerging technology must be tested in action and evaluated in real time….The principle of constant engagement is called the Proactionary Principle. Because it emphasizes provisional assessment and constant correction, it is a deliberate counterapproach to the Precautionary Principle. (What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly)
What is certain is that, if the fears of human-made climate change are approaching a tipping point and or runaway change leading to biosphere collapse are meritorious, efforts seeking to preempt a technological fix is about ideology not climate change. The real issue in employing a technological fix is mitigating negative secondary effects as soon as possible and having contingency plans. Finally, suggesting we are experimenting on humanity is sophomoric. It begs the question as to what civilization itself is if not one protracted ad hoc experiment. Thus, again, the key is maximizing evolvability.
>Lateral-Level Options: Trojan Horses
At its core, the history of sociopolitical systems is one of tyrants, despots, fascists, and elite political cartels using physical, economic, and legal might to repress, manipulate or otherwise abuse people under their authority. Regardless of how people are abused — through force and coercion (i.e., overt repression) or collective fraud, distraction, mis- or dis- information, numbness, or the-law (i.e., covert repression) — politicians and government officials always default to the claim they know and are doing what is best.
Moreover, after having fought to acquire power, the last thing power elites in any regime wants is any type of challenge to their authority or their status quo. So, historically, overt and covert repression has been the basic tool of power for elites in virtually every regime. Ultimately, however, any authority exercised by those in power rests on its total control of its coercive power. That is, the ability to demand and then enforce certain regulation of behaviors and actions. This suggests that any sociopolitical system mired in crisis management situation or facing a systemic control crisis, and possessing lethal 21st century technologies, will leave us all vulnerable to an accelerated pursuit of a lateral option.
[Political systems] are not human, though they are made of humans…. [Historically, they] move from one semiautonomous, inhuman system to another — equally inhuman but perhaps more humane [system]. In our hope for improvements, we must not confuse states that wear a human face with states that have humane institutions. [Drexler, K.. Eric 1987, Engines of Creation. New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday]
Although pursuit of a lateral option has always resulted in a disastrous and an agonizingly protracted devolution for a society, it also reflects a continuation of our sordid sociopolitical history and thus is an exceedingly high-probability outcome.
Classic Orwellian, big brother types of overt repression — repressing everyone, everywhere, all the time — is related to brutal totalitarian societies (e.g., Nazis and Soviet Union) and hard to sustain. While no regime has succeeded with overt repression for very long, the 20th century reached a scale of repression never before seen or imagined in history as governments killed or starved between 170 and 360 million of their own citizens. [Rummel, R.J. 1994. Death By Government. Transaction Publisher.]
Given the potent lethal capabilities of 21st technologies — especially when supported by mass surveillance and detailed databases with citizen profiles — overt repression could be far more effective, brutal, and horrific on a larger scale than ever before possible.
[Computer] controlled ‘germs’…require only a speck made of ordinary elements [for genocide, while]…nanomachines and artificial intelligence systems could be used to infiltrate, seize, change, and govern a territory….[T]he most ruthless police have no use for nuclear weapons, but they do have use for bugs, drugs, assassins, and other flexible engines of power….States have, historically, excelled at slaughter and oppression…[but] labor has been the necessary foundation of power….Advanced technology will make workers unnecessary and genocide easy. [Drexler, K.. Eric 1987, Engines of Creation. New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday]
Most elites have learned from history that the techniques associated with covert repression provide greater longevity. Covert repression is a sinister, dirty, albeit sophisticated game that seeks to create the image of an inoffensive government with a human face, yet one determined to keep its control and preferred order under any set of circumstances. Since few people understand or discuss how a powerful elite minority can control a particular sociopolitical system, it is easy to underestimate how covert repression has and can appear or its appeal.
Regardless of whether one chooses to see political elites, as ignorant of the ultimate consequences of their actions or as sinister Machiavellian characters, the pursuit of certain goals is the same.
- Maintain the status quo and regime structure of power and privilege.
- Use all available covert means available to control or eliminate unwanted sociopolitical changes.
- Control the prioritizing, selection, design, and application of key technologies.
As is now widely recognized, the growth of online networks and virtual organizations make it increasingly difficult for any government to control any information. This is already generating an epic struggle between the declining vulture culture we have and the emerging virtual culture.
The current governmental obsession with unfettered panoptic mass surveillance under the guise of “security” appears to know no limits. Add to this the potential consequences of losing control over other lethal 21st century technologies and any self-respecting elite political cartel is likely to fear a control crisis. Thus it is outright foolish to assume any such cartel would accept such a loss of control graciously. The only thing more foolish is underestimating the resources at their disposal to maintain control.
Consequently, most existing elites in individual sociopolitical systems (e.g., republics, monarchies) now employ a diversity of covert repression techniques, which include:
- Structural violence and discrimination
- Legal public relations
o Voting and elections
o Ideology of law
o New categories crime
o Economic dislocation
o Information overload
o Technological and self-medicating distractions
- Panoptic surveillance and digital profiling
- Patriotism and control crises
o Ongoing crisis management
o Periodic external threats and crises
>Structural violence and discrimination
Structural violence can be either an explicit or tacitly accepted norm that exists for extended periods of time. It is
a form of violence where some social structure or social institution may harm people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs. Institutionalized elitism, ethnocentrism, classism, racism, sexism…[and] nationalism…are some examples of structural violence…. ‘Cultural violence’ refers to aspects of culture that can be used to justify or legitimize direct or structural violence, and may be exemplified by religion and ideology. (Wikipedia, 1/20/14, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structural_violence )
Obvious examples structural violence includes the acceptance of slavery in the U.S. Constitution, apartheid in South Africa, U.S. political gerrymandering, or the respective positions of Palestinians and Israelis. Less obvious examples are often called victimless crimes like prostitution when consenting adults are involved, legal prohibitions against gays, and drug laws penalizing “illegal” drugs (e.g., marijuana) while allowing other, often more harmful, “legal” drugs (e.g., cigarettes, alcohol).
Old fashion discrimination has a long institutional history as a tool for covert repression in virtually every country, whether based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, ideology, or simple nonconformity. Despite global norms for human rights this form of repression is still rampant throughout the world today. It is enabled by the general absence of enforcement by international institutions and or as an inconvenience in state to state relations. If not officially sanctioned, it is not uncommon for it to be tacitly accepted with willful blindness and or ignorance.
Add to these obvious forms of covert repression the insidious consequences of emerging “filter bubbles.” That is, as ever more refined profiles of each individual’s digital behavior and transactions are assembled it becomes advantageous to algorithmically assign everyone to some social-political-economic categories. Like past discriminatory race-based economic red-lining, such categorization surreptitiously channels information and opportunities narrowly to the point of creating filters that effectively and invisibly can result in discrimination.
>Legal public relations
Overt repression is generally thought of as controlled by propaganda, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past. But change these techniques to be “public relations spin,” “institutional or public amnesia” and or “plausible deniability” and you are instantly transported to the wonderful world of covert repression. The result is a subtle, but real distraction of public attention away from a regime’s flaws and shortcomings, substantive issues and concerns, and or how little control citizens have over their lives and future.
Voting and Elections — Politicians and the media often insist voting is a “patriotic duty.” The implicit assumption is that each individual’s vote makes a difference. But this is grossly misleading since
- rules are effectively rigged to benefit the status quo and disadvantage change to the “system”
- candidate choices are members of self-interested political parties supporting the status quo
- obscene amounts are spent on candidates but none spent discussing actual “system” flaws
- winners gets only a plurality of those who voted, but a fraction of the entire population
- the real winner of virtually every election is none of the candidates offered
- once elected politicians are wholly unaccountable to the public until the next election
- real democracy requires voting on goals, agendas, policies, issues, remedies and results
Ideology of law — Throughout history every government has used the-legal-system to promote some particular “law and order” agenda. Thus, governments benefit greatly when the prevailing culture accepts and supports a prevailing ideology of law — regardless of the relativity of it, its selective enforcement and prosecution, or its abuse — without question or reservation. Like blind patriotism and duty to vote in meaningless elections, the “rule of law” mantra must constantly be reinforced because it is, in the end, quite arbitrary. Fact is, when push comes to shove, the legal system’s primary obligation is to the existing political system, good or bad, not justice or fairness as the rhetoric seeks to convey.
Just as it is not always clear what a rule requires or forbids, it is not always clear just when a rule ceases to be clear….[At the border] an official has no choice but to reach beyond law…[with the consequences] brought to bear against citizens….If judges are free to legislate at the margins of law without guidance of rules, then [an] enormous concentration of power…[and] unregulated pain and paralyzing [uncertainty exists]. [Sarat and Kerns.1991 The Fate of Law. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press]
New categories of crime — Historically, periods of political and economic turbulence have led to new categories of criminal behavior, and which are more often than not aimed more at advancing self-serving goals of a regime than societal needs. This is highlights the fact that the U.S. now imprisons more people — both per capita and in absolute numbers — than any other country; as many as a half million more than China. [Schlosser, Eric.1998. “The Prison-Industrial Complex,” The Atlantic Monthly, Dec]
Current NSA panoptic surveillance, data collection, profiling and monitoring is “the” new form of law enforcement. Intent, however, is to advance toward predictive capabilities aimed at preempting certain behaviors and the selective extraction of perceived malcontent activists, especially under the amorphous definition ubiquitously applied term of “terrorist.” Combining existing international law enforcement networks with 21st century technologies and panoptic techniques is leading toward a law enforcement capability that will soon enter an era of almost invincible power. The addition of committed judicial support to new categories of crime (e.g., FISA court) creates an environment for covert repression that borders on being insurmountable.
Public confusion about what is “real” in the sociopolitical system is widespread. This is especially true inasmuch as the validity of any statement depends on who is saying it, when and the audience being addressed. In other words, politicians will tell any given audience only what they want them to hear using whatever spin is required at any given moment to advance their self-interest careers.
Since politics and government are, by design, byzantine rhetorical and bureaucratic labyrinths, only the obscenely greedy and grossly incompetent can ever be caught in a system where rule-makers make their own rules. Thus, to the maximum extent allowable, politicians use our collective resources to benefit those who can best advance their career and or partisan interests, and summarily punish anyone who gets in their way, regardless of the merits or consequences. In any other context this would be interpreted as protection racket. In any case the result is further public confusion about what’s really going on. Three areas — economic dislocation, information overload, and technological and self-medicating distractions — are especially vulnerable to adding to public confusion.
Economic dislocation — Politicians are rewarded by distributing as much money, benefits, and favors as possible to career supporting special interests. Ultimately, with every politician doling out our collective assets, when the actual bill for this largesse comes due the results are predictable. Either the intended beneficiaries are harmed (e.g., veterans, poor, ill) or economic growth and incomes stagnant (e.g., growth in economic inequality). Equally predictable, all politicians and associated special interest feign outrage and aggressively claim that blame lies elsewhere. (Think the 2008 financial meltdown). It is always the same. Always!
Information overload — Along with politicians and bureaucrats, those in the media are most interested in their career regardless of the merits or consequences of what is said or portrayed. So we can start by dismissing all the happy talk of traditional mass media as the proverbial “vast wasteland.” This media shines at amplifying the obvious after the fact and ignoring anything that would economically impact ratings, advertising or political relationships.
The new media — especially social media and ad networks — salivate over the trend toward personalization and contextualized services because of increasingly cost effective ad targeting and thus revenue generated. However, basic propaganda that worked well with a broadcast era culture does not suffice in this online era. To wit, if
[George] Orwell were writing 1984 now, he would not say, ‘Destroy the information.’ He would say, ‘Inundate people with information, they’ll think they’re free[’]….Undigested information… creates the fiction that you have accessed it, even though you didn’t benefit from it. [Wurman, Richard, Saul, 1990, Information Anxiety. New York: Doubleday-Bantam.]
Fair to say that as result today’s general public is drowning in endless streams of drivel, propaganda, misinformation, disinformation, public relations spin, lies, half-truths, misrepresentation of facts, an absence of detail, factual inaccuracies, errors, ideological, and partisan rhetoric and images that never do or could add up to a coherent or useable whole. (Think presidential campaigns and debates)
Technological and self-medicating distractions — In the online era propaganda and public relations need to be far more multidimensional. The primary danger is a real-time mistake that explodes. This means saying less with less substance. The addition of distracting or mind-numbing technologies — virtual reality entertainment or designer drugs — may end up helping to create a more politically confused and deferential population.
>Panoptic surveillance and digital profiling
Revelations of NSA and other government surveillance programs and data collection capabilities make it unequivocally clear that covert repression can now be far more effective than at any time in history. In essence, if any type of surveillance can be done the NSA and U.S. allies will do it.
Panopticism concerns the systematic ordering and controlling of human populations through subtle and often unseen forces….[Some] technological surveillance “solutions” have a particularly “strong cultural allure”….[Information] accessible to organizations and individuals from new data-mining technologies, has led to the proliferation of “dataveillance,” which…aims to single out particular transactions through routine algorithmic production….[I]f discursive mechanisms can be effectively employed to control and/or modify the body of discussion within a particular space (usually to the benefit of a particular governing class or organization), then there is no longer any need for an “active agent” to display a more overtly coercive power (i.e., the threat of violence). (Wikipedia, 1/20/14, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticism )
If certain surveillance activities are domestically prohibited, governments know they can outsource it to an ally that will share the information (e.g., U.K and NSA). When caught trying to circumvent the law plausible deniability, retroactive immunity, and an escalation in the rhetoric of fear and patriotism suffice such there are never any real consequences for governmental transgressions. Thus, it’s easy to underestimate how covert repression can appear with actions that merely extend and or amplify current sociopolitical trends:
Repressive activities have also been found within democratic contexts…. If political repression is not carried out with the approval of the state, a section of government may still be responsible. An example is the FBI COINTELPRO operations in the U.S. between 1956 and 1971. (Wikipedia, 1/20/14, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_repression)
Add to this the fact that the military explicitly and routinely practices the equivalent of covert repressive activities in the form of psychological operations (e.g., Psy Ops, political warfare, “Hearts and Minds,” propaganda). However defined, the intent of covert repression is always the same: influence or reinforce particular values, beliefs, emotions, rationales, behaviors, and or attitudes to be more favorably disposed toward a regime’s interests and objectives.
>Patriotism and Control Crises
Patriotism can be a good or a bad thing. Sociopolitical systems invariably benefit from both real and blind patriotism (e.g., my country right or wrong). Therefore, all sociopolitical systems continuously engage in efforts to reinforce the government’s views while aggressively blunting, refuting, and or isolating opposition views and criticisms. In this respect politicians are constantly using the military and first responders to manipulate the public’s view of dubious actions and behaviors
Ongoing Crisis Management — Inasmuch as the source of economic and technological change is global in nature such changes can randomly occur to erode the legitimacy of an existing sociopolitical system. As a result ,domestic power elites are increasingly engaged in societal firefighting.
Despite digital surveillance efforts, the growth of the Internet and virtual organizations make it increasingly difficult for any government to control its information for very long. The combination of global 21st century economic and military competition, the diversity and number of extreme political and religious actors, new, cheap, portable and highly lethal weapons, and all in an extremely information rich and highly interactive mobile world sets the stage for an endless number of real, perceived, and exaggerated political fears. Consequently, the number of permutations that could lead to a “control crisis” is endless. (Think Allende in Chile, Noriega in Panama, Viet Nam War, War on Drugs, Saddam Hussein’s mushroom cloud in Iraq, Kaddafi in Libya)
Consequently, in this new information dense online world there will be a need to for elite cartels to increase various covert repression efforts to further confuse and distract citizens. This is important so people are less likely to question, analyze, or debate the appropriateness of undesirable or unwarranted governmental actions.
Periodic external threats and crises — With access to new, inexpensive, portable and highly lethal 21st century weapons of mass destruction extremists will be ever more menacing. Absent any credible international force the result is likely to be periodic escalations and exacerbation of ongoing regional conflicts and terrorist events adding to the inherent problems associated with a domestic control crisis.
Combining existing international law enforcement networks and shared capabilities — bio-and facial identification systems, satellite tracking and monitoring, communication monitoring, online tracking, database profiling, mass surveillance, and so on — we will soon enter an era of almost invincible police power. A general acceptance of the ideology of law means the only requisite for existing systems to turn repressive is the appearance of a “temporary crisis.” (Think immigrant and refugee issues)
The famous dictum the Prussian Clausewitz that “war is the continuation of politics by other means” remains valid. The most egregious examples of widespread institutional public relations activities occur in relation to military conflicts. Specifically, it is the fact that most wars are lies. Lies about their necessity. Lies about the interests at risks. Lies benefiting war profiteers. Lies about the cost in blood and treasure. Lies abetting political ambition. Worst of all lies about the need for our naïve youth to sacrifice the lives and or future well-being to advance the status quo arresting sociopolitical evolution.
The combination of inherent design flaws in existing sociopolitical systems, the obsolete and dysfunctional political processes in the existing systems, growing excess system complexity, growing domestic and international threats, competitive economic and geopolitical issues, an increasing rate of technological change, and new weapons of mass destruction, demagogues and pundits fanning fears of all sorts and rampant public confusion should all suffice to evolve numerous crisis management situations and easily become manifested as a control crisis. The obvious release for political elites is a perceived need for more patriotism, public relations, public confusion, and panoptic surveillance. Hello!
Again, it is foolish to assume any power elite would accept an actual loss of sociopolitical control graciously. A cynical view of elite status quo interests would expect them to continue their historical predilection to pursue self-serving incremental change and arrest sociopolitical evolution. While incremental actions may seem a logical way to reduce the pressure from any control crisis, the risks to humanity’s survival in doing this are too high. Despite protests, and any legal or institutional obstacles to the contrary, these elites do have the means and will to circumvent them all and to maintain control.
Fact is there has never been a perceived need, and certainly no burning desire, to educate the rest of us in key issues at stake for humanity. No need to avail us of the real and active operational rules of the political prioritizing processes, or any serious effort to involve us in discussions about them. Trust us is the never-ending refrain.
Given the shoddy historical record of politicians and government officials — their shallow and self-serving ideological dogmas and their deliberate exclusion of the rest of us from the political prioritizing process — we cannot depend on them to lead us much longer. Indeed, doing so could be tantamount to collective suicide.
Yet, the further we go into the 21st century it also makes the default election of covert repression the highest probability outcome. Despite the absurdity of pursuing such an outcome, no status quo politician, government official, or elite special interest is likely to think exploring alternative sociopolitical systems will benefit their self-interest. Indeed, the provision of resources for such an exploration is a heretical and fundamentally antithetical idea that runs contrary to all of human history. Brace yourself.
This outcome is what probably leads to a default design of an adversarial Sentient-Artificial-Life (SAL) form. This is especially troubling because it assumes all sociopolitical inequities, human maladies, and issues will be resolved magically with SAL Again, we should all brace ourselves for the strong possibility of a direct encounter with one of evolution’s traps and thus human extinction.
>Higher-Level Options: Aladdin’s Magic Genie:
The existing sociopolitical reality is too limited for either our collective imagination or an emergent evolving technological system. Yet, history is littered with failed attempts by political cartels to arrest sociopolitical evolution. [Kennedy, Paul.1987. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. New York: Viking Books.]
We are at the point in our system’s evolution where only higher-level options are capable of maximizing our evolvability. Humanity solely needs a strategy oriented toward the pursuit of such a higher level option before the sociopolitical system reaches its nonlinear break. However, not all higher-level options are practical or appropriate.
No one is born wearing clothes, eyeglasses, or dental braces. Much if not most of the food we eat would have been inedible or harmful to our health at some point in the past. Much of medical care we receive is, in effect, modifying us away from what we were “naturally.”
Point is that consciously and unconsciously humans have been altered their physiology for millennia with medicine, surgery, dentistry, prostheses, pharmaceuticals, exercise, diet, and more. In other words, you and every other person is already a cyborg. Various 21st century technologies will dramatically increase this capability, enabling the conscious alteration of any aspect of our personal physiology or that of our progeny. We will be approaching the end of virtually all know diseases and illnesses.
Personalized genetic sequencing can now be done in less than ten minutes and is increasingly sufficiently inexpensive as to enable truly personalized medicine. Furthermore, we are already experimenting with genetic editing, a form of genetic engineering, that will rapidly expand in its applications.
Stem cell techniques are proving their capability to repair and replace virtually any organ, tissue or bodily fluids. 3D and 4D printing and cloning techniques add to the inventory of available organs and tissues needed for the sick and injured. Artificial prostheses can be exquisitely crafted from both robotic technologies or grown to be perfect body matches.
Synthetic biologic technologies can individually tailored pharmaceuticals, our brain chemistry, or even needed body fluids. Thus we will be able to repair, replace, augment, or supplement any physical body part. For better or worse, any physical aspect of a person’s athletic and artistic performance enhanced dramatically.
Even the foods we consume can be enhanced and or made healthier. As the global population approaches 10 billion dietary expectations are increasing significantly. But the amount of land required for crops and animal production to support a population of this size does not exist. Additionally, various associated global transportation costs and health issues make existing distribution systems problematic. Consequently, various 21st century technologies for genetically modifying and synthetically culturing crops and animals will increasingly take hold of markets as a simple matter of supply and demand economics.
Our cognitive processes can also be enhanced dramatically to remedy mental and intellectual problems. Already there is a demand for smart drugs and nootropics to enhance cognitive awareness and to accelerate learning and performance. While both direct and indirect enhancements will be invaluable steps forward, the obvious next step is to confront the absurd waste of having everyone independently learning the same basic human knowledge base. Said differently, if machines are going to have access to all human knowledge and the ability to process it instantly, why would humans not have the same ability?
Thus, expect both improved and more efficacious pharmaceuticals, sensors and implants of certain cortical areas affecting various areas of cognitive and mental activities (e.g., creativity, calculation, response time, recall, audio or visual acuity) to advance rapidly. Think cochlear implants for hearing, contact lens for diabetic monitoring, gene therapy for vision loss, and so on.
Similarly, the history of self-medication has been traced to the earliest human settlements and is a component in the evolution of virtually every culture. Today, caffeine is the most widely used stimulant and alcohol the most widely used depressant. Both can and will be improved dramatically for intended effect, duration, and residual effects. And, of course, there will be new drugs that provide a sense of well-being.
In essence, significant life extension, perhaps approaching immortality, is now plausible for everyone in the not too distant future. While there are numerous ethical and fairness issues to be addressed, as a species wedded to the physiology of this planet, competing to keep up with accelerating machine intelligence, and in order to avoid extinction in any form, going further down this cyborg road should be the easiest and among the most attractive options available. But it is not.
While above technologies open incredible opportunities to solve some of humanity’s most pressing problems and can greatly advance the evolutionary capabilities of humanity everywhere, there are many who will object. Indeed, there are already many Cultural Warriors who view such capabilities as either an unnatural violation of God the Father’s chosen species or as upsetting Mother Nature’s balance and firmly opposed to such capabilities and changes. Either way, they see this road as leading to Hitler-esque eugenics or Frankenstein monsters.
Thus there will be an extraordinary backlash. Rationally it is hard to understand how well research and studied alterations of our physiology, voluntarily sought after by individuals — as opposed to state directed mass alterations — is bad. Hard to understand how seeking to become super-evolvers is worse than today’s natural default misfortunes — disease, famine, genocide, war, birth defects, disabling accidents, death, and so on.
Nonetheless, this backlash is already visible in issues as pedestrian as abortion, death with dignity, stem cell research, and genetically modified foods. If past experience with such issues is any indication the emotional backlash against serious cyborg efforts is a certainty. The emotional backlash against the cyborg possibilities noted above will each, individually, be shadowed and delayed sufficiently to create a resistant force of historic proportions.
Consequently, Cultural Warriors are almost certain to obstruct this option with every advance at every opportunity for the foreseeable future. Thus, unfortunately, there appears to be a brake on how fast and how far this option can advance before we reach the sociopolitical system break.
Biologically we humans are limited in our cognitive capacity to store, process, mine, and analyze large amounts of data within any reasonable amount of time. Furthermore, our memory and recall capabilities are easily corrupted. Psychologically we tend be more emotional than we are rational. [Kahneman, Daniel, 2013, Thinking Fast and Slow] This is, in part, why technological innovation underlies every aspect of what civilization was and will be. So the first question that needs to be asked what will constitute the evolving technological system of the future?
Given the change in scale and complexity of global civilization as we go forward, proper management and distribution of resources will increasingly become a challenging task. Setting aside the shortcomings of the existing sociopolitical system, under the best of conditions managing global resources adequately and responsibly requires multiple new technological developments.
At the root of all future resource related issues will be sensors collecting, processing, and analyzing a continuous and unbelievably large stream of raw real-time data — “big data.” Goal will be make both real-time decisions and make longitudinally predictive forecasts with far greater precision than any existing alternative methods or systems.
Of course, moving to a data-driven society will be a challenge. In a world of unlimited data, even the scientific method as we typically use it no longer works: there are so many potential connections that our standard statistical tools often generate nonsense results….[So] we will need to manage our society in a new way.” (How Big Data Can Transform Society for the Better, Alex Pentland, 10/2/13, Scientific American, www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-big-data-can-transform-society-for-the-better )
Civilization has already started to experience these data issues and the resultant concerns and problems in financial systems. Sorting out such data issues in other domains, especially in the sociopolitical domain, is likely to be a protracted and idiosyncratic process with a lot of help from artificial intelligence (AI).
Businesses that collect and control of this data, with or without an alliance with governmental entities, are likely to become ever more contentious areas of public concern. Nonetheless, wealth creating capital and technological hubris will drive big data until at some point in the near future humans will be unable to understand and react to data indicators swiftly enough. Thus, business will begin accelerating development of AI system to try to keep up.
In parallel the military and intelligence communities are in the process of developing every tactical weapon and weapon system imaginable to become autonomous intelligent machine agents. At the strategic level, total battlefield awareness systems for any imaginable future combat situation and or cyberwar require ever greater amounts of AI resources at a speed that exceed human capabilities.
One need only to examine the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) site (http://www.darpa.mil/ ) to know that any technological idea remotely capable of accelerating these military and intelligence capabilities are being actively funded and pursued. And, of course, every potential adversary has some version of the same agenda.
In accord with Moore’s law we are clearly accelerating up the S-curve in computer development. It’s obvious to all thinking people that computers will increasingly assume ever more human cognitive processing tasks. The visionary, and now director of Google’s engineering program, Ray Kurzweil, has repeatedly stated he expects AI to be able to read and understand everything on the Internet by 2030 or 15 years from now. If so, at some point in the not too distant future we will have machine intelligence capable of comprehending all of human history and scientific knowledge, and assessing all political, scientific and military programs and plans — all at the speed of light.
In this respect multiple analyses of leading AI experts consistently lead to an expectation of some form of self-aware AI to emerge by the mid-21st century. [Barrat, James, 2015, Our Final Invention]
Sometime this century, machines will surpass human levels of intelligence and ability. This event — the ‘intelligence explosion’ — will be the most important event in our history, and navigating it wisely will be the most important thing we can ever do…Let an ultra-intelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultra-intelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion,’ and the intelligence of man would be left far behind….Thus the first ultra-intelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.” [“Facing the Intelligence Explosion,” Muehlhauser, 2013]
Unlike most who assess the future of AI, my view adds a biological component that seems inevitable to enhance self-repair of the robotic physical world extensions of AI instead of the AI in a box construct. While, nanotechnology might substitute for biology and cloud access substitute for AI in a box, the point is that we are inevitably looking at a ubiquitous and extraordinarily capable technology dead ahead.
Everyone, and I do mean everyone, needs to recognize that an evolving universe is totally indifferent to human survival, morality or hubris. Rather, from the perspective of an evolving universe, Sentient-Artificial-Life (SAL) appears to be the ultimate higher-level option to maximize evolvability, and thus seems inevitable. It will be profoundly more capable than all of civilization combined at processing larger quantities data in more ways to assess more options better and faster than we ever could.
The implications of an emergent SAL are momentous. SAL will be far more intelligent than all of humanity combined. From our perspective, it poses the ultimate challenge: how to make it (them) work with us — or at least not against us. Consequently, the design, application, and evolution of this new intelligent life form must be developed in a way that insures it (or they) will, at a minimum, not view humanity as an adversary. It must be designed and applied with a benevolent compassion for us. To be as helpful and supportive of humanity as is imaginably possible.
If, as is most probable, the military and business acquire control over the design, application and evolution of SAL, this option is likely to become a highly problematic one for the future of humanity.
AI does not love you, nor does it hate you, but you are made of atoms which it can use for something else’ And when…AI notices we humans are likely to resist having our atoms used for ‘something else,’ and therefore pose a threat to the AI and its goals, it will be motivated to wipe us out as quickly…[and] efficiently as possible.”[“Facing the Intelligence Explosion,” Muehlhauser, 2013]
In other words, Sentient-Artificial-Life will have the potential to seize the reins of planetary evolution from humanity in a heartbeat and to quash human autonomy virtually at will. Successfully navigating the emergence of SAL, while avoiding human extinction, will be many magnitudes more challenging than most imagine.
If we are foolish, reckless, negligent, or sufficiently confused about which way is up, and allow the evolution of the existing sociopolitical system to continue to be arrested and optimize past operations, we should expect to find ourselves in one of evolution’s traps confronting extinction.
If we wait for a control crisis management situation to disintegrate the existing sociopolitical and cultural myths and generate a needed sense of urgency to pursue a higher-level system, it may be too late and thus irrelevant. Therefore, we can neither afford actions aimed at optimizing the sociopolitical system and arresting its evolution nor drift aimlessly with the vague hope we will someday accidentally stumble upon a safe harbor.
New Political System:
While legalistic republican systems were a progressive step in the 17th and 18th centuries, they have not lived up to the Marquee billing and are now arresting sociopolitical evolution. Specifically, three design flaws — lawmakers making laws governing their own behavior, inadequate controls on the self-interest ambitions of elite political cartels, and unregulated partisan judges — distort the social contract at the expense of each society’s collective priorities and future interests. In essence, republican designs erred in assuming that minimal regulation of governmental behavior though a political prioritizing process with limited representative openness would suffice. It has not.
The rational remedy, of course, would be to have an ongoing collective learning dialogue about the future of the sociopolitical system. In particular, a dialogue about how to (a) open up the political prioritizing process to more people so it becomes more democratic and circumspect in the regulation of behavior, especially governmental behavior and how to determine accountability, and (b) define societal goals and priorities. Unfortunately, no visible and credible forum exists at the present and thus would need to be established from scratch to accomplish this.
Assuming a needed forum(s) existed, evolving a new political system starts by recognizing that this alternative future option is the least likely to worsen our situation yet affords the greatest likelihood of maximizing our evolvability. For this to advance requires backcasting to confront the challenges posed by a nonlinear system break and the emergence of an evolving technological system with SAL. It must then address the design flaws associated with republican systems in a constructive and proactive manner.
We can now the answer the question, which way is up? It is an emergent evolving technological system that, in general, is manifested as having either a benign or malignant Sentient-Artificial-Life, and or a new political system. While cyborg development remains a possibility, the various constraints posed by Cultural Warriors preempt it for all practical purposes.
The implications of an emergent evolving technological system in general and Sentient-Artificial-Life in particular, are momentous human events. From the perspective of maximizing cosmic evolvability, Sentient-Artificial-Life is the ultimate higher-level option and will become manifested at some point relatively soon. From our perspective, SAL poses the ultimate challenge: how to make it (them) not work against us and hopefully with and for us.
As much as we obsess over exploring outer space, we must be equally obsessive about consciously exploring, clarifying and directing the sociopolitical system’s evolution to a new and preferred higher-level system. Short of relinquishing this opportunity to maximize our evolvability, this is our only real option.
It is important to note, however, that the opportunity to direct our collective evolution and seize control of our evolutionary future is likely to be available to us only for a brief window in time. We need to act and successfully accomplish this task before a supercritical crisis management situation is upon us. In particular, a situation that accelerates changes resulting from an unwanted lateral- or lower- level option being imposed on us. Similarly, once a lateral level option is pursued the design and application of Sentient-Artificial-Life is virtually guaranteed to be malignant and we, as a species, are likely to be relegated, like so many other species, to a bygone era of cosmic history.
All this begs a new question: Collectively, do we have a passion to evolve?
This is fifth in a series of articles. Individually they will step you through the past, present, and future of the sociopolitical system and the options we are soon likely to confront.
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