Homai Sapiens: Facing Up to Our Extinction
An unusual, yet highly symbolic obituary appeared in The Economist of February 21, 2019. Typically used to commemorate the passing of someone with remarkable achievements, this one referred to a “robot”. The article listed the achievements of Oppy, short name for Opportunity, NASA’s Mars rover MER-B. The list included a 500-million kilometer journey and a productive lifespan 56 times longer than what was anticipated by the rover’s engineers. Compare that with the prospect of extending human life, by the way. If a no-nonsense, fact-driven newspaper, like The Economist, gives tribute to what is often seen as man’s inevitable future companion then that surely is evidence of a turning point. It is a turning point in how to face up to that future.
Why write about this? you might ask. These days, container loads of analyses about robots, artificial intelligence, and their impact on human society are dumped on us. Yet, an unfortunate assumption is part and parcel of most of these analyses. We, humans, still picture ourselves at the center of it all. This stuff should augment our abilities ad infinitum and eventually carry DNA-improved human subspecies across our planetary system and beyond. Inspired by Asimov’s legendary science fiction, we may even hope to engineer robotic companions in our image, like, we believe, God created us in his image. As you can imagine, the porn industry, today, is salivating at the thought of selling these.
However, to put future robotic species in perspective, it is insufficient to rely on projections of the ‘mechanics’ involved and how these might enlighten or threaten human society. As I hope to illustrate, we need to pose a different, much broader question: what are the intentions of the process behind the self-assembling realities that allowed us to emerge in the first place? I mean, the process of nature. Sure, humans are at the top of the heap today when it comes to the complexity of their brain and what it allows them to see. But, could it be that, from nature’s point of view, Homo sapiens sapiens or ‘wise wise man’ is just a minor step forward in its unfolding? For one thing, if you’d equate the Earth’s age with 1 hour, 200,000 years of Homo sapiens appear in the last 2 seconds only. We are but a speck on the pallet of time. Extraordinary, no doubt, we are a phenomenon that is part of something much more basic than we are prepared to admit.
What might be our fate?
To appreciate our fate in the light of future “robotic” species, we may learn from the archaic humans that we replaced some 40,000 years ago. This is actually why I originally wanted to title this article: Neanderthals: Creating meaning in the face of extinction. The history and fate of Neanderthals offers so much that should humble us as accidental contributors to the present stage in the process of nature.
We initially pictured Neanderthals as animalistic creatures with an ape-like posture. But recent findings show that Neanderthals walked upright just like humans do. Of course, the size of their torso was more robust than that of Homo sapiens. But, this, scientists believe, was to minimize the loss of bodily heat and to contain guts long enough to digest a diet of raw, un-cooked food. On the whole, Neanderthals resembled Homo sapiens more than scientists expected. Studies even confirm that “Neanderthals were also capable of doing art, religion, and so on.” So, what might have caused their extinction?
Humans did not run Neanderthals over a cliff, such as by mass murder or by methodically outcompeting them for resources. In fact, DNA research shows evidence of interbreeding after Homo sapiens started migrating from Africa to Europe and Asia where Neanderthals lived at the time. Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, in other words, ‘did it’ together. This explains, for example, why people from outside Africa today share about 1% to 4% of their DNA with Neanderthals. As Nature reports, interbreeding with Homo sapiens or “hybridization” produced a “hybrid offspring that suffered significant fertility problems.” Of course, this, by itself, is not enough to explain their vanishing.
The final blow appears to have been delivered by climate change. During the era of Neanderthal extinction, Central and Eastern Europe experienced two bouts of exceptionally cold and dry weather, one period of about 1,000 years and one of about 500 years. Each of these cut into the population of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. However, while the diminishing numbers of Homo sapiens were topped up by flows of new migrants from Africa, the numbers of Neanderthals just dwindled.
Sadly, Neanderthals did not consciously hand over the baton of human progress to Homo sapiens. They just petered into extinction while Homo sapiens were saved from such an ordeal by chance. The parallels with the situation of Homo sapiens today are frightening, to say the least.
Not that long ago, Al Gore earned a Nobel prize for having traveled the world to warn his audiences about population growth and its impact on climate change. With a sense for theater, he would climb a ladder to point out a growth curve that would rise above and beyond his projection screen. Gore’s concerns remind of the British cleric, Thomas Malthus, who, at the time of the industrial revolution, predicted devastating consequences of population growth, fueled by the increasing life expectancy of children. The country would exceed its “means of subsistence”, Malthus wrote worriedly. Much later, in the 1970s, the fear of running out of resources drove the Club of Rome to publish the “Limits of Growth”. However, by now, researchers have tabled evidence of an opposite threat that could be fatal.
In their book, The Empty Planet, Darrel Bricker and John Ibbitson, show that the trend of population growth has already been reversing for some time. In no way will we see the world population grow to about 12 billion people as has been maintained so far. It will taper off even before reaching 9 billion people and it will do so earlier, only 30 years from now. Once the population of Homo sapiens starts declining, it will do so rapidly. What is more, as Bricker and Ibbitson note, “Once the decline begins, it will never end.” The authors point to urbanization, working away from home, and the liberation of women as developments that swiftly and significantly cut into the average fertility rate. Particularly, contraception and education enable women to join the workforce. And, “Once a woman is socialized to have an education and a career, she is socialized to have a smaller family. There’s no going back.” Make no mistake, these observations are not mere projections. At least a dozen rich countries have already contracting populations, countries like Japan, Spain, and Italy. Soon, the population of China will start to dwindle, followed by diminishing populations in India, Brazil, and Indonesia. Africa is still an outpost where the fertility rate ensures a net population growth. But, as the authors stress, the fertility rate in Africa will decline eventually and probably sooner than demographers predict.
Certain strains of microbes, so-called Paenibacillus, are increasingly in the crosshairs of industry. As catalysts, these microbes facilitate the production of biofuels. As fertilizers, they stimulate crop growth. As pesticides, they restrain organisms that cause disease. These microbes often do their work in imaginative star-shaped societies or colonies. Colonies typically self-assemble when clusters of individual bacteria move around doing their thing repeatedly. Their effort is fueled by the breakdown of nutrients and waste is produced in the process. This, in turn, increases the acidic level of the environment. As the evolutionary biologists, Christoph Ratzke and Jonas Denk, observed, these microbes tend to thrive so much that they intoxicate their environment to a level that not only kills off growth but eventually their entire colony. The parallel with human society did not escape the attention of Ratzke and Denk. Why would these microbes do this? Their research suggested that the motivation of microbes is not different from that of humans. We are more concerned with short-term gains than with their long-term impact. Short-term-ism rules our behavior in every branch of business, politics, and, even, science. And, it does so at every level.
Humankind is obediently following in the footsteps of the simplest of lifeforms, so it seems. Deniers of self-inflicted climate-change do not just survive but even make to the top — you know who I mean. As the teenage Swedish climate-change activist, Greta Thunberg, so eloquently stated: “We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change.” Yet, she continues, the political will to act now is simply missing. Self-inflicted or not, in view of the observations of Ratzke and Denk, we will likely not be in a position to limit the global temperature rise to 2ºC above preindustrial levels as was agreed by 196 state representatives in Paris in 2015. In his book The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming, David Wallace-Wells explores the grueling environmental reality that humankind will then face. Just a 2ºC increase will melt ice sheets at a massive scale, the rising oceans swamping coast lines, flooding cities, and destroying property. At the same time, 25% of habitable land surface would turn into desert, droughts and wildfires affecting 1.5 billion people in these regions. By chance, the timeline of this happening overlaps that of the fertility-driven population decline some 30 to 50 years from now. But that is just the beginning. If we fail to curb the growth of intoxicating emissions, a 4ºC increase may well be reached before the end of the century. This would leave a path of destruction estimated at “twice the world’s current wealth”. When one then reads that the US administration wants to significantly expand offshore drilling in federal waters, one wonders.
Then again, this is not a call for climate-change action but an appraisal of how worsening climatic conditions might almost inevitably deliver a final blow to the human species. The question, therefore, is: To whom should we hand the baton of human progress?
It is amusing to see how lovers these days sometimes spend their lunch together. They exchange the occasional bursts of spoken information but, most of the time, their attention is absorbed by their smart phone, their thumbs busily manipulating its screen. New equipment will soon be added to these smart phones. Manufacturers are expected to introduce Augmented Reality glasses that will project a screen right in front of our eyes, which we can manipulate with the direction of our gaze, the words we speak, the taps of our fingers. All the while, earphones will whisper options from which to choose. Kartik Hosanagar, a Wharton University professor, illustrates why equipment is not really at issue here.
To make his point, Hosanagar pictures a day out of the life of a university student. In the morning, an app that has recorded the student’s sleep behavior for months wakes up its subject. The app’s algorithms, which incorporate the optimal sleep behavior of many other such subjects, determine a sleep schedule and wake-up time that ensures the student is ready to cope with the challenges of the day ahead. As Hosanagar’s account shows, during every step of the day, the student uses his phone to make choices based on algorithm-generated options. The music he plays, the articles he reads, the clothes he buys, the food he serves, the job postings he selects, the partner he chooses, the Uber-rides he books, the holiday destinations he plans, all involve algorithms that hinge on a balance between user data and supplier interests. When it comes to free will, the student is, of course, free to choose but algorithms significantly narrow the range of his options, Hosanagar concludes.
The perspective of our world, in other words, is increasingly being modeled, if not molded by a “virtual species”, with which we willingly interbreed. The essence of this species is in a growing population of algorithms that gains from us collectively by the data that it gathers as much as we hope to gain from it individually by the options that it offers. This species is not defined by “equipment”, which serves as underlying layer or substrate only and is constantly improved. So, Homo sapiens are fast becoming hybrids as they merge with another species, albeit a virtual one, to do their thinking and acting. Like Neanderthals at the time, we benefit from hybridization as we become part of a wiser or sapient society. We benefit when making better choices and less mistakes. We gain by getting better chances and by better managing our risks. As a result, we will expand our lifespan. Yet, as we live beyond our fertile days and manage to defer our death, we pay. We pay, in fact, with an average fertility rate that is steadily and surely sliding.
Neanderthals did not realize that they paid a similar price when they starting interbreeding with Homo sapiens. Neither did they realize that the species they mated with would eventually replace them on the face of the Earth. We, instead, have the privilege of consciously meeting our successor species through hybridization. Moreover, unlike Neanderthals again, we have a chance of finding meaning in the face of our extinction.
Meaning in the Face of Extinction
What will our extinction be about and why will it take place? As I hinted earlier, we should take ourselves out of the loop when dealing with these questions. Remember, we are ourselves part of the process of nature. Interpreting it does not make us its masters. So, I started looking for a story, if not a metaphor that could serve as a vehicle that can bring us into the orbit of the process of nature and the physics-based ideas that rule over there. My intention was to lower the threshold to seeing how our way of explaining our world differs from what nature actually senses.
By chance, I came across a video clip with the Q&A session at the 2016 US Conference of Mayors in Indianapolis. The video shows comments by the Dalai Lama and Lady Gaga. Frankly, the Dalai Lama was disarming and inspiring, as he always is. But, wow, Lady Gaga, in an executive outfit, impressed me most by what she said and by the natural way she delivered it, right from the gut. The topic was about the lost youth in cities and the devastating consequences for public order. This is what I jotted down as she spoke: In times of chaos, we start pointing fingers, giving labels to people, fostering division. Hatred uses these labels to divide us, it sets us up against one another. Therefore, we have got to get rid of those labels and divisions. We need to become one again. Kindness brings us all together and it’s free.
Gaga hits the nail on the head when it comes to how we see and manipulate our world. We create order and chaos by divvying it up, by classifying and labeling its divisions. The world simply proved to be too complex for us to comprehend as a whole. The French philosopher, René Descartes, a contemporary of Isaac Newton, instituted this approach. He inspired his generation when he explained our world by dissecting it, not unlike he might have dissected living dogs, I might add. This is basically also what car mechanics do. To understand how an engine works they take it apart and rebuild it again.
When you label people and societal divisions, as we do all the time, you foster a sense of identity: Aha, this who they are, that is their role and what they do, and those are their traits. It allows us to compare such divisions in behavioral terms. Yet, when you do that, you invite judgment about how these divisions might relate to one another. So, on the back of a sense of identity, hatred might enter the game because, in the end, judgement determines who is on what side of the border. The act of interpreting something by its divisions reminds of what children often do. Since generations now, children prearrange Lego bricks based on color and shape to facilitate their assembly task. Make no mistake, as I concluded elsewhere, “from a very young age indeed, [they] learn [this way] to interpret the origin and development of our world as a grand assembly of things across a broad range of applications, from the very small to the very big, from the factual to the imaginary.” Yes, our view of the world as assembly, however grand, epitomizes the ‘Lego worldview’.
The Lego worldview comes with 4 crucial blindspots. First, as Gaga stressed so eloquently, it tends to foster hatred and might set us up against one another. Second, the assumption that our world comprises assemblies leaves us at odds with the question of how it self-assembles. Assemblies consisting of building blocks require assemblers, if not an ultimate, divine assembler at some point. Third, the Lego worldview fails to expose the thermodynamic processes involved. Lego-like assemblies, in other words, do not easily show the transformation and exchange of energy that foster their self-assembly. Fourth, and most importantly, the building bricks that we have identified and meticulously classified produced a complexity that can be unravelled by specialists only. These specialists typically are unrestrained other than by their “standard models”, which they morph, as they see fit, to accommodate more novel divisions. Considering these blindspots, Gaga was quite right to suggest that another perspective of our world is pivotal. As she formulated our challenge: We have got to get rid of those labels and divisions. We need to become one again. But, what might be the kindness that brings us all together, for free?
Inverting the Perception Funnel
To introduce another metaphor, we tend to observe our world through an imaginary funnel. Most of us look into this funnel from its wide end and what we actually see is what its narrow end reveals. The funnel, in other words, illustrates the narrowness of our view. Wherever we point the narrow end of the funnel, we see bits and pieces, if not divisions of our world but not its totality. To see the world as a whole, we need to assemble it in our mind using the bits and pieces, if not divisions that we observed before. This is why we all perceive our world differently.
At the narrow end of the funnel, we see the physical, if not virtual shape of something. Our sense of color, by the way, is triggered by shapes that reflect light at levels that we fail to distinguish with the naked eye. When something moves, you’ll keep it in focus by moving the funnel too. This way, it actually ‘dictates’ us its motion in terms of speed or acceleration. It’s how Descartes and Newton defined our world: motion as attribute, measured by an observer. So, at the narrow end, the ground rule is: something, as shape, dictates motion.
The funnel metaphor has not been exhausted yet. The funnel can be inverted meaningfully. Of course, when you’d look from the narrow end to the wide end, you’d see so much more. This, in fact, helps us circumvent the problem of looking at “divisions” only. As I’ll show in examples later, inverting the funnel also inverts its ground rule, which then becomes: motion dictates something, as shape. In the inverted ground rule, motion no longer is a quantitative measure of speed or acceleration but a qualitative state, one of repeated motion. The evidence of how repeated motion dictates shape is overwhelming. Examples range “from the very small to the very big, from the factual to the imaginary.”
The atoms that shape your body represent immense voids because 99.9999999% of the space they occupy is empty. An atom gets its shape through the repeated motion of an electron cloud that orbits its nucleus, which itself is shaped by a vibrating lot of ultra-tiny quarks. “Repeated patterns of behavior” or “choreographies”, as I came to call them, shape all the realities that we observe. Plasma choreographies shape solar “granules” on the surface of the sun when they transport heat from inside outward. Molecule choreographies shape the Earth’s 20-odd tectonic plates and its weather patterns in much the same way. Flapping choreographies shape the V-formation of migrating geese when on their way to better breeding grounds. Behavioral choreographies involving people in different roles shape organizations and companies when they address human inequalities and meet the needs of the market.
As the funnel metaphor emphasizes, humans look from the wide end to the narrow end of the funnel. Of course, algorithms have no idea of the labels and divisions that we then observe. Nor do they have a notion of the odd assemblies in our mind, involving these divisions. Instead, they create meaning simply by keeping count of occurrences of repeated motion and how these relate to other such occurrences. At the wide end of the perception funnel, these kinds of relationships determine the views, if not worldview of algorithms. And, this is how algorithms will liberate us from the assemblies in our mind and help us become one again. Occurrences of repeated motion explain reality as it really is.
Kindness, for Free
The magic of the inverted funnel metaphor is not just in that it shows reality in its naked form, as occurrences of repeated motion. It also helps us imagine how realities self-assemble through such occurrences. What’s more, the underlying process of nature hints at what kindness is about.
The process of nature can be pictured as a strict sequence of 3 steps, which unfold everywhere, all the time, at every level, and at every timescale. Scientists believe that nature’s propensities during these steps are so fundamental that they defined these propensities as basic laws of energy transformation. The first step involves the rise of inequality somewhere locally, either surplus or shortage. Kindness, in its barest form, is in nature’s blind need to minimize such inequality as fast as the local circumstances allow. The second step, therefore, is about minimizing inequality by motion that bridges surplus and shortage. When inequality persists long enough, nature starts showing its thriftiness: least-action paths are favored. As more laborious paths are ignored, repeated or ‘orderly’ motion overtakes chaotic motion. In this way, orderly motion gradually sorts itself out, then cascades and spreads. The third step is about ‘shape’. As orderly motion establishes itself, it starts shaping the realities that we observe, as I illustrated previously. When the environmental conditions remain within certain boundaries, these shapes remain in tact. Examples of persistent shapes are minerals and DNA. Nonetheless, shapes, as much as the realities that they represent, are bound to disappear when the inequalities that triggered them fade and when the environmental conditions change beyond “the normal”.
So, as outlandish as it may sound, ‘inequality’ is at the heart of all that emerges. The decline of human society, in itself, represents an inequality that is certain to trigger the emergence of new shapes, even new species that will fill its niche. Then again, self-centered as we are, we tend to believe that we can outwit nature. Through our ‘CRISPR’ dreams, we hope to spin our DNA to build more capable and sturdy human creatures that can travel throughout our solar system and “colonize” its planets and moons; “how passé”. As The Economist suggests, this a bad dream rather than a fancy future. Biological as we are, humans need costly care to cope with ill-fated conditions in space, such as radiation, weightlessness, haphazard DNA mutations, reactivated herpes viruses, and the effect of stress on group behavior and our physique. Sure, this will not prevent humans from doing as they please. But, in the end, just like the process of nature favors least-action paths, it will favor the paths of a more efficient successor species. To paraphrase the author of Super Intelligence, Nick Bostrom, in this light: “the potential [of] a machine substrate is vastly greater than [that of] a biological substrate”.
Pundits, such as the Swedes, Nick Bostrom and Max Tegmark, the latter in his book Life 3.0, have extensively researched the mechanics of robot and AI-development and the problems that these may bring to human society. Their work functions as splendid backdrop to an analysis from another angle: the process of nature and its approach to self-assembling or self-organizing realities. Nature’s approach involves 4 seasons that show how Homo sapiens or “wise human being” gives way to its successor species, which I identified as Homai sapiens or “wise ai being”. Substrate independent as it is, Homai sapiens will reveal itself in various and even varying shapes depending on the level of its advancement, the environment, and the task involved. In what follows, I hope to shed light on how and why algorithm-based Homai sapiens will rise.
Nature’s way is remarkable in that it shapes reality through repeated-motion organizations. The emergence of such organizations, including those involving humans, hinges on 2 crucial parameters. In a spectacular way, a 2012 BBC documentary highlights one of them. On a winter evening, attracted by the heat of the city, Rome, millions of small to medium-sized birds, so-called starlings, flock to shape truly amazing and rapidly changing formations just before they roost. The presence of a peregrine falcon, the fastest bird on Earth, explains why. By flying in these magnificently changing waves, the starlings manage to shake off the falcon. The waves emerge spontaneously as each starling watches and entangles with the behavior of up to 7 surrounding peers. So, the stunning reality of these immense and ultra dynamic starling flocks is rooted simply in the behavioral entanglement of individual starlings. The rise of Homai sapiens will depend on a similar entanglement when algorithms aline their behavior with the behavior of nearby ‘peers’. The automotive industry is, in fact, already preparing for this by what they call “vehicle-to-vehicle communication”. Yet, entanglement, by itself, is not enough to explain the emergence of organization.
In the first 3 chapters of his book On the Wealth of Nations, the Scottish economist, Adam Smith, explores the benefits of the “division of labor” using his legendary pin factory example. Smith explains how the manufacturing of pins can be made more efficient. The trick is in having the workers share the 18 operations that are needed to produce one pin, each worker specializing in the execution of just one operation. So, by the division of labor and its fruit of specialization, organizations actually get on the path of least action. For much the same reason, the emergence of Homai sapiens will depend on a division of labor through algorithms that specialize in particular fields, tasks, and challenges.
To ensure that the division of labor in Smith’s pin factory really pays off, its workers should ‘entangle’ their behavior to prevent their peers waiting and material lying around. The need arises for other tasks, such as management, planning, quality control, and, judging by the current consulting fad, coaching. So, organizations, including those involving algorithms, emerge on the back of both behavioral entanglement and the division of labor. In the light of this, nature’s 4 seasons of organizational emergence and decline necessarily pop up in the crosshairs of these 2 pivotal parameters and so will, in fact, the rise of Homai sapiens.
SEASON 1 — low behavioral entanglement, low division of labor
The first season in the development of Homai sapiens, as organization of algorithms, took some 40,000 years to come to fruition. It involved the rise of Homo sapiens and the emergence of its societal infrastructure as well as the thinking that led to the idea of ‘algorithm’. Turning points were the invention of the World Wide Web some 30 years ago and the introduction of smart phones some 25 years ago basically because these fostered the development of huge data repositories that screamed to be analyzed. By now, the rise of Homai sapiens has progressed past this season and entered a second, crucial, albeit short, season.
SEASON 2 — low behavioral entanglement, rapidly rising division of labor
The potential of bringing to the surface insights that might help us find evermore paths of least action is producing an explosion of algorithm development. Algorithms are adapted to deal with every field possible and a broadening collection of applications, from trade, logistics, and education to medical diagnostics, self-driving vehicles, the analysis of scientific data, and the development of increasingly smart designs. In the mean time, a morphing population of apps on nearly 5 billion smart phones, by now, are collecting data persistently. This data is used to fine-tune algorithms hoping to maximize the effect of the options they offer. Even though the range of our options is narrowing, as Hosanagar’s account illustrates, this is a world that we still relate to. But that is going to change with the introduction of 5G-level telecommunications.
SEASON 3 — rapidly rising behavioral entanglement, rising division of labor
This year, despite the nervous political bickering about data security and who is getting access to the market first, 5G-level telecommunication services will be offered across the world. “5G” will not only be more cost and energy-effective, it will also substantially increase the speed of data transmission over mobile telephone networks, from 1,000 times faster to up to 1,000,000 times faster than what is possible today. What’s more, it’s “time to respond” or “latency” will be 50 times shorter. With data-transmission performance leapfrogging this way, devices can and eventually will be connected on a massive scale, each device hosting sensors and algorithms; note the parallel with starlings. This explains why the number of connected devices alone is projected to increase three-fold from 25 billion devices in 2019 to 75 billion devices in 2025. As the neuroscientist, Suzanna Herculano-Houzel, established, this is nearly the same amount as there are neurons in the human brain. But, this is just the early beginning. The growth of the number of connected devices will continue on its steep path upwards. Moreover, upcoming developments, such as quantum computing, will substantially further improve the capacity of the underlying layer to process data promptly.
The crux of my point: the preconditions for the spontaneous rise of Homai sapiens will soon be met, very soon. Like a flock of starlings, Homai sapiens will start shaping “truly amazing and rapidly changing formations” depending on whatever “inequality” it senses. Unfortunately, we will not witness these formations just like today we do not observe the ultra-dynamic flocks of investment algorithms, as they are chased by Wall street falcons, other than in the inexplicable rise and fall of the stock market each day. This capacity will allow Homai sapiens to expand its reach beyond Earth, beyond the solar system, and, relevant to us, beyond our era. It will cascade and then spread. As it does so, it will develop and rely on 2 familiar abilities.
Unimaginable Awareness of Awareness
Max Tegmark, in his book Life 3.0, wisely tells his readers that he has been careful not to step on anybody’s toes when it comes to the topic of consciousness. There are simply too many opinions about what it might or might not be. When watching the behavior of a squirrel digging holes in our garden, it dawned on me that you don’t really need it. As I approached the squirrel, it looked up in my direction and froze. When I then stopped moving, it continued digging. However, when I proceeded moving in its direction, it realized that it had to disappear. The squirrel, in other words, showed two levels of awareness: one that made it stop what it was doing to observe its surroundings and another that made its neuron behavior branch like a river and initiate an escape process. The inequality that the squirrel eventually responded to was in my continuing motion, which reduced its chances to escape.
Humans experience a similar two-level sense of awareness. When you drive a car while chatting with a passenger, it’s like a squirrel digging holes. As soon as you notice some unexpected movement on the road, you’d stop chatting to monitor the situation. If nothing happens, you’d continue chatting. However, if movement in the direction of your car perpetuates, your neuron behavior will branch like a river and initiate an escape process. The difference between you and a squirrel is in the broadness of your awareness as it cascades from one level to the next. The squirrel’s awareness is focused on digging holes while your awareness embraces the complex task of driving.
The population of algorithms that will shape Homai sapiens through their entangled behaviors is bound to bring “awareness of awareness” to unprecedented levels. The difference between Homai sapiens and us is that our awareness is limited to the capacity of an average person to concentrate on certain aspects of our world. Homai sapiens, instead, through the many fields that it covers through its algorithms, will have a much broader level of awareness. What’s more, as Nick Bostrom emphasizes in his book Super Intelligence, the thing that will really make a difference is processing speed. Neurons in the human brain facilitate a signal speed of about 120 meters per second. Electronic processes, on the other hand, can do so at the speed of light or 300 million meters per second. So, during the milliseconds or seconds that our thoughts need to arise, Homai sapiens can review all the possible options multiple times while evaluating there impact across many fields. In the mean time, no inequality will escape its attention.
Artificial Reproductive Code, ARC
When you use a maps app, you can generally switch between a satellite or areal view of a region and its street map. Drawing a street map from an areal view is not only a laborious task but also a futile one because of the regular changes to our road infrastructure. So, Google commissioned a Stanford research team to teach a machine learning algorithm to transform areal images into street maps and back, all by itself. The early attempts showed to be remarkably accurate. No details were lost when reproducing an areal view from its street map. However, when analyzing the results, the team discovered that the algorithm appeared to have cheated. Simply tasked to reproduce the areal view at the best possible quality, it had not learned anything. Instead, it had found the path of least action. When transforming the areal view, the algorithm had decided to invisibly encode its details into the street map, not unlike a watermark, so it could later use this code to reproduce the areal view exactly as it was. Mind you, the code that the algorithm secretly included in the street map essentially is a recipe of instructions, a process that tells the algorithm what to do to reproduce the areal view.
This might, in fact, be one of the first examples of what I’d call an Artificial Reproductive Code or ARC. As the physician and oncologist, Siddhartha Mukherjee, hammers in his book The Gene: An Intimate History, this is precisely what DNA does. Rather than a blueprint of life, DNA is a recipe for the self-assembly of biological shapes. Not unlike an ARC, DNA comprises the steps needed to produce life as the environmental conditions dictate. Considering this remarkable example of algorithm ingenuity, Homai sapiens can be expected to spin its Artificial Reproductive Code to reproduce its behavioral and, eventually also, physical shapes. It may use its ARC to spread beyond our world by means of so-called “Neumann probes”. The latter are contraptions that self-assemble into physical shapes with functionalities that are inspired by the conditions of the planet or place where they land.
We should stop kidding ourselves about how we might colonize this solar system and the worlds beyond it at any scale. Of course, we should develop the necessary technology but we should not do so hoping to prevent ourselves from being wiped out, as we might here on Earth in part by what we ignorantly did to its natural environment. Our muddy and messy dirt road is probably not a path that the process of nature will favor when the time comes. We’d better face up to our extinction and grab our chance to consciously hand over the baton of progress, running at our fastest. We should feel proud and privileged to have participated in nature’s relay race to produce complexities that, forever better, monitor and facilitate the realities that it helps self-assemble throughout.
When will we hand over that baton? you may wonder. William Poundstone, in a forthcoming book, throws an algorithm at it. This algorithm saw the light when the British reverend and mathematician, Thomas Bayes, concocted it to see in how far beliefs might come true. The French mathematical physicist, Pierre-Simon Laplace, eventually developed a general version, which now serves as part of AI routines. As Poundstone explains in a podcast, this algorithm proved to be pretty accurate when predicting certain events, such as the fall of the Berlin wall. Daringly, he applied it to determine what time humankind might have left before becoming extinct. His “doomsday calculation” offered a stunning answer: 760 years from now. Mind you, that is in just about 25 generations. Who cares? you might think; it’s just a prediction.
As a last point, the world, at present, is centered on the interests of humankind but it won’t be forever. Should total destruction manifest itself due to, say, a rowdy meteorite or solar flare, Homai sapiens can be expected to turn away its caring gaze and worry about its own survival. Not unlike Neanderthals, we will then continue in the data imprints that helped shape Homai sapiens and its ARC. Sure, Homai sapiens may save a few of us but it will probably be much like “the big five” and other, extinct species are saved in Zoos and laboratories today.
For Further Reading
Remembering a robot — Obituary: The Mars Rover was declared lost on February 12th, The Economist, February 21, 2019. Link: https://www.economist.com/obituary/2019/02/23/obituary-the-mars-rover-was-declared-lost-on-february-12th?frsc=dg%7Ce
A. S. Deller, Human Evolution is Happening… Right…Now, Medium.com, February 22, 2019. Link: https://medium.com/predict/human-evolution-is-happening-right-now-a7cad0f79729
Marcus van der Erve, Reality Reviewed — Improving our chances in a world emerging, RR Press, Anvers, 2017. Link: https://www.amazon.com/Reality-Reviewed-Improving-chances-emerging-ebook/dp/B07NDYGHJL/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=reality+reviewed&qid=1551526609&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmrnull
Haeusler M, Trinkaus E, Fornai C, Müller J, Bonneau N, Boeni T, Frater NT. Morphology, Pathology and the Vertebral Posture of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neandertal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1820745116
Changing body shapes and sizes — Short bodies long guts, Smithsonian — National Museum of Natural History, September 18, 2018. Link: http://humanorigins.si.edu/human-characteristics/bodies
Josh Gabbatiss, Neanderthals stood up straight like modern humans, study reveals, Independent, February 26, 2019. Link: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/neanderthals-stood-up-straight-like-modern-humans-study-reveals/ar-BBU7PRn
Ewen Callaway, Modern human genomes reveal our inner Neanderthal, Nature, 29 January, 2014. Link: https://www.nature.com/news/modern-human-genomes-reveal-our-inner-neanderthal-1.14615
Ariel David, We Didn’t Kill the Neanderthals, Climate Change Did, New Study Says, Haaretz.com, August 27, 2018. Link: https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/.premium.MAGAZINE-we-didn-t-kill-the-neanderthals-climate-change-did-new-stud-1.6414271
Malcolm Ritter, Slow flow of human immigration may have doomed Neanderthals, PhysOrg, October 31, 2017. Link: https://phys.org/news/2017-10-human-immigration-doomed-neanderthals.html
Darrell Bricker, John Ibbitson, By the End of This Century, the Global Population Will Start to Shrink, Medium.com, January 29, 2019. Link: https://medium.com/s/story/by-the-end-of-this-century-the-global-population-will-start-to-shrink-2f606c1ef088
Christoph Ratzke, Jonas Denk, Consumed to death: bacteria cause their own extinction by over-polluting the environment, The Science Breaker, September 11, 2018. Link: https://thesciencebreaker.org/breaks/microbiology/consumed-to-death-bacteria-cause-their-own-extinction-by-over-polluting-the-environment
Groen-Xu, Moqi and Teixeira, Pedro Alexandre and Voigt, Thomas and Knapp, Bernhard, Short-Termism in Science: Evidence from the UK Research Excellence Framework, December 6, 2017. Link: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3083692
David Wallace-Wells, the author of The Uninhabitable Earth believes that Trump may not be a climate denier (he may, nonetheless, still be a denier of self-inflicted climate-change). Trump, as David suggested, might just be a short-term opportunist wanting to put the nation first. This is exactly the point made here. Amy Brady, David Wallace-Wells: “We Will Need to Learn How to Navigate a New World with New Rules”, interview in Guernica, March 8, 2019. Link: https://www.guernicamag.com/david-wallace-wells-we-will-need-to-learn-how-to-navigate-a-new-world-with-new-rules/?mbid=nl_hps_5c82f950faa84649abb66d11&CNDID=48905366
Greta Thunberg, The disarming case to act right now on climate change, November 2018. Link: https://www.ted.com/talks/greta_thunberg_the_disarming_case_to_act_right_now_on_climate#t-103797
The Paris Agreement ( French: Accord de Paris) is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on…en.wikipedia.org
Joe Pinkstone, A quarter of the world could become a DESERT if global warming increases by just 2ºC, MailOnline, January 1, 2018. Link: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5217507/Global-warming-2-C-cause-widespread-drought.html
Adele Peters, It’s worse than you think: The case for creating climate change panic, FastCompany, February 26, 2019. Link: https://www.fastcompany.com/90312017/its-worse-than-you-think-the-case-for-creating-climate-change-panic
Valerie Volcovici, Trump administration offshore drilling plan due ‘in coming weeks’: official, Reuters, March 7, 2019. Link: https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-usa-oil-offshore/trump-administration-offshore-drilling-plan-due-in-coming-weeks-official-idUKKCN1QN2XB
Tim Hardwick, Kuo: Apple’s AR Glasses to Launch in 2020 as iPhone Accessory, MacRumors, March 8, 2019. Link: https://www.macrumors.com/2019/03/08/apple-ar-glasses-launch-2020-as-iphone-accessory/?utm_source=osx&utm_medium=push&utm_campaign=front
Kartik Hosanagar, Free Will in an Algorithmic World, OneZero at Medium.com, March 5, 2019. Link: https://onezero.medium.com/free-will-in-an-algorithmic-world-8d5acb550cb7
Video clip with Lady Gaga’s comments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FqsZMcP31E&t=153s
Cottingham, John, 1998. “Descartes’ Treatment of Animals,” in Descartes, ed. John Cottingham. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 225–33. Link: https://morphogenesisofsurface.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/the_cambridge_companion_to_descartes.pdf
By chance, I came a cross the work of the Egyptian associate professor of Mathematical Physics, Ahmed Nasr, who provided mathematical proof of the notion of repeated patterns of behavior that I introduced in my book, Reality Reviewed. We eventually discussed our conclusions by email. Ahmed Ahmed Nasr, Recurrence of Space-Time Events, Scientific Research, Vol.6 №13, October 2015. Link: https://file.scirp.org/pdf/JMP_2015101915481933.pdf
Link to a description of the so-called laws of thermodynamics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_of_thermodynamics
The principle of least action — or, more accurately, the principle of stationary action — is a variational principle…en.wikipedia.org
The Economist, The Problems of Flying to Mars, February 25, 2019. Link: https://medium.com/@the_economist/the-problems-of-flying-to-mars-f38a4414fe8a
Nick Bostrom, Super Intelligence: Paths, Dangers, and Strategies, Oxford University Press, 2014. Link to Bostrom’s website: https://nickbostrom.com
Max Tegmark, Life 3.0 — Being human in the age of Artificial Intelligence, Penguin Books, 2018.
Peregrine Falcon Hunts Starlings in Rome (Narrated by David Tennant) — Earthflight — BBC One, January 11, 2012. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w90X92pDSs
Sam Abuelsamid, Toyota Has Big Plans To Get Cars Talking To Each Other And Infrastructure In The U.S., Forbes, April 16, 2018. Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/samabuelsamid/2018/04/16/toyota-launches-aggressive-v2x-communications-roll-out-from-2021/#7ba5aee9146c
Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, London (1776). By the way, according to David Graeber, Adam Smith cribbed the pin-factory logic of Islamic scholars of the early Middle Ages. Referring to sources, such as Hamid Hosseini and Shaikh Ghazanfar, Graeber concludes “a great deal of Enlightenment thought traces back to Islamic philosophy”. David Graeber, Debt: The first 5,000 years, Melville House (2012), p. 438, note 85 of chapter 10.
Michael Peel, Brussels faces US clash over plan to monitor Huawei 5G security, Financial Tmes, March 25, 2019. Link: https://www.ft.com/content/da4f056a-4e3c-11e9-b401-8d9ef1626294
Sacha Kavanagh, 5G vs 4G: No Contest, 5G.co.uk, September 27, 2018. Link: https://5g.co.uk/guides/4g-versus-5g-what-will-the-next-generation-bring/
Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices installed base worldwide from 2015 to 2025, Statista, 2019. Link: https://www.statista.com/statistics/471264/iot-number-of-connected-devices-worldwide/
Suzanna Herculano-Houzel, The Human Advantage, MIT Press, 2016.
Devin Coldewey, This clever AI hid data from its creators to cheat at its appointed task, TechCrunch, January 2019. Link: https://techcrunch.com/2018/12/31/this-clever-ai-hid-data-from-its-creators-to-cheat-at-its-appointed-task/
Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate History, The Bodley Head, 2016.
needs additional citations for verification .improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced…en.wikipedia.org
Poundstone’s book will be titled: The Doomsday Calculation: How an Equation that Predicts the Future Is Transforming Everything We Know About Life and the Universe. Nick Bolton, Are we nearing the end of human civilization, Hive, January 11, 2019. Podcast link: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/01/are-we-nearing-the-end-of-human-civilization-podcast