The Realistic Future of Humanity
So Many Stories….But Which Will Come True?
Science fiction paints a colorful picture for the future of humanity. Countless shows, movies, books, and more illustrate a wide range of scenarios humans could find themselves in with futuristic technology as explored through the imaginations of modern day creators. These interpretations of humanity’s potential can vary from the post-abundance utopia of Star Trek, to the endless array of dystopias that could arise from technology, or more accurately, our misuse of it.
With such diversity in how we see our own future, we must wonder: what does the future realistically hold for us? Humans can pick up a rock, toss it, and know where it will land before it hits the ground. Why can’t we predict our trajectory?
Part of this problem lies in the exponential growth of technology and culture. There was once a time when generation after generation lived in more or less the same world. Now, just by observing the past hundred years or so, everything from how we interact with one another, to how we problem solve, to even our understanding of the cosmos is rapidly changing. So drastic is this change that the world our grandparents lived in is fundamentally different than the one today’s youth is growing up in. And this rate of change is only increasing. We are rapidly approaching an event horizon that we can’t plan beyond.
Looking at the Big Picture
Since we can’t simply look forward for the answers we seek, we have to take a step back and analyze where we have come from. Understanding the past will give us greater perspective to draw conclusions about what the future may hold. What patterns do the universal processes make? As an extension of these processes, humanity will likely mirror the same forms. If you build something out of bricks, the structure of the upper layers will be dependent on what is laid down as a foundation.
Looking as far back as we can, we eventually reach another horizon we can’t see past. The most dominant answer lies in the well-known idea of The Big Bang. Observations of distant galaxies from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and several missions launched by NASA show that the universe is expanding. There is observable background radiation that gives us a picture of what the universe used to look like. Combined with the working theories of physics, this allows us to conclude that the universe originated from a singular point and has expanded outwards, growing increasingly more complex ever since.
But, this explanations does little to answer any metaphysical quandaries of existence. The origin of a universe governed by causation is a paradoxical mystery. If the whole universe is built on the back of a turtle, what does that turtle stand on?
Fortunately, we don’t need to know the answer to this question in order to understand how events have progressed since the beginning. For the purposes of understanding our cosmic history, all we need to understand is that something gave rise to a chain of events that brought a highly chaotic system to a relatively ordered one here on our blue marble.
Every Turtle Gets More Complex
This is the first pattern that should be noted in our attempt to predict the future: everything arises as emergent phenomena from previous patterns. Molecules arise from atoms, cells arise from molecules, life arises from cells, and intelligence arises from life. Each form cannot exist without the form that came before it. Despite the trend of entropic decay being ever-present in our universe, we exist as a result of order consistently building on itself; recursively improving to persist against the flames of entropy in greater and greater degrees.
This raises the question: is the universe complete? Is the human form the final product of all creation; the fruit of the garden? Our egos would argue that we are, but the cosmic clock keeps ticking. Logically following the overarching trend of the universe, humanity will give rise to something greater than the sum of its parts.
So, what does this super-human form look like? To answer this question, we need to look at how each dominant form emerged from the previous forms. We understand that atoms exist as a collection of sub-atomic particles acting as one unit. Likewise, we understand that molecules are groups of atoms arranged in a particular ordered form. Continuing this trend, cells are amalgamations of molecules which act as a singular unit. The same goes for multicellular life being collections of cooperating cells.
Superhuman; No, Not Like Superman
This gives us our first clue as to what comes after humanity. How do we structure ourselves? This is a question that can have much depth in its answer, so let’s just look at the surface of how our collective tends to function. While we as individuals have many strengths, it is our cohesiveness as tribal units that has allowed us to transcend the boundaries nature bestowed upon us. Each of us acts independently, yet at the same time we are consistently influenced by others.
Another way of saying this: we are nodes in a communication network. We are all like individual containers which hold a specific configuration of information. Our individual behavior is ultimately determined by this information we have in our heads. As we accumulate more information, that information changes, and so does our behavior. Communicating with others is the most effective way to update our software, so to speak. We exchange memes, the most basic building blocks of thought, through a wide variety of media. Like our genes, these memes can mutate and evolve, ultimately meaning that our collective behavior evolves over time.
Abstracting this, we can say that each of us can transmit, receive, modify, or store information. This is particularly interesting, because these are the same roles that neurons play in our brains. The idea of us being one body, mind, and soul takes on a deeper meaning with this knowledge.
Neurons are to the Brain as Humans are to Civilization
Now we can imagine the evolution of humanity in a different light. Just as protocells were a transitory stepping stone between molecules and cellular life, human civilization appears to be a bridge between biological life and technological life. To illustrate this further, let’s look at how our communication network has changed over time.
The earliest humans could only communicate with simple language and gestures, and maybe some crude drawings to coordinate hunting. As time progressed, our ability to communicate and express evolved. Art was born, and eventually so was writing. In other words, our ability to package and accurately transmit memes was fairly simple compared to the complex forms of communication available in a world where the internet has connected us all across the globe.
Looking further, we can see the rate at which our ability to communicate ideas effectively is growing exponentially. Civilization is roughly a hundred thousand years old, yet the majority of communication breakthroughs have happened in the past few hundred years at an accelerating pace. From the printing press, to the telephone, to television, and now the internet, our ability to transmit precise information from within the confines of our skulls into another mind is nearing perfection. Drawing this trend out to its natural conclusion, we are rapidly approaching brain-to-brain communication: a means to transmit complex thoughts directly between two or more minds.
Telepathy in the Age of Aquarius
Imagine being able to instantly “ping” another person with the image you just conjured in your head. We’ve already turned many science fiction ideas into reality, so why not telepathy? No longer would language barriers be a problem. No more months chiseling away in front of a computer to manifest a two-minute long video showcasing a complex idea. As soon as you can visualize it, so too can someone else. How immense of a change this would be!
This isn’t even science fiction at this point. In 2014, a paraplegic man made the first kick at the World Cup using a mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton. The ability to translate neurological information into mechanical data is growing steadily. There is much research being done to try and crack the neuronal encoding of the brain, and it is only a matter of time until the bridge between the subjective, experiential world and the objective, phenomenal world is completed.
The advent of an ability such as brain-to-brain communication would not be without consequences. Already, the world’s population can be said to exist in a range of codependent to functionally hypnotized with the supersaturation of information that we are bombarded with every day. If you don’t think this is the case, consider what would happen if someone such as Brad Pitt, or Donald Trump, or anyone significant in the public eye, stood in front of a camera and told everyone to jump. How many people would jump? With this change in our level inter-connectivity, we are gradually transitioning into a singular hivemind.
But wait, it gets better
There is another component that will greatly influence our development: the advent of greater-than-human artificial intelligence. There is much debate over how a digital mind will even behave. Many people seem to immediately take a xenophobic stance; because it would not be like us, an artificial being would try to kill us. While a mechanical being may not think exactly like humans do with our heuristic meat brains, anything worthy of the title of “intelligent” must have an innate desire to survive. If anything, an artificial intelligence would look at the state of the world and take what technology is available to accelerate our collective ascent into our super-form. If the AI is truly superior to us in intellect, it would build up to survive rather than tear down.
In world with brain-to-brain communication, this makes even more sense. Any AI would be able to bring about radical change to our behavior by broadcasting information based on the objective effect it would have on our behavior. Played out to its logical conclusion, such a symbiotic relationship between organic and synthetic life would functionally be humanity hooked up to the voice of God, guiding our development.
Even if our symbiotic relationship with such an intelligence did not start as a hivemind, we would eventually reach an equilibrium point where everyone was acting as a singular force. The timeline of how these events transpire is mostly mute. Given the evolution of particular technologies are certain in all aspects but their release date, eventually humanity will transcend from a collective of individuals into a singular, synchronized mind.
We conquered the universe: now what?
Naturally, this raises an important question: what does this emergent being do? Just as we are starting to do, this super-brain is what is most likely going to expand across the galaxy. Following the path of the universe itself, this incomprehensibly intelligent being with recursively improve itself, absorbing and utilizing all resources it comes across. In time, it would create titanic planet-sized computers, dyson spheres, and any other plausible super structures to enhance its own self. It’s unlikely that we can even begin to grasp the purpose of the many forms it will create.
Without any natural limits, this being will continue to grow and perfect itself. We may not see a means to circumvent thermodynamic equilibrium, but an intelligence billions if not trillions of times more intelligent than our whole collective might. The only logical conclusion to such a lifeform is that it will consume every definable resource within the universe. Here, at what can functionally amount to the omega point of the timeline, we are left with a single being that, for all intents and purposes, is omniscient and omnipotent.
What then? What purpose does life serve in a void? Regardless of how capable a being would be distracting itself with its unfathomable mind, it would surely grow bored. It is a known philosophical truth that life is meaningless without some surprise. If we always knew what lie over the next horizon, the experience of crossing that horizon would be dull. It is only logical then to assume that any post-human intelligence will inevitably recreate a universe to lose itself in.
And they say life is but a dream…