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The future of the human race

In his recent post, Scott Adams envisions that just like in popular literature and movies, we will create a race of robots, which will eventually seek to destroy us. Then another race of half-robots-half-humans will come to existence and save humanity.

I do not fully agree with his prediction, but there is a little merit to it. Let me explain what my stance is.

You may disagree with what I am going to write and that’s understandable. The idea of annihilation by AI or robots is well-known and scary to most people. Yet I do not think that we are in danger, but rather that great opportunities lay ahead of us.

Human brain is a wonderful and quite complicated computing device. In the years to come we will get to know it much better and eventually we will figure out how it works, even though today our knowledge of its workings is very limited. Recently I’ve read an article about new discoveries how the neural networks in our brain work. What makes it so fault tolerant is that when single neurons fire, they are ignored. Moreover many neurons can randomly fire and nothing happens. But when information is incoming on the input receptors, such as eyes, ears or skin, all relevant neurons fire simultaneously and carry the information through the network like a wave. This is when the information processing and thought processes occur.

With further advances in nanotechnology and better understanding of the brain we will eventually be able to create brain prosthetics, implants and eventually convert a brain into a non-biological device. The procedure will probably consist of injecting nanobots into the blood stream. The tiny devices will reach the brain and will start replacing neurons with artificial devices. It is also possible that an implant could be installed under the skull and perform the procedure, but injection of nanobots will certainly be less invasive and injecting nanobots into the bloodstream to repair the body, perform medical procedures and diagnostics will likely be common by that time.

Eventually the brain will be fully converted into a non-biological device. It will still be connected to the rest of the body, all the inputs and outputs. It may still be taking energy from the bloodstream or heat, or a new infrastructure will be installed to power it. Possibilities for powering the artificial brain will be many.

The artificial brain will be much better in many aspects than a biological one. It will need less energy, so it will be more efficient, it will be much faster and it will not be susceptible to natural death. A person with an artificial brain will initially be the same as before, will think the same, will have the same personality, the same memories and feelings. It will be exactly the same person.

After a short period of time a person with an artificial brain will see significant improvements in the perception of the world, thinking processes, etc. The brain will adapt to its new capabilities. This process will have to be guided by a psychologist, because the person will become super smart over a few days, so the process of becoming a new being will be difficult and may lead to a collapse if not carefully controlled.

Having an artificial brain will open endless possibilities. A new engineering field will open up – brain programming. New programs will be created for artificial brains, programs which will enhance the owners of the brains immensely with mental abilities we can’t yet imagine. Of course the term programs may not be appropriate, since a brain is a mix of hardware and software.

At this point computers as we know will seize to exist. Nobody will use laptops and smartphones. There will be no need. Such primitive computing functionality will be easy to integrate directly with the brain and it may even happen before artificial brains are invented in the form of implants. This will also open a serious problem of brain hacking. To mitigate it, connectivity will be limited only to certain parts of the brain and special programs will run continuously to detect and shut off or reprogram compromised parts.

Learning will not be an issue anymore and will be effortless. It will be easy to store Wikipedia and beyond in the brain by just downloading the content directly to memory.

The size of the brain will be substantially reduced keeping the same functionality. Normally we don’t use all parts the brain, they are idle. Therefore it makes a lot of sense to compress and shut down the unused parts or programs of the brain. This will be easy with artificial brains. A brain of the size of a mouse’s will be no worse than a brain of an adult human. The added benefit of a small brain is that it requires less energy.

Mental abilities aside, it will be possible to swap bodies. Because the brain will now be artificial and will not rely on body chemistry, it will be simple to disconnect it and connect it to and artificial body instead. Some people may choose to freeze their original bodies, or simply leave certain portions of the brain which control the autonomous systems in the body. They will wear their artificial body to work and in the evening swap for the biological body to enjoy life.

Connecting brain with an artificial body will initially be difficult, due to the fact how the brain is wired. Our brain is used to the nerve system in our bodies, disconnecting it and connecting different kinds of inputs and outputs may result in a shock. Eventually programs will be created which will make this easy and it will just feel normal.

Having both and artificial brain and body will open new possibilities to us. Any kind of work will be possible. We will be able to live and thrive in any place of the world. We will be able to live in the depths of the oceans as well as the deserts and poles. Poverty and famine will disappear.

Artificial brains and bodies can be charged directly from the Sun. Notice that today we also take most of our energy from the Sun: we eat plants which take energy from the Sun, we eat animals who also eventually take their energy from the Sun just like us. We power our devices from the Sun as well – energy stored in coal and oil also originates from the Sun. According to Wikipedia typical efficiency of photosynthesis 3 to 6%. We will make it 30-50%. The skin on the artificial bodies will be able to extract energy directly from light. It will be sufficient to just stand in front of the Sun with open arms for 15 minutes a day – plenty of time to meditate or rest.

The sleep is an important piece of data acquisition. During sleep our brains sort the information and help us memorize what we learned during the day. Artificial brains will sleep as well, but they may as well sleep when we are performing other tasks. For example it will be possible to go to work and perform manual, repetitive labor while the part of the brain responsible for memory will be sleeping. Or we will just sleep when charging.

Ultimately we will be able to travel in space with unlimited acceleration and for unlimited periods of time. Artificial brains can be shut down for a very long time to avoid dying from boredom. Just like hibernation, but very easy to achieve. Artificial bodies will be crucial in going beyond the solar system. Biological bodies require very expensive and complicated life support systems, which are heavy and have a lot of mass, so require a lot of energy to accelerate them. The total mass needed to travel in space for biological beings is huge. Additional mass is needed for protection from radiation. Even more mass is needed to keep the bodies in shape, even if hibernation technology is invented. Even if all that extra mass was not necessary bodies are not able to withstand acceleration exceeding a few g. Therefore traveling in space is economically infeasible for biological species.

But artificial brains and bodies do not have these limitations. In fact a spaceship will be small, it may as well fit in a pocket. Thanks to brain compression technology a traveller will insert his compressed brain into the starship along with nanobots needed to rebuild the body at the destination. A small spaceship will not require as much energy to move and can accelerate very quickly. Traveling to distant stars an even galaxies will not be an issue. It will be as easy as downloading the plans of the spaceship from the Internet, building it with your own nanobots which are in the body and bon voyage!

The creatures with artificial brains and bodies will still be us, it will be our grandsons and granddaughters. However they will no longer be humans. They will be a new species, born on Earth, just like we are the children of this planet. Their goal will not be to annihilate us, just like it’s not our goal to destroy the life on Earth. They will look into the future and into the stars, they will be discoverers, thinkers and pilgrims. They will carry their legacy to other civilizations and join them in exploring the Universe.

Given the rapid evolution of our technology over the past few hundred years it is likely that this will happen soon. The pace of innovation is accelerating, more countries like India and China are helping us push science forward.

Likely it takes about a few thousand years for a civilization since the invention of basic technology and science to advance to the point at which they can turn themselves into a new species, leave their planet and explore the Universe. It’s a big jump and in the history of a planet it does not take long, but it takes a long time for evolution to get to this point.

Probably the Universe abounds with advanced civilizations. Sometimes species evolves far enough to create a civilization. Once this happens, it takes a few thousand years to become the citizens of the Universe. There are no limits how artificial bodies look and work, so they are very diverse, but in principle all intelligent species look the same regardless on which world they evolved. I suspect they mix their technologies and eventually you cannot tell where they originate from, it does not matter anymore which planet their ancestors came from. Just like today humans mix and especially in Western countries people have ancestors from all over the world.

We’re constantly asking ourselves if there are other civilizations. We’re trying to search for them. But it makes no sense, the probability of finding a civilization on the same level of advancement as ours is very, very low, because all civilizations quickly evolve into interstellar, non-biological beings. Likely these civilizations do not want to contact us just to see how we evolve and they give us the opportunity to get there on our own. These explorers may be sitting around for millennia undetected enjoying the history of our planet. Or maybe they are just coming by from time to time just for fun, visiting various distant worlds.

The idea of dropping biological brains and bodies may sound disgusting or mind boggling to you today. But the change will be gradual and will take many years. People will start switching to become better, smarter, less reliant on biological bodies, or perhaps just because its cool and interesting. Eventually there will be fewer and fewer people with biological brains. The sociology will come into play and those who don’t switch will be treated as stupid and old-fashioned. It will be OK to have a biological brain. It is unlikely that there will be wars because of this, wars do not make any sense and people with artificial brains will be intelligent enough to think of better things. People which will choose to keep their biological brains will use the technology to extend their bodies anyway, just like about everybody today has a cell phone. Children of people with biological brains will be more eager to switch though. Eventually all people with biological brains will die out. It may take a few hundred of years, but the new species will eventually supersede and replace humans.

Do not be afraid. The future awaits.

Categories: Universe
  1. 20.02.2013 at 15:55

    I personally want to know the reason you called this specific posting, “The future of the human race Chris Dragan’s Corner”. Either way I really loved the article!Thanks for your effort,Charity

  1. 27.12.2012 at 13:37

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