Chief Mentor, Acadinnet Education Services India Pvt.
To understand the post-industrial world of the millennials and the challenges and opportunities it presents is yet another chapter in the evolution of Homo sapiens. It will force humanity to reassess the meaning of life, its place and significance in the Universe, and above all its ability to survive in a world that includes its own creative creation – the super-intelligent, human-machine hybrid – the humanoid. The role of natural humans and humanity’s faith in spirituality if humanoids take charge will undergo a sea-change. The millennials’ ability to adapt to the new world by competing against the humanoids will face severe limitations and may even lead to Homo sapiens becoming an endangered species within a century. A biological evolution of intelligent life is waiting to happen, triggered by the Homo sapiens’ curiosity-driven quest to understand the Universe within a rational, axiomatized framework.
Keywords: Artificial intelligence, post-industrial economy, millennials, rationalism.
Recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and biotechnology are nothing short of sensational in terms of the conceptual barriers they have overcome. In the last few years they have garnered a list of achievements and synergistic integration that clearly indicate that Homo sapiens are in for an unprecedented upheaval in their life–the loss of their vaunted intellectual supremacy on Earth and the rising role of humanoids in human affairs. This change will likely happen within a century if Kurzweil’s predictions about the future of AI come true (given his track record, it most likely will). Kurzweil, the author of The Singularity is Near1 predicts: “By 2029, computers will have human-level intelligence.”2 He also says the future will provide opportunities of unparalleled human-machine synthesis. In a communication to Futurism, Kurzweil said:
2029 is the consistent date I have predicted for when an AI will pass a valid Turing test and therefore achieve human levels of intelligence. I have set the date 2045 for the `Singularity’ which is when we will multiply our effective intelligence a billion-fold by merging with the intelligence we have created.3
To this we add an observation by Richard Ogle in his book, Smart World:
[I]n making sense of the world, acting intelligently, and solving problems creatively, we do not rely solely on our mind’s internal resources. Instead, we constantly have recourse to a vast array of culturally and socially embodied idea-spaces that populate the extended mind. These spaces … are rich with embedded intelligence that we have progressively offloaded into our physical, social, and cultural environment for the sake of simplifying the burden on our own minds of rendering the world intelligible. Sometimes the space of ideas thinks for us.4
This smart world also faces unprecedented demographic changes due to variations in mortality, life expectancy, and a youthful population in countries where fertility is high. Overcrowding on Earth is a recent phenomenon. In the next three or four decades, the overall population of the more developed countries is likely to stagnate at about 1.3 billion (see Fig. 1.1). Their population is ageing and would decline but for migration. The populations of Germany, Italy, Japan, and several states of the former Soviet Union that broke away are also expected to decline by 2050.5 The world’s flexibility to cope with such unprecedented socio-economic changes is untested. Hence the millennials are expected to face unprecedented challenges and novel opportunities in the future. It will force humanity to reassess the meaning of life, its place and significance in the Universe, and above all its ability to survive in a world that includes its own creative creation – the super-intelligent, human-machine hybrid – the humanoid. The role of natural humans (the Homo sapiens) and humanity’s faith in spirituality if humanoids take charge will undergo a sea-change. Humanity’s ability to adapt to the new world by competing against humanoids will be severely tested and may even lead to the Homo sapiens becoming an endangered species within a century. A biological evolution of intelligent life is waiting to happen, triggered by the Homo sapiens’ quest to understand the Universe not according to the scriptures but according to science.
2 Life on Earth
Life on Earth began some 3.8 billion years ago with single-celled prokaryotic cells, such as bacteria, evolving to multi-cellular life over a billion years. It is only in the last 570 million years that life forms we are familiar with began to evolve, starting with arthropods, followed by fish 530 million years ago (Mya), land plants 475 Mya, and forests 385 Mya. Mammals evolved around 200 Mya, and Homo sapiens (the species to which we humans belong evolved from Homo erectus)6 arose only a mere 300,000 years ago.7 Up until 2.4 billion years ago, there was no oxygen in the air. There is still much to learn about the Homo sapiens.8 Their origin is vastly different from what various religions tell us. They were not made by God in His own image; they evolved to their present image and they are still evolving in unknown ways. One day, the Homo sapiens will become the ancestor species of one or more species. No religion has ever alluded to that.
On the biological front, Darwin’s theory9 of evolution of life was a remarkable eye-opener. He posited that all life is related and that it descended from a common ancestor: the birds and the bananas, the fishes and the flowers, the animals and the Homo sapiens, etc. It presumes life developed from non-life and that complex creatures evolve from less complex ancestors naturally and over time through a random process of adaptation via “descent with modification” in which random genetic mutations occur within an organism’s genetic code; the beneficial mutations that aid an organism to survive are thus passed on to the next generation while the weaker organisms die and are eliminated from breeding–a process known as “natural selection” or survival of the fittest in a given environment. Over time, enough beneficial mutations accumulate to trigger a phase transition and an entirely different organism (not just a variation of the original) comes into existence. The supporting evidence for Darwin’s theory of evolution comes from morphological similarity among organisms (suggesting shared descent), and that living species are similar to recent related fossils. The fossil record is good and large enough for us to see relatives of clearly different species in it.10
Evolutionary biology by itself does not necessarily imply that God does not exist. But it admits the plausible view: “If God does exist, however, existing is about the only thing He has ever done. God is permanently unemployed, if, in the entire history of life, impersonal material forces were capable of doing the whole job and did do it. So if one attempts to hold a view of God as creator, it is a very attenuated view and one which tends to fade away into unreality.”11 There is still much to learn about the nature of biological diversity and its complexity. We do not yet know how genetic information, as encoded in the DNA, came into existence to start life out of single-celled predecessors. That this is what happened millions of years ago is a reasonable scientific conjecture not yet refuted. Man learnt thousands of years ago how to accelerate the natural evolution process through selective breeding, i.e., by reducing randomness in the selection process, say, dogs with specific characteristics (e.g., size, body color, hair type, demeanor, etc.) or plants modified to taste, made sturdier, etc., within a few thousand years rather than hundreds of millions of years that natural selection would take. Early human-engineered breeding practices have now advanced to an extent where we can clone living organisms and directly modify a living or dead organism’s DNA or even ab initio design DNA to create new organisms in the lab. We call it biotechnology, the core of which is genetic engineering. Creation of living matter is no longer a mystery, but how non-living matter gets turned into life and vice-versa is still a mystery.
[ 1 ] Kurzweil (2005).
[ 2 ] Fox News (20170316).
[ 3 ] Galeon & Reedy (2017). “Of his 147 predictions since the 1990s, Kurzweil claims an 86 percent accuracy rate.”
[ 4 ] Ogle (2007).
[ 5 ] See, e.g., UNPF (2017).
[ 6 ] Davis (2018). Homo erectus had bodies similar to modern humans, could make tools, and were possibly the first to cook. They may have been mariners and possibly had a language. They first appeared in Africa more than 1.8 mya and were the first archaic human species to leave the continent.
[ 7 ] BBC (2018). See also: SNMNH (2018b).
[ 8 ] Maropeng (20100409). See also: Berger (2015); Berger & Hawks (2017); Greshko (2017) (“After adding Homo naledi to the human family tree, researchers reveal that the species is younger than it seems. … Lee Berger–provides an age range for the [fossil] remains first reported in 2015: between 236,000 and 335,000 years old.”); Barras (2017a) (“The past 15 years have called into question every assumption about who we are and where we came from. Turns out our evolution is more baffling than we thought.”); Barras (2017b) (“Lee Berger’s stunning discoveries of huge caches of ancient bones are overturning ideas about our origins, but not everyone likes his methods.”).
[ 9 ] Darwin (1859).
[ 10 ] See, e.g., Dawkins (2010).
[ 11 ] Provine & Johnson (1995).