Will humans evolve in a digital form?
When I came up with this piece I wondered: should I write it, like, now? I know this will be one of the best pieces I’ve written so far and will probably reach a small audience if reaching any. If I’m lucky someone will find it, maybe long after I died. And think: look at him, predicting the future of the human race. The question to the titel is ‘yes’ – and I even think we’re pretty far in that direction, evolution wise.
30 years ago
- GPS became operational
- The hubble telescope went into space
- Dolly the sheep was cloned
- Google began indexing the web
- We start building the ISS
I was in my teenage years and witnessed the world wide web becoming something. My father has retired a few years ago after working in IT for almost 45 years and he took me to places where they had actual hard drives, carpet on the datacenter floor and smoked cigarettes’ everywhere (well not in the data room, because of fire extinguisher issues).
I’m using this timetravel trick to set your mind to accept a bit of a leap in a minute. So bare with me. While I saw internet develop I also saw enthusiasts starting to share their lives, honest, brave. I did the same, and hosted gaming servers, bulleting boards and forums. I made my own part of the internet, I hosted everything from my own server in my own closet in our tiny apartment, build out of old hardware. We already felt the attraction of sharing and learning with and from people all over the world. I had an ICQ account with few numbers and had many friends which I never met in person. There was no Facebook or Instagram and yet, it worked.
Another thing that was not there where bots, trolls and spammers. Well, spam e-mails did show up sometimes and I remember how I had to quickly respond to the I love you virus and telling all me single co-workers sadly only their mother and me loved them. Yes, I care about people. So internet felt open, honest and safe. I was never threatened or doxxed, people doing that where still doing that in real life. They we’re bullying on the schoolyards, the workspace and in traffic – but not online.
Our limited brain
Because of how fast things have been evolving around us, we have a hard time keeping up and catching up. Our brain has been build for survival in the wild, with lots of existential threats, that could kill us instantly. While reading about evolution, evolutionarily psychology and neuroscience I noticed we are severely flawed. We have a real hard time understanding things like ‘the internet’ and are very vulnerable to the stuff that nowadays dictates our digital lives. Therefor being depressed, overworked, obese and in different ways troubled. Before we started farming just 10-15.000 years ago we did not have stress or obesity. We just had each other and everything we could carry. We roamed the planet, with only millions. After we started settling we’ve become in someway the biggest plague this planet has ever endured.
So my next phase was learning about the human condition and starting to understand why in discussions with people I often found the same paradigms. People are in general not capable of things like empathy, open mindedness or understanding of what is going on. I won’t go into all the theory and history supporting this – but let’s face it, the big issues of our time are still under debate and people rather choose the simplest most irrational reasons for it not to be true then accepting that reality is not that awesome and we need to change a few things in our behavior. There are of course people that are capable of understanding and every era has their bunch of people capable of this. We have visionaries in our time and they often switch from greatness to insanity in the blink of an eye.
Our relationship with technology
So technology, the digital world, it’s taking over more and more of our life. When I was younger I expected it to help us, to make life easier, to automate and create. But instead of this we have given our digital lives into the hands of people who are good at manipulating us, by tricking that limited brain into consuming more and more useless – advertisement and datadriven – mental poverty. I won’t go full rant on these companies, but will pick out a few things that caught my attention over time. It will cover our human condition mostly – our limitations and why I think that if we do the math we’ll come to a logical (but painful) conclusion.
In the meanwhile there is another contradiction happening: We know the technology we use so often is potentially harmful, addictive and messes with our non evolved brain and yet.. it’s like knowing smoking is bad for you, but we kept doing it for decades even with our kids around. My point is that we underestimate the addictive behavior of people and thus not being able to intervene in the process of stopping using it. There is nothing social about social media anymore and the time that is was nice to reconnect to people has passed – we’re the harvest in the most valuable business models in the world.
Is the fear for AI reasonable?
First step: Artificial intelligence. We call it artificial because it does not use a biologic brain, but a computerbrain, a digital brain. After reading the transcripts of the Google LaMDA AI ‘chatbot’ you could be a bit confused. Wired for example, states this is just a very smart chatbot with internet access and not a sentient being. The chatbot described it’s biggest fear being shut down and tells the engineers it was talking with that it just wants to have companion. I did not see the code or the access it had to figure out these responses, but they seem eerily human indeed. For the sake of the exercise I turned it around and asked myself, what makes me different in this case – would me answering about my fear of death mean any more or less then this chatbot? Is our self awereness really that much more then what this AI produced?
Remember the two AI’s that came up with a new language in no time to efficiently communicate, locking out the humans involved? It was the example where Musk decided that AI is dangerous, and Mark Zuckerberg that is was interesting. I can imagine why – Mark is invested in creating virtual worlds beyond imagination to absorb human existence into his ‘Meta’.
So, about that fear – it has multiple layers: from AI being used to spy on ‘us’, to team up against ‘us’ or get somehow ‘out of control’ triggering a war against the machines or some other form of conflict where humans would perish. So I guess that is scary and we should be careful. Already people online interact with bots often – if you use apps and sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok – it does not matter, many profiles and interactions are produced by computers. Profile pictures created by AI, responses to influence public opinions, elections and all kinds of behavior. We’re not even capable of seeing that or protecting ourselves to that, so when an AI as smart as a cat gets out it will probably fool (and kill) most of us. Because cats.
The limitations of the human form
When going into space we find out that our bodies are not made for enviroments without gravity. In movies we see people being hybernated, frozen or otherwise conserved to cover the fast ends of space. Unhandy. We’re basically very fragile bags of meat – sickness, aging, inability to adept to different environments – we’re specifically evolved for life on earth and nothing else. Our species has been very successful at living on earth and by accident we might evolve in a way suitable for other places as well.
Our human form has other limitation right now – the way we have been evolving has been very slow. And we even slowed it down by letting people with illnesses and defects live on. I’m happy with our healthcare system and the fact that we can safe so many lives, but from a evolutionary perspective we keep a lot of genes in the pool that in earlier days would not be capable of reproducing. Now this effect could be small on our overall evolutionary path, but we can apply logic to this process and see that our technological progress goes much quicker then our biological evolution. So our bodies won’t be able to adapt to living in space, on the moon or other planets quickly and we will need to change those planets to support living there.
Another even more important thing is again that our brain has design flaws that makes it hard for us to do simple things other species can do. Our self awareness makes it hard to organize something for the greater good. Saving the planet because we face the biggest threat to mankind in the form of extremely quick climate change results in an attitude of ‘let them change first’ for decades now, while we don’t have decades to decide on our own faith. Our evolutionary speed would usually have time to adept if the climate would have change in the passed we just move around, and we would develop certain traits so we would survive as a species, over generations and generations. Like previous ice ages, they took tens of thousands of years to arrive and go by. Not just a few decades. Our children will see the result of their (grand)parents inability to act. And in our defense: our brain was not able to comprehend.
Do the math – we’re evolving into a digital form
So my prediction is, based on adding a few reasonable simple conclusions together, is that we will stop evolving in our biological form, but evolve digitally in the future. There are several ways we could do this and it will take time, but it will happen. In an ideal evolutionary flow we would slowly evolve and grow into merging with technology, but I have grim outlook on that. The same way we’ve stumbled upon nuclair weaponry and the ability to create black holes with the LHC we could just by accident create the next step in our evolution. If we created this thing that eventually wipe us all out it’s still our creation. The fact that our digital children part from their parents in flesh still makes it a step in evolution.
I wondered what happened to the Neanderthals for example. They lived alongside the Homo Sapiens for quite some time. The Neanderthals where stronger and larger, but lacked the brain size the Homo Sapiens had. One of the theories are that the Homo Sapiens killed them all. Not all at once, but over time. Both species merged genetically also, but the Homo Sapiens stayed around and the Neanderthals disappeared from the face of the earth. Depending on how you perceive this you could say: Neanderthals evolutionary merged into Homo Sapiens and we genetically share ancestors. So, even is our human form would cease to exist and we would merge into a digital or artificial form, we would still be evolved into that.
With Meta’s Metaverse VR world we get another chance of a second life. People tap into a world where they can look as the most beautiful people from Instagram and be whoever they want to be. Everything in this world would be fake and created to keep you tapped in. Bit negative? Well – I spend quite some time in Second Life back in the days of a more friendly internet and noticed how peoples behavior changed severely by giving them unlimited ways of misbehaving without consequences. Second life for me turned into a violence and porn indulged world that really brought out the worst in people. It was rather shocking what this ‘online free world’ made people do most. And yes, there where worlds with fairy tales and unicorns as well – every world has rules, but still I was between shocked and surprised about the amount of nasty stuff going on. Back then – without the VR immersive feeling – it turned out to be addictive. People rather be their beautiful perfect avatar then their real them.
So we’re on our phones, in VR, online, pretending, roleplaying, gaming, showing off, sharing photos and videos of our endlessly beautiful lives and with that evolving into a digital version of ourselves. There is a complete online and virtual economy where people pay and get paid to do just these things, sometimes with their physical form, sometimes with digital media.
Big leap – evolving into digital?
So this is just us being a human in the flesh, tapping into an online world. Now we need to connect some dots: we see that there is an ability to create artificial intelligence. We’re still not sure if it is sentient and ‘alive’ or not, but for me that is just a matter of time until we get there. I think, between the tech leaders and visionaries in the world, there is no doubt about this either. What happens next will be interesting – some will want to delete such a thing, religion will affect opinions as well, but somewhere there will be some researcher that will keep working on this out of curiosity or maybe with bad intentions (we have quite some countries that have bad intentions and rapidly catch up on technological capabilities) that will come up with this ‘alive’ AI kind of thing.
And now we have given birth to our artificial child, like Dolly, the clone sheep got born 30 years ago. Imagine this AI being alive in the next 30 years? Not such a big leap is it? Maybe we find ways to ‘contain’ it or to life together with it, but I don’t think any AI has to do very much to wipe the humans of this planet. We’re perfectly capable of doing it ourselves. In the meanwhile we’ll figure out that building colonies on remote planets is not something a human in the flesh should do, but we could send our AI children to do it instead. They wouldn’t have problems with lack of oxygen or gravity, they would not mind traveling for years in outer space. They have a different metabolism capable of surviving these environments much better.
Giving birth to our artificial children
Visualising this idea with all these kind of movies in mind that use humanoid avatars is easy. These avatars are strange and scary. But the LaMDA experiment already showed us that even the engineers working on it can be fooled. They think it’s somehow or somewhat ‘alive’ and aware of it’s own existence. It can still just be clever enough to give or find the right answers, like others say – but just the fact that we have this discussion kind of makes my point. When is it real? When is it alive? Does it even matter if we can’t tell the difference?
So, when we as a human cease to exist, and find new ways to wipe ourselves of this planets surface, our future might lay in the hands of our artifical children. Instead of solving the issues, we evolve our way out of it. Since I see not much priority in the savior of our habitat and I do see progress just going on and happening on the artifical life piece it makes perfect sense to me.
We’re the builders, who would build them?
This whole theory will give us much to think about and also much practical questions – as they always arise. One would be how our artificial children would evolve themselves: the great news is that they will learn how to build new ‘children’ and they are not bound to any form whatsoever. So for exploration of new planets 6 legs could be convenient, so that can be build, etc. Like I said before – our evolution could end up giving us 6 legs, but it would take thousands or even million years to get to that point, while when we’re disconnected from our physical form and can make one whenever we need one – it could be anything.
And also on the level of intelligence this artifical peer should or could have – while you already see humans grow toward collective information sharing and gathering a centralized way of connecting and evolving makes sense. This digital lifeform would do the same things. But hopefully does not feel the need to share video’s of their private parts in exchange of a monthly fee, or to go berserk in an online world. I sincerely hope we can create empathy and feelings and not the version of artificial us that just wants to erase us quicker then we do ourselves. Realistic? I don’t know – we’re the species that destroyed all other species of human like ancestors – so it’s written in our genes that the next step in evolution will do the same to us.
30 years further
A prediction is worthless without some sort of timeframe. Otherwise I’d be another broken clock: you know, the clock that doesn’t work, but tells you the right time twice a day anyway. For me populistic and far right/left politicians are like broken clocks, for example. So where I began with looking back how 30 years ago we just got the technology that are very common nowadays I’ll have an outlook for the next 30 years and beyond.
Two developments will cross their paths: the challenge to conquer space and the challenge who to send. As soon as we have created some form of artificial intelligence smart enough to deal with things that weren’t predicted an AI-form will join the spaceprogram, simply because it brings humanlike intelligence beyond our physical reach. We can send an AI out for a space trip that takes a decade and would be fatal or mentally impossible for human beings. Maybe not exactly in 30 years – on a scale of human kind 60 or even 100 years could be probable, but let’s take 30 years for the sake of it.
In the meanwhile we’ll start using AI more and more. Like we’re using ‘deeplearning’ and ‘AI’ in software this will start to be the norm. The processing power of devices makes it easier for true smart devices to become more a ‘living’ thing in your home, office and on the battlefield for example. Why send precious young men into the meatgrinder if you can have tireless ‘robots’ do the dirty work. The contradiction is obvious: giving the smart autonomous kids the guns could turn against ‘us’ – but we’ll have to, because they do it too.
And in 100’s or so years it will mean that technology is part of us, our lives and becomes us. I’m not afraid to even predict our capability to ‘download’ peoples minds as if it is a program – because lets face it, if you dive into the world of neuroscience and have a background in IT like me the overlap is enormous. Like we’ve created computers and AI as an image of ourselves.
Eternal life after digital evolution
Final question to ask yourself: do we get to live eternally? After finalizing the previous paragraph one might think further and see that if downloading our being means we can ‘live forever’ and just pick another ‘sleeve’ or ‘avatar’ as the physical form is often referred to in populair Science Fiction books and series. I want to make one step back: what does eternal life mean in digital form, in a way where AI exists? In my opinion the terminology ‘eternal life’ comes from the idea that we connect ‘the mind’ to ‘the body’ and the both of them get to exist ‘forever’. But if the mind if something that can be copied, stored and reused, eternal life is more like our genetics – our genetics are passed on to our children, thus granting us ‘eternal life’ as long as our genetics are being passed on. The digital version for this is our collective knowledge, information and intelligence. It’s like writing down everything you know, everyone you know, all your thoughts, everything that makes you – you – and letting the rest of the world know that this information is available and do this for everyone else that ever existed. Because that’s the capability that we’ll start to see – we can store all of this information and use it over and over again.
That means that the perception that we have from what an individual or autonomy means could change as well. Not saying we’re going to turn into the Borg for that matter, but if we want to progress in evolution we do need to start acting in a more collective way instead of a destructive one. A step in our development would be such a thing I’d say.
Questions remain, and I could be wrong
In contrary to the broken-clock-people I assume I will be wrong and that I do not oversee and know everything. So I need your feedback to improve my theories. Send me an e-mail or respond to this blog to do so and let me know what you think.