...and then what?

(I really should be getting onto other things, but I wanted to jot down a few thoughts about something interesting from yesterday.)

The Doomsday Clock was recently moved forward 2 minutes to 11:55. Most people probably don't pay much heed to it--of those who are even aware of its existence, it's probably just to keep their sanity.

In some ways, it's amazing that human civilization has continued since the discovery of nuclear weapons and their mass proliferation. Now, we face other threats like global warming and the depletion of fossil fuels which will likely only make things worse.

I suspect global warming in itself would not be sufficient to wipe out human civilization, but insofar as it will be a spur to other problems--famines, mass migrations, wars over resources, etc.--it will create a more unstable world in which nuclear warfare becomes more probable. Other new weapons technologies pose additional dangers.

In any case, I think it's only a matter of time before humanity either destroys itself or descends into a new Dark Ages. We can only hope this doesn't happen during our lifetime.

I've been fortunate this semester to sit in on a class entitled "Boundaries of the Human in the Age of Robots and Clones," dealing with the implications of future technologies, especially human enhancement and robotics. I've written on such topics before--anyone who knows me is well aware that this is an interest of mine, even if they don't take it seriously.

The other day, the professor leading the class mentioned a roboticist at the university here with whom he has conversed before. When meeting with a previous version of this class, the roboticist was asked what inspires him to do the work that he does. He began by making a statement similar to that I opened this entry with, namely that he's pessimistic about the future of humankind, and thought it a huge shame especially because of the likely scarcity of intelligent life in the universe.

Right now, some roboticists have taken a lesson from biology and are designing robots from the bottom up, creating simpler robots and gradually making them more complex (top-down design has produced very limited results). Right now, we may have robots about as smart as insects. The roboticist's hope is that his life's work will move this along, perhaps producing robots as complex as some simple mammal. Future roboticists, given enough time, may produce something like Commander Data from Star Trek, or perhaps yet greater things.

In short, he sees himself as helping to design a successor species to humanity, one that may survive our destruction and perpetuate the existence of intelligent life, perhaps eventually spreading itself to other parts of the universe. His motives are no different than those of the blue collar worker who spends his life working hard so that his children might go to college and do better than he.

Personally, I have little interest in children--also something I've written about. This is why I'm more interested in human biological (and cybernetic) enhancement, including things like increasing our lifespan. Perhaps it's selfish, but I want to be among those modifying themselves and becoming a part of "post-humanity".

"Human nature" may not be concrete or easily ascertainable, but I think history shows that people never learn from history (perhaps Western Europe's rejection of warring amongst itself is an exception, but such examples are few and far between). We are messing with powers far beyond our understanding or ability to control.

Thus, as I see it, our only hope is to change human nature itself, so that we might be more capable of handling this problems. Wisdom may not be encoded in our genes, but there is certainly a large genetic component to traits like intelligence and empathy. Yes, research into human enhancement (genetic or otherwise) might only exacerbate our current problems, but I don't see any other choice.

Perhaps it's perverse, but this is the only reason for hope I've been able to discover in a world that stands but 5 minutes from destruction.

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