Is Artificial Intelligence Humankind’s Next Evolutionary Step?

Artificial Intelligence

Meta-Intelligence. Neural nets. Mental distance learning. Mining asteroids. What do these all have in common?

These ideas sound scripted for the next “Terminator” movie. But present realities and future technologies are poised to literally effect humankind’s evolutionary track. And one evolutionary scenario places humanity engaged to interface with computing and other technological systems. 

In this article, we will explore possible scenarios for human evolution: meta-intelligence provided by Artificial Intelligence, Brain Computer Interfaces, brain to brain global networking and private space ventures will be examined.

But, a word of warning…this is an article for minds open to possibilities.

Peter Diamandis – (R)evolutionary Innovator

Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation | NADINE RUPP/Getty Images

One person at the vanguard of these concepts is Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, international pioneer in the fields of innovation, incentive competitions, and commercial space. Fortune Magazine named him one of “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” in 2014. A molecular biologist AND physician by training and self described “serial entrepreneur”. Diamandis has the ‘right stuff’ to conceptualize the seemingly impossible and the insight to see patterns in humankind’s progress into the future.

What Does A Single Celled Organism And Human Technological Growth Have In Common?

According to Diamandis in a YouTube interview, simple single celled organisms (eukaryotes) incorporated a kind of biological technology after evolving from a lower cellular form, the prokaryote. What follows is a snapshot of the early evolutionary timeline –

  1. 3.5 billion years ago, simple celled organisms appeared on earth – the prokaryotes. Really not much more than globs with nucleus bound DNA
  2. These cells evolved, incorporating structures to increase efficiency. Energy was made more productive via mitochondria; information exchange via chromosomes. These were the eukaryotes
  3. Eukaryotes begin working collaboratively, forming the first ‘multi-cellular’ life forms. We are an example of this type of collaboration as a multi-cellular creature of 10 trillion cells [by weight]

You may be asking yourself why Diamandis begins this discussion with the comparison of cellular evolution. Humans are incorporating technology much like a eukaryotic cell, creating technologies that make our lives more efficient, productive and enriched.

Diamandis’ Predictions Of Human/Technology Evolution

Technology is growing at a huge, exponential rate. According to “Moore’s Law”, computer processing speeds increase every two years, a value which has proven it’s truth. This tremendous growth has landed us where we are today.

Diamandis describes the next stage of evolution as going from evolution by natural selection (Darwinism) to evolution by “intelligent direction”-

  1. Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI) equals increased efficiency for gathering information
  2. BCI, combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI), will give humanity overwhelming connectivity with one another and billions of AI’s (computers) via the cloud. Such massive interconnection will lead to the emergence of a new global consciousness, and a concept Diamandis terms “Meta-Intelligence” – literally “thinking about thinking”. Taking many forms, MI includes knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning or for problem solving.

The most fascinating thing about Artificial Intelligence? No computer programmer has ever programmed a computer to learn it nor could one ever accomplish this task. Computer’s have taught themselves AI through learning algorithms “fed” to them by programmers.

Transforming The Planet Through Direct Connectivity

Diamandis continues with a theory of four primary driving forces leading us towards the transformation of humanity into a meta-intelligence, both on and off the Earth –

  1. Wiring the Planet: Within the next six-eight years, the number of people online is expected to almost triple. Facebook, Google, Qualcomm, Samsung, Virgin, SpaceX, among others, are currently conducting massive wiring operations in the 5G range. Within a decade, every human on earth will have access to megabit connectivity and massive access to the cloud.
  2. Brain-Computer Interface: Currently, labs (and entrepreneurs) are exploring ways to connect the digital world and the human neocortex. Regarded as the most recently evolved portion of the brain, the neocortex provides us with sight and hearing.

Ray Kurzweil (American author, computer scientist, inventor and futurist) predicts we will see human-cloud connections within 18 years. Additionally, entrepreneurs like Bryan Johnson (and his company Kernel) are committing hundreds of millions of dollars towards this vision.

Why connect your brain to a computer system or the cloud? A duality occurs with this ability. First, this connection would increase memory capacity and perceptions. Second, via a meshed global network, the day may come where you will be able to connect with anyone else’s brain, as well as AI, the same way as you connect with your cell phone.

  1. Artificial Intelligence/Human Intelligence: According to Diamandis, we are on the cusp of an AI Revolution (aka “deep learning” or, in academia speak – deep neural networks). Artificial Intelligence is already in use and you probably haven’t a clue. Ever used speech recognition software or a cool, social media image recognition app? You have used Artificial Intelligence.
  1. Opening the Space Frontier: Dr. Diamandis believes that humanity is on the verge of becoming a “multi-planetary species”. Billions of dollars are being raised by private investors to be the first to launch, and return, a private spacecraft but these endeavors are still in their infancy. Dr. Diamandis recently stated, “Efforts led by SpaceX are targeting humans on Mars, while efforts by Blue Origin are looking at taking humanity back to the Moon and plans by my own company, Planetary Resources, strive to unlock near-infinite resources from the asteroids”.

According to Dr. Diamandis, “Whatever challenges we might have in creating a vibrant brain-computer interface…those challenges will fall quickly over the next couple of decades as AI power tools give us every increasing problem-solving capability”.

“It is an exponential atop an exponential.”

Futuristic Speculation Or Emulating God?

There is always a flip side to every story. In “The Terminator” movies, the neural network becomes “self aware”, runs amok, and wipes out humanity. This scenario is highly unlikely, in the extreme.

However, movements to transform humanity have been around for centuries. Take the case of Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955); French paleontologist, philosopher and ordained Jesuit controversial for attempting to reconcile the traditional view of original sin with evolution. Teilhard became close friends with Julian Huxley, grandson of “Darwin’s Bulldog”, Thomas Huxley. Julian wrote, “evolution is nothing but matter become conscious of itself“. It was Huxley who devised the word “transhuman”, a word that has come back into vogue.

Today, transhumanism has become a new movement that pushes the idea that mankind has the right to shape his own evolutionary track. This would be accomplished by “maximizing the use of scientific technologies…enhanc(ing) human physical and intellectual potential”. Many trans-human philosophies are based on the texts of the Kabbalah, which asserts that humanity is evolving intellectually towards a point when man will become God. Are we at the tipping point now? (More information can be obtained from the book Transhumanism: The History of a Dangerous Idea by David Livingstone).

IS humankind flying too close too the sun? Will we, like Icarus, fly broken to the ground?

Christof Koch posits, in his 2012 book Consciousness, that computers could have already achieved sentience then poses the essential question, “By what signs shall we recognise its consciousness?”. How indeed…

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Debbe Ferris is a senior staff writer at Conscious Connection dedicated to exploring how technology and sustainability trends are converging to solve humanity's grand challenges. With a Bachelor’s in Natural Resource Management, Debbe joined Conscious Connection because of her interest in Free Market Environmentalism with the opinion that many environmental issues can be solved with free markets and innovations in social enterprise.