Exponential technological progress, globalized economy, change in values and demographics… what does this mean for Homo Sapiens in the near future? A global galactic attempt to think about the future of our species.
The evolution of man was largely shaped by key technologies and taken to ever-new levels. Simple tools, later the wheel, the agrarian revolution, then the writing. We went on later with some social reforms, then the steam engine, electricity, internet, and suddenly we talk naturally with speakers (Amazon Echo / Alexa, Google Home, Bixbi etc.) and our phones (Siri, Cortana, OK Google etc.), as if they were Family. It is certainly not a new finding that technological change is accelerating – I would like to sensitize my readers at this point to internalise this enormous development very briefly. I have described the essential industrial revolutions in more detail in my basic article on New Work, here I leave it at the short mention.
Please take a few seconds and think about what has changed technologically in your life and that of your grandparents. Did you have a colour TV, a phone, your grandparents a washing machine or a car at home?
Much of what we use or own today was a few decades ago or a few decades ago. science fiction for a few generations. Keep this insight in mind as we continue our journey into the future.
Relevant technologies of the future of humanity
Given recent advances in the research and application of artificial intelligence, there are now few experts who seriously doubt that we will soon reach the day of technological singularity. This will be the day when a computer (system) will have become as intelligent as a human being and will develop rapidly from now on; unbound to a physical body, this next step will happen incredibly quickly. Unlike previous technological evolutionary phases, it is not clear what will happen after that. Since the 1980s, computer scientists, mathematicians, physicists, philosophers have been studying this circumstance of singularity worldwide and speculating about what the world will look like after that. Some products of these ideas can be found in science fiction literature and films; I would like to deliberately exclude this at this point. Because entertainment program thrives on special effects and dystopian elements, which I find only partially helpful for a serious consideration of the future.
Instead, let’s take a strongly condensed look at core components of our evolutionary future.
1. General Artificial Intelligence (AGI): Don’t think of the Terminator now
Current applications of AI (machine learning, etc.) are little more than sophisticated statistics and learning algorithms that, thanks to sophisticated programming, can seemingly biologically build their own set of experiences. And yet they are already good at making our everyday life easier or making it possible in its present form (see e.g. food logistics). All of this has been systematically researched since the 1980s, but has only come into play since the 2010s, because before that, computers and networks were simply too slow to process the data required for this at an acceptable rate.
The AGI is expected when Moore’s law, in conjunction with neural computer networks, reveals an artificial machine comparable to the human brain. The “Human Brain Project” is worth mentioning at this point, which has set itself the goal of precisely this – i.e. the simulation of a human brain. The human brain comprises around 90 billion neurons, and adults also have a good 100 trillion synapses, which connect the individual brain cells with each other, thus enabling complex knowledge connections. Recreating this biological feat will presumably be the last invention of mankind – from then on machines will take over the thinking for us.
Renowned AI researcher Jürgen Schmidhuber said in 2016 that consciousness is something of a byproduct of problem solving. In about ten years or so, optimistic insiders like Ray Kurzweil – futurologist and head of technology at Google – expect this moment of singularity. At the latest, our species competes in intelligence issues with a no longer carbon-based way of life. I call the scepticism about this development carbon-chauvinism or carbon-chauvinism. Silicon fascism. So computers will soon be smarter than we are, but will they also enslave or destroy humanity, as is customary with Terminator or Matrix and other sci-fi stories? I don’t think so. There is much to suggest that for such scenarios we only create our human value and action heuristics, which would not exist at all in this culturally and historically grown form in an artificial way of life. Racist chatbots, on the other hand, only reflect the image given to them by human users. Apart from that, a very different solution is emerging, but more on that in paragraph 3.
Verdict: Your washing machine will soon be smarter than you, but it doesn’t matter. Especially in basic research, solving global problems, and exploring distant galaxies, humanity will benefit greatly from AI. Nevertheless, I advise to “thank you” to Alexa, Siri and Co. to say – you never know…
2. Life extension and … Immortality?
Forever young, I wanna be forever young… perhaps this dream from the Alphaville song of 1984 will soon come true. When I write, I just notice the irony of the year of publication in memory of George Orwell’s dystopian novel. But back to seriousness.
Life expectancy for humans has steadily increased over the last 300,000 years, apart from some phases. This trend continues, too, or especially in our era. Thirty years ago, it was still perfectly normal for a person to die at the age of 60 – today one wonders if someone dies before the 80th anniversary of the death of someone. Birthday dies naturally.
But here, too, technological and scientific progress is progressing with seven-mile boots. For several decades, physicians, geneticists, biochemists and bioinformaticians have provided astonishing insights into the human body – and how to cure, sometimes even eliminate, its inadequacies. A few milestones:
- Cloned organs: “About 9,500 people are on the waiting list for a donor organ in Germany,” reads the official BZgA organ donation website. Many of them will tragically never advance to No.1 because no suitable organ can be found. This circumstance could already be reversed in a few years and organ donation cards become obsolete (they are not yet!). This is due to advances in the field of artificial replication of human organs. From stem cells of individuals, veins and skin cells are already bred and transplanted, among other things, internal organs are already being bred to allow surgeons to sample the lifelike specimen before surgery. By the way, a very similar procedure is used to bring authentic, artificial animal meat to our plates, but I write elsewhere… The point is that when, from the early 2020s onwards, when spare parts can be replaced as needed in human bodies as well as in machines, as well as preventively, the picture of our evolution changes in one fell swoop. In the distant future, people will have a spare parts warehouse at the health insurance, where already cloned organs are waiting for their transplant. You may even one day be asked by your insurance company if you don’t want an even optimized heart to be even more powerful in sports. Conclusion: Biology and medicine have stopped reacting only curatively to setbacks. Instead, solutions are being sought to prevent the use of an arsenal for repairing and maintaining human bodies and to extend people’s lifespan.
- Human Genetics and CRISPR: The Human Genome Project was founded in 1990 with the aim of deciphering the human genome, i.e. the complete sequence of the base passers-by of DNA/DNA. This would then mean the entire hereditary gene mass and it could go to the targeted research into the relationships of the state of health with the genetic material, which changes additionally over the course of a lifetime. In 2001, the zealous researchers had actually sequenced all 23 chromosomes and subsequent genes (about 20-25,000 pieces per person) and bases – a pagan effort that swallowed up several million euros of research money and lasted a good eleven years. Meanwhile, first providers sequence the genome of individual customers for just over 100 euros within a few weeks. As a result, customers receive a genealogical family history up to complex medical analysis, which provides information on which hereditary diseases are in the individual programming code. 37% chance of diabetes, 1% Parkinson’s disease, 18% colorectal cancer. This information is highly suitable for preventive action against it long before the possible outbreak of these diseases, or at least to carry out prophylactic screening scans at regular intervals. For example, on the basis of the 21st extensive findings and therapies related to trisomy 21. Meanwhile, researchers and physicians are also publicly publishing experiments on living humans that alter the genetic make-up (the great outcry about the China-born, HIV-resistant twins from late autumn 2018 will surely remind you). The basis of the whole story is the “gene scissors” CRISPR/Cas9, which was among others published by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentie as an effective technique for this very procedure. To my astonishment, the German Ethics Council assessed such interventions as possible in principle in May 2019 if it prevented major calamity. This clears the way for gene optimization for sick people, embryos, phealates, eggs and sperm. Conclusion: Anyone who understands a person’s blueprint can prevent undesirable events. In a few years, each health insurance company will offer its members free genome sequencing and use targeted a priori measures to prevent serious diseases.
- Stop pandemic “age”. In addition to data protection, one of the most common causes of death is the natural aging process. Statistically, there is a significant link between increasing age and the onset of serious diseases such as cardiovascular disease, various cancers, diabetes and so on. Aging is deadly! The human immune system weakens over time, around the age of 30. The innate renewal of the cell material slows down, which worsens the hair color, the skin condition and the functionality of all organs. Thanks to the excellent hygienic standards, full-fledged nutrition and medical care, people in developed countries are getting older – and then dying at some point. An international alliance of gerontologists, various specialist physicians, biologists, biochemists and bioinformatics set out many years ago to attack this last bastion of human suffering. On the one hand, they are fighting to recognise “ageing” as a disease in the international table of diseases – or the different components that cause the phenomenon. On the other hand, they are investigating whether and how the process can be stopped. In May 2017 I travelled to Madrid for the first “Longevity and Cryopreservation Summit” to take a closer look at the topic of longevity and cryopreservation. It was an interesting experience to surround yourself with people who are all convinced that they can live to be several hundred years old! Aubrey de Grey told me in this context that the first person to be 1000 years old was probably already born – a little later this sentence was also in the mirror. Another pioneer in the field that I met in a different context is Liz Parrish, founder of BioViva. Liz has found a cure for aging. Correctly read. She tested the teleomer therapy developed by BioViva as “Patient Zero” in 2015 to stop aging. Since then, according to the current situation, it has not only not aged, but even become about 20 years younger, measured by the length of its telomeres. Liz wrote: “My goal is to create treatments for people before they become patients; to create a preventative medicine institution for the next generation and evolution of healthy humans”. Forever young for everyone! To make this possible, BioViva is collaborating with the pharmaceutical company Stevia First Corp. to bring appropriate life-extending funds to the market once the approval procedures have been completed. If the market for anti-aging wrinkle cream already has 5.4 and 3.8 and 1.6 billion US dollars (China / USA / Germany), one can only guess what boom will arise from the promise of a complete makeover. Conclusion: Getting old in a young body may soon no longer be science fiction. Think about what your children will do for the 300th time. Birthday gift!
- Cryopreservation: If medical progress is not fast enough to find a solution to my cause of death, cryonics have already devised a way out. Among others, I spoke to Max More, President and CEO of the non-profit Alcor Life Extension Foundation, and Torsten Nahm, a German cryonicsman, in Madrid in May 2017. Put simply, followers of this philosophy can be frozen after their death and preserved in a tank of liquid nitrogen in order to bring them back to life in a distant future, in which their cause of death will also have subsequently been cured. to become. The idea certainly originates from the sci-fi genre, but it actually seems to work. At the moment it is not yet completely clear how the frozen people can be thawed again without damage, but also in the field of research one is making progress and has solved, among other things, the problem with bursting blood crystals during heating – a problem, which was also relevant for the transport of individual organs. When I asked why one would want to choose an eternal life or even the return from the dead, Max More answered coolly: “Why would I want to die?” Interesting philosophy. The procedure costs customers around US-Dollar 80,000 and is subject to strict requirements regarding the transport, storage and use of the financial resources. Conclusion: You only live once. Cryonics (perhaps) not.
Conclusion: There are some indications that humans will soon overcome the seemingly irreversible biological rhythm of life. Artificial organs, changes in the genetic material in the event of defects, the victory over the age and preservation of humans will significantly extend the lifespan of some people in the next decade. I do not discuss ethical, environmental and social impacts at this point – the article is already long enough. We are happy to talk about this elsewhere!
3. Transhumanism: The cyborgs are coming!
In the midst of the debate of the phenomena described, the first organizations such as Humanity+ or the World Transhumanist Society emerged in the 1990s, which concern themselves about humanity after singularity. Sapiens 2.0, or as Yuval Noah Harari calls it: Homo Deus. Unlike in the deterministic school of thought of the last millennia, man becomes his own creator and turns the entire evolution of the species upside down.
Transhumanists basically argue that humans have always used technology to gain advantages over other forms of life; In my opinion, this also includes social innovations such as political and economic systems. Especially in the 20th In the 19th century, this genesis took on a new quality, as the process of outsourcing human thought and knowledge extended to information technology. There are also pretty graphics on the Internet of how much information has been accumulated in human history – and what exponential course this curve has taken, especially with the spread of the Internet.
In the meantime, we all use at least one smartphone to outsource our brains and communicate with (sometimes strangers) people all over the world. By miniaturizing the computers, the smart helpers are gradually migrating into people’s bodies: pacemakers have been implanted for many years, hearing aids are small high-tech miracles, and then there are still tens of thousands of people worldwide, that carry a small NFC/RFID chip under the skin. I am one of them since Dr. Patrick Kramer, Chief Cyborg Officer of Digiwell, made me a cyborg at the 2b AHEAD Future Congress in June 2018 for just 100 euros. Sweden has the highest cyborg rate; here the chips are already used as door openers in numerous office complexes, the carriers have stored important personal information for the emergency on it and also payment systems such as the small, black devices at the supermarket checkout, could soon be used for this purpose. can be opened. Incidentally, I learned the latter quite unconventionally during an appearance at Computop in June at Planet Trade 2019 in Leipzig. And it will go a little further if, for example, the lab-on-a-chip from IBM 2022 is to be launched on the market: it is only a few nanometers in size, thus fits into the blood runway and monitors the health status of the wearer 24/7, reports abnormalities directly to the digital ecosystem, the doctor or the insurance company.
Apart from that, some transhumanists are thinking even further. Why shouldn’t we extend our capabilities beyond the human norm? Pioneer Neil Harbisson has been legally recognized as the world’s first cyborg and carries a self-developed antenna on his head that translates different signals from the environment directly into his brain. Thus he has a sense more than other human beings and is technically not homo sapiens, but just a cyborg, a human-machine organism. Medical research in particular originally focused on other areas, namely that of compensating for physical inadequacies – prostheses as a substitute for amputated limbs, for example. In the meantime, wearers of these prostheses are in part more powerful than “healthy” people, as Oscar Pistorius impressively demonstrated with his sprint world record. It is therefore basically possible to artificially replace and expand bodily functions. What is the next step?
Especially against the background of the approaching General Artificial Intelligence, many pioneers have set out to connect humans with machines. Only in this way is it possible to escape a domination of computers and survive as a species. Elon Musk, for example, the famous founder of Tesla Motors among others, is pushing ahead with a project that is not only exciting in this context: Neuralink. Neuralink first researches the functioning of the human brain and secondly, the goal is to launch a brain implant that establishes a direct connection to the Internet around 2040. For example, a carrier thinks: “How do I get to Berlin tomorrow?” and in the form of his thoughts, he is sent directly suggestions for solutions from the relevant mobility providers. The fact that the transmission of information into the brain via electrical impulses is basically possible has been proven several times in the meantime – most recently playfully with the game Tetris, as a subject the next action exclusively via electrical signals of two transmitted to other players. Probably there will be an app store for knowledge in this environment, about which anyone can download knowledge for 99 cents; wonders how the education system will prepare for this.
Conclusion: Sapiens 2.0 is a different species than Homo Sapiens. Of course, the 1st no longer in the world will be held. On January 1, 2040, every human earth-dweller suddenly took this step, there is already evidence of the division of the species. Let us hope that coexistence is more peaceful than with Homo Sapiens and Homo Erectus and the like.
Humanity is abolishing itself – and I mean that in the best sense. Our brains, bodies, and social and political systems are too limited for the global challenges of the coming decades. Merging with technology seems to be the logical next step in mastering the complexity of the future world; However, few will push this step forward and fight a great many. because:
“The greatest enemy of the progress of mankind is human selfishness.”
Selfishness here is an outrageous reduction in complexity of many factors: social and political systems, diplomatic sensitivities, greed, narrow-mindedness, short-sightedness of the decision-makers. And it is precisely at the top levels of decision-making that I want evidence-based policies, more far-sighted decisions, and faster adaptation of life-saving technologies as we move into the future. But we’re not here at “Wish you something.” If you have read up to this point, you are happy to see this wish as an appeal to you to make a proactive change to the situation if you agree – even by sharing this post on your network. Thank you!
DLF Nova Podcast “Hörsaal” (2019): Cryonics: Hope for a Life in the Future, episode from 21. April 2019, lecture by Dirk Nemitz from 16.12.2016. Online: https://www.deutschlandfunknova.de/beitrag/kryonik-der-glaube-an-auferstehung-durch-einfrieren
Vice (2017): Is it really worth freezing for 80,000 dollars to see the future? Online: https://www.vice.com/de_ch/article/pg5eg8/lebt-nur-einmal
Photo by Daniel Cheung on Unsplash
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