Yet of all the projects currently under development, the most revolutionary is the attempt to devise a direct two-way brain-computer interface that will allow computers to read the electrical signals of a human brain, simultaneously transmitting signals that the brain can read in turn. What if such interfaces are used to directly link a brain to the Internet, or to directly link several brains to each other, thereby creating a sort of Inter-brain-net? What might happen to human memory, human consciousness and human identity if the brain has direct access to a collective memory bank? In such a situation, one cyborg could, for example, retrieve the memories of another – not hear about them, not read about them in an autobiography, not imagine them, but directly remember them as if they were his own. Or her own. What happens to concepts such as the self and gender identity when minds become collective? How could you know thyself or follow your dream if the dream is not in your mind but in some collective reservoir of aspirations?
Such a cyborg would no longer be human, or even organic. It would be something completely different. It would be so fundamentally another kind of being that we cannot even grasp the philosophical, psychological or political implications.
The way you tell it is that we’re at a point of inflection: that we’re on the cusp of perhaps the greatest change for the human race ever?
“Probably, yes. I mean the one thing that has remained constant in history was humans themselves. Homo sapiens, you and me, we are basically the same as people 10,000 years ago. The next revolution will change that.”
The “next revolution”, as Harari sees it, the latest in a line that began with the cognitive revolution and takes in the agricultural revolution and the scientific revolution, is what is happening in the biotech field, in artificial intelligence.
“When people talk about merging with computers to create cyborgs, it’s not some prophecy about the year 2200. It’s happening right now. More and more of our reality exists within computers or through them.”
But this is only the start of it. For the first time in history, “we will see real changes in humans themselves – in their biology, in their physical and cognitive abilities”. And while we have enough imagination to invent new technologies, we are unable to foresee their consequences.
“It was the same with the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years ago. Nobody sat down and had a vision: ‘This is what agriculture is going to be for humankind and for the rest of the planet.’ It was an incremental process, step by step, taking centuries, even thousands of years, which nobody really understood and nobody could foresee the consequences.”
An excerpt from the latest (De)Extinction Club Newsletter: It’s tough times if you’re a crater hunter. The glory days are gone. On Earth at least. All the major impact sites that can be found have been found. All the big game are gone. Nothing but small fry left. Oh sure, there’s plenty of those around. […]
“But wait – what is Dark Extropianism anyway, m1k3y?”
Short version: clone Ray Kurzweil, feed this clone only LSD-laced Soylent for a year. Initiate this clone into a secret eternal mystic order – which totally isn’t an asteroid death cult – then sit him on a mountain top with a stack of cyberpunk novels, spy craft manuals, esoteric texts, crackly recordings of Terence McKenna lectures, high resolution astrobiology conference videos, legitimately acquired ecological academic papers, printouts of rewilding pamphlets, de-extinction manifestos and a never-ending background soundtrack of witch haus and dark ambient musics. Behind him the whole time sits a resurrected Mammoth. And the whole thing is rendered in that western anime Korra/Ang universe style. How’s that for a scatter map to project onto?
The Great Filter, in the context of the Fermi paradox, is whatever prevents “dead matter” from giving rise, in time, to “expanding lasting life”.Theconcept originates in Robin Hanson’s argument that the failure to find any extraterrestrial civilizations in the observable universe implies the possibility something is wrong with one or more of the arguments from various scientific disciplines that the appearance of advanced intelligent life is probable; this observation is conceptualized in terms of a “Great Filter” which acts to reduce the great number of sites where intelligent life might arise to the tiny number of intelligent species with advanced civilizations actually observed (currently just one: human). This probability threshold, which could lie behind us (in our past) or in front of us (in our future), might work as a barrier to the evolution of intelligent life, or as a high probability of self-destruction.The main counter-intuitive conclusion of this observation is that the easier it was for life to evolve to our stage, the bleaker our future chances probably are.
With no evidence of intelligent life other than ourselves, it appears that the process of starting with a star and ending with “advanced explosive lasting life” must be unlikely. This implies that at least one step in this process must be improbable. Hanson’s list, while incomplete, describes the following nine steps in an “evolutionary path” that results in the colonization of the observable universe:
According to the Great Filter hypothesis at least one of these steps – if the list were complete – must be improbable. If it’s not an early step (i.e., in our past), then the implication is that the improbable step lies in our future and our prospects of reaching step 9 (interstellar colonization) are still bleak. If the past steps are likely, then many civilizations would have developed to the current level of the human race. However, none appear to have made it to step 9, or the Milky Way would be full of colonies. So perhaps step 9 is the unlikely one, and the only thing that appears likely to keep us from step 9 is some sort of catastrophe or the resource exhaustion leading to impossibility to make the step due to consumption of the available resources (like for example highly constrained energy resources). So by this argument, finding multicellular life on Mars (provided it evolved independently) would be bad news, since it would imply steps 2–6 are easy, and hence only 1, 7, 8 or 9 (or some unknown step) could be the big problem.
Although steps 1–7 have occurred on Earth, any one of these may be unlikely. If the first seven steps are necessary preconditions to calculating the likelihood (using the local environment) then an anthropically biased observer can infer nothing about the general probabilities from its (pre-determined) surroundings.
A variant of the self-replicating starship is the Berserker. Unlike the benign probe concept, Berserkers are programmed to seek out and exterminate lifeforms and life-bearing exoplanets whenever they are encountered.
The name is derived from the Berserker series of novels by Fred Saberhagen which describe a war between humanity and such machines. Saberhagen points out (through one of his characters) that the Berserker warships in his novels are not von Neumann machines themselves, but the larger complex of Berserker machines – including automated shipyards – do constitute a von Neumann machine. This again brings up the concept of an ecology of von Neumann machines, or even a von Neumann hive entity.
It is speculated in fiction that Berserkers could be created and launched by a xenophobic civilization (see Anvil of Stars, by Greg Bear, in Examples in fiction below) or could theoretically “mutate” from a more benign probe. For instance, a von Neumann ship designed for terraforming processes – mining a planet’s surface and adjusting its atmosphere to more human-friendly conditions – might malfunction and attack inhabited planets, killing their inhabitants in the process of changing the planetary environment, and then self-replicate and dispatch more ships to attack other planets.
All pages & panels from Ultimate Galactus – tell your friends about The Eater of Worlds!