I started reading “Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence”, while I was also reading “The big nine”. “The big nine” is a book about the evolution of AI. Which dovetails perfectly with this book, which is about the evolution of humanity. According to James Lovelock, they coincide.
Energy is information
We alone, among the billions of species that have benefited from the flood of energy from the Sun, are the ones who evolved with the ability to transmute the flood of photons into bits of information gathered in a way that empowers evolution. We are now entering the phase in which we and our cyborg successors convert sunlight directly into information.
The future is cyborgs
He thinks the future will not be humans, but what he chooses to call ‘cyborgs’ that will have designed and built themselves from the artificial intelligence systems we have already constructed. These will soon become thousands then millions of times more intelligent than us.
Here is the overlap with “The big nine”. AlphaGo. AlphaGo used two systems – machine-learning and tree-searching – which combined human input with the machine’s ability to teach itself. AlphaGo searched a mere 80,000 positions per second when playing chess; the best conventional program, Stockfish, searched 70 million. It was, in other words, not using brute force but some AI form of intuition.
One million times quicker
Alpha-Zero is at least 400 times as quick as a human, assuming the latter never sleeps. But it is a lot faster than that because it attained ‘superhuman’ capability. That means we don’t even know exactly how much better it is at any of these games than a human because there are no humans it can compete against. However, we do know how much quicker than a human such a machine could be – 1 million times. (a millisecond is 1 million times longer than a nanosecond). A practical difference between the thinking and acting speed of artificial intelligence and the speed of mammals is about 10,000 times. At the other end of the scale, we act and think about 10,000 times faster than plants. The experience of watching your garden grow gives you some idea of how future AI systems will feel when observing human life.
Autonomy and superhuman ability
AlphaZero achieved two things: autonomy – it taught itself – and superhuman ability. Nobody expected this to happen so quickly. Now it seems probable that a new form of intelligent life will emerge from an artificially intelligent (AI) precursor made by one of us, perhaps from something like AlphaZero.
We have invited the machines themselves to make the new machines. And now we find ourselves like the inhabitants of a Stone Age village as they watch the construction of a railway through the valley leading to their habitat. A new world is being constructed. This new life – for that is what it is – will go far beyond AlphaZero’s autonomy. It will be able to improve and replicate itself. Errors in these processes are corrected as soon as they are found. Natural selection, as described by Darwin, will be replaced by much faster intentional selection.
There is even a link to another book I was reading at the same time “Metahuman”. To what extent would cyborgs live in a quantum world? The speed and power of their thought will give them access to the mysteries that baffle us, such as the apparent ability of particles to send signals faster than the speed of light and to be in two places at once, and many more. Of course, we already live in a quantum world, the world of the infinitesimal, which we have glimpsed but not yet grasped because it does not accord with our step-by-step logic. He thinks our of use language gets in the way. The slow process of speech and writing, which does offer a limited range of conscious explanations; compared to the rapid process of intuition. Quantum AI with access to the universe. How cool it that?
The end of humans
Which means that the human supremacy as the prime understanders of the cosmos is rapidly coming to an end. We humans will, for the first time, be sharing the Earth with other beings more intelligent than we are. We shall be parents of the cyborgs, and we are already in the process of giving birth. Cyborgs are a product of the same evolutionary processes that created us. We are moving from organic to electronic life. Both are energy-based.
It is the inevitable outcome of his Gaia theory. In Greek mythology, Gaia is the Greek goddess of Earth and, at the suggestion of the novelist William Golding, he gave her name to the theory he developed fifty years ago. The theory is that, since it began, life has worked to modify its environment. The entire Earth is a single living organism. Life organises its environment.
That is the good news. James Lovelock is very concerned about how the earth is heating up. His point is that global warming is not only real, but the outcomes currently being predicted by scientists, politicians and Greens are not necessarily the ones we should most fear. The extreme weather we have experienced recently is only a mild sign of what might be on the way.
It took Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer and inventor, to observe how wrong it was to call this planet Earth when, clearly, it is Ocean. After the Sun, the sea is the primary driver of our climate. Like CO2, water vapour in the atmosphere absorbs outgoing infrared radiation and so prevents the Earth from cooling by radiating heat away. High levels of water vapour in the atmosphere cause warming and this creates a feedback loop, increasing the water content of the atmosphere by evaporating water from the sea. In discussions of global warming, the role of water vapour is seldom mentioned.
The Earth’s average temperature could rise to 47°C and, comparatively quickly, we would enter an irreversible phase leading to a Venus-like state. As the climatologist James Hansen vividly puts it, if we don’t take care, we will find ourselves aboard the Venus Express.
It is a fascinating book. Here are some snippets:
- The pioneer and would-be spacefarer Elon Musk has said he would like to die on Mars, though not on impact. Martian conditions suggest that death on impact might be preferable.
- In Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, dolphins are smart enough to leave the Earth just before it is destroyed. Their departing message to humanity is, ‘So long, and thanks for all the fish´.
- Any more advanced civilisation than ours is likely to be electronic, so there is little point in looking for small creatures with big heads and large, slanting eyes.
- Wind and solar power are no substitute for nuclear energy produced inefficient and well-engineered power stations.
- AI will correct the harmful mutations of the reproduction of life – artificial or biological – very much faster than the sluggish process of natural selection. I can’t help wondering whether, when the cyborgs are the dominant species, there will emerge through their sophisticated evolutionary process an individual able to answer the questions raised by the cosmic anthropic principle.
- Speech is thought to have evolved between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago. It was made possible by a series of favourable mutations affecting our brain, hands and larynx. It is, therefore, intimately embedded in the physiology of humans and will not be remotely suitable for the electronic anatomy and physiology of cyborgs.
- The notion of allowing the evolution of adaptive computer systems on military platforms seems to be potentially the deadliest idea yet introduced for the replacement of human and other organic life on Earth.
- Instead of solar cells, think of trees connected directly to the electricity grid.
The intelligence that launches the age that follows the Anthropocene will not be human; it will be something wholly different from anything we can now conceive. Its logic, unlike ours, will be multidimensional. As with the animal and vegetable kingdoms, it may exist in many separate forms varying in size, speed and power to act. It may be the next or even the final step in the development of the evolution of the cosmos. Let’s hope that our contribution will not be entirely forgotten as wisdom and understanding spread outwards from the Earth to embrace the cosmos.
There is a silver lining. Cyborgs also can’t survive on a Venus type planet. They might help us save the planet. And then we can become their pets. My two cats have the life of Riley. Maybe being a pet is not so bad. Look at the way you treat your pets. It could be you next.