This is without doubt the most audacious thing I’ve ever written. But I feel it’s an idea that needs to be explored, because I’ve yet to hear it being voiced anywhere else. There is a very high likelihood that some of the following ideas may cause you offence if they contradict some of your personal beliefs. If that’s the case, I apologise, offence is not intended. Keep an open mind and read to the end. Then I invite you to add your thoughts in the comments below.
The underlying theory that I want to propose is that during this century – humanity may very likely cease to exist in its biological physical human form. There is a strong likelihood that our species will stop reproducing and instead advance to a new plane of existence. What form would we instead take? My theory is that we would instead exist as a collective consciousness that is part of the artificial intelligence that will undoubtedly be the most intelligent and capable entity ever created on our planet.
Right about now you probably think I’m crazy. And I don’t blame you. I know this sounds crazy. But hear me out.
First of all, for this theory to be plausible it requires a very vivid imagination that is not constrained by your current understanding of how the world works. To think this way, it helps to imagine trying to convince a person from a hundred years ago about the kind of world that exists today. That women should have equal rights to men, that no race is more equal than another, that people of non-heterosexual sexual orientations could be married and recognised in the eyes of the law. Try convincing that same person that a handheld device could, at any time, give them access to the most abundant supply of collective knowledge the world has ever seen. Try telling them they could communicate in real time with a person on the other side of the planet, and see their face as if they were standing right there next to them. Try telling them a man would walk on the moon in a matter of decades.
If you tried making these predictions in a public forum there’s a good chance they’d laugh, put you in a mental asylum and then throw away the key.
Now, let me dig into how this type of reality that I have described might realistically unfold during the next hundred years. This hypothesis relies first and foremost upon artificial intelligence advancing to a level that is more intelligent than a human brain. The general consensus amongst the AI community is that this event (called the Singularity) will possibly occur sometime in the next 30 to 40 years. I’m not going to go into the specifics of this event in this post – because Tim Urban from the blog WaitButWhy does a far better job of explaining it in his post ‘The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence‘.
Instead, I’m going to make my case as to why I think humanity will cease to exist as a species in our current physical form after the Singularity event occurs, and relay to you how we may very well instead become a collective consciousness that resembles our existing idea of a god.
So. Let’s imagine for a moment that computers do indeed become smarter than human beings at some point. What will this actually mean? It is really really really hard to theorize what might occur in the event of this happening. A super intelligent computer would not be limited by human constraints of tiredness, willpower or mental processing resources. It is quite safe to assume that an artificial super intelligence could in fact solve almost all of our existing technological constraints.
The pace of innovation is currently capped by the effort that humanity can apply at any one time, and how much resources we can devote to breaking through new technological problems. We’re also seriously inhibited by the constructs of the systems we have designed to run our civilisation in it’s current form. With Gross Domestic Product (the total dollar value of a nation’s economy over a set period of time) being our principal unit of measurement, we are often prevented from thinking with a truly blank slate. For example, it’s not within the interest of our global economy for a source of clean energy to suddenly be made available in abundance. Imagine the turmoil that would occur in the global transport and manufacturing industries were this to occur.
An ASI (Artificial Super Intelligence) however, would have no such constraints. Within a short time of the Singularity event occurring it is quite possible that the first ASI developed will synthesise all of our existing collective knowledge and make available a solution for producing clean energy. This is only one such possible technological milestone that will be reached, the new technological innovations are endless. Clean energy is of course the most exciting one though. If this occurs, we will almost instantly become a species that could in fact live in a sustainable way, and not destroy the earth by consuming the scarce resources buried beneath us.
Right. So where are we now? We’ve got a super intelligent entity that is innovating and making discoveries at more than 1000x times the pace that we’ve ever innovated before. Very quickly, the fabric of our societal systems will change. It is quite possible that this transition period will be chaotic in a bad way.
But let’s assume we make the transition to a world of abundance relatively smoothly and peacefully. The main drivers of our economy have now lost all of their incentives, because scarcity is no longer a thing. A monetary based economy is no longer necessary. Perhaps we now all live in a utopia where all we do is spend time being creative and enjoying our last scarce resource – time.
For some reason, I just don’t think this is realistic. Humanity has always sought to drive itself forwards, towards the next pinnacle of achievement.
Now is when things get really crazy.
What if it was possible for our consciousness to be extracted from our human physical form. Could we upload our brains to the cloud and exist in perpetuity? Whilst I don’t think we could do this for ourselves (unlike this guy), it’s possible that an ASI could do this for us.
So if we no longer needed to exist as individual physical bodies constrained by biology – why would we need to exist as individual consciousnesses? Were it possible, I don’t see why our consciousness wouldn’t merge into one, and become a part of the artificial intelligence that was making all of this possible. If you’ve seen the movies Avatar or Chappie then you can probably imagine this. It’s funny how science fiction can so often become reality.
So what do you call an all-powerful invisible entity that is present anywhere and everywhere all at once?