Why should technology not go on and accelerate like it has before? Why should humanoids not get ever brighter; why should democracy not grow until true communism emerges? Techno-progressives emanate an air of renegade radicalism. They like to accuse critics of not thinking things through sufficiently and stopping at the point best befit to rationalize beliefs.
Yet both, the critics and many proponents of technological enhancement alike agree on where to stop asking: a racist ‘we (I, humans, our planet) must survive and conquer’ plus lip-service toward a pseudo-democratic doctrine so comfortably ‘coincidentally’ at the helm as we speak. As bad as that may be regarding other issues, it turns into Jules Verne stories when discussing future.
Generalized evolution and futurism/futurology; here again does transhumanism reveal itself to be largely Sci-Fi, which invariably conserves how humans are stuck with their contemporary concepts, unable to envision future, a critique I started the last time (also here and here for more of a discussion in the comment sections).
Invariably, death, always equated with an apocalyptic end, is worse than dystopia. Why? The latter’s potential for revolution? What arrogant coffeehouse existentialism. Certain questions are taboo among the smug i-phone bourgeoisie ‘radicals’. Techno enthusiasts confuse progress with the second coming of this time true democracy.
Must I really first believe in ill-defined freedom to envision future without preconceived notions? Is the US in decline in spite of or because of their type of ‘democracy’? In case you have still not realized yet: China has taken over the future, and not because of chop sticks. The future has already partially arrived, but techno snobs still can’t imagine it while it hits them over the head.
My criticism is not shortsighted towards the potential of technology. On the contrary: Yes we can; we are developing past the merely human stage right now. We couldn’t stop it if we all really wanted to. This TED talk by Paul Root-Wolpe should eliminate any doubt about the convergence of biology and technology. Techno-future will be, but if you think that the outcome is anything like you dreamed or hoped for, think again!
What is Evolution?
The transhumanism crowd has understood evolution while many other intellectuals still grapple with getting their head around mere old biological evolution. Evolution is tautologically true: Whatever there will be (‘successful’, more numerous, …) in the future, will be there (successful, more numerous, …) in the future, regardless the specifics. This is the basis of ‘algorithmic evolution’.
Evolution has no clue about the difference humans like to uphold between nature and technology. Some argue that transhumanism “isn't a matter of letting evolution take its course, instead it specifically engineers.” These are indistinguishable as far as algorithmic evolution is concerned.
Biological evolutionary change is spread out over generations, but to most substrates that harbor evolution, the concept of generations is not even applicable, be it on the pre-biotic stage or on the level of animal societies, sociology, nation states, religions, computer viruses, etc. With transhumanist engineering it is explicitly desired that the current generation is intentionally evolving itself.
Dan Sperber argues that the formal mechanisms that explain cultural evolution are from epidemiology, not population genetics. Ideas spread like contagious diseases, not like genes. The fastest developing evolutionary substrate is cyberspace and nanotechnology. Many developments in these areas still accelerate exponentially. There are no thousand years anymore for this dinosaur to go extinct. We are finished already.
With this take on evolution as the background, lets see what light can be shed onto the future.
What Can We Do?
Ethics is about what you should do. There is nothing whatsoever ants can do to avoid the evolution of ant colonies. Nobody has given a valid argument for why the system called “human” could be so special that there is even the slightest chance of changing evolution from how it worked before, from how it always ‘works’.
Read the news lately? The increasing stress and depression in the ‘developed world’ is not even in the news. Ethics likes to imagine useful measures of happiness. Assume we agree on one and calculate its expectation value with advanced evolution theory. What if the evolved balance of well-being to suffering in co-evolved systems is located in the red? Global death stands obviously at zero, which is relatively happier.
You cannot kill the machines like the Luddites tried without killing yourself anymore. You can try to storm them in order to jump on and steer, but naive optimism accelerates the inevitable instead of slowing it down. It is not coincidence but due to the kind of evolved stability that only co-evolved complex systems have that the vast majority of ‘great ideas’ backfire to bring on precisely what they tried to avoid and worse. Transhumansists need to think much harder about the great dangers of their overenthusiastic plans.
What to Expect in the Future?
There are only two possibilities: Evolution stays pretty much the same (S) as it always has, independent of the substrate in which it is ongoing. Evolution is somehow different (D) in the new substrate; there is some sort of threshold because memes in cyberspace in some way behave fundamentally different from any evolutionary actor before.
If S is true, the future will be as dark as past and present, and this is why many embrace D, the singularity for example. Without extremely good reasons for assuming otherwise, we should assume S. However, I have reasons for taking D seriously, but it will be the opposite of what people wish for! The novel is not intelligence but rationality. There will not be unprecedented intelligence in pursue of irrational aims, but unprecedented rationality.
Not homosexuality or murder or masturbation distinguishes us from animals. Humans commit suicide. They are the first systems with primitive beginnings of rationality, while all evolved systems show 'intelligence'. Extreme rationality is deadly.
No Freedom in the Beast
Many have suggested that whatever humans will develop into, those ‘androids’ will become somewhat like cells living in a multicellular organism, the beast (from Robert Pirsig's “Lila”) or megaorganism. But actually, we are already in the megasystem: society. Yes, humans will be like the ‘happy’ cells of a body, be that body a murderer or tyrant. It is also called “good citizens” paying their taxes.
Some cling to a biological picture in order to argue for hope. They say something like: “There is a multitude of microorganisms living in and on our bodies, more gut bacteria in us than human cells! There are myriads of opportunities to remain a ‘free agent’ inside a complex and highly integrated system.”
Sure, if you like to compare yourself with viruses and gut bacteria landing in the toilet after a day. However, you may like to compare yourself rather with complex, highly integrated ‘social’ systems, like skin cells voluntarily committing suicide after a week, or say with a cortex neuron in human brain. Its ‘freedom’ is decoupled from having any undesired effect. This is the fundamental nature of the evolved democratic doctrine and its dangerous metastability as humans are still not sufficiently ‘wired in’ into pre-selected perceptions to make it reliable.
Some take hope from the misconception that “relative to the time scale of individuals, the evolution of megaorganisms is slow.” However, the evolution of the superstructure is precisely not slower! Humans did not evolve much since the Neolithic age while society obviously changed like crazy.
The evolution of higher level systems happens precisely because adaptation speeds up through the higher stratum as changes in the environment can be survived better that way. The lower level components' evolution is slowed down. They become ‘legacy systems’, like the qwerty arrangement of letters on your keyboard.
The interesting today is the emergence of a new evolutionary substrate, namely cyberspace, which now starts to evolve orders of magnitude faster than anything evolving before. To be about 100% expected: We will become legacy systems! The superstructure will also likely lead to total abandonment of volatile human-like individualistic consciousness in cyberspace.
Not surprisingly, those scared come forth with desperate suggestions about that the new evolutionary substrate may behave differently for the first time: The “singularity”, strong contender for the most misleading terminology this side of the great attractor, as our savior rather than destroyer, if we all just use twitter enough.
There have been many future scenarios suggested. They all have their specific features that make them more or less likely. Global Suicide is not merely yet another contender, one a little more thought-through, but it is the result of thinking such scenarios in general through to the end. It is the result of taking evolution seriously as something that applies generally. Is there an unexpected, attractor or threshold in general Darwinian processes, hypothesis D, like the ‘singularity’?
Sci-Fi novels have come up with punk futurisms involving silly scenarios, like once we know everything, we get bored and kill ourselves, as expounded on sites like exitmundi. Global Suicide is not drivel inspired by the renegade emo/goth coolness of death. Global Suicide is a scientific question about the substrate dependence of algorithmic evolution.
I have argued for the Global Suicide hypothesis, giving such thoughts a serious treatment at all for the first time. That bacteria often kill their host and thus themselves (without necessarily finding another host to jump on) is not what Global Suicide is about. Global Suicide is about a globally omnipotent structure that results from potentially passing the bottleneck of such likely catastrophe. It is the opposite of runaway environmental disasters.
The unlikely development through the bottleneck brought on by ‘too successful’ conscious individualistic systems leads to a globally omnipotent super structure that will eventually switch itself and all else off because it is the only rational decision left to do*.
Global Suicide is the nightmare of the heaven-on-earth techno-evangelists that hope for a quite different kind of salvation. I have argued at other places and will here again that it is the logical outcome of the enhancements that we are now actively after in order to make life incrementally better and optimize for self-fulfillment.
Global Suicide predicts that shortly after development of information technology, life disappears due to what is inherent to Darwinian processes generally. This makes Global Suicide the only suggestion that brings the probability of long lived advanced civilizations to zero rather than just a small number. It is thus the only good candidate to solve the Fermi paradox, which is about there not being a single trace of any other civilization out there although astrobiology keeps finding ever more planets, more chemistry that life could be based on, and so forth. Astronomical observation thus supports hypothesis D: Global Suicides have likely occurred already multiple times in the milky way.
What may irk many people the most is that none of this is easily attacked neo-Luddism, because guess what: It is OK! In fact, Global Suicide is but one part of Suicidal Philosophy, which puts the usual boring “philosophy of suicide” from its head onto its feet. It is about assisting rational suicide, the personal one as well as the global. Making philosophy scientific again and useful for the suffering system, regardless what kind of system, what could be more ethical?