Evolution of the TechnoHuman

By : Jim Pinto,
San Diego, CA.

Is technology changing humans? Will the rapid advances in technology in the coming century cause, or allow, a different type of human to evolve? Will the span of human life extend beyond 150-200 years? Will synthetic life develop and evolve?

Significant philosophical, ethhical, moral, legal and sociological questions must be answered, as we move forward in a new century and millennium.

The original version of this article was published in the webzine
Check out Spark-oline Spark Online, November 2000

Evolution took millions of years to progress to the development of primates and then Homo sapiens. It took humans only thousands of years to get to the industrial revolution, following which technological developments continued with an exponential rate of change - performance doubling in half the time. Towards the end of the last century, significant changes in the human landscape occurred in just decades. In this next century, technology speed-up will continue with major evolutionary consequences.

Man with tools - "superior" to man-without

History makes it evident that man-with-tool inevitably survived and conquered man-without. Even spiritually advanced humans (India a few centuries ago, Aztecs and American Indians within the last two) were quickly subjugated by technological prowess.

That was societal change - what about individual and personal? Are the tools of today evolving a new form of techno-human? More and more people are becoming walking conglomerations of various electronic devices. I never travel without my pocket-PC, its wireless connection, laptop, cell-phone, digital camera and GPS. Armed with these gadgets, I can do a lot of things that a few years ago would have been considered magic!

Increasingly in the future, people will be constantly connected to the world through intelligent processors and communications. These devices will be everywhere - in our clothes, our beds, our homes, all over and even inside our bodies. Because we will interact with the world and each other primarily through electronic devices and communications, the distinction between reality and non-reality will blur.

Accelerating Technology brings accelerating change

The three technology laws are bringing about an advance in civilization that has significant and far-reaching consequences. Moore’s law (exponential increase in processing power), Gilder’s law (exponential increase in communications bandwidth) and Metcalfe’s law (exponential increase in connected intelligence) - the combination is producing results that are unfolding with awesome speed - bringing irreversible change to the human species.

In his book, “The Age of Spiritual Machines - when computers exceed human intelligence” Ray Kurzweil argues that synthetic intelligence will inevitably exceed human capabilities within the next few decades. As technology continues its accelerating progress, computers will attain human intelligence levels within about fifty years, and advance to the combined intelligence of all humankind by the end of the century. Some fringe-thinkers are already discussing trans-human and post-human societies.

Technological progress - threat or benefit?

In his article "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us" in the April 2000 issue of Wired, Bill Joy, co-founder of and chief scientist at Sun Microsystems, argues that our current pace of technological progress poses a very real threat to the future of the human race. He proposes a new ethical standard to guide innovation - and he even recommends that scientists halt potentially dangerous research. His apocalyptic vision of the future has provoked a debate about innovation throughout the high-tech industry.

I was stuck in this metaphor - synthetic versus human intelligence - until I suddenly recognized that the combination had the potential for tremendous good. That combination is already extrapolating rapidly today - with a vast and independent intelligence developing in and around us - the gadgets we utilize, connected through the amorphous and omnipresent world-wide-web.

The web-intelligence already exists, survives and grows, independently and inexorably. Today, when connected to the web, I can trade stocks very effectively without being a broker, provide at least a preliminary diagnosis of an illness without being a doctor, search out valuable knowledge with a click of a mouse. Sure, there is potential for bad and evil; but human society always seems to develop the antibodies that eliminate a virus and stimulate the cure.

The "symbiotic" relationship

I am optimistic about the synergy that can develop between natural and synthetic intelligence. In his book “The Symbiotic Man - A New Understanding of the Organization of Life and a Vision of the Future” Joel de Rosnay describes the developing “symbiosis” between man and machine. He insists, “We are witnessing the origin of a new life-form on Earth - a still embryonic macro-organism made up of the totality of human beings and machines, living creatures, networks and nations - trying to live in symbiosis with the planetary ecosystem.”

It is interesting that human DNA is 98.6% the same as the gorilla and 97.8% the same as orangutans, our original biological roots. It seems inevitable that sequencing of the human genome will bring a new level of knowledge of our biological makeup. As we begin to understand the subtle yet significant differences, the consequences are awesome. Technology will enhance biology through the virtual elimination of disease and significant increase in longevity.

Evolution is "increase of harmony"....

A hundred years ago, the average human lifespan was perhaps 60 years. My grandfather seemed old and feeble at the age when many of my friends still swim and jog, play tennis and globetrot regularly. Within less than a decade, the human lifespan will increase beyond 100 years, and by the end of this century to a couple of centuries. And, at the age of 175, I may be moving into my fifth career - as a doctor, after having worked as an engineer, a lawyer, a rocket-mechanic and a clergyman. Then perhaps the biggest fatalities will come not from cancer or heart disease, but from accidents, and war.

And then perhaps, the new balance of life will allow humans to focus, not on technological advancement, but on spirituality and love.

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