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DISCLAIMER: The future I describe in the following essay I feel is possible but I do not like to think it is probable.
In the beginning man was a hunter. His senses were tuned to the world around him in ways we, today, cannot even imagine. In his world everything was alive, the rivers, the forests, the earth itself. There was a spirit that moved through all things. The animals were brothers whose lives were taken with respect so that man could survive.
Man learned that he could hunt and survive best with others of his kind. The clan and the tribe gave way to villages, towns and later cities. Then states and nations were formed down through history. It is instinctive for humans to be connected to other humans. Early man had no prisons or executions. Those who broke the understood rules of the tribe were banished, exiled, disconnected from the group.
Perhaps the one most irresistible feature of the internet is that it satisfies our primal need of being connected to others or better yet networked. Man is essentially a herd animal and the internet is the biggest herd on the planet. Here we can blend in with the rest of humanity. We can be any color, sex or creed. We can be anonymous using handles for names, our fingertips touching a keyboard touching other fingertips on keyboards. There is a certain kind of freedom that can only be experienced within the perimeters of a herd.
On March 3, 1998 Stephen Hawking, considered by many the smartest man alive, gave a speech at the White House on the next millennium. Below is an excerpt from his speech.
"But now we are at the beginning of a new era in which we will be able to increase the complexity of our DNA without having to wait for the slow process of biological evolution. There has been no significant change in human DNA in the last ten thousand years. But it is likely that we will be able to completely redesign it in the next thousand. Of course many people will say that genetic engineering on humans should be banned. But I rather doubt if they will be able to prevent it. Genetic engineering on plants and animals will be allowed for economic reasons and someone is bound to try it on humans. Unless we have a totalitarian world order, someone will design improved humans somewhere.
Clearly developing improved humans will create great social and political problems with respect to unimproved humans. I'm not advocating human genetic engineering as a good thing, I'm just saying that it is likely to happen in the next millennium, whether we want it or not. This is why I don't believe science fiction like Star Trek where people are essentially the same four hundred years in the future. I think the human race, and its DNA, will increase its complexity quite rapidly.
In a way the human race needs to improve its mental and physical qualities if it is to deal with the increasingly complex world around it and meet new challenges like space travel. And it also needs to increase its complexity if biological systems are to keep ahead of electronic ones. At the moment computers have an advantage of speed, but they show no sign of intelligence. This is not surprising because our present computers are less complex than the brain of an earthworm, a species not noted for their intellectual powers. But computers obey Moore's Law put forward by Gordon Moore of Intel. This says that their speed and complexity double every 18 months. It is one of these exponential growths which clearly can not continue indefinitely. However it will probably continue until computers have a similar complexity to the human brain. Some people say that computers can never show true intelligence whatever that may be. But it seems to me that if very complicated chemical molecules can operate in humans to make them intelligent then equally complicated electronic circuits can also make computers act in an intelligent way. And if they are intelligent they can presumably design computers that have even greater complexity and intelligence.
This is why I don't believe the science fiction picture of an advanced but constant future. Instead, I expect complexity to increase at a rapid rate, both in the biological and electronic spheres. Not much of this will happen in the next hundred years, which is all we can reliably predict. But by the end of the next millennium, if we get there, the change will be fundamental."
Professor Hawking's words provided me with much food for thought. Barring some unforeseen setback such as plague or nuclear war humans will not be able to resist the opportunity to try genetic engineering. The temptation to play God and speed up thousands of years of evolution into a period of just a few years will happen somewhere and then everywhere.
With computers doubling their speed every 18 months the possibility of an intelligent machine may be less than a hundred years away. A machine intelligent enough to design machines even smarter than itself. Perhaps smart enough to design "improved humans".
As a man stricken with Lou Gehrig's Disease Prof. Hawking must use a computer to communicate to the world. As a result I'm sure he has thought of the following but did not dare say it. That maybe in the distant future the competition between engineered humans and intelligent computers would be resolved by combining the two. What I mean is what we commonly refer to in science fiction as cyborgs, a human with hardware attached. The concept is horrific to say the least, inhuman and monstrous. Would a genetically engineered human feel in the way that we feel today? Would he believe in a God? Would he have morale values the same as we do? Perhaps he may think that physically merging himself with computer technology may not only be logical but even fashionable. As computers today are most effective in a network then so too would be a race of cyborgs. A race of modem heads all connected and online. The ultimate electronic herd.
Here is where I have to stop, take a deep breath and do what comedian George Carlin says he's doing. Sitting back and waiting for the comet to hit and make things right. You know it's been a while since I last went hunting.
-R. Carrozza © 1998, © 2016