Here’s a term you might not have heard before: post-biological existence. In a recent piece at Gizmodo, George Dvorsky makes the case for uploading ourselves into supercomputers somewhere in the universe to escape the apocalypses foretold in current culture:
As urgently, we need to confront a grim reality: Our civilization will soon have to juggle an increasing array of existential and catastrophic risks, in which each added doomsday scenario will boost the odds of our self-destruction by orders of magnitude. That we devise sensible, practical solutions is paramount, if our civilization—and our species itself—is to last forever.George Dvorsky, “How Humanity Could Last Forever” at Gizmodo
While we are at it, we should adopt an interstellar or, better yet, an intergalactic mindset. None of this Moon-and-Mars stuff for the new “Distributed Humanity.”
But wait! The best is yet to come, Distributed Posthumanity:
First and foremost, we’d have indefinite lifespans. An uploaded digital being could live in a robust virtual-reality environment hosted inside a supercomputer, the location of which doesn’t really matter (though an argument could be made that it should be placed somewhere cold to maximize computational efficiency). Entire civilizations could live on a single supercomputer, enabling the existence of potentially trillions upon trillions of individuals, each of them a single brain emulation. These supercomputers could in turn be duplicated and sprinkled across the galaxy and beyond, in what could be described as Distributed Posthumanity.George Dvorsky, “How Humanity Could Last Forever” at Gizmodo
We could, he tells us, back ourselves up to the Cloud and travel at the speed of light… not that any of the details have really been worked out yet.
Dvorsky’s striking essay at Gizmodo prompts some thoughts:
● We live in an era when modern technology in general and AI is particular is making great progress in small but important things: prostheses that can help an amputee do more things, AI-driven techniques that can decipher ancient writings from burnt-up scrolls; brain imaging that shows that people who are missing large parts of their brain can and do live normal lives. They’re not apocalypses; they are just some of the incremental improvements in our lives.
In general, many things are much better than they used to be. To cite just one example of many, the worldwide growth of obesity is putting the spectre of natural famine out of business (most hunger today stems from political issues). Why then are so many people obsessed, as Dvorsky seems to be, with technological apocalyptic doom?
● Why the rush to distribute ourselves across the galaxy, only to wind up as files on a supercomputer somewhere on the other side of Alpha Centauri? Dvorsky fails to identify a goal that could inspire us to make such an effort—except to exist indefinitely as a string of code. To become one of our own artifacts…
● Why is it so important to preserve our civilization anyway? That is, who or what are we supposed to be preserving it for? Other digital files somewhere in the galaxy?
Decades ago, in popular science culture, the extraterrestrials were expected to land on Earth. They would either kill or enslave us erring humans—or perhaps guide us into all things wise and advanced.
But extraterrestrials don’t really figure much in Dvorsky’s 2020 apocalyptic vision.
It could be the times changing. SETI@Home is shutting down now. There’s still a hunt for life on Mars, of course, and astronomers still monitor exoplanets to see if any of them are like Earth. But those are calculations, not speculations. The apocalyptic vision seems now to have moved on. It is now about uploading ourselves to a supercomputer. The question of whether we could ever really do that is, in a sense, secondary. It is a tale of the invented god.
Others think it impossible. Just science fiction. They’re probably right but, with apocalyptic visions, that part doesn’t really matter so much. The main question is whether it answers a cultural need for a vision that mirrors the inner turmoil of the day. Perhaps mere extraterrestrials don’t stand a chance against supercomputers these days. That’s technological progress for you.
Further reading: Is transhumanism uncomfortably tempting? An ethicist asks us to stop and reflect.
Would you want immortal life as a cyborg? Would you give up your right arm for a robotic device that performs better? Think about it.