Hybrid AI Timeframes

In case we forget, it is in the nature of paradigms that they are, at best, only ever partially correct. Subsequent research and knowledge combined with other insights always eventually overturn an earlier model. Equally, the evolutionary paradigm under discussion was never intended to be taken literally, as its purpose is merely to provide a framework for discussion. Therefore, the following diagram is only an illustration of the salient stages discussed in respect to providing some estimate of the timeframe in which these evolutions might take place.

Timeframe

Figure : Artificial Evolutionary Tree

Each of the numbered circles corresponds to a branch in the evolutionary tree. The lettered squares indicate key technology(s) triggering or associated with the next evolutionary stage. The time axis is shown across the page with technology advances listed down the page. The thick grey line represents one path through which AI (Homo Primus) is achieved as a hybrid evolution based on human biological systems. However, there is also a second path, shown as a grey dotted line, where AI is achieved directly through technology.

Technical Perspective

Homo Sapien represents the 100,000 years during which the brain has remained effectively unchanged. Homo Computerus augments the intelligence of Homo Sapien using computers that indirectly provide the massive increase in present day information processing, distribution and storage capacity. At stage 2, the tree splits into two distinct branches represented by Homo Optimus and Homo Cyberneticus. It can be seen that these stages are dependent on a number of critical technology developments that are projected to come about in the next 100 years:

Homo Optimus represents the main evolutionary branch for biologically based humanity. As such, many sections of global society may see this as the preferred path, which may therefore endure far into the future. However, progress may be tied to changes being accepted over many successive generations and in comparison to Homo Cyberneticus, evolutionary progress may appear relatively slow. The evolution towards Homo Cyberneticus is predicated on the development of a brain-computer interface, which may prove to be a very difficult technical milestone, however it is likely that partial solutions could start to appear quite quickly in the area of medical research. There is also the possibility that research in this area could be well funded by the military. Even for those willing to accept augmentation of their minds, many may prefer to retain their biological form. Therefore, Homo Cyberneticus could also evolve into the future as a separate sub-species.

The continued and synchronised development of intelligent systems and the brain-computer interface, in conjunction with robotics, will underpin the augmentation of human anatomy in Homo Hybridus and lay the foundations for further developments:

However, these technologies will require advances across a broad spectrum of disciplines and it is expected to take another 100-150 years to bring these technologies to any sort of maturity, even assuming accelerated development capabilities in all fields. Homo Machinus is the next evolutionary step toward AI and by this stage; the brain may be the only major biological component of Homo Sapien remaining.

One has to assume by this stage that technology is accelerating at a rate that may be difficult for us to comprehend. Even so, the final step to AI, that provides the evolution to Homo Primus, may still take several hundred years. At this point, it may have been noted that there appears to have been little discussion of the alternative technology path to Homo Primus. Although the complexity of the technology developments appears to be essentially the same, it is believed that the hybrid path may be the preferred route for the following reasons:

  • It may be impossible to stop intermediate use of the technology for human augmentation prior to the emergence of any AI life form.
  • The process of convergence between humanity and AI may be inherently more stable, if essentially intertwined.

The inference of this last point is now expanded in the next section as we try to initially analyse how society may view the development of technology that could one day lead to its extinction.

Social Perspective

Irrespective of whether the rate of change of technology implied by many of the predictions can be achieved or not, the actual rate of change may still be governed by a social perspective. However, there is a question as to whether the perspective of society is actually the cause or effect of change. Clearly, if society does not prevent the development of a technology, then that technology may cause fundamental changes in a society. As a consequence, the post-change society may have a different perspective on a subsequent technology than the pre-change society. We often call this progress. With reference back to diagram above, there are a number of technologies shown as the primary catalyst for evolutionary change that would not necessarily be accepted today. However, the perspective of our current society is not being asked to make all these future choices, so the question is more about what social changes will be required to get from where we are now, to where the technology might take us in the future. It has been argued that we have already taken the evolutionary step to Homo Computerus and that this change is self-evident and now a historical fact that cannot be changed without a major collapse of the current world order.

So what social changes in our societies have accompanied this evolutionary step?

Well, at the beginning of the 20th century, people had only limited access to information; science was still looked upon in wonder and amazement by many. Today, we are bombarded with information through 24-hour news channels and access to almost unlimited commentary via the Internet. However, the by-product of this information is that many are now more cynical of their political leaderships and just as sceptical as to the benefits that science might bring. Genetically Modified (GM) crops may be an example of the change in social perspective towards science. The evolutionary paradigm has suggested that two branches could evolve during the 21st century:

  • Homo Optimus
  • Homo Cyberneticus

Although artificial evolution is very, very much faster than natural evolution, change is still not instantaneous and new species will not appear over night. In this respect, some initial steps that could lead to Homo Optimus have already been taken. Medical science has already given life to plants, animals and humans that would not have been born by natural selection. We should also remember that many of us would not be alive today, if natural selection, through illness, had been allowed to run its course without the intervention of medical science. At first, the development of DNA technology could be seen as benign in the sense that it seeks only to rectify flaws in DNA that would otherwise cause illness. While some sections of society may resist any manipulation of our natural blueprint, a broader social perspective may begin to accept this line of research. However, there is a fine line between DNA manipulation that could lead to beneficial enhancements of nature's blueprint and the darker side of eugenics that could become a major concern. However, in technical terms, we may have the understanding and ability to start to significantly alter our DNA blueprint over the next 2-3 generations.

So what may affect the social perspective that allows Homo Optimus to evolve?

Well, one aspect that may change the current status quo is the development of today's computer systems into expert systems, with robotic extensions that can carry out many of the functions that we would associate with highly qualified professionals, such as doctors and engineers. If this does come about, there could be increased competition for professional careers with very demanding selection criteria on each applicant. Survival of the fittest, changes to 'survival of the smartest' and in a world where many couples may only plan for 1 or 2 children, they might then start to seriously consider any new approach that helps their children survive in a competitive world, although costs and cultural norms will not make this a ubiquitous option.

Alternatively, Homo Cyberneticus may initially circumvent the issue of genetic manipulation by opting for increased mental capabilities through a direct brain-computer interface. For this reason, there may be less opposition from some sections of society against this approach. Again, medical applications, such as restoring mobility to paralysis victims, are based on augmenting the natural connections between the brain and nervous system with an artificial system that includes built-in microprocessors. Of course, it may still taken another 50-100 years for this technology to mature to the point where a computer system can act as a third lobe to the brain. The basic rationale for Homo Cyberneticus may be similar to Homo Optimus, i.e. enhanced capability, but somewhat different in scope. The implication is that Homo Optimus changes its DNA blueprint before a child is born, which also has the implication that some of this change would be passed on to any future generations. In contrast, Homo Cyberneticus may be a choice that can be taken after birth without directly affecting the DNA of that person and so would not be hereditary. However, in practice, the choice may have to be taken quite early in life, if the brain is to be allowed to truly adapt to the computer interface while still in the process of forming the majority of its neural connections.

Are there both moral and legal issues associated with making any artificial changes to either an unborn child or legal minor?

Human evolution to-date has been driven by the genetics of the parents and a good deal of random chance. At the beginning of the 21st century, we are at a crossroads in the sense that humanity is now increasingly capable of directing its own evolution. However, it is not clear that society, let alone individuals, are particularly well equipped to make such decisions. Therefore, this capability will raise many moral and legal issues, which need to be addressed. However, there are already important precedents being made in the area of artificial fertilisation and genetic manipulation to correct known hereditary defects, which may affect the life of the unborn child. Equally, parents have the right to make many important decisions concerning the health of their children, e.g. blood transfusions and immunisations etc. What seems certain is that advances in technology will only expand the scope of these choices. In the case of Homo Cyberneticus, there may be perceived benefits in fitting some neural implants at a relatively young age. While pure speculation at this stage, the development of nano-technology may eventually put this process on the same level as an immunisation injection. Equally, if the process is reversible in the sense that future generations are not affected, then society may be more passive to this sort of adaptation. However, if the technological seeds of change are already sown, as has been suggested for both Homo Optimus and Homo Cyberneticus, then maybe, in these cases, social perspective is little more than a process of market acceptance. Either these changes are perceived to impart benefits to society or not. However, this view is probably too simplistic, as history is littered with moral injustices that were quite beneficial to some sections of society, while abhorrent to others.

So far, we have discussed the social perspective to evolutionary change that does not necessarily change the outward appearance of an individual. However, as we move into the future, this would not be the case for either Homo Hybridus or Homo Machinus. These evolutionary steps might appear extreme to present-day society, but how would Victorian society in 1890 have viewed punk rock society in 1990? Yes, it is accepted that the scope of evolutionary change being discussed is very different from a cult fashion, but it does reflect how some sections of society can change its attitude to appearance in just 100 years. However, a more fundamental issue that may force social perspective to change is survival. We have already indicated that many disabled people may forego aspects of their physical appearance in order to re-gain their mobility and self-sufficiency and, in so doing, improve the quality of their lives. In future, the quality of life on Earth for many may come under threat either through natural or man-made disasters. So, for practical reasons and the desire to explore the universe, future generations may continue to develop the ability to not only travel, but also live in space. However, the conditions for life outside the confines of planet Earth are extremely hostile and long-term survival in our current biological form may be viewed as too precarious to risk exposure on a day-to-day basis.

An even more radical catalyst for change may be artificial reality (AR). Many of us have had the experience of getting 'lost' in a novel. Some of us may even have experienced video games with virtual reality interfaces that have fooled our senses into believing we were immersed in another world. However, in comparison, AR could offer total immersion of all senses into a new reality and this technology could be available to any evolutionary sub-specie equipped with a brain-computer interface. So, having crossed this technology threshold, appearance in the physical universe may be driven more by the need to survive, have extended life expectancy and greater range of physical capabilities. Other aspects of our lives and society, such as fun and pleasure, may therefore  transition into AR.

Summary

As already stated, from our current perspective, many people may view the AI paradigm presented as possibly both unpalatable and even an unacceptable vision of the future. If so, then the following table, giving some estimate of the probability of each step occurring, may be even more worrying.

Step  

Evolution  

%  

Comment

1  

Homo Sapiens  

100%  

Simply a question of survival

2  

Homo Computerus  

90%  

Essentially there already

3  

Homo Optimus  

70%  

In part, already started

4  

Homo Cyberneticus   

50%  

Early experiments beginning

5  

Homo Hybridus  

40%  

Step 4 plus prosthetics

6  

Homo Machinus  

30%  

Natural progression of 5

7  

Homo Primus  

10%  

Still a big unknown step

Table : Probabilities of AI Evolution

The brief comments in Table-4 are expanded as follows:

  • Steps 1 & 2 are essentially the current status quo, although Homo Computerus is not necessarily accepted as a new sub-species.

  • Steps 3 & 4 have already begun in terms of medical research, although the present focus is primarily on disease and disability. However, advances under this more acceptable guise could lead to more radical spinoff applications, in the same way as cosmetic surgery has evolved out of corrective face surgery. The main debate simply being how far will humanity go towards the description given in this paradigm?

  • Step 5 is essentially an extension of step 4 with the additional acceptance of prosthetic replacements or extensions to the human physiology. Again, this could start off in a low-key manner in which internal organs are replaced that have little obvious impact on personal appearance, although these augmentations may start to dramatically increase life expectancy.

  • Step 6 is the natural evolution of step 5. As suggested by the paradigm, this type of evolution may be primarily motivated by survival in environments that would be either very hostile or fatal to normal human physiology. If other benefits were perceived, then acceptance could become more wide spread.

  • Step 7 is a low probability because the human brain is still the only working model that is known to produce sentient intelligence and the truth is that we still do not have much idea how it really works, let alone replicate. Therefore, until we better understand human consciousness and the many functions of the brain, the probability of sentient AI may remain low, but not necessarily impossible.

The adverse reaction of some people to a future, as described by the paradigm, may be based on the innate instinct of all species to fight for survival and see their offspring flourish. On this point, our future evolution can still be described as promising, although it ends up being very different from what we currently understand as humanity. However, AI could still be described as our intellectual offspring, rather than our biological offspring.

The first question we therefore have to answer is does this really matter?
The second is whether we, society at large, will even be asked?