Stage-3: 200-500 Years

stage-3At this point, we are in danger of entering the twilight zone, where science future can quickly become science fiction. However, we will continue trying to consider not only the effects of technology advancement, but also its impact on society. Of course, part of the problems with such long-term predictions is that we don't really understand, or share a common perception of what society will look like in 200-500 years. Therefore, the following scenario is simply to provide a framework of what the world might be like having transitioned through stage-1 and the stage-2 evolution.

The world of the 24th century is a fragmented collage of societies, cultures and beliefs, made up of some 15 billion people. However, in general, populations are now stable and in many first-world countries there is even some concern about the fall in birth rates within their own economies. It is a world that still comprises of the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in terms of food and wealth, but the ‘haves’ are also divided into those that have accepted AI technology and those that have not. In numbers, the AI technophiles are still a small minority, however given that major economies are almost totally dependent on AI technology; AI technophiles hold the balance of power in many countries. While national borders still exist, mainly for security reasons, the sense of national identity is fading, due to a range of factors:

  • Continued migration of people throughout the world,
  • Increase in cross-cultural relationships and marriages,
  • The need for global economics and political solutions,
  • Fragmentation of society from within by evolution-by-design

Although, the development and introduction of new genetic crops has helped the desperate plight of cyclic starvation in many third-world countries, the growing effects of climate change has become the source of an increasing number of disasters, which has resulted in loss of vital food crops. As such, a large percentage of the world's 15 billion population still continues to live a hand-to-mouth existence. However, the technology-led economies now face problems of their own, not least, the the ever-growing demand for energy and mineral resources, which underpins the entire global economy. As a result, an international consortium of governments plus multi-national conglomerations are investing heavily in semi-automated AI robotic rigs to mine the asteroid belt and exploit new energy sources. As a consequence, AI technology in combination with developments in robotics has come to underpin, not only the hopes for economic recovery, but the perceived requirement for other habitable colonies within the solar system. However, for many, there is a new kind of despair, based on the perception that they are no longer part of the future being forged by the AI technophiles. This sense of despair does not just reside in third-world countries, but also within many individuals who live in the first-world countries, who feel that they have not, only a diminishing role in their own society, but the future itself. While this does lead to social anarchy in some inner-city areas throughout the world, the increasing ability of AI surveillance systems plus the fear of the imposition of neural implants as a result of a criminal conviction, has largely kept this problem in check. However, the side effect of this alienation from what appears to be a technophile-led society is an explosion of religious cult groups, which seeks to promote the spiritual nature of mankind; from which they believed AI is, and should remain, excluded.

As stated at the outset of this section, the future can be reached by many different paths, some planned, others created by random chance, and others by chaos. While the picture painted of life beyond the 24th century may be very disconcerting to some, it is clearly not a worst case scenario from which to consider the evolution of stage-3 AI. However, it is accepted that the scenario has been deliberately biased to reflect a growing fragmentation of society in which humanity either embraces or rejects AI technology. Although there is an implication that an organised group called the ‘AI technophiles’ has evolved, in practise, this group may simply represent the broad spectrum of acceptance. At one level, there is Homo Computerus, who accepts AI, but only as an external tool. At the next level is a small, but growing percentage that is evolving towards Homo Cyberneticus via the increased acceptance of both prosthetic and neural implants. These two evolutions are representative of stage-1 and stage-2 AI. In the 3rd stage, we are trying to consider the implications of two further evolutionary steps previously outlined by the hybrid AI paradigm:

Up to the end of stage-2, there remains a clear distinction between humanity and AI, at least, in general outward appearance. However, the preceding stages have now established the technology that has the potential to dramatically affect the physical appearance of humanity, which also raises the possibility of opening up new habitats beyond the confines of planet Earth. We have already speculated on the issue of prosthetic anatomy, but we shall present 3 of the earlier examples for continuity:

  • Medical Condition
    Clearly, a person with a severe physical disability or injury that is beyond the normal bounds of help, even with the best medical treatment in the world, could face a life of physical confinement. It is clear that many people would forego some aspect of their physical appearance, and even personal identity, in order to regain their independence. However, it is again stressed that a prosthetic anatomy could evolve, in the timeframe under discussion, to be both functionally superior and aesthetically beautiful. In fact, it may be entirely possible, in a case of this type, that the original appearance of the person could be replicated.

  • Extreme Professions
    Today, it might seem too extreme for somebody to change their physiology just to meet the demands of their profession. However, it is possible that the psychology of society beyond the 24th century is driven by different needs. It has been suggested that people may have started to question whether they have a role in society. As such, people may be more willing to 're-invent' themselves both physically and mentally in order to find some role in society beginning to be dominated by the advances in AI systems and robotics. Again, if the prosthetic anatomy was physically superior in some aspects and aesthetically acceptable, this may not be such a hard choice

  • Extreme Environments
    For some, life is not about their own physical form or beauty, but the beauty of exploring the universe and experiencing new wonders. However, the universe is a diverse and hostile environment and the human physiology has only evolved to meet the limited demands of a very small biosphere called Earth. To such people, the apparent sacrifice of giving up some or all of their original physical form for one that allows them to personally go out and experience the depths of space or the depths of the oceans may not be such a major issue.

At this point, it is realised that many people may be visualising prosthetic anatomy in terms of some robotic analogy, as implied by the picture above, which is a perception drawn from today’s technology and not necessarily the future reality of 24th century technology. Of course, early prosthetics will undoubtedly be crude in comparison to 4 billion years of evolution, but it might be a mistake to assume that prosthetic ascetics will not be high on the agenda for those interested in pursuing this idea. Of course, these early adopters may be driven by other pressing criteria, as suggested above, and we should not forget that there is the potential for future prosthetics, in conjunction with genetics, to dramatically increase the longevity of life. However, there is one other aspect that we might take into consideration, which arises from the acceptance of brain implants, i.e. augmented reality. While this is the topic of another section, this technology has the potential to transform the perception of reality. As such, future descendants of homo sapien might have the ability to project any avatar identity they wished into the augment reality in which they partially exist, but it would be a reality from which homo sapien may be excluded. Let us attempt to put this idea into some context of the world we have created above:

  • Space Exploration:
    As indicated, the technology for deep space exploration is being developed to allow the solar system to be explored and mined for mineral and energy resources. While much of this operation can be carried out by AI robotic systems, some aspects need Homo Machinus to be collocated within a ‘mothership’ in space. In order to survive the rigours of a life in space, while also minimising the cost and resources to maintain their on-board life-support, Homo Machinus has adapted to this new environment by replacing much of its original biological anatomy. In this form, Homo Machinus has an extended life expectancy of some 300 years, based on genetically modified biological brain cells, and can survive extended periods of high ‘G’ acceleration. However, while Homo Machinus lives and works in a sparse physical reality, it also lives and enjoys much of its leisure time in a far richer artificial reality (AR). Over time, the brain-computer interface has evolved to provide direct stimulus of all primary sensory systems. As such, what Homo Machinus sees, hears, tastes, smells and touches in its augmented reality is as real, in all practical terms, as what we perceive in our current physical reality. However, in AR, there is no requirement for physical resources and therefore leisure pursuits are limited only by their imagination and the computer systems to generate the AR simulations.

Of course, in the final analysis, the ability to uncouple evolution of intelligent life from its human physiology, as suggested, will take time. This might allow for the different evolutionary groups to adapt to social and political change implicit in this brave new world’. However, it is also possible that tensions on planet Earth may grow to a dangerous level or resources simply become depleted, such that stage-3 essentially signals the exodus of intelligent life out into the solar system and the stars beyond, albeit with precious little of its original DNA blueprint intact.