The Social Endgame

In summary, aspects of this discussion have already been outlined in the earlier sections entitled AI and Robotic Developmentsand ‘The Genetic Endgame, which made reference to a hybrid AI paradigm. Reference has also been made to some speculative scenarios, see links below, that have social implications that may be relevant to this discussion, although the implied timeframes might be question:

In these earlier discussions, social evolution is discussed in terms of multiple factors, e.g. technology, economics and geopolitics, which are still relevant to the current discussion. However, the current discussion of social evolution has only referenced, rather than replicated, these earlier discussions by focusing more on the issue of ‘Cognition, Intelligence and IQ, which was then expanded into the discussions of Genetic Enhancements and Technology Enhancements. However, this final discussion will attempt to make some additional, albeit general, assessment of the direction of social evolution.

What we might realise from the diagram above is that any process of social evolution will take place within a complex interaction of future change, which we might assume will require some degree of social, economic and political stability. Whether this stability can be maintained on a global basis or simply preserved within the concept of some future projection of ‘Fortress World might be debated. However, stability invariably requires some form of social cohesion to be maintained, which historically has evolved from small tribes of hunter-gathers into much larger culturally diverse nation-states. Today, we might have a perception of a form of global cohesion where nation-states might be seen to operate within the framework of a globalised economy, although still invariably driven by national politics. However, today, most people retain a sense of national or cultural identity often with very disparate worldviews, which can destabilise the idea of a multicultural society along many different fault lines. This said, we might assume that all people share some common objectives, i.e. survive and prosper, that may allow some form of social stability to be maintained, even if it requires some brave new worlds to adopt a level of security surveillance that might appear closer to Orwell’s 1984 dystopian vision than we might want to accept, assuming we are even asked.

What are the current risks to social stability?

We might start with the assumption that without some form of social cohesion, possibly only maintained by the power of the nation-state, technological progress may be slowed or simply grind to a standstill. For given the difference of current worldviews, it appears unlikely that there will be any global consensus in support of the type of technology evolutions, as outlined. It is also probable that any change to the nature of humanity, e.g. intelligence, will only lead to a further fragmentation of society, where groups with possibly significantly different abilities only coexist rather than interact. In all honesty, it is not clear how this process would not lead to social conflict, such that the future, like the past, will be defined by winners and losers and, in this respect, evolution by design may retain the characteristic of survival of the fittest. Likewise, any loss of stability in the global ecology could equally change the priority of many societies towards basic survival, which may lead to increased conflicts over dwindling resources. Today, the world population has already exceeded 7 billion and estimated to grow to over 9 billion by 2050. At the start of the 21st century, we are belatedly coming to the realisation that planet Earth does not have unlimited resources and can no longer be considered as an infinite sinkhole for all our waste products. Rather, our planet is a fragile ecosystem, which even our present population may be straining to breaking point. The possibility of continued population growth compounded by any number of potential environmental disasters could result in a loss of arable land and the depletion of fresh water supplies, which already appear to have triggered mass migration around the world, resulting in increased levels of social instability. If this was not a depressing enough picture, the potential problems being outlined could be compounded by the rising problem of growing global unemployment, which may only be aggravated further by AI and robotic automation. If we throw in the idea of a technology-driven process that appears to shunt much of humanity into an evolutionary siding, we may have all the ingredients for a self-inflicted global disaster without precedence.

But does society have to evolve in this way?

Of course, the future does not have to turn out this way, but it is possibly naïve to assume that it is impossible. However, the scope of the potential changes outlined will not all arrive tomorrow or necessarily any time soon and, of course, some may never happen. However, evolutionary change by definition is essentially an accumulating process of cause and effect, where some causes may have little effect, while others may have a profound effect with possibly unintended consequences, which are difficult to predict and even harder to control. If so, humanity may not be able to select its own path into the future as it may simply end up reacting to a sequence of cause and effect events over which it has loss control. In this respect, predictions also have to be quantified in terms of statistical probability.

So what is probable rather than simply possible?

Given the state of the world today and the growing problems of economic instability, population and mass migration, it is entirely possible, to the point of being probable, that social and environmental stability may continue to deteriorate at the global level. However, based on probability not certainty, we might assume that a there will not be global deterioration of all social stability due to nuclear war or some other near extinction event. This said, we cannot rule out the probability of accumulating change causing further problems on a global scale. If so, it is probable that powerful nation-states will continue to prioritise their own national self-interests, which may lead in the direction of the fortress world model.

Is this an improbable extrapolation of the current state of the world?

If not, any threat to the self-interests of these powerful nation-states, be it real or imagined, may trigger destabilising action that deepens any crisis, both at home or abroad. In this context, the governments of the most powerful and wealthy nation-states may seek to protect their self-interests by investing in the research and development of technology, as outlined, which they believe may give them an advantage in any future conflict, be it in the physical or cyber domain and at home or abroad. In many respect, this is not a prediction based on probability, but rather a statement of what is already happening in the world today. In this scenario, social stability is already being further eroded by fake news and the fear of rogue-states and terrorism, which various sections of a divided society perceive to be both foreign and threatening. If so, any increase in social instability might allow governments, even those democratically elected, to act without adequate public accountability and simply increase the scope of their surveillance activities, both at home and abroad. While the concept of freedom of speech may still be entertained in some nation-states, there is a growing probability that public opinion may become distorted and fractured by the potential for misinformation to be spread by all sides.

Is this simply too pessimistic to even be considered as a possibility, let alone a probability?

While we might all like to think so, it can be argued that aspects of this future have already happened. In this negative, but not necessarily unrealistic appraisal of the ‘brave new worlds’ under discussion, population control might be reduced to an issue of supply and demand in which any semblance of a `caring society` is simply eroded by self-interest, if not survival. If so, humanitarian aid may become the next victim of growing instability, which may then escalate problems in other parts of the world. So while wealth and power may still exist in some sections of society, it is probable that the world may become increasingly polarised in terms of the `have and have-nots`, which may only be exacerbated by future technology developments prioritised in the self-interest of powerful nation-states or even smaller groups of elites.

Is there no probability of an upside?

One reason for presenting this downside of social evolution and the potential effects of technology is to provide a possible rationale as to why society might actively embrace technology as a solution, especially AI and genetics. In part, it might be argued that the negative picture of the world presented so far is a reflection of human nature, which some may hope might be ‘transformed’ by AI and genetic engineering, if responsibly developed. For it might not be unreasonable to hope that human intelligence can be augmented by AI and the worst aspects of human nature, e.g. neuroticism, may become treatable by genetic engineering of the human genome. However, whether this is simply a possibility rather than a probability is still debatable at this stage, although it is unclear that there are too many other options that might have any significantly higher probability. For while many sections of society may currently reject the idea of such developments, it will be the accumulating decisions of multiple generations that will ultimately determine the future of humanity, such that this generation might only question where it will all end?