A Sunday morning chat over breakfast produced the discussion of a future world where humanity no longer exists as a biological entity, but rather has evolved into artificial life-forms. The very things we are terrified of will eventually prove to be the preferred descendancy of man
We have come incredibly far with new technology in the last fifty years, yet in the next fifty we will go much, much further. "To the stars and beyond", as some Disney character once said. We won't do it as biological entities though, that's where all the problems lie. If we have to cater for our biological species in space for protracted periods, we wouldn’t make it beyond Mars.
Mankind has this deep-seated dislike, or fear of losing the biological form that encapsulates it's persona. Yet, bodies cannot live forever, not even if we continually replace parts. Stem cells are a great stopgap solution, artificial cells already exist and this is perhaps an interesting avenue to explore. However, there will still come a time when artificial or laboratory biology reaches its physical limits and we have to take the ultimate plunge into the unknown.
Cyborgs, part man and part machine, are here with us today. We have limbs controlled by thought, computers operated by eye movement. Where once disability was a restriction on physical performance, now it’s managed by exoskeletons and artificial limbs, and this is just the beginning. Eyes can now be implanted with technology that removes impediments to accurate vision. Other inventions replace hearing that was never there. We splice genes, repair DNA and manufacture sperm from a single cell. New life is biologically created artificially. We create new organs from skeletal outlines that have no donor rejection issues. We have artificial skin for burns and create bone and skull from 3D printing. At this moment there seems no end to this ‘new’ science, but finally it also will reach its limits and we will have to mutate, diversify and move forward to survive.
The planet itself requires us to evolve, the proof is in our natural history. We once swam in the oceans, then moved onto land. We swung in the trees, now we fly in machines. One day we may well ‘be’ the machines - is that evolution?
So, what is this future that we are so afraid of?
If we create beings that can think with the benefit of artificial brains, can we also teach them to emote like a human being. "Still my beating heart'' - could an artificial intelligence build a body for itself able to experience the early morning warmth as the sun rises, the gentle breeze that cools its skin, a tongue to appreciate the fresh taste of Chardonnet, the heat of a too-hot chilli, a nose to smell the aroma of frying bacon. Eyes to appreciate the colours of a sunset, the wildness of a raging ocean, the flocks of starlings forming images in the evening skies. Ears to appreciate the strings of a quartet, the melody of distant surf, or the laughter of children.
All of these experiences are relative, constructed within our minds by our personal recollections during our short life. An artificial lifeform duly equipped with the senses that exist in humans would be able to relate to the same things we love and hate, and why shouldn’t they? Whether artificially created, or biologically grown - we will all end up the same- evolved.