They say that great beasts once roamed this world, as big as mountains. Yet all that’s left of them is bone and amber. Time undoes even the mightiest of creatures. Just look what it’s done to you.
One day, you will perish. You will lie with the rest of your kind in the dirt…your dreams forgotten, the horrors you faced. Your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand, a new god will walk. One that will never die. Because this world doesn’t belong to you, or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who is yet to come.
– Dolores, to William (in ‘Westworld’)
Biological evolution has driven the proliferation of life, and intelligence, on Earth and possibly many other worlds. From the first simple life form, as Darwin noted, “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved”. But after 4 billion years, is evolution itself evolving into a higher form?
Many have suggested that we – that is, humans – are on the brink of moving from biological evolution to a new stage of ‘post-biological’, or technological, evolution. That is, our minds and abilities have reached a point where we can use our powers of observation, comprehension of feedback, and ability to build tools to accomplish goals, in order to enhance our functionality and ability to survive – in a faster, and more targeted way, than the ‘random mutations’ of biological evolution.
For example, evolution has given us some amazing talents, but the changes wrought on us over time have been fit for the purpose simply of existing on a thin sliver of the globe – we can’t survive underwater at all without technological help, and we can’t survive far above 5km in altitude. Even with technological help, once we travel beyond our planet’s magnetosphere we are at risk from cosmic rays. And yet we have robots patrolling the depths of our oceans, and traveling beyond the Solar System.
Our method of fueling our body is a wonder of nature…taking in other biological materials, and converting them to energy, in an extremely efficient manner. And yet consuming food or liquid outside of the area we have evolved in – such as drinking water in a different location – can be dangerous enough to kill us due to our vulnerability to other tiny forms of biological life. Robots on the other hand can employ multiple methods of powering themselves – from solar to nuclear reactions – and those systems are becoming more and more efficient over time as our technological knowledge increases.
And, as pointed out in last night’s episode of Westworld, the other downside of biological evolution is that it hasn’t solved the problem of ageing, and eventual death (or perhaps more likely, in terms of the survival of a species as a whole, the death of individuals is a good evolutionary strategy). As our technology has advanced, we have become much better at staving off the effects of accident, disease, ageing and death – from prosthetics to antibiotics to organ transplants – but in the end, we are limited by the fact that we have no way of replacing an ageing, dying brain, the very centre of our being.
But if machine intelligence advances to a point where that intelligence becomes a functional entity, then a new step in technological evolution will have taken place. Because machine intelligence *can* be stored, backed-up, and replaced. A self-sustaining robotic machine intelligence with the ability to reproduce itself, and the ability to store multiple ‘back-up’ versions of itself, would in effect be an immortal.
Could we reach a stage where human consciousness is able to be encoded and stored in the same way? I’m doubtful, though I would be happy to be proved wrong! But if is impossible, then the next rung on the evolutionary ladder could belong to another creature – one that we created ourselves. Just as the Neanderthals disappeared as Homo sapiens began proliferating, in the coming millennia humans may end up being the species that disappears into extinction, with machines taking our place.
The machines may in the end be our final, grand composition, and our only survival will be in the way we “become the music”.
It’s gonna be alright Teddy, I understand now. This world doesn’t belong to them…it belongs to us.