The Western Lines

June 1, 2010

Michio Kaku’s Visions of The Future – The Intelligence Revolution

Our newspaper headlines, with each passing day, sound more and more like the opening sentences of a Sci Fi novel. Scientists have just announced the creation the first artificial life form. Can artificial intelligence be very far off on humanity’s horizon?

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present the opening installment of an exciting three part documentary series entitled “Visions of the Future” hosted by Michio Kaku. In this first episode Dr. Kaku explains how artificial intelligence will revolutionize homes, workplaces and lifestyles, and how virtual worlds will become so realistic that they will rival the physical world.

Robots with human-level intelligence may finally become a reality, and in the ultimate stage of mastery, we’ll even be able to merge our minds with machine intelligence.
Michio Kaku’s Visions of The Future – The Intelligence Revolution

May 10, 2010

Humans v2.0:Human Evolution at the Cross Roads

Will the human species take the course of its own future evolution into its own hands as a result of advances in genetic engineering and the merging of the human mind with advanced computer technologies?

We are approaching a very uncertain future beyond which we can barely glimpse. On our immediate horizon lies Vernor Vinge’s “
Singularity“, the point at which computers reach and surpass human intelligence. Will humans become extinct or will we merge with our machines in a symbiosis that will create a new player in the future evolutionary story of planet Earth. We are at the cross roads of evolution and what really lies ahead is anybody’s guess.

In the following BBC Horizon documentary meet the scientific prophets who claim we are on the verge of creating a new type of human – a human v2.0.

It’s predicted that by 2029 computer intelligence will equal the power of the human brain. Some believe this will revolutionise humanity – we will be able to download our minds to computers extending our lives indefinitely. Others fear this will lead to our oblivion by giving rise to destructive ultra intelligent machines.

One thing they all agree on is that the coming of this moment and whatever it brings is inevitable.

Horizon – Human v2.0

May 3, 2010

How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?

Today on Discovery Enterprise we join BBC television naturalist Sir David Attenborough in answering a question pertinent our long term survival on this planet – How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?

Will unchecked population growth strain the carrying capacity of our planet’s natural life support systems to the breaking point?

In a Horizon special, naturalist Sir David Attenborough investigates whether the world is heading for a population crisis.

In his lengthy career, Sir David has watched the human population more than double from two and a half billion in 1950 to nearly seven billion. He reflects on the profound effects of this rapid growth, both on humans and the environment. While much of the projected growth in human population is likely to come from the developing world, it is the lifestyle enjoyed by many in the West that has the most impact on the planet. Some experts claim that in the UK consumers use as much as two and a half times their fair share of Earth’s resources.

Sir David examines whether it is the duty of individuals to commit not only to smaller families, but to change the way they live for the sake of humanity and planet Earth.

How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?

October 17, 2009

Homo Futurus

Today on Discovery Enterprise we continue our year long celebration of the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s publication of “On the Origin of Species” by presenting a somewhat controversial documentary concerning the future course of human evolution.

Homo Futurus is a controversial because it presents a theory regarding the mechanism driving the evolution of humans from primates to modern man that is distinctly non-Darwinian. The theory being proposed challenges the presently accepted evolutionary premise that genetic mutations and environmental pressures are the prime influencers for natural selection. It also speculates on humanity’s long term future evolutionary path. So prepare to take a glimpse at the faces of our descendants.

Homo Futurus Part One

Homo Futurus Part Two

Author’s Note:

I recently learned that Anne Dambricourt Malassé, the French palaeoanthropologist featured in the documentary “Homo Futurus” was associated with an organisation called UIP, a French institute dedicated to promoting Intelligent Design, What struck me about this documentary was the appearance of South African palaeoanthropologist Phillip Tobias, well known for his research at Sterkfontein on Australopithecus and Homo Habilis at Olduvai Gorge. The documentary gave the impression that Tobias appears to support this research. Whether the result of clever editing on the part of the producers or Tobias’ actual opinion is something I would really like to look into. But, it should be noted that in recent years Phillip Tobias (along with such luminaries as David Attenborough and Daniel Dennett) has also lent his support to another controversial hypothesis concerning human evolution namely the Aquatic Hypothesis.

When I was in college I took several elective courses in Anthropology and Biological Anthropology and Tobias is a well respected researcher in this field. So his appearance in the documentary did lend it some legitimacy.
I must admit though, that the research concerning the shifting of the sphenoid, bone situated at the base of the skull in front of the temporal bones and basilar part of the occipital bone, and its role in the evolution of the primate/hominid face and cranial vault did intrigue me. It may prove to be a very important tool in the classification of hominid skulls.

The idea that evolution is following a trajectory leading to greater and greater complexity is not unique to Intelligent Design. In fact you find it hinted at in such fields as diverse as Artificial Life and SETI.
Even Simon Conway Morris seems to believe that complexity is an evolutionary certainty. In fact many leading biologist, foremost being Ernst Mayr, have been critical of SETI because of this idea.

July 20, 2009

From Olduvai Gorge to the Sea of Tranquility

By far the two most remarkable photographs of the twentieth century are the ones shown above. For they encapsulate the whole evolutionary and cultural history of humanity and its possible destiny.

In 1978, paleontogist Mary Leaky and her team discovered the earliest hominid footprints (dated to be three and a half million years old) preserved in the volcanic ash at Laetoli, forty-five kilometres south of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. They belong to one of our proto human ancestors – Australopithecus afarensis. The picture above shows one of these fossil footprints next to the boot print left by Neil Armstrong in the volcanic soil of Mare Tranquilitatis (the Sea of Tranquillity).
It is very symbolic of the giant evolutionary leap forward we have taken as a species. From Olduvai Gorge to the Sea of Tranquillity, we humans have travelled very far.
Exploration has always been vital to the survival of our species and an integral component of our evolutional heritage and survival imperative. The lure and call of distant lands and new horizons is rooted in our very genes.
The descendents of Australopithecus afarensis – Homo Erectus eventually migrated out of Africa some two million years ago and were to disperse throughout the old World. This was the first of four major waves of human migration from Africa culminating in the last major migration some sixty thousand years ago of fully modern humans (Homo sapiens, sapiens).
Since April 2005 through the efforts of Dr. Spencer Welles and the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project we have begun to map out the migratory story of the human Diaspora out of Africa out onto a wider global stage. This evolutionary step and the migrations that preceded it were vital to humanity’s long term survival in the face of the vicissitudes of a changing global climate.
Eventually the descendents of this last major migration would spread out from the Old Worlds of Europe and Asia into the New Worlds of the Americas and Australia.

It was during this phase of the human story that we became a planetary species. Eventually we discovered agriculture, built the first cities, developed culture and writing and became the pioneers of a totally new domain of evolution.

We are the pioneers of a whole new form of evolution which is distinctly non-biological. This new realm of evolution is Cultural Evolution. It is this new dominion of evolution that has made us the most dominant life form on this planet and has set us on a trajectory that will one day take us out amongst the stars.
In this epoch of human history we face many dangers both old and new. The past has shown us that many species have been wiped off the evolutionary stage because of catastrophic climatic shifts, super-volcanism and asteroidal bombardment. Our species is no different. Some seventy-five thousand years ago our species barely survived a long volcanic winter triggered by the supereruption of Lake Toba on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. And, at least one ancient culture – the Clovis people of North America, may have met their demise as a result of the celestial equivalent of a 9/11 event. Some thirteen thousand years ago a comet exploded over North America, wiping out the mega fauna of that continent, and the people who hunted them, off the face of the Earth.
Today we still face the threats of climate change (both natural and anthropogenic), resource depletion and the products of our own technological folly: environmental degradation, resource depletion, total nuclear warfare, and biological terrorism. Our intelligence and the fact that we were disperse globally helped ensure our survival as a species.
Yet, our species is curious, brave and shows much promise. We are graced with a towering intellect that stands poised on its next evolutionary leap that may one day take us beyond the Sea of Tranquillity and ensure our long term survival.
Neil Armstrong’s one small step for [a] man was the culmination of the greatest scientific, technological and cultural advance in human history. It was indeed a giant leap for mankind. It proved, beyond any question of doubt, that humankind had taken the first evolutionary stride in becoming a multi-planetary species. The time has now come to venture further out on this vast new ocean of space and to chart humanity’s Diaspora out amongst the stars.
We must return to the Moon, this time to stay. We must learn to utilize the vast untapped energy and mineral treasures of the Moon and the Near Earth Asteroids. We must eventually settle the entire solar system from the planet Mars and out to the edge of the solar system. One day our species will continue its migration out into the Milky Way Galaxy. But, this is very far from being our assured manifest destiny. The choice is entirely ours to make. Humans have labelled their species “Homo sapiens, sapiens” – wise, wise man. The time has now come to use our double measure of wisdom to climb out of planetary cradle and take our evolutionary destiny into our own hands and transform ourselves from Homo sapiens, into Homo Stellaris and find our home among the stars.

Only then can we ensure the long term survival and immortality of humanity.

May 11, 2008

Human Evolution At The Crossroads

New on Far Future Calling – Humans v2.0 :Human Evolution at the Cross Roads.

Will the human species take the course of its own future evolution into its own hands as a result of advances in genetic engineering and the merging of the human mind with advanced computer technologies?

Check out my most recent article on the Far Future Calling Blogspot.

October 4, 2007

The Space Age: The Next Giant Leap

Today marks the golden anniversary of the Space Age. And, like all anniversaries it will be a time to commemorate past achievements, a time to honour the great pioneers of the past, and mourn the brave men and women who lost their lives during our initial forays into a vast new ocean. It will also be a time to map out future paths and dream of voyages to distant worlds and new exotic ports of call. This golden anniversary also coincides with the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the birth of the Russian space visionary Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and the one hundred and twenty–fifth anniversary of the birth of American space pioneer Robert H. Goddard.

In the early morning hours of October 4th, 1957 the world awoke to the birth cry of a new historic age. The Soviet Union had launched the world’s first artificial satellite Sputnik one. Its chirping electronic signal heralded in the beginning of a whole new historical epoch: The Age of Space. That cry was the harbinger of a new age of adventure, exploration and discovery. In this new age humanity has garnered much insight regarding its place in the Universe. We have much to celebrate.

In this last half century we have travelled far and wide. A dozen men have left their footprints on the surface of the Moon. Our robotic explorers have explored the five planets known to the ancients and while at the same time rediscovering and finding scores of others. We have also found hundreds of distant worlds orbiting distant suns. We have sifted the sands of Mars in search of life. We have sieved the very sands of time and brought back a few grains of dust from very the dawn of the creation of our own solar system to learn about our origins, heard the very cry of cosmic birth and seen our world from afar dancing like a pale blue dust mote in a sunbeam. Four of our spacecraft have even left our solar system and are bound for the stars.

The next half century promises even greater and more exciting voyages of discovery.

So on this day October 4th, 2007 we have every reason to make merry, much to remember, many to honour, and now must take time to pause and reflect on what lies ahead over the next fifty years. The past is prologue and we must know where we were in order to know where we are and only then can we hope to gain some insight into where our voyages of discovery may lead us.

The Cosmos beckons and we must answer its call and truly become a spacefaring civilization.

In space lies humankind’s legacy and destiny. We must claim our birthright. Only by embracing our inheritance can we hope to survive and grow.

Past lessons yet to be truly learned

We must explore and colonize space. Our long term survival as a species depends on this. Humankind faces an Extraterrestrial Imperative which is just as much a survival imperative – Colonize space or die. And, with our passing the light of human reason and thought will have been extinguished from the Cosmos forever. We can argue about cost and engineering until we are all blue in the face. We may be as cynical about the goals and motivations behind our current plans to return to the Moon and forge ahead to Mars all we wish. But, the fact remains that space exploration- both robotic and manned is vital to our long term survival as a species.

This is not a religious conviction but, a fact of nature revealed by the science of our age. Our entire solar system bears testament to its violent legacy. All the planets and moons bare the scars of a tumultuous history. None of them have gone through their lengthy existence unscathed by the violent impact of asteroids and comets.

Uranus was toppled off its axis by a giant planetoid the size of our own world and its moon Miranda was torn apart and reassembled in the process. Mars is a world that was murdered in its early infancy before it had any chance of completely fulfilling its promise of becoming an abode of life. Most of its crust and atmosphere were flayed and ejected into space by impacts with giant asteroids and comets.

Towards the late nineteenth and throughout the twentieth centuries some one hundred and fifty impact craters have been discovered on our own planetary abode. In the twentieth century two impacts occurred in Eastern Russia. On June 30th, 1908, Moscow escaped destruction by three hours and four thousand kilometres—when an object some 70 meters in diameter impacted the Siberian region of Tunguska with the explosive yield of 1000 Hiroshima bombs. On February 12th, 1947, another Russian city had a still narrower escape, when the second great meteorite of the last century detonated less than four hundred kilometres from Vladivostok in a rain of rock and iron. On August 10th, 1972 the Earth survived a near direct hit and escaped with a mere flesh wound when a meteorite zoomed over the state of Wyoming and grazed the upper atmosphere and bounced back into space before thousands of eyewitnesses. Its blazing trail was even captured on film.

In the early 1980s evidence slowly accumulated that sixty-five million years ago the reign of the dinosaurs ended with a huge bang and ensuing fire storm. Before that violent mass extinctions occurred like clockwork throughout the evolutionary history of life on Earth.

The Moon, a world of on our very doorstep, provides a clear warning for all to see that our world is living on borrowed time. In the chronicle of Gervase an eyewitness account was given of a massive impact on the eastern limb of the Moon that occurred on June 25th, 1178. Evidence is also coming to light that June, despite our fondness for this month because of weddings and the promise of summer holidays to come, holds potential dangers for humanity. The Taurid beta meteor shower is one we must study in detail. It is the progenitor of both the Tunguska fireball and the object that created the blast recorded by Gervase, and lurking in its wake are more potential disasters to come.

In the late 20th century archaeological evidence has come to light that many late Bronze Age civilizations may have met their demise in a rain of fire from the sky. Back in July, 1994 during the week of the 25th anniversary marking man’s first steps on the Moon the heavens provided a massive fireworks display of their own to mark the occasion. The planet Jupiter sustained twenty individual impacts from the fragments left over from the disintegration of the comet Shoemaker–Levy 9. Any one of these impacts would have been sufficient in themselves to wipe life off the face of our globe in a real Extinction Level Event (E.L.E).

Yet despite all this accumulated evidence we continue to go about our humdrum worldly concerns, abandoning any attention to the heavens and the dangers that lurk in the local celestial neighbourhood. We face the celestial equivalent of a 9/11. Humanity can no longer ignore the objective reality that its long term existence is imperilled. We either become a spacefaring civilization or face the fate of the dinosaurs.

Neither are the existential threats we face as a species limited to the perils from outer space. We also face the hazards of Super-volcanism, catastrophic climate change (both natural and anthropogenic), resource depletion and the products of our own technological folly: total nuclear warfare, biological terrorism and nanotechnology gone amok.

Plotting Our Future Course

Our ventures into space are not just the mere dare devil stunts of military test pilots nor are they a flags and footprints exercise in nationalistic chauvinism. And, neither are they the exclusive province of arcane scientific interest “just to bring back some rocks.”

Exploration has always been vital to the survival of human species and an integral component of our evolutional heritage and survival imperative. The lure and call of distant lands and new horizons is rooted in our very genes.

In 1978, paleontogist Mary Leaky and her team discovered the earliest hominid footprints (dated to be Three and a half Million years old) preserved in volcanic ash at Laetoli, forty-five kilometres south of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. They belong to one of our proto human ancestors – Australopithecus afarensis. From Olduvai Gorge to the Sea of Tranquility, we humans have travelled very far. The picture below shows one of the fossil footprints preserved at Laetoli, next to the boot print left by an Apollo astronaut on the Moon.

It is very symbolic of the giant leap forward we have taken as a species. The time has now come to venture further out on this vast new ocean of space. We must return to the Moon, this time to stay, and become a multi-planetary species. We must learn to utilize the vast untapped energy and mineral resources of the Moon and the Near Earth Asteroids and take the next giant leap forward to transform our species, Homo Sapiens, into Homo Stellaris. October 4th, 1957 marks our first baby step towards that goal.