September 15, 1998
Scientific and technological trends indicate that our transhuman and post-human futures will in many ways become more biological, not less:
1) Our biosphere is the most complex system in the known universe, a product of self-organization and natural selection. Although we haven’t found any others yet, I suspect our universe contains an unlimited number of complex systems equaling or exceeding our own. See the noosphere section for why I think so.
2) Facilitated in large part by a global nervous system called the Internet, our technological and industrial systems are increasingly resembling those of the biosphere. If the biosphere can recycle everything, why can’t we? In order to increase efficiency and reduce costs, industry has been relying on more recycled materials and waste products from other sectors. This burgeoning field known as Industrial Ecology or Industrial Symbiosis is ushering in an entirely new way of doing business – one that is based as much on cooperation as competition. One only has to look at the world of microorganisms to see the tremendous versatility full-cycle systems are capable of.
3) The latest computer hardware and software are also increasingly resembling the biological realm. There is steady progress in developing protein memories, DNA computers and bio-luminescent displays. Software engineers are increasingly incorporating biological metaphors into the creation of more efficient and robust programs. The latest anti-virus programs utilize pseudo-immunological processes that evolve new defenses in response to the latest computer viruses. Below is a an artifical life program running as a java applet. Move your cursor over them and they will try to follow it.
4) Human and some cetacean brains appear the most complex components of Earths biosphere, making them the most densely complexified structures known.E xtensive research has revealed that our individual neurons are themselves quite complex, with a plethora of neurotransmitter activity within the syanptic clefts. Pundits have been telling us for years that the future of intelligence lies in silicon, yet silicon’s limits are already being reached. Instead, we’re on the verge of seeing computer architecture transcend the limits of silicon by adopting the more versatile element of its creator, carbon.
5) Carbon’s covalent bond structure allows for a greater number of molecular combinations than any other element, maximizing it’s role as a building block for complexity. Discoveries made from biochemistry and nanotechnological research has spectactularly confirmed this. Carbon in the form of diamond, and now surpassed by its fullerene companions, are the hardest, strongest, and most versatile materials known. It’s amazing how a single element arranged in one way can be soft and brittle (graphite), and in another extremely strong. Carbon Nanotubes as they are now known, are sure to become the building blocks of ultra-minuturized computational machinery and large-scale mega-engineering projects. If there is other molecular-based life in this universe, chances are carbon plays a crucial role. In our quest for building better brains, the underlying hardware will increasingly resemble our wetware and ultimately surpass it – eliminating any previous difference between computer and neural architecture. The implications of such computer-brain symbiosis are startling, because we essentially become conscious software, gaining the ability to fully reprogram oursleves while freely running on increasingly superior hardware. Imagine for starters perfect recall of all knowledge and archived experience, fully customizable reality mediation and creation, complete empathy/telepathy with others, and the ability to choose exactly what state of mind and mood you’re in. Imagine states of ecstatic bliss becoming the norm in which further experience and exploration is pursued. A place where love is realized, not for any moral correctness, but as the most rational choice available. Please see The Hedonistic Imperative for a great treatise on this subject.
None of these developments should comes as a surprise. Life has been experimenting with form and function for nearly 4 billion years. We as a species are only now becoming sufficiently advanced to apply the process to our own needs. From this, we surmise that future technology will becoming more life-like than anything before it. Along with this, our biosphere will reproduce through us, releasing spores throughout the galaxy. This may be re-assuring for those who thought the future would consist of some mish-mash of metallic robots and super-industrial machinery. I’m optimistic that life in the future will increasingly become more fun, free, and alive than anything we’ve experienced. With the Earth as our womb, and the stars and immortality as our birthright, the biological revolution and its more advanced stage nanotechnology are about to take us on a ride. Are you ready? 🙂