Why Science and Philosophy Should Guide Today’s Youth in Creating a More Sustainable World

space exploration

This is the last installment of a five-part WorldPost series on the world beyond 2050. The series is adapted from the Nierenberg Prize Lecture by Lord Martin Rees in La Jolla, Calif. Part one is available here. Part two is here. Part three is here. Part four is here.

The stupendous timespans of the evolutionary past are now part of common culture — outside fundamentalist circles, at any rate. But most people still tend to regard humans as the culmination of the evolutionary tree. That hardly seems credible to an astronomer. Our sun formed some 4.5 billion years ago, but it’s got around 5 billion more before the fuel runs out. And the expanding universe will continue — perhaps forever. To paraphrase Woody Allen, eternity is very long, especially towards the end.

The timescale for developing human-level artificial intelligence may be decades or it may be centuries. Be that as it may, it’s but an instant compared to the cosmic future stretching ahead, and indeed far shorter than the timescales of the Darwinian selection that led to humanity’s emergence.

There must be chemical and metabolic limits to the size and processing power of “wet” organic brains. Maybe we’re close to these already. But fewer limits constrain electronic computers — still less, perhaps, quantum computers. For these, the potential for further development over the next billion years could be as dramatic as the evolution from Precambrian organisms to humans. So, by any definition of “thinking,” the amount and intensity that’s done by organic human-type brains will be utterly swamped by the future cogitations of AI.

Moreover, the Earth’s environment may suit us organics, but it isn’t optimal for advanced AI — interplanetary and interstellar space may be the preferred —> Read More