You no doubt find the title both too pessimistic and too optimistic. The prophets of doom and those damned Greens, carrying on about carbon dioxide, coal mines and crashing ice-cliffs, have got it wrong : it’s just a cycle, my friends; it was ever thus ! As for our getting better, you’re outta your mind ! Did you see last night’s news – the violent riots and the bloodied police and protesters, the drowning of desperate emigrants, the butchered victims of Daech, the pathetic, disgraceful refugee camps, the unexpected outbreak of an old disease, the grim U.N. statistics on the hungry, the homeless and the hopeless ?
The current ecological data is making informed previsionists wonder if it’s already too late to save the planet. Whether or not the world is destined to self-destruct in 2060 as Isaac Newton proclaimed in what he called “not a prediction but a calculation”, some are close to despair about stopping the effects of our blind abuse of the ecosystem on which our survival depends. On the other hand, we are witnessing not only the paradox of the extension of our life-expectation, of the elimination or at least control of formerly fatal diseases and of the advances in robotic surgery, but also the progress in standards of living and in levels of literacy around the world. While it is true that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, famine is no longer commonplace, far fewer mothers and babies are dying during childbirth and even malnutrition has dramatically decreased. Beyond all this, there is the fact that cybernetics and Artificial Intelligence have put us on the cusp of a major advance in the evolution of humanity. Not everyone but many more today than ever before can say they “never had it so good”. And scientists and futurologists are telling us : “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet !”.
Very recently, bookstores and more importantly the Internet have been filled with reports on the development of a new synergy between men and machines, leading to what some have called a “new humanity” : “the emergence of a new Homo Sapiens disposing of intellectual and cognitive capacities augmented by A.I. , lights up the future,” writes Joël de Rosnay. “This is leading us to the creation of ‘Homo Symbioticus’, in co-evolution with machines and computers” (Je Cherche à Comprendre. Les Codes Cachés de la Nature. Babel. 2016). A French docteur ès sciences, former professor at MIT and director of research at the Institut Pasteur, de Rosnay foresees the imminent era of “hyperhumanism” (not of transhumanism) through which we can become even more human, capable of undreamt of advances in every domain. Technologies being developed today will, he says, result in our “coevolution with a new digital ecosystem”.
One of the significant repercussions of this inexorable development is already putting into question traditional understanding of the meaning we give to life. Will “that old-time religion” be replaced by the materialistic pantheism of Spinoza ? Albert Einstein himself said : “I believe in the God of Spinoza who reveals himself in the harmonious order of what exists, and not in a God who is concerned with the actions of human beings”. De Rosnay, who quotes Einstein’s text, himself wonders : ” How can anyone believe in a concept as vague, intangible and incomprehensible as the God of religion ? Popular imagery has responded simply by personalizing Him, in the form of a human being residing ‘in the heavens’ . . . “.
Quo vadis, Homo Sapiens ?
It is to be hoped that our grandchildren at least will do what it takes to prevent the disaster we are leaving them as a legacy, and to profit from their future symbiotic capacities to enjoy a longer, better life than we had. Not that I’m complaining or being jealous. Through no merit of my own, I have been fortunate enough to survive four score and some, without having to wonder whether A.I. is all it’s cracked up to be, or on the contrary a dangerous monster, without worrying whether some super-HAL (“2001 : A Space Odyssey”) is going to expect and force people to worship Him . I would like to think that if He does, someone will produce a Blog to ridicule and eradicate the new religion . . .