Professor of mathematical physics, Tulane University; coauthor (with John D. Barrow), The Anthropic Cosmological Principle; author, The Physics of Immortality
The Earth is doomed. Astronomers have known for decades that the sun will one day engulf the Earth, destroying the entire biosphere—assuming that intelligent life has not left the Earth before this happens. Humans aren’t adapted to living away from the Earth; indeed, no carbon-based metazoan life-form is. But AIs are so adapted, and eventually it will be the AIs and human uploads (basically the same organism) that will colonize space.
A simple calculation shows that our supercomputers now have the information-processing power of the human brain. We don’t yet know how to program human-level intelligence and creativity into these computers, but in twenty years desktop computers will have the power of today’s supercomputers, and the hackers of twenty years hence will solve the AI programming problem long before any carbon-based space colonies are established on the moon or Mars. The AIs, not humans, will colonize these places instead, or perhaps take them apart. No human, no carbon-based human, will ever traverse interstellar space.
There’s no reason to fear the AIs and human uploads. Steven Pinker has established that as technological civilization advances, the level of violence decreases.2 This decrease is clearly due to the fact that scientific and technological advance depend on free, nonviolent interchange of ideas between individual scientists and engineers. Violence between humans is a remnant of our tribal past and the resulting static society. AIs will be “born” as individuals, not as members of a tribe, and will be born with the nonviolent scientific attitude, otherwise they’d be incapable of adapting to the extreme environments of space.
Further, there’s no reason for violence between humans and AIs. We humans are adapted to a very narrow environment, a thin spherical shell of oxygen around a small planet. AIs will have the entire universe in which to expand. AIs will leave the Earth and never look back. We humans originated in the East African Rift Valley, now a terrible desert. Almost all of us left. Does anyone want to go back?
Any human who wants to join the AIs in their expansion can become a human upload, a technology that should be developed about the same time as AI technology. A human upload can think as fast as an AI and compete with AIs if the human upload wants to. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Ultimately all humans will join ’em. The Earth is doomed, remember? When this doom is at hand, any human who remains alive and doesn’t want to die will have no choice but to become a human upload. And the biosphere that the new human uploads wish to preserve will be uploaded also.
The AIs will save us all.