Self-Enhancement And The End Of Homo Sapiens

Self-Enhancement And The End Of Homo Sapiens

Why our extinction at the hands of our own creations will constitute a fundamental revolution in life, consciousness, and matter.
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The possibility of the extinction of Homo Sapiens is generally discussed in relation to existential threats such as climate change or asteroid impacts. It is always considered a danger and an outcome to be avoided.

But what if our extinction was part of the evolution of life and even of matter, and purposefully engineered by us?

* * *

Creating something better than us.

This sounds far-fetched, but we may first be confronted with the possibility of such a scenario within a few decades, and at least within a century. The basic idea is that we will be capable of creating a new, better species, which will gradually supplant us.

There are two manners in which this could happen: genetic engineering and artificial intelligence.

Designing a new human.

Genetic engineering is accelerating with leaps and bounds, and as the cover story of The Economist of August 22nd, “Editing Humanity,” clearly explains, the prospect of genetically engineered "designer babies" is not so far off.

Initially, genetic engineering will help us create better Homo Sapiens. But with time, as genetic engineering gains acceptance and becomes more sophisticated, the genetic changes will amount to the creation of an entirely new species of humans, one that thinks and behaves differently from us, and that develops entirely new social structures and political and economic systems.

Extinction, peaceful or not.

This scenario, in the long term, almost certainly leads to the extinction of Homo Sapiens. The new species will be superior to us; if it wasn’t, then we would not create it, or at least we would not propagate it after creation. Thus, by the laws of evolution, it would eventually replace us. However, the manner of this extinction is far from clear.

A peaceful possibility is that the process happens gradually, perhaps even without us realizing it. Homo Sapiens parents will prefer to have their children be genetically enhanced; thus, most new children will be of the new species, and very few children will be Homo Sapiens. Furthermore, the new species will almost certainly live longer, and may even be a-mortal. Thus, gradually, Homo Sapiens will be replaced by the new species.

The process could also turn violent. Homo Sapiens may realize that they have created an entirely new species and are in danger of going extinct, and seek to eliminate the new species. But once the new species is created, it would be almost impossible to completely eliminate it, especially because it will most likely still look like us. Because the new species is superior, natural evolution will assert itself, and even if Homo Sapiens do succeed initially in suppressing the new species, over the long term (that is, across centuries or even millennia), the new species will fully replace us and Homo Sapiens will go extinct.

Artificial Intelligence.

Then there is the other, far more radical, possibility: that we create Artificial Intelligence.

This scenario, too, is rarely seen as positive. Many of the world’s brightest, including Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, have warned that AI poses an existential threat to humanity, which it most certainly does. But few stop to question whether this is necessarily a bad thing.

It certainly could be a disaster, but if we managed to create AI which is "better" than us (better being subjective, of course; more on this later), why would it be such a terrible thing if it replaced us as a species?

AI has the inherent advantage that, because it has no set physical manifestation, it can change itself easily. Who we are as Homo Sapiens is embodied in the physical world, in our bodies and brains; AI lives in virtual software. Thus, any change we make to ourselves requires a physical change, a handicap that AI does not suffer. In this context, if we suppress our emotional attachment to Homo Sapiens as a species, then a transition from Homo Sapiens to Artificial Intelligence as the primary conscious beings would be a positive development.

AI or a better us: does it matter?

Right now, there is a clear division between humans and machines, and the two scenarios I have presented are distinct. But that may not remain so.

A concept called the Singularity states that humans and machines will soon merge and become indistinguishable. Technology will become so integrated into our bodies and minds that we will become, essentially, cyborgs. Estimates for when the Singularity will occur vary widely, but the earliest are no more than 30-40 years.

The general assumption is that when we develop AI, it will be separate from us. But what if AI becomes merely an extension and enhancement of us? What if we become partly AI, as our biological brain plays an ever smaller role in our cognition while technology plays an ever larger role?

In that case, the two scenarios I have presented become one, in which we create not only a new species, but a new type of life and consciousness, one that is neither entirely biological nor fully technological.

* * *

The next step in life? The next step in matter?

Since life first emerged, it has been reliant on chance to evolve, and has been subject to biological constraints. In fact, since the big bang, all matter has been subject to external forces beyond its control. To the best of our knowledge, matter has never had the ability to consciously shape itself.

We are on the verge of transcending that. Whether we genetically enhance ourselves, create AI, or do both in the Singularity, we, as matter, will have consciously shaped ourselves, and purposefully altered not only our physical body but our minds and the fundamental characteristics that define us. We are on the verge of one of the greatest revolutions not only of life but of matter since the big bang. It will be accompanied by our own extinction, yes, but our legacy will continue through whatever new being we create. And in the face of such an incredible achievement, does the continuation of our specific species really matter? I personally do not think so, but this is a moral issue, with no single correct answer. It is one that we will have to grapple with as a species.

The practical implications.

So what are the implications for today’s world? Does anything still matter, if our entire species is going to become extinct?

It most certainly does. We are the ones who will decide the characteristics of the new species, and our social, political, and economic systems will inform at least the first generation of the new species and have a lasting impact. Genetic engineering and the creation of AI are not linear progressions, with only one possible outcome, or with a clearly preferable outcome. It is up to us to decide on what we think is the ideal form of life and consciousness: what characteristics should it have? Are emotions necessary? Do we need genders? To what extent should technology replace biological functions? Do we still want individuals or is a single, collective entity preferable?

These questions have no clear answers, and our response to them will shape the future course not just of human history but also of life and even of the universe.

In his book A Brief History of Humankind, from where I got the basic idea of this essay, Yuval Noah Harari finishes by looking forward to the possibilities of our creating a new species and going extinct. The last sentence of the book is powerful and encapsulates perfectly the only question that really matters: “What do we want to become?”

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If You've Ever Been Called Overly-Emotional Or Too Sensitive, This Is For You

Despite what they have told you, it's a gift.
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Emotional: a word used often nowadays to insult someone for their sensitivity towards a multitude of things.

If you cry happy tears, you're emotional. If you express (even if it's in a healthy way) that something is bothering you, you're sensitive. If your hormones are in a funk and you just happen to be sad one day, you're emotional AND sensitive.

Let me tell you something that goes against everything people have probably ever told you. Being emotional and being sensitive are very, very good things. It's a gift. Your ability to empathize, sympathize, and sensitize yourself to your own situation and to others' situations is a true gift that many people don't possess, therefore many people do not understand.

Never let someone's negativity toward this gift of yours get you down. We are all guilty of bashing something that is unfamiliar to us: something that is different. But take pride in knowing God granted this special gift to you because He believes you will use it to make a difference someday, somehow.

This gift of yours was meant to be utilized. It would not be a part of you if you were not meant to use it. Because of this gift, you will change someone's life someday. You might be the only person that takes a little extra time to listen to someone's struggle when the rest of the world turns their backs.

In a world where a six-figure income is a significant determinant in the career someone pursues, you might be one of the few who decides to donate your time for no income at all. You might be the first friend someone thinks to call when they get good news, simply because they know you will be happy for them. You might be an incredible mother who takes too much time to nurture and raise beautiful children who will one day change the world.

To feel everything with every single part of your being is a truly wonderful thing. You love harder. You smile bigger. You feel more. What a beautiful thing! Could you imagine being the opposite of these things? Insensitive and emotionless?? Both are unhealthy, both aren't nearly as satisfying, and neither will get you anywhere worth going in life.

Imagine how much richer your life is because you love other's so hard. It might mean more heartache, but the reward is always worth the risk. Imagine how much richer your life is because you are overly appreciative of the beauty a simple sunset brings. Imagine how much richer your life is because you can be moved to tears by the lessons of someone else's story.

Embrace every part of who you are and be just that 100%. There will be people who criticize you for the size of your heart. Feel sorry for them. There are people who are dishonest. There are people who are manipulative. There are people who are downright malicious. And the one thing people say to put you down is "you feel too much." Hmm...

Sounds like more of a compliment to me. Just sayin'.

Cover Image Credit: We Heart It

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Pride? Pride.

Who are we? Why are we proud?

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This past week, I was called a faggot by someone close to me and by note, of all ways. The shock rolled through my body like thunder across barren plains and I was stuck paralyzed in place, frozen, unlike the melting ice caps. My chest suddenly felt tight, my hearing became dim, and my mind went blank except for one all-encompassing and constant word. Finally, after having thawed, my rage bubbled forward like divine retribution and I stood poised and ready to curse the name of the offending person. My tongue lashed the air into a frenzy, and I was angry until I let myself break and weep twice. Later, I began to question not sexualities or words used to express (or disparage) them, but my own embodiment of them.

For members of the queer community, there are several unspoken and vital rules that come into play in many situations, mainly for you to not be assaulted or worse (and it's all too often worse). Make sure your movements are measured and fit within the realm of possible heterosexuality. Keep your music low and let no one hear who you listen to. Avoid every shred of anything stereotypically gay or feminine like the plague. Tell the truth without details when you can and tell half-truths with real details if you must. And above all, learn how to clear your search history. At twenty, I remember my days of teaching my puberty-stricken body the lessons I thought no one else was learning. Over time I learned the more subtle and more important lessons of what exactly gay culture is. Now a man with a head and social media accounts full of gay indicators, I find myself wondering both what it all means and more importantly, does it even matter?

To the question of whether it matters, the answer is naturally yes and no (and no, that's not my answer because I'm a Gemini). The month of June has the pleasure of being the time of year when the LGBT+ community embraces the hateful rhetoric and indulges in one of the deadly sins. Pride. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the figures at the head of the gay liberation movement, fought for something larger than themselves and as with the rest of the LGBT+ community, Pride is more than a parade of muscular white men dancing in their underwear. It's a time of reflection, of mourning, of celebration, of course, and most importantly, of hope. Pride is a time to look back at how far we've come and realize that there is still a far way to go.

This year marks fifty years since the Stonewall Riots and the gay liberation movement launched onto the world stage, thus making the learning and embracing of gay culture that much more important. The waves of queer people that come after the AIDS crisis has been given the task of rebuilding and redefining. The AIDS crisis was more than just that. It was Death itself stalking through the community with the help of Regan doing nothing. It was going out with friends and your circle shrinking faster than you can try or even care to replenish. Where do you go after the apocalypse? The LGBT+ community was a world shut off from access by a touch of death and now on the other side, we must weave in as much life as we can.

But we can't freeze and dwell of this forever. It matters because that's where we came from, but it doesn't matter because that's not where we are anymore. We're in a time of rebirth and spring. The LGBT+ community can forge a new identity where the AIDS crisis is not the defining feature, rather a defining feature to be immortalized, mourned, and moved on from.

And to the question of what does it all mean? Well, it means that I'm gay and that I've learned the central lesson that all queer people should learn in middle school. It's called Pride for a reason. We have to shoulder the weight of it all and still hold our head high and we should. Pride is the LGBT+ community turning lemons into lemon squares and limoncello. The lemon squares are funeral cakes meant to mourn and be a familiar reminder of what passed, but the limoncello is the extravagant and intoxicating celebration of what is to come. This year I choose to combine the two and get drunk off funeral cakes. Something tells me that those who came before would've wanted me to celebrate.

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