JULY 28, 2017
A TECHNOLOGICAL THEORY OF EVOLUTION
The Czech philosopher Radovan Richta coined the name Technological Evolution to characterise the different states humanity undergoes throughout history as an effect of quantum leaps in technology.
I refer to Technological Evolution as an extension of the Biological Evolution whereby the former is led by man — at this point — and might be led by AI in the future.
- Biological evolution has taken us to the point we enjoy today over millions of years.
- Technological evolution is different; moves in exponential manner.
- Technological evolution has made it possible to educate more people, increase life span and significantly reduce the number of people under the poverty line
- Technological evolution is now moving us to a new era. The Era of the AI. Man and intelligent machine will coexist and merge. More than 50% of current jobs will be lost
- Are prepared for this ? I doubt that we are at this point but we’ve got to try
- What are the key questions we should be asking ourselves and our world leaders and government representatives ?
Then there was fire
400,000 years ago man (homo erectus) stumbled upon how to make fire. This small event transformed the way we ate, the way we grew to live on heated food, it changed our digestive system, it transformed our groups and societies as we literally came to gather around fire and told each other stories.
Opposable thumb, language, dance, singing are all biological technologies that evolved out of mutations and adaptation to the environment over millennia.
Fire however was different. Existing in nature and observed by man — fire is an artefact that could be put to use to improve the human condition and within a relatively short period of time every man on the face of earth was using it.
Fire was the open source equivalent of some of the tech we use today.
Unlike biological technology fire was made by man and distributed by man at a much faster rate than biological technology distributed before it.
I think of technological evolution as an extension of the one made by nature with biology. Both moved in chaotic ways. Biological evolution gave birth to life as we know it. Technological evolution might yield the seeds of new life and forms of intelligence we’ll have trouble to accept as such but that might outdo us as a species.
I am not the only one to make the parallel between the two — from the Complex Systems Lab:
We can look at the history of technology as a human-driven, parallel experiment of evolution. Artefacts are (so far) not capable of self-reproduction, but the population-level dynamics of long-term technological innovation nonetheless resemble biological evolution in many ways. The design of new technologies is strongly influenced by existing technologies, and technological change can be viewed as a process of descent with variation and selection. Both chance and the appropriate context are required for innovations to occur.
The 4 technological eras
Taking inspiration from Richta I believe we can separate the history of technology into 4 distinct eras:
The Era of the Tools
Fire is a tool. A tool that man learned to leverage to maximize chances of survival at an individual level but that as a whole helped the species thrive.
The Era of the Machines
At some point man moved from tools to machines. The fundamental difference is that while still relying on man’s input machines were able to replace output of energy directly from man. Once again this single event increased the likelihood of survival as a species.
The Era Of Automation
Over the last 60 years we have seen the explosion of the 3rd wave of technology. The one catalyzed by computers that gave rise to automation.
The Era Of Artificial Intelligence
We are approaching the 4th wave. One of intelligent machines. They can outright replace man in many of the physical and mental tasks we carry everyday.
We are on the verge of a radically transformative era. One that is unlike any we have ever come to witness in history of man kind.
The fruits of man’s creativity and design are the technical leaps that will enable us to move far beyond our biological limits until the point when new Intelligence that we now call Artificial might take the keys and run with it.
Technological Evolution is Accelerating
It took millions of years and billions of outcomes nature was dealing with when life emerged first.
Biological evolution had to endure many bumps in the road to have mankind (and other species) emerge the way it did.
By the same account somewhere, somehow Alien forms of life would have developed over billions of years to dwarf us in terms of technological development and perhaps became extinct in the making.
We can’t for sure know that but what we do know is that [almost] all that we can imagine we can be built.
Man will colonize the solar system first and then move further in our galaxy.
Man will transcend itself with Artificial Intelligence that will enhance us [if it doesn’t destroy us] to become one super human.
Of course we can be skeptical but the trends don’t lie.
And by the same account it is extremely plausible that within the next 20 years we’ll be experiencing the collapse of the ‘work-based’ society.
I care about this a lot. And so should you.
While dreaming of man colonizing other planets I also dream of mankind being able to live a better life. And indeed technology has enabled us to dramatically reduce the % of the population living in extreme poverty over the last 50 years.
I remain optimistic towards this trend continuing for a while but cautious on the redistribution of opportunities and the development of our societies.
What if the technologies we are unleashing won’t produce the same outcome it has delivered before.
What is fundamentally different this time is that we are approaching a point beyond which man might not be able to control the technology he built. Technological evolution might take over — with AI — and design a future in which man nor his rights are the priority. Instead AI could be optimising for its own existence. And before that we’d have to avoid to kill humanity once we realise there aren’t enough jobs to keep people alive.
About Wealth, Equality and Technology
In the hunger game young men and women are taken to an open arena and filmed 24/7 to entertain the riches while they kill each other for their lives. Distopian as it might seem it isn’t to far stretched of a reality.
Rather than moving toward equality we are seeing ever so uneven distribution of wealth. 1% of the population controls 40% of global wealth while 2 billion people live with the uncertainty of no stable jobs or no jobs at all.
A society in which few control resources is not sustainable long term.
Rather than dismissing this possibility I call on us to try to produce solutions to avoid this outcome.
A report put out in February 2016 by Citibank in partnership with the University of Oxford predicted that 47% of US jobs are at risk of automation. In the UK, 35% are. In China, it’s a whopping 77%.
Stephen Hawking recently spoke openly about this on a post on the Guardian:
Automation, “in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world,” Hawking wrote. “The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.”
Over the last years the idea of UBI — a universal basic income — has found many proponents and equally if not more opponents. The idea is that every human being is given a right to live supported by a monthly guaranteed stipend. The theory being that if you don’t have to worry about ‘existing’ you can live your life more fully and act more openly to learn, experiment and ultimately create your own job.
Opponents claim that this will only make more people not work — even when they could / should — and produce more people that spend time with alcoholism or similar.
5 big Trends that will define the next 20 years
Over the next 20 years we’ll be seeing a convergence of the following trends:
- Diminished cost of living — > ~free energy ~free food /water ~ free housing ~free transportation will make it possible to live with much lower $ but a few lucky ones will continue to enjoy a much better life
- Technological Unemployment is unavoidable -> much of the workforce of today will need to be retrained and redeployed as many of the jobs of today won’t exist
- Negative Net Amount Of Newly Created Jobs -> brand new jobs will be created but the net — between lost and new — will be negative unless we define ways to sustain it
- Population will surge to an extra 2 Billion people on the planet
- Climate change might cause systemic emigration and put even more pressure on the balance of the world
The search for purpose
Since ancient times we seem to have developed to favor happiness. The pursuit of happiness became the American Dream.
However the current generation — Millennials — are putting this dogma to question preferring Purpose over Happiness.
A recent study at Berkeley found that people who highly value happiness reported feeling lonelier on a daily basis. By contrast, what it has been found is that the pursuit of meaning leads to a deeper and more lasting form of well-being.
As we imagine the society of tomorrow we need to envision how self-reinforcement of a purpose driven society can impact individuals, families and new societal clusters.
This could mean the beginning of a new era or the doom of humanity.
A brief note on the Importance of Ethics
In a world in which less and less tasks will become essential to survival and aided by AI and intelligent machines it is essential that we develop a new framework of ethics and that this framework can be translated in a language that both humans and AI can understand. Our kids will need to learn to discern what is advancing life v.s. what is creating long term threats to life but also how local decisions can and should be guided by ethical principles. Becoming proponents of technological evolution can easily become a self-fulfilling prophesy in which any action can be justified by the greater-good or advancement of technology.
While Technological Evolution is currently driven by man, it is not a far fetched hypothesis to think that it will soon be driven by part-human-part-AI super humans.
Technology is who we are. We started the technological evolution. We can’t hide behind our screens. It is our responsibility to think through the changes that technology will bring and how those changes — unless directed — will bring upon us periods of upheaval and social unrest.
It is our job to define the path we want to take and design a framework for our future generations.