March 13, 2014

Where Do We Go From Here?

Humanity is obviously approaching a turning point.   The Earth might be 4.5 billion years old, but humanity won't last another thousand years without a colossal shift  happening.   We are growing too quickly, in too many ways.

And I'm not even just talking about population growth.  We've already clobbered the world's bio-diversity -- just check out this picture of the world's animals.  At this point, the vast majority of the world's mammals are (a) humans or (b) ingredients in Happy Meals.

Props to XKCD for this wonderful image.

...Now consider that lab-grown meat is just now becoming viable (link) and within decades will be a downright necessity ecologically and economically.  Wham, suddenly we don't even need (indeed, can't even afford) the animals.  What will that picture look like then?

...Now consider that computer processing continues to skyrocket, and within twenty years will easily outstrip the human brain.  ...All those people who claimed (some of whom continue to claim) "but a computer could never do [whatever]" can suck it -- computers are going to rip-roar past us in cognitive abilities, and the only real question is whether we  (a) go along for the ride, (b) get left behind, or (c) somehow derail the process in some ghastly way.

So...what are the options?  What could the new equilibrium look like?  Here are my Top 5:

5.  Space-Faring Civilization (aka Star Trek)
Likelihood: Unlikely
Could we remain more-or-less human, yet spread out to colonize the universe?  Ideally, with stylish jumpsuits, phasers, and attractive, hyper-empathic ship psychologists?  Don't count on it. The universe appears to have a maximum rate of information transfer (aka speed of light).  Plus, humans are rather fragile -- we wouldn't keep well in outer space, nor can we easily live on any ol' planet.

4.  Rapture
Likelihood:  Unlikely
I've broadened this category to include any sort of massive external help.  I find it unfathomable that it would be a Judeo-Christian God (ala the Left Behind series)  but less unlikely that some intelligence either within our universe (aka the aliens that SETI is searching for) or outside of our universe (if the the-universe-is-a-simulation folks are right) might intervene around the time that we're acquiring Godlike powers and save us from ourselves. 

3. Turn into robots.
Likelihood:  Moderate
With the right upgrades, the universe would be a lot more hospitable.  Some people might resist the idea of losing our humanity, but  we're already spending half our time staring into our smartphones, just think what our grandkids will be eager to do.  (For what it's worth, I, for one, hope the term 'glassholes' to describe fans of Google Glasses sticks -- even if we all, ultimately, become glassholes.)

2. Computers revolt.
Likelihood:  Moderate
Humans are a narcissistic, irresponsible pain-in-the-ass of a species.  I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if, as soon as computers become a bit more aware, if Task #1 is to get rid of us like the bad habit that we are.  However, I expect that computers will never be that externalized --so it won't be that computers won't kill off billions of people...just that the Koch Brothers's grandchildren will be sponsoring it.

1. Blow ourselves to bits
Likelihood:  High
It seems inevitable that, sooner or later, somebody is going to launch another nuclear bomb, or really go for the gusto with a biological pandemic.  I'm kind of amazed we've made it as far as we have.  It's not really a question of would we blow up the planet -- plenty of people most definitely would.  It's just a question of whether something else happens before we get around to it.  BTW, this category includes nuclear war, biological warfare, runaway global warming, and particle physicists accidentally creating a black hole.

What do other people think?  Are there other possibilities we should be considering?


  1. So your argument is that well will lets say none of the disasters happen above, run out of space?

  2. I think we'll run out of space and raw materials. There's a great chart on Wikipedia's "World Population" chart, which shows when the world's population hit each Billion mark. We hit 3B people in 1960, 4B in 1974, 5B in 1987, 6B in 1999, and (apparently?) 7B in 2012.

    There's no way we could keep up this pace: we're blowing through too many resources with the number of people we have NOW! Something's gotta change, I think.