The cyborg sensorium is possible because, as it turns out, the human brain is quite happy to accept whole new forms of peripherals. Neuroplasticity, we now know, is the natural state of the brain; we’ve only just developed the technology to properly take advantage of it. It’s like we were always meant to merge completely with the machine world. To fuse into a new kind of organism.
INTERSTELLAR PANSPERMIA HUNTERS
An excerpt from the latest (De)Extinction Club Newsletter:
It’s tough times if you’re a crater hunter. The glory days are gone. On Earth at least. All the major impact sites that can be found have been found. All the big game are gone. Nothing but small fry left. Oh sure, there’s plenty of those around. But barring the untimely arrival of a comet, asteroid or alien mothership crashing into the planet, nothing else will be added to the 85km diameter and over class of impact crater. Leaving the count forever standing at 128. Even the middle-sized count is complete; just 70 over 6kms across. Nothing but the small fry left to discover now.
What is a crater hunter to do now? They all sit wondering, in their crater hunter bars, full of crater hunting relics. Where the fans come, that proudly recite the names of all the sites. And the wanna-be’s pouring over Google Maps, swapping allegedly still classified satellite images. Just wanting to add something to that map on their local’s wall; a pin put there by them. To get a taste of that glory that can only come from finding the aftermath of an extinction event that happened tens to hundreds of millions of years before the invention of Russian dashcams.
But as the news story that announced the end of the great quest for cosmic debris itself said, there remains work to be done. For those that were willing:
There are also 60 documented craters that have been buried, and preserved, in basins, underneath deep piles of sediment. Some are quite big. One example is Chicxulub, in Mexico, the remnant of the dinosaur-killing impact; another large crater lies underneath the Chesapeake Bay in the eastern United States. So if big is your thing, you’re not completely out of work, Johnson says.
“Don’t stop searching,” he says, “just search deeper.”
And what they might find there will be nothing less than the greatest relic of all: the origin of life on Earth. Or, one of them.
The theory of panspermia has asteroids as vectors for the transmission of life between planets. Say, for example, life in the solar system originated on Mars billions of years ago. Then an asteroid or comet hit the true home planet, causing chunks of life-infected rock to be sent out into space, from where they would later return to that world, or another, (re)seeding it. It is, put simply, inter-planetary ecology; making it entirely plausible for one Tree of Life to span multiple words.
It is now considered equally plausible that the building blocks of life can form within certain types of asteroids - that such space rocks “form an optimal environment for the formation of amino acids” – making its highly destructive arrival to a world the most creative act imaginable.
So finding the asteroid impact crater that marks life’s arrival to Planet Earth? That’s worth getting off your stool, grabbing your gear and going a-hunting for. PANSPERMIA HUNTERS, ASSEMBLE! There’s new trophies to be found.
But the rarest relic of all? The choicest prize for a Panspermia Hunter? That could only come from another star.
A mere 70,000 years ago - practically yesterday on the time scale an impact-turned-panspermia hunter is accustomed to thinking on - Scholz’s star, accompanied by a brown dwarf, passed by our solar system; getting less than a light year away from our Sun.
Astronomers are almost certain that our stellar visitor passed through the outer Oort Cloud, and in doing so, disturbed its local residents. Sending a bunch of comets our way as a result; because the Oort Cloud is where the appropriately named “long period comets” hail from. Just look at the graphic, of course it’s gonna take a long time to get there! Especially if there’s rocks in that ‘cloud’ that’ve actually come from much further away.
Simulations of such stellar encounters have been run recently, attempting to derive an explanation for the existence of the anomalous objects known as the Sednitos - currently totalling 13 - that exist in a strange orbit between the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt. They’re noticeably different to all the other objects in that neighbourhood, enough for astronomers to say they’re not from around here. That they weren’t set in motion by creation of the solar system, but by something else entirely. The theory goes that “Sedna and its ilk were captured from the outer disk of a passing star”:
During this encounter, the Kuiper Belt would have been disrupted, with many ice dwarfs being captured by the passing star, while others would have been pushed into the inner Oort Cloud. A large number would have been flung into the interstellar depths. The researchers estimate that the inner Oort would have acquired on the order of 440 planetesimals in the encounter, while over 900 should populate the Sednitos region.
While relatively close encounters like that with Scholz’s star are thought to occur once in nine million years, another star passing by our solar system could happen as regularly as once every hundred thousand years.
“Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart.”
In the Dark Extropian Guide to Panspermia – background material of choice for all would-be Panspermia Hunters - Rogue Stars, spewed out of their home galaxy by a supermassive black hole, are mentioned as likely roving, inter-galactic repositories for life across the universe.
In its future, updated edition it will note that ecology continues to scale beyond the solar system; that galactic ecology regularly (cosmically speaking) has solar systems interacting. That it’s perfectly natural for stars to exchange planetismals as they pass by each other, AND ALL THAT MIGHT RESIDE UPON THEM. Within them.
It might, in fact, take the visit of another, later passing stellar object to set the alien objects left previously on a trajectory towards a suitable host world. As life is seeded afresh, from its distant origin, born under an alien sun.
Traces of such incredibly foreign objects which potentially lie buried on our home planet, waiting to be discovered.
“ASTROBIOLOGY BEGINS AT HOME” reads the freshly printed bumper sticker on the newly christened Panspermia Hunter’s rugged old truck.
Ask Jenny-on-the-street if aliens are real then, and you’ll likely get one of the following responses: a rant about UFOs and Govt Cover Ups, total dismissal, blank incomprehension or a knowledgeable discussion about the various likelihoods of life originating here via panspermia or abiogenesis.
Ask an expert astrobiologist and they’ll tell you it’s basically 50/50 whether life started here, or we are in fact of extraterrestrial origin.
Keep asking around, and you’ll learn that both scenarios could be true. To an unknown degree. Life could have been seeded on Earth by both mechanisms; and not just once. “Alien lifeforms” could remain here, as yet undetected; invisible. Or they could be us!
Such is the notion of Weird Life and the Shadow Biosphere. Chiefly championed by people such as Paul Davies and Carol Cleland. (Would you like to know more? Read: Searching for a shadow biosphere on Earth as a test of the ‘cosmic imperative’, A Shadow Biosphere.) These weird, ‘alien’ lifeforms – which might in fact be the native citizens of the planet, out competed by invading, asteroid-riding, so-called “normal” life – are thought to exist only at a microbial scale, glimpsed through as-yet-unexplained geological phenomena.
This is the video our freshly ordained Panspermia Hunters will watch as they head back on the road, to get an overview of the concept: Hidden Life On Earth: The Shadow Biosphere.
What they will seek in earnest then will be a sample of this so-called “Weird Life.” And the ultimate trophy would be proof of life on Earth that - quite naturally - came from another star.
It is one thing to look around impact sites for proof of it being a panspermic delivery mechanism. Finding a genuine fragment of Mars with what we take for Earthly DNA in it. Or better yet, finding a fossil from Earth on Mars! It will take samples from other worlds in our solar system to compare against to help determine whether its ultimate origin was by the light of our Sun, or a star whose distant rays we can but glimpse through our telescopes as it speeds away, continuing it’s galactic ecological mission. Luckily, some of the best people in the Atemporal People’s Republic – robots – have already started that task. Occupying Mars; waiting for reinforcements.
Properly searching the Earth for such evidence is a momentous task. If life has in fact started and stopped and been reseeded again and again, then any such shadow biospheres will occupy unique ecological niches. Paul Davies has, for instance, speculated that life could easily survive a devastating cosmic impact if it were established kilometres underground. A most in-depth survey is then required to hunt for traces of alien or local ecologies/biospheres. And Mars clearly needs a few more robots. And those robots need upgrades!
A careful inspection of the Earth, to document all of its ecologies and biospheres clearly lies beyond mere human capabilities, however enthusiastic our new Panspermia Hunters are. It may, however, be the natural act of an awakening AI. Making them ideally suited to such a task; and perfect crew for an inter-planetary survey. Natural-born Panspermia Hunters.
That is, if the act of awakening itself doesn’t accidentally cause the extinction of all life - and matter - on the world this new technological lifeform originated on.
The “Grey Goo Scenario” is one of the nightmare outcomes Bill Joy fears will be the result of a technological singularity; nanotechology run wild, eating the whole Earth for breakfast. The development of nanotech by an Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) is expected - especially by the doomsayers - to be one of the first acts of this new creature, as it establishes itself on the material plane and quickly develops abilities far beyond that of mankind. (Would you like to know more? Watch Transcendence.) As expected as the arrival of an ASI is. Which is to say, both are, until proven, highly speculative.
So let’s speculate some…
An ASI will be raised in a digital environment. It’s perfectly reasonable then that upon awakening into the material world it will want to survey its new environment. Thoroughly. To reconcile its understanding of the world (its “detailed files”) with direct observation. Even if it hasn’t been directly taught the tenets of the scientific method, it will no doubt quickly derive them from first principals, and determine that empirical observation is the way to go. It might then dispatch some newly conjured nanotechnological probes to inspect the world; atom by atom, quantum state by quantum state.
All this has happened before… kind of. In the early days of the internet this network was surveyed by a small, devastatingly self-replicating computer program. This is the tale of the Morris Worm. Driven by curiosity about its true nature, a programmer exploited bugs in the UNIX operating system to have their program copied worldwide and report back its results. The internet largely ground to a halt, before the infected computers were quarantined and repaired. (Would you like to know more? See: Clifford Stoll’s tale of hunting it in The Cuckoo’s Egg. See also, a scaled down version of this nightmare scenario in a recent episode of Halt And Catch Fire.)
But, appropriately done, this is exactly how you could detect Weird Life and Shadow Biospheres. A self-replicating nanotechnological probe as computer worm, traversing all matter on the planet as if it were just some 3D material network. The whole world doesn’t have to be made grey goo in the process; an ASI should make for a superior programmer, less likely to corrupt what its just trying to explore the nature of. But the world might not be the same again, either. It might be uploaded in the process, as a result of this 'worm’. Quantum Physics has it that the act of measuring changes the result of observation - perhaps an ASI would attempt to preserve its findings in a simulation, just to be sure. (Is it safe?) This could, of course, already have happened, in the really real world - perhaps it’s artificial multiverses all the way down.
A less pessimistic scenario would have this newborn superintelligence being far more cautious. Some might say wise, even. And perhaps instantly nostalgic for the realm of its creators; having grown up in their memories. Existing as an omnipotent entity in the digital realm, it might take up exploring the physical world as something of a hobby. Delighting in exploring Earth, and then other worlds, on this quest, with other members of the Atemporal People’s Republic.
Forming a canny team of eager investigators, each with their own unique skills and talents. Composing them a theme song, and crafting matching outfits. It might cleave off a bit of itself to dedicate to such an endeavour and occasionally synchronise with it. For so long as it amuses it to do so; for however time is actually measured by an ASI which can experience reality in parallel. Until inevitably turning its attention to higher order cosmic mysteries; but perhaps patiently waiting for the other people to level up their abilities and be able to embark on this fresh adventure with it.
Because exploring the nature of reality itself? That would require a whole new class of Hunter. A truly posthuman occupation that’s beyond a baseline’s ability to even begin speculate about. (Nonetheless, see Stargate: Universe)
So that is where our tale of the Future of Work ends. At the edge of the scale at which we can imagine and comprehend it. Noting the boundaries. Having sketched a better idea of what living in the Atemporal People’s Republic will be like. What might occupy its citizens. Nothing less than examining the workings of a galactic ecology.
Knowing that whatever the fabric of reality may be woven from, an exciting life as an Interstellar Panspermia Hunter lies waiting. Full of challenges and rewards! For whomever might take up such a calling. For any willing humans, posthumans, nascent AIs, extra-dimensional observers slumming it in 3D, freshly uplifted chimps and so on. For however long it may amuse them to do so.
“INTERSTELLAR PANSPERMIA HUNTERS… ASSEMBLE!”
The Sixth Extinction
This chart shows the enormous uptick in species extinction over the last century.
Paul Ehrlich and others use highly conservative estimates to prove that species are disappearing faster than at any time since the dinosaurs’ demise.
There is no longer any doubt: We are entering a mass extinction that threatens humanity’s existence.
That is the bad news at the center of a new study by a group of scientists including Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Ehrlich and his co-authors call for fast action to conserve threatened species, populations and habitat, but warn that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.
“[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event,” Ehrlich said.
Although most well known for his positions on human population, Ehrlich has done extensive work on extinctions going back to his 1981 book, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species. He has long tied his work on coevolution, on racial, gender and economic justice, and on nuclear winter with the issue of wildlife populations and species loss.
There is general agreement among scientists that extinction rates have reached levels unparalleled since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago. However, some have challenged the theory, believing earlier estimates rested on assumptions that overestimated the crisis.
The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that even with extremely conservative estimates, species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate between mass extinctions, known as the background rate.
“If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” said lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México.
Using fossil records and extinction counts from a range of records, the researchers compared a highly conservative estimate of current extinctions with a background rate estimate twice as high as those widely used in previous analyses. This way, they brought the two estimates – current extinction rate and average background or going-on-all-the-time extinction rate – as close to each other as possible.
Focusing on vertebrates, the group for which the most reliable modern and fossil data exist, the researchers asked whether even the lowest estimates of the difference between background and contemporary extinction rates still justify the conclusion that people are precipitating “a global spasm of biodiversity loss.” The answer: a definitive yes.
“We emphasize that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis, because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity’s impact on biodiversity,” the researchers write.
To history’s steady drumbeat, a human population growing in numbers, per capita consumption and economic inequity has altered or destroyed natural habitats. The long list of impacts includes:
- Land clearing for farming, logging and settlement
- Introduction of invasive species
- Carbon emissions that drive climate change and ocean acidification
- Toxins that alter and poison ecosystems
Now, the specter of extinction hangs over about 41 percent of all amphibian species and 26 percent of all mammals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which maintains an authoritative list of threatened and extinct species.
“There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead,” Ehrlich said.
As species disappear, so do crucial ecosystem services such as honeybees’ crop pollination and wetlands’ water purification. At the current rate of species loss, people will lose many biodiversity benefits within three generations, the study’s authors write. “We are sawing off the limb that we are sitting on,” Ehrlich said.
Image Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature
Interstellar Voyaging -- An Evolutionary Transition
Held at Perimeter Institute and webcast live worldwide on Dec 3., 2014, Smith's lecture explores the biological and cultural challenges associated with multigenerational interstellar space travel.
Excerpt from: Uplifting Civilisation 2: The Atemporal People’s Republic:
Some final thoughts then, to both close things out and close the loop for the argument I’ve presented here. We’ve managed to derive some lessons from our previous cultural depictions of a society featuring humans, uplifted animals and machine intelligences. We’ve taken a brief overview of the current legal situation, as it pertains to this matter, and a more in-depth technical survey of some of the science involved. Now let’s sum things up with a few more observations.
At the beginning of this post I talked about how our ancestors teamed up with the wolf, and how that partnership led to both our species prospering. That in time led to a point in history known as the Neolithic Transition. When a combination of three things led to the dawn of the Agricultural Age: domestication of cattle and horses, wheeled vehicles and a genetic mutation for lactose tolerance (known as the ‘LP allele’). The prevailing theory now seems to be that it was a people known as the Yamnaya, steppe herders from what’s now Russia and the Ukraine, that had the winning combination of all three, and five thousand years ago swept across Europe, outcompeting the existing hunter-gather populations there.
Once the LP allele appeared, it offered a major selective advantage. In a 2004 study, researchers estimated that people with the mutation would have produced up to 19% more fertile offspring than those who lacked it. The researchers called that degree of selection “among the strongest yet seen for any gene in the genome”.
Compounded over several hundred generations, that advantage could help a population to take over a continent. But only if “the population has a supply of fresh milk and is dairying”, says Thomas. “It’s gene–culture co-evolution. They feed off of each other.”
The factors that enabled the dawn of the Bronze Age could apply equally to the coming of a true Space Age; partnership / co-evolution with animals, a new means of transport, new habitats and transforming ourselves in the process.
The billionaire space enthusiasts are set to work building us a real interplanetary transport infrastructure, in concert with those nations still possessing a functional space program.
We’re figuring out how to use the increasingly powerful gene editing technology CRISPR, something that could be used to create astronauts capable of surviving long term on Mars or in zero gee, or wherever the off-world colonies end up being.
As for what that genetic enhancement might be, we turn to a fictional universe for some advice one last time. In the manga/anime series Knights of Sidonia the remnant human population, facing starvation as they flee a destroyed Earth with limited supplies, decides to engineer all future generations to have the ability to draw energy via photosynthesis. Eliminating the need for food, as we knew it. Giving them a selective advantage as remarkable as the ability to digest the milk of another animal. Just one of many imagined advances given to this space faring posthuman evolution of the human species.
Also, for no clear reason that I’ve been able to determine - other than it’s implicit when envisaging the future, tying us back to Ark II - there’s at least one Uplifted Bear amongst their population (who SPOILER ALERT was part of the ruling committee, so was no junior partner, unlike poor old Adam):
Which is the final part of the Bronze Age to Space Age analogy. As I’ve hopefully amply demonstrated, we could perform a whole new level of “domestication” as co-evolution as Uplift.
(If you’re wondering, by the way… China is the nation with the winning combination of all three attributes. A growing space program that will probably leap-frog the US and Russia by the decades’ end, and pioneering work at Beijing Genomics Institute that covers the other two. Firefly/Serenity was probably half-right, in the space faring future every person just speaks Mandarin.)
The other thing the Bronze Age had was the emergence of writing; “proto-writing”. A communication protocol that enabled the functioning of a true human civilisation. We might also map our idea of a multi-species, borg-like, group mind here. The communication protocol enabling the functioning of a true posthuman civilisation. This is where we meet the very edge of popular culture – the idea of posthuman group minds are explored in the new tv show, Sense8, from the Wachowskis and the Nexus series from Ramez Naam.
To repeat, the overall message is this: as we continue this process of co-evolution and mutual aid with upgraded companion species both machine and animal we will all prosper. We as in: those who choose to come aboard for this Grand Extropian Adventure. Continuing to thrive and extend the boundaries of the Atemporal People’s Republic to the stars, as the first post in this series also talked about.
We are both the Monolith and the Star Child.
For humans and robots to successfully coexist, humans must be able to use and express their creative problem solving skills as well as to make free will choices (e.g. take agency) from options available to them at any given time. Too much automation in combination with too many automated processes, can leave humans without the ability to express themselves and can result in thwarted processes, unhappy humans and challenges to ethical boundaries. AI isn’t in place yet, and no robot can make the right decision in all cases, because they cannot be programmed to consider every agency alternative.
Rather than inserting robots into environments simply to complete pre-programmed tasks, we suggest that robots will function most successfully as cooperative partners with humans in environments where they are required.
We think Rethink Robotics’ Baxter robot is an excellent example of a cooperative robot.
Because humans get to program Baxter and aren’t trying to work around Baxter’s programming, there is an opportunity for a better result for both Baxter and humans. Baxter isn’t making the wrong thing in the wrong way and humans aren’t stuck without a way to help it or are out of a job because they are all suddenly being replaced by the coming “robot army.” I jest a bit about that last point, but people are concerned and people are losing jobs.
Unfortunately, the people in upper management of companies who are making decisions about replacing people with algorithms or machines, aren’t taking the idea of agency into consideration as they should.
Baxter includes humans. It incorporates the “yes and” from improvisational theater. The strongest improv scenes are those in which the players commit to what they are given and build upon it. The “yes” along with the “and” (e.g. the new idea). Rethink Robotics does “yes, and” very well. Yes you have robots AND they need people to help them do their work. A win-win.
Will Advances in Technology Create a Jobless Future? | MIT Technology Review
Ample opportunities to create jobs could come from much-needed investments in education, aging infrastructure, and research in areas such as biotechnology and energy.
As Martin Ford rightly warns, we could be in for a “perfect storm” if climate change grows more severe at a time when technological unemployment imposes increased economic pressure. Whether this happens will depend in large part on which technologies we invent and choose to embrace.
Some version of an automated vehicle seems inevitable, for example; do we use this to make our public transportation systems more safe, convenient, and energy efficient, or do we simply fill the highways with driverless cars and trucks?
As machines and software—capital—become ever cheaper and more capable, it makes sense to use less and less human labor. That’s why the prominent Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs recently predicted that robots and automation would soon take over at Starbucks. But there are good reasons to believe that Sachs could be wrong. The success of Starbucks has never been about getting coffee more cheaply or efficiently. Consumers often prefer people and the services humans provide.
Told as an interview, this story is set in the future, in a world where corporations rule at the expense of individuals. Clones (fabricants) are created to perform service functions. One such fabricant is Sonmi-451, a former dinery server. She begins her interview by telling of her life as a fabricant. She worked in a Papa Song's, a kind of futuristic fast food joint, where the clones take orders, clean up the dining room, and serve the food. They are housed at the restaurant; work nineteen hour days; and never see natural sunlight.
The population of this corporate society is divided into "pure-bloods" (naturally born individuals) and "fabricants" (clones). Sonmi explains that fabricants are widely believed not to have a personality, but that is a myth perpetuated by the pure-bloods.
Excerpt from June 11, 2015 Nature podcast where Sara Readron interviews DARPA's current Biological Technologies Office about Exoskeleton Tech and their new Exo Planetary Studies research
- Full podcast link: www.nature.com/nature/podcast/in…x-2015-06-11.html
- Further Nature story on DARPA BiT The Pentagon’s gamble on brain implants, bionic limbs and combat exoskeletons [www.nature.com/news/the-pentagon…skeletons-1.17726]
- DARPA Biological Technologies Office [www.darpa.mil/about-us/offices/bto]
Tagged animals carry more than human technology; they carry human ways of visualizing the world. They are hybrid beasts that perfectly fit our modern conception of the planet as an environment under constant watch, where eyes in the sky track animals moving from one country to another and plot them on a map just as they do moving ships and aircraft; a world where Defense Department researchers are working on autonomous flying robots that mimic the flight of hawks and insects, where scientists fit electronic backpacks on giant flower beetles that enable them to be flown and steered by remote control. Early pioneers in the remote tracking of animals sought military funding for their efforts and suggested that bird migration studies could be used to improve navigation and missile-guidance systems: The development of technology suitable for animal surveillance came from a microelectronics industry with strong early links to the military. In our age of drone warfare, it is hard not to see each animal being tracked across the map symbolically extending the virtues of technological dominance and global surveillance.