Post No.: 0049
We need power to build and spread across the galaxy. But power corrupts and also allows destruction to be more easily carried out too. Power, allied with greed and selfishness, or at least myopia, is one possible reason why no complex and intelligent alien species seems to have widely colonised this galaxy, and maybe why humans (or descendents of humans) likely won’t either. The instincts for seeking power will get a species so far but beyond a point will likely destroy that species (along with many other innocent species with it), so unless evolution and/or culture somehow leads life in the right direction, humans will likely become extinct before they really colonise the Milky Way.
And well, although it doesn’t always involve violence, the ambition to colonise the galaxy itself is a greedy and selfish one for the human species i.e. what if other intelligent or otherwise life already lives on another planet? Humans have done this (and are still doing this) on Earth – having little regard for other life forms that get in the way of (myopic) human ambitions. Destroying using power is far easier and faster than building using power due to the second law of thermodynamics (e.g. it just takes a few people a few minutes to destroy a building that took hundreds of people several years to build, or it takes many years to raise a child into an adult but can take just a second to end a life). Disorder is far easier to create than order. So the very capabilities a species needs to conquer and spread widely are arguably the very same capabilities that will likely destroy that species sooner.
Intelligence is also a double-edged sword. Organisms need great intelligence to plan for the far future and see the bigger pictures, to create and invent amazing things that propel a species towards a new horizon. But great intelligence also contributes to grand ideas of greed, selfishness and evil; for after all – one person’s ‘smart’ is another person’s ‘dastard underhand cunning’. So the very traits that demonstrate a specie’s intelligence and ambition are arguably the very same traits that can produce what many of us would consider as evil.
All animals, plants and microbes are intelligent enough to survive in their natural home environments (well if they weren’t then they’d logically be dead or dying according to natural selection), and because humans have sought to survive in a wide range of environments, this curiosity has intrinsically shaped the human specie’s breadth of adaptability and intelligence. Stimulating new environments stimulate broader intelligence (and this is happening with e.g. raccoons, foxes and bears adapting to living in or around human urban environments too).
But since environment and selection pressures for intelligence are intrinsically linked, it may be a concern for the future of the human species due to more and more humans not needing to e.g. hunt or even cook, navigate or even walk very far, in the modern and foreseeable future technology-dependent environment, in order for individuals to survive. Advanced technologies can indeed bring with them alternative complexities though e.g. IT and computing – albeit it’s arguable whether this will overall broaden intelligence and adaptive capacity or pigeonhole humans further and further over time into a species that is heavily reliant on a (fragile) electronic environment to function as a whole i.e. will these skills help if there is a major EMP (electromagnetic pulse) strike (the Sun might cause one), Kessler effect (which will take out satellites that our modern world relies upon) or a long-term power failure (these are just a few examples of the fragility of our electronic world)?
This heavily technology-dependent environment could become the human specie’s new natural home environment that, if humans were to be suddenly exposed to a very different environment (like for other life on this planet when their environments suddenly change for them (often as a result of human activities)), humans or the descendents of humans may not be able to adapt or evolve rapidly enough. So the very creations that demonstrate a specie’s adaptability may arguably be the very same creations that decrease that specie’s adaptability and broader natural survival ability in the long-run if the clever things we create make life so easy for us that old skills to survive aren’t practised anymore hence we become over-reliant on those creations.
For instance, due to social media and apps, some young people aren’t generally developing their social skills for face-to-face social interactions as much as past generations. Basic skills like navigation, memorising dates and numbers or simple maths aren’t as practised (for the population in general) without the aid of electronic devices anymore. Physical skills and capabilities are also not as important anymore to ensure survival. One can be physically unfit due to lifestyle choices and/or rely on web-connected assistants for answers to what used to be basic or memorised knowledge, and still survive in this world. And if these people are able to pass their genes onto their progeny regardless, then innate intelligence, physical abilities and other qualities in the gene pool will possibly dilute.
The smarter we become, the more we build machines and algorithms that do the tough things for us, thus the less we do tough things for ourselves as we rely on such technologies (and if AIs can one day themselves create even better AIs than humans can initially program then even human designers could lose design and programming skills). And so over time via natural selection (with the reduced selection pressures of such a relatively easy-to-survive/less tough environment), the less intelligent and/or physically weaker a species will possibly inherently become as a whole.
Well it’s not so much a problem for technology to do the tough things for us but when it’s used to do the simple things then that’s when it risks the regression of abilities. So it’s not wrong to use e.g. an automobile or a calculator per se (no one expects anyone to walk for tens of miles when time is short or to faultlessly solve all possible sums in one’s head) but it’s not good if they’re used to merely pop down the street or for solving simple sums respectively. ‘If you don’t use it then you’ll lose it’ – as an example, ancestral species to humans gradually didn’t use their tail limbs anymore so they lost them; many human populations are gradually becoming more and more sedentary so may lose some of their physical capacities over time, for instance, or humans may even possibly split into two or more species – between those who specialise in one niche and those who specialise in another? Maybe there’ll be a natural segregation between those who’ve kept these skills honed and those who haven’t?
If any physically or cognitively enhancing drug masks genetic weaknesses and allows the not-so-naturally strong or smart to flourish then this may weaken the species for letting the weak survive. These aids or cheats may benefit the individuals who take them but may weaken the species collectively in the long-run. We also innately seek material resources/wealth and a comfortable living, but comfortable living weakens the breed over time. Over generations, artificial aids and monetary wealth can mask genetic weaknesses/flaws – an easy life, aided by lots of money and means, typically results in fewer real pressures on one’s survival (certainly compared to the destitute), which potentially allows weak genes or adaptations to pass on. And for anybody – relying on technology and machines too much will mean that if/when an apocalypse happens, all kinds of skills that would help humans to recover civilisation could be lost (e.g. handcrafting, basic bushcraft skills).
So in summary, some of the things that enough humans as a species naturally seek, such as power and cunning in a selfish and greedy manner, or a comfortable life, will arguably be a part of the human specie’s downfall evolutionarily or otherwise in the long-term. What innately helps or helped the human species get to a certain point may be the very things that will likely stop the human species getting any further. (It’s like obesity – the instinct to consume calories and conserve energy gets a species successfully so far but beyond a certain point it becomes harmful; and it’s an instinct that’s extremely hard to override especially when the environment allows it to exhibit.) In short, the things we want, if we get too much of, will harm us and will possibly eventually destroy us!
In my opinion, the greatest threat is too much concentration of power. One small group or individual (whether government, corporation, person, AI or some other yet-foreseeable thing) with a lot of power can create so much, but also potentially destroy so much so quickly. It’s the same way that sticks and spears could only hurt one or two people at a time but nuclear weapons (which are weapons with huge concentrated power), with only one or two people on the buttons, or indeed just an unintentional accident, can destroy so much in an instant. Intelligence is more debateable as a problem because is it intelligent to be so short-sightedly greedy or selfish? It’s being smart but not smart enough that’s the problem there.
And regarding a comfortable life, one saving grace is that evolution is typically slow, so in this context, evolution being slow is not a bad thing. This means our capacity to learn certain skills won’t be quickly biologically lost, albeit an individual won’t learn these skills if he/she doesn’t personally put in the time and effort to learn them. So it’ll only be a problem if everybody in an entire generation fails to pick up and therefore fails to pass on certain learnable skills to the next generation (dropping the baton of knowledge as it were). Evolution can be relatively fast under severe selection pressures but an easy life is the opposite of severe selection pressures. Extant genes can be wiped out rapidly but random de novo mutations of significance are comparatively slow to introduce. Still, adapted/learnt skills can be lost if people stop practising them. Evolution being slow is a problem in the context of human individuals endlessly seeking material resources and power though, especially in a technologically-advanced environment where there is a lot of power available for grabs. The limitations of natural evolution may be why the right AIs have the best chance of colonising the galaxy?
So I don’t personally propose a technology-less world but we must continue to teach and learn ‘old’ or ‘traditional’ skills. New technologies must still be analysed on a case-by-case basis for their potential long and wide-reaching impacts though. I definitely propose that no one and no thing should be allowed to get too powerful relative to all others. Huge wealth and therefore power differentials are undesirable – gross levels of inequality are dangerous. We must also learn from past mistakes that nothing private should be too big to let fail that it’d need the public (i.e. everybody) to bail it out otherwise it’d take everybody down with it. And I do promote the intelligence to care for long-term interests (i.e. beyond one’s own lifetime) rather than short-term interests (e.g. merely quarterly profit targets). If humans survive in the long-term then logically humans must have survived all the short-terms, but just because humans survive in the short-term it doesn’t necessarily mean humans will survive in the long-term.
Some of the above hypotheses in this post seem a little portentous, debateable and I hope they’re wrong, but the biggest doom and gloom in my fluffy opinion is sleepwalking into problems we should be able to anticipate. Hence we should think about these things instead of just crossing our furry fingers or concentrating on our short-term interests. Maximising only one’s own generation’s gains may harm the prospects of future generations – but we can still do something about readdressing that now.
Meow. (Remember that meow means peace.)