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The Era of Humans – Ending Soon

The Era of Humans – Ending Soon

    I believe the Era of Humans will end in my organic lifetime. I expect to see the first humans transfer their minds into non-organic vessels (meaning software, maybe robot bodies) within twenty years. In fifty years, no human will want to suffer through an organic lifestyle. It just won’t make sense.

    If you dismissed my opening paragraph as ridiculous, you are probably not up-to-date on technology. This is real, and probably inevitable, with normal advances in technology. You can debate timing, but the folks with the most knowledge of this field see it coming. 

    Creating AI from scratch might never happen if it involves some sort of impossible-to-know insight about human minds. A reasonable person can predict that true AI will never be fully realized. But copying an existing brain and moving it to software is within the glide path of current technology. That will not require any giant conceptual leaps of imagination or invention. We will get to that point through normal incremental improvements in technology. Some say the scanner technology is already here.

    But today I am going to ignore the technology questions and talk about the psychology of it. That part fascinates me. Would a human be willing to abandon his or her organic body to live forever as software?

    I say yes. And the surprise is that it will be an easy choice because of another trend: Our illusion of free will shrinks as our scientific knowledge increases. Once we lose the illusion of free will, our organic bodies will seem like nothing but a source of discomfort. 

    When I say our illusion of free will is going to vanish in time, that is simply an extension of what has been happening for decades. The illusion of free will is probably half of what it was even a hundred years ago. Here is the conceptual graph.


    Our belief in free will decreases every time science makes a new discovery about “why” we do what we do. When scientists chase down the source of why humans do what we do, no “free will” is ever discovered in the mechanism. What started as a trickle of evidence against the existence of free will is about to become a fire hose. Here are the historical events that have decreased our illusions of free will so far:

    Discovery that decision-making is located in the brain. 

    Discovery of DNA.

    Understanding the role of environment and DNA (especially twin studies)

    Psychology studies show human “intelligence” is largely an illusion. We are influenced by all sort of things without our knowledge.

    Marketing proves you can “cause” actions in others.

    Discovery that alcoholism has a genetic component, so not entirely a “choice.”

    Discovery that sexual orientation has a genetic component, so not a “choice.”

    A-B testing on the Internet shows you can control people remotely by small manipulations of their environment. Their behaviors change without employing anything like “free will.”

    Health monitoring bracelets prove that humans are willing to take orders from well-meaning technology. When your bracelet says you should be more active, you do it. But you think you are just using your will power to follow wise advice.

    That last point is the most important. And I will put it in the form of a question:

    If you always knew the wise thing to do, would you ever choose the unwise path?

    Here I allow that sometimes you might choose the unwise path just to test whether or not you could do it, or maybe out of some other sort of curiosity. But in those cases you have payoffs for your choices as well. The point is that folks always choose the path with the greatest imagined payoff.

    To the observer, it seems you are making choices based on free will. But internally you are simply weighing alternatives as best you can and trying to optimize your future. If your brain is functioning properly you will never choose a bad decision over a good one, at least in terms of how you score the options in your mind.

    Adding to our illusion of free will is the fact that everyone assigns different values to the various elements of life, and those values can change within a given day. The observer sees randomness and unpredictability. It looks like free will is happening. But internally all you are doing is weighing alternatives and picking the “good” one based on how you assign value to stuff. And how you assign value is hard-coded in your brain, at least for any given moment in time. 

    Now fast-forward just a few years. Your health-monitor bracelet and your smartphone know a lot about you, including your current mental state, your level of hunger, sugar levels, stress, and every preference you have expressed online for years. Big Data knows you and it knows all the humans that are similar to you. And that means, inevitably, technology will continue giving you well-meaning advice and you will take it. Every time. Unless you are just screwing around to see if you can ignore good advice. But that won’t become a habit.

    In the early days of health monitors (today) you might ignore your bracelet’s “advice” about increasing your step count for the day. But imagine just a few years from now when you discover that every piece of advice from your technology is paying off wonderfully. Would you ignore it and make your own bad choices?

    All technology needs is a good track record of “leadership” and your organic body will follow it like a slave. If the technology discovers that my best wake-up time is 5 AM, I will set my alarm for that time. If the technology tells me it KNOWS I will like a new movie, and it has been right on the last ten predictions, I will buy a movie ticket. And the technology might even pick a date on my calendar and invite some friends who will love the same movie.

    I could ignore any advice coming from my technology, but why would I? My human-made plans work out great about 75% of the time. But a computer-made plan that knows all of my preferences, and everyone else’s too, could make decisions that pay off for me more like 90% of the time.

    As the trend toward machine-made decisions accelerates, your sensation of free will is going to erode to zero. You will have no sense of making decisions in your life. All you will be doing is agreeing with the excellent decisions made by machines. A baby born today will probably never drive a car or make navigation decisions because cars will handle that on their own. We will come to trust the machines more than we trust our friends or our own bad judgement.

    When the illusion of free will is gone you will have nothing to lose by moving your mind to software. If you take free will out of the equation the only difference between an organic life and a software life is the level of pain. All other things being equal, why would you choose pain over pleasure?

    My prediction is that humans will happily move their minds to software after the illusion of free will is entirely gone. And that day is coming quickly.

    Would you make the leap to software if you knew it would mean an eternal life of “feeling” terrific?


    Speaking of free will, see this technology that tells police where the crimes are likely to happen before they happen. Does a criminal have free will if we know where he is going to commit a crime before he does? (I realize we are only talking about statistics here, but a real human has to act in order for the statistics to be valid.)

    One wildcard in my prediction is that research on extending organic life is coming along nicely. See this.


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