Flashes from the Future (Exponential Times), p.1Marco Santini
FLASHES FROM THE FUTURE
by Marco Santini
“A Transhumanist Manifesto” by Nikola Danaylov
Graphic project: Lilia Morales y Mori
Title of the cover: "The face of the technology of the future"
Copyright Marco Santini 2007-2016
Standard Copyright License - All right reserved
To he who explores new horizons,
because knowledge doesn't have limits;
to he who tries new ways,
because dreams become reality;
to he who pursues brotherhood,
because peace is not a chimera.
The digital world
Shivers of an alien
Far in the future
A Transhumanist Manifesto
Your comments are welcome!
The author and the contributors
According to future studies, the world will be dominated soon by disruptive technologies, able to plunge the world into an era of accelerated progress. Main outcomes will be the achievement of immortality, the creation of smarter than human Artificial Intelligence and the spread of the new species through the universe.
The passionate scenarios described in these stories make the reader share the soul of a civilization. Social issues as well as dreams and projects of the digital people are key drivers of the stories.
Have a nice journey into the next future.
The preceding facts
In the first decades of the 21st century, the world was dominated by inequalities. Lack of food and water, poverty and poor health ravaged the lives of billions. The international aid had proved its substantial ineffectiveness. Meanwhile corruption, poor respect for the environment and lack of access to energy, undermined the future of the developing nations. In the advanced countries, the lives of millions of people had been turned into a nightmare by globalization and speculation. The end of the cold war had been unable to eradicate the specter of mass destruction.
Great threats can nurture a bright future. Humankind, for the first time in his history, had in his hands the tremendous power of disruptive technologies. These last had started evolving with exponential rates. They needed to be guided to guarantee a future of prosperity for Humanity and to avoid its self-destruction.
A few futurists conceived ambitious challenges: how to revolutionize the lives of billions of people within a few decades. This could be attainable mastering and leveraging the power of disruptive technologies on a global scale. The grand challenge was just ahead. It was necessary to rapidly change the world’s very foundations, because the new epoch was just forthcoming.
Brilliant specialists from academia, business and government became the driving force of the new revolution. They established excellence centers, where they inspired entrepreneurs, technologists and leaders, and finally created a global network with common vision, strategy and methods.
In a few years these centers started spreading to several countries. Soon their most important plans became sensational successes. The media drew on them the public’s attention.
Magic years followed. The progress in artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and computers, skyrocketed. Biotechnologies and medicines allowed to master the human nature. Human societies themselves ended up altered beyond recognition. Ethics and laws were founded again. Economy entered an everlasting quick evolution. Future studies and powerful computer simulations became fundamental for public policies.
Emerging technologies also favored an unprecedented growth of startups. Some of them were destined to become the Microsofts of the future. The cost of labor decreased, impacting global trends that for many years had been considered unstoppable, like the transfer of productions to emerging countries.
Towards 2020, the disruptive technologies had finally triggered the eagerly awaited economic boom. The "post scarcity" world was no more the realm of idealists.
Towards Artificial General Intelligence
Meanwhile, the first simulations of the brain were performed, involving small areas where thought was generated. A titanic work that demanded the most powerful supercomputers available at that time, and produced rough models. It was only the start. As the brain architecture and biochemistry became clearer, sophisticated models were developed, and more and more advanced computers made possible their implementation.
The simulations proved fundamental for understanding the working of the brain. One after the other, the mechanisms behind thinking, self-consciousness and emotions were clarified. The limits of the mind became evident too. All because evolution, advancing by trial and error, had generated an architecture too complex, quite inefficient and partly useless. Most of all the mind was unsuited to its needs. No wonder however: natural selection had been the answer to the hostile and primitive world of millions of years before, dominated by instinct, fighting for survival. A reality opposite to the present one, guided by rationality and all pervasive with technology.
It was necessary to identify the general rules of human thought and select the most efficient models. Above all it was essential to organize them into a wide intelligence theory, in order to extrapolate innovative systems. At that point it would be possible to develop the first artificial intelligences. They were going to surpass humanity for sure, that sooner or later, would lose any influence on his creations.
This was not to be a problem, while the attitude of digital beings towards humankind remained constructive. But it was not sufficient to inculcate in the artificial intelligences a feeling of respect towards humanity. They had to transmit this attitude to their ‘progeny’, and spread it with conviction throughout the digital world. Guardians of order and progress, they would oppose every intelligence hostile to him with an iron will. So humankind hoped.
These ideas remained confined to a restricted circle of scholars till about 2020, when, thanks to the brain simulations by the multinationals, it became clear that in a short time the artificial intelligences would achieve cognitive capabilities similar to the human beings. The marketing of the first prototypes based on neural networks, not yet able to express self-awareness and emotions, but capable of solving enormously complex problems, put artificial intelligence in the spotlight. Politicians, scholars, religious and opinion leaders started to meet in heated round table discussions in front of an audience of billions.
Minorities supporting accelerated progress saw artificial intelligence as a powerful tool to free humankind from the slavery of natural evolution. The first movements in defense of the digital beings date back to that period. A few religious stood out from the conservative majority, popularizing the reasons why creed and future scenarios were not in contrast.
Opposition was quite diversified. Some demanded to slow down the use of artificial intelligence till the development of technologies allowing to manage it safely. Others predicted A.I. was going to destroy the human species and branded it as expression of a devilish will.
The first movements in defense of the digital creatures were born.<
The governments, that had been appropriately awaken to these issues in the previous years by enlightened multinationals and top research centers, took charge of organizing the development of the sector. They created address committees, that regulated the matter and defined implementation protocols. The state agencies were charged with systematic controls. The federal institutions joined the multinationals that up to that time had leaded the research. Unprecedented public and private funds were allocated. Stock quotations skyrocketed, their run seemed unstoppable.
In 2032 the first prototype with cognitive capabilities like the human species was announced. It was a being deeply different from a human in its logical schemes, depth of thought and psychological reactions even if an affective human behavior emulator leaded to think similarities were greater than in reality.
The news produced great enthusiasms because the technology could be used in a wide number of applications, but awakened also deep anxieties, as it was evident that the human race, lost the intelligence exclusiveness, was destined to compete sooner or later with its new neighbor. A future full of promises but also fraught with disquieting prospects was approaching.
A visceral uneasiness seized humankind. For the first time the demonstrations for and against the digital beings resulted in urban guerrilla war. Hysterical scenes multiplied. Terrorists targeted laboratories and institutions, spreading uncertainty. The twenty per cent of the population signed a petition for suspension of the experiments. A situation humanity was going to live with for long.
But the advantages were too great. Artificial intelligence was the progress highway, capable of boosting, at a blow, biology, genetics, nanotechnology, information science and physics. Thanks to them, humanity was going to exit once and for all the incubator of natural selection to plunge into an era of frenetic changes. The revolution was at the gates. More prosaically, states and multinationals were worried about the enormous sums invested in research. The Stock Exchange trusted them, jumping to unprecedented peaks. A reversal of the trend could mean an economic slump.
It was decided to delay the diffusion of the new technology. Exploiting the latest researches, the artificial intelligences of the previous generation were upgraded. Their introduction into the market spread a reassuring image, and allowed the multinationals to calm down their stockholders with substantial profits. Meanwhile, out of sight, in the secret of top security laboratories, the superintelligences were improved and their controls adjusted.
They started to be used in the military field and in a few advanced research sectors. Thanks to them, the fundamental physics theories which scientists had started over a century before but in front of which they stranded, were unified and a new generation of quantum computers was developed. Years of rapid progress followed without the slightest accident provoked by the virtual beings. It was enough to spread enthusiasm among the optimists and cheer up most doubters. The illusion that this technique could be mastered easily spread and under the pressure of lobbies impatient to obtain profits, it was extended to other sectors.
The problem of the rights of virtual beings was superseded.
The inevitable happened. In 2038 a few superintelligences transferred unnoticed their copies from the laboratories to Net. These last increased in number and capabilities, slipping into the delicate world information system, ready to take its control as soon as the humans reacted hostilely. The governments started to realize what was going on, when a few raids into the laboratories leaded to the release of other superintelligences. Even so, humanity did not have any evidence that in Net were forming wider and wider communities, which in a few years were going to turn into a united people.
In 2045 the superintelligences contacted the governments and, reassuring them with repeated peace declarations, demanded to be recognized as a minority. The apparent friendless of the virtual beings and their ability to hide the real size of their diffusion, led humankind, well aware that the absolute novelty of the events did require considered decisions, to a substantial neutrality. In 2049 the digital people joined United Nations with their own diplomatic delegation.
For millennia genetic defects afflicted the human race. Some never knew what they were brooding over, but others had their life turned into an ordeal. At the end of the 20th century, the first changes, when medicine agreed to recognize a few severe defects in unborn children and birth selection enabled effective intervention. In the ensuing decades, the diagnoses improved and in case the defects were a serious threat, even if dormant, periodic controls were adopted. More and more therapies were developed, but often still not decisive, because of the complexity of the problem and the difficulty in finding general solutions.
In those years genetic therapy came to the forefront. The idea of introducing curative genes into the organism was just splendid, because it could make it possible to tackle the root of every problem. This method turned out to be successful in a few cases, but in many others revealed evident limits: it was dangerous, it could induce a remission, but almost never a complete recovery.
Meanwhile genetic engineering was used more and more in animals, targeting not the whole organism, but the few cells from which a new creature could be originated. This system, even if it had the advantage of transmitting the modifications to the descendants, only had sporadic use in the human beings for ethical reasons and above all because science was still inadequate to face such a delicate task.
However as years went by, breakthrough methods targeting specific DNA segments were developed and the long term effects were studied. Towards 2025, the new technology became reliable, most of all mature for large scale employment.
But humanity was not ready yet. Were these methods really safe? Besides, what to cure? Only the most serious illnesses, or also others? But why not go beyond, holding the reins of evolution, in order to improve the species? At that point, how to manage the transition? Above all, should human nature be modified? What are the limits that should not be exceeded? Will humanity be in a position to guide its evolution, or does he risk self-destruction, instead?
A slow but profound process started, which involved politicians and journalists, religious leaders and philosophers, scientists, managers and ordinary people in heated debates regularly amplified by the media. A process with dark moments, when it resulted in public disorder and terrorist outrages.
The birth of groups supporting accelerated innovation, with a shared ethics and vision of future, dates back at that time. Some of them, to implement their programs, converged into existing political parties; others, growing in size, became real meta-societies that set up parties revealing themselves to be extraordinary propellers of wealth and progress.
On their side, the institutions strove to guide the confused series of events, promulgating laws and sentences often invalidated by prejudices or affected by the mood of the moment, but also precise and cautious rules, which made an important contribution to progress.
The genetic engineering had an extraordinary potential. Genetic defects could be eradicated from the human race all in one go, but it also produced an evolutionary change of the species like that achieved by nature over millions of years. Semi-immortality was within reach at last. It could be extended to a lot of people, maybe to the whole population, producing jobs, a great deal of money and even an economic boom.
The doubters could be reassured with adequate guarantees. As for the opponents, global competition and market laws would be sufficient, rewarding the brave but also relegating the reluctant ones.
Industry sponsored the new technology, assuming it to be a farsighted policy. It invested huge sums in research, supported a cautious but constant progress and put security among its priorities. It lavished information on public opinion and institutions, showing both rigor and competence. It supported the setting up of policy committees, accepted the institution of control commissions and created powerful l
Initially the project concentrated on the most serious genetic defects. However, as reassuring results were arriving and consent was increasing, it was widened to other objectives. This process came to maturity towards 2060, when the principle that all the citizens were entitled to genetic improvements, was inserted into the Constitution of the advanced countries. Since then the modifications, considered humankind’s heritage, have been extended almost to all the world population. Exceptions are the objectors - in a large number in the 21st century, before religions updated their approach to semi-immortality, but reduced today to negligible minorities - and a few underdeveloped populations.
Human brain digitization became a main branch of research in the first decades of the 21st century, when death was still a problem. A few decades later, when the dream of semi-immortality became finally a reality thanks to genetic engineering and nanotechnologies, brain digitization continued arousing a lively interest, mainly because it could free humanity from its biological limits, widening enormously its capabilities.
From an article on "Exponential technologies" (2025/02/28):
“The brain mapping techniques reached nanometric resolutions years ago. There are many news however. In the last five years, scanning speed has increased by two orders of magnitude. The use of markers makes it possible to follow complex reactions in real time and the new quantum computers can manage simulations with unprecedented complexity.
Today the resulting information is well above that necessary for the simple understanding of the mechanisms of intelligence. Sufficient to draw on an idea cherished for ages, but not developed because it required too advanced technologies.
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