technology

The Future of Humanity and the Earth

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A few days ago I was reading an article on overpopulation. In the comments section someone had posted “when I was born in the 1950s there were only 2.5 billion people on the planet”. I thought to myself – surely that can’t be right…if there are currently 7.6 billion people on the planet, how could there only have been 2.5 billion people just 67 years ago. I looked this figure up and it turns out these stats are correct. I don’t know about you, but that really puts things into perspective for me. Scientists predict that our earth can sustain a maximum of 10 billion people until we begin encountering major problems with resources, and we are expected to reach this in 2056. In fact, in 2023 Africa’s population is forecasted to overtake that of India and China. These regions combined will make up half the world’s population by 2023. Sure, there are some places, like Japan, that have an imploding population, but in its entirety, overpopulation is a huge problem, and I believe that most of us aren’t aware of the magnitude of this problem, as well as how many of today’s issues are linked, some of which are listed below.

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Climate change – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, forecasts a temperature rise of 1.38 to 5.5 degrees Celsius over the next century. To maintain stable global human societies, we must prevent the earth from warming above 2°C relative to the pre-industrial level. To stay below two degree warming we must take the global energy system to net zero carbon emissions by mid-century. Scientists warn that we have a 5% chance of limiting warming to 2°C. If this tipping point is crossed, there may be catastrophic effects such increased droughts and heat waves, an ice-free Arctic, stronger and more intense hurricanes, and a sea level rise 1-4ft by 2100. In fact, recent research has found that many areas in Australia, such as Darwin and the state of Queensland will become uninhabitable in the very near future due to temperature rise. In addition to C02, another greenhouse gas, methane, is twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide, and there is more methane stored in the Arctic ice than there is C02 in the atmosphere. The Arctic is warming faster than any other place on the planet. The IPCC also states that a 1.5°C average rise may put 20-30% of species at risk of extinction. If the planet warms by more than 3°C, this will be detrimental to most of the world’s ecosystems.

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The Global food crisis – Sarah Menke’s models predict that the world could be short by 214 trillion calories per year by 2027. A food deficit we will not be able to replace (please see her TED talk for more information on the global food crisis). Earth Overshoot Day is an annual event when humanity’s consumption outweighs Earth’s production of resources. An event which is becoming earlier and earlier. This year, this event landed on August 2nd.

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Deforestation – The destruction of large areas of forest is disastrous for the local species and communities that rely on them. Eighty percent of Earth’s land animals and plants live in forests, and many cannot survive the deforestation that destroys their homes.  Every year about 18 million acres of forest – an area the size of England and Wales is destroyed. Deforestation is also a driving factor behind climate change.

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Ocean acidification – one of the biggest threats facing humanity, yet one in which so many people are unaware of. Since pre-industrial times, the pH of the oceans has dropped from an average of 8.2 to 8.1. Projections of climate change estimate that by the year 2100, this number will drop further, to around 7.8. Increased human activity has ultimately resulted in the oceans becoming 30% more acidic since the beginning of the industrial revolution, taking a heavy toll on marine organisms. The impact of ocean acidification on plankton may have serious implications, as these microscopic organisms sit at the base of the food chain. Coral reefs are also at risk. If global warming remains on its upward path, by 2050 just 5% of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – the world’s largest coral reef – will remain. Around half a billion people rely on fish from coral reefs as their main source of protein and these reefs also act as nurseries to young fish and smaller species. Researchers predict that most of our remaining coral systems will collapse even before a global temperature rise of two degree Celsius.

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Plastic pollution – Plastic constitutes approximately 90% of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile. At least 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade. Recent studies have found that sea salt around the world is also contaminated by microplastics – the effects of this on humans is not yet known. By 2050 there is expected to be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Overpopulation is the common denominator underlying the majority of these environmental issues. The most important question is, what can we do about it? How can we limit our population? While this may sound controversial, if you really want to help the environment – the most productive way you can do this is by not reproducing. Studies have found that having one fewer children per family can save an average of 58.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions per year. Scientists propose that everyone on the planet needs to reduce their carbon footprint to just 2 tonnes of C02 per year by 2050, to stay below the two degree tipping point.

In regards to my personal views on humanity and the status of the earth – I sometimes view climate change and increased weather patterns as the earths attempt to eliminate the human plague. It took literally perfect conditions for this earth to form, and every so often I questions whether humans are perfect enough of a species to survive and succeed on this planet. One thing I will never be able to comprehend is the sheer amount of ignorance humans possess in regards to these issues. How so many humans can passively go through their lives, blatantly ignoring (and even disputing) the major threats to humanity, is beyond me. If you don’t feel educated or knowledgeable on these issues – go and make yourself aware.

While I may have somewhat of a skeptical take on the future, I do have faith in science and technology. I believe that advancements in science and technology could resolve a number of environmental threats, however, it is all a race against time. There are countless technological solutions (such as project Clean up, and Bill gates idea of lab grown meat), which have been proposed to alleviate the varying threats facing humanity, however, I feel slightly skeptical as to whether such solutions will be implemented in time. It seems as though too many tipping points may about about to be crossed. The outcome all comes down to who will win the race first – mother nature or technology.

I would love to hear your views on this topic – do you believe that humanity will survive? Or do you believe the earth will become uninhabitable? Do you think we will develop the technology in time to save the planet? Please comment below.

The future of Artificial Intelligence

It’s very rare that you get a set guest speakers including the likes of Elon Musk, Nick Bostrom and Sam Harris all on the same panel. The entirety of the video is quite interesting, yet there are two points I find particularly insightful, which I will discuss below. I will also mention a few of my own views on the developments of AI.

The host asked the panel about their thoughts and predictions on the potential positive outcomes and benefits of AI. One of the speakers responded in saying that this is actually a very tricky question. If you were to go back to ancestral times and ask a Neanderthal what advancements they would like to see in future – they would only be able to think so far ahead. For instance, they might say that they would like their spears to be more stable, or for the wood of their homes to be more waterproof. They would not be able to suggest using a 3D printer to create better tools or to install internet access to communicate with other members of their group. Therefore, it is difficult to predict what benefits AI could have to humanity in future, simply because many concepts are currently incompressible to human beings.

Another guest speaker also made an interesting point which I had not considered before. One of the major questions regarding the developments of AI is whether or not AI will achieve consciousness. To human beings, consciousness is what makes us aware, it is what makes us an intelligent species. However, what if there is a level of awareness higher than consciousness. A level which humans cannot comprehend or obtain. What if AI develop an algorithm to access something higher than consciousness and what would this mean for humanity. This point made me think back to a quote in the 2013 movie “Her”. In this movie, an operating system with AI is designed to adapt and evolve. Eventually, this system is able to break through the realms of human comprehension and access an undiscovered state – “It’s like I’m reading a book… and it’s a book I deeply love. But I’m reading it slowly now. So the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. I can still feel you… and the words of our story… but it’s in this endless space between the words that I’m finding myself now. It’s a place that’s not of the physical world. It’s where everything else is that I didn’t even know existed”.

 

Simulation Theory and The Sims

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Yesterday I was randomly watching The Sims 4 trailer and I realised this game actually acts as a simple and interesting analogy of simulation theory. While I may not necessarily believe in simulation theory, I do find it incredibly fascinating nonetheless.

Simulation theory is the idea that we are living in a computer simulation, an augmented reality controlled by an advanced super intelligent artificial being. This Sims represents this theory very well. Let’s take a deeper look and consider some comparisons of the sims reality and that of our own.

Dimensions

Humans see the world in 2D ½. We gather 2D data and assemble it into a 3D image. Technically, humans are not capable of seeing the world in “full” 3D. But what about 4D? Let’s pretend that every ‘sim being’ in the game is conscious and able to view their world in 2D ½. That would make our reality the fourth dimension. The Sims would have no way of knowing about us, no idea that humans are sitting in front of computer screens watching and controlling their every move. Now let’s apply this to our reality. There could be an artificial being or computer system observing you, right at this very moment, and you would have absolutely no awareness of it because it is in the fourth dimension. Scary right? Furthermore, these advanced beings could be controlling your everyday life. Maybe the choices we make are not really our own? This reminded me of an interesting quote from Westworld – “humans fancy that there’s something special about the way we perceive the world, and yet we live in loops, as tight and as closed as the hosts do, seldom questioning our choices, content, for the most part, to be told what to do next”.

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Universal Laws

Another interesting comparison is based on game design and universal laws. Life in the Sims is governed by laws developed by human creators, and is limited by the game design. For instance, imagine a plate of dinner sitting on a table in the Sims game. If you click on this object, three options come up – you can either eat the dinner, throw it in the bin or leave it there and let it go moldy. Therefore,  in the Sims reality, the sim beings are confined to only three options/choices when it comes to food disposure. On the other hand, our reality is less limited. For instance, if dinner is on the table we could choose to eat it, throw it away, leave it, give it to the dog, throw it in the garden, put it back in the fridge and so forth. The rules of life in our reality are not so restricted. But now, let’s consider the fourth dimension. To us, the fourth dimension may seem limitless. The universal laws that govern this fourth dimensional reality would most likely be incomprehensible to human beings.

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World Problems

You may ask yourself, but what about at all the chaos, havoc and anarchy in our world? Why would any advanced/super intelligent being choose to install all this crime, hatred, murder and sickness into our reality. A potential answer to this, is curiosity. Let’s consider the Sims. How many of us remember placing a Sim a pool and removing the ladders? Or placing a Sim in a room, starting a fire and deleting all of the doors? Why as human beings do we feel inclined to perform these actions in the game? It all comes down to curiosity and experimentation, we want to know what will happen. Could this also apply to our reality? Maybe our world is simply a test simulation to see what would happen if ‘X’ occurs.

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While Elon Musk and Nick Bostrom are firm believers in simulation theory, I on the other hand, am a bit more skeptical. I’m not entirely sure what the actual point of all of it would be to a super intelligent being, I doubt it would be for entertainment purposes. One interesting theory proposes that the world may have reached a catastrophic state – due to war, climate change and so forth. Therefore, a simulated reality (which we live in) has been created in order to protect us from the harsh realities of the real world. Personally, I oppose this theory, because our potential ‘simulated reality’ could have been designed a heck of a lot better. Regardless, I hope this post served as an interesting read, and provided a simple/understandable analogy of simulation theory. Any further ideas, or feedback – both negative or positive, please leave in the comments, would love to know the thoughts of others on this.

Are dreams programmed?

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This is a rather “out there” theory, one relating to simulation theory. It is not a theory that I believe, but one I find interesting nevertheless.

Last year I was sitting at a table with a couple of friends discussing some of the most vivid dreams we’ve ever had. My friend mentioned that she often has dreams of her teeth falling out or crumbling. This is also a dream that I have had many times. I became very puzzled at the thought of people having the exact same, very specific dreams….and started to wonder, could dreams be programmed?

There seem to be a variety of very distinct dreams depending on the emotions we are experiencing, i.e. a common set of dream themes. For instance, the emotion of self-consciousness could be manifested in dreams in so many different ways – hair falling out, looking in a mirror, distorted self-images, stress eating etc. Yet in dreams these emotions are commonly manifested in the context of teeth crumbling or falling out. I struggle to understand why these emotions are linked to this very specific scenario in dreams. If you do some research you will find other common themes of dreams and associated emotions – falling, flying, and being chased are just a few. Could this indicate that dreams are programmed in some way? Maybe a potential glitch in the matrix?

On the contrary, if there were a super-intelligence far superior to the human race, that have the ability to create a simulated reality down to the smallest atom, then surely they would also be able to programme an unlimited option of emotionally related dreams. Personally, I believe that dreams are a mixture of internal conflicts and random events, but there is still so much mystery surrounding them….. I can’t wait for the day when we will have the technology able to record and play dreams back!