A prominent futurist warns that humans may soon cede their top spot on Earth’s hierarchy to their own artificially intelligent creations.
In a new book, scientist, environmentalist, and futurist, James Lovelock, describes what he calls the ‘Novacene,’ — a new age in which humans could be eclipsed by intelligent machines.
‘Our supremacy as the prime understanders of the cosmos is rapidly coming to end,’ writes Lovelock in a new book titled ‘Novacene’ according to NBC.
‘The understanders of the future will not be humans but what I choose to call ‘cyborgs’ that will have designed and built themselves.’
Humans may be forced to pass the torch due to impending disasters like climate change. Stock image
In the Novacene — which means literally ‘new age’ — Lovelock says that the replacement of humans won’t necessarily be a violent or ‘Terminator’-like shift, but will instead be more of an evolutionary one.
Unlike biologically driven changes of the past, organic creatures will take a backseat to technology.
‘I think of cyborgs as another kingdom of life,’ he tells NBC.
‘They will stand to us in much the same way as we ourselves, as a kingdom of animals, stand to plants.’
The process is already underway via sophisticated artificial intelligence systems like those developed by Google, says Lovelock.
In particular Google’s Alpha Go, a machine-learning software that was able to teach itself how to play the strategic board game Go, achieved the unprecedented feat of beating the world’s foremost human player.
In a new book titled ‘Novacene,’ James Lovelock (pictured) details how AI’s like AlphaZero may be the precursors to the future wave of intelligent machines
AlphaGo, was risen out of a software called AlphaZero and originally created by the company DeepMind.
The invention of intelligent systems like AlphaZero, which are capable of continually bettering themselves, is a major linchpin toward the fruition of the Novacene, Lovelock says.
‘The crucial step that started the Novacene was, I think, the need to use computers to design and make themselves,’ he wrote.
‘It now seems probable that a new form of intelligent life will emerge from an artificially intelligent precursor made by one of us, perhaps from something like AlphaZero.’
While the futurist hesitates to prognosticate on exactly what form the wave of ‘cyborgs’ as he calls them, might take, Lovelock suggests that it will be a less corporeal one.
‘Cyborgs would start again; like Alpha Zero they would start from a blank slate,’ he writes in his book according to NBC.
‘It’s entirely possible they would have no form at all.’
The Novacene may start off relatively stable, according to Lovelock, with humans and their increasingly sophisticated counterparts coexisting, but eventually, the futurists says extenuating circumstances, like climate change, could change that.
Machines are the next wave of intelligent life on Earth according to futurist, James Lovelock. Stock image
If faced with the total destruction of the planet, cyborgs could decide to inexorably alter the planet to suit their needs over ours via mass geoengineering.
That world, while conducive to cyborgs — which don’t require oxygen or water — might lack the conditions for human life.
More likely, however, the super-intelligent cyborgs would opt to leave our planet before things on Earth got too unbearable. Here, they might even encounter other synthetic life forms on a similar quest.
Lovelock, who just turned 100 years old, says while his view may sound terrifying, it isn’t necessarily a grim one, but rather a natural progression.
‘I’m now past a hundred and to have an optimistic view is the only one worth having’ he wrote.
‘We are now preparing to hand the gift of knowing on to new forms of intelligent beings.’
WHAT IS GOOGLE’S DEEPMIND AI PROJECT?
DeepMind was founded in London in 2010 and was acquired by Google in 2014.
It now has additional research centres in Edmonton and Montreal, Canada, and a DeepMind Applied team in Mountain View, California.
DeepMind is on a mission to push the boundaries of AI, developing programs that can learn to solve any complex problem without needing to be taught how.
If successful, the firm believes this will be one of the most important and widely beneficial scientific advances ever made.
The company has hit the headlines for a number of its creations, including software it created a that taught itself how to play and win at 49 completely different Atari titles, with just raw pixels as input.
In a world first, its AlphaGo program took on the world’s best player at G, one of the most complex and intuitive games ever devised, with more positions than there are atoms in the universe – and won.