The Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees has penned a fascinating article for The Telegraph in which he ruminates about humanity’s future prospects, including the potential for super-human machine intelligence and our transition into a space-faring cyborg species.
Top image: Magazine cover by Paul Chadeisson, via his blog.
This isn’t the first time Rees has written about these subjects, but the new article is one of his most articulate expositions of his thoughts to date.
In it, he talks about how many of our future visions appear outlandish at first, only to quickly become a part of our reality. He writes about the moon landings, supersonic airliners, and current efforts by the private sector to get into space.
“I’d venture a confident forecast that during this century the entire solar system – planets, moons and asteroids – will be explored and mapped by flotillas of tiny robotic craft,” he writes.
Looking further ahead, he has this to say:
What about travel beyond our solar system? Even the nearest stars are so far away that no present technology could reach them. The first voyagers to the stars will be creatures whose life cycle is matched to the voyage: the aeons involved in traversing the galaxy are not daunting to immortal beings. By the end of the third millennium, travel to other stars could be technically feasible. But would there be sufficient motive?
Would even the most intrepid leave the solar system? We can’t predict what inscrutable goals might drive post-humans. But the motive would surely be stronger if it turned out that many stars were orbited by planets that might harbour life.
Rees also acknowledges that our conceptions of space and time may be incomplete, and that our single universe may be an island — just one patch of space within "an infinite archipelago."
In this hugely expanded cosmic perspective, the laws of Einstein and the quantum could be mere parochial bylaws governing our cosmic patch. Space and time may have a structure as intricate as the fauna of a rich ecosystem, but on a scale far larger than the horizon of our observations. Our current concept of physical reality could be as constricted, in relation to the whole, as the perspective of the Earth available to a plankton whose “universe” is a spoonful of water.
And that’s not all – there is a final disconcerting twist. Post-human intelligence will develop hypercomputers with the processing power to simulate living things – even entire worlds. Perhaps advanced beings could use hypercomputers to surpass the best “special effects” in movies or computer games so vastly that they could simulate a world, fully, as complex as the one we perceive ourselves to be in. Maybe these kinds of super-intelligences already exist elsewhere in the multiverse – in universes that are older than ours, or better tuned for the evolution of intelligence. What would these super-intelligences do with their hypercomputers? They could create virtual worlds vastly outnumbering the “real” ones. So perhaps we are “artificial life” in a virtual universe.
Read Ree’s entire article at The Telegraph.