Intelligent machines taking over the world is a popular theme in sci-fi flicks. But could it really happen? British futurist James Lovelock thinks so. He lays out his vision of a planet of the robots in his new book, “Novacene.”
“Our supremacy as the prime understanders of the cosmos is rapidly coming to an end,” Lovelock details in the book. “The understanders of the future will not be humans but what I choose to call ‘cyborgs’ that will have designed and built themselves.”
Welcome to the New New Age
But just how will these cyborgs run amok? And what exactly are cyborgs anyway? Lovelock sees cyborgs as self-aware, self-sufficient robotic beings that are the descendants of today’s bots and artificial intelligence systems, according to NBC. The name of his book, “Novacene” ( literally “new new” age), is the era that Lovelock says is already beginning.
The idea of machines besting their homo sapien creators is nothing new. But Lovelock’s vision of the future is different from other theorists. For instance, utopian futurist and computer whiz Ray Kurtzweil believes that humans and machines will merge peacefully in something called the singularity.
On the other end of the spectrum, Roman Yampolskiy, a computer scientist at the University of Louisville, believes that the machines will turn against humanity in a more violent fashion, like in the “Terminator” movies. Lovelock’s vision lies somewhere between these two.
Lovelock bases his research on evolutionary terms. His forward-thinking isn’t just fantastical conjecture either. His work is based on decades of research in biological and ecological systems. Moreover, Lovelock has been around long enough to see mechanical evolution take place. The scientist just marked his 100th birthday.
Lovelock claims that humanity has already entered the Novacene. An example he gives in his book is AlphaZero. AlphaZero is a computer program that learned how to play the game Go. It didn’t take long for AlphaZero to become the greatest Go player in the world. Lovelock extrapolates this process into the future, positing that tomorrow’s cyborgs will already exponentially exceed humanity in the intelligence department.
Humanity’s Greatest Legacy?
So what does this mean for humans? Lovelock believes that the cyborgs might be so intelligent that they won’t really think much of the former dominant species on earth. This sounds fairly benign. But Lovelock’s example is a little troubling. Lovelock, who is a garden enthusiast, says that the machines might view us the same way we view plants. “Think about the way you go to a great arboretum,” he says.
The idea is a little disconcerting. But Lovelock’s hypothesis doesn’t necessarily mean that humans and machines will always be at odds. For example, Lovelock posits that humanity and robots might work together to combat climate change. Because, if Earth gets too hot, it will be the end of both humans and cyborgs.
However, because robots don’t need things like oxygen and water, they might also transform the world into a lethal place for humans. Furthermore, as they are better suited for space travel, the machines might make it off the planet and eventually encounter other intelligent beings. Rather than seeing the end of humanity as the worst-case scenario, Lovelock views the cyborg takeover as humanity’s greatest legacy.
“Humans have had a great run on Earth,” Lovelock writes in his book, “and before we bow out, we’re engaged in one of the noblest things we could do: We are now preparing to hand the gift of knowing on to new forms of intelligent beings.”