HOMO OBSOLETUS

Will there be a conscious revolution in a quantum world?

Will we become obsolete? Well, theoretically, that could come to pass because most likely, in the not-too-distant future we’ll be able to recreate everything that has ever existed. With advances in artificial intelligence and breakthroughs in quantum computing, combined with exponential progress in nano- and biotechnology, we’re bound to see revolutionary changes. Eventually, we’ll approach the reverse engineering of “being human” and proceed to rebuild our created reality through algorithms. For the first time in history, we’re shifting essential authority to algorithms—away from humans—playing with technologies that no one understands, and we’re creating intelligence beyond our current level of consciousness.

The mainstream media is trying to teach us about exponential progress in AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), quantum computers that are “just around the corner,” and robots and automation replacing our jobs. Will it be 30 per cent or will it be 60 per cent? And which jobs will it actually affect? It would seem that no one is safe, and since we—at least most of us—are neither conscious beings nor rational thinkers, we keep transcending limits without understanding the possible consequences.

It is said that with general artificial intelligence, presumably building on principles of quantum technology—a “quantum intelligence”—we will surpass human intelligence and reach a kind of singularity. With this (evolutionary) development, we may merge with technology that enhances our brains to an IQ of 1,000 or even 10,000. We’re dancing on the cusp of ‘Mensch & Machine,’ dancing on the boundaries of mind and matter. We cannot pause. Below us, we see the abyss, and we must move forward. The dream is a symbiotic intelligence, but the risk remains—the risk of falling into a pure technological intelligence where the lights are still on but no one is home to perceive it. Progress, however, is all we have. We move like ants following the queen (of technology), communicate with limited language, and are dragged through life like dopamine-driven junkies. Always in permanent reaction-and-progress mode.

Progress, however, isn’t given, but it is possible. In our current and changing world, one outcome could be to replace the “created world” and eventually strive for perfection to make known unknowns and unknown unknownsn into knowns. Through technology and science, we are searching for the one algorithm that will bring our species to a state of superfluity. Such a world, however, where an upgraded species or a “God in/from a Machine,” a “Deus Ex Machine,” or a “Homo Deus” is created, it would most likely be the final chapter of our story; “Generation Z” would be the end of the human journey. We would become Homo Obsoletus and perish with our principles of hope..

MAKING THE UNKNOWN THE KNOWN

But progress continues. It is an infinite journey, for the mind itself is not a computer. This wonderful and strange construction is not an algorithm. Our mind is more like an orchestra, each instrument with its own facets, temperament, and mood. Each neuron has its own structures inside.

We are indeed making (exponential) progress in reverse-engineering how our neurons work. But such a ‘backwards’ explanation of the connectivity and the way our 100 billion or so neurons fire and respond is not an absolute narrative. This is because “firing”—that is, answering the question of how firing occurs—isn’t part of the explanation. It’s taken for granted. Our sensory experiences form their own neural networks that are projected onto what we call reality.

However, if we go “deeper” and look into the structures of neurons, there is more to discover. Then, at least according to the theories of Sir Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff, we come across something called microtubules. Within each neuron, it appears that structures just as complex as our brain are present. You might even say that the microtubules are the brains of the neurons. At this “subatomic level,” we enter the world of quanta. As we celebrate the approximate 100-year anniversaries of Max Planck’s discoveries surrounding quantum of energy, Werner Heisenberg’s discoveries on the island of Helgoland, and Erwin Schrödinger’s mathematical equation, it becomes clear that this wonderful branch of physics called modern has not only raised the consciousness of physicists and scientists around the world in recent years but found its way into the “established-media” as a fundamental theory of nature based on the smallest scale, with waves and the energy levels of atoms and subatomic particles. In this world “at the very bottom”—when would we even know if/when we have arrived? —where matter behaves like energy and energy behaves like matter, the world gets really weird. Here, particles behave like waves, and waves behave like particles—or perhaps the more accurate definition is: particles are waves.

In the quantum world, two things can be in the same place at the same time, and one thing can be in two places at the same time. With the Copenhagen interpretation, Schrödinger’s cat, and more recent interpretations, science has repeatedly observed and verified theories where nothing is anywhere until it is observed, and then, once observed, it is somewhere. It’s a perplexing oddity that even leads quantum physicists to radically different interpretations and “beliefs.” Conclusion: the fundamental question remains unanswered.

I have great respect for all the brilliant thinkers delving into the topics of “singularity” and “posthumanism,” but it still seems that there are mysteries hidden outside our current physical laws and beyond our materialistic worldview, which thus are unknown to us. Therefore, there can be no “posthumanism” without first clarifying “humanism.” Therefore, we are left with the question of what it means to “be human”– to be a Mensch.

As strange as the world seems to be at the quantum level (and even the macro level), our so-called “reality” is full of surprises. With our sensory experiences, our intuition, and our consciousness, we create “our own world” where your reality and my reality are profoundly different. This is something German philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote about in his complex work Identity and Difference, pointing out that it’s not strange that things are at all; rather, the strange thing is the “difference”—that things can be different. Beyond algorithms and proven theories, the humble little beings that we are also teeming with thoughts, feelings, desires, fears, confusion, jealousy, and creativity.

So, when we create these robots and machines, we ask ourselves, Will they eventually suffer? Will they love? Will they be able to have sex and reproduce (leaving aside the question of whether this is even relevant)? Or if we merge, what will become of “us”? Will we still suffer or love? Our only reality is exactly that: the “emptiness” in our lives—the invisible . . . that which is not. The other exists (only) in our imagination. Any attempt to bring the unknown and/or invisible to the light of the known and visible—the explainable—remains hidden. About thought and (human) action, we can say a lot. Yet, the process of thinking and “the origin of thought’ can hardly be approached.

THE FINAL NARCISSISTIC INJURY

Perhaps we need to open a new chapter in the story of our human journey? Because the result of the current rapid (technological) development, where we’re poised before a perfect storm—a digital tsunami—may be that our “old absolute systems” will eventually collapse. We can’t keep up. Political and economic models are reaching their limits, and organized human life is losing its structure. One possibility is to prepare for a “new start,” or a “restart.” But what would this entail? Where would it lead us? We can’t patch the systems anymore, so we need a new perspective —a different perception of what is and what is to be. Even if we use cartoon characters, narcissists, and old totalitarian leaders to rule the most powerful armies in the world, the result will be that we will understand once and for all that this world will not come into being by itself.

Are we ready for a fresh worldview and new-fangled models? New models don’t come from backwards-looking politicians or populist movements, nor from greedy people who strive for more, but from people who have faith in the future. We don’t need a world of polarization but a world of integration and collaboration, of knowledge of our interdependence and consciousness—a world of co-creation where we co-exist with technology and evolve. After all, organized human life needs support; it needs structure. At the same time, it needs to question the nature of its very existence.

Perhaps to effect this “new start,” we need to leave behind the material world and observe the world beyond us without the limited lens of Newtonian physics, maybe even move beyond space and time. Here, we begin to deal with thoughts, feelings, and intuition. It is the place where we take a closer look at strange concepts like “difference” and “creativity.” It’s where we might be empowered to build new models. It’s a world that actually has room for true creativity —a realm where we can create our own bright future and exist as fellow humans. We are moving from a materialistic and dogmatic worldview to a world that fosters creativity at its core. Together we are moving toward a system of collaboration and participation, a world of consciousness, or at least a conscious way of life based on understanding. Our destiny, our world, and our future are not deterministic. We know that the illusion of a dream of a predefined future is long dead. A future—any future—is something we improvise; it’s something we must create together. It’s based on positive progress—the art of ‘being wrong—better explanations, and the will to disseminate truth. Challenges we face are pushback from old (political) power and the creation of exponential technologies that eclipse our own relevance. We don’t want to be the species that lacks understanding of the expansion of organized human life, nor do we want to create a world where we are all intelligent beings wondering and wandering—where the lights are on but there is no one left to notice them. Homo Obsoletus.

So, in the end, the crucial question remains unanswered, and it is one we must face: What is the ‘Mensch’? Or, to put it another way: How do we avoid the last narcissistic mortification of humanity?

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