Throughout recorded human history it has been noted that many past civilizations believed they were at a turning point in human evolution. A common theme among these civilizations was that all of humanity stood on the precipice of extinction through the return of God, obliteration by space based objects, contact with alien life forms, or war.
In modern times, it appears that the turning point of human evolution is perhaps much more real and imminent than it ever has been before. As opposed to standing on the precipice of extinction, humans now appear ready to take the next evolutionary step through the creation and almost universal adoption of technology. Nature based, traditional human evolution may soon be supplanted by synthetic, technology based evolution that could transform human beings into digital or machine based biological entities.
The evolution of technology has occurred at a breakneck speed over recent years. Widely accepted predictors of technological evolution such as Moore’s Law have been proven correct to this point, and indicate that as technology continues to evolve through time, its rate of evolution increases exponentially. The technology that exists 12 months from now will have evolved faster than the previous 12-month period, and this rate of evolution will continue to increase moving forward due to advances in production capability and machine learning concepts such as recursive self-improvement.
As this technology marches forward at its exponentially faster pace, it will soon begin to drag the human evolutionary process with it, as opposed to the evolution of humans nudging technology forward as has always been the case before.
One of the largest corporations in the world, Google, has hired executives whose philosophies about human evolution are well documented and fall directly in line with their own vision of their corporate future. Back in 2013 Google hired Ray Kurzweil as their director of engineering. Kurzweil has famously authored several books prior to his days at Google wherein he describes digital technologies that could theoretically allow the consciousness of a human being to exist forever inside of a man-made, computer based virtual reality. The concept is not far removed from the way our brains interpret and shape our current sensory inputs and perceptions of life, consciousness, and time.
Nicknamed “digital immortality”, some of the most intelligent individuals on the planet have stated that the technology will be available sometime around 2045, coinciding with similar advancements in manufacturing that will simultaneously allow for the creation of synthetic “replacement parts” that will allow any part of the human body to be replaced by a manufactured one, including the heart and brain.
A third emerging technology is also being developed at the same time, although this technology is based on medicine as opposed to virtual reality concepts or replacing defective or damaged body parts with manufactured ones. This third classification of technologies, which is poised to greatly extend the human lifespan, potentially indefinitely, are collectively known as “life extension technologies”. These technologies generally refer to advances in medicine and medical technology which will be able to significantly decrease the side-effects of aging to almost zero. Some scientists argue that not only will this unwrapping and re-writing of human DNA code result in a halt to the aging process, it may actually be able to regress DNA damaged by oxidative stress and other byproducts of the aging process to levels of a much younger person. Essentially, this could turn back the clock, allowing the aged or damaged human body to appear and function much as it did when it was at its physical prime.
As this confluence of technologies continues to advance they will produce an effect on the human race that has never been seen in history before. By turning off the aging process, giving humans the option to replace their body parts with machines, and creating a digital environment where human consciousness can exist outside of our known physical world it becomes evident that we may have truly arrived at the crossroads of human evolution that has been predicted for generations. These new and interesting times will usher in currently unresolved concerns regarding the distribution of resources, and many other issues, as humankind begins to successfully treat the process of aging for the disease that it is, and grant those who choose to accept it a much different perspective of life and its possibilities.