Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Clock Is Ticking

By Keith McDowell

Okay. What can I say? I took the plunge compliments of Dan Brown’s latest novel Inferno and enjoined a modern version of a medieval crusade during the past week. Like Brown’s iconic sleuth, Robert Langdon, who exposes evil while in disguise as a Harvard professor of symbolism, I raced from clue to clue using my Safari browser sans, of course, one of Langdon’s ever present and enigmatic female companions. My quest? To save myself from the ennui of retirement in the hope of enlightenment about the fate of humankind.

And you wondered what happened to my last week’s blog!

I won’t spoil the fun for those of you yet to experience the formulaic misadventures of Professor Langdon – that dude is one lucky stiff – but suffice it to say that his latest encounter with death and the powers that be involves the oldest and most sinister of all villains … ourselves!

Just in case you haven’t been paying attention to the latest news that isn’t new news, humankind is heading at an exponentially accelerating pace towards a mass extinction event that will make the Black Death or plague of the Middle Ages seem tame by comparison. At least, that’s what the bearded fellow wearing a tutu with  “The End is Near!” placard about his neck likes to tell me as I walk past him during my morning constitutional.

Is all of this talk of doomsday mere hyperbole set to capture our attention for someone’s fifteen minutes of fame? Or is it another conspiracy theory hatched by those who would keep us distracted from matters that really count? And exactly what is the nature of the latest incarnation of our impending doom?

I nervously began my quest for the truth by carefully typing the word “transhumanism” into a Google search form and awaiting a return response, certain that my computer was about to crash. To my surprise, I only got Wikipedia instead of the government hacking into my computer while causing the screen to flash in brilliant red letters, ACCESS DENIED! That seems to only happen at NCIS.

But wait! What about the blue symbol that popped up on the Wiki page? Surely “h+” must mean something! Are THEY trying to tell me that the hydrogen ion is the source of our future destruction? Nope. Wrong interpretation of the symbol.

Transhumanism has been with us for a long time and takes many forms. Quoting from Wikipedia, it “is an international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.” Now that’s a mouthful to ingest in one gulp! And believe me, you’ll need lots of time to fully digest the transhumanist primer at Wikipedia.

For many, transhumanism is an alarm bell sounding out the demise of the human condition as we’ve always known it. For others, it signals the coming transformation of humankind into a new “posthuman” or “human plus” (the meaning of the h+ symbol) era. But for our quest, it represents the very existence of humankind versus our ability to destroy ourselves through an exploding global population and the consequences that result therefrom such as global warming and the accelerating depletion of our natural resources.

The following population chart reveals our fate:

Folks, by any stretch of the imagination, such growth is not sustainable and humankind is now exponentially approaching the tipping point, or perhaps better said, the breaking point. Will we destroy ourselves through the normal processes of war or a pandemic, or will we accidentally invent our own poison? Or will the posthuman transformation occur first thereby saving posthumanity? And what form might posthumanity take?

I personally like to divide “posthumanity” into three classes:
  • Super-humans
  • The Borg
  • Cylons

Super-humans are those beings produced by directed evolution through genetic and chemical manipulation. They will be stronger, more intelligent, disease resistant, and have a host of other positive attributes – although unintended consequences will also emerge. To the surprise of most people, we’ve long since begun this transformation by popping pills into our mouth on a daily basis and by dumping the excess into our natural environment. But in the end, super-humans will still be a biological construct, trapped in an inherently “wet-ware” machine and directed evolution takes a long, long time to occur.

We can fix the “wet-ware” condition by becoming “The Borg” from Star Trek.  In this version of the posthuman, we integrate “wet-ware” with software and hardware. Again, this transformation is already occurring at an accelerating pace, but there is a proverbial science fiction fly in the soup. The “sentient being” at the core of the Borg being is still basically residing in a “wet-ware” brain, an inherently slow and cumbersome construct for which the symbol for the hydrogen ion seems appropriate.

But our quest isn’t over! As the electric power grid once again flickers into a brownout condition due to the Texas heat and over consumption by too many air conditioners, I hastily scroll my Magic Mouse to find the answer. It’s the Cylons!

Cylons à la Battlestar Gallactica are self-aware, sentient computers housed in an autonomous robotic body that they control. They are the next step up the evolutionary ladder. Once they emerge – and I’m certain that they will before the Twenty-first century is over, they will exponentially blow past normal humans, super-humans, or the Borg. They are our future!

Will cylons arrive on the scene before the social and destructive meltdown from overpopulation? Being infinitely and rapidly adaptable, they will likely survive almost any condition thrown at them by Mother Nature or the stupidity of humankind. And therein lies the hidden truth not revealed in Brown’s Inferno. It won’t be humans who emerge from Dante’s Hell, even if we curb the growth of the global population.

And so as darkness descends on the era of humankind, we reach the end of our quest and stare into the red eye of a cylon as it pulsates back and forth while hearing the final benediction from the infamous mechanical voice: “By your leave!”

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