Monday, February 23, 2015

Will The Future Belong to Gods or Merely Wizards?

If technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic, then a being of incredible power and intelligence would be indistinguishable from a god.

When it comes to determining what the future will be like, there is one question that trumps all others: Will our descendants be gods or merely wizards? Mainly, the question boils down to whether it is possible to extremely intelligent and mentally stable.

Some believe we will eventually build digitally enhanced minds, build genetically engineered super intelligent people, upload human conscience, and/or create artificial intelligence. That might not necessarily be possible due to constraints on intelligence we don’t yet understand.

Human intelligence may be on a slow, upward path that technology could help along. It might actually have plateaued at an equilibrium tens of thousands of years ago, because while being smart has advantages being too smart leads to its own issues.

For example, a study found doing well in school was linked to an almost four-fold increase in bipolar disorder. Similarly, having a higher IQ is associated with increased rates of drug use. In addition, people in “creative professions” are more likely to be treated for mental illness.

These problems could simply be caused by social factors, like intelligent people feeling isolated from others, or they could be weird flukes in the biochemistry of the human mind. In either case, there would be no limit to what technology could do on this front. But if these problems are inherent byproducts of intelligence itself, that would have huge future implications.

Extreme intelligence in any being might inherently lead to a suicidal level of crippling boredom or cause them to reach the decision that the only logical way to spend every moment is in a hedonistic stupor. As intelligence exponentially grows, these issues could grow exponentially as well, making truly advanced AI useless, dangerous, or impossible.

If there is no limit on intelligence, we will eventually build things smarter than we are, and they in turn will be able to build systems smarter still, and the upward cycle will continue until something literally awesome is created. Something beyond our comprehension. Our descendants/creations will be so smart, knowledgeable, and powerful to us that they seem like gods -- creatures potentially capable of reshaping the solar system, the galaxy, and even the fabric reality itself.

But if increasing intelligence inherently leads to crippling mental instability, this cycle would hit a brick wall. We could still build AI, but it may never become smarter than people. We may end up uploading human conscience into a machine, but even with new digital bodies, IQ would remain about the same.

Even in the latter future, science would still continue to advance at an impressive pace. Our descendents’ technology would seem as amazing to us as our cell phones would to a medieval serf. The technology they would wield would be magical, but these beings would still be something we could understand on a personal level because their intelligence would be roughly on par with our own. They would be truly impressive wizards but no gods.

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