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Old 04-18-2005, 07:42 AM   #1
doctorow
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How Human Life will end

How will it all end? Some say we are likely to go with a bang, others predict a slow lingering end, while the optimists suggest we will overcome our difficulties by evolving into a different species.

Guardian has an article which almost reads like a Sci-Fi story: 10 scientists were asked to name the biggest danger to Earth and assesses the chances of it happening. One glimpse of hope: the chance of Earth being gobbled up by a black hole in the next 70 years is supposed to be "exceedingly low"
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Old 04-18-2005, 11:42 AM   #2
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Personally, I believe that our technology is slowing (and even stopping in some cases) our evolution. Seriously...

For example, with Gore-Tex, we no longer need to adapt to colder or warmer environments. We don't have to develop thicker skin, or warmer blood, or better wicking and perspiration capabilities. We just put on our polypropalene undershirts and leggings, put on a Gore-Tex jacket, and we're ready for most serious weather conditions.

We have braces, root canals, bridges in our mouthes. Why evolve to have stronger jaws and teeth to chew tougher foods, when we can just fix it with technology.

We now have low-carb, no-carb, high-protein, gluten-free, sugar-free, Lutein, Splenda, and other types of additives that change our our bodies grow.

For millions of years, we've lived on a very specific set of minerals and nutrients, and now in the last 100, we're turning that all upside-down, and trying to change how our bodies work, because we think we're smarter than the billions of people who have come before us. Its no wonder disease, cancers and allergies are at an all-time high. Did you know that peanut allergies in children has tripled in the last 5 years?

Now we have medicines and pills and other solutions that prolong human lives. They curb the sick, allow them to live longer. The other side of that is that we also allow viruses to learn more before they are defeated. A sick person with a virus would normally have died, stopping the propagation of the virus, but now we have medicines that keep those people alive, so we can "study" the virus. Sure, and now the virus gets stronger, resistant to more medicines, and we end up breeding a new virus that we can't fight.

Viruses and bacteria have been around billions of years before we got here, and they'll be around billions of years after we're gone.

It is no longer a "survival of the fittest" world, when everyone can survive. We're breeding a weaker, less-prepared race of people, when we let recessive genes take the forefront, and combine those with others. I'm not saying we should let our loved ones die because they're sick, but I do think we should take a long look at what we're actually doing, long-term. Is saving a sick person with a genetic malfunction, so they can have children (potentially passing on the genetic malfunction) a wise idea? Is saving someone with a fatal cancer a wise idea, when we can teach our bodies to fight them? We cut out disease instead of teaching our bodies to evolve to fight it.

We're not helping!

I'm a firm believer in allowing technology "assist" human evolution, but I vehemently oppose technology replacing it.
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Old 04-18-2005, 07:40 PM   #3
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It's not a very pleasant topic, but I have to agree with you hacker. Technology appears to have effectively halted evolution, and possibly even reversed it. It's a nasty dilemma, but being humanitarian is probably bad for our race in the long term....

Craig.
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Old 04-18-2005, 10:21 PM   #4
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I am still sitting on the fence for this one.

One part of me agrees that we are slowing down our own evolutions because of the pervasive use of technology, but another part of me says that this is an alternative route to evolution, that machines and humans can travel down the evolutionary path as symbiotic partners (think of Star Trek's Borg).

Scary, but I think it is possible.
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Old 04-19-2005, 12:27 AM   #5
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The idea that technology is keeping us from evolving doesn't take into account a catastrophe that dramatically returns us to our prehistoric societal structures.

I think that we'll either "shoot ourselves in the foot" by causing a nuclear holocaust, or be struck by some awesome and terrifying natural disaster (asteroid, mega-volcano,...). In either event, the survivors will have to re-learn how to scramble for food, how to shelter themselves, how to get along,... I think that most of us alive right now on Earth have been sufficiently removed from the survival skills and instincts that kept our forefathers alive and whoever doesn't die immediately from the impact of the disaster will slowly wither away into oblivion from lack of survival skills (having depended on various technologies over the years.)

In my life, for instance, I'm severely perturbed when the power goes out. My PDA, mobile phone, computers, and such are all pressed into limited uses. I have to remember how to live, cook, not be bored all over again. I know that the power company is out there working on the problem and soon the power will be back on again. (Hopefully with Enron not in business, California won't be squeezed into submission by the electricity commpanies. Gasoline companies, on the other hand...)

But, what if there weren't power company people working to fix the issue? What if our world were turned completely upside-down by some unforeseen catastrophe, natural or otherwise? We always hear about all these asteroids that hit the Earth however many billions of years ago, and we see how pitted the moon is, but we always think that such a thing just will not happen on Earth again (or at least not for several milions of years.)

Of course, I'm wrong and we'll all life out healthy lifespans and curse out the future generations' music and clothing and lament on how these things were better in our time.
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Old 04-19-2005, 02:37 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cheshire
I am still sitting on the fence for this one.

One part of me agrees that we are slowing down our own evolutions because of the pervasive use of technology, but another part of me says that this is an alternative route to evolution, that machines and humans can travel down the evolutionary path as symbiotic partners (think of Star Trek's Borg).
It is this exact belief system that motivated me to cover my entire right arm, wrist to neck, in H.R. Giger's artwork (yes, literally, not a single piece of actual skin shows through from my wrist to my neck).

Giger believed, through the expression of his art, that at some point in our human evolution, we would merge with our technological evolution. We would essentially become "Borg".

Think about it, we're almost there now, minus the implants. We wake up, "dock" ourselves in our cubicle, work for the "collective" (corporations) every day, undock, recharge, and do it all over again. All the while, we are constantly tied to a constant stream of information and technology, through cellphones, pagers, wireless devices, and so on.

Once technology improves to the point where we can merge biology and technology (in a way that our immune systems don't reject it), the next phase will be complete.

I had a philosophical discussion with one of my friends years ago that went something like this:
"If you were in a car accident, and damaged a piece of your brain, which the medical teams could replace with a small microchip... are you still human?"

"What if 10% of your brain was damaged and replaced with chips and computer parts.. and you lost no function. Are you still human?"

"What about 50%? 90%? What if your entire brain could be replaced with a computer and chips, and you could retain all of your memories, experiences, skills... are you human?"
It brings up an interesting point (one that probably would involve theology for some, though I don't subscribe to that belief system). How much of ourselves are we willing to sacrifice to our evolution and our own lives, to move forward?
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Old 04-19-2005, 02:40 PM   #7
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Very "Ghost In The Shell"-ish. Or "Matrix"-ish, if you prefer that version.
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Old 04-20-2005, 12:03 AM   #8
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hacker, you are a fan of Giger's art? I can see the beauty and expression in them, although at times I find them slightly disturbing. Your arm must be quite a sight.

Anyway, back to the topic. The discussion about how human we are, after replacing parts of ourselves, is an interesting one. Just to add to the confusion and as an example, do we consider patients with pacemakers fully "human", or cyborg? What about after surgeries involving body repairs made from animal parts?

On the intelligence side, which is a part of humanity IMHO, I tend to subscribe to Alan Turing's definition and idea of the "Turing Test", whether the subject being tested is fully or partly machine/human.

However, the complication arises because humanity is more than mere intelligence; without being too presumptous it probably includes traits like empathy, compassion, mercy etc, things that make us "human". If only there is a similar "Turing Test" for such traits, perhaps through test scenarios?

Last edited by cheshire; 04-20-2005 at 12:06 AM.
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