“The Firstborn” –Earth’s Emerging Cyborg Epoch 

 

Monolith

 

Before we get to today’s big  story –a spooky headline says we’re entering a new age, “The Novacene”, I want to share some thoughts. The story says that we are in the final era of human life on Earth.—that we homo sapiens are an evolutionary transition phase from biology to machine life.  That the mutation in the brain of a single human being some 200,000 years ago that turned primates into a super-intelligent species that would conquer the world was a genetic accident that will lead to a new hyper-intelligent species, a new evolutionary epoch. 

The story reminds me of the The Firstborn in Arthur C Clarke’s Space Odyssey series —unnamed alien species who developed intergalactic travel millions or perhaps billions of years before the present time, abandoned  their physical form and explored the universe in the search of knowledge about other intelligent species. 

As my favorite physicist, Freeman Dyson said, science is my territory, but science fiction is the landscape of my dreams. Here’s how Clarke described them in his  novel, “3001 The final Odyssey”…

Call them the Firstborn. Though they were not remotely human, they were flesh and blood, and when they looked out across the deeps of space, they felt awe, and wonder – and loneliness. As soon as they possessed the power, they began to seek fellowship among the stars.
In their explorations, they encountered life in many forms, and watched the workings of evolution on a thousand worlds. They saw how often the first faint sparks of intelligence flickered and died in the cosmic night.
And because, in all the Galaxy, they had found nothing more precious than Mind, they encouraged its dawning everywhere. They became farmers in the fields of stars; they sowed, and sometimes they reaped.
And now, out among the stars, evolution was driving towards new goals. The first explorers of Earth had long since come to the limits of flesh and blood; as soon as their machines were better than their bodies, it was time to move. First their brains, and then their thoughts alone, they transferred into shining new homes of metal and gemstone. In these, they roamed the Galaxy. They no longer built spaceships. They were spaceships.
But the age of the Machine-entities swiftly passed. In their ceaseless experimenting, they had learned to store knowledge in the structure of space itself, and to preserve their thoughts for eternity in frozen lattices of light.
 Into pure energy they transformed themselves; and on a thousand worlds, the empty shells they had discarded twitched for a while in a mindless dance of death, then crumbled into dust.
 Now they were Lords of the Galaxy, and could rove at will among the stars, or sink like a subtle mist through the very interstices of space. Though they were freed at last from the tyranny of matter, they had not wholly forgotten their origin, in the warm slime of a vanished sea. And their marvellous instruments, the monoliths, still continued to function, watching over the experiments started so many ages ago.
But no longer were they always obedient to the mandates of their creators; like all material things, they were not immune to the corruption of Time and its patient, unsleeping servant, Entropy. And sometimes, they discovered and sought goals of their own.

Clarke’s haunting monolith’s inspired my all-time favorite movie scene with the discovery of the Tycho Magnetic Anomaly-1 (TMA-1) in the lunar crater Tycho by an orbiting satellite in Space Odyssey 2001 . Later, A team of American astronauts discovers that the magnetic abberation is caused by an alien Monolith buried about 15 meters below the craters surface. At sunrise  TMA-1 emits a terrifying single powerful burst of radio waves – aimed at Jupiter. 

The first Monolith appears on Earth set in prehistoric times. It is discovered by a group of hominids and triggers a considerable shift in evolution, starting with the ability to use tools and weaponry. I’ve always assumed this was the creation of our neocortex, the human superbrain 250,000 years ago that created technology from the clock to the radio and quantum computer. The neocortex said Carl Sagan is where “matter is transformed into consciousness.”

It was later revealed that thousands of other monoliths exist elsewhere in the Solar System.

“It’s possible that the Milky Way is partially settled, or intermittently so; maybe explorers visited us in the past, but we don’t remember, and they died out,” says Jonathan Carroll-Nellenback, an astronomer at the University of Rochester, “The solar system may well be amid other settled systems; it’s just been unvisited for millions or billions  of years.”

Today’s “Weekend Feature”  reports that Earth will soon belong to it’s own version of the Firstborn, the Cyborgs. What’s revolutionary about this moment, writes James Lovelock for Nautil.us is that the cyborgs will have designed and built themselves from the artificial intelligence systems we humans have already constructed. They will soon become thousands, then millions of times more intelligent than us. Lovelock is  the creator of The Gaia hypothesis, that proposes that all organisms and their inorganic surroundings on Earth are closely integrated to form  a vast self-regulating organism.

Lovelock believes that our reign as sole comprehenders of the cosmos is rapidly coming to an end. The revolution that has just begun, the Novacene,  may be understood as a continuation of the process where the Earth nurtures the beings that will lead the cosmos to self-knowledge. As Freeman Dyson said we exist so the universe can comprehend itself.

Electronic life depends on its organic ancestry. Lovelock says he can see no way for non-organic life forms to evolve from the mix of chemicals and in the physical conditions common in the universe. For cyborg life to emerge requires the services of a midwife. We Homo sapiens fit that role perfectly.

It seems probable that organic life must always precede electronic life. Had it been easy for electronic life to assemble on a planet, says Lovelock, the rate at which such a life form evolves would by now have had the Milky Way buzzing with with life.

The Daily Galaxy, Val Landi, via 3001 by Arthur C. Clarke and Nautil.us