The Coming Robot Evolution Race: Homo Sapiens May Have "Won" the Evolutionary Race to Perfect Humankind, but Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Will Evolve Faster and Farther. Rather Than Compete with Them, We May Do Well to Make Them Our Allies and Co-Evolve, Suggests a Technology Trend Analyst

Article excerpt

Some people believe that humanity's evolutionary advance into the future is driven by how our genetic pool responds and adapts to climate change and cultural and societal dynamics. These external factors contributed to how we evolved in the past and became human. Extending that same evolutionary view forward by a few hundreds of millions of years, we arrive at comedic vision of our collective future: We'll have become creatures with a huge forehead for expanded cranial capacity and a small body due to lack of any manual labor, etc.

Most futurists, however, realize that we now have the means to shape and influence our own evolution and cause substantial change within periods spanning only hundreds and thousands of years. The interplay between our ability to map and manipulate our own DNA, as well as to integrate mechanical mechanisms into our own physiology, is driving this evolutionary adaptation. We will adapt our DNA to more readily accept the enhancements from nanotechnology and other bionic devices, and we'll engineer these to synch up with our DNA improvisations. As a result, humanity's evolutionary momentum will spiral quicker and quicker. Fashion, self-image, and social bonding will influence the "look and feel" as much as utility. So hopefully, humans won't resemble the Borgs of Star Trek, except for those of us making an aesthetic choice to do so.

Writers such as Joel Garreau, author of Radical Evolution (Doubleday, 2005), have suggested that accelerating technology could lead to an evolutionary bifurcation between the haves and have nots. Economic, religious, philosophical, and cultural views may prevent some geographical or demographic groups from participating in actions advancing their self-evolution.

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The masses of humanity may not be able to afford such enhancements to themselves or their offspring. Those who can obtain genetic and artificial organ replacements may be able to live longer and healthier, and thus will be more likely to survive and reproduce. It is possible that, over time (that is, in much quicker periods than afforded through natural evolution), genetic differences between humans who augment and alter their genetic code may differ enough from those who do not. The variance may prevent interbreeding. This would lead to the creation of a separate new species.

Now, a new competitor is also emerging on the scene. This one is all artificial, with no flesh or DNA. The arrival and evolution of humanoid robots competing against cyborgs and those humans who have resisted change may be reminiscent of the competition between Homo sapiens, Neanderthals, Homo erectus, and the "hobbit" people of the Indonesian island of Flores.

Competition in Robotic Evolution

Homo sapiens chauvinists like to think we were the fittest for survival and outcompeted the other hominids. We did have some fine competitive traits, but our success has to do with some degree of luck.

There were two points when Homo sapiens almost went extinct. Between 195,000 and 123,000 years ago, Earth was in the middle of a glacial phase and the Homo sapiens population was estimated to have gone from about 10,000 inhabitants down to as few as 600 people. Approximately 70,000 years ago, drought may have shrunk the human population down to just 2,000 folks. However, this was soon followed by the "flight out of Africa," which led to a rapid expansion both in geography and in numbers for mankind. What a very exciting and competitive ancient world that Homo sapiens resided in! Machine evolution will be both more exciting and far more rapid.

Certainly, machinery endowed with artificial intelligence does not have to be robotic; it may be like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and reside within a computer's memory core, or be part of a networked set of computers. …