I’ve been thinking about gray goo taking over the Universe since Bill Joy introduced the concept some two decades ago. That seems to be the ultimate worry of this book – Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. It was a scary concept back in 2000 the way Joy presented it, because it seemed that once self-reproducing and evolving silicon life got started we would all be consumed by microscopic goo.
This no longer bothers me because I now think of humans as being a transition species moving onward toward another form of being. The reason is simple enough; silicon-based life once it gets started, which needs our god-like help, can last for very long times as individuals. A silicon-based life form could sleep for billions of years if located in an undisturbed environment, like the inside of a rock floating through space. The facts, information, knowledge, wisdom and creative processes they acquire can be stored for long trips to other star systems and even distant galaxies. Time and thus distance mean little to these trans-life creatures. We humans max out at a hundred years but they might passively go for a billion before finding their new home.
I have drifted a bit beyond where Harari considers his subject, but the book is awash with what he considers a problem of intelligence versus consciousness. He seems to have the opinion that silicon-based and dormant life forms can never develop consciousness and emotions like our human organic ones can and seem to have done.
What is more valuable – intelligence or consciousness? he asks at the end of the book. For me, the answer is that it depends on who’s asking the question. If it is an older living human being, such as myself, then I tend to value consciousness more highly, because it gives me more opportunity to enjoy living. However, if a human being considering that question is young, the integration of their body and consciousness over the next eighty years may bring them to the conclusion that they need the extreme intelligence of a body integrated with a powerful silicon second self, which could be essential to their existence and satisfaction. Their smartphones will be built into their bodies and be vastly more useful than the current models.
I have taken this book as a point of departure for these thoughts but our computer-driven society has already moved on past his worry that highly intelligent algorithms will know us better than we know ourselves. Well, he apparently sent in his final revisions before the November 2016 election, and in this world of speculation, he is already like the wheezy old man complaining about the kids going to hell in a handbasket.
The book is subtitled a brief history of tomorrow; it could be yesterday already.