from George F. Hart

Only Robotico earthensis will make it outside of our galaxy!

The Russians were the first to send an interplanetary rocket into space; they were also the first to send a human being into space. I was a student at Moscow State University, on the Lenin Hills, when Yuri Gagarin when into space and in Leningrad doing some research at the time of that momentous event: it was an exciting evening with almost the entire population out on the streets throughout the Nation. Later my wife and I marched in the May-day parade celebrating the event. We passed with a few yards of Gagarin, Khrushchev and the other soviet elite carrying a ban-the-bomb sign [what is now called the peace sign].

It would be eight years before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the surface of our Moon: thrusting the USA into the lead of space exploration. At that time my wife and three sons and I set enthralled in front of the television as I recorded the event on audio-cassette. Since then, as a palaeobiologist, I have followed my own interests in how Homo sapiens can continue to explore our Universe [Hart, 2008]. My eldest son was involved with designing the hull for the next space vessel – the Orion project – and is now involved in the building of another space vehicle. With luck I will live to see our species walk on the planet Mars.]

My knowledge quest over the passed 7 decades has convinced me that our evolutionary lineage will be continued by the development of a species which has a human mind and a human brain containing a human consciousness, but which is encased in a robotic body [this I have called Homo roboticus, Hart 2008]. The further extension of our phylogeny will be robotic, with a manufactured consciousness within a manufactured brain within a manufactured body [this I have called Robotico earthensis, Hart 2008.

It is really a none argument to note that scientific and technological breakthroughs in humankind evolution will cause our humanity to adapt. Evolution is a legacy system i.e. the fundamental evolutionary process is extension of metabolic pathways by modification NOT innovation. Evolution requires neither a plan of some super-natural force, nor rational design and in the past this applied to the evolution of our humanity as well as to our physical evolution. This is about to change because we will soon be able to innovate!

Future human transformation is both a dream and a nightmare but it most definitely is not a fantasy.

It is an inspiring dream that science will evolve humankind along a definite pathway. Natural evolution has caused the profound changes from our ancestral genus Australopithecus to present-day Homo sapiens. Moreover, we are only the latest biological experiment of nature, descended from a long line of vertebrates which finally achieved consciousness and self awareness and eventually led to language, social evolution and civilization.

In my earlier eBook [Hart,2008] I opine the future will see deliberate genetic modifications of our species; and, as we begin to explore our Solar System and live off-planet, the need for both human chimera and manufactured bodies containing human consciousness will compel us to evolve Homo roboticus, a species that has a manufactured body and a human consciousness. The end of our Homo phylogenic lineage will be our ultimate descendant: Robotico earthensis: the extension of humankind that has both a manufactured body and an artificial consciousness.

The nightmare is caused by two facts derived from the scientific method. Firstly, there is no scientific evidence that a soul, as defined by most religions, exists. Secondly, there is no scientific evidence that an interfering God exists. Indeed, there is nothing to God but believing in God. The nightmare to some is that once Robotico earthensis exists, so will the knowledge that the religious definition of the soul does not. How will humankind deal with having their souls ripped from them? Will we understand that theology is not about religion but about the ultimate origin our Universe; and, we must look to science to find the wisdom we need, to define why we are, and who we are: our humanity. As a palaeobiologist I see our humanity as a collective trait of Homo, involving the adaptability of the human mind. As with other traits, it is a consequence of selection pressure on our lineage.

I think few palaeobiologists would deny the present peak of evolution on Earth is the emergent phenomena of consciousness we observe in our species. The essence of that consciousness is logic and the host of human traits grouped as our humanity. Defining humanity vexes philosophers, for the concept is permeated with the ideas associated with the changing social conditions; and, a good part of what makes humankind human seems to pertain to myth, legend and religious belief. To some the whole concept of an extension of humanity into a genus like Robotico is terrifying and fuels the fundamentalist's belief that a secular humanist future is some kind of hell.

The rhetorical battles will be vicious, for science and religion are again on a collision course that will impinge far more on our social condition than the ideas of Copernicus or Darwin ever did. To attract the attention of the vast majority of Earth's population science must answer the eternal questions about purpose: of life and of death; of existence and of non-existence. It must replace the illusionists' grand plan in which a body is inhabited by an indestructible soul that allows an after life. ”If you strip destiny and divinity and profundity from the human psyche, what is the purpose of humankind's existence? Is it pleasure encapsulated as life's enjoyment at the awe of our Universe?” If humanity has a purpose at all my own view is that it is to be useful ... to be relevant within our Universe. Our consciousness has evolved in a way that promotes interaction and cooperation, within the cultural gamodeme [interbreeding population], involving ideas that take more than one person and longer than one generation. I think this is what Hegel meant when he associated human reason with humankind's rational history and achievements.

The steps in our future lineage

Homo sapiens will extend itself into the Solar System: if not from the United States of America then by China, Russia or a combination of Nations. Living systems have a biological mechanism that has allowed them to adapt to new environments, and this will provide the drive for humankind's expansion throughout our Solar System: most probably utilizing genetic enhancements, human-chimera, and Homo roboticus.

Beyond the Solar System there are other stellar systems in our Milky Way galaxy: Homo sapiens will, almost certainly, never reach these but our phylogenic descendants will. I have suggested elsewhere that Homo sapiens possibly will explore beyond our Solar System by manufacturing Space Liners: current views are that these must contain communities of about 5,000 persons. My own estimation to maintain a viable community was less [1,000] because of our future ability to genetically alter and innovate the human genome. If we use Space Liners to explore our galaxy eventually a new species would develop simply by the genetic drift that takes place with spatial and temporal separation – even without genetic enhancements. This off-planet variant I have called Homo cosmos.

Beyond the Solar System our whole Universe could open up to our phylogeny. The pivotal point will come when Homo sapiens meets an environment, within our Solar System, it cannot colonize, even with genetic modification. This is when Homo roboticus will evolve: an organism altered in such a way that control is still by a conscious human mind i.e. a real human individual with a biological brain but the body within which the brain is implanted is totally manufactured. Attaching a brain, with an already contained consciousness [mind] will follow as a result of research into neural chord reattachment. This is often referred to as a total body transplant and will rapidly follow after science has solved the problem of brain stem attachment. Body donation, ethically, should be treated no differently than heart or kidney donation. We are already successfully developing mechanical limbs, hearts, eyes etc controlled by a mind. There is every reason to believe an entire mechanical body can be developed which is controlled by a transplanted brain, or even an attached, fully functional, head. This is Homo roboticus! I believe we will see this new species before 2100. Homo roboticus is the ultimate brain-in-a-box: once the basic brain attachments can be performs development will be rapid. Homo roboticus needs only those bio-chemical functions that are required to support the brain and to maintain human consciousness and therefore can have a much simpler body plan than Homo sapiens. Moreover, it’s body can be repaired, modified and upgraded!

There are three steps to this evolution of our lineage.

  1. Implanting a pre-existing brain into donor body.

  2. Implanting a pre-existing brain into a hybrid bio-mechanical body.

  3. Implanting a pre-existing brain into a manufactured mechanical body.

The really exciting future is when living neurons and manufactured devices are totally functionally integrated to produce a real mind: this will signal the evolution of humankind into our descendant genus and species: Robotico earthensis. Robotico earthensis – the robot from earth – a genus with an entirely manufactured body and an entirely manufactured consciousness. Building a human organic brain, that is allowed to develop 'naturally' but is programmable to contain a specific mind-set is not outside the bounds of current scientific possibility, and could easily occur before 2200 and maybe within the next 50 years. An organic brain that replicates our own is already scaled to fit into, and control, a human body: and a lot of the ancillary research to use such a brain is already in progress. My view is that this is a more efficient approach to evolving our humanity than a mechanical brain. The Achilles-heel of the completely mechanical brain is that the problem is too large for solution in the near future.

Using an organic brain that can be trained like a human brain, or programmed like a computer, but at a much accelerated pace, is much more practical, efficient and do-able than getting a mechanical device to accomplish the same thing at the present stage of science and technology.

Whole brain emulation is the one-to-one modeling of the function of the human brain Sandberg, Bostrom, 2008 for the purpose of obtaining an exact view of a human mind. It has been argued that “conscious human experiences are merely epiphenomenal artifacts of neural activity”. I agree with this and believe it implies an organic brain is programmable: not simply trainable. If scientists can map the temporal sequence of brain activity the mind can be understood thereby leading to programmability; and, ultimately, able to be copied. This is an aim proposed by Kurzweil [2005] to accomplish individual digital immortality for a human being. Sandberg and Bostrom [loc cite] note “The basic idea is to take a particular brain, scan its structure in detail, and construct a software model of it that is so faithful to the original that, when run on appropriate hardware, it will behave in essentially the same way as the original brain”. To accomplish this one must monitor all of the neurons and synapses in the organ simultaneously, which is an immense monitoring task well beyond the scope of present science and with only a theoretical method within sight of scientific accomplishment. It is estimated that the human brain contains 100 billion [1011] inter-neurons averaging 1,000 synapses each i.e. 10 COLOR="#000000">14 connections. Currently, it is feasible to build a mechanical brain of this size that is scalable for speed and memory capacity but it is currently not possible to scale such a mechanical device to a size comparable to a natural human brain.

The extremely well detailed Technical Report by Sandberg and Bostrom [2008]addressed some of the problems and suggested studies on dead brains, by thin sectioning, microscopy etc, is the line of approach. I disagree with this:Kurzweil's [1999, 2005] ambition will only be fulfilled if we use a living human mind within a brain, not by building a structured model of the brain. We are already moving in the direction of real-time, 3-D brain non-destructive scanning and within a decade or two I suspect we will have the resolution and computing capacity to analyze brain activity at the necessary neural level to capture it's content. Working on cadavers is a good way to build a brain-like computer but not to capture a mind.

We are already capable of solving very large problems involving numerous data points as many locations simultaneously, but the process is not scalable to a small computer bulk size. This is not denying that eventually self directing computers will evolve, and eventually produce a suitable and purely mechanical brain with a contained mind. My point is that using a real human brain, grown in a laboratory is a better way to achieve a conscious robot.

Building a completely mechanical brain that is programmable is a goal of some computer scientists. Manufacturing a truly artificial consciousness for implantation into such a brain may be a century away but already significant advances are being made in the understanding of neural functioning and the mechanisms of memory and brain-body control, and like Ray Kurzweil I think this is our lineages final frontier.

Germ line changes in Homo sapiens

Gregory Stock [2002] pointed out “Biological enhancements will lead us into unexplored realms, eventually challenging our basic ideas about what it means to be human”.

Today we can consider cultivating certain traits and the de-emphasizing others through genetic manipulation and this presents important questions pertaining to our future. Both approaches can lead to changes in our species abilities; and, we need to understand the benefits and deficits attached to each before making deliberate alterations to our phylogenic line.

Whereas it is important that somatic cell improvements should be available throughout the population, as a question of ethical fairness, germ cell modification must be controlled because of the danger of social conflict. This is the Hollywood scenario of a 'master variant', controlled by the rich and powerful. A critical observation was made by Olson [2002] who noted: “almost all the armed conflicts in the world take place not between nations but between groups separated by differences that often are interpreted in biological terms” i.e. the ethno-cultural gamodeme. This is a danger spot for humankind's future evolution: the creation of genetically, and mechanically, modified individuals will bring back ‘racial’ tension and probably conflict. Race and ethnicity are surprisingly persistent causes of internal conflict within eusociety. Democracy alone is no guarantee of freedom: western democracy took hundreds of years to develop successful political systems that constrain the ‘tyranny of the masses’ and the ‘tyranny of the powerful’. Fundamentally, as population numbers and density increases the fair and equitable distribution of resources become more difficult. Access to resources is distinctly related to wealth and power, and it is the wealthy and powerful who will have access to future genetic and mechanical enhancements [although the poor will probably serve as the guinea-pigs]. Humankind has gone through this problem before with education – initially a trait of the children of the rich and powerful but eventually becoming generally available.

Death is the prime obscenity in our cultural gamodeme. Longer and healthier life, better intellect, and stronger bodies are all desires that, at one time or another, cross the minds of most individuals – this will be the driving force behind genetic and mechanical modification of humankind. First the wealthy and powerful will take advantage of new developments and eventually it will become generally available. To stop this progress is truly a crime against humanity!

Lest we forget: most of humankind over the age of ninety is institutionalized, or receiving home care, or living with younger relatives. They have hearing, vision and health problems, are generally not permitted to drive, cannot actively engage in sport, rarely in sex and generally do not go on vacation?

The specter of human chimera

Personally, I see human-chimera playing an important role in the colonization of the Solar System: initially we will see genetic improvements and then outright genetic alteration utilizing slices of DNA from other organisms. Xenotransplantation, organ replacement, embryo manipulation and cloning are all part of this future. Gene splicing and manipulation to form chimera can circumvent the enormous time spans normally necessary for adaptive evolution to work. Lagay [1999] has asked: “What will society make of the fact that we can create the monsters and monstrous relationships that have haunted and guided moral behavior for at least 3,000 years? Moreover, this can be done without the means of sexual reproduction from which it was formerly inextricable?

As scientific inquiry the creation of chimera does have an ethical side. It is the questions of whether or not individuals have the right to determine the character traits of their offspring. Within a Space Liner or on another planet the question may be one of population survival and therein the answer is logically in the affirmative. Most certainly whether or not chimera should be developed for living on Earth is a political dilemma and quite explosive. The ability to inhabit and investigate the Earth oceans, and the frigid and arid climatic zones seems a sensible development but this will certainly involve a chimera, or chimera-like genetic intervention.

Is a prosthesis a moral abomination?

How will society react to our robotic future? Will Homo roboticus be welcomed, or shunned and murdered wherever possible? Will the fear that Homo sapiens will become the slave and chattel of Robotico earthensis lead to attempts to ban and exterminate the species? I do not think this is possible because once whole body transplants occur the rest of the technology will already be available and waiting to be utilized.

For those who take a stance against the effort to develop Homo roboticus I ask two questions.

QUESTION ONE: “If you know your death will shortly occur but I offer you the opportunity for you mind to live on within another body, will you allow your brain to be transplanted into a manufactured biological body that has a human form?

QUESTION TWO: “If you know your death will shortly occur but I offer you the opportunity for your mind to live on with another body, will you allow you brain to be transplanted into a manufactured mechanical body that has the form of a fish that will be placed in the Pacific Ocean to explore the oceanic world?

Most people I have asked answer yes to the first question and many yes to the second – although with the proviso that they have the ability to commit suicide.

Humankind's final frontier

Let me emphasize that any consciousness derived from our species that is passed along our phylogenic line to Robotico should be based upon an awareness of the essence of our humanity. Perhaps the most distinguishing feature that separates modern [last 11,500 years] and contemporaneous humankind from the ancestral part of our phylogeny lies in the nature of that segment of consciousness that defines us as human beings: our humanity. The humanity trait can be summarized as the: “degree of development and inter-relatedness of capabilities …that…contribute to a dynamic reflexive dimension of self-awareness that forms the platform for intentionality and exercise of free will (choice)Lagay, 1999: pages 350-351.

Even though further evolution within Robotico may reject the essence of humankind, and indeed our creation may even seek to eradicate such concepts from our Universe, for us to ignore our human essence, as the creator of Robotico, would be a fallacy. It would be directly opposed to evolutionary principles we see operating within nature. It is our humanity, encompassing a series of biological and mental traits, which makes humankind different from all other know life forms.

Robotico earthensis is not to be the merging of human and robotic intelligence in the sense of Ray Kurzweil [2005] but the development of an artificial consciousness based upon how the human brain works and what humanity is. If our human values are to be projected into the consciousness of our robotic descendants then we must commence to address the design issues of that consciousness now, because it will require much time, effort and thought before implementation of an artificial mind in our descendants. Urgency is needed not because Robotico earthensis may turn around and destroy us and our society, but because of a belief that the essence of humanity is good for our Universe. We would be remiss to send sentient beings beyond our Solar System that did not embody our humanity. Even if we are ultimately completely superseded by our creation, human arrogance suggests there is an inherent goodness within humanity that will be a valued asset to our Universe as a whole. Our Universe is, of course, neutral about our humanity and our contribution to the future. However, it is precisely because our Universe is neutral to our consciousness that it is open to our expansion beyond our present limits.

For those Luddites, who take a stance against the effort to develop Robotico earthensis it is sufficient to note that such an effort is useless: we are already heading towards mechanical brains in mechanical bodies and maybe, sooner than they think, an artificial organic brain in a manufactured body. The scientific ethical question will be “should we place a brain made from human brain tissue within such a creature.” Personally, I would rather that of a human being than that of a rat.

Consciousness evolved as an adaptive survival mechanism involving better perception of what is happening and predicting what is about to happen. The brain itself lives slightly in the past and a predictive ability, based on earlier experience of what the body/mind might expect to happen next, is a useful survival attribute. The brains that better anticipate and made ready had an advantage. The underlying system is built upon the genetic fundament [genotype] that has been drawn out by the environment to produce a particular individual [phenotype]. As human consciousness emerged, from a plexus of individual responses to sensory inputs, it was shaped by the physical and social environment to develop various levels of reasoning power. The basic idea remains quite Darwinian, even though the processes and mechanisms are much more complex than ever envisaged by most pre-twentieth century humans. Essentially, external environmental stimuli are passed to the brain via the sense organs and cause specific electrochemical reactions within the brain. These reactions are manifested as processes in the mind i.e. thoughts. These thoughts, in-their-turn, create an electrochemical response which is manifested as an action. Certainly, we need a fuller understanding of how neurotransmitters work to combine information from different parts of the brain to sustain memory but the basic direction for obtaining such knowledge is already unfolding. This will be the foundation for understanding mind and ultimately creating an artificial consciousness. Studies of adaptive behavior in autonomous robots is showing many such responses [thoughts] are essentially adaptive reactions of the mind to new situations i.e. small-scale emergent phenomena due to novel combinations of brain-activity. In the computational theory of consciousness the mind is a natural complex machine that is DNA based. The fact that this machine can ‘learn’ is nothing spectacular nor does it need some inner Id or soul. Rene Descartes’ statement ‘cognito ergo sum” will apply equally to both H. sapiens and R. earthensis. The dualism of body and mind/soul will be a shattered myth once science proves that robots can think like humans do.

The social gamodeme of Robotico earthensis

To me the nightmare of the future is that Robotico earthensis society will evolve to operate like a single organism. Social insects, such as ants, termites, wasps and bees, show remarkable social interaction, designed to preserve the integrity of the colony. Each individual is like a cell within a single living system and with a colony of insects the survival, growth and reproduction rates, approximately, follow the same mathematical rules pertaining to the energy utilization of the system as do individuals [Gillooly J. & Kaspari M., 2010; Holldobler & Wilson, 2009]. The aforementioned authors suggest that any theory to understand sociality within the cultural gamodeme should be consistent with the known constraints acting upon non-social and social organism. Does this mean that future robotic society must be structured around a totalitarian system, with drones, workers and queens?

From my viewpoint, it is imperative to remember that the fundamental trait[s] of humanity is [are] not simply logic but of paramount importance, are free will and individual mental freedom. As Gertrude Himmelfarb [1994] stresses, without these attributed there would be “no virtue and vice…no heroes and villains…no greatness of any kind: no momentous events in history, no superior works of art, literature, or philosophy, no essential distinction between the trivial and the important.”

Let us make sure we build free will into our robotic descendants and make it’s purpose ‘rerum cognoscere causas’ – To know the causes of things.

Species conflict resolution

Whereas two different species can inhabit the same environment they cannot occupy the same ecological nitch without competition that results in one becoming dominant or one removing itself elsewhere or dying out. Symbiosis can partially solve this problem but even then one species is the ecological nitch of the other. If humankind is to survive in our post-human future it must either make sure our robotic descendants do not share our ecological nitch or must become symbionts. Whereas I believe Homo roboticus can live on Earth it would be wise to make sure Robotico earthensis is an off-planet genus: this we must build into their value system, recognizing they themselves will be able to alter it in the future if they decide to invade our environment. It may be possible to do this by forcing recognition that we are the 'creator' and our planet is inviolate, except by invitation. Effectively a religiosity is built into the Id of Robotico.

On Earth the oceans are one domain that H. roboticus could dominate, and there is no reason why they could not have the form of a human being making them more compatible to we land-dwellers.

Human chimera are a much trickier problem, unless the more radical forms are restricted to off-Earth. Whereas a green haired, highly intelligent, handsome 250 old with gills would be acceptable, I doubt that a humanized bat or termite would go down well. This will test, and probably eliminate, any idea of a 'bill of species rights'. A developing philosophy of scientific naturalism that involves population genetics, biochemistry within the neurological and cognitive science,and empirical reasoning could overwhelm our cultural gamodemes in our present century, paving the way for our acceptance of both Homo roboticus and Robotico earthensis to dominate our galaxy.

We have very little time and very little of the past that can help us in our dilemmas: what should or should not, of our humanity be passed onto our descendant genus. The future will come and we will try to use our knowledge of the enlightenment, the crusades, the totalitarians, the philosophers, and religious belief systems, to tackle the social problems but our cultural gamodeme changes rapidly. Each cultural generation is about 30 years and it evolves not by innovation so much as by extension. We should remember the words of Strong [1965]:

Either men journey to the stars, there to take fresh root – or they perish to no apparent purpose, a mere incident in Time’s eternity.

Exploration of our Solar System

NASA can build safe space ships to send humankind beyond our Earth but the cost overhead, for the safety of the crew, is an enormous part of the budget. For H. sapiens to be successful in directly exploring our Stellar System the problems of radiation shielding and propulsion must be solved. In the present century our species will attempt this immense, dangerous and expensive task. However, most of our Solar System will be explored by H. roboticus - which can be evolved to survive critical missions and to live in environments that would be lethal to an exposed H. sapiens.

The possibility for financial rewards derived from exploration of our Solar System is tenuous, and it is difficult to realistically view capitalism as a system that will provide funds for either non-human probes, or, Homo's exploration of our stellar system. As Earth's population grows the pressure on natural resources will necessitate radical policy changes here on Earth and this may be accompanied by a radical change in our social and economic systems to the extend that extra-terrestrial resources become attractive. Again, I view this as unlikely. Rather, Earth's population density will be curtailed by eugenics and social control such that the population pressure equilibrates with the resources available.

As far as exploration of our Solar System and beyond is concerned, I believe national or a consortium of international governments, will be the main contributors. An open source, philanthropic system may develop to take the lead as a non-profit science venture but this will take a unique form of persuasive skill to achieve: something that human history shows can happen, as the good and evil genius' of our past attest.

Exploration of the Milky Way Galaxy

The problem for Homo sapiens' exploration of our galaxy is quite simple: time.The fastest extra-terrestrial speed our species has attained to date is approximately 4x104 km/hr which would take us 12x104 years to get to our nearest stellar neighbor [alpha centauri] within the Milky Way Galaxy. Speeds of 0.1 to 0.3 c [the speed of light] are desirable to successfully explore the nearest stellar systems within the span of a human life time. I have suggested that Space Ships carrying crews of 1,000-5,000 human individuals could accomplish interstellar exploration within our galaxy but this will involve a multiple generational approach. The high risk and extraordinarily high cost probably of such a venture will probably mean that exploring the rest of our galaxy and, most certainly, another galaxy will never be part of H. sapiens' future.

Exploration beyond our Solar Galaxy

It will be the role of R. earthensis to extend our humanity outside of our galaxy, and into our Universe. Building vehicles sufficiently rigorous to contain H. roboticus and R. earthensis is theoretically much easier than building similar space ships for H. sapiens

Moreover, individuals from these species can settle in places that H. sapiens cannot. They can build communities, initially quite similar to those our species did on Earth – first an archaeosociety will develop, perhaps comprised essentially of scavengers and gatherers - although knowledge of science will make rapid improvements possible. Once an industrial base has been established Protosociety and will develop the necessary resources for the establishment of larger colonies. This will be the equivalent to the Agricultural Revolution that occur on our Earth after the last Ice Age some 11,500 ybp. Ultimately, Eusociety will see the extensive colonization of our galaxy and beyond by R. earthensis and it's descendants. This is how we will extend ourselves into our Universe.


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