A new Era of Digital Technology
History shows us that any newly evolving entity can cause great changes for life on Earth, and it may be time to start thinking of our technology as such an organism.
Indeed, that is precisely the point made by Michael Gillings, Darrell Kemp, and Martin Hilbert from the University of California, Davis. In a paper published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, they argue that the digital world might be able to out-compete us,
A basic human characteristic is to accumulate and reproduce information, something that has been improved through the years with humans creating, using, and being almost dependent on the internet for the accumulation and sharing of digital information.
To date, digital information can copy itself perfectly, multiply with each download or view; it can be modified or merged to create new information packets; it can also be applied through artificial intelligence systems.
Notably, there are also additional factors that make digital information even more advanced—it can replicate with almost no energy cost, and has quicker generation times. Artificial intelligence can be smarter than humans and have been known to complete tasks that are deemed way to complicated for humans.
To date, the current storage capacity of the internet is approaching 1024 and it continues to grow at a 30 to 40 percent rage annually. Also, it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down.
All things considered, it’s almost as if digital technology can closely mimic an living, evolving organism.
In the 3.7 billion years since life began, information in living things (DNA) has reached the equivalent of about 1037 bytes. Digital information will grow to this size in 100 years. That’s an evolutionary eye-blink.”
With each evolutionary transition, there will be a winner and a loser—what this study is asking is whether the digital transition poses a threat to humanity.
The Digital (r)evolution
Everyday, humans become more and more connected to the digital world through devices; in fact, direct connections to the brain are even a distinct possibility, which could potentially allow the human brain to fuse with technology to gain new sensory and cognitive capabilities.
The paper also goes on discuss how decision systems and artificial intelligence networks are beginning to mimic human brains and interaction, such as what online ads we want to see, execute most of stock exchange transaction, run electric power grids and these days, play a big role in human mate choice via internet dating sites.
Despite these advantages, there are concerns that the human connection and dependence to digital technology may lead humans to lose grasp of what makes humans, humans. Leaders are also issuing warnings surrounding the possible dangers of autonomous military robots possibly taking over the world, reminiscent of some of the most popular science fiction plotlines.
The bottom line?
It might be time to start thinking about digital technology, the internet specifically, as an organism that can evolve—and whether it will work with humans or emerge as the winner in the evolutionary race is something that everyone should think about.
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