Humans aren’t the fastest, strongest, biggest, smallest, or most efficient creatures. The only advantage we have is a well developed cerebral cortex. Of course, superior intellect can allow us to compensate for the areas which we lack. We currently have a problem with said superior intellect however. If we are unable to evolve to overcome this problem, the human race will eventually become stagnant and undoubtedly face obstacles that may pose a threat to our existence.
What exactly is this problem that is inherent in the human race you ask? It is one of the elements key to Darwinian evolution – the fact that traits acquired during the life of an organism are not passed to offspring.
How is this a problem, you ask? Very simply, the amount of knowledge in the world is increasing, while the capacity of the human mind to absorb information has not kept up with this increase in knowledge. 500 years ago, a person could be a master at an entire field, they could accumulate all the knowledge that was known about that field in their lifetime. The significance of this is not the acquisition of data, for surely with the advent of the Internet we can find out information about any topic much faster than ever before. The significance lies in the fact that without existing knowledge, one cannot expand on theories and discover new things. When one knows everything about a field, it is possible to see the connections between elements in a way that technology has yet to replicate. The significance of results is possible to interpret (not necessarily that we can’t interpret results today but rather that a specialist in one field may not attribute a significance to certain results which, if seen by another would have obvious ramifications) and avenues for pursing goals are more diverse.
At the current time, this may not pose a significant problem to us, however the effects can already be seen. Students must learn more material in a shorter time. People are expected to have a higher level of knowledge at a younger age. Individuals must attend school for longer periods of time before they are considered qualified in their field. As the amount of information we acquire increases, people must either spend more time in school or narrow their field of concentration. Already people are generally in their mid to late-twenties before they have acquired sufficient knowledge to add to our knowledge, and this age will undoubtedly increase.
Computers, made by man to serve man, have the advantage over us in this area. Data can be instantly transferred between computers and can be replicated without loss of integrity. Electronic data outlives the machine and can be accessible to all machines. A new computer does not need to learn the data its ancestors had but can acquire it in seconds. If humans cannot attain this ability our obsolescence is unavoidable. We must either be able to learn faster, increase our life spans, or devise a way whereby information can be assimilated into our minds without the necessity of learning. Having information available on an electronic device is great but not sufficient. One neither knows what to look up nor can avail of the information without background.
Should we be unable to conquer this deficiency, we will undoubtedly end up as merely the instruments for executing the suggestions of the machines we created. Surely, man will devise a solution to this dilemma whereby a computer can map similarities in a fashion similar to the human mind. Already, the number of transistors that comprise central processing units is comparable to the number of neurons forming the human brain. Of course, the human brain is much more interconnected, is capable of parallel processing, can rewrite itself, and can be influenced by ‘analog’ elements however at a base level it still accepts the same data – zeros and ones; on and off – the action potential. Once computers can draw connections as our human brain can we will be redundant. With limitless information accessible to a computer, we will turn to computers for analysis and future direction more than ever. This is not to say that the world will be taken over by machines, but merely that we will have willingly ‘outsourced’ many of our higher level functions – those that shape our future – to the machines we have built. From a different perspective, this in and of itself is the solution to the problem. Unlike other organisms, the evolution of man is now more than biological, it is also technological. We can add a new ability simply be devising a machine to do it, something that no other organism can do. Creating machines to think for us is simply another step in our evolution, the use of our biological advantage to overcome our biological deficiencies.
The human brain is the most complex object known to man. Despite numerous advancements, we know very little of its secrets. While our obsolescence is imminent, without intervention, we are faced with many other obstacles that are more likely to endanger our existence before this. Furthermore, I would like to believe that we have the ability to devise a solution this problem and to continue to have a degree of usefulness for much time to come.