Tuesday, January 23, 2007

An Illustration of the Pace of Human Mental Evolution/Problem Solving

When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid. In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve the creation of still more intelligent entities -- on a still-shorter time scale. The best analogy that I see is with the evolutionary past: Animals can adapt to problems and make inventions, but often no faster than natural selection can do its work -- the world acts as its own simulator in the case of natural selection. We humans have the ability to internalize the world and conduct "what if's" in our heads; we can solve many problems thousands of times faster than natural selection. Now, by creating the means to execute those simulations at much higher speeds, we are entering a regime as radically different from our human past as we humans are from the lower animals.(Vinge, 1993)

An illustration of this is the evolution of avian flight compared to the evolution of human flight. Birds diverged from dinosaurs (or dinosaurs and birds have a common ancestor - the jury's still out). What is no longer in dispute is the order of progress. In human flight,the order is gliders, then the biplane (two wings), followed by the monoplane (one wing) which is the predominant design people see and travel in every day. Initially, it was thought that avian evolution was gliding followed by monoplane-like forms and from the ground up. The discovery of Microraptor (1,2) tends to show that avian flight evolution was tree down and probably gliding, biplane, and finally monoplane. But design refinements due to natural selection are restricted to the generation rate (replication rate) of the organism and its background rate of mutation followed by positive selection. Natural evolution can go no faster. Human flight advanced to a monoplane design in less than 20-30 years after powered flight was achieved. If you include glider research, human flight went from glider, to biplane, to monoplane within the span of forty years. In other words, human flight mirrors bird flight, but the rate of progress is at least four orders of magnitude faster for human flight progress versus avian flight progress (with a humble nod to hummingbirds and bats).

Space flight is comparable (about 40 years) from the development of guided rockets to manned rockets (which natural evolution hasn't accomplished). A pilot and his plane can be considered a cyborg/enhanced human in a loose sense, as an astronaut in an EVA suit can be considered to be a manned space vehicle. By Vinge's definition, architects and engineers using computers and CAD/CAM programs are enhanced humans. Now we have the Internet with enhanced humans being networked together, what next?

Consider the following, more violent analogy, over the past 100 years, humans have positively selected for very intelligent coyotes. Ranchers have killed all the dumb animals. Coyotes have increased their range due to depredation of larger predators and competitors such as wolves, and in spite of, human depredation. Essentially the same thing is going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world against terrorists. We are positively selecting for more intelligent terrorists/insurgents because we quickly kill or capture the dumb and less careful terrorists and insurgents. And even if we kill the intelligent ones, it's likely that they will have passed on their most successful strategies and tactics to their successors who will have been positively selected because of their expertise on and off the urban battlefield.
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