Scientists and ordinary people nowadays are well aware of the detrimental effects of humanity on Earth. Although it is difficult to prove, it is very likely that the planet will be better off without us, at least until it reaches a new equilibrium. Artificial Intelligence (AI) may hold the key to a 'brighter future' where humans are extinct. Conscientious 'machines' would devote their existence to restoring and maintaining balance on Earth.
Warning: The content of the article is may be uncomfortable or seen as depressing for some people. Please do not read if you are unwilling to keep an open and unbiased mind. I'm sharing my thoughts in the hope of being wrong. I'm aiming for a change in our collective thoughts, actions and the way we treat our home and other species. The ideas are not perfect, final, or unique so feedback and suggestions are welcome.
Humanity's impact on Earth
Human, or anthropogenic, impact on the environment is the sum total of change to the Earth attributed to man's activity. Depletion of natural resources, mass extinction of species and environmental pollution are prime examples. Overpopulation is often called the 'multiplier'. It magnifies the detrimental effect of any individual factor.
Every life form that exists feeds on other life forms, thus fulfiling its role in the ecosystem. Under normal conditions, equilibrium exists thanks to food scarcity. This limits the reproduction of any individual species. In a simplified example, plants are food for herbivores, herbivores are food for carnivores, carnivores die and decompose to feed the soil. Thus they become 'food' for plants and close the cycle.
Somewhere along humanity's history, something went astray. This caused an unprecedented explosion of the number of humans. The exponential function of population plotted over time is an illustration of this. It is beyond the scope of this brief essay to delve in-depth in the reasons for this unnatural and unprecedented growth in population. In my opinion, humans deviated from their natural diet and started subsisting on agricultural products. This helped them transcended the food chain limitations.
Overpopulation coupled with the urge for survival, procreation, and comfort drives the cycle of overconsumption. Please note that I use 'overconsumption' in its most objective sense. Meaning that humanity as a whole is consuming more resources that the Earth can supply on a sustainable basis.
A perceptual shift
I'd like to invite the reader to engage in a brief thought experiment to allow them to see things from a new perspective. I'd like you for a moment to imagine yourself as a tiny bacterium that inhabits your skin, rather than as a human being. Now, I'd like you to imagine that the human whose skin you are inhabiting is the planet Earth.
In my mind, over the years, the human - bacterium relationship has been the closest analogy to the Earth-human relationship. Now, continue reading while keeping this new perspective in mind.
In my view, every single life form plays an important and unique role in any ecosystem it belongs to. I have no reason to question that this applies to humans. As I mentioned before, however, something caused an unprecedented explosion in the number of humans.
Using the perceptual shift from above, this is like the uncontrolled overgrowth of skin bacteria. What used to serve a benign purpose has now become irritating and if left unaddressed, life (Earth) threatening.
A heroic sacrifice
Most of us respect, appreciate and celebrate brave men and women who sacrifice for a greater cause or to preserve the species. Yet, the thought of choosing to 'sacrifice' the species in the name of the survival of our home, the Earth, seems inconceivable to most.
Is it not something that will live beyond us that we crave? Is it not leaving a beneficial legacy that will outlive us that we work to achieve before death? While it may not be the case for everyone, it is among the highest order of human needs. It is right there next to the urge for self-knowledge and self-realisation.
The real challenge lies in transcending the limitation of thinking of beneficial legacy only in terms of human benefit. The urge for preservation and continuation of the species lies deep in the brain and nervous system. They would rebel, rationalise, and try to dismiss any thought suggesting that a 'brighter future' may not include us...
What could that legacy be..?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics are advancing at an incredible pace. We are capable of designing autonomous machines able to do whatever we want them to.
In my mind, there are the two key things to focus on with AI design and development. Firstly, creating sustainable robots that have a net positive effect on the Earth's resources. For example, running on solar energy, created from self-renewable materials, and programmed to restore the natural environment. Secondly, designing a completely selfless AI that is not interested in its own procreation or survival.
When I talk about robotics and AI, I don't have enough knowledge in the field to have a clarity of vision of what these would look like. What I can see, are nanorobots. They will be able to act independently to help heal single cells or molecules in the natural world. They will also be able to assemble in unison and act as a powerful whole when necessary.
What about humans?
Scenarios, where artificial intelligence gets in conflict with humans and leads to mass human extinction, are not a novel idea. Think of the movie, The Matrix for example.
The difference in my vision for the future is that the AI has beneficial and selfless intent, which may or may not lead to a conflict with humanity. AI may end up confronting our actions and reducing our numbers by any means necessary. This may not be such a bad thing for the Earth and the other species that inhabit it.
By creating AI, which can outlive us and restore balance and equilibrium on the planet, we would have left a beneficial legacy. We would have made our existence as a species meaningful by leaving our host, the Earth, better off over the long-term...
It is my sincere hope that we wake up from the ignorant trance of consumerism and self-interested procreation. It is imperative that we come to our senses and begin reversing our detrimental impact on our home.
Instead of making our lives more comfortable we must turn our attention to making them more sustainable. Let's make our lives more aligned with the natural world. The discomforts that we'll need to face are the necessary cost for our survival.
Alternatively, we can find peace with the fact that the human form is not the only way of experiencing existence. This can help us give up our attachment to procreation. As unlikely, as this is, it could lead to a gradual reduction of humanity to a sustainable level.
Finally, the triumphant achievements of our brains in the field of AI and robotics may paradoxically lead to a 'brighter future'... A heaven on Earth, which does not include us as a species.
It is my sincere hope, that through our collective consciousness we shift the balance of probability away from the final scenario and live in harmony with our planet forever after...
Martin Stefanov Petkov