The exponential growth of human knowledge is going to be a REALLY big problem for our ongoing survival as a species.
Most people look at the rapid advancement of human knowledge and think nothing about it. For many, it’s hard to even remember what life was like before we had a smart phone, yet alone how far we’ve come since the discovery of the double helix in DNA. For many, knowledge, technological development, and the advancement of our understanding of the universe is just something that’s happening to other people.
And that is terrifying.
We are expanding our pool of knowledge to such a massive degree that we are crossing into that point where within the next couple of generations, our collective species-wide knowledge will have advanced so much that our children will make our existing knowledge obsolete before they even graduate high school. With so much new information entering the world at such an alarming rate, it really shouldn’t be surprising that our kids will be smarter in a period of 18 years than we were after 45-60 years of knowledge acquisition.
But how does this pose a problem? Technology and knowledge are great, right? They result in amazing things, like fully electric cars, wearable technology, the first instance of curing AIDs in a child! True. But they also led us to developing the nuclear bomb. They led us to chemical warfare. Germ warfare. They created tanks and planes and bullets and shrapnel.
Knowledge is a powerful thing, and humans are unpredictable creatures.
It’s not the knowledge that causes the problem. It’s us. Humanity as a whole has proven to be a very dangerous species. We fight wars at the expense of human life constantly, wars over insubstantial things, the most common of which in our history has been over religion or territory. Quite often both.
With the invention of the nuclear bomb, humanity was presented with its first chance to destroy itself. Mutually assured destruction has become the catalyst of protection. Our fear of wiping out ourselves is so great that, so far, we have agreed to not use the power that we possess. However, not everyone has that power. Not all countries possess those weapons. And not everyone is as terrified of death as others.
But if you think of how our species is evolving, if you truly sit back and watch the progress we are making as an entire global community on advancing our collective knowledge, we are generations away from discovering something so much more powerful than we could have ever imagined. The beauty of a nuclear bomb is that it isn’t easy to make. It takes a long time, with a lot of specialized resources, with a lot of very intelligent people, doing a lot of very specific things. The process is challenging. Enriching military grade uranium is really damn hard. Lucky for us.
Things won’t always be that difficult though. As we progress our knowledge, we also progress our understanding of ourselves, both our strengths and our weaknesses. One day, through genetic manipulation, self-replicating nano technology, or something beyond our current understanding, we are going to develop a technology that could effectively wipe out our species in a matter of minutes, and it will be so simple that our grand children will be able to create it in their middle school chemistry lab.
We’re talking about the human delete button.
And this, unfortunately, is where things become problematic for our species. When (and notice I did not say “if,” because humanity does not deal in ifs it seems, only whens) we reach that point that the understanding of the building blocks of our species are so fundamentally understood that children are experimenting with genetic manipulation in middle school science labs, every single person is going to possess incredible power. Every child will know, on a fundamental level, how to rewrite the genetic code of our species, know how to spread it, and know how essentially wipe our entire species off the planet. With that kind of knowledge, you have to ask yourself: Are we ready?
If we had that power now, would we be ready for it? I think it’s fairly easy to argue that we are not. Right now, we are caught up in a struggle between new knowledge and old beliefs. People cling to ancient teachings of archaic creation, and as more evidence is compiled in contradiction of those beliefs, the number of radical and/or militant believers increases.
As those numbers go up alongside our quest for knowledge, we are approaching the point where someone who does not believe in the vitality of the here and now will have the power to make a point. And that point could very easily destroy our entire species.
Of course, at the same time, this is our evolutionary next step. We have to decide as a species if we are fit to survive with the knowledge that we have. Maybe we are. Maybe we aren’t. It’s all just natural selection, in the end.
Post by: James R. Mitchener