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Weekly Commentary - August 19, 2019

What are we really creating by recreating ourselves and the planet?

In his interesting book The Fourth Age, Byron Reese proposes that every time humanity accesses a new technology, humanity changes and, because of that, the planet also changes. For that reason, we can ask: What are we really transforming when our technology is transforming us and the planet?

Reese argues that 100,000 years ago, human beings learned to use fire and, thanks to fire, language developed. Then, about 10,000 years ago, the birth of agriculture led to the birth of cities. And more recently, perhaps only five or six millennia ago, the invention of writing resulted in the creation of nations.

Now, however, fire, language and agriculture look primitive when compared to intelligent and conscious robots, that is, the "fourth age" mentioned by Reese in his book. What we still don’t know is what will arise as a result of these new technologies.

For us (moving away from Reese’s book), it’s clear that the language we use is no longer entirely appropriate to describe our new reality, so we have to use expressions such as "expanded reality" or "virtual reality."

And, as is undoubtedly evident in today's world, the notions of "city", "nation" and "state" have been greatly challenged in terms of its viability for the future precisely because of the emergence of new technologies. So much so that for many people the only alternative seems to be to return to a past of supposed greatness.

Meanwhile, the United States and Russia recently announced separately the development of space battleships, while several private companies announced the imminent launch of space tourism trips.

And plans to terraform Mars in the coming decades continue to advance. What a paradox! We want to transform Mars to be like Earth while at the same time we are destroying Earth.

Simultaneously, intelligent robots develop their own language and their own ethics and, slowly but inexorably, take charge of all things. "Things" as in "Internet of Things", from autonomous cars to smart homes, and from judicial decisions (robot judges) to spiritual decisions (robot priests).

In that context, although we know approximately where we have been, we still don’t know where we are going to be, that is, are we entering a promising future in which many of the expectations and desires of the long history of humanity are they will see compliments? Or is this the last stage of human existence before being displaced and replaced by our own creation?

Then, the initial question must be rephrased, because it may no longer be enough to ask just what we are transforming thanks to our new technologies, but we must ask ourselves what technologies are becoming thanks to what those technologies themselves are discovering.

It took humanity about 100,000 years to reach artificial intelligence. We had to “invent” fire, then language, the agriculture, then writing, and then the wheel and so many other things before having 21st century technology. But AI doesn’t need that. So, how long will it take artificial intelligence to complete its own evolution?

The curious case of identifying with an ideology and not knowing it

I recently participated in a community event that required some formality, so I was surprised to find a young man who, without wearing a jacket and a tie that all other men wore, arrived dressed in a shirt (jersey) of Barcelona, the well-known soccer club from Spain.

At the end of the meeting, I approached the young man to congratulate him on the excellent choice of his shirt (and would have also congratulated him if the shirt had been Boca Juniors, but not many other clubs.) I took the opportunity to ask him if he liked Barcelona (something that seemed obvious) and soccer in general.

His answer was a single word: "What?"

The young man explained that he had bought that shirt because he liked the colors, ignoring any connection of those colors with Barcelona or with soccer. And the question if he knew Leonel Messi was answered with “Who?”, making it clear that, for him, “his” shirt was just a combination of nice colors and nothing more.

The situation reminded me of images that are repeated with some frequency in social media and in fundraising campaigns, showing children in poverty wearing American football team shirts of which, almost certainly, those children know absolutely nothing.

The experience of having met someone who wears a Barcelona shirt without knowing anything about Barcelona made me think of something different, that is, the possibility of "wearing" a certain belief, dogma or ideology and "wearing it" without knowing anything at all about that ideology.

It is said that the most difficult ideology to understand is precisely the one we accept, believe, and follow, because it is presented as something "normal" and even "obvious" and, for that reason, as something we don’t need to think, analyze or challenge. 

And then we walk through life “showing the colors” of that ideology, not really knowing what it is. And if someone congratulates us or criticizes us for “wearing” that ideology and asks us why we have adopted it, we will probably answer, as the young man mentioned above replied, “Because I just like it”.

In fact, there are numerous cases like when we talk about politics, religion, economics, or other topics. Somebody will wear his or her “ideological shirt” everywhere, whether it is prudent or not to do it, be courteous or not, in many cases ignoring the meaning of the colors he/she is showing.

Worse, that ignorance, added to the attachment to the colors, prevents any meaningful dialogue. The answers, if any, are limited to monosyllables usually framed in a smile dyed in disdain. From that point one, with minds and hearts closed, any attempt to provide a context for our question (for example, talking about Barcelona) will be useless. 

Let's be honest: we all wear an “ideological shirt” that we don't see or don't know. Therefore, we read sacred books as if they were economic manuals and even happily contribute to our own dehumanization. So, if someone asks you for your shirt, open your eyes.

We don't even know our own planet completely yet

NASA recently announced the discovery of an exoplanet near the star CJ357 that, due to its characteristics, could be similar to the earth. The discovery of exoplanets similar to the earth is nothing new, but what is new is that almost simultaneously Facebook announced that we still don’t have accurate maps for large portions of our planet. 

Let's see if we can understand this issue: while we can know that the planet CJ357d (“d” means that it is the fourth planet in its planetary system), about 200 light years from Earth, is in the so-called “habitable zone” and that it could have water, we have not yet been able to make complete maps of Thailand and Indonesia.

TESS cameras (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) made it possible to determine that CJ357d could have an atmosphere dense enough for liquid water to exist on that planet.

But, at the same time, most of the routes in Thailand and Indonesia, according to information published by Facebook, are not yet listed on any map. In fact, the process of creating those maps began ten years ago and it has not completed because the work is done by volunteers and the maps are created manually.

In short, we can study a distant planet with a high degree of precision and, simultaneously, we lack accurate information about large areas of our planet. What a paradox! We see the distant, the remote, but we don’t see what is near to us.

The paradox is not new, although we have now taken it to a cosmic level, and we have involved artificial intelligence. Two millennia ago, a well-known itinerant teacher taught that it is easier to see the straw in another person’s eye than the beam in our own eye.

The same teacher said that we must first remove the beam from our eye before trying to remove the straw from the eye of the other person. With all due respect to that teacher, this teaching could be understood now as the need to know the inner universe before knowing the outer universe, although both actions are, in essence, inseparable.

We know, for example, that the star around which CJ357d revolves has a third of the mass of our Sun and is 40 percent colder than the Sun. But on earth, millions of miles of roads (streets, roads, bridges) worldwide are not yet listed on any map. We know, then, the distant planet, but we don’t our own planet.

Perhaps, without neglecting the exoplanets, we should change the direction of our eyes and look at our own planet and stop seeing it as an accumulation of inert material that we can extract, exploit and discard. Perhaps we should look even deeper within ourselves to discover what leads us to exploit and destroy our own planet. 

How will we escape an artificial intelligence that knows everything about us?

There is already an artificial intelligence (AI) that not only knows what emotions we are feeling, but can reproduce them through its own codes, according to a recent announcement by the University of Colorado at Boulder. And according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), there is already an AI that knows if we are kissing another person.

In addition, according to a recent article in El País, the arrival of the so-called “superapps” is imminent, that is, something similar to the well-known applications (apps) that we all have in our smartphones, but that, unlike the apps we know, superapps can offer up to 100,000 services, and there is already talk of superapps with up to 200,000 services.

The goal of superapps, says the article in El País, is that each of us can have "all our lives on the palm of our hands." But, leaving aside the fact that nobody asked me if I want to have my whole life in the palm of my hand, wouldn't it be more correct to say that we are leaving our lives in the hands of the superapps, that is, of AI?

As the University of Colorado in Boulder explains (briefly) in its statement, the AI that knows what we feel not only knows it, but knows it knows it. And that is interesting, because many times we ourselves don't know what we feel.

In other words, how can we hide from an AI that knows more about us than we know about ourselves? Take, for example, the other AI, that of MIT, which knows if we kiss someone. Suppose that MIT AI works together with the Boulder. Then, not only AI will know if we kiss someone, but AI will also know what we feel when kissing that person.

And suppose -although there is nothing absurd in this assumption- that all this information is easily accessible by means of a superapp, as easy as it is now easy to get old (at least in images) thanks to a well-known application. Then, thanks to that fusion of different technologies, everyone will be able to know if a kiss was sincere, if there was deception when kissing, if it was an expression of passion, or if there was rejection.

And that would be only one of the probably hundreds of thousands of "services" that AI or new superapps will offer us, including the "service" of putting all knowledge about our whole lives in one place. And that, at the very least, is dangerous in a society in which information is power and immaturity is queen.

Therefore, can we escape an AI that knows everything and sees everything, that controls our whole life and that even encourages us not to think because she, adopting a deceptive woman's name, already has everything resolved for us? We can hardly do it. But a gold cage, even if it is gold, is still a cage.

So, Alexa, what alternatives do we have? What do you mean “None”?

Every day there are fewer pieces left to complete the puzzle

One of the most common errors of our reasoning is to assume that the piece of knowledge we have equals all the available knowledge. That is, we generalize and universalize our limitations and, as a consequence, we don’t see them, nor do we see that other pieces, different from the ones we already had, continue to be added to the puzzle.

But the more pieces are added to the puzzle, the clearer the final image becomes, even if details and precisions are missing. And it is more difficult to cling to that one piece that we have and that, erroneously, we thought was the only one that existed.

Less metaphorically, the new present and the imminent future are incompatible with our beliefs and experiences of the past. If the future is no longer continuation from the past, the limited past we know is useless in the new future. 

What do I mean? When we connect the scattered pieces and put them next to each other the image is clear: the artificial and perhaps immortal human is about to arrive. Maybe it's the best thing that could happen to humanity. Or maybe it's the worst. Or maybe the best and the worst are inseparable.

What are the pieces of the puzzle that point in that direction? Among other elements, scientific reports that talk about discoveries and developments such as synthetic skin more sensitive than human skin, artificial muscles stronger and faster than human muscles, or light and movement sensors with greater perception capacity than their counterparts in humans.

But those reports and announcements never appear together. They never present the final image. However, each one contributes to see more and more clearly the appearance of a transhuman human, perhaps even trans-biological human, possibly a hybrid.

That’s why studies on connectivity between the human brain and artificial intelligence are also progressing, while artificial intelligence itself accelerates its own growth, encompassing ever wider sectors of planetary life and even creating its own laws and language.

By joining all the pieces of the puzzle so far available (surely there are other pieces not yet made known), that mental exercise of connecting the pieces together is facilitated by assuming that the connection is based on the techno-scientific formation of an artificial, transhuman humanity.

And it can be assumed that this new humanity will soon arrive, making the current humanity obsolete and outdated, the new humanity being as distant and different from us as we are from our remotest ancestors.

But then another puzzle arises, but with even fewer pieces than the creation of an artificial humanity. And it is the puzzle to explain why we, humans, are committed to creating transhuman beings. Are we responding to a cosmic call to progress on the universal scale or is it just another example of our perennial ineptitude?

The search for immortality and transcendence is as old as humanity itself and as current as the sun every morning. But it seems that the puzzle is close to completion.

The future arrived and we look in the opposite direction

Recently, a young man told me he was looking for a job and asked me to inform him if I knew of any opportunities in his area of interest. Shortly after, an opportunity arose and I immediately shared it with him, only to find out days later that he had not accepted it.

I asked him why he had rejected the opportunity and his answer was clear. "I do not want to work all day in a basement talking on the phone and listening to people's problems." The argument, although acceptable, had a big problem: it wasn’t base on reality.

The job I had was him was at a large, bright office in a commercial building with easy access and ample parking. It was not a basement. And the job was to make community education presentations, not listen to problems over the phone.

I asked the young man why he had come to such a conclusion with no based on reality and he told me that some years ago he had looked for work in a similar organization and that the initial interview was in a basement where there were people answering phone calls.

Perhaps that experience was so traumatic or memorable that the only option for this man was to cling to it and project it into the future and the present at every possible opportunity, assuming (erroneously) that what happened in the past would serve him to understand the future and decide his actions on that basis.

But when that future came and it was not what he expected, instead of changing his expectations and his way of understanding, instead of opening his mind and heart to other possibilities, this man locked himself inside his belief and, as a consequence, he was trapped in his past, unable to enter the future.

Let's be honest: we are all in that same situation. We cling to a past, even if it is imaginary and nostalgic, and, for that reason, we are unable to see the future and, as a consequence, we can’t create a mental map of the new future.

For example, in recent days, stories were published about the creation of "liquid metals" (in the best Terminator style), personal intelligent robots, photographs of quantum entanglement, and progress in the connection between human brains and intelligent machines (Neurolink, ofElon Musk.)

In addition, commercial trips to space are getting closer, there are already smart glasses that "know" what they have around them and store that information, and robot-musicians and robot-painters are being hired as replacements for humans, and they even win prizes previously reserved only for humans.

If we don’t understand what all that means, it is because we still live locked inside our own mental, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual basement, where, either through fear or narcissism, we only see and believe the fantasies that we created ourselves.

Meanwhile, the new future has arrived, and we, as the man in history did, rejected it because it doesn’t fit what we believed.

What’s the point of talking about a new planetary consciousness?

Almost three and a half millennia ago, Pharaoh Akhenaten surprised Egyptians and strangers when he decided that Egypt should abandon their traditional gods and accept a kind of monotheism, which, although it was never accepted in Egypt, after numerous historical changes and cultural transmutations, is still alive in broad sectors of the world.

If what Akhenaten did in the 14th century before our era was surprising, even more surprising was for me unexpectedly meeting with Akhenaten in person recently in my office and being able to talk with him on an unexpected subject: the new planetary consciousness.

Obviously, the contemporary Akhenaten that visited me and with whom I spoke doesn’t resemble the person of the same name who lived 3500 years ago, nor do I believe for a moment that it is his reincarnation. In fact, I don’t believe in reincarnation, nor did I believe it in any of my previous lives, although I can’t remember it well.

The 21st century Akhenaten didn’t speak ancient Egyptian nor did he present himself as Tutankhamun's father (although I never asked him if he was). It's just someone who came to my office (without an appointment) and used that unusual name to introduce himself, explaining that someone had told him that I was a person with whom he could talk.

The situation, as for the name, is similar to meeting someone called "Jesús" (a common name in Spanish) or "Moses", without this representing any other connection with the one who previously carried that name than having the same name. Something similar happens to those "unknown" people who share names similar to celebrities.

Be it what that may be, I had never had the opportunity to speak with someone who used the pseudonym "Akhenaten" to introduce himself, taking into consideration that his illustrious predecessor was treated by his fellow countrymen as an "enemy" and "criminal", a fairly common situation among religious reformers.

Beyond the question of the name, the modern Akhenaten has its own intentions of religious and spiritual reform, based on a new planetary consciousness and access to cosmic knowledge, available, he said, for all of us with adequate preparation (of the same way, I add, that you can’t learn advanced mathematics without first learning to add and subtract.)

Akhnaton (let's call him that) presented the subject as something positive, as something that is already happening. But, with my usual more pessimistic view of life (the pessimist is an optimist with better information), one can really doubt that our global human consciousness is improving.

At a time when the difference between reality and fantasy has become irrelevant, where history changes faster than in Orwell's 1984, and where the narcissistic satisfaction of the ego is the main motivation of life, even if it leads to the destruction of the planet and humanity, is it worthwhile to speak of a new consciousness, even if Akhenaten says so?

What new consciousness can emerge when the social field of negativity leaves no room to build a future?

Robots already have their own blood. Will they shed it for us?

Recent reports (available online) from two prestigious universities (Harvard and Cornell) explain that robots already have their own "blood", that is, a liquid that circulates inside the robots and that carries energy to the entire robot-body so that the robot can fulfill the tasks assigned to it.

It should be clarified that this liquid, known as robotic blood, is used in so-called soft robots, and not, for the moment, in the most well-known metallic or “hard” robots. Robotic blood allows soft robots (clearly precursors of artificial humans) to maintain their shape or even recover it, should they be crushed.

Be that as it may, the idea of robotic blood seems to have consequences beyond questions of robots, machines, science, and artificial intelligence. In fact, throughout history, humans have associated blood (own or animal) with all kinds of beliefs and rituals, from sacrifices to appease the gods to the promise of immortality.

Should we now add robots to that short list of living beings with their own blood on this planet? In other words, what does it mean that robots, whether soft or metallic, large or small, intelligent or not, now have their own blood?

Perhaps a better question is whether we should assign to robotic blood all or at least some of the beliefs we commonly associate with human and animal blood. I mean: will we sacrifice robots on an altar as lambs or bulls were sacrificed before?

Regardless of the answer, we will know it soon, perhaps in just ten years, because other scientific reports from reliable sources indicate that by 2030 the integration between robots and humans will reach such a level that we will practically be inseparable from each other, not because we will become robots or them humans, but because robots will be part of our daily life.

So, in this conflictive and increasingly intolerant world, with a growing social field of negativity that does not necessarily mobilize the social field of positivity to grow, the title question takes on a new urgency and meaning: will the robots shed their blood for us? Or maybe a single robot will do it to save us all?

In his last interview for a newspaper in Germany, the philosopher Martin Heidegger (yes, I am aware of his many controversial aspects) stated that we cannot make the divinity come to us, but we can help create the hope that the divinity will come.

Regardless of what Heidegger may have said or thought, the technological and scientific advances of our time can be interpreted as the desire to create (or recreate) our own divinity or to become ourselves divine. And maybe we are doing it and achieving it.

In fact, futurist Ray Kurzweil had said that by 2029 we will all become immortal. It seems his prediction is no longer a laughing matter. 

I wonder what narrative will be told in 2000 years about what is now emerging for the future of humanity that many are unable or unwilling to perceive.

Robots already have their own blood. Will they shed it for us?

Recent reports (available online) from two prestigious universities (Harvard and Cornell) explain that robots already have their own "blood", that is, a liquid that circulates inside the robots and that carries energy to the entire robot-body so that the robot can fulfill the tasks assigned to it.

It should be clarified that this liquid, known as robotic blood, is used in so-called soft robots, and not, for the moment, in the most well-known metallic or “hard” robots. Robotic blood allows soft robots (clearly precursors of artificial humans) to maintain their shape or even recover it, should they be crushed.

Be that as it may, the idea of robotic blood seems to have consequences beyond questions of robots, machines, science, and artificial intelligence. In fact, throughout history, humans have associated blood (own or animal) with all kinds of beliefs and rituals, from sacrifices to appease the gods to the promise of immortality.

Should we now add robots to that short list of living beings with their own blood on this planet? In other words, what does it mean that robots, whether soft or metallic, large or small, intelligent or not, now have their own blood?

Perhaps a better question is whether we should assign to robotic blood all or at least some of the beliefs we commonly associate with human and animal blood. I mean: will we sacrifice robots on an altar as lambs or bulls were sacrificed before?

Regardless of the answer, we will know it soon, perhaps in just ten years, because other scientific reports from reliable sources indicate that by 2030 the integration between robots and humans will reach such a level that we will practically be inseparable from each other, not because we will become robots or them humans, but because robots will be part of our daily life.

So, in this conflictive and increasingly intolerant world, with a growing social field of negativity that does not necessarily mobilize the social field of positivity to grow, the title question takes on a new urgency and meaning: will the robots shed their blood for us? Or maybe a single robot will do it to save us all?

In his last interview for a newspaper in Germany, the philosopher Martin Heidegger (yes, I am aware of his many controversial aspects) stated that we cannot make the divinity come to us, but we can help create the hope that the divinity will come.

Regardless of what Heidegger may have said or thought, the technological and scientific advances of our time can be interpreted as the desire to create (or recreate) our own divinity or to become ourselves divine. And maybe we are doing it and achieving it.

In fact, futurist Ray Kurzweil had said that by 2029 we will all become immortal. It seems his prediction is no longer a laughing matter. 

I wonder what narrative will be told in 2000 years about what is now emerging for the future of humanity that many are unable or unwilling to perceive.

The Universe grows faster than we can know it

Let’s carefully think about this fact: every second about 20,000 stars move beyond the visible Universe, and, for that reason, that we will never be able, now or in the future, to see analyze, or study those stars. That means that each year about 630 billion stars escape forever from our sight.

The information comes from a video recently released by Dr. Don Lincoln, professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame and researcher particles at the Fermi National Laboratory (home of a famous particle accelerator).

According to Lincoln, the expansion of the Universe is accelerating so that the light we see now, which took 14 billion years to reach Earth, originated when the Universe was a sphere with a radius of 42 billion light years. At present, the radius of the Universe reaches 46 billion light years, that is, 92 billion light years in diameter.

And because the Universe continues to expand, we can never see anything that is more than 15 billion light years from Earth. But how can we say that the Universe measures 92 billion light years if we only see a fraction of that distance?

Because, Lincoln explained, we see the objects that are now 46 billion light years away from us as they were 15 billion years ago. That is, what we see is their past, but not their present. (Obviously, the explanations are much more complex and profound than this simple summary that we present here.)

In short, every second we can see less of the Universe and those objects we can actually see we see them as they were in the past, but not as they are now.

If we are honest and understand what this means, we must admit that we know less and less (20,000 stars and countless planets escape our sight every second) and that what we know is obsolete the moment we know it.

We think we are the kings of creation, the apex of evolution, but the Universe laughs in our own faces, laughing at our lack of understanding about time and dark matter. 

On a much more mundane level, the situation reminded me of the conversation I recently had with a man in a Latin American country to whom I asked him for directions to a certain place. The man told me that I should use "the highway" and added: "When you see that highway, you won’t want to use any other".

The highway in question didn’t turn out to be anything special and, in fact, it’s not at the level of the great highways of Europe or of North America. But the good man, protected by his cultural and geographical isolation, was not comparing "his" road to the Autobahn, but to the dusty roads he knew in the past.

At the cosmic level, something similar happens: We don’t know what is happening now, but only the past. We believe we are "the best" because we insist on ignoring the true dimension of our ignorance.

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