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We are at the beginning of history, but it is not our history

The well-known author Herbert George (H.G.) Wells once wrote (I can’t remember where) that we, in our time, are closer to the caveman than to the real human being. That phrase came to mind when reading a thought recently expressed by the neuroscientist Anders Sandberg, who maintains that we are only at the beginning of history.

Sandberg, a computer scientist and researcher at Oxford University's Institute for the Future of Humanity, says that our time marks "the beginning of history," emphasizing that what we decide now - from climate change to artificial intelligence and the contact with extraterrestrials - will have consequences for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years.

In short, it seems, far from being at the pinnacle of history, as many people have proclaimed and preached many times, or from being at the end of history, as it is now commonly proclaimed, we are just seeing and living the beginning of history. But, I add, it is not about our history. And that is at the same time the most captivating and the most terrifying thought.

Someone may ask why I dare to say that the history we are now seeing being born is not human history. The answer is that I'm not saying it, it's Metatool, a European project that allows artificial intelligence to create its own tools by imitating the way humans began to create tools more than 3 million years ago.

Metatool combines three sciences: archaeology, neuroscience, and robotics, as recently explained by the two directors of the initiative, the Spaniards Pablo Lanillos (Donders Institute for Cognition, in the Netherlands) and Ricardo Sanz (Polytechnic University of Madrid).

The goal of the project, they said, is for robots "to be able to invent new tools like our ancestors did." To reach that goal, Lanillos and Sanz work with seven universities and companies that seek to give intelligent robots the necessary metacognition so that the robots can decide what tools they need or can create to complete a task.

Decades ago, when I was still in elementary school, I was taught that one of the key characteristics of the human being was precisely the ability to create and use tools. In fact, archaeologists determine the presence of humans in a certain place by the presence of tools in that place.

But now we know we humans are not the only ones using tools on this planet. There are numerous examples of gorillas hoarding rocks to throw at their “enemies” the next day, orangutans weaving leaves to create umbrellas, birds cutting down branches to the appropriate size to catch worms, and monkeys and raccoons using rocks to access food.

And to that list we now need to add Metatool's robots. We can safely assume they will not need, as we needed, 3 million years to go from carved stones to artificial intelligence and spaceships.

So, we are seeing the beginning of history, but it is not our history, but that of our successors. We should prepare for that.

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