Saturday, March 24, 2012

GF 2045: Race For Inner Space: Seeing, Guiding, and Benefitting from Humanity's Faster, Smaller, Smarter, and Wealthier Future

Here is a transcription of John Smart's speech at the Global Future 2045 Conference  in Moscow.

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The model of change that I wish to propose in this talk is called evolutionary development or EvoDevo.  It is a model that a few thousand biologists and other scientists find more useful than simple evolution or Darwinism to describe biological and non-biological change.  Evolutionary processes look like growing trees, with more branching of a tree over time, and each branch is unpredictable in its direction of growth.

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Think of Darwin's tree of life.  Developed processes look like funnels.  They take the chaos and diversity out of the system and they guide to highly probably and predictable future.  Development is also a cyclical process.  Think of the life cycle between a seed (the organism) and new seed.  Perhaps the best way to understand the EvoDevo model is to look at identical twins.  Everything about them is built at the molecular scale, bottom up, in a chaotic, creative and selectionist fashion.  This is an evolutionary process, it is deterministic but also chaotic.  It continually branches to produce new combinations in unpredictable ways.  This is why genetically identical twins have different fingerprints, different retinal prints, different brain wiring, different beliefs, different behaviors.  Everything about them at the molecular scale is built in a tree like way.  Now look at these same twins from across the room and you will see that they are very similar.  They  grow at the same rates, go through life stages at similar times and if they are separated at birth they correlate 65% of time in major psychological variables.  All of these are developmental processes.  The funnel of development is guiding these organisms to many of the same forms and functions on a global scale.  That this funneling can happen at all is one of the greatest mysteries and miracles of life.

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Now imagine that the universe is a little like an organism and it to, has treelike and funnel like processes.  It too evolves and develops.  If this is true, then we find other earth like planets with evolutionary differences and developmental similarities.  This is a representatiopn of the EvoDevo model.  We are coloring evolution green and development in blue.  Note that Darwin's tree of life, natural selection, is also called Evo Devo, a combination of evolution and development, a mix of green and blue.  Below the level of the tree, there is a third actor chaos as represented by the purple Lorenz Attractor here, which drives much of the creative and experimental processes of evolution, as we are defining it.

Every complex system, whether physical, chemical biological, social or technological, shows both evolutionary creativity and developmental convergence sustainability and life cycle.  The funnel of development of life in other systems protects the system from the evolutionary chaos of the world.  The tree of life in the middle represents both the intelligence and the diversity of your planet.  Each branch of the tree is adapting and learning, as best it can and each branch is computing in it's own way.  Combining these three processes, reading left to right, we can call this an Evo-Compu-Devo-Model.  Different mathematical curves are associated with each of these processes.  Evolutionary processes fill their niches with power law distributions, with fat heads and tails, zipf and pareto distributions.

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Evolution commonly fills a niche with power law distributions. Developmental processes often produce normal or log-normal curves. Think of the normal distribution of IQ, or height, or blood pressure, or other developmental variables in a human population. In the middle, we have a whole family of adaptational and learning curves. The logistic or s-curve is one example, and exponential growth is another.

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We can also speculate on how human society uses these three processes. Consider how we are always creating and innovating, as an Evolutionary process, and we are always trying to predict, discover and sustain, as a Developmental process. In the middle, we have Evo Devo, the Managers and Politicians, who try to guide the world toward an agenda, to measure their progress and benefit from their plans. This model is not mine, but the work of Jacob Bronowski, the Polish mathematician and biologist.

On this topic, Saint Francis of Assisi said we should ask our God or the Universe for the courage to change the things that we can, the serenity accept the things we can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference. I believe it is this wisdom, this vision to know what evolutionary things we can change and what developmental things we cannot, that we must continually strive for. We will not stop accelerating change. We must instead learn to ride it well.

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One of the surprising evo devo discoveries is that the vast majority of events our universe are evolutionary, as far as we can tell. Only a very small set, 5% or less, are top-down, hierarchical, funnel-like processes. A good example can be found in the genes of every living organism. Almost all of the genes can change often, to create different evolutionary varieties. But about 3-5% of the genes, the developmental genes, change very little. These are the funneling genes, they take the molecular chaos out of a developing organism and guide through its hierarchical development, and life cycle. Because evolutionary processes represent so much of a system, developmental processes are easy to miss, and they are much harder for scientists to understand.

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Many physical systems seem to have been created by a combination of chaotic experimentation, tree-like selection, and funnel like convergence and unification. Even the universe, according to the cosmologist Lee Smolin, is both evolving and developing. It was born in the Big Bang, and has unfolded like a seed unfolds into an organism, and a few of its processes have emerged in identical developmental ways across the universe. I am a member of a small community of international scholars who investigates evolutionary and developmental processes in the universe, If you would like to know more, or participate, please visit us at evodevouniverse.com.

In case you are not yet convinced of this view, here are a few more examples of proposed evolutionary convergences, or developmental archetypes. The books on this slide provide many more examples. From carbon chemistry to RNA to eyes to bilateral symmetry, to prehensile limbs, to opposable thumbs, to tetrapod and anthropoid form, to rocks, clubs, wheels, chemistry, math, science, computers, and the coming AI, all of these can be argued as highly developmentally probable convergences, on the leading edge of accelerating intelligence. This is not a popular way of viewing history, as it seems a return to the “Ladder of Life” metaphor which placed biological humans at the center of creation. But it is no return to the ancient ladder. In this model, biological humans are stewards of complexity for a brief period of a few million years, before they must permanently pass the baton to their postbiological children.

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Now we are ready to consider the question of Accelerating Change. What drives it, and where it is going. As I will suggest, it is leading us on a Race to Inner Space. Not a journey to the stars, but a journey inward, to mental and virtual realms well beyond our own, and to physical realms that are far smaller, faster, and smarter than those we inhabit today.  Recall if you will the Cosmic Calendar diagram of the astronomer Carl Sagan, described in the book The Dragons of Eden, 1977. This is one of the classical images of Big History, the timeline of universal complexity emergence. Notice that it accelerates greatly in the last few billion years. What is harder to see on this diagram, is that complexity emergence is decelerating for the first few months of the universe’s life, as it expands and cools.

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This diagram makes clearer this “U-shaped” curve of universal change with time. At first we see very rapid change as the seed of the universe is unfolding, then rapid change again on all the special Earth-like planets, of which there may be many in our galaxy.

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Now if our universe is developing, we should look to biological development to see if there is a similar U-shaped curve. In fact, there is. The Russian biophysicist Alexander Zotin, first mapped this curve. He showed that growing organisms first decelerate in their energetic changes per mass and time, and then, as they get ready to give birth, greatly accelerate in their energy flows. This is the red box in the diagram above.

Perhaps one of the purposes of accelerating change, part of the reason for humanity’s journey, is to develop in such a way that we can successfully give birth to a new universe or civilization. If we have been good parents, it will exceeds us in its finer qualities, the way our own childen exceed us if we have raised them well. I find this a fascinating idea, and the Buddhists, among our other spiritual leaders, may find some resonance with this idea as well.

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Perhaps the best example of a predictable, funnel-like process of accelerating universal change is our speaker Dr. Eric Chaisson’s curve of energy flow density in complex systems. The closer we get to the present time, the greater the energy flow density at the leading edge of complexity. At the top of this developmental hierarchy of energy flow is not humanity, but our computer chips, which are processing, working, and learning, at rates as much as ten millionfold faster than human brains.

Note also that the higher the energy flow density of the system, the closer the system approximates to a black hole, which may be where Earth’s intelligence eventually goes. Black holes are the ultimate form of inner space, places that are separate from our universe in important ways.

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For our last slide, we can now consider two of the ways we are Racing to Inner Space, which we are just beginning to realize.

One way we race is by growing our information technology, or simulation. Children spend hours in new forms of play each day, but as adults, we spend less than 15 minutes doing something new or creative in the physical world. Instead we simulate,in our minds, and this move from physical to virtual space allows us to do many more evolutionary searches and experiments, than to spend our time in slow, expensive physical space. Our computers, for their part, are doing the same, and growing their simulation and imagining ability far faster than human brains.

The second way we go to inner space is by nanotechnology, the creation of ever smaller thinking and productive systems. As long as intelligence can move its complexity to smaller, faster, denser domains of reality, we will continually discover a paradise of resources in inner space, and this acceleration will continue.

This helps us see that preparing ourselves and our children to understand, critique, and use computers and technology has become one of our most important priorities as citizens, because the race to inner space will only continue to gain speed. One day, in fact, our biology may migrate all of its intricate patterns to the much faster and smaller electronic world. The future of humanity is not in the stars, but inward, toward the smallest scales, toward black hole like domains. Our destiny is density.

This congress has provided many ideas for how humanity can rise to the challenge of accelerating change. I hope that we continue to find the courage, serenity and wisdom to navigate the future with as much vision and as little violence as possible. Thank you.

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