I belong to a couple of Facebook groups on Transhumanism and the Singularity, and I avidly read the articles and posts. But I don’t buy into every one of them. Yes, I want fantastic things to happen. Hell, I fully EXPECT fantastic things to happen. But … a lot of the articles are more about possibilities than realities. For instance, I think we’ve been predicting safe, abundant fusion energy — any time now — for the past 50 years. I’ve kinda begun to wonder “What if it just isn’t possible?”
As to the idea of uploading human consciousness to computers, even I can think of some serious challenges to the idea: Considering that most of us isn’t exactly conscious, I have my doubts you could get a real person, warts and all, shifted over into an electronic domain.
The truth is, in the midst of my hopeful positivism, there’s a healthy helping of the negative. Because there’s some bad stuff coming too. A surprising amount of it is already happening.
If you take a fragmented view of the world, as so many of us do (most of us are so caught up in the noise of our own private lives we don’t even bother to pay attention to larger matters), you see a lot of little individual things going on. But if you look for patterns … oh, boy they’re there. And some of them are scary.
Here’s a couple of things, Little Scary instead of Big Scary, but also part of a pattern that, to me at least, appears related to human numbers. And what if, once you click together all the Little Scaries — like Dark Legos — you find you’ve built a Big Scary?
Little scary: Where Have All the Orange Roughy Gone?
As the following graphic shows, the orange roughy arrived with a bang and is now leaving with a long, drawn-out aquatic whimper. The first sizeable catches were recorded in 1979. A decade later the world catch peaked at a massive 91,000 tons. And then, just as quickly, catches plummeted and now they linger around 13,000 tons a year.
The problem is that the orange roughy is a deep-sea species that cannot sustain the level of exploitation that our technology and policies have made possible. It simply reproduces too slowly. Orange roughy typically don’t start breeding until they’re 30 years old and can live up to 150 years. So catching orange roughy is much more like mining than fishing. In effect, it’s more like a non-renewable resource!
During harvest last year, banana farmers in Jordan and Mozambique made a chilling discovery. Their plants were no longer bearing the soft, creamy fruits they’d been growing for decades. When they cut open the roots of their banana plants, they saw something that looked like this: [picture]
Scientists first discovered the fungus that is turning banana plants into this rotting, fibrous mass in Southeast Asia in the 1990s. Since then the pathogen, known as the Tropical Race 4 strain of Panama disease, has slowly but steadily ravaged export crops throughout Asia. The fact that this vicious soil-borne fungus has now made the leap to Mozambique and Jordan is frightening. One reason is that it’s getting closer to Latin America, where at least 70% of the world’s $8.9-billion-a-year worth of exported bananas is grown.
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And we don’t need to imagine what that would mean for banana exports—the exact scenario has already happened. Starting in 1903, Race 1, an earlier variant of today’s pathogen, ravaged the export plantations of Latin America and the Caribbean. Within 50 years, Race 1 drove the world’s only export banana species, the Gros Michel, to virtual extinction. That’s why 99% of the bananas eaten in the developed world today are a cultivar called the Cavendish, the only export-suitable banana that could take on Race 1 and live to tell.
One of the strong possibilities of human transcendence has to do with human population. Yes, I’ve heard all the cool assertions about what educated, empowered women do: they have fewer children. And I’ve read that human population is even now leveling off. I sure do hope it’s true.
But what if, as I suspect, we’re already well over the carrying capacity of the Earth? What if we’re at 7 billion and still headed skyward (to 11 billion!), when the sustainable population is more like 5 billion? Three billion? Less?
What if we TRANSCEND our own homeworld’s welcome?