Sunday, December 19, 2010

The future of sex

It's old news, but SETI is on the lookout for artificial intelligence.
"If you look at the timescales for the development of technology, at some point you invent radio and then you go on the air and then we have a chance of finding you," he told BBC News.

"But within a few hundred years of inventing radio - at least if we're any example - you invent thinking machines; we're probably going to do that in this century.

"So you've invented your successors and only for a few hundred years are you... a 'biological' intelligence."

From a probability point of view, if such thinking machines ever evolved, we would be more likely to spot signals from them than from the "biological" life that invented them.
As a singularitarian and a transhumanist, I'm generally in agreement with this. I believe the non-biological portion of our intelligence will outstrip the biological portion within decades, not centuries. But without biological bodies, what becomes of sex and sexual difference?

From one point of view, there's just no way of knowing. Humans will not only become a new species. The very rules of evolution will change. Intelligence will go off in many new, unpredictable directions. There's nothing we can say about it from our current perspective.

Another point of view says intelligence will have non-biological instantiation, so things like sexual difference will no longer matter. Algorithms will evolve, not males and females. On this view there might be little to worry about when it comes to the relations between the sexes, since sexes won't exist in a few decades anyway.

I think both positions are naive. The first position forgets that there is continuity in life, despite the radical changes it has undergone in transitioning from matter to cells with DNA to eukaryotes and all the way up to talking apes. The superintelligent civilization will still be a human civilization insofar as it is created by us. We can make intelligible predictions about it.

The second position leaves out the tremendous gains that were made by the invention of sexual difference. If what Miller says about sexual selection is true, then it is the source not only of all the variety we see around us; it is also the reason evolution has exhibited accelerating returns over the past 535 million years.

While I wouldn't necessarily put money on it, I'm willing to guess that something analogous to sexual difference will persist after intelligence has made the leap to a non-biological substratum. It's too successful a strategy to abandon.

No comments: