Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Second Universe

Spore is the latest game developed by Maxis and comes out this year September. It lets you play mr. almighty over your own entire planet, and gives you the opportunity to fill it with any bizarre creature you'd like to live on it. The game is basically a virtual simulation of an evolutionary process, where you follow the development of the creatures you made during various evolutionary phases, from individual cellular organisms to in the end becoming an entire galactic species, if all goes well.

A demo of Spore's 'creature creator' software is already freely available for download since last Tuesday. While trying it out I was immediately struck by the reasonably large freedom and intuitive interface, so I could let my imagination run wild. If humans would be entirely free to create intelligent organisms, the boundary between the natural and the artificial would be entirely eliminated. Animals become products, products become animals. So I created a few species of my own, including Ipodius ipodius - a very narcissistic and self-conscious species, and Showerius Pleasedontsoakus, who tends to be a little emotionally fragile:

And here is an interview with game designer Will Wright:

But seriously, it's not just a fun game, but also definitely a development that makes us ready to face the revolutionary technological developments we're facing. Of course I'm talking about GE here. If we can take control over the complete evolution of our planet we might want to practice a little bit first, and understand what evolution is about. It's not about making pretty little things and seeing what happens; it's about survival and continuous adaptation, and I hope people will start seeing that this is where real beauty comes from. Only things that survive are beautiful, and the more elegantly they are adapted to their environment, the more beautiful it is to me.

As I have mentioned earlier, I am looking forward to the time where our interactive products come alive, i.e. where products are not designed to be unchanging during their lifetime, but actively co-evolve with their environment, including the people they interact with. A time where we don't use crude, linear production processes, but let products emerge molecule by molecule with, like in natural evolution, only some minor differentiation and determination processes. We then don't need to specify the parameters of the design beforehand, but instead have them emerge through natural growth. I would love to see a game where the co-evolution of humans and bio/nano-engineered technology would be simulated.

Still, however, and I pointed to this before as well, there is a big challenge we face. On the one hand, freely creating intelligent, self-evolving new species will be a great step for mankind as cocreators of the universe, aligning with its inherent evolutionary way of operating. On the other hand, giving birth to new life requires great responsibilities. We must take great care over our technologies, as if they were our children. And given that humans are not hard-wired to care much for things that are too different from them, we must both make sure that firstly, we transform ourselves spiritually into a mode of behaviour that makes us always feel connected to the whole, responsible for every action that happens within it. Always helping to create it with a full individual self, in tune with the whole. And secondly, we must make sure that the intelligent entities we do create evolve quickly towards a state where they can socially and satisfactorily interact with humans.

The first requirement is already happening: we are all getting connected to the internet, and start seeing that trying to stay isolated in a small local culture does not work anymore, since everything that is not good for anything outside of it will inexorably loop back into your life. It is for more and more people undeniable that we are now actively part of our spaceship Earth, as Buckminster Fuller called it. This more and more forces people to keep developing themselves psychologically and spiritually in order to be able to lose their egoic ways of thinking and being able to be part of our global organism. So, again, this is going on already and will develop more and more. When the amount of people that are spiritually transformed into more global, individually liberated people, reaches a critical mass, I believe that soon the whole of humanity reaches this new mode of being.

The greatest challenge lies however with the second requirement: having our intelligent creations develop themselves so that their benefit to humanity and the evolutionary system as a whole is the greatest. We must make sure, for example, that these things don't start killing themselves, or us. In Spore, evolution is still based on local behaviour, so the system is still based on physical survival. So it doesn't really go beyond what we already know. In our world though, we must make sure we transcend this local way of acting and keep continuously connected to the whole. The most important thing is that we have our future evolutionary products not just evolve based on what maximizes their chances of self-replication, but in terms of what makes humans happy. The first and foremost requirement for a holistic system we create ourselces is that we feel at home in it, and be happy, simply said. Because these developments are still in their early childhood, my words sound obvious, though I feel that this is where I should start, before going into more depth about how exactly it should happen. Another important aspect of our future evolutionary products is that they should not be myopic and limited to sensing their local environment, but always actively connected to a global network where they can tap into to get information that guides their behaviour.

I will stop here for now, the main point being again that if we take evolution into our own hands and become a universal species, the task is daunting. Ervin Laszlo said that a reason why we don't see intelligent life in other parts of the universe might be that at one point of evolution, civilizations destroy themselves. We are in a very dangerous period, since we are now about to pass the point of the Singularity, as Ray Kurzweil puts it. We are becoming one with our technologies and must make sure we can do this harmoniously, and with complete empathy for each other. If this is not the case, we might cause our own extinction. Or at least the extinction of the biological, human form as we know it.

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