Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, one of the country’s most distinguished astrophysicists, has predicted a gloomy future for mankind.
The current century, Rees says, “is a special one,” because it could well be the one “where we as humans destroy ourselves”.
He says that there are so many threats, from climate change to an over-reliance on technology, that it is hard to see how humanity can survive.
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Some others who feel the same way as the 80-year-old, who was was elevated to a life peerage in 1995 and sits in the House of Lords, say that uploading ourselves into immortal robot bodies could be the answer to our long-term problems.
Lord Rees agrees with those who see a post-human future where humanity merges with AI, telling the Cheltenham Science Festival earlier this year that mankind would almost certainly be “superseded” by artificially intelligent super-robots within the next millennium.
But, he told New Statesman magazine, that development will bring with it a serious philosophical question: “To what extent is it still going to be you?,” he asks.
“Because we are linked to our bodies and they could make multiple clones of this electronic thing, so which one is going to be you?”
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Predicting that when we eventually meet an extraterrestrial intelligence it is more likely to take the form of an AI robot than a flesh-and-blood creature, he says that the post-humans of the far future – if there is one – will barely recognise us.
Humans seem very likely to “transition from flesh and blood towards electronic entities,” he wrote in his 2018 book On The Future, but he said that he had “zero confidence” that the vastly modified humans of tomorrow, or their AI companions “will have any emotional resonance with us”.
While we are some “forty-five million centuries into the history of Earth,” he said, if mankind manages to survive its current challenges our future could be “at least as long as the past”.
“We may not even be at the halfway stage in the emergence of complexity,” he added. “And when the sun dies, the entities watching that will be as different from us as we are from a bug.”
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As well as thinking of problems on the cosmic scale, Lord Rees is also very disenchanted with the world of today.
He says that Boris Johnson ’s government was “the worst” in his lifetime.
“Conditions for the average person have got worse in the last 20 years,” he says, with a crashing economy and with unions lacking the strength they once had to stand up for the common man.
“We’ve gone in the wrong direction. It’s clear that the National Health Service is worse than it used to be”.
It’s almost as if, when the mankind’s time on this Earth does come to an end, for Lord Rees that may not be all bad.
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