An essay concerning law, social identity, inequality, conflict, crime, warfare and economic reality at the cusp of humanity’s entry into post-corporeal, post-Darwinian evolution
Introduction—Humanity’s entry into the post-Darwinian era
A draft of the human genome was released in the journal Nature in 2001 . Today, the technology to sequence a human genome from scratch is being reduced to smallish, so-called biochips by companies like Affymetrix. In addition to finding their way into your doctor’s office in the not-too-distant future, such biochips are currently being used with other advanced technologies to study how our DNA circuitry works in real-time , as well as to compare how the circuitry changes from youth to old age . Genome therapies, moreover, are currently working their way thru clinical trials, and are about to be performed on the unborn . We have developed genetically modified foods, and have mixed monkeys with jelly fish  to name but a few examples of our growing prowess to treat genetic codes as so much software. Humanity, thus, for better or for worse, has entered the era of post-Darwinian evolution, and it will not be long before we begin tinkering with ways to extend our lives and augment our capabilities. Even more profoundly, it is not too far-fetched to imagine humanity entering a post-corporeal as well as a post-Darwinian era. Consider the recent development of neuroelectronic systems in particular  and the current clinical work to build direct brain/machine interfaces for paraplegics and quadriplegics . The FDA has, in fact, recently granted approval to allow Cyberkinetics to begin a clinical trial in which small chips will be placed beneath the skulls of paraplegic patients to control computers by thought alone. Further down the line there are ongoing efforts to build brain chips to replace Alzheimer and stroke damaged brain tissue in general by Dr. Berger and colleagues at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Given the above developments and humanity’s propensity for seeking out competitive advantages, it is likely that in the not-too-distant future people will seek out elective, post-Darwinian brain augmentation procedures, and that new kinds of social conflict will arise. In other words, we should be expecting profound changes in social identity, inequality, conflict, crime, warfare, economic and legal reality to come to pass in the not-too-distant future. To this end, many people, several organizations and even the United States government are already beginning to address some of the issues of a post-Darwinian, post-corporeal future. The United States, for instance, under the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant CTS-0128860 cosponsored a large, extensive study entitled, “Converging technologies for improving human performance: nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science.” Additionally, in this case with the support of the Commerce Department, the Converging Technologies Bar Association (CTBA) was recently launched in New York. Please refer to the CTBA at http://www.convergingtechnologies.org/. Also recently, Professor George Khushf and several colleagues of the University of South Carolina won a 1.35 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the societal impact of nanotech and related trends such as nano, bio, info and cognitive technology convergence.
This essay will address some of the legal, social, and economic issues of a post-Darwinian future, pose many questions, and try to make the case that now is the time for active discussion regarding the development of legal and economic means to greatly reduce—if not altogether prevent—the dangers and pitfalls of the real future shock about to befall all of us, namely, our entry into a post-Darwinian evolutionary era. It will also touch on the possible natures and physical restrictions constraining a post-Darwinian evolution, and discuss our likely motivations for entry into a post-corporeal era, along with the possible attendant social and economic consequences, such as the possibility of the richest rich, as post corporeal beings, so rapidly consuming the world’s resources, the poorest poor are starved out of existence. It will conclude with a call for simulations of the world in the not-too-distant future along the lines of the popular game SimCity.
1. Post-Darwinian, post-corporeal scenarios
On the good side of the post-Darwinian, post-corporeal brain augmentation era, we can imagine that attorneys and medical doctors, for instance, would find it useful to store all case law and case histories, respectfully, for ready reference inside sophisticated cranial silico-bio-implants. Armies of financial analysts would find it advantageous to have all real-time data streams piped wirelessly into their heads along with all global news feeds. The flood of information would then be filtered and processed in real time by powerful data crunching neuroimplants to extract exploitable patterns in the less than efficient real world financial markets. The same could be said for soldiers, meteorologists, public health officials, and so on, all to humanity’s better good, but there is also a more deleterious side to the technology to consider. Imagine, say, an aggressive financial analyst who, without scruple, would hack into the mental resources of one of his coworkers to steal information, plant a debilitating electronic virus, or even more maliciously, plant a deadly electronic virus that not only kills its intended victim, but, because of an unintended mutation in the wild, ultimately extinguishes humanity. On a larger scale, consider the neuro-embedded spying, mind control, even population control which, enabled by the mass production and mass use of neuroimplants, may be pursued by governments, or by terrorist groups, or even by a powerful, individual industrialist in the business of supplying neuroimplants.
Given today’s electronic viral instabilities and their ever increasing number and pace, it seems foregone to conclude that if/when humanity begins wide scale use of neuroimplants, the electronic virus problem will grow far worse and far more personal. A brain surgeon for instance, using a neural implant chip to better navigate his telerobotic arm around an MRI-based three-dimensional projection of some lesion might, being infected by some teenager’s electronic virus, snip a wrong section of tissue. Would his or her medical practice insurance cover electronic virus liability? What would be the legal standards required to prove that the severity of the electronic infection was the cause of the error versus the probability of it having been caused by a simple, old fashioned mistake? Would the manufacturer of the neurochip be fair game for a lawsuit, the claim being the manufacturer supplied insufficient or faulty virus protection in its product? Would the neurosurgeon who implanted the chip into the neurosurgeon who snipped the wrong section be sued as well? Where would the liability chain stop? Perhaps instead, either in anticipation, or, more likely, after too much damage has been done, lawmakers might require surgeons (and all other high stakes professionals) to undergo industry regulated virus scans before performing their specialties, cap legal damages, and cut the chain of liability to go no further than the producers of virus scanners. Perhaps lawmakers would relegate the ultimate responsibility of virus scanning to the appropriate government bodies only, say, the Federal Aviation Administration for scanning pilots, and similarly.
As touched upon in the introduction, a financial analyst, say, with freshly augmented state-of-the-art neuro-implanted capabilities, such as wireless connections to the internet, and new powerful number crunching functions, and so forth, might try to hack in a competitor’s mind, via his competitor’s own older, lesser capable neuroimplants. What combination of legal deterrents would it take to discourage such behavior before it occurs, and what kind of policing methods would it take to enforce anti-hacking laws and/or to detect hacking crimes after the fact? How would the degrees of the severity of the hacking crime be defined, and, for that matter, what legal elements would have to be proved in a hacking case? Moreover, what types of sentencing guidelines should lawmakers set, and would the victim financial analyst and his or her company be subject to legal action from financially hurt clients for not having used the latest neuroimplant and virus scanning technologies?
Through many a Hollywood film, we have been presented with the idea that the internet may be used as an instrument to produce mass murder, e.g., the use of the internet to change airport approach patterns resulting in crashed airplanes for instance. Along this line, future heart rhythm defibrillators, like today’s more expensive automobiles, will likely come built with wireless internet connectivity capabilities to be used to report impending problems to patients and doctors, and even to enable temporary adjustments to be made under more dire circumstances. What is to prevent someone wishing to collect his or her inheritance sooner than later from attempting to kill his or her wealthy, defibrillator using benefactor? Again a whole host of attendant legal and technological questions follow.
5. Post-Darwinian, post-corporeal evolution and ultimate winners
The issues such as those discussed above, and their innumerable variations, have been predicated on human beings remaining, except for their neural implants, essentially as human as our species is today, circa 2004. I, however, very much doubt that once the neuro implant game begins, humanity will remain corporeal for very long afterwards. Research work going back more than a decade and reported in important, peer reviewed journals has demonstrated the joining of neuronal nets with electronics via impaled microelectrodes [8, 9, 10]. More recent research being conducted at the prestigious Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry has reported in Physical Review Letters successful, direct, noninvasive coupling of a silicon chip with the basic element of neuronal learning via electric fields . Along these lines, Dr. Berger at the University of Southern California is attempting to develop a hippocampus brain prosthesis chip for Alzheimer’s disease. Given all this work, I can imagine the eventual development of hybrid silico-bacterial-nanobots designed to directly couple with a person’s brain tissue to (1) absorb and archive all the person’s knowledge in situ, (2) augment the person’s mental capabilities in situ, and (3) connect the person’s mind to the wireless internet. Such a person, much as we are oblivious of which brain cells drive our conscious thought, would, through his or her lifetime, remain oblivious that his or her brain cells, dying of old age, are being replaced by more robust, faster bio-silico replacements. He or she may even remain unaware that parts of his or her consciousness may begin to reside inside wirelessly linked extra-corporeal servers, which I dub IQ mindspace servers. With our frail human bodies being so susceptible to damage from bacterial and viral infections, cancers and accidents, why wouldn’t the natural progression to humanity’s use of neuroimplant technology be to embed itself directly into more robust, redundant IQ mindspace nano/bio-electronic/spintronic-based server farms spanning the Earth in bunkers, or orbiting it, or on the Moon, or beyond. In such an evolved post-Darwinian, post-corporeal world, all necessary interaction with the corporeal world to dig for energy resources, manufacture power plants, produce goods, run laboratories, explore the solar system, etc., could then be done telerobotically using (bio)robots ranging in size from the nano scale and upwards. Clearly, this path, should we take it, will spell the end of evolution by passive natural selection far more rapidly than our current post-genomic tinkering is already doing so. Lifespan lengths will then be indefinite, and humanity, moreover, will have entered the post-Darwinian, post-corporeal evolutionary phase.
5.1 Micro scale conflict, zombies and “unMurder”
In such a post-Darwinian, post-corporeal world, on a smallish, micro scale, a financial analyst might rather infiltrate, overwhelm and ultimately control a competitor’s very IQ mindspace’s will, making the victim an overpowered lackey—read zombie—with the victim’s cohorts, family and friends remaining none-the-wiser throughout some indefinite period. Would it seem reasonable to conclude that the victim would thus be rendered nonexistent, or should he or she be considered murdered and dead? Might it not be possible, the perpetrator having saved his victim’s mental assets in some kind of static memory device, that such a murder could be undone? For the undoing of such type of murder, more akin to a coma, would one have to demonstrate to the court by a preponderance of evidence, from family members, friends and associates, under an extensive psychological examination process, that, more likely than not, the victim’s characteristics have been restored wholly and with little or no significant corruption? Could spouses claim rape? Could employers claim sabotage? Finally, if the victim could not be legally proven to be unmurdered, would the “entity” remaining behind, unless family or friends took him or her in, be left out in the cold, having no access to any of his or her prior possessions or privileges. In such cases, would it be the government’s responsibility to take care of the hapless victims?
5.2 Macro scale conflict and ultimate winners
On a larger, macro scale, the issues of a post-Darwinian, post-corporeal world of competition and conflict would likely acquire a far more ominous tenor. Let us assume that business works as usual, and that the more money one has, the more one could and would use it to augment one’s own brain. Then an empire builder such as Mr. Bill Gates, whose wealth exceeds the first billion or so poorest people, now becoming blessed with an indefinite cyber-based lifespan and controlling an army of employees, agents, as well as an army of semi-autonomous robots could come to dwarf humanity in a way the mortals Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, or Stalin never could. A post corporeal Mr. Bill Gates, occupying one of the world’s largest IQ mindspace server farms, could in principle be running in the background all manner of (bio-molecular manufacturing based) factories, laboratories, fossil fuel extraction operations, and conventional, nuclear, solar or other types of unconventional power plants, with all of these facilities being manned by an army of semiautonomous robots ranging in size from the nano to the macro scale under his direct control, whilst he simultaneously occupies himself with manifold other activities. Moreover, unless he is either forced by some form of economic and/or legal system, or is philanthropically inclined, there is no fundamental reason why he should have to share his advancements with the remainder of humanity. Instead, he would rather likely not share his scientific and technological advancements for fear of giving any advantage to any potential, or real rivals of his own class. The richest rich will thus likely leave the poorer classes commensurately scientifically and technologically behind at an ever increasing pace, and this leads to two worst sub cases for the poorer classes, each of which could spell the end of humanity, save for a few ultimate winners, or even one ultimate winner.
Let me explain what I mean by the phrase one ultimate winner. Let us suppose that we are in that period when the human race is transforming itself into an advanced post-corporeal IQ mindspace society which, for technical and/or economical reasons, remains bound to Earth. To continue to exist, the society must continue to consume resources to extract and use useful energy, with the supply of useful energy being restricted to what can be extracted from the Earth, the moon thru tidal power or lithium mining, and captured from the Sun. These energy constraints, then, would be the physical constraints restricting the initial post-Darwinian, post-corporeal evolution.
Let us consider the worst case. Even if it is the case that the available supplies of energy, and the ability to exploit them with advanced technologies, are, by our present (corporeal) standards, illimitable, there is no apriori requirement that the transformation of humanity into IQ mindspace resources be done so equally or equitably according to current moral standards. At present, the poorest man and the wealthiest man cannot personally consume a significantly disparate amount of food and water on a day-to-day basis. But the wealthiest man, if his wealth be proportionately converted into IQ mindspace server capabilities (to store vast libraries of knowledge and acquire massive amounts of computational power to simulate market behavior, develop even more advanced technologies, and so forth) would dwarf the energy usage of the poorest man (reduced to a small IQ mindspace server if at all) by many orders of magnitude. Then, in much the same way that Earth’s current, most advanced species is using increasingly greater planetary resources at an ever accelerating pace—because its science and technology are accelerating at an ever increasing pace—extinction of the less advanced beings of the future will happen at an accelerating pace in proportion to the rate at which their resources get usurped. That is, the richest rich, by rapidly outpacing the science and technology of the rest of humanity, will rapidly come to consume so much of the energy from the Earth, the Moon and the Sun, to the maximum rate physics allows, that the poorer (lower IQ mindspace) classes will literally be starved out of existence. Then, ultimately, after the sun is no longer useful, the richest rich will either migrate elsewhere in the galaxy, or, should it be the case that for physical reasons interstellar space travel never becomes practicable, the richest rich too will die out when the Sun can no longer be tenably exploited, and the human story ends.
Two notes to the worst case:
(1) Regarding the world’s poorest people being converted into IQ mindspace entities, I wrote above that it might not happen at all to cast doubt that the conversion would necessarily happen to all of us. Not many of today’s billion poorest can readily buy a low-end personal computer, let alone a massive supercomputer server farm. Thus it may be the case that a large fraction of humanity may be dropped off the evolutionary tree, but, as explained in the preceding paragraph, this is not to say that the situation for most of the remainder of humanity, from those with enough assets to purchase entry level IQ mindspace servers up to, but not including the richest rich, is any less dire. As has been argued above, we could all of us, en masse, be starved out.
(2) Nothing so far expressed, including physical limitations, fundamentally precludes the eruption of IQ mindspace class warfare, and the possibility that only one future being might, by quashing out all other life (either directly or by passively starving the rest out) become the ultimate winner of Earth’s four billion year old evolutionary competition, except perhaps the speed of light. It may be the case that the Earth is simply too big (light taking about 0.064 seconds to travel half way around its circumference) to allow a single being to maintain coherence between distant parts of itself, especially if the situation is very fluid. The larger dinosaurs for instance, with long distances between their brains and tails, and slowly traveling nerve signals, likely found it very disadvantageous to only eventually feel their tails being bitten by some rival. Thus, instead of there being one ultimate Darwinian winner dominating the Earth, it may be the case that there will be a multitude of such grand winners, with the “size” of the area of their control being limited to the longest reaction times that still allow them to maintain coherence across their largest dimension within a fluid, competitive environment.
Given the latter case, namely, a population of grand winners, many more complex questions would arise. Among the first questions would concern population dynamics. Would there be tens of grand winners, or thousands, or even larger numbers of winners? Would they reproduce? It seems logical to believe that electronic/quantum computing beings would find sexual or asexual reproduction simple to do, and the process would likely consume little time. Among the winners and their progeny, we might then ask what kind of predator/prey dynamics would prevail. Control and coherence of the society, moreover, would also become an issue as the society spread out further from Earth, first reaching the moon and nearby planets, then venturing further out yet. Two great sources for further reading regarding many possible futures of post corporeal and arbitrarily advance life, each providing many references, are, respectively, Barrow and Tippler  and Kurzweil .
6. A Different post-Darwinian future—A better case
It is well researched and documented that collections of people working together on a common problem make better collective decisions the majority of the time than individuals themselves do . Perhaps, if it cannot not be rigorously proved by iron clad mathematical argument, it can at least be reasonably demonstrated through various game theoretic studies that the net value of humanity would rise faster in a post corporeal world wherein everyone is allowed to continue to exist in peace, and no one person (or small group of persons) is allowed to dominate the world through unrestricted, electronic post-Darwinian, post-corporeal warfare. Such a demonstration would then provide humanity with a rational motivation for a smooth, controlled, legally regulated, economically constrained transition to post corporeal life. Yet even if the opposite were true according to theoretical modeling—that, in other words, the net value of humanity would grow more rapidly with unrestricted Darwinian warfare being allowed—I can imagine that very few people would willingly give up their existence for some mathematically demonstrable greater, but abstract good. Thus, there will either be a powerful and rational reason, or a powerful, self-preservation-based motivation to seek out a controlled, policy-based transition to post-corporeal life. Two simplistic, first order cases come to mind.
Sub case I: Individuals are not allowed to transfer themselves to superior IQ mindspace servers. Everyone will share equally the fruits of all scientific and technical advances.
Sub case II: Individuals may transfer themselves to IQ mindspace servers with capacities/capabilities commensurate to their wealth. However, most economic relationships existing prior to the post corporeal transformation will remain intact. Mr. Bill Gates will be required to keep his secretary. His secretary however, no longer a corporeal being, will not be required to use the services of a dentist. Dentists will have to find some new role in the post-corporeal world. Again, everyone will share equally the fruits of all scientific and technical advances. This post-corporeal transition will cause economic displacements much like the industrial revolution did. Certain elements of the workforce, as weavers and gun makers were once obviated by machines, will too be obviated, but novel opportunities will likely arise if history is any guide.
Any such physical limits as those expressed above, designed to prevent a single, singular winner (or smallish group of winners) from ultimately usurping all resources would likely then lead to new kinds of legal and economic systems also with novel predator/prey resource relationships quite apart from those of today and yesteryear, or they might lead to a strange admixture of old and new systems.
7. Conclusions and future work
Currently, we are in a period when our sciences and technologies are rapidly fusing together such that an advancement in one field rapidly parlays itself into advances in other fields. Consider as an instance the advancement of DNA biology in part leading to DNA computation, and conversely, the use of advanced robotics, powerful computers, and advanced computational algorithms to decipher our DNA-based genome. It follows then, unless there are limitations we have yet to run into, that the greater our scientific and technological capabilities become, the increasingly faster we develop even more advanced scientific and technological capabilities, including those which enable our fusion with our technologies. Certainly there can be no denying that we have steadfastly, and in my opinion, ineluctably, entered a post-Darwinian era which may rapidly, within a few decades, go post-corporeal. Accordingly, as is the case with the United States Social Security, and its aging population base, we are beginning to face unprecedented social, legal, economic, and political ramifications which need to be addressed now, before all hell breaks loose. If Darwinian evolution is about biological systems exploiting every possible, physically allowed niche and propagating the most fit specimens through natural, passive selection, without moral, man-made considerations, there is no fundamental reason post-Darwinian evolution—with or without a post-corporeal transformation—should, apart from involving active selection, be in any way less indifferent to us, unless we make it so. We need to begin to study these impending possibilities now. Thus again, now—before it is too late and only one, or a few winners walk the Earth—is when we should be asking what means the remainder of us poorer people might use to avoid our passing away into the dying of the light. To this end, I believe it would be not only interesting, but also of the utmost importance, to not only begin to simulate the social, legal, economic predator/prey systems imagined above under various physical limitations, but many more situations so that we may begin to ferret out those solutions we can all of us be reasonably happy with during our post-Darwinian and/or post-corporeal transformation. Perhaps a good beginning would be the use of games such as SimCity, modified to play out various post-Darwinian, post-corporeal scenarios, e.g., stock broker versus stock broker, etc. Along these lines, Professor Ian Lustick at the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, is modeling the social structure of Pakistan with a Sims-like game. Someone out there should seek grant money to do the same thing for post-Darwinian, post-corporeal societies.
 The International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium (IHGSC) , “A Physical Map of the Humane Genome”, Nature 409, 934 - 941 (2001)
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Damned brilliant, in a delightful eye-opening way to this non-scholar, non-intellectual, non-scientist. Thank you, in other words.
Thanks…glad you enjoyed it.
I would propose that people such as Jesus, Marx and Kant undertook valid work, exploring questions that remain valid. Their idealism seems misplaced, however. The specter of an Ayn Rand, for instance, with her lunatic yet perversely coherent propositions rise to mar the pretty picture. And what is the picture? To me, it’s the care and maintenance of human comfort. So far in our history, an individual’s comfort has always come only at great expense. The comfort I’m referring to is strictly the food and pillow variety and not mental comfort. But the two go hand in hand, I would suggest. For instance, I tend to have trouble arriving at mental comfort unless I’m either engaged in work (whether pretend or real), or resting from my work. I remember a year or so during the mid-1980’s when my weekends seemed too long and tedious, but my workdays were too exhausting. I couldn’t balance things. Later, during the early 1990’s, I found myself in the typical American slump of, during the weekdays, always looking forward only to the weekends, which helped propel me to start a business that would allow me to appreciate every day of the week. Framed in evolutionary terms, we need to balance work with relaxation because our brains are wired up to do so since we’ve needed to for so many thousands of years. Unless we find some way to radically change our brains, we will presumably continue this way, which feeds the enormous system of money. Money, of course, corresponds to work, and, through the manipulation of money, those of us who are clever figure out ways to get others to provide us with comfort, but I’m getting a bit bogged down here.
As long as our comfort depends upon work (either the work of others or our own or some combination), we will have swindlers. The inherent conflicts are obvious. We need comfort. We need to work. We don’t always like to work. Our neurological systems are designed to seek balance between stress and pleasure because our brains evolved before corporations were invented, so our desires are at times at odds with our needs. According to evolutionary psychologists, entire areas of our brains are specifically wired to allow us to detect deception from others. If they’re correct, humans and probably other species have needed to deal with con artists for quite a long time.
Science seems to be on a path of equalizing things, in a sense. If we progress according to certain visionaries, people eventually won’t need to work, and we won’t need to try to con others into working for us. Nano technology, robotics, artificial intelligence, genetic magic—these have already accomplished astounding results. What will human life be like a thousand years from now if our species survives that long? How much further will the above four areas have advanced? How will people approach concepts such as metaphysics? I have a strong feeling that religions will gradually die out and with their death we will come to resemble something akin to apes or dolphins. The stresses and internal conflicts inherent with religious indoctrinations have up to now fueled violence on a massive scale, as well as concerns about details that would never have taken place without such systems of attempted (and usually achieved) religiously-oriented mind control. Scientific methods we take for granted, in my opinion, would never have come to be without the extremes of mental restlessness inherent with various religious indoctrinations.
Wow… Technology as the future of human evolution? Ourselves as artifact? This reminds me of a radio play from the ‘80’s about computers and leaving coporeality behind: Zug Island: An American Dream
I’d worry about a future like that. Bit of fluff gets caught in the cooling fan and we’re done for. I like to think our minds are capable of so much more than we’ve done already even without silicon enhancements.
Thank you for sharing your fascinating essay akalaniz.
As you point out, disparities in wealth directly affect access to technologies, but perhaps instead of a single post-corporeal line of evolution, might one expect to see an extended parallel phase including both corporeal and post-corporeal evolutionary branches, similar to the branching of Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens?