Peter Diamandis Thinks We’re Evolving Toward “Meta-Intelligence”


IN BRIEF

Peter Diamandis, founder and chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation, thinks the human species is headed for an evolutionary transformation.
The evolution of life has slowly unfolded over 3.5 billion years; but its pace has rapidly increased in recent years. Diamandis believes this heralds the next, exciting stages of human evolution.
FROM NATURAL SELECTION TO INTELLIGENT DIRECTION

In the next 30 years, humanity is in for a transformation the likes of which we’ve never seen before—and XPRIZE Foundation founder and chairman Peter Diamandis believes that this will give birth to a new species. Diamandis admits that this might sound too far out there for most people. He is convinced, however, that we are evolving towards what he calls “meta-intelligence,” and today’s exponential rate of growth is one clear indication.

Credits: Richard Bizley/SPL

In an essay for Singularity Hub, Diamandis outlines the transformative stages in the multi-billion year pageant of evolution, and takes note of what the recent increasing “temperature” of evolution—a consequence of human activity—may mean for the future. The story, in a nutshell, is this—early prokaryotic life appears about 3.5 billion years ago (bya), representing perhaps a symbiosis of separate metabolic and replicative mechanisms of “life;” at 2.5 bya, eukaryotes emerge as composite organisms incorporating biological “technology” (other living things) within themselves; at 1.5 bya, multicellular metazoans appear, taking the form of eukaryotes that are yoked together in cooperative colonies; and at 400 million years ago, vertebrate fish species emerge onto land to begin life’s adventure beyond the seas.

“Today, at a massively accelerated rate—some 100 million times faster than the steps I outlined above—life is undergoing a similar evolution,” Diamandis writes. He thinks we’ve moved from a simple Darwinian evolution via natural selection into evolution by intelligent direction.
“I believe we’re rapidly heading towards a human-scale transformation, the next evolutionary step into what I call a “Meta-Intelligence,” a future in which we are all highly connected—brain to brain via the cloud—sharing thoughts, knowledge and actions,” he writes.

CHANGE IS COMING.

Credits: Lovelace Turing

Diamandis outlines the next stages of humanity’s evolution in four steps, each a parallel to his four evolutionary stages of life on Earth. There are four driving forces behind this evolution: our interconnected or wired world, the emergence of brain-computer interface (BCI), the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI), and man reaching for the final frontier of space.

In the next 30 years, humanity will move from the first stage—where we are today—to the fourth stage. From simple humans dependent on one another, humanity will incorporate technology into our bodies to allow for more efficient use of information and energy. This is already happening today.

The third stage is a crucial point.

Enabled with BCI and AI, humans will become massively connected with each other and billions of AIs (computers) via the cloud, analogous to the first multicellular lifeforms 1.5 billion years ago. Such a massive interconnection will lead to the emergence of a new global consciousness, and a new organism I call the Meta-Intelligence.
This brings to mind another futuristic event that many are eagerly anticipating: the technological singularity. “Within a quarter century, nonbiological intelligence will match the range and subtlety of human intelligence,” said notable futurist Ray Kurzweil, explaining the singularity.
“It will then soar past it because of the continuing acceleration of information-based technologies, as well as the ability of machines to instantly share their knowledge.” Kurzweil predicts that this will happen by 2045—within Diamandis’ evolutionary timeline. “The nonbiological intelligence created in that year will be one billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today.”

The fourth and final stage marks humanity’s evolution to becoming a multiplanetary species. “Our journey to the moon, Mars, asteroids and beyond represents the modern-day analogy of the journey made by lungfish climbing out of the oceans some 400 million years ago,” Diamandis explains.

Buckle up: we have an exciting future ahead of us.

Source:futurism.com

Natural selection is causing a decline in human ‘education genes’, say scientists


Is our species on a downwards spiral?

 

The genes that predispose people to attain higher levels of education have been in decline over the past 80 years, and researchers are suggesting that they’re now under negative selection, which could have a big impact on our species in the coming centuries.

A study involving more than 100,000 people in Iceland found that those who carry the genes for longer education time were less likely to have a big family, which means the smartest people in the room were actually contributing less to the Icelandic gene pool.

 “As a species, we are defined by the power of our brains. Education is the training and refining of our mental capacities,” said Kari Stefansson, CEO of Icelandic genetics firm deCODE, which ran the study.

“Thus, it is fascinating to find that genetic factors linked to more time spent in education are becoming rarer in the gene pool.”

To be clear, this does not necessarily mean that humans are getting dumber – we’re going to need a whole lot more evidence to get anywhere near a conclusion like that.

There’s also the fact that more people are getting access to education than ever before, so even if less educated people are having more offspring, non-genetic factors like more schools could counteract and even eclipse the effect.

But if we look at the trend over the course of several centuries into the future – well beyond the proliferation of schools and training access – the researchers say it could have a significant effect on our species in the long run.

“It is remarkable to report changes … that are measurable across the several decades covered by this study,” the study concludes.

“In evolutionary time, this is a blink of an eye. However, if this trend persists over many centuries, the impact could be profound.”

The researchers analysed the birth rate of 129,808 individuals born in Iceland between 1910 and 1990 who had their genomes sequenced, and compared this to their education levels.

They found that there was a genetic factor related to a person’s likelihood of attending school for longer, and came up with a ‘polygenic score‘ based on 620,000 sequence variations – or markers – in the human genome to determine an individual’s genetic propensity for education.

As the team points out, no one knows the exact mix between genetic and environmental factors that leads to someone’s education level, but previous studies have estimated that the genetic component of educational attainment can account for as much as 40 percent of the difference between individuals.

Once that polygenetic score was correlated with factors like educational attainment, fertility, and birth years, the researchers found that those with a higher genetic propensity towards more education tended to have fewer children.

They also found that the average polygenetic score has been declining at a small, but significant rate on an evolutionary timescale.

As Ian Sample reports for The Guardian, the team found a drop in IQ of about 0.04 points per decade, but if all the genetic factors that could be linked to education were taken into account, that figure would increase to 0.3 points per decade.

Interestingly, the link between a higher propensity towards more education and having fewer children wasn’t because going to university is hard, and eats into your family-raising time – the team suggests that the genes involved in education can also affect human fertility on a biological level.

Because even those who carried the genes for longer education time, but who did not actually get more education, still had fewer offspring on average than those without the genetic factor.

“Those who carried more ‘education genes’ tended to have fewer children than others,” Sample explains.

“This led the scientists to propose that the genes had become rarer in the population because, for all their qualifications, better educated people had contributed less than others to the Icelandic gene pool.”

Again, this is all speculation is only based on one country, and it’s incredibly difficult to predict what’s going to happen to humans in the distant future.

But it’s certainly something to keep an eye on, the researchers say, and if anything, highlights the importance of a continued effort towards ensuring that every human has access to education, because that can override the negative selection that appears to be in play.

“In spite of the negative selection against these sequence variations, education levels have been increasing for decades. Indeed, we control the environment in which these genetic factors play out: the education system,” Stefansson said in a press statement.

“If we continue to improve the availability and quality of educational opportunities, we will presumably continue to improve the educational level of society as a whole. Time will tell whether the decline of the genetic propensity for education will have a notable impact on human society.”

How About a New Theory of Evolution with Less Natural Selection? 


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In early November, a group of preeminent biologists, doctors, anthropologists, and computer scientists met in London to consider making a major change to the concept of evolutionary biology introduced by Charles Darwin in Origin of the Species in 1859. It’s not that they’re interested in throwing out the idea of natural selection. It’s just that they think recent research suggests it doesn’t account for evolution all by itself. This isn’t the first time such a revision has happened, actually. And it’s not clear that it will this time: Conference co-host Kevin Laland told Quantamagazine mid-conference, “I think it’s going quite well,” Laland said. “It hasn’t gone to fisticuffs yet.”

The current understanding of evolution, known as “modern evolutionary synthesis,” is itself a combination of natural selection and the 1865 genetics work of Gregor Mendel, published six years after Origin of the Species.

mendel's peas

Mendel’s peas

The modern synthesis emerged in the 1930s and 1940s, and it’s what’s taught in schools today. It states that evolution is the product of small genetic variations (Mendel’s contribution) that survive, or not (Darwin’s process of natural selection).

Some of the scientists at the Royal Society’s “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology” meeting say that this isn’t quite the case, and that there’s a third element that needs to be incorporated: Behavior and environment can also cause evolutionary changes. Carl Zimmer of Quanta, who attended the conference, says, “The researchers don’t argue that the modern synthesis is wrong — just that it doesn’t capture the full richness of evolution.”

To that end some attendees at the conference proposed a new understanding they call the “extended evolutionary synthesis.” What it adds to Darwin’s and Mendel’s work is an awareness of epigenetics.

The word “epigenetics” means “in addition to changes in genetic sequence.” According to science journalist Tabitha M. Powledge, “Broadly speaking, epigenetics is how nurture shapes nature.” The field looks at inheritable genetic changes that don’t involve the changing of a DNA sequence, but rather the activation or deactivation of genes via the epigenome, a layer of chemical tags covering and shaping the structure of a genome to turn individual genes on or off depending on the purpose of a cell, using a variety of chemical processes. The University of Utah has a great video explaining what an epigenome is.

epigenetic mechanisms

Epigenetic mechanisms (NIH)

According to the University of Utah, “The epigenome dynamically responds to the environment. Stress, diet, behavior, toxins, and other factors regulate gene expression.”

Scientists used to believe that when a offspring is born, it starts with a clean epigenomic slate. This turns out not to always be the case, at least in plants and fungi, and maybe in invertebrates. Some epigenetic tags survive, and thus “epigenetic inheritance” may play a role in the organism’s evolution. There’s some evidence it also occurs in vertebrates, but the jury is still out, and the presence of epigenetic inheritance is difficult to establish. A trait may turn out to be the result of obscure or subtle DNA changes, or a common environment may cause the persistence of a trait in a subsequent generation rather than epigenetic inheritance.

Still, epigeneticists hope the field can help explain evolutionary changes that don’t seem to be accounted for by modern evolutionary synthesis.

For example, speaking at the Royal Society was Melinda Zeder, who talked about the way in which modern synthesis fails to provide a reason for mankind’s turning to agriculture 10,00 years ago and its ensuing evolutionary impact. Growing crops may have taken years, so there could not have been a short-term evolutionary benefit to it. As Zeder told Quanta, “You don’t get the immediate gratification of grabbing some food and putting it in your mouth.” It’s also been theorized that a climate shift caused agriculture to bloom, but there’s no evidence of such a shift.

first farmers

Zeder suggests we take a different view of humans at the time as creative individuals who deliberately decided to change their environment by farming, pushing human evolution in that new direction. This process is called “niche construction,” and it’s more than just a human behavior; think beavers and their dams.

Not everyone agrees that epigenetics warrants a revision to the understanding of evolution, and there were plenty of skeptics at the Royal Society conference. Not everyone agreed with the conclusions of some experiments that putatively demonstrated epigenetic at work, and others noted that epigenetics undervalues the flexibility, or “plasticity,” provided by plentiful genetic variations. Biologist Douglas Futuyma suggested the appeal of epigenetics was that it changes the organism from a passive receiver of genetics changes to an active participant in evolution. “I think what we find emotionally or aesthetically more appealing is not the basis for science,” he said.

As Laland noted to Quanta, “This is likely the first of many, many meetings.”

RESEARCH FINDS CLUE TO WHY FEMALES LIVE LONGER THAN MALES


A study from the University of Exeter has found that male flies die earlier than their female counterparts when forced to evolve with the pressures of mate competition and juvenile survival. The results could help researchers understand the mechanisms involved in ageing.

sex-differences_shutterstock_main

The research, published in the journal Functional Ecology, used populations of the fly Drosophila simulans that had evolved under different selection regimes.The study shows that mate competition (sexual selection), along with survival (natural selection), is tougher on male ageing than it is on females reducing their lifespan by about a third.

Some species, like the flies in this study, age quickly over a number of days while others – including some trees and whales – age slowly across centuries.

Professor David Hosken from Biosciences at the University of Exeter said: “We found dramatic differences in the effects of sexual and natural selection on male and female flies. These results could help explain the sex differences in lifespan seen in many species, including humans, and the diverse patterns of ageing we observe in nature.”

The flies were subjected to elevated or relaxed sexual and natural selection and left to evolve in these conditions. To elevate sexual selection groups of males were housed with single females. A stressful temperature was used to elevate natural selection.

Males court females by singing, dancing and smelling good but their efforts come at considerable cost and this cost is amplified when they also have to cope with stressful temperatures.

The results of the study showed that under relaxed sexual and natural selection, male and female flies had very similar lifespans – around 35 days. However males that evolved under elevated sexual selection and elevated natural selection had a much shorter lifespan – just 24 days – and died seven days earlier than females under the same conditions.

Both sexual selection and natural selection were found to affect lifespan but their effects were greatest on males. The findings show that the sexes can respond differently to the same selection regimes.

The study was funded by Natural Environment Research Council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Royal Society.

Charles Darwin to receive apology from the Church of England for rejecting evolution.


The Church of England is to apologise to Charles Darwin for its initial rejection of his theories, nearly 150 years after he published his most famous work.

The Church of England will concede in a statement that it was over-defensive and over-emotional in dismissing Darwin’s ideas. It will call “anti-evolutionary fervour” an “indictment” on the Church”.

Charles Darwin to receive apology from the Church of England for rejecting evolution

The bold move is certain to dismay sections of the Church that believe in creationism and regard Darwin’s views as directly opposed to traditional Christian teaching.

The apology, which has been written by the Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, the Church’s director of mission and public affairs, says that Christians, in their response to Darwin’s theory of natural selection, repeated the mistakes they made in doubting Galileo’s astronomy in the 17th century.

“The statement will read: Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practise the old virtues of ‘faith seeking understanding’ and hope that makes some amends.”

Opposition to evolutionary theories is still “a litmus test of faithfulness” for some Christian movements, the Church will admit. It will say that such attitudes owe much to a fear of perceived threats to Christianity.

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