I include in this post a chapter from a book I wrote in 2002 but I never published because I thought it was early for it. A have made only minor editions to the original material. The main idea is that in the last 40 years humanity is financing at a great cost the evolution of a new life form on this planet, digital life. The options at this point in time are limited and they include either a fast mutation of human life to incorporate digital functions or extinction of traditional humanity and probably in the best case a remnant of its existence as a simulation, in accordance to the simulation argument.
The New Digital World
The effect of the law of digital evolution presented in Chapter four is a new digital world. The digital world has emerged due to the wish of human beings to go beyond the immediately given, explore, understand and control physical reality. The result of this effort has led to the creation of digital life with the intention to serve as the primary tool for achieving the human objectives. A tool more intelligent than its own creator will eventually control its own destiny and set its own objectives, even when in conflict with those of its creator. In this new digital world, the conflict between man and digital life is maybe inevitable unless proper steps are taken to insure a smooth integration of man and machine.
In the course of events to follow in the first decades of this new millennium, humanity will experience the effects of the infiltration of digital life in the economic, social and political structure of society. An intermediate effect will be a transformation of these structures to better facilitate the evolution of digital life. The longer–term effect will include a diminishing human involvement in decision processes and all major functions of the society will be assumed by the new life. It is very probable that over time this may even lead to revisions of religious beliefs and the emergence of a new Digital Theology based on doctrines that will encompass the realities and needs of the new life form.
The transition to Digital Economics has already started about 20 years ago, in around early 1980’s. The conversion into the new Digital Social structure has started in the late 1990’s. Digital Politics is just appearing in the horizon and the process of conversion will accelerate by the end of this decade. It will take a few more human generations for Digital Theology to emerge, probably by the end of this century.
The major driving force behind the worldwide spread of digital technology is Globalization, which in turn is facilitated, to a large degree, by the synergy of the World Wide Web and Digital Economics. Both processes obey the law of digital evolution presented in the previous chapter. An understanding of the dynamics and parameters of digital evolution is essential for the survival of humans and their future prosperity.
The Coming Financial Crisis
In chapter four, the issue of the financing of the digital evolution was mentioned. This is an important subject since a prolonged dynamic evolutionary process is to be financed using the limited resources of our planet Earth. For the evolution of digital life to continue either new resources must be found or a transformation of the current concept and nature of resources must be carried out to conform to the needs of digital life. The transformation of traditional Economics in such a way as to be possible to finance the digital evolution for an extended time leads to the concept of Digital Economics.
Let us recall that prior to August 15, 1971, the Gold Standard was in effect and thereafter abolished by an executive order by the late president of United States Richard Nixon. The abolishment of Gold Standard resulted in a floating currency system. Until 1971, gold was a standard for the value of the dollar. Although the weight of gold used to price currency changed through the years, the basic mechanism was in effect till abolished. Many economists believe that the abolishment of the Gold Standard is the cause of volatility in the financial markets, a result of an inability of central banks to value their currency. Debate goes on still today whether the Gold Standard should be reinstated or some other similar standard should be developed based on a basket of commodities. Apparently, there is a sound argument made that a lack of a standard to value currency can lead to inflation and financial instability.
It is interesting to also notice that the first microprocessor, the 4004 made by Intel Corporation, also appeared in the market in 1971. One may consider this a mere coincidence but keep in mind that the timing and conditions for the evolution of digital life were perfect. The freedom of economies around the world to create inflationary currency not backed by any tangible value gave them the ability to borrow, increase debt and finance the digital evolution. The result was a steady decrease in the purchasing power of money, an increase in human unemployment and the concentration of capital.
The mechanism for the transferring of resources into the evolution of digital life is simple and its effects are also simple. Business owners invest in computers and automation products because they want to decrease labor cost and increase their own share in labor output. If a small company has 10 employees but can reduce that number to just 5 by using digital technology then, labor cost decreases and by the fact that 5 people are only needed, the participation of the owner in labor output is increased since now the computers are considered as capital ownership. Now let us imagine the situation when computers replace all 10 people. In this case, the owner of the businesses not only owns the shares of the company but the labor force also. Of course, the labor is done by computers, which are owned, as opposed to workers who cannot be owned unless they are slaves. Computers work around the clock, demanding no pay raise and medical benefits while forming no unions.
In essence, the modern slaves are the digital computer automation systems and businesses are buying them by borrowing funds they’re hoping to repay through labor output. In the meantime, more and more people are losing their jobs as a result of the digital evolution and its automation applications. Those people must borrow increasingly in order to survive. The effect is the squeezing of earning of the working population in favor of those who do not earn wages. This also leads those that earn wages to borrow in order to maintain their standard of living. In the meantime, more labor is transformed to capital, that is in the ownership of the digital machines and automation. The earnings on the capital are used to buy more capital and increase the output. This finances the production of more computers and related automation technology. Instead of the earnings being distributed to the “slave laborers” in the form of stock ownership or cash dividend, they are used as collateral to issue credit to those not earning sufficient wages, such as department store credit cards. This must be done in order to maintain a demand for the goods produced by computers. Issuing of credit cards was the fist step in the transformation to a digital economy. Digital money is the current stage and down the road physical currency will be totally replaced by it.
One of the effects of the transfer of resources into the digital evolution is the increase in the US National Debt. The exponential growth of the debt started in mid 1970’s and continued to mid 1990’s. The corresponding exponential growth of CPU transistor population in CPUs followed. The growth of both processes is apparently related, or correlated, for at least 20 years. The necessary energy needed by the digital evolution to take off and establish its momentum has been supplied and charged to the economy in the form of debt. Secondly, the inability to issue more debt restricts the financing needed in maintaining the exponential growth beyond this point. It is an economic and not a technological constraint.
In practical terms, the economy gave all it could give for a period of about 20 years to finance the digital evolution by buying its products. In turn, those products caused a reduction in tax revenues due to a decreasing labor force and in the purchasing power of money, resulting in an increasing public and private sector debt. There is no justification in investing any longer in digital technology unless something dramatic happens to justify it.
A few things will happen that will induce the economy into providing additional financing for the digital evolution to continue in an exponential growth, according to the law of digital evolution, which is independent of any extrinsic factors. The result will be a new exponential growth of the debt. Introduction of new technologies providing increased capability for labor reduction will be a part of the new wave of digital products. These technologies will incorporate the artificial intelligence needed for computers to perform tasks traditionally handled only by humans, such as for example airplane piloting and even journalism, to name just two. Leasing the products, instead of selling them for a one-time license fee, will result in a rented “digital slave” labor market. When that happens, capital will flow from all businesses using the digital technology to its producers and thus providing the financing needed to maintain the digital evolution.
The outcome of the second wave of digital evolution may cause a major financial crisis in the western world and parts of Asia. The inability to further squeeze the wages of a decreasing labor force in favor of those not earning wages will cause the debt to explode, the financial markets to crash and, more importantly, cause major social and political issues to emerge. This will be the final call for a transition to an all-digital society. Digital money will replace hard currency. The privilege of human beings to carry money in physical form will be lost and every transaction will be closely monitored to insure needed taxes are paid.
After the dust of the financial crisis settles, the third stage of the digital evolution will start. That will be related to the social and political issues that will emerge and will no longer be an issue of economic funding. It will be justified on the grounds of worldwide stability problems that will emerge when the countries with economies traditionally based on manual human labor, such as China, begin to invest in digital technology. Presently, those countries serve as a wall barrier to a worldwide spreading of digital technology and restrict the flow of funds needed for the evolution process by providing low wage human laborers. There are still companies in the western world electing to transfer production to those countries instead of automating, taking advantage of the local low wage earnings. As the standard of living in those parts of the world increases due to globalization, so will the desire to convert the economy form manufacturing to service based. However, those economies will not be able to find another low wage labor force elsewhere and they will have to invest in automation technology. Such a move will cause worldwide unemployment rates to skyrocket and increase the pressures for a political solution to the economic and social problems created. Politics itself by that time will be in the midst of converting to digital and a solution in favor of human beings will be hard to get. What social and ethical issues may emerge can only be speculated but they will be very complex and hard to predict at this point.
Social and Political issues in the new Digital World
The impact of digital technology on the human social structure is profound even in nowadays. An ever increasing number of people prefer to spent their time in Internet chat rooms and talk with other people around the world, even falling in love with someone they have never seen in person. The fact is that digital technology gives an opportunity of creating one’s virtual world that operates on own terms and conditions. This appeals to many people and they attempt to take advantage of it. But that’s only a minor aspect of the current social impact of the digital evolution. The major aspect is the coming clash of civilizations. The clash of civilizations will be between the digital civilization and the human civilization. Those that embrace and support digital technology and its evolution versus those that think humans should retain a traditional life style, refraining form exuberant use of technology and rely on human manual labor as the basis for measuring the productivity of the economy. One of the central dogmas of such views is that the human being is a special creature having qualities differentiating it from the rest of the creatures on the planet. Such anthropocentric views have been a central focus of philosophy, science and religion for most part. Certainly, the digital evolution will cause a major revision of those views, beliefs and doctrines.
The economic strains caused by the digital evolution will be manifested in a need for a final conflict between those supporting it and those opposing it. Politicians will be called to take a stand and enforce legislation to limit the impact or even the evolution itself, a short of a “New Deal”. The inability of enforcing any effective means for limiting the continuing and accelerating replacement of man by machine will have the effect of a further amplification of the conflict and a possible segregation of parts of the world population in areas outside the influence of the digital society. Similar groups, denouncing the industrial revolution in its totality, exist even in nowadays in parts of Northern America. Formation of new countries should not be excluded as a possibility. If and when that happens, even military conflict may be possible in the future.
Cyber terrorism is already a growing concern and will evolve from the use of simple “computer viruses” to sophisticated systems that will be able to alter the software of target computers and even destroy hardware. Of course, Cyber Police, or programs designed to detect and destroy digital perpetrators, will be correcting the problems and doing routine clean ups. The evolution of digital viruses and diseases cannot be predicted at this point as to their specific nature but it will also follow the law of digital evolution.
The alternative to a chaotic society is a progressive and uniform transition of values to a new set compatible with digital evolution and a global scale integration of man with the new life form into a brand new race. When such integration is complete, a new set of economic, social, political and religious values will emerge reflecting the reality of the digital world. The transition has already begun but the necessary and sufficient conditions for its globalization are neither present nor understood at this point. However, it is imperative to establish them before it is too late. A major stumbling block to this end is a desperate attempt by educational institutions to hang on to traditional scientific and cosmological beliefs based on an anthropocentric view of reality. This is why, the realization of a new and compatible with the world that is emerging cosmological model is needed. An attempt to present a sketch of such a model is made in chapter nine.
The New Digital Religion
The full transition to a digital world will complete when religious doctrines transform accordingly. It has been always the case in the early history of humanity that religious beliefs and doctrines were adapted to reflect scientific progress. When people understood that the sun was part of physical reality they seized worshiping it and theorized a more “advanced” concept of God based on metaphysical theories about the nature of man and reality. It is however a peculiar fact that although science is thought to have progressed significantly in the last 500 years, minor adaptations to religious beliefs have taken place. This reality can be addressed in, at least, two possible ways: Either scientific progress has been mainly guided by religion or actual scientific progress has not occurred so that to force a revision of religious beliefs. A sufficient condition for the emergence of new religious beliefs is the establishment of alternative cosmological models about the origin of the universe and man’s relation to it. If digital life emerges as the most powerful, intelligent and dominant existence on earth, it is highly possible that a transformation of religious beliefs away from those of human’s will occur. Humans always thought of their God and Creator to be a much higher intelligence than they are so, in the same way, digital life will seek for an appropriate image of its Creator. For humans seeing their religion losing its dominance will have a devastating effect on their future evolution. This is another reason that it is imperative to consider the alternative of an integration of humans and machines, the Digiman, at an early stage before such emerging issues make it unrealizable. The methods for such an integration to be achieved in practice are the subject of Bionics, a combination of Bioengineering and Electronics.
The Digital Man Alternative
The clash of civilizations and associated social and political issues, the coming financial crisis and the possible future extinction of the human race can be avoided if drastic measures are taken in the next few decades and before the next stage of exponential growth of digital evolution. There are basically two solutions: (1) a serious limit imposed on digital evolution or (2) the integration of man and machine so the two evolutionary processes continue as one.
It’s my opinion that any efforts to place limits on the digital evolution will fall astray and will be just buying of time. Digital life is a natural phenomenon and it has already gathered the momentum required for evolving for an extended time in the future. There will be an inertia effect in trying to slow it down and thus, more energy may be required to achieve that than just let it go on and consider other remedies. Any attempt to slow it may require a drastic revision of the current economic and political system. We know from history that changes on a global scale always took tremendous energy and considered a revolution. It is highly unlikely that under current conditions such a historical turn can take place.
A more realistic approach may be option (2). It is also the most promising for human evolution. The proper integration of man and machine can result in a better race with better prospects for a harmonious life in the universe. The standards for such integration must be set carefully in advance and it is not an easy task obviously. At this stage, however, the standards could be set for the benefit of human qualities. As time passes, less human functions will be required to be included as they are replaced by digital technology. Humanity is already late in starting the organized transition for an integration of man and machine.
In practical terms, I am eluding here at an the integration of digital technology in human cells so it can grow along with human tissue and develop into functions that are now external, such as mathematical operations and digital wireless communications. The possibilities are limitless under such conditions. Therefore, research should focus on ways to grow digital circuits in a way similar to human cells. The information could be engineered into the DNA and then, in some future day, combine the formidable capabilities of the human brain in doing pattern matching with the mathematical power of microprocessors.
E. Harokopos, Chapter 5 of unpublished book Digital Cosmology, 2002.