Novacene: the future of humanity is digital?

As it says on the cover of the book, James Lovelock may well be “the great scientific visionary of our age“. He is probably best known for the Gaia Hypothesis, but he made several other major contributions. While working for NASA, he was the first to propose looking for chemical biomarkers in the atmosphere of other planets as a sign of extraterrestrial life, a method that has been extensively used and led to a number of interesting results, some of them very recent. He has argued for climate engineering methods, to fight global warming, and a strong supporter of nuclear energy, by far the safest and less polluting form of energy currently available.

Lovelock has been an outspoken environmentalist, a strong voice against global warming, and the creator of the Gaia Hypothesis, the idea that all organisms on Earth are part of a synergistic and self-regulating system that seeks to maintain the conditions for life on Earth. The ideas he puts forward in this book are, therefore, surprising. To him, we are leaving the Anthropocene (a geological epoch, characterized by the profound effect of men on the Earth environment, still not recognized as a separate epoch by mainstream science) and entering the Novacene, an epoch where digital intelligence will become the most important form of life on Earth and near space.

Although it may seem like a position inconsistent with his previous arguments about the nature of life on Earth, I find the argument for the Novacene era convincing and coherent. Again, Lovelock appears as a visionary, extrapolating to its ultimate conclusion the trend of technological development that started with the industrial revolution.

As he says, “The intelligence that launches the age that follows the Anthropocene will not be human; it will be something wholly different from anything we can now conceive.”

To me, his argument that artificial intelligence, digital intelligence, will be our future, our offspring, is convincing. It will be as different from us as we are from the first animals that appeared hundreds of millions ago, which were also very different from the cells that started life on Earth. Four billion years after the first lifeforms appeared on Earth, life will finally create a new physical support, that does not depend on DNA, water, or an Earth-like environment and is adequate for space.

One thought on “Novacene: the future of humanity is digital?”

  1. That does seem probable. In Netflix’s documentary The Social Dilemma, explores one example of how technology as part of a larger system can take on a life of its own. We have too narrow and simplistc of a sense of what is technology.

    “On the one hand, there is a great deal of honesty from those who have run various social media platforms and who have found themselves getting high on their supply. Even those who have personally implemented various design choices that are intended to support the development of addictive relationships to technology find themselves falling victim to them. It is that realisation from within the tech industry itself that leads to the documentary’s most interesting conclusion: we are not in control of this thing we’ve given life to; it controls us, its creators, as much as it controls you.

    “On the other hand, there is this strangely decontextualized ignorance that lingers under the surface. This conclusion above, for starters, ends up obscured — even outright ignored and contradicted — by the end. They can’t quite maintain the critical distance they say is necessary.”


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