Updated: June 24, 2021 7:32:33 am
Even before the pandemic — in fact, since atomic weapons were deployed at the end of World War II — “doomsday” had been a looming concern. The world, or at least “life as we know it”, humankind realised, is a precarious balance that could fall over the precipice at any moment. A nuclear holocaust, climate change, pandemic, a well-placed meteor — there are innumerable ways for the world to end. But the acolytes of the apocalypse are far too anthropocentric. Even as the Doomsday Clock comes ever closer to midnight, there are new kinds of life being manufactured in labs that are on the verge of becoming self-sustaining and subject to evolution.
A team of researchers from Britain and the Netherlands are among many that could end up creating robots that are capable of reproduction and, by extension, evolution. Reproduction, unlike replication, is a cornerstone of what is broadly defined as life and, along with mutation, leads to evolution. Simply put, a pair of robots will be able to produce “offspring” that have the characteristics of both parents, and will be able to adapt over time to their environment. Currently, this process can be directed by humans but it can also take place independently, potentially creating novel artificial species.
There are, of course, practical benefits to artificial evolution. An infinitely adaptable algorithm can produce robots suited for mining, deep-sea diving and even life-saving surgeries better than designs limited by the human brain. But at a deeper, philosophical level artificial “life” could become the inheritor of the earth. Too often, homo sapiens’ self-obsession has meant that we see phenomena like global warming as something that will end all life, or the planet. Given that intelligent, non-biological life forms are already here, perhaps it’s time to realise that humanity is a contingency, just another vehicle for the gene to perpetuate itself. If it continues to flirt with doomsday, there are successors waiting in the wings.
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