Death Unbound: The Intelligence of Machines

The question which I wish to pursue where even speculation cannot reach has to do with the permanence of this world-view. Will it be the last?

-Stanislaw Lem, One Human Minute

Rereading Thomas Ligotti’s Conspiracy against the Human Race has reminded me of all the reasons why we humans are not only a horror to ourselves, but a horror to everything else on this planet. Ligotti will ask: “So why not lend a hand in nature’s suicide?”1 This sense that we are on a voyage into an unknown future, a future that may lead us as a species into a blind alley with no way out, that in the end the only course of action will be to end it: mass suicide of our species just to save what remains of the natural earth and it’s unique Life.

When we look at the hard truth, we as humans need at minimum: air, water, and soil to survive. Air that is breathable. Water that is drinkable. Soil that is rich in nutrients and harvestable. After that is the subset of energy needs, and all that entails. Elizabeth Kolbert in her book The Sixth Extinction has been documenting for ten years the violent collision between civilization and our planet’s ecosystem: the Andes, the Amazon rain forest, the Great Barrier Reef — and her backyard. In lucid prose, she examines the role of man-made climate change in causing what biologists call the sixth mass extinction — the current spasm of plant and animal loss that threatens to eliminate 20 to 50 percent of all living species on earth within this century.2

Edward O. Wilson in his recent book Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life will ask: How fast are we driving species to extinction? For years paleontologists and biodiversity experts have believed that before the coming of humanity about two hundred thousand years ago, the rate of origin of new species per extinction of existing species was roughly one species per million species per year. As a consequence of human activity, it is believed that the current rate of extinction overall is between one hundred and one thousand times higher than it was originally, and all due to human activity.3

For Kolbert the result of our impact on the earth is a clear and comprehensive history of earth’s previous mass extinctions — and the species we’ve lost, telling us that: “Right now, we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed. No other creature has ever managed this, and it will, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy.” (ibid.)

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