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BusinessDay: Beyond Sapiens — AI and the creation of ‘homo artificialis’

Features such as love and creativity may become obsolete if a new kind of human emerges from technology.

By Johan Steyn, 4 October 2023

The narrative of human evolution provides a captivating journey from primitive beings to sophisticated entities. About 40,000 years ago, homo sapiens ascended to dominance over other hominids, such as Neanderthals, largely attributed to enhanced cognitive capabilities and the advent of complex communication and planning.

As we contemplate the infinite future possibilities, spurred on by technological advancements, a pivotal question emerges: are we on the precipice of creating a new human species?

In an era where artificial intelligence (AI) advances in parallel with remarkable progressions in the fields of genomics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and regenerative medicine, the concept of homo artificialis seems less a fantastical speculation and more a prospective reality. This hypothetical term is posited to describe a forthcoming stage in human evolution, where humanity markedly converges with technology or undergoes extensive self-modification to overcome existing biological constraints.

Authors such as Yuval Noah Harari and Nick Bostrom have engaged in extensive contemplation regarding this technological and evolutionary crossroads. Harari, through his pivotal work, Homo Deus, contemplates the potential transformation of homo sapiens into entities resembling deities via technological enhancements. Similarly, Bostrom explores these realms in his book Superintelligence, considering how the fusion of humans and machines might signify the advent of a posthuman epoch. Central to these discussions is a profound ethical dilemma pertaining to the sanctity and origination of human life.

The concept of posthumanism encompasses a theory wherein humanity may surpass its inherent biological limitations, giving rise to entities with augmented physical, intellectual, and emotional capabilities. As we navigate this unexplored trajectory, the fundamental essence of humanity may experience a monumental transformation. Will homo artificialis retain quintessential human traits such as love, empathy, and creativity, or will these become obsolescent echoes of a bygone era?

Recently researchers from the Weizmann Institute in Israel have successfully created a comprehensive model of a human embryo without the utilisation of male sperm or a female egg, prompting discussions on whether the moral fabric associated with creation is becoming perilously tenuous.

The proliferation of artificial organ creation and regenerative medicine is obscuring the delineation between the organic and the synthetic, thereby challenging conventional perceptions of humanity. While these endeavours herald a stride towards potential immortality, they simultaneously evoke a plethora of ethical dilemmas.

Biotechnology and genomics extend beyond merely dealing with the present; they allow us to conceptualise and shape the future. Utilising gene-editing tools, we now possess the capability to influence the genetic trajectories of ensuing generations. However, the sublime notion of the sanctity of life pervades these scientific domains, serving as a poignant reminder of the immense responsibility bestowed upon us.

The integration of nanotechnology with biology is crafting a domain in which the microscopic enables the monumental. From precise drug delivery to the real-time observation of cellular activities, this integration is expanding the boundaries of what is conceivable.

AI, the keystone of this discourse, transcends the role of a mere instrument; it serves as a companion in our pursuit of transcendence. It helps us discern patterns of existence, ranging from the microscopic to the macroscopic.

Nonetheless, as cautioned by Bostrom, the generation of superintelligence may also unveil unforeseen predicaments. As AI assists in the genesis of homo artificialis, will it sustain a benevolent role or metamorphose into a rival? In the race for AI superiority, we should proceed with humility and care.


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