Moths to the Flame: A Creation Unknown
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The Life You Save
The Machine Stumbles
A Creation Unknown

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A Creation Unknown

The land and the water make numbers joined, a poem written with flesh and stronger than steel or granite. Through endless night the earth whirls toward a creation unknown.

Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

The hind that would be mated with the lion Must die of love.

William Shakespeare,
All's Well That Ends Well

There must have been a moment,
at the beginning,
where we could have said---no.
But somehow we missed it.

Tom Stoppard,
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

The dance started with copying. Some molecules floating in the seas roughly 3,500 million years ago stumbled on the trick of copying themselves. Once they did, they multiplied and multiplied until there was no more food for new copies. Resources are always limited. So, soon after copying started, competition started. Millions of years passed.

Through tiny copying errors accumulating over many generations, the structure of those self-copying molecules eventually diverged. Some of those variants were just a bit better at surviving than others. With the relentless competition for scarce resources, the tiny advantages turned decisive, and the slightly better self-copiers multiplied at the expense of the less fortunate. Millions of years passed.

Through unceasing competition, the self-copiers eventually surrounded themselves with walls, and so became cells. Competition then drove some cells to join together into colonies; eventually some of these colonies began to specialize, became bodies, and developed cells that evolved into nervous systems. Some of those nervous systems then exploded into brains. Millions of years passed.

Competition continued to ratchet up, and life diversified in thousands of environmental niches on land and sea. Now armed with brains to modify each body's instinctive and unconscious movement, life picked up its pace. No longer did all living things interact at a speed their self-copiers could directly control. Some now moved at the speed of thought. Millions of years passed.

Today, some of the brains have grown so complex that they've almost taken over from their original self-copiers---the genes. Willy-nilly, we are reshaping our genes (our progenitors) for our own purposes. One day, our artificial progeny, driven into existence by the unceasing competition and moving at near the speed of light, may take over from their own progenitors---us.

Our world is getting ready to change again. Once again, life, that endless dance of adaptation to the universe and to itself, is about to change all the rules. It's gathering itself for a great leap in intelligence, and the consequences for our species are likely to be extreme.

NEXT: The Never-Ending Dance