Twilight of Humans 1.0: Dawn of the New

John Cousins
February 7, 2023
6 min read
Mt. Fuji

“First we build the tools, then they build us.”

Marshall McLuhan

Scanning the future horizon for technological convergences in order to anticipate and exploit opportunities and avoid potential pitfalls is our job as entrepreneurs and leaders. And with tech driven disruptions of established order and status quo, we are all leaders and entrepreneurs. We are all at least an army of one.

The following are my thoughts on the most exciting development that we will experience over the next few decades. Its already begun about a decade ago.

Prior knowledge of possible opportunities, dangers or problems gives one a tactical advantage. Forewarned is forearmed.

Our brains are the most complexly organized organisms we have yet to encounter. The human brain is structured in three overlapping layers representing three stages of our evolutionary development.

We basically have three distinct brains. Each has its own structure and wiring. These three structures are interconnected in a distributed high bandwidth manner.

Our oldest brain is the cerebellum. This is our reptilian brain. It is the seat of the unconscious and deals with fight or flight survival issues. It is also the seat of motor control and kinesthetic learning.

The limbic brain is our emotional brain. Emotions are essentially a chemical cocktail released in the limbic brain. This is where memories reside. The limbic brain system includes the amygdala and the hippocampus. The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain, while the hippocampus plays an essential role in the formation of memories.

The most recent addition and newest brain in our evolution is the neocortex or thinking brain. It appears to have emerged about seventy thousand years ago and is the organ that propelled humanity to the top of the food chain. It is responsible for our position on the horizon of animals and angels.

Yuval Noah Harari points out in his groundbreaking book Sapiens that the emergence of the neocortex was not a gradual thing but instead represented a step function: a cognitive explosion.

The neocortex t is what gave our species, Homo Sapiens, the name. The name is Latin for “wise man” and was introduced in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus. Linnaeus named almost everything in the animal and plant kingdoms.

Among other functions our neocortex gathers information, processes language, and makes synaptic connections. Our ability to think is what has made us, for good and ill, the dominant species on the planet.

These brain layers are wired together and communicate large amounts of information between them incredibly rapidly. They are highly integrated. The brain is also divided into left and right hemispheres. These are highly integrated as well.

The human brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. So far.

“First we build the tools, then they build us.”

Marshall McLuhan

We are now headed for a fourth layer of brain: superstrate layer that will outstrip all the previous sapiens functions and catapult us to god-like capabilities. We will reach this powerful new state within the next fifty years.

This fourth layer isn’t organic. It is not an extension of our biology. It is a merging of our current brain with an overlay of computer-based intelligence, what is currently lumped as Artificial Intelligence.

Ray Kurzweil first announced this convergence as The Singularity back in the 1990s. Yuval Noah Harari speculates on this and other extrapolations of technology in his forward looking book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.

First we build the computers and then they shape us.

Elon Musk talks about this idea of AI/human integration at length in his podcast with Joe Rogan. Elon, along with the late Stephen Hawking, have concerns about artificial intelligence racing past our ability to control it. The problem is, we can’t put this Genie back in the bottle. The best we can hope to do is develop strategies to adapt.

“The supernatural is only the natural of which the laws are not yet understood.”

Agatha Christie

Holy Crap! I’m already a cyborg

We have already transitioned this event horizon. Our smartphones and our obsessive attachment to them for productivity, social connectivity, and entertainment, illustrate this fact. Our smart phones are computer extensions of our mind. They act as our prosthetic memory, keeping track of details and reminding us of appointments, deadlines and commitments. We no longer need to remember phone numbers and it helps us navigate unfamiliar cities and countries.

We are already Cyborgs and incrementally merging everyday.

I was out for a run recently in a park. I was frolicking like a wood nymph enjoying resonating with nature: a green thought in a green shade. Across the park I saw a father and daughter sitting on a bench with their heads bent. I thought they must be praying and the thought gave me a moment of reverent pause. As I came around to their side of the park and ran by them, I realized they were both immersed in their phone screens.

In a way, they were praying.

“…a performance that may some day be considered understandable, but that, in these primitive times, so transcends what is said to be the known, that it is what I mean by magic,”

Charles Fort

The smartphone was introduced in June 2007 and in a decade has become an indispensible tool that future archeologists will note as a major transition event. Look around you right now; see everybody submerged in their device? Heck you are reading this on your device.

We adopted it so quickly. We rarely lose our phones because we check them so regularly they are never out of arm’s length. And technology is advancing and accelerating at exponential rates.

I remember seeing the second Wall Street movie where at the beginning the Michael Douglass character is released from prison and they hand him his meager belongings. The last item is his giant cell phone that he spoke on at dawn on the beach in the first movie. Everybody in the theater laughed because the technology was so outdated. Think about that and ponder where we will be when we are laughing at the quaint iPhone X. Remember Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek had a flip phone.

The next fifty or so years will represent the evolution to seamless merging of humans with computer derived intelligence.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke

Elon Musk, in his recent podcast with Joe Rogan, termed the rate-limiting factor as a bandwidth problem. It’s an integration problem. It needs to be integrated in a seamless manner like our three organic brains. The rate of information transfer between our devices and our brains is currently very limited. The information is all out there and available, we just can’t access it very fast. Yet.

“Witchcraft to the ignorant, … simple science to the learned”

Leigh Brackett

Couching it as a bandwidth problem means it’s an engineering problem, not requiring some huge inventive leap or discovery. It just requires incremental improvements toward defined goals. Meaning it’s just a matter of time. And because we are riding these rapidly accelerating curves of increasing computer power, not much time relatively speaking.

Our history will dramatically change. We will possess god-like powers. We will not recognize ourselves. We are cyborgs slouching, or striding, toward gods.

We are in for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride on steroids. Buckle up.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by + 374,685 people.

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John Cousins
Author, Entrepreneur, & Teacher

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