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Novacene

The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence

By James Lovelock
13-minute read
Audio available
Novacene by James Lovelock

Novacene (2019) presents a startling vision of a near-future Earth in which climate change is threatening our existence and artificial intelligence technology has acquired life. The emergence of this new life-form, which will vastly surpass humanity in its intelligence, will mark the beginning of a new age in the history of Earth – an epoch the author calls the Novacene. Extremely ambitious in scope, Novacene shines a spotlight on our particular moment in history and articulates an extraordinary theory about the purpose of the Cosmos and our place in it.

  • Environmentalists who fear for the future of the planet
  • Luddites who want to put the brakes on technological innovation
  • Curious minds ready for a theory about humanity’s purpose in the cosmos

James Lovelock, who turned 100 years old while writing this book, is lauded as one of the most important environmental thinkers of our time. He’s most notably known for his work on the Gaia hypothesis which, when it was first formulated in the 1970s, revolutionized how science would come to conceive of the relationship between the earth and its inhabitants. Over the course of his life, Lovelock has authored more than 200 scientific papers, and written many books in which he expands on the concept of Gaia including Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, The Revenge of Gaia, and The Vanishing Face of Gaia.

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Novacene

The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence

By James Lovelock
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Novacene by James Lovelock
Synopsis

Novacene (2019) presents a startling vision of a near-future Earth in which climate change is threatening our existence and artificial intelligence technology has acquired life. The emergence of this new life-form, which will vastly surpass humanity in its intelligence, will mark the beginning of a new age in the history of Earth – an epoch the author calls the Novacene. Extremely ambitious in scope, Novacene shines a spotlight on our particular moment in history and articulates an extraordinary theory about the purpose of the Cosmos and our place in it.

Key idea 1 of 8

The Anthropocene is coming to an end, and a new epoch is about to begin.

If you’re ever lucky enough to view the earth from space at night, you’ll see a globe veined with glowing light. There’ll be no doubt in your mind that we live in the age of humanity.

But our reign on Earth has only been short. Our planet is 4.5 billion years old, and life has existed on Earth for 3.8 billion years, but the modern human species has only been around for about 200,000 years. Even then, civilization as we know it has only existed for 6,000 years, and post-industrial society just 300.

The Anthropocene – the geological age of humanity – represents only these last few hundred years of human history. It's an infinitesimally short period. It was only a few hundred years ago that humanity stopped merely adapting to global environmental changes and, through the mass burning of fossil fuels, began impacting the earth’s environmental systems on a global scale.

But after only a few centuries, the Anthropocene is already coming to an end. How can this be?

According to the author, we’re currently transitioning into a new geological age, the Novacene. This age will be characterized by the emergence of a new form of life produced by innovation in artificial intelligence technology. This new life-form will then escape human control and begin intervening in global environmental systems autonomously.

But hold on a second – can we really say that artificial intelligence will constitute a new life-form?

In short, yes. There are two fundamental characteristics that living things possess: autonomy and self-replication. With the current state of AI, both of these are just a stone’s throw away.

We already use computers in the design and production of new computing technology. Whereas the diameter of the smallest wire that a human can see and handle is 1 micrometer, the latest Intel processing chip contains wires with a diameter of just 14 nanometers, which is 70 times smaller. Without computers to aid us, we would be unable to manufacture such devices.

So far, the design process still requires human input, but this is likely to change with the development of autonomous AI.

The Google-owned company DeepMind has already unveiled an autonomous AI called AlphaZero. Whereas conventional AIs learn to play strategy games such as chess and go by analyzing catalogs provided by humans, AlphaZero taught itself to master these games by playing against itself.

Given the current rate of progress, it’s only a matter of time before AI will be able to teach itself to master more complex games like running an economy, or waging a war.

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