Mar 6, 2009
From Paul Davies, physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist, and director of Beyond: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University:
Humankind has walked this planet for what, in cosmological terms, is but the twinkling of an eye. Our planet Earth should remain habitable for at least another billion years, which gives plenty of time for our descendants, natural or artificial, flesh-and-blood or machine (or a blend of both), to decamp to another locale. It will be hundreds of billions of years before brightly-burning stars become a rarity. Even then, there will still be black holes—the dead remnants of stars—which store a colossal amount of potentially usable energy. There is no fundamental reason why life and mind could not endure for trillions of years into the future. We can certainly imagine, as have many science fiction writers, that life and mind will slowly spread out into the cosmos, perhaps from Earth alone, perhaps from many planets that have spawned life. A progressively larger fraction of the galaxy will be brought under some form of intelligent control, that is, “technologized.” If that is the case, then in the far, far future, the distinction between “natural” and “artificial” will evaporate. More and more matter will be used to serve the purposes of sentient beings, to process information and create a rich mental world, perhaps without limit.
Some scientists have speculated that, as the timeline stretches toward infinity, an emerging distributed super-intelligence will become more and more godlike, so that in the final stage the super-mind will merge with the universe: mind and cosmos will be one. However, the final state of the universe simply cannot be predicted because it could be determined by physical effects at present too subtle to discern. The dark energy that seems to dominate the expansion of the universe today may cause all the galaxies in the neighbourhood of the Milky Way to retreat across an event horizon, leaving a sort of island universe of dying stars surrounded by chasms of dark emptiness. But if the dark energy slowly grows or decays, other grisly fates may lie in store for the cosmos, such as a big rip or big crunch. The only solace is that there is plenty of time left to figure out what, if anything, it all means.
Paul Davies appears with Freeman Dyson, Saul Perlmutter, Lawrence Krauss, Ray Kurzweil, Frank Tipler, and Robin Collins in “What’s the Far Future of Intelligence in the Universe?” the 26th episode in the Closer to Truth: Cosmos, Consciousness, God TV series, hosted and created by Robert Lawrence Kuhn. The series airs Thursdays on the PBS HD network and many other PBS stations. Every Friday, participants will share their views on the previous day’s episode.