Artificial reality

avatarSo far, we have broadly introduced the concept of physical reality, both in terms of the perception of fundamental physics and the altogether different perception of humanity. However, an understanding of these different perceptions of reality, then opens the door to the notion that our sense of reality is subjective and, as such, could be extended and augmented by technology. Today, the technology which allows our perception of reality to be augmented might be described in terms of virtual reality (VR), but the intention of this section is to now speculate on where this technology might lead in the future. So while highlighting that there is more than a degree of speculation associated with this discussion, the previous discussion of Hybrid AI has also illustrated that there are both technical and social arguments which might support the convergence of humanity's biological evolution with future advances in technology.

Within the totality of the present discussion of Evolution, we have tried to follow the progress of life from its humble beginnings on Earth, some 3.5 billion years ago, as a simple prokaryotic cell through to the potential future of hybrid AI. While some of these concepts may challenge our current worldview, we have not really strayed too far from the generally accepted notion of reality. However, it is going to be suggested that if technology and human evolution do converge, as suggested, it might also overturn all our pre-existing notion of reality. As a prelude to the discussion of artificial reality (AR), consider your initial reactions to the following composite set of questions:

How do you know you are a real person? Can you prove that you are not just a strong AI programme and everything you 'think` you see, hear, touch, smell and taste is not simply the result of input data into your programme? If the programme were simulating all sensory inputs in response to your thoughts and responses, how would you know there was any other reality?

Clearly, questions such as these are not referring to virtual reality (VR), which allows you to return to physical reality (PR) whenever you like, but rather an artificial reality (AR) that could completely replaces or extends any previous human perception of physical reality (PR). In this context, it would not just be time and space that are relative, but reality itself.

When first exposed to this idea, some people may naturally assume that this is just the plot line from a science fiction movie like 'The Matrix'. However, in truth, humanity may be on the verge of seriously having to confront and challenge its very understanding of reality. In the process of reviewing some of the key philosophical, theological and scientific perspectives affecting the collective worldview over the last 2000 years, sections of human society have come to view the nature of the universe in many different ways. In just the last 100 years, the ideas associated with both relativity and quantum theory have developed to challenge our understanding, if not always our perception, of space and time. For it seems that our perception of physical reality is little more than a product of our limited senses and brain capacity. If so, it would seem that both might be manipulated to perceive any number of alternative realities. As such, the premise of AR is not just idle speculation, but rather an extrapolation of today’s embryonic developments of neural and prosthetic brain implants. So, irrespective of whether you personally agree with such ideas, the first faulting steps along this evolutionary path may have already been taken, which clearly has the potential to change human society. More worrying, these changes could be so profound that they will not only affect the `few` who might wish to follow this evolutionary path, but everybody within whatever collective society exists in the future. If so, humanity may start to fragment into different sub-species of homo sapien, with some having extended senses and intelligence, which ultimately leads to a radically different perception of the scope of reality. Again, while some may recoil from this notion, they may still accept that homo sapiens have already evolved to a point where it has a completely different perception of reality than any other species on planet Earth. For example, humans have an extended concept of time, i.e. past, present and future, plus the imagination that can create new realities in the 'mental space' of our minds. So, it is in this context that the next question is tabled:

Is an extended ‘artificial’ reality unavoidable if humanity continues down the path towards evolution-by-design?