To attempt this forecast is foolhardy yet mandatory:
Some think emergence is right around the corner, some think years or a few decades. Some think it is human generations
away or more. Note that digital evolution, via genetic algorithms and the like, occurs
on a microsecond time scale (vs. thousands of years for vertebrate-biological evolution).
Regardless of Who is Right, should we not attempt a forecast? The DE's ingredients
will consist of digital (and perhaps hybrid) structures; links between CPUs (e.g. the internet or intranets within supercomputing
clusters) and the programming. Lets start by asking a few simple questions:
How does human-computer programming differ from digital-computer programming?
How quickly can we make machines more intelligent? What is intelligence? What makes humans smarter than apes?
What does cerebral cortex do? Why is it so hard to make machines do things that we find trivial and take for granted?
How might brain-machine interfaces influence progress in these areas?
OK, so these are huge questions. But, if one focuses on current capabilities, recent trends,
likely synergies and the nature of intelligence, one should be able to make an initial forecast, and then revise it with further
intense effort. Most importantly, we should forecast the likely problems we will encounter when DEs emerge.
We should ask (1) what actions should we take over the coming decades and (2) what actions must we take NOW, so as to
protect human civilization from the worst consequences of malevolent DEs?
What we need is a digital "Manhattan Project". But instead of tackling this
problem in a big way (Iike our scientists and engineers attacked the challenge of building a nuclear bomb before Hitler could),
we are doing exactly the opposite: we are working furiously to make the problem exponentially worse. We are neither
taking the slightest precautions, nor raising the slightest concerns. Indeed, we are deliberately rushing
headlong into this maelstrom: We are spurring our horses onward in our quest to ever more rapidly build the best and most powerful
DEAC does not seek Manhattan-level support. But some salary for a few postdoctoral
or research fellows would be better than sitting idly by as humankind blindly but...oh...so...deliberately jumps off
an evolutionary cliff!
In the words of the writer in the cave of the fierce rabbit beast: aaaarrrrggggggg.