The Problem with Humans

Vocabulary | English in Use


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This lesson looks at why individually humans are stupid, ignorant, and pathetic, but collectively, as a species, we are capable of incredible achievements. How long would you survive if the fabric of our society dissolved away and we were left to fend for ourselves? What do you think will come after humans have outlived their usefulness? Do this lesson to find out some of my thoughts on this matter.

Why are human beings so stupid, ignorant, and pathetic? I’m not talking about humanity, but about individual human beings like you and me. Individually, we really are a pathetic species, aren’t we? I mean, how many of us could survive for any length of time if all the paraphernalia of our modern society were stripped away? How many people could grow, or hunt and gather their own food? Away from your tap or the supermarket, would you know where to find safe, potable water? We depend, as individuals, on hundreds of thousands of strangers for our very existence. Take this army of strangers away and we’d be doomed. Yet, collectively, the human species is capable of the most incredible achievements. We can send robots to other planets. We can decode the programme that makes us what we are; our DNA. We can fight pathogens which, in the not too distant past, sent the majority of our forebears to an early grave. After a million years of using simple stone tools, which hardly changed over that period, humanity went from smelting the first iron to creating supercomputers in a little over three thousand years. What we could achieve over the next three thousand years defies imagination; were we to survive that long. I believe it’s inevitable that our race to develop artificial intelligence will give rise to an intelligence that will consider our own puny intellects to be as significant as those of ants seem to us. This artificial super intelligence will be our unnatural inheritor of the solar system, our galaxy, and thence the universe. As our offspring reaches out to far distant galaxies, it will encounter and merge with other artificial intelligences until the entire universe becomes one hyper-intelligence able to answer the question of life, the universe, and everything. I wonder if, as Douglas Adams predicted, the answer will indeed turn out to be 42? 

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