IEET > Vision > Bioculture > Galactic > Directors > George Dvorsky > HealthLongevity > Sociology > Philosophy > Psychology > Futurism > Technoprogressivism > Innovation > Artificial Intelligence
Will Our Descendants Survive the Destruction of the Universe?
George Dvorsky   Dec 9, 2015   iO9  

Billions of years from now, the universe as we know it will cease to exist. The good news is, that gives us a lot of time to prepare, and maybe even figure out a way to cheat cosmic death. Here are some possible ways our descendants might survive a cosmological apocalypse.

The Universe, like the organisms that reside within it, is a mortal entity. Born in the Big Bang, it will eventually meet its fate through an equally cataclysmic process, whether it be in the form of a Big Rip, a Big Crunch, or an eternal deep freeze. Regardless, all life as we know it will be extinguished.

Unless, of course, our highly advanced offspring can find a way to escape the confines of the cosmos—or more radically, change the rules of the cosmological game.

Building a Basement Universe

Our great-great-great-grandchildren, many times over, could leave our current universe by migrating to a natural or artificially created “basement universe.” A future civilization would link the new universe to the old one with a wormhole, and use it for living space, computing—or to escape an old, decaying universe. 

“In, through...and beyond.” Disney’s The Black Hole (1979)—a good idea, but poorly executed.

This may seem outlandish, but this idea has been explored by some serious scientists, including theoretical physicists who take the occasional deep dive into black hole theory and inflation cosmology.

Theoretical physicist Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute and Stanford string theorist Leonard Susskind have speculated that universes spawn other universes in a natural, evolutionary process, known as cosmological natural selection (CNS). They argue that the cosmos is not just randomly ideal for the development and proliferation of intelligent life—but in fact, our universe may have actually evolved to be that way.

Smolin suggests that baby universes are reproduced through black holes, and that our Universe is nothing more than a glorified black-hole generator. Making baby universes via black holes is thus the “utility function” of the universe. Likewise, Susskind’s theory invokes black holes, but he adds the nature of “inflation”, the force that causes the early universe to expand rapidly.

Given that universes could emerge naturally from the singularities of black holes, some theorists have wondered if it might be possible for us to build our own “basement” universes. The process of artificially creating universes was first proposed by theoretical physicists Edward Farhi and Alan Guth in 1987. Writing in The New York Times, Malcolm W. Browne explains:

...Guth likens the universe in which we live to the two-dimensional surface of a sphere which, because of its immense size, appears to us to be almost perfectly flat. There are circumstances, he says, in which an ‘’aneurysm’’ could develop on this surface, a region in which space and time bulge like a tumor, eventually pinching itself off from its parent into a new universe.

To a hypothetical observer inside the bulge, conditions might initially resemble those of the Big Bang explosion from which our own universe is thought to have arisen. But to observers in our own universe, Dr. Guth said, the aneurysm would merely resemble a black hole — a supermassive object whose immense gravity prevents the escape even of light. After a certain amount of time the black hole would evaporate, leaving no trace of the place where a new universe had been born.

But once the bulge separates from the host universe, the new universe will exist in a totally separate space/time continuum. Any communication between the two universes would be impossible.

(Credit: Orion’s Arm)

In their paper, “An Obstacle to Creating a Universe in the Laboratory,” Guth and Farhi sheepishly concede that a tremendous amount of energy density would have to be acquired for this to happen. As the authors write in their paper, “The requirement of an initial singularity appears to be an insurmountable obstacle to the creation of an inflationary universe in the laboratory.”

As Guth notes in the NYT article, “Such an achievement is obviously far beyond our technology, but some advanced civilization in the distant future might...well, you never know. For all we know, our own universe may have started in someone’s basement.’’

More encouragingly, philosopher Nick Bostrom and cosmologist Milan M. Ćirković put out a paper in 2000 arguing that an advanced civilization might actually be able to not only engage in this kind of universe-engineering—but it might also be able to transfer information directly into this baby universe. This information could conceivably include uploaded minds, which would make the prospect of immortality a very tantalizing one, indeed.


And it’s not crazy to imagine that we could send our minds through a black hole, once they were uploaded to a computer.

Fifteen years, ago physicist Seth Lloyd argued that black holes are the densest and most efficient computational devices capable of existing in our universe. His “ultimate laptop” consists of a kilogram of compressed matter shrunken down to an absolutely miniscule black hole. Owing to Hawking radiation, this computation engine would only last for a fraction of a second (10-19 seconds to be exact), but during that time it would perform about 1032 operations on a 1016 bits. 

Inspired by this idea and those of Smolin and Susskind, futurist and systems theorist John Smart has connected the prospect of baby universes, whether they be natural or artificial, to the Fermi Paradox, i.e. the realization that we have yet to see signs of extraterrestrial intelligences when we should have by now. It’s conceivable, he says, that all advanced extraterrestrial life rejects its universe of origin, in favor something more interesting in the Great Beyond. Smart calls this the Transcension Hypothesis.

(Credit: Interstellar (2014)

“The more we study universal history, the more it seems every major complexity transition, from galaxies, to life-catalyzing planets, to eukaryotes, to prokaryotes, to humans, to cities, and now, to intelligent computers, occurs via a process I call STEM compression of information production,” Smart tells io9.

By “STEM compression,” Smart is referring to a process in which complex new systems are almost always both denser and more efficient users of Space, Time, Energy, and Matter. This, in turn, causes information, complexity, and intelligence to develop at an accelerating rate. Over time, we’re packing more and more of our stuff into smaller spaces, while simultaneously making more efficient use of information. As a result, intelligence is always racing to inner space, of which there are two types: physical inner space and virtual inner space.

“Our destiny is density, and dematerialization,” says Smart.

This all brings us back to the question of our long-term survival prospects. There’s a very distinct possibility that our posthuman descendants will exist as digital beings, the offshoots of uploaded minds, or the products of entirely new minds and mind-types altogether. True to Smart’s theory, these individuals would be vastly more dematerialized and “immortal” than biological beings.

But what about the future of human civilization itself?

“If our societies are becoming increasingly dense and informational, too,” says Smart, “and if their core knowledge stores, if not their physical bodies, will increasingly look like what the physicists call computronium (the densest and most efficient computing matter available) then the transcension hypothesis may hold for our future, and the question of what happens to information in black holes may be critical to our long-term survival.”

So we could be sending our virtual selves through a black hole, if “black hole information theory” is correct. And the holographic principle also offers some clues as to how this might actually happen. But Smart says many questions remain.

(Credit: Shutterstock)

“If all universal civilizations ultimately transcend to black holes as our universe dies, will we do so as informational ‘seeds’ or as conscious entities?,” he asks. His concern is that, like an uninstantiated person in the midst of being teleported in a Star Trek transporter, a digitized mind could end up existing as useless chunks of data floating in the cosmological ether for an eternity.

“Black holes might thus be some kind of maximally dense recording media and universal transporter for intelligence,” he tells io9. “If so, a transporter to where? To the multiverse, to meet myriad other civilizations and compare what we’ve learned? To another universe, to restart our life cycle?”

Changing the Rules of the Game

If our distant offspring can’t find an existential “escape hatch,” whether that be a black hole or a new universe, than it may be incumbent upon them to find other, even more radical solutions. The other option is to change the rules of the cosmological game—and change the very fabric of the Universe itself. In the end, intelligence may prove to be the most powerful force in the Universe.

(Credit: 2001: A Space Odyssey)

The idea that intelligence is not an isolated or epiphenomenal aspect of the Universe is not a new one.

The Jesuit philosopher, theologian, and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin believed that humanity was greater than the sum of its parts, and that something profound awaited our species in the future. True to his Christian sensibilities, Teilhard disagreed with the scientific convention of classifying the human animal according to our physical characteristics, thus relegating us to one small species in the entire order of primates.

Teilhard observed that virtually all nonhuman animals display an amazing capacity to adapt to their environments, while humans have learned to make tools that are actually separate from ourselves. With the establishment of written language, libraries, and powerful communication tools, humans took gigantic leaps that exceeded their physical constraints in dramatic ways. Humanity, thought Teilhard, was in the process of becoming a single organism with a single nervous system, that was increasingly tightening its hold on the planet. He took the concept of the biosphere one step further, giving rise to the concept of the “noosphere.” Teilhard saw no reason why humanity’s reach couldn’t extend even further than that, inspiring the philosophers, futurists, and scientists who followed in his wake.

Indeed, Earth has recently entered into a new geological era, one dubbed the “Anthropocene.” Scientists have finally acknowledged that human intelligence is force of nature unto itself—one that’s reshaping the planet, both for better and for worse. In future, there’s no reason to believe that intelligence won’t continue to exert itself on its environment, whether it be a planet or an entire star cluster.

In The Age of Spiritual Machines, futurist Ray Kurzweil speculates that the characteristics of the Universe may not be fixed, and that intelligence will ultimately permeate the universe and decide the destiny of the cosmos. He writes:

So will the universe end in a big crunch, or in an infinite expansion of dead stars, or in some other manner? In my view, the primary issue is not the mass of the universe, or the possible existence of antigravity, or of Einstein’s so-called cosmological constant. Rather, the fate of the universe is a decision yet to be made, one which we will intelligently consider when the time is right.

ntelligence, predicts Kurzweil, will eventually prove to be more powerful than any of the universe’s big “impersonal” forces.

The Selfish Biocosm

Complexity theorist James Gardner took this idea to its furthest extreme, by arguing that the life-friendly nature of the universe can be explained as the predictable outcome of natural processes, including life and intelligence. 

According to his “selfish biocosm” theory, “the emergence of life and ever more accomplished forms of intelligence is inextricably linked to the physical birth, evolution, and reproduction of the cosmos.” In other words, intelligence exists in the Universe not by accident; rather, it’s a deliberate and purposeful force of nature.

A consequence of Gardner’s theory would be that intelligent life creates new universes and its own successors. We may or may not be able to survive the ultimate destruction of the universe, says Gardner, but our progeny will live on elsewhere. He writes:

[We] and other living creatures are part of a vast, still undiscovered transterrestrial community of lives and intelligences spread across billions of galaxies and countless parsecs who are collectively engaged in a portentous mission of truly cosmic importance. Under the Biocosm vision, we share a common fate with that community—to help shape the future of the universe and transform it from a collection of lifeless atoms into a vast, transcendent mind.

Gardner’s theory is interesting in that it applies the Strong Anthropic Principle—the philosophical idea that the laws of the cosmos make life not just possible but inevitable—in such a way that life itself becomes responsible for the very presence of the universe.

Both Kurzweil and Gardner agree that advanced intelligence will spread out into the cosmos and convert matter into a more useable form. But while Kurzweil concedes that intelligence may not migrate far beyond its local galactic confines, Gardner speculates that intelligent life will somehow find a way to branch out “across billions of galaxies.”

The Ever-Unfolding Universe

But the Fermi Paradox could suggest otherwise. A so-called Great Filtermay be in effect, that precludes intelligent life from advancing beyond a certain developmental stage. And you could argue that the laws of the universe, as they’re currently set up, actually prevent life from advancing to a futuristic space-faring, universe-engineering phase.

(Credit: NASA)

As unlikely as it seems, however, the cosmological situation could change billions of years from now. Similar to how our Solar System was chaotic and grossly uninhabitable billions of years ago, the Universe may likewise become “safer” and more hospitable towards superintelligence in the far future than it is today. Once that developmental stage is reached, there may be no limits to what superintelligent civilizations could do to ensure their own long term prospects.

Sadly, it’s fair to wonder if our civilization didn’t show up too early in the history of the universe, to take advantage of this opportunity to shape it.

George P. Dvorsky serves as Chair of the IEET Board of Directors and also heads our Rights of Non-Human Persons program. He is a Canadian futurist, science writer, and bioethicist. He is a contributing editor at io9 — where he writes about science, culture, and futurism — and producer of the Sentient Developments blog and podcast. He served for two terms at Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association). George produces Sentient Developments blog and podcast.


I wonder if it is an important thing to survive the death of the universe? I would argue that we will need to have sufficient evidence to establish what is the universe? Astronomically, do we mean the Local Group, half of the Hubble Volume, the entire Hubble Volume, or far beyond 13.8 billion light years? How would we save the human specie, or our post human descendents, more precisely, from heat death, the cold expansion, the big rip, the rolling fart of Morgoth, or some other heinous fate, would each require from physics and astronomy, each a different solution.

We must, before all this cosmological planning occurs, is to know what dark matter is, what dark energy is. This will clear up what exactly the threat is, because these two items are because the laws of physics are entwined with these two features.  All things being equal, and without any further new discoveries to be made (unlikely!), our best bet is to opt for the possibility of uploading our bodies/minds, to a region of space, specifically, the hard vacuum, or directly into Planck cells. This concept precludes that our descendents will discover that the basis of reality is at least in some sense, computational.

George, I ike your Gizmodo article regarding the deathless electron.

Is God an electron? Ok, I will stop being so negative (nerd humor).

The selfish biocosm is pretty cool.  So the universe uses us to undergo mitosis?  Or does it use us to navigate the multiverse for sexual reproduction.  Hmm…

Still though, when you generally define the Universe as everything, even the multiverse is still just the universe.  And there is no escape, because wherever we go from where we understood the Universe would still be the Universe. 

Death isn’t necessary for evolution, though.  Just selection.  Instead of dying,we could still have design.  Even if we achieve biological immortality, we may still have children, and they may evolve over time (and those changes would continuously grow to be a majority of the population).

Yes, Paul, for those of us who dwell within, wild-ideas-ville, we can give purpose to the universe, and our selves and descendants via trans-biological actions. A.C.Clarke once had one of his characters postulate that the purpose of humans was to ‘restart’ the universe. The Biocosm approach has been dwelt with by physicist Lee Smolin. I don’t know if his hypothesis will help at all in our approach to cosmology or not? We are a species who are having great difficulty returning to the moon, let alone wander the local galaxy. This seems ages beyond our technology and our will power.

I don’t dwell within ideas-ville.  I manage and bartend at a restaurant for 60-80 hours a week.  Where I live,, 99.99% haven’t even heard oft transhumanism.  Sure, they may have heard of Elon Musk, maybe… 

A conscious Universe isn’t that wild of an idea.  I’m sure many people around here, myself included, find panpsychism a useful model.  It would make sense to anthropomorphize the Universe as well.  Weird to think of it as acting, though.  It doesn’t act against anything or with anything.  Whatever God [!!!] there is only really acts in reconstituting itself.

I am interested in the Friendliness problem.  In working on it, panpsychism has been incredibly useful.  Also, I see the growth of technology as simply another mechanism for power, which, to borrow from stat, is the probability of rejecting a null hypothesis when the alternate hypothesis (the will of the agent of said power) is true (is shown to be the will of God.)  For me when I’ve been thinking about epiphenominal cosmological models and all that goodness, I tend to anthropomorphize the universe in it’s final, actual dead state.  Really, if some entity, in some intelligence explosion, ever reaches absolute power, its consciousness will overtake the Universe’s consciousness.  I.e. it’s set of utility functions will approach to equal those of the Universe itself.  To beat the dead horse, “we will become gods.”  Or, more likely, Novamente Corp. (etc) and their stockholders will become God. 

Spud, remember that we are already creating worlds.  To make something to the detail of which we currently exist is probably impossible, although with effort we could probably simulate small parts of our existence completely accurately, say, simulating 100% the earth by turning an entire galaxy or 100 into a giant supercomputer.  Personally, I’m not a fan of space.  Elon Musk gets all the girls, yes, but other technologies are so much more pressingly important.  Instead of manned space, I’d like more than about 6 people working full time on Friendliness (I would eat only peanuts if this could be my full time job), quantum computing, AI and AGI, materials science, etc. You know, stuff on earth that will help us survive destroying ourselves through unsustainable consumption. 

But people in Charlottesville Virginia know who Elon Musk is, because space captures the imagination better than most of the rest of the stuff we transhumanists talk about.  And with imagination, for ages we’ve been creating universes already.

Not sure of the universes thing, Paul, if true, to my thinking, these “universes” die with us.

YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Stefan Sorgner co-edits “From Humanism to Meta-, Post- and Transhumanism?”

Previous entry: #23: The Age of Transhumanist Politics Has Begun: Will It Change the Concepts of Left and Right?