BY GAIA CARAMAZZA
A new book from a 100-year-old scientist and environmentalist says artificial intelligence will save us from global warming.
James Lovelock, pictured, who turned 100 last Friday, published his new book Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence on July 4 and made the hopeful prediction that machines may be the saviour of humanity after all.
Growing up on Brixton’s polluted streets, Mr Lovelock was an early believer in human-induced global warming, and influenced many of the environmentalist debates becoming mainstream today.
He intended The Revenge of Gaia, published 13 years ago, to be a “wake-up call,” predicting that by 2020 extreme weather will be the norm, whereby after 2040 much of Europe will be Saharan, and parts of London will be under water.
“Time is getting shorter, and if we do silly things like global warming it will get shorter still,” Lovelock told the BBC.
Mr Lovelock is famous for his “Gaia hypothesis”, which he formulated as early as the 1960s, arguing that earth and its biosphere comprise a single, self-regulating system.
His new book Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence, published on July 4, argues that artificial intelligence systems will become involved in the fight to protect the earth – Gaia – in order to stay alive.
But he does not envision a violent machine takeover of the planet, as often depicted by sci-fi writers and filmmakers.
Instead, he argues that because Gaia depends on organic life, humans and AI will be partners in this project.
Growing up in Brixton shaped Mr Lovelock’s interest in pollution.
When he was a young boy, his parents set up a small business in the smog-infested streets of Brixton.
“As often happens in the winter, the filthy coal smoke that polluted the Brixton air made me ill,” writes Mr Lovelock in his autobiographical book Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist.
He was sent to a primary school at the junction of Elm Park Road and Brixton Hill, and writes of his ‘embittered’ teacher, Miss Tierney, who frequently used the cane on his hands and fingers.
This fermented his dislike for school, and resulted in him skipping classes to spend time in the ‘long, untidy gardens full of shrubs that ran down to Brixton Hill.’
He also found refuge at the Brixton public library to read the latest science fiction novels.
He says that the bronchitis and pneumonia caused by the pollution of the busy Brixton streets brought him an unexpected happiness, as they saved him from the ‘tyranny of school’.
He then transferred schools, and on his walk to Strand School down Elm Park Road he passed by the notoriously grim Brixton Prison, which he said inspired ‘fantasies and fears’.
It was at this school, with the spacious science laboratories but strict punishment methods, that Mr Lovelock says started his ‘love-hate relationship with biology and biologists’.
But Mr Lovelock was determined to become a scientist since the young age of 12, in spite of his hate for school.
He could not afford to go to university, so he started working in a laboratory, and taught himself science by borrowing books from the same public library in Brixton that he frequented since he had been eight years old.
This is where he first read Wade’s Organic Chemistry and Jean’s Astronomy and Cosmology, which inspired his love for science.
He writes about fondly taking the tram to Streatham Common and exploring its flora and fauna with his dad, who had a strong interest in ecology.
Mr Lovelock wondered how the people of Brixton saw the excess in pollution as a natural occurrence, without looking for a way to defeat the thick, black veil which enveloped the capital.
He rejoiced that his family moved out of the neighbourhood after the Great Depression, otherwise he believed the effects of the smog could have become lethal.
His childhood fascination with pollution led him to become an eco-pioneer, inventing the electron capture detector in 1957, which measured the abundance of harmful substances in the atmosphere.
In his new book he writes that he does not think that there is other intelligent life in the universe, and believes that with the development of hyper-intelligent AIs, novacene could be the beginning of intelligent life spread throughout the cosmos.
James Lovelock is a Fellow of the Royal Society, and the author of more than 200 scientific papers.
In 2003 he was made a Companion of Honour by Her Majesty the Queen, and in 2006 he received the Wollaston Medal – the highest Award of the UK Geological Society.
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