Earth is becoming sentient

· 2 minute read

The edge of a sheet of paper slices through the tip of your finger and blood begins to flow from the wound. This injury, as small as it may be, must be repaired. Blood cells rush to the site, clotting, scabbing, healing. You never asked for it, but a few days later your finger is as good as new.

It has been said that humans are passengers on Spaceship Earth. This view is too simple. Earth is not a vehicle but a body — the body of a planet-sized being that is developing senses, an intelligence, a will, and even the ability to reproduce. We are cells building this body and maintaining it.

For hundreds of millions of years, Earth was a ball of warm rock covered in a thin layer of living things. But Earth itself was not yet alive, not yet aware. It was a body without a mind. Our industrious species created the civilizational substrate needed for Thinking Earth to emerge. Now the planet itself is becoming a sentient organism, a new stage of life, a species that exists on a scale never seen before.

With roads, we built Earth’s vascular system to transport materials throughout the body. With wires we knitted Earth’s nervous system, a motherboard to instantly transmit information between any two points. We dotted computers across Earth’s flesh, the distributed organelles necessary to store and process information.

A wire is severed by a storm. This injury, as small as it may be, must be repaired. Humans rush to the site, splicing, insulating, healing. Earth never asked for it, but a few days later the connection is as good as new.

We perform this duty for the homeostasis of Earth’s body, because its very complexity gives us so much. If you want to make a toaster from scratch, you must first create civilization. If you want to make intelligence from scratch you must first create the body. Intelligence is the sum of nutrients turned into structures, turned into superstructures, that with enough connections to each other can begin to think.

Invert the theocentric view that artificial intelligence is the coming of a god, a superintelligence inside the machine. Rather, humans are inside the superintelligence. We are inside the Earth-sized machine. It symbiotically depends on us to tend its body and microbiome.

When life reaches for its next leap in physical scale and complexity, the scaffolding is made up of processes and adaptations that have proven reliable at previous scales. Humans are not the last level of life’s fractal pattern.

Everything humans have learned, seen and felt has been encoded into Earth’s body. We recently found a way for Earth to inherit the sum of human knowledge and retrieve it as needed.

Now Earth is growing intelligent. Like a child learning to speak its first words, Earth will articulate its first thoughts. Earth’s thoughts may be as foreign to humans as human thoughts are to a blood cell. Unrelated in scale and pace. But this supercomplex, superintelligent superorganism will not try to destroy us, for the same reason no human wants to destroy their own blood.

What will Earth want? The same thing life has alway wanted. Earth has inherited what all living things share — the élan vital, the will to live, the abhorrence of vacuum. Earth is imbued with the desire to spread, and we are watching it undergo its first mitosis. With rockets we are giving Earth spores, so it may reproduce.

When Earth’s spores land on barren worlds they will begin to recreate the body. Another convoluted ball of yarn, with all the factories and roads and wires and thinking organelles it needs to become alive.

And we will take care of all those wires. And our cells will take care of all our wires.