Transhumanism is the new byword, popularized by the commercial ventures of Elon Musk and other futurists in the business world. What makes it so fascinating is that the technology — in some forms at least — is already here. All we need to do now is integrate it with humankind and then it’ll be a race to the top. But the top of what, exactly?
We’ve seen all the movies, haven’t we? AI: Artificial Intelligence, I, Robot and 2018’s Upgrade. Human augmentation. Technology creating the potential in us to be superhuman. To go beyond the capabilities of what we think, as Homo sapiens sapiens, is possible.
The naysayers of this position — Creationists from the world’s organized religions as well as people with a conservative bent, go against the technological advancements in AI like they’re vampires to cloves of garlic.
What we don’t know we fear.
Nobody can blame them. For who knows what the future will bring from those with sprightly enough minds to bring about a technological revolution anyway.
Transhumanism is fast approaching whether we like it or not.
Today, big businesses are pumping multiple billions into artificial intelligence (AI), not sure where it is heading yet excited by it nonetheless. The convergence of highly distinctive, yet advanced, technologies will create a monster that will be unrecognizable soon enough. And when that happens, our species will be so reliant on the innovations that we will, through a process of the merging of our neural networks to machine-based AI, become a unified phenomenon. Integrated, both physically and neurologically, as an operational entity.
“Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.”
– Elon Musk
Over the next two decades, humans will develop and evolve in parity to the technological innovations we have created. In all three ways: psychologically, physically and behaviourally, we shall be augmented and enhanced as a species based on our interdependence on our own technological advancements.
This evolutionary change will, in time, have an influence on other areas of our lives like how we behave in society, in governance, our business relationships and traditional ethical value systems.
In Stanislaw Lem’s The Star Diaries, pilot Ijon Tichy’s Twenty-first Voyage tells the story of ‘a civilisation which has achieved total corporeal and mental plasticity after a thousand-year rule by automorphists’ Although the story is just entertaining science fiction, it goes some way in recognizing and presenting what the potential technology has in creating a man who goes beyond the restraints of biological, as well as evolutionary, possibilities.
The Augmentation Hypothesis
In the future, human bodies will become stronger and more intelligent. We will exceed our current capabilities with implants and when wearable applications will become the norm. Exo-suits will give us Herculean strength that will allow us to achieve things we could only dream of in the past. We will be able to talk to a Korean in their native language with a language translator implanted in our ear and to take photos and record films with implants in our irises. Microchips in our brains will be connected to our neural networks which will then connect directly to prosthetic limbs or other external bionic applications to enhance our lives in diverse ways.
The ability that AI will present to us to calculate millions of complex problems per second will make this dream a reality. Machine learning will give us superpowers that collaboratively with AI in partnership with brain-machine interfaces (BMI), sometimes called mind-machine interfaces (MMI) as well as a few other terms, can open up channels never seen before.
But something awry lies below the surface.
Many are afraid the advances of AI and other forms of technological innovations will supersede the need for humans one day. That the human role in society will be ephemeral and eventually be controlled by robots. A transhumanist stance to this is seen by Paul Daugherty, Accenture’s Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, who believes the preponderance of AI in our lives will create jobs for humans in the areas of ‘Trainers, Explainers and Sustainers’.
Light at the end of the tunnel, then.
Speedy Thought Processes
Currently, big businesses such as Facebook and Neuralink are developing brain-machine interfaces that will effectively change communication between humans. Language discourses, and the way we use these communicative operations, are at this time circumscribed by a number of factors including how fast we can talk and the number of words we have at our disposal at any one time. This is the same with writing freehand or typing on a computer: There are only so many words we can write and type in a second/minute. Humans physically have a limit they cannot surpass. However, BMIs will be able to change this and give us more speed and accuracy in a number of cognitive areas:
- enhance the ‘internal cognitive mechanics’, by that how our memory functions by better organizing the encoded data that travels to our brains through empirical as well as sensory experiences, then storing it systematically for easy-flow retrieval
- improve a human’s ‘outward cognitive mechanics’ of the basic communicative tools with ‘hybrid thinking’, as espoused by Ray Kurzweil, who believes the collaboration of human and cyber intelligence will lead to a greater linguistic capability enhancement of how we are understood in the future by not only other humans but by machine intelligence too. This is already realized partly with the advent of Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Alexa and other first-generation chatbots with the two-way communication between machine and user
- revamp our sensory modalities of smell and touch with the use of biosensor implants connected between the neural networks of human and AI applications
- boost our interpretation and cognitive functions in relationship to multi-dimensional patterns in time and space, which could, if applied correctly, grant us the ability, for example, to 360-degree vision
- give us — though this is an obvious advantage of a successful implantation of a BMI system — enhanced thinking speed and problem-solving abilities
The Empathy Revolution
Virtual reality, and our adoption of it, will play a dominant role in the future when it allows us to empathize with others by giving us a unique perspective on how they live and behave. Humans’ neural pathways will be interlocked by BMIs to give us a unique perspective on the thinking and rationality of other people. This, it is hoped, will make us more susceptible to other people’s calamities, beliefs and value systems. And, if used correctly, could stop wars, suffering and other manmade maladies that seem all too common in the early 21st century.
“Artificial intelligence is the science of making machines do things that would require intelligence if done by men”
Emotional intelligence, and the level an individual shows of it, could play a key role in how well a person responds to the outer phenomenological objects played out by the virtual world. People with a higher level of emotional intelligence would be — in theory at least — able to respond better to the signals given off by the object in their visual field of human behavioral traits such as breathing patterns, tone of voice and eye contact to name a few.
Giving people the chance to endure — say a battle and all its terrible consequences — through the technology of VR, could create in them a sense of empathy to the virtual experience they have undergone, which is then hoped will change them as people in regard to their political beliefs and how they feel about their country’s warmongering tendencies. This could change a person’s individual opinion on their nation’s foreign policies, attitude to refugees and how they view and spend money.
Business, Business, Business
Following on from money, futurists believe AI will develop the industrial sphere with smart factories becoming the norm. People will collaborate with their AI counterparts to enhance their productivity ratio and offer advice on work performance, as well as AI giving one-to-one-based training and guidance in any area of an individual’s personal goals and performance. In the boardroom, too, there will be a shift from human leadership when directors and managers are partly replaced by AI for certain functions.
Advanced machine learning in the coming decades will also make it easier via complex algorithms to retroactively study and analyse past use cases and historical statistics from market trends and use them for future predictions. This will be compounded by the application of more advanced machines in the form of quantum computers.
Humanity’s Transhumanist Final Destination
Freidrich Nietzche Übermensch philosophy of the Superman may soon be here. The technological enhancement of our bodies is not a new theory. To improve upon ourselves is just human nature and has been a known goal for centuries.
“It is their belief that we can and should eradicate ageing as a cause of death; that we can and should use technology to augment our bodies and our minds; that we can and should merge with machines, remaking ourselves, finally, in the image of our own higher ideals.”
— Mark O’Connell, author of
To do this we are creating for ourselves a better life, at least materially speaking. By merging our bodies, that is the biological and anatomical parts to bionic/robotic applications, we will by default be creating a being with greater physical strength and vastly more intelligence. Not to mention an extended life span, that if aligned with the life cycle of the machines we will be integrated into, could see us reach incalculable ages.
It’s a pity Michael Jackson won’t be around to see that!
However, do we really want to go in this direction?
The benefits of such an approach to our future could, for obvious reasons, be astronomical in regard to human development and the way we will be able to control and understand our environment. Yet, from this there come the dilemmas, both in the ethical and evolutionary spheres.
Such transhumanist dreams of a more developed human being are all fine and dandy when we’re talking about old people, mentally disabled or the infirmed, extending their lives or, at the very least, making them feel more comfortable in their predicament, but what with the rest of us: the young, the strong, the intelligent Harvard graduate with no health problems and certainly no mental disorders?
Do we just improve on something that is not broken? Do we believe this will make us better human beings?
With proponents of transhumanism getting their way, Usain Bolt’s ten-year-old 100-metre world record of 9.58 seconds will not be a record for very much longer.
Bionic people— with either carbon-fiber implants or some other dazzling feat of technological innovation like Musk’s idea of neural lace:
“…you have your limbic system, the cortex, and then a digital layer, sort of a third layer above the cortex that could work well and symbiotically with you… Some sort of interface with your cortical neurons… A complete roadway to all of your neurons.”
Exciting and scary in equal measure. Over the next few years, things will be escalating in the technological realm like never before.
So, strap yourselves in folks, because where we’re going we don’t need roads!