Did you know that the word “transhuman” literally means “beyond human”?

All over the world, scientists and intellectuals are joining the transhumanism movement.  Those that adhere to this philosophy believe that the time has come for us to use technology to take control of our own evolution.  By doing so, they believe that we can give ourselves superhuman powers and radically extend our lifespans.  Right now, the most popular movie in America is “Avengers: Age of Ultron“, and in recent years we have watched films about “mutants” and “superheroes” become some of Hollywood’s biggest moneymakers.  But transhumanists believe that we will soon be able to literally turn ourselves into such superheroes as technology continues to increase at an exponential rate.  And once we have superhuman powers and superhuman intelligence, they are convinced that we will eradicate all sickness, disease, poverty and war.  Many of them actually believe that we will be able to achieve immortality and establish a utopia on Earth just a few decades from now.  In other words, we won’t need a “God” because we will have become our own gods.

At the core of the transhumanist movement is an unshakable faith in the inevitable technological progress of humanity.  Yes, there are some transhumanists that have doubts, but for most transhumanists the solution to all of our problems is more technology.  If you are not familiar with transhumanism, the following is a really good definition that I recently came across

Transhumanism is a cultural and intellectual movement promoting the aim of transforming the human condition fundamentally by developing – and making available – technologies to enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capabilities. Transhumanist thinking studies the potential benefits and hazards of emerging technologies that could overcome basic human limitations. It also addresses ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies. Some transhumanists predict that human beings may eventually transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities that they justify a state of being known as ‘posthuman’.

Transhumanists want to help humans live much longer, and they also want to dramatically increase the quality of those lives.  Ultimately, most transhumanists are fully convinced that they will be able to defeat death altogether.  The following is a short excerpt from an ExtremeTech article

One of the core concepts in transhumanist thinking is life extension: Through genetic engineering, nanotech, cloning, and other emerging technologies, eternal life may soon be possible. Likewise, transhumanists are interested in the ever-increasing number of technologies that can boost our physical, intellectual, and psychological capabilities beyond what humans are naturally capable of (thus the termtranshuman). Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), for example, which speeds up reaction times and learning speed byrunning a very weak electric current through your brain, has already been used by the US military to train snipers. On the more extreme side, transhumanism deals with the concepts of mind uploading (to a computer), and what happens when we finally craft a computer with greater-than-human intelligence (the technological singularity).

So would you like to live forever armed with superhuman powers?

The most famous transhumanist in the world, Ray Kurzweil, actually believes that he is going to be able to do that.  But first he has to stay alive long enough for the technologies that he believes are coming to be developed.  So Kurzweil takes 150 supplements a day in an attempt to keep his body in peak condition…

The youthful 65-year-old currently takes 150 supplements a day, which he argues is the first bridge.

The idea is to build enough bridges to ensure the body holds out long enough for life-lengthening technology to come into its own.

He has likened the biology of the body to computer software and believes we are all ‘out of date’.

Kurzweil is absolutely convinced that if he can just stretch his life out long enough that technologies that will enable him to achieve immortality are right around the corner.  In fact, in a piece that he wrote for CNN he expressed his belief that our medical technologies will be “a million times more powerful” than they are today just two decades from now…

Health and medicine is now an information technology and is therefore subject to what I call the “law of accelerating returns,” which is a doubling of capability (for the same cost) about each year that applies to any information technology.

As a result, technologies to reprogram the “software” that underlie human biology are already a thousand times more powerful than they were when the genome project was completed in 2003, and will again be a thousand times more powerful than they are today in a decade, and a million times more powerful in two decades.

So will he be right?

We will just have to wait and see.

For a long time, many in the transhumanist movement (including Kurzweil) have been pointing to a time period between 2030 and 2050 during which they believe something remarkable will happen.  They believe that during that time period something known as “the singularity” will occur.  As technology increases at an exponential rate, they believe that artificial intelligence will begin to greatly surpass human intelligence at some point, and that humanity will merge with this new super intelligence.  Once that happens, they believe that the world will change in ways that we cannot even comprehend today

Kurzweil and his followers believe that a crucial turning point will be reached around the year 2030, when information technology achieves ‘genuine’ intelligence, at the same time as biotechnology enables a seamless union between us and this super-smart new technological environment. Ultimately the human-machine mind will become free to roam a universe of its own creation, uploading itself at will on to a “suitably powerful computational substrate”. We will become essentially god-like in our powers.

Does that sound good to you, or does it sound frightening?

Other transhumanists are not quite as optimistic as Kurzweil and his followers.  Just consider what Max Tegmark, the author of Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality, had to say about what life will be like after “the singularity”…

After this, life on Earth would never be the same. Whoever or whatever controls this technology would rapidly become the world’s wealthiest and most powerful, outsmarting all financial markets, out-inventing and out-patenting all human researchers, and out-manipulating all human leaders. Even if we humans nominally merge with such machines, we might have no guarantees whatsoever about the ultimate outcome, making it feel less like a merger and more like a hostile corporate takeover.

Even some of the most prominent scientists in the world are skeptical of what an ultra-powerful artificial intelligence would mean for the future of humanity.  The following is an excerpt from an article co-authored by Stephen Hawking

Looking further ahead, there are no fundamental limits to what can be achieved: there is no physical law precluding particles from being organized in ways that perform even more advanced computations than the arrangements of particles in human brains. An explosive transition is possible, although it may play out differently than in the movie: as Irving Good realized in 1965, machines with superhuman intelligence could repeatedly improve their design even further, triggering what Vernor Vinge called a “singularity” and Johnny Depp’s movie character calls “transcendence.” One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.

But despite these reservations from many in the scientific community, many transhumanists are pushing ahead as hard as they can.  Many of them are absolutely convinced that what they are doing will bring a new golden age to this planet.  Just consider the words of transhumanist Zoltan Istvan

Despite this, people continue to worry that technology and science that make our species more transhuman will be used to create a deeper divide in society for the haves and have-nots. Those worries are unfounded. A close examination of the issues show that transhumanist technology and science liberates us, brings us better health, and has improved the living standards of all people around the world. If you value liberty, equality and progress, it makes sense to embrace the coming age of transhumanism.

Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

And there are even some transhumanists that couch their hopes and dreams for the future in religious terminology.  For example, transhumanist Mark Pesce is fully convinced that transhumanism will allow ordinary humans “to become as gods”

“Men die, planets die, even stars die. We know all this. Because we know it, we seek something more—a transcendence of transience, translation to incorruptible form. An escape if you will, a stop to the wheel. We seek, therefore, to bless ourselves with perfect knowledge and perfect will; To become as gods, take the universe in hand, and transform it in our image—for our own delight. As it is on Earth, so it shall be in the heavens. The inevitable result of incredible improbability, the arrow of evolution is lipping us into the transhuman – an apotheosis to reason, salvation – attained by good works.”

That is some pretty strong stuff.

So what do you think about all of this?  Please feel free to join the discussion by leaving a comment below…


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