Can You Tell Me Why - surprising answers to difficult questions
TOPIC: Can we live for ever? Is death about to pass away? We're exploring both the ways that this may become possible, as well as the ethical pros and cons of pursuing this goal.
Today I met with a journalist who also happens to be a friend. His name is William Verity. Any encounter with William is one that you never forget. Although we had somewhat lost touch for the greater part of 7+ years, Michael and I often think of William, and I have even spoken about him to my kids.
What is so profound about William? You can only ever be direct with him. A lot of journalists just want a "Grab-n-Go" discussion- that wonderful two-liner to add to a narrative. But not William. William always tries to get to the bottom of things.
William found my office a few minutes after 1pm. I've moved about twice since I last saw him... It was so good to see him. I wish well of all people, but some people in particular, stay with you in your heart in lively remembrance.
As William walked into my office, he saw a wad of paper on a circular meeting table. He asked me if I was busy writing something, and I told him I had been busy preparing for our interview. Before me were highlighted pages with copious handwritten notes made on most pages.
I welcome all opportunities to reflect and to continue to learn in follow-up reading, discourse, new questions. The truth is after more than 500 media interviews, it is journalists who keep me on my toes, and it is journalists who ask those questions at "point blank" that force me to pursue avenues for answers.
For me, radio and television broadcast (even print media) is as important as the research I am engaged in, afterall my work is on the social implications of technology. And so I give it equal care, and equal time to my research papers. A 5 minute interview can sometimes take hours to prepare for. A 20 minute podcast might take 6 hours. And then there is the attention to precise detail, statistics, sentiment, and most importantly making language comprehensible to the masses.
Sometimes I turn up to interviews and end up speaking about a topic that had little to do with my original 'statement of work'. I try to adapt accordingly. It took me several years but by 2007 I learnt to "let go". Yes I come fully prepared, and yes, I no longer have to read out verbatim-- but I still am pedantic about facts and figures!
As an academic, the bottom line is you have to be prepared. I examine things from as many different angles as possible. I know what I believe, but sometimes what I believe and what I have found is not enough. Most times people are not asking me what I think. In fact, the job of an academic is to be objective and to tell it according to the results of a survey.
I thought I would write down some of the sources I came across in answering the question "can we live forever? Is death about to pass away?" This wasn't your typical "x%" of people believe this and "y%" of people believe that. This topic requires higher order thinking, it requires the mashing of facts and one's personal beliefs, to ponder on the realm of possibilities.
I likely had gathered enough material to spur on a series of lectures. Below, in a non-sequential manner, I have recorded some of my beliefs, some of my reference material, and some of my academic findings.
This is "draft". If you want to cite it, please ask me first.
Most importantly, if you are reading this blogpost and vehemently disagree with me or my supporting evidence, I am more than okay with that to. Up front I do not apologise for my Christian beliefs, I've never hidden them from students or the public, but at the same time I've never consciously discriminated against others because they believe in something else or nothing else. Faith is a personal journey.
Humanity stands to be profoundly affected by science and technology in the future. We envision the possibility of broadening human potential by overcoming aging, cognitive shortcomings, involuntary suffering, and our confinement to planet Earth.
We believe that humanity's potential is still mostly unrealized. There are possible scenarios that lead to wonderful and exceedingly worthwhile enhanced human conditions.
We recognize that humanity faces serious risks, especially from the misuse of new technologies. There are possible realistic scenarios that lead to the loss of most, or even all, of what we hold valuable. Some of these scenarios are drastic, others are subtle. Although all progress is change, not all change is progress.
Research effort needs to be invested into understanding these prospects. We need to carefully deliberate how best to reduce risks and expedite beneficial applications. We also need forums where people can constructively discuss what should be done, and a social order where responsible decisions can be implemented.
Reduction of existential risks, and development of means for the preservation of life and health, the alleviation of grave suffering, and the improvement of human foresight and wisdom should be pursued as urgent priorities, and heavily funded.
Policy making ought to be guided by responsible and inclusive moral vision, taking seriously both opportunities and risks, respecting autonomy and individual rights, and showing solidarity with and concern for the interests and dignity of all people around the globe. We must also consider our moral responsibilities towards generations that will exist in the future.
We advocate the well-being of all sentience, including humans, non-human animals, and any future artificial intellects, modified life forms, or other intelligences to which technological and scientific advance may give rise.
We favour allowing individuals wide personal choice over how they enable their lives. This includes use of techniques that may be developed to assist memory, concentration, and mental energy; life extension therapies; reproductive choice technologies; cryonics procedures; and many other possible human modification and enhancement technologies.
The Transhumanist Declaration was originally crafted in 1998 by an international group of authors: Doug Baily, Anders Sandberg, Gustavo Alves, Max More, Holger Wagner, Natasha Vita-More, Eugene Leitl, Bernie Staring, David Pearce, Bill Fantegrossi, den Otter, Ralf Fletcher, Kathryn Aegis, Tom Morrow, Alexander Chislenko, Lee Daniel Crocker, Darren Reynolds, Keith Elis, Thom Quinn, Mikhail Sverdlov, Arjen Kamphuis, Shane Spaulding, and Nick Bostrom. This Transhumanist Declaration has been modified over the years by several authors and organizations. It was adopted by the Humanity+ Board in March, 2009.
On the surface the Transhumanist Declaration looks entirely honourable. Who doesn't want to advance science and technology and medicine for a better humanity? IEEE, the Institute I have been a part since I completed my PhD has a tagline of Advancing Technology for Humanity. I find no disagreement here with the declaration for the greater part. But for me personally, and as a researcher and practitioner, the cracks begin to appear here:
We advocate the well-being of all sentience, including humans, non-human animals, and any future artificial intellects, modified life forms, or other intelligences to which technological and scientific advance may give rise.
I would argue there is a reason why humans are humans. Whether you believe in evolution, that man was created from dust by God, or in the Big Bang- in the end humans are unique, they have inherited/granted/given a rational mind. I don't see chimpanzees or trees "talking" but for me these creations surely point to an exquisite Creator. The earth and all therein is so beautiful and symmetric and so interdependent and biodiverse.
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6)
There is knowledge that humans can accumulate, but beyond knowledge humans can have wisdom. I am not an advocate that humans are on the same level playing field as animals, nor as plants or the sea, or robots or AI software. I don't want to see human rights disappear. I do believe in a biodiverse world, in the preservation of our Earth, in sustainability, and the requirement for an urgent response to today's ecological crisis. There can be no 'transhumanism' if there will be no earth to inhabit. Regardless, the Sun has a finite life estimated at between 5 and 8 billion years.
No, I don't think the answer is in transhumanism. That would be working against nature, it would be working against global human cooperation, it would be rejecting the very reason we are inhabitants on this wonderful planet we call Earth. In my mind, transhumanism has a nihilistic bend to it. What we cannot fix through long-term resolution, we can just replace with a hunk of metal and silicon. It is part of the consumption mantra- buy and dispose, and then buy again and dispose again. The upgrade generation. The ideology that says 'we've stuffed up the planet so let's just start again by rebuilding a world that doesn't require the natural resources of the world'.
For now at least, the sarx (i.e. the body) decays and dies. Like all things, it has a limit. Like all things the sarx is vulnerable to risk, accident, illness. We are flesh and blood, and if you believe people of a monotheistic faith, and even transhumanists, the human also has a soul.
Some of my transhumanist close friends will likely say I am "misinterpreting" the guts of transhumanist beliefs, or in fact the social movement (that some call a religion) in totality. Not so, I see some good elements in the beliefs of transhumanists that are not in conflict with my own beliefs. And yet, this does not make me a transhumanist. There are so many 'branches' of transhumanism already that it seems anything goes.
But this is where the topic starts to get a little interesting. Much of it, whether you stand on one side or the other, or in degrees of freedom, has to do with "beliefs" or "value judgments" which we form about things. These value judgments determine whether or not you can embrace transhumanism el complete or not. Value judgments stem from viewpoints usually formed about where we have come from and how we should conduct ourselves. Yes, it is about morality. Nowadays these morals, for reasons of consensus, are encapsulated in ethical guidelines to allow diverse populations of peoples from different cultures to come together. The 10 commandments once held true for vast numbers of the population that embraced the Old Testament but increasingly these commandments are being challenged as having been superseded.
The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17)
20 And God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; 11 for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
13 “You shall not kill.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Unsurprising to me, is that about 1/3 of transhumanists surveyed by James Hughes (the director of IEET) found a decade ago that transhumanists surveyed stated they had some affiliation to a religious organisation- Catholic, Protestant, Morman, Islam or other. According to Dr Hughes transhumanism followers belong to one of two main camps- those who focus on trans-humanism or those who focus on transhuman-ism.
Our sacred books have long been used to influence our judgments on whether applications of technology have been ethical or unethical, good or bad.
Just today we heard from Mashable about a new religion focused on AI and there was also some years ago the crowdfunded launch of the Church of Transhumanism (which I have to be honest knowing Amal Graafstra was likely a joke- but one never knows these days).
It all reminds me of a pertinent scene in THX-1138. The protagonist has been conditioned to confess his sins and doubts to a 'machine'. The machine has a large face of Jesus Christ on its projection. It responds to the protagonist, and then the camera lens shows the screen plugged into a powerpoint outlet. There is a strange amphibian-like creature within the tape deck but who knows what this is exactly! I'd love to research this further one day soon!
Maybe it is the god-style head depicted in C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength.
In transhumanism, somehow we shift our hopes to the machine, away from the God. Or perhaps more precisely, we become gods through the help of the machine, without the need for God. This is reminiscent of the plot in That Hideous Strength.
All of this seems greatly to revolve around one of the three main arguments against the transhumanist ideal- hubris. In Genesis we find the story of the Tower of Babel. The people begin to try to reach the Heavens, the divine, by building the tallest tower they could. There is truth in these stories. Man believes he can get to heaven on his own accord without the support of the divine. You cannot blame the people for trying, but the attempt was futile.
The Tower of Babel
11 Now the whole earth had one language and few words. 2 And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused[a] the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9)
Before I go on, my position is often confused. I am accused by people who do not know me as being a Luddite (I evidently use more tech than most, especially for productivity purposes). I am accused of not liking progress (no I am not against prosthetics- just the opposite, I believe they are biomedical marvels), I am not against transplants (but do believe that this is a personal choice), do I wish to live longer (who doesn't? but not at the expense of brain atrophy and significant losses to my quality of life).
Which leads me to the question I was asked by William Verity- can we live forever?
Can we live forever?
My personal beliefs are that humans can live forever. "The last enemy to be destroyed is death" 1 Cor 15:26. I cite Scripture unashamedly. Our sacred books have guided us for thousands of years. Why would I look for another way? All three monotheistic faiths for the greater part believe in life after death.
Jewish View of Death
Traditional Judaism firmly believes that death is not the end of human existence. However, because Judaism is primarily focused on life here and now rather than on the afterlife, Judaism does not have much dogma about the afterlife, and leaves a great deal of room for personal opinion.
Belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead is a fundamental belief of traditional Judaism. It was a belief that distinguished the Pharisees (intellectual ancestors of Rabbinical Judaism) from the Sadducees. The Sadducees rejected the concept, because it is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah. The Pharisees found the concept implied in certain verses. Source:
Muslim View of Death
Death in Islam is the termination of worldly life and the beginning of afterlife. Death is seen as the separation of soul from body, and its transfer from this world to the afterlife. Thus, it is the continuation of life in another form... Islamic tradition discusses elaborately, almost in graphic detail, as to what exactly happens before, during, and after the death. The angel of death (Arabic: Malak al-Maut). The sinners' souls are extracted in a most painful way while the righteous are treated easily. After the burial, two angels – Munkar and Nakir – come to question the dead in order to test their faith. The righteous believers answer correctly and live in peace and comfort while the sinners and disbelievers fail and punishments ensue. The time period or stage between death and the end of the world is called the life of barzakh. Suicide, Euthanasia, and unjust murder as means of death are all prohibited in Islam, and are considered major sins. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_view_of_death
Christian View of Death
Here, I would once more like to repeat and emphasize that God did not create the world for this separation, dying, ruin and corruption. And for this reason the Christian Gospel proclaims that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” The Resurrection is the recreation of the world in its original beauty and totality. It is the complete spiritualization of matter and the complete incarnation of the spirit in God’s creation. The world has been given to man as his life, and for this reason, according to our Christian Orthodox teaching, God will not annihilate it but will transfigure it into “a new heaven and a new earth,” into man’s spiritual body, into the temple of God’s presence and God’s glory in creation. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death…” And that destruction, that extermination of death began when the Son of God Himself in His immortal love for us voluntarily descended into death and its darkness, filling its despair and horror with His light and love. And this is why we sing on Pascha not only “Christ is risen from the dead,” but also “trampling down death by death…” Source: http://www.schmemann.org/byhim/thechristianconceptofdeath.html
An abandonment of tried and tested principles of 2000 years old, for a techno-myth? Technology fails. We can't even get powerpoint to work at BIG conferences, and we are willing to hedge our bets with AI and robo-prosthesis? C'mon!
Humans have been imbued with free will. The freedom to make decisions using a rational brain. They can cause harm, and they can cause joy. Before you raise 'let's end the suffering' argument, I'd challenge you think about the fact that we live in an imperfect and fallen world. No I don't believe in suffering for the sake of it, and I don't believe that suffering gets one to heaven. But in a world where nothing could ever go wrong "theoretically", and in a world that meant we could live "forever" through some transhumanist means, I'd imagine a lot more crime because consequences just would not mean much.
There are many good people in the world who do not believe in a God. One might say, "how are these persons good?" My answer has to do with being made in the image and likeness of God. Whether we accept there is a God or not, we are created in an image with certain characteristics. While we might think we are completely autonomous beings, there is something in us that helps us to believe that murder is wrong, that rape is wrong, that starving oneself to death is wrong, and much more. This is not to say that some people act in ways they should not, but as a collective, deep down, most people in society abide by certain fundamental principles. And yes, these for the greater part are depicted in the Ten Commandments as already noted.
If I am wrong about the Holy Resurrection then "we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Cor 15:18). But my faith dictates otherwise, and it is a 'gamble' I'd rather take than forego. You can differ with me on my views, and that's okay, but I'd challenge you to think about that little voice in your head that occasionally does call out to Abba-Father in times of need or in times of peace or in times of thanks or in times of praise.
No matter how we look at it, our Creator, or evolution itself, whatever you believe, did not make us a "race of robots" or as "repetitive stereotypes" as Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says. And because we are unique what's important is that we retain our "image". The fact that we can walk on two feet and talk to each other in different languages, these are things that can be considered human faculties. Allow them to atrophy or replacing them with other things when we have no requirement to do so, is to reject our faculties and in some way to deny ourselves.
Rather than being merely preoccupied with living forever on earth (like a broken record that loops endlessly), isn't it time we begin to reconsider the cultivation of our inner selves like the ancient philosophers and theologians once did? What condition is my heart in? How can I love those around me? How can I help others? At the same time I would advocate a position that says our body should be treated with care if we wish to live a healthier and longer life.
Should I take medicines when I am sick? The answer is of course. Part of God's gifts to scientists and doctors is an intellect to help them strive toward the discovery of penicillin that has changed the face of medicine and aided humans to live longer. Electricity has not only helped us keep warmer and very cold climates but provides lighting to our homes and power to our devices.
For me, death has already been trampled on by Jesus Christ.
54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55)
Yes, I do believe "What you sow does not come to life unless it dies." 1 Cor 15:36.
"The last enemy to be destroyed is death." 1 Cor 15:26. And death was destroyed by the crucifixion of Christ and His resurrection. Which is why at Easter we chant the following Troparion:
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
I do believe for everything there is a season... "a time to be born, and a time to die" (Ecclesiastes 3:2).
As noted in the Nicene Creed:
I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the age to come.
And as recorded by St John the Seer of Patmos (Revelation 21:3-4) I await the new Heaven and the new Earth (Revelation 21:1):
3 and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people,[a] and God himself will be with them;[b] 4 he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”
Are We Walking into a Sci-Fi Reality
I can thank my brother, seven years my senior for exposing me to a lot of science fiction from a very young age. Much of my love for emerging technologies came from watching 2001: A Space Odyssey and so much more. One day I want to catalog what all of this meant to me as I developed an awareness of my family, my own self, the notion of suffering, hope, limits, eternality and God's presence.
From a young age, I thought of many interesting things that have now been formed into arguments like "superintelligence". But for whatever reason, I am not so "taken" by our "new takes" on things of old. I think it is great that we are talking about such things as "superintelligence" but for me they are old arguments just packaged up in new ways. A lot of people have difficultly remembering that World War Two happened less than 70 years ago. The atrocities are fresh still in some survivors. But the stories of survival are now fading, as that generation slowly disappears.
For anyone with any inkling of philosophy or theology we are just rehashing arguments that have been put forward during a time there was limited technology. Ideas like 'brain in a vat' or even 'super cognitive intelligence' are not new. The Ubermensch is yet another old concept. What is bewildering is that we believe today that we have the technology know-how to do it all, and the means to do it through supercomputer powers, and well, yadda yadda. I caution, such goals will lead to inhumane animal and human experimentation. It is NOT in the best interest to pursue such goals, even if we think we can hack the brain, in time, through projects like the Brain Project and the Brain Initiative.
I often think back to the James Bond movie "Moonraker".
Jaws captures Bond and Goodhead, to which Drax reveals his plan to destroy human life by launching 50 globes that would dispense the nerve gas into Earth's atmosphere. Drax had transported several dozen genetically perfect young men and women of varying races to the space station in the shuttles. They would live there until Earth was safe again for human life; their descendants would be the seed for a "new master race". Bond persuades Jaws to switch his allegiance by getting Drax to admit that anyone not measuring up to his physical standards, including Dolly, would be exterminated.
What got me in Moonraker was the need to create "perfect young men and women", that we need to "destroy human life" so we can overcome that which is misery or suffering. In terms of the movie it is the creation of a "new master race". To me that is not only irrational as an ideal but cannot be without mass destruction to human life. And yet we already have proposals toward legalised infanticide. Again, if it does not work, just start again. But here we are discussing human life, not a tech part from Dell.
There are many biomedical specialists who are crying out today: "let the body do what it knows best- biology; and let the tech be the external interface to the biology". I am paraphrasing simply here but many are advocating 'don't mess with the body'. Among them the Director of the Biomedical Institute at Imperial College London, Professor Christofer Toumazou.
I too advocate this position. I would add we should not be controlling the sex of our baby, we should not be plugging in pacemakers to "cure" shyness or to make our children "more confident". We have a world that is dictated by diversity for a reason. What is normal? What is perfect? What should not be? The introduction of ultrasound machines have had a significant impact in China. In 2015, Chinese men outnumbered Chinese women by over 33 million. This gender bias has had significant issues.
But would I use brain pacemakers to help people with Parkinson's Disease? A resounding "yes" if that candidate patient can be helped by such treatment options, etc.
Terri Bookman and I had the opportunity to interview Ray Kurzweil in 2014 about transhumanism. He has a position that says that biological limits of humans will be transcended by technology. That humans will always be. That the Singularity will occur. But Kurzweil does not believe in the complete replacement of the human body. He wrote:
The Transhumanist Movement articulates a vision of transcending - going beyond - our current limitations as biological humans. One way to do that is to reprogram our biology, and that process, called biotechnology, is well underway and will reach its mature phase in one to two decades. We will then go beyond even an optimized and reprogrammed biology with nanotechnology. One quintessential application will be blood cell sized robots that act as an immune system, one that will not have the limitations of our current biological immune system (which, for example, does not recognize cancer as a foe because it thinks it is you). The Transhumanist movement also envisions augmenting ourselves both physically and mentally by integrating with our technology. These are all concepts of the Singularity movement as well. The Singularity concept is a bit broader in that it focuses on AI, not just as an augmentation of humans.
My views are certainly consistent with the Trans-humanist movement. My only hesitation is that I don't like the term Transhumanism because it implies that we will transcend our humanity. The way I articulate this is that we will remain human but transcend our biological limitations. To transcend limitations is precisely what being human is all about. So we are not seeking to transcend humanity, only the current limitations of humanity, and that is a process already underway. However, we are stuck with this term. We are also stuck with other terms that I don't like, such as artificial intelligence (which implies that the intelligence is not real) or virtual reality (same problem).
Transhumanism is a realistic view of what will happen to our species. It has implications for issues that religion has attempted to deal with, but it is not a religion in that it does not imply a particular dogma about issues as the purpose and goals of life.
The Trouble with Transhumanism
I don't have time to articulate my views at present on arguments against transhumanism. Others have spent a much longer time considering the main issues with transhumanist beliefs. Among these I would point to two articles. You can conduct peer reviewed searches also using Scopus, but for now some generalist perspectives which are readable and congruent with the vast majority of believes of those individuals that have 'trouble with transhumanism'.
Wesley J. Smith of the Center for Bioethics and Culture wrote this piece in 2011: http://www.cbc-network.org/2011/08/the-trouble-with-transhumanism-2/. The paper was in response to an article on transhumanism written by Kyle Munkittrick in Discover magazine. Of interest to me on reading Smith's article was an emphasis on:
- a Utopian social movement
- seizing control of human evolution
- creating a post-human species
- defeating human aging
- research into transhumanism preceding funding in health care aid in Africa
- eugenic and anti-human exceptionalist values
- the notion of Body Identity Integrity Disorder
- improving intelligence
- uploading individual human consciousness into computer
- removing reproduction from intimacy and female child bearing
- future children via cloning or IVF
- allowing genetic modification
Perhaps most disturbing, Smith writes, was the following passage by Munkittrick:
Actions such as abortion, assisted suicide, voluntary amputation, gender reassignment, surrogate pregnancy, body modification, legal unions among adults of any number, and consenting sexual practices would be protected under law. One’s genetic make-up, neurological composition, prosthetic augmentation, and other cybernetic modifications will be limited only by technology and one’s own discretion. Transhumanism cannot happen without a legal structure that allows individuals to control their own bodies. When bodily freedom is as protected and sanctified as free speech, transhumanism will be free to develop.
“Animals (including humans),” he writes—deploying yet another human-diminishing sentiment—”will be granted rights based on varying degrees of personhood . . . When African grey parrots, gorillas, and dolphins have the same rights as a human toddler, a transhuman friendly rights system will be in place.”
No doubt issues of human dignity and the obligation for individual behavioral restraint come into play.
Elsewhere Massimo Pigliucci writes on the main issues contra transhumanism, in a blogpost "Why We Don't Need Transhumanism". I list them here in numbered items and encourage you to read the short article in full. Important to note, that Massimo is a rationalist thinker who does not have much time for "Christian-sounding arguments".
- Transhumanism is irrelevant.
- Transhumanism is simply another version of futurism.
- Serious issues of hubris at play.
- Serious issues of access, fairness, and protection from abuse.
- There is the issue of priorities.
- Potentially disastrous ecological consequences for humanity.
- Do your really want some people (e.g. politicians or criminals) to live forever?
a fundamental difference between improving the human lot through medicine, agriculture, and other technologies on the one hand, and permanently and radically altering the human genetic makeup on the other hand.
He summarises the three major objections to transhumanism as: "it robs life of meaning; it's dehumanizing; it's hubris..."
He concludes his article by saying:
"Fortunately, I don’t really think transhumanism is a threat to anyone, just like no futurist has ever been. These movements are populated by naive optimists with a fairly high degree of narcissism, but they are otherwise mostly harmless."
Not So Fast
What is happening to Society?
With news that we have now offered citizenship to Sophia the robot in Saudi Arabia (something that most of us saw coming in the industry at large), it is obvious that we are challenging what it means to have human agency and for that matter human rights. In a country where women have no rights to drive a vehicle as yet (allegedly that is coming in 2018), and where women have to appear with a male chaperone, we have given citizenship rights to a robot? This smacks volumes about empathy, care, love. We are a society growing cold, as cold as our machines, that are neither warm blooded, or cold blooded. As much as we'd like to believe it, robots are not living, and certainly they are not human, even though they might look like that on the outside. Robots don't thirst. They also can't pray. And as Kallistos Ware says: "you may love your computer, but your computer does not love you."
Do we wish to live in a virtual world? Do we wish to be loved in a pretend way? Mimicry and fakery it will be, if we clone someone's whole life and all the words they speak, and imbue devices with "worldly spirits". Yes, I can download my mind, clone myself, and leave my whole estate to myself in some strange process of rebirth but as a posthuman organism, I will likely get bored with that too.
Norbert Wiener on the call to ethical applications of new technology
Wiener spoke much about the changing times. His wake up call came with the dropping of two atomic bombs. Wiener's sensitivities were sparked by seeing so many innocent people killed. While he disowned the possibility of working on any further projects with the military complex, he used his skills to investigate feedback loops in cybernetic systems.
I encourage you to read two of the articles I've co-authored below and then read the references in the Bibliography sections of the papers. Books written between the 1930 and 1960s by Wiener are so important.
Speaking Out Against Socially Destructive Technologies http://technologyandsociety.org/speaking-out-against-socially-destructive-technologies/
Wiener's Cybernetics Legacy: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7302634/
Some of the questions my coauthors and I have asked previously:
- Who is shaping the direction and purposes of technological innovation. today?
- What motivates their engagement within these processes and fields?
- In what ways are they shaping society?
- How do other stakeholders become more influential in making decisions about the technology process?
- How are government and industry communicating with the public about the developments taking place?
See Remaining Human – A Film by J. Mitchell Johnson and Robert M. Elfstrom. The film is about the father of cybernetics, Prof Norbert Wiener.
Resistance is Not Futile
To conclude please read this article.
In this article MG Michael and I traverse the standard catchphrase that "resistance is futile". We argue it is "not" futile and we try to make a case for this. We note that The Borg's singular goal in sci-fi is the "consumption of technology". We point to dialogue in Robots (2005) that has to do with upgrades.
Now, let’s get down to the business of sucking every loose penny... out of Mr. and Mrs. Average-Knucklehead. What’s our big-ticket item? Upgrades, people. Upgrades. That’s how we make the dough. Now, if we’re telling robots that no matter what they’re made of, they’re “fine”... how can we expect them to feel crummy enough about themselves... to buy our upgrades and make themselves look better? Therefore, I’ve come up with a new slogan. “Why be you when you can be new?” I gotta tell you, I think it’s brilliant...
We describe our concerns for the tech utopia we are allegedly engaged in building. It has to do with:
- media and the few dominant voices supposedly representing the majority
- drowning out 'minority voices'
The paradox is that the very few speaking out for upgrades (and perhaps extending the metaphor of the paper further to transhumanism) allegedly represent the many. We should not be surprised. The power of the Internet is significant. The power to reach the masses through propaganda is more powerful than ever before. And $ have always ruled.
As Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism about the "bright lights" that can disengage us from deeper reflection. It is what Arthur Schopenhauer over a century ago, also calls non-stop noise.
In 2000, Bill Joy wrote in Wired
“We are being propelled into this new century with no plan, no control, no brakes. Have we already gone too far down the path to alter course? I don’t believe so, but we aren’t trying yet, and the last chance to assert control – the fail-safe point – is rapidly approaching”.
There is so much more to say... Alas-- I'll stop here. One thing I am much aware of is that we must work together toward a more sustainable future.
AI Should be Harnessed
I won't go on about the fallacious use of the term "AI" to mean everything from "data mining" to "machine learning" to "predictive analytics" and "big data".
Everywhere I go I hear about how AI is changing the world.
I get it.
But my ideal is seeing AI used for positive human application, not working against humans.
I'll try and not get upset here over the way AI will be integrated into visual analytics to force people "to keep honest".
I spoke to another journalist this afternoon for over 1 hour, based out of Melbourne.
My PhD student, Alexander Hayes and I have also been talking about how body worn cameras are being utilised by police forces in the USA and elsewhere.
It seems to me that beyond enslavement, that transhumanism will just the opposite to its intent, entrap and enslave and kill off individual freedoms. What then? Who really wishes to live their life "downloading their mind" onto some computer encased in a storage facility, that is encased on a rack? No thanks, not me.
See also my PhD thesis from 2003.