Dipping toes into transhumanism

Transhumanism (not to be confused with posthumanism, which is related topic though) is something I find extremely intriguing. It’s also one of the major themes of Herculeum, my little roguelike game in the works. I can’t claim to be expert on this matter (as I can’t claim to be expert on many matters that I write about, so consider this more of a diary where I chronicle what I have read).

As the speed of how inventions and discoveries is ever increasing, we are soon facing even harder questions that we have never had to confront. Earth has only limited amount of resources and one could argue that wealth has never before been so unequally distributed. I can easily imagine a world where the richest are buying designer bodies for their yet to born children, while poorest are still walking kilometers to fetch tainted water from some muddy pit.

As with many other things, there won’t be an overnight change that marks transition to a new era. Instead, there will be small steps here and there that combine to a larger journey. Some of those steps have already been taken, many still remain to be taken. Already there are screenings for unborn babies in many countries that aim to limit birth defects. Organ transplants are common and scientists are researching ways to create those artificially, without need to have a donor. Artificial intelligence have been getting more and more sophisticated and very recently was able to challenge a top human player.

“It happened faster than I thought,” says Rémi Coulom, the French researcher behind what was previously the world’s top artificially intelligent Go player.

Speed of research and discoveries is interesting. We’re tackling with increasingly complex and difficult problems, but at the same time computing power and other scientific tools are getting better and better. This speed makes it extremely hard to predict when technological singularity – creation of super intelligence – will occur. Compare technological progress during 50 years 1000 years ago and now. First programmable computer ENIAC was finished at 1945 and it weighted 30 tons. SAGE was developed in 1950s, 1970s Internet was born and 1990s networked computers were ubiquitous. 21st century saw rise of mobile computing in form of smart phones that are linked together via different networks and posses more storage capacity and computing power than scientists of 1950s could have possibly dreamed of. Because such huge arrays of knowledge is at our disposal, learning isn’t about memorizing facts anymore. Instead it’s about learning how to tap into that vast sea of knowledge, filter and find the relevant information.

Being connected with people from different cultures and backgrounds exposes modern people to spectrum of different ideologies and thoughts. Some are able to absorb what they deem useful and set aside rest, while others will have much more hostile approach. It is impossible for transhumanism to really bloom, unless people are able to set aside their primal fear of others and different. As humanity will start modify their outward appearance more and enhance their biological bodies with artificial components, we are bound to encounter things that we don’t find sensible or acceptable on the first sight. Individualism and self-expression will reach new heights and this will test humanity’s ability to cope with unprecedented and unconventional neighbours. If current trends continue, culture will fragment to more and more exotic splinter-groups, who may have completely opposite view on subjects like ethics, art and culture in general. These groups aren’t necessarily geographically co-located, as technology allows people to communicate effectively all around the globe.

Luckily, many transhumanists have abolitionist view, meaning that they seek to use technology to end the suffering. This can be seen to have two distinct paths: eliminate existing suffering and prevent existence of future suffering. Eliminating the existing suffering is the short term goal, while preventing future suffering is more of a long term plan. Technophilia (love of technology) will probably play quite a bit in this area, as it will help mankind to utilize scarce resources of the Earth more effectively and with less waste. Long term plan will most likely involve active, guided evolution of the human species. Screenings during pregnancy to detect possible birth defects are already everyday occurence, but in the future humankind will have more active role on their own evolution. Slowly we will start experimenting with introducing hereditary changes into our DNA, that will inevitably change course and speed of our evolution. Evolution will not be left for random chance anymore, but will be directed towards specific goals.

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