How to Prepare our Kids for their Transhuman Future – Brief

Transhumanism is a philosophy that “advocates for the transformation of the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellect and physiology.”

Obviously, this has profound implications for the human condition: ethical, moral, religious, economic, political, environmental.  So, where does Transhumanism take us?  Optimists might believe that it will lead to a golden age of human achievement, prosperity, fulfillment and enjoyment. Pessimists might believe that, at best, we will lose our humanity and our freedoms to our AI overlord.

I choose to be neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a pragmatist. I want to prepare myself and my young daughter for what’s to come so that we may successfully navigate, understand, and benefit from this future.

Perhaps the best thing we can do to prepare our kids and grandkids for transhumanist lives is to actively teach them how to apply unchanging core human values to every new situation they face.  Ageless values like respect and compassion will remain important (and may become more important). But less traditional values may gain importance.

Now is the time to think about it. Now is the time to make it a conscious part of our parenting strategy.

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How to Prepare our Kids for their Transhuman Future

The Beginning of the Transhuman Age

In a recent report issued by Gartner and reported in Forbes, Gartner makes the following stunning claim:

“Over the next decade, humanity will begin its ‘transhuman’ era…”

Transhumanism is a philosophy that “advocates for the transformation of the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellect and physiology.”

Obviously, this has profound implications for the human condition:  ethical, moral, religious, economic, political, environmental.  Many people may bristle at the idea of transhumanism, instinctively (and possibly correctly) perceiving this as the loss of our humanity.  Indeed, transhuman scholars point to a future when humans become “posthuman,” like a new species that harnesses technology to control and direct its own evolution.

Where Does This Lead?

Optimists might believe that transhumanism will lead to a golden age of human achievement, prosperity, fulfillment and enjoyment.  A world where technology has been successfully directed to solve our most significant problems like climate change, natural resource limitations, disease, and warfare.  Pessimists might believe that, at best, we will lose our humanity and our freedoms to our AI overlord.  It gets much darker from there.

I choose to be neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a pragmatist.  I want to prepare myself and my daughter, who is currently seven, for what’s to come so that we may successfully navigate, understand, and benefit from this future.  Part of my approach to this has led to a personal philosophy of mine that I call the “nature-tech balance.”

However uncomfortable, frightening, or exciting transhumanism may sound to us, this genie has already left the bottle.  While transhumanism may be defined as a philosophy, it’s probably an inevitability because these technological advancements are driven by global economic competition and a perceived massive benefit to humanity.  Bioengineering, for example, may lead to designer babies, but it can also potentially cure cancer.  A brain-machine interface might be weaponized for warfare, but it will also cure paralysis and accelerate learning.  Not only will these technological advancements not be stopped, they will soon be accelerated by quantum computing and vastly faster and more sophisticated communication networks.

We may be able to anticipate some of the negative consequences, but we cannot possibly predict or understand them all.  The current side effects of social media alone have left governments and the corporations running these platforms (like Facebook and Twitter) reeling as social media has inadvertently streamlined revolutionary uprisings, government repression, and geopolitical cyber warfare.  Already, technological advancement seems to be outpacing the ability of many humans to comprehend what is happening in their world.  For many there is a sense of losing connection to how things work and what things mean.

Those of us who are currently in the middle of our adult lives will experience some of the beginnings of this new human condition.  But our children and grandkids may become the first of the true “posthumans.”

If you’re not convinced, consider the profound differences in human life between 1918 and 2018.  Then consider that the next 100 years will bring substantially more rapid technological change than the previous century.  We simply cannot know or predict what life will be like in the year 2118.  Also consider that, because of many of the expected technological advancements of the next century, our kids and grandkids may live much longer lives.  We must assume that many, if not most, of our kids may live well into the 22nd century.

The combination of exponentially advancing technology and lengthening human life span creates a compounding effect on each individual life.  This could create a self-reinforcing cycle:  Relentlessly accelerating technological advancement may provide our children and/or grandchildren with opportunities to choose to extend their lives.  Once they choose to do so, increasingly sophisticated technological breakthroughs will present them with additional life-extending options.  The cycle would then continue.  Could it be that our kids, or our grandkids, will face the moral question of whether or not to choose a state of immortality?  It sounds outlandish but it’s really not out of the realm of possibility.  As a parent I find that to be unnerving if not frightening.

If our kids and grandkids are going to be the guinea pigs of a new posthuman condition as they lead humanity into the 22nd century, how do we prepare them for their future life if we cannot accurately predict the societal changes to come?  After all, we are the ones who will be foisting this new kind of life upon our innocent kids and grandkids.  We have a responsibility to understand how to prepare them for living and thriving in it.

How do we Prepare Our Kids for What we Can’t Predict?

In this blog post from AI Theology there are some good insights into some of the specific skills that our kids should focus on, like coding.  But it also touches on the importance of disciplines like philosophy and theology to prepare our kids for one specific question: “What does it mean to be human in an AI world?” That may be the central moral question of the next century, and it has less to do with specific technical skills than it does with moral values.

I think the best thing we can do to prepare our kids and grandkids for transhumanist lives is to actively teach them how to apply unchanging core human values to every new situation they face.  Core values may vary slightly by culture, but most of them are remarkably universal and timeless.  What is changing is the complexity and variability of the situations our kids will have to apply these values against. Parents today, and increasingly in the future, will need to teach and reinforce core values more actively.  Call it situational value-based learning.

If we can actively teach situational values as technology continues to accelerate, we will be training our kids to be adaptable to a technological world that advances beyond their ability to directly comprehend.  By doing this we will also increase the likelihood that our kids will achieve the optimists’ vision of a transhuman world.

Ageless values like respect and compassion will remain important (and may become more important).  But less traditional values may gain importance.  Critical thinking, for example, has always been a very valuable life skill, but I think it should now be considered a moral obligation.  Our kids are going to have to learn how to be masters at distinguishing between what’s real and what’s fake, between information that has integrity and sophisticated propaganda.

Historically, humans do not have a great track record for this kind of critical thinking and the current trajectory is not positive.  As communication platforms are increasingly putting us into informational bubbles, people are succumbing to echo chambers that block them off from opposing perspectives.  This is increasing political and social tribalism and may be contributing to a new rise in political authoritarianism.  This will only get worse before it gets better and making it better will require our childrens’ generation to become the best critical thinkers in history.

Another value that I think will become essential is what I call the nature-tech balance, which I wrote about here.  We are already perceiving our detachment from nature.  When we get out into the wilderness we often speak of “unplugging” from life or “reconnecting” to nature.  These word choices are not coincidental.  Having a connection with the real natural world is absolutely a human need.  Paradoxically, as technology distances us from our direct day-to-day dependence on nature, we increasingly crave nature for psychological well-being.  We know this instinctively.  We’ve also proven this scientifically–there is a clear link between mental well-being and immersion in nature.

In a transhuman world staying connected with nature will become a conscious moral obligation.  Keeping a healthy balance between nature and technology means that we should keep one “foot” in the technological world and the other “foot” firmly planted in the wilderness.  I will be teaching this value actively to my daughter.  Both “feet” are equally important to her overall equilibrium.  It would be a mistake for her to shun the technological world.  She must live in it and learn how to thrive in it.  But, keeping the other foot grounded in nature will allow her to keep everything in perspective.  It will keep her tethered to her origins.  It will keep her humble.  And it will feed her spiritual soul in a way that technology will never be able to match.

Conclusion

Much of this article may seem like far fetched science fiction.  But I contend that this is a very practical perspective.  Consider that just in the last couple of decades the following technologies have transitioned from the mostly futuristic conceptual state to becoming part of our everyday language and lives:

  • Artificial Intelligence—now part of everyday conversation, early iterations of AI are already being productized.
  • Virtual and Augmented Reality—go to your local Best Buy to check out their selection of VR headsets. It won’t be long before we will laugh at how primitive they looked in the year 2018.  And augmented reality is now being implemented in manufacturing operations among other things.
  • Autonomous Vehicles—cars that drive themselves have been on the road as test vehicles for years. Some self-driving features are already being included in today’s mass-produced cars and more of these features will gradually infiltrate our cars over the next couple of decades until cars really do drive themselves most of the time.
  • Quantum Computing—will exponentially increase mainstream computing power, providing the engine to accelerate advances in AI, VR and other technologies.
  • 5G and 6G Wireless Networks—will drastically increase wireless data speed and capacity while simultaneously reducing latency. 5G has entered the deployment phase.  Give it just 2-5 more years for ubiquitous 5G network coverage and device compatibility, and about 10 years for 6G to reach the start of its deployment phase.
  • Gene Editing—look up CRISPR.

The technologies above, and others, are rapidly developing and resulting in real-world applications today, in 2018.  But the breathtaking advancements we are seeing today will seem antique to our kids in 50 years.  Technological advancement will continue to accelerate at or near exponential rates.  It would be foolish to assume that concepts that sound like science fiction today, like significant life extension, consumer space travel, human-like artificial intelligence, and indeed transhumanism, will not be experienced in the lifetimes of our kids (and may even be experienced in ours).  It is our responsibility as parents to think about how to prepare our children to not only cope with, but thrive in, their transhuman futures.

Now is the time to think about it.  Now is the time to make it a conscious part of our parenting strategy.

Racing Tropical Cyclone Gita to New Zealand

The Storm and the Airplane Head for New Zealand

The enormous Polynesian man sitting next to me on the airplane was visibly worried.  Just a few days ago his home islands of Tonga had taken a direct hit from Tropical Cyclone Gita, the strongest cyclone in its recorded history.  He was trying to make his way home from Utah to survey the damage and check on family and friends.

Gita had been menacing the South Pacific for weeks.  Starting out as a tropical disturbance near Vanuatu, Gita moved east towards Fiji and then Samoa, gaining the strength of a category one tropical system on the way.  Gita then doubled back to the west on a more southerly track and exploded into a monster category four storm before crashing directly into Tonga.  Leaving Tonga bruised and battered, she continued west-southwest for several more days then began a giant arc to the south and then southeast somewhere off the northeast coast of Australia.  From there Gita set her sights on the midsection of New Zealand.

Tropical Cyclone Gita’s full track through the South Pacific.  Source

We knew we were going to meet Gita upon or arrival in New Zealand.  For days, as we prepared for our big trip, I tracked her path of destruction online and listened to all the latest projections from concerned Kiwi weather watchers.  We were scheduled to land in Wellington, on the south end of the North Island, on February 21st, the same afternoon of Gita’s forecast arrival.  Spaghetti charts were showing storm path projection lines all over the Wellington area.  It didn’t look good, but I believed we had a chance to get into and then quickly north out of Wellington and away from Gita just in time.  The race was on.

Spaghetti forecast map for Tropical Cyclone Gita.  Source.

 

Gita’s eye and winds as she approached New Zealand.  Source.

Last Flight to Wellington

After thirteen hours over the Pacific we arrived in Auckland on a beautiful sunny morning.  A few puffy clouds accented a light blue sky over a bluer Waitemata Harbour.  But, we had one more flight to catch.  Wellington.  Television screens in the airport terminal showed a powerful ex-tropical storm already beginning to lash the northern tip of the South Island.  It was clear now that the center of the storm would pass not far to the south of Wellington within hours.

As we trudged through the meticulous New Zealand biosecurity process we were surprised to see that our Wellington flight remained on schedule.  With little time to spare we made it to our flight and left sunny Auckland to fly right into Gita’s approaching outer edge.

An hour later our plane touched down in a gray and rainy Wellington.  Shortly after de-boarding the airport PA system announced, “all flights in and out of Wellington now canceled due to Tropical Cyclone Gita.” Ours was the last Wellington flight out of Auckland before Gita shut things down.  We had won the first leg of the race, but now we had to drive north out of Wellington just as Gita began closing in.

A Pinball Shot from the Vortex

Driving on the left takes a little getting used to.  Years ago in the Virgin Islands I had picked up a rental jeep and immediately made a left turn into the wrong side of the road and had to jump the median to avoid angry oncoming drivers.  In New Zealand I had to re-orient myself to left lane driving in a wind-blown rain on surprisingly busy and narrow Wellington highways.  The giant windshield of our campervan kept fogging up, and until we figured out that we had to turn the air conditioning on to clear it, L was climbing onto the dashboard every two minutes to wipe away a tiny space for me to see into the traffic on NZ Highway 1.  It was a hairy drive.

But, like a piece of debris spun out of the vortex of the storm, we broke through the rain-wall within an hour as we drove north into the green North Island countryside.  Not far to our south Gita’s eye was now crossing the northern end of the South Island and the conditions in Wellington were deteriorating rapidly.  We were high and dry now, free from the rain, but not the wind.

It was the strangest kind of wind I’d ever experienced.  It would be perfectly calm and then the air would explode in all directions from nowhere.  I had seen my share of gusty winds growing up in Colorado’s Front Range.  But, I had never experienced this level of randomness.

Pigs and Chickens

It wasn’t long before we came to our first blow-down.  A car was stopped ahead, southbound, with its flashers on.  The driver was out dragging big leafy tree branches off the road.  We pulled to a stop and I got out and helped.  We soon had it cleared well enough, waived each other a thanks, and got on our way.

Our pretty two-lane highway passed mostly through open sheep pastures, but periodically dove into a tunnel of tree canopy.  I would gun it through these tunnels as wind-snapped tree branches rained down like spears.  We never took a direct hit.

After clearing a couple more minor blow-downs our luck ran out.  We crested a big hill and saw some stopped cars and a group of people standing around a giant horizontal log.  A huge tree had blown down right across the road and there would be no moving this one.

But, then something peculiar happened.  The first stopped car made a right turn off the highway and drove right into a private driveway!  And, then the next car did the same.  As we approached, a friendly looking woman pointed us in the same direction and we found ourselves driving right through the middle of someone’s farm.

Pigs to the right, chickens to the left, we proceeded slowly around the back of the house, around the barn, past a beautiful orchard of pear trees, and came back out to the highway on the other side of the blown-down tree.  Another nice lady met us there as we pulled up. “Nothing coming that way,” she joked as she pointed in the direction of the fallen tree.

See our dash cam view of the farm drive below:

See our full New Zealand video here.

We laughed, thanked her, and then proceeded on our way.  This would be the first of many wonderful examples of Kiwi hospitality and friendliness we would experience on our trip.  The people were as much a breath of fresh air as the stunning natural beauty of New Zealand.

A Perfect Riverside Refuge

The beautiful winding two-lane continued through more pastures and spear-tossing tree tunnels until we finally came to a discreet sign that said “Vinegar Hill Campground.”

Vinegar Hill Campground is a peaceful green meadow at the bottom of a little river gorge.  The campground was nearly empty, so we had our pick of great spots right along the green Rangitikei River.  A 300-foot bluff on the other side of the river blocked the gusting winds that were shaking the trees atop the ridge like rag dolls.  As the winds raged above, it was almost totally calm down by the river.

Our sweet “Jucy” campervan below the bluffs at the Vinegar Hill campground.

Gita threw us one last haymaker that evening.  As I was unpacking the van and L was in the campground shower, the serenity was broken by loudly cracking and crunching wood.  I looked up to the bluff just in time to see a gigantic tree violently toppling over.  It dislodged a dump truck sized ball of earth that came crashing down the bluff and into the river.  A huge cloud of dust and debris blossomed over the river like a bomb.  A few moments later, L emerged wide-eyed from the shower.  She said the crash sounded so loud in there that she thought the tree fell right next to the shower stall.  It was 100 yards away.

That would be the end of Gita for us until several days later when we would see the aftermath of some landslides and road damage in the northwest part of the South Island.  The next morning we woke, well rested, to a beautifully calm and sunny morning in New Zealand.  Onward towards Lake Taupo and Tongariro National Park.