You Are Transhuman Already

In 1945 an American military airplane crashed in the jungle of Papua New Guinea.  Three of the passengers, including one woman, survived the crash.  Deep in the jungle, the three Americans soon came into contact with a native tribe.  The savages, as they called them, moved naked through the forest in packs and yipped like wild dogs.  Bones pierced their noses.  These were stone-age humans, previously unknown and uncontacted by the modern world.

The tribal people reacted to the Americans as if they were supernatural creatures, not because of the color of their complexion or the texture of their hair, but because of their bizarre “removable skin.”  It was their clothes. 

These naked tribal people had no concept, nothing relatable in their imagination, for these types of materials.  To the natives, the Americans seemed unhuman, maybe gods, or maybe ghosts, depending on their own mythology.

On the morning of March 1st, 2011, I was just an ordinary young man when I walked into an ordinary two-story office building in a Denver suburb.  The waiting room was a calm and comforting place.  An electric water fountain created the soothing sound of trickling water.  Framed images of natural serenity adorned the walls.

The receptionist was also very calm and comforting.  She welcomed me with a soft and reassuring voice and a very pleasant hand shake.  Then she gave me a magic pill, a valium, to calm my mind and make me even more comfortable before leading me into a small dark room with a very comfortable reclining chair.

I sank into that chair while a machine descended from above and sliced off a piece of each of my eyeballs. 

In a matter of minutes, not only was my near-sightedness and astigmatism corrected, I ended up with “better than perfect” 20/15 vision.  I could now see slightly better than is naturally possible in a human being.  Through laser eye surgery I had become a transhuman.  I was bio-technologically improved.

But, was this really my first “biological enhancement?” Perhaps I had already become a transhuman years earlier when I received my first tooth filling.   Or, maybe it was earlier still, as a newborn baby, when a doctor injected magic serums into my body and thereby protected me from polio.  And measles.

Of course, I don’t think of myself as some sort of cyborg or transhuman.  Neither did those American soldiers trapped in the jungle in 1945.  But, from the perspective of an original “savage” human, we would indeed seem to be something else.  We would seem human-like, but human-enhanced.

The idea of transhumanism is all the buzz among today’s futurists.  I recently wrote an article about how to prepare our kids for their transhuman future, as if there will be a single point in time, maybe a few decades from now, when all humans become cyborgs overnight.

As we look to our technological future it’s easy to forget that, as a species, we embarked on our transhuman journey a very long time ago.  And, indeed, we are already quite far into this adventure.

At first the going was slow.  The official starting line is debatable, but let’s assume it began with the invention of agriculture somewhere between 10,000 and 23,000 BC depending on who you ask.  Now, this was a monumental leap in transhuman destiny.  This is when we first acquired a god-like capability.  We became the deliberate creators of mutant life forms, shaping and guiding the evolution of plant and animal species to meet our own needs and desires.

My dog, Codee the Corgi, looks nothing like anything in the wild.  He is a human-engineered mutant specimen, bred to be both functional as a cattle herder and adorable as a pet.  The Queen of England loves him.

Codee, my adorable mutant pet

The delicious yellow banana looks nothing like its tough, bitter-tasting, and shriveled ancestor.  Humans created the banana we know and love today, using simply the raw materials of nature to create something better to enhance our health, nutrition, culinary satisfaction, and mass production potential.

A few thousand years after the beginning of agriculture and animal breeding, some true geniuses figured out how to turn their thoughts into little symbols scratched into rock.  These were the first coders and they had invented the written language.

The vaporware of thought could now be visually represented, saved, replicated, and transported across not only territory (space) but time. 

Other humans in other locations and future times could then read and understand the thoughts of the original author—a person they need not have ever met.  They could then build on the original author’s ideas.

Written language was a quantum leap on our transhuman journey.  We had set forth the beginning of a continuous acceleration in the accumulation and sharing of knowledge.  This transformed human thought into an exponential trajectory of technological progress, each generation building on the knowledge of the last through the use and continued accumulation of the written record.

As time went on, we began to understand the stars.  We started to solve the mysteries of the human body.  And, eventually, we began to create machines.  The ocean-going vessel.  The printing press.  The steam engine.  We manipulated matter in all sorts of ways to take on new shapes, textures, and functions.  Totally new human-made substances, like plastic, infiltrated our world.  Things were rapidly accelerating, and humans became increasingly dependent on their own inventions like mechanized personal transportation, the harnessing of electricity, and the channeling of radio waves.  We created the Turing Machine.  And, then the Internet.  This trajectory continues to accelerate exponentially.

All of this stuff has already created a human-shaped world in which magic is commonplace.

Imagine if the stone-age people in Papua New Guinea suddenly found themselves in the middle of New York City in 2018.  Never mind the really magical stuff around them for now.  Just start with cement.  Here is a man-made material that gives us the ability to create and shape the very rock of Earth.  It is a material that we no longer even wonder about—so primitive and low-tech—and, yet, it would be so totally otherworldly to stone-age man.

Then show the tribe a lightbulb.  Like a mini-sun, the lightbulb turns night into day practically whenever and wherever we want.  Put stone-age man into an automobile and let him be transported through the world at frightening speed, seemingly floating within a strange enclosure made of materials he’s never seen nor fathomed.  Play a radio and turn on a television set and let him hear voices out of thin air and see moving images dance across a glossy flat rock.  Try to explain the internet to him.  Impossible.

One of the fears of our continued trajectory further into a state of transhumanism is that we will lose our humanity.  What does it mean to be human in a transhuman world?  But, all of those examples above from our past and present represent some level of human technological augmentation that has become integral to every day modern life.  And, yet few would seriously argue that we have lost our humanity, that we are somehow no longer human.

We forget how far we have already separated ourselves from a savage existence and how much we already depend on the manipulation of both nature and ourselves.  Have we maintained our humanity thus far?

Do we still feel love and pain and joy?  Do we still exercise free will?  Do we still smell the flowers and drink the water?  Do we still wonder about the mystery when we look out over the ocean and up to the stars?

Yes, we do.  Perhaps, this can give us some solace as we continue on our journey further into a technological world.  Perhaps, somehow, all along that path, our humanity will persist as we relentlessly find ways to transform our world and ourselves through technology.  Our humanity will persist as we 3D-print replacement organs and bones.  As we augment human thought with machine intelligence.  As we possibly extend human lifespan through the reversal of aging.

Let’s assume that humanity can continue its current technological trajectory for another 200 years (some would say that’s a very bold assumption).  If we were to be transported to the year 2218, what would it be like?  It would be at least as bizarre and unfathomable to us as our present world would be to a stone-age human.  But, it would be completely normal to the 2218 human.  I believe the technologically augmented humans of 2218, like us today, will still be human.  They will still drink the water and gaze upon the blue ocean with wonder.

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.

Click here for the full length version of this important article.

 

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.