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Michael Anissimov: Transhumanism Has Already Won

I just spent 10 minutes reading this excellent article on Michael Anissimov’s Accelerating Future blog and had to re-post it in full — it is that good!

Enjoy:

Transhumanism Has Already Won

by Michael Anissimov

It’s 2010, and transhumanism has already won. Billions of people around the world would love to upgrade their bodies, extend their youth, and amplify their powers of perception, thought, and action with the assistance of safe and tested technologies. The urge to be something more, to go beyond, is the norm rather than the exception.

At their base, the world’s major two largest religions — Christianity and Islam — are transhumanistic. After all, they promise transcension from death and the concerns of the flesh, and being upgraded to that archetypical transhuman — the Angel. The angel will probably be our preliminary model as we seek to expand our capacities and enjoyment of the world using technological self-modification. Then, even angels will get bored of being angels, and expand outwards in a million new directions, resulting in an explosion of species never before seen — exceeding in magnitude and variation even the Cambrian Explosion of 530 million years ago.

Humanity, as it stands today, is a seed, a bridge. We will plant flowers and trees across the universe. All we have to do is survive our embryonic stage, stay in control of our own destiny, and expand outwards in every direction at the speed of light. Ray Kurzweil makes this point in The Singularity is Near, a book that was #1 in the Science & Technology section on Amazon and on the NYT bestsellers list for a reason.

The mainstream has embraced transhumanism. A movie about using a brain-computer interface to become what is essentially a transhuman being, Avatar, is the highest-grossing box office hit of all time, pulling in $2.7 billion. This movie was made with hard-core science fiction enthusiasts in mind. About them, James Cameron said, “If I can just get ‘em in the damn theater, the film will act on them in the way it’s supposed to, in terms of taking them on an amazing journey and giving them this rich emotional experience.” A solid SL2 film, becoming the world’s #1 film of all time? It would be hard for the world to give transhumanism a firmer endorsement than that.

Everything is Not Alright

I am tremendously sympathetic to transhumanism’s critics and detractors, more so than most transhumanists I have met. Many transhumanists don’t seem to understand that when you step outside of the confines of 3.5 billion years of natural evolution in a few short decades of intense technological progress, there are risks. Risks like new viruses and new weapons, to say the least. Even today, global security is entirely dependent on a few very knowledgeable scientists keeping their mouths shut. They start talking to the wrong people, and suddenly cities aren’t such safe places to live anymore.

People are basically nice when they’re well-fed, and damn evil when they’re hungry. Deprive the world’s cities of the millions of truckloads of fresh vegetables and meat that arrive every day, and suddenly things will get all nasty. The technologies that transhumanists talk about messing with — biotechnology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence — will force societies to radically restructure or die. I’ve talked to dozens of selfish transhumanists whose response to this is basically, “well, too bad for them!” No. Too bad for you, because they’ll gladly drag you down with them.

Even technologies readily available today, but rarely used — such as the direct electrical stimulation of the pain and pleasure centers of the human brain — could become fearsome new plagues on humanity if in the hands of the wrong political or religious fanatics. The Western world today has a sort of fantasy of invulnerability, like a teenager taking his dad’s NSX for a joyride. Americans, especially, are high and drunk on our country’s prominence in the world. What could possibly go wrong? Radical Islam hates us and all they could achieve is bringing down the World Trade Center.

Imagine a hundred or so tribes in an area covering many hundreds of square miles, quarreling with sticks and stones for hundreds if not thousands of years. Suddenly, they get rifles. In many places around the world, this has already resulted in genocide. That situation is what will happen to humanity as a whole throughout the next fifty years. The Western world is so impressed with its own accomplishments over the past centuries that we don’t realize that there is much, much more to come.

Like it or not, the bedrock of any society rests on security. Legal and financial power are trivialities in comparison to the military power and security that makes the legal and economic machinery possible. History is strewn with thousands of examples where legal and financial “realities” collapsed like a cloud of dust when the security fundamentals were threatened. There’s nothing that will make people stay inside like a bombing or pandemic.

They Like Us?

Mainstream culture around the world has already embraced transhumanism and transhumanist ideals. The question is not whether humanity will move towards a transhumanist future (it will), but how that power is channeled. It’s not hard to convince people to become stronger and healthier if it truly is within their grasp. What we need to worry about is massive power in the hands of individuals with selfish or truly alien and abstract morals.

Good and evil are ideas. Any goal system is ultimately arbitrary. As long as someone can protect themselves from injury or attack, they can do practically anything. This gives us unlimited freedom, but also unlimited peril. Given the ability to modify their own motivations and emotions, selfish people will have the option of becoming even more selfish. Conversely, the altruistic might amplify their compassion.

The Singularity Institute’s strategy for dealing with this challenge is the creation of a recursively self-improving moral agent — safe or “friendly” Artificial Intelligence. This ambition might turn out to be too much — it may be that programming a computer with the subtleties of human-friendly morality is too great a challenge. But, I think we should try. We should try because the first being to cross the line into true transhumanity will probably be an Artificial Intelligence, and we might as well do something to ensure that it is friendly.

Now, it may be that enhanced humans cross the line into transhumanity first. If you’re thinking about that route, consider what it means. Extensive animal testing and risky surgery. Brain implants, which would likely be necessary to achieve the kind of transhumanity that matters, are essentially carefully tuned rocks that we are inserting into proteinaceous tissue. The human skull is a pretty cramped space — there is not a lot of room for additional machinery. To really get a lot out of it, you’d need to push the brain aside or use a fluid-filled cavity, which might not play well with the body. It is highly questionable whether we can get an I/O of sufficient bandwidth relying on electronic devices that just sit on top of the surface of the brain. My guess is that you’d need a lot of extremely thin, deep electrodes going to precise neural areas to get the necessary I/O. This may be harder or easier than it looks, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the first to try it.

If Artificial Intelligence and molecular nanotechnology are not available to meet humanity’s thirst for ascension, people will turn to other routes. Crude surgery and the like. That’s what I’m afraid of — a botched entrance into transhumanity. An entrance where the soldiers, fighters, gangsters, and porn stars lead the way. This is already happening now, and it isn’t all good. When magnified aggression and machismo lead the way into the future, the future becomes uncertain. We’ve seen this story many times before.

Magnify the Good in Us

To survive the future in one piece, humanity has to take those qualities that are the best in us — love, compassion, and altruism — and give them as much muscle as we can. A distributed approach will not work, because historically a few agents grab power and use it as they see fit. Even in democratic societies, this equation isn’t much different, it’s just that the few that get power are those with the most votes. Instead of denying the inevitable concentration of power, we have to do what we can to ensure that that power is used wisely.

Maybe it’s impossible to keep checks on the powerful. If so, we are still at their mercy. Nudging them to do the right thing is better than having no influence whatsoever. At some point during the next century, the most powerful being will be a transhuman. It will be sculpted by whatever process eventually ended up succeeding in producing a true transhuman. We had better hope that process is a safe and sane one.

When people write an article about a problem, it’s usually because they have a ready-made answer they want to sell you. But sometimes the universe just gives us a problem and it has no special obligation to give us an answer. Transhumanity is like that. Whatever answer we come up with may be a little messy, but we have to come up with something, because otherwise the future will play out according to considerations besides global security and harmony. Power asymmetry is not an optional part of the future — it is a mandatory one. There will be entities way more powerful than human. Where will they be born? How will they be made? These questions are not entirely hypothetical — the seeds of their creation are among us now. We have to decide how we want to give birth to the next influx of intelligent species on Earth. The birth of transhumanity will mean the death of humanity, if we are not careful.

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  • I agree with Michael that “Transhumanism Has Already Won.” But, as he admits himself, the real question is:
    What does that mean for humanity?
    The two main options are, of course:
    Immortality…
    or Extinction….

  • I agree with Michael that “Transhumanism Has Already Won.” But, as he admits himself, the real question is: What does that mean for humanity?… The two main options are, of course,
    Immortality….or Extinction….

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  • Ludozic

    Nowhere sexuality is mentioned. Will transhumans be asexual beings?
    From all I’ve got to know about transhumanism, I draw that the one big motivation into that direction is the self-denial of sexuality – having to and also enjoying to respond to the call of duty, so to speak.
    Sexual interaction is quite animalistic an act by nature, but a sane and actually beautiful one. Are transhumanist ideals trying to discard that aspect of human life experience in order to become transhumans? Indeed, extremely high morals (which seem highly supported by transhumanis) run against basic sexuality, which is the 3rd most fundamental need (urge) in addition to getting fed (1st) and having shelter (2nd).
    Will transhumans enjoy meals and sexual pleasures (the surprising ones being the most enjoyable), or is it actually directly against their morals? How will they party? Will they be social? To what extent?
    I believe the loss of sexuality will ensue the loss of humanity. Same but to a lesser extent, for stopping feeding normally as the digestive system is a great part of a human being. Remember that main emotional and feelings-related complex neural networks sit in the guts where nutrients are also processed from food to the blood. In that way also ([electromagnetic] interaction between those neurons and food/nutrients), we become what we eat – and typically by eating human’s food, we remain humans. By having human sexual intercourses, we keep the human species up (in addition to the unbeatable pleasures we get in the processes: communicating, flirting, seducing, building up sexual tensions, cuddling, foreplay, actual sexual intercourse, birth giving, child rearing, etc).
    Having taken over natural evolution, the question now is: do we want to exchange these human experiences and pleasures (and the pains that come with) with other types of (transhuman) experiences while extinguishing the human species?

  • Hi Ludozic,

    I don’t think that anyone said that we have to forego our sexuality or any other of our bodily experiences. In fact, transhumanism may end up enhancing those by providing a whole spectrum of sexual and other “physical” experiences previously not available to any of us. The whole cyberpunk/transhumanist culture had a lot of sex and drugs in it so it was not a way of abandoning but enhancing our embodyment. Here are a few articles that you may find relevant on this topic:

    https://www.singularityweblog.com/how-do-transhumanists-party/

    https://www.singularityweblog.com/love-and-sex-with-robots-the-next-step-of-the-relationship-between-man-and-machine/

    https://www.singularityweblog.com/a-transhumanist-manifesto/

  • Ludozic

    Hi Socrates,

    Thank you very much for your answers. It is great to establish dialogue on those serious matters.

    I am being extremely honest here, and with you, and with the whole transhumanist and cyberculture communities.

    About 10 years ago I was a fond enthusiastic of transhumanism. But, I
    reckon I was also an unassumed geek/nerds. Recently I came with the
    idea that geeks/nerds might just be “baby transhumans”…10
    years ago I also had those “wonderful” ideas about experiencing “beyond
    human experience” experiences, in other virtual dimensions, seeing
    fantastic objects and things. But at the same time, I had a sexuality,
    often longing to be expressed normally and fully.

    Now I clearly see that one aspect of transhumanism is wanted in order
    to fulfill our most profound needs and desires, and the less profound
    ones too, but in a diverted way. This way might be extremely long,
    perhaps infinite, and also may do harm around — to other people,
    animals, plants, the planet, etc, while leaving the wannabe transhuman
    frustrated.

    But why would this be the case? Or rather, why IS this the case? Take
    the example of geeks/nerds, often also associated with the “average
    frustrated chump” (AFC) label. Remember that we may consider them as
    baby transhumans.

    Here I have a question:

    Is there a main motivation of transhumanism such as “I am not a Real
    Man who assumes himself completely, who isn’t needy when it comes to
    women, yet who has a social, flirtatious, seductive, and sexual
    fulfilled life, so as I am less than such a Real Man, with a smaller
    immature man’s brain, I am going to resort to diverted (and very long)
    ways such as technologies combined with transhumanist ideologies in
    order to enhance myself and achieve even More Than Real Man level”?

    Are we looking to transhumanism and cyberculture due to a lack to be earned?

    What I would like to add now: when we look out the world around, it
    seems that transhumanism has now for objective and ambition to patch a
    doomed global situation altogether. Just look around, the world is
    utterly perverted and corrupted. People do NOT know how to treat each
    other. They use each other. No tact and diplomacy, and where there are
    tact and diplomacy, it is usually to con someone else.People are
    most excited by such things as extra-conjugal affairs. Girls (and guys)
    of any walks of life do not hesitate to receive money$ in exchange for
    meaningless $ex. People get spoiled and then rotten by doing all the
    “forbidden” things which are not good for themselves, for people around,
    and for the whole humanity on the long run. These, at every scale: from
    individual schemes at the bottom, up to global schemes at the top,
    which meanwhile leaves a third world in utter misery.I am quite
    successful a seducer myself. Yet, westerner women are so corrupted, that
    it has become nearly impossible to stay long enough in interaction with
    them so to get closer and create something NORMAL and meaningful with
    them, and/or sustain it long enough to be able to qualify such a
    relationship of decent. Westerner women are so corrupted and egocentric
    that anything they see out of their interests (which often includes big
    money), and they are out. In the end this collective mentality also
    leaves these women frustrated, cos they only get meaningless $ex.

    Westerner women never want to gain a reputation of slut, which is
    salutary. So they resort to bitchy attitudes and schemes. Then they are
    seen as bitches. But to be a bitch is fine in our societies. But as I
    said, the bitch ends up frustrated too.

    Yet, let’s face it that behind close doors, the most naughty and
    exciting thing is when the female partner is acting in slutty ways for
    the male, and the male deep inside himself is very keen on this, it is a
    part of male fantasies. This part of the intercourse, especially within
    the foreplay, is natural and sane, and okay and good. But it is
    unhealthy within a fake/superficial/hypocrite/dull/vain scenario, where
    often money$ is involved. We can see the world is now filled with this
    type of scenario…About the body experience with this, since
    there is no genuine attraction and seduction (in such a meaningless
    scenario), there cannot be a thorough arousal of the partners. The
    arousal is physical only. This is not healthy, especially for the female
    partner who can get physically hurt/injured if she doesn’t become
    naturally wet sufficiently. For the male partner, men are mainly visual,
    so a pretty/hot lady or a lady who moves graciously is quite genuine a
    turn on.

    For the women this sort of thing is unhealthy physically, but also
    mentally, and the worst is that I can understand that after a while
    women may psychologically develop a reward mechanism according to which
    the idea of receiving money$ for $ex turns them on and make them wet
    “genuinely”. This is a bodily adaptation, involving the neuropeptides in
    the brain that reinforces the addiction to the association money$/$ex.
    The situation becomes healthy physically, but the question: is it
    healthy mentally, psychologically? Or isn’t it rather contributing to a
    highly perverted and corrupted world?

    For the man it can also be unhealthy physically if the woman is not
    wet (and lubricants are not really solving the problem there). But I
    believe that having to resort to money$ and/or other external things
    like technologies as well as other diverted ways in order to get a
    woman’s (fake) attention and (unworthy) access to her body is unhealthy
    mentally and psychologically. A man cannot be fulfilled, cannot feel
    real, cannot feel decent nor have dignity, in such scenario, which is
    industrialized nowadays. A man like that will remain frustrated and with
    low self-esteem, even though his basic physiological need for sex is
    somehow satisfied. Indeed, he hasn’t genuinely earned the woman’s undivided attention, he had to buy it!

    The natural attraction and seduction is very much amplified, and
    naturally, with overseas (exotic) women. Indeed there is tremendous
    dynamics due to the differences: enticed curiosity. So they tend to
    stick around much more, and genuinely, to westerner men like me, who are
    more attracted to them too due to the differences. And attraction is
    not a choice! Things can be constructed, there can be genuine complicity
    and all, there can be meaningful relationships. Yet, more westernized
    exotic women also get spoiled and then rotten.I guess the
    perversion and corruption lies in the current western culture. And it is
    a mainstream culture! With a consensus on it and it is widely accepted
    (e.g., cf. the bitch reputation case above). So, even those exotic women
    have unavowed interests in meeting and closing a western authentic
    seducer like me; interests which often revolve around money and material
    whims.

    And here we arrive at one of the other reasons of perversion: materialism, and opulence.As
    long as there will be a third world who survives in misery and mainly
    knows diseases, as long as there will be few families in this world who
    live in outrageous unnecessary opulence, at the expenses of the first
    group mentioned as well as of middle-class people; that is, at the
    expenses of the rest of the masses altogether, then materialism and
    opulence as well as “princesses” caprices and whims will be seen as
    inadequate, unacceptable, unhealthy, harmful, unworthy, spoiling,
    rotting, corrupted and perverted.

    Taking into account all of this, I ask you:

    If we have an overriding machine such as in the 5th Element movie,
    that machine which can revive a dead person. If we had a similar machine
    but that can modify to great extents a human body (including its brain)
    and in controlled ways, say we program that machine to make you human
    Socrates becoming new you transhuman Socrates. What would be this
    program? What would you want as being transhuman? Have you thought about
    all the consequences of your choices on what you want; that is, all the
    side effects you will get too? What is the solid story behind being a
    transhuman according to you and taking on-board my above observations
    and statements of them? What would be your new physical form? A bubble
    able to float in the air and with 100% certainty to never succumb to
    gravity? You can imagine pretty much anything, since we assume that this
    machine to be capable of unimaginable prowess. How about your (new)
    sexuality? Will you be more attractive to your preferred mating gender?

    I can understand some good aspects of transhumanism: increased health
    with reduced boring and time consuming exercises, possibly not having
    to care if eating some junk and/or tasty foods, sustained higher mental
    capabilities, extended life, etc. Also, by plugging in (hopefully in non-invasive ways) such things as infrared and/or ultrasonic sensors/cameras to our brains, we will be able to experience life on a wider range of spectrum.

    But, big BUT. We have not yet resolved the corruption and perversion
    mentalities in this world. Tact and diplomacy as well as life education
    should be much more developed, yet the few people who master tact and
    diplomacy, often highly educated, do not hesitate to use those skills in
    order to harness other weaker people… We do not treat each other,
    animals, plants and the planet well at all.

    We are not even teenager civilizations. We are utterly unreasonable
    civilizations. On the other side, becoming more objective, logical and
    rational and thus reasonable, which is in line with mixing with the
    machine, and developing more our natural left brain, is associated with
    coldness and typically boredom. The right brain, the subjective,
    emotional and irrational mind, which is much more finely-tuned and
    efficient (and encrypted too) in humans (than the left brain) is
    associated with hotness (cf. hot lady above) and typically excitement,
    then joy of living, cheerfulness and blossoming — but this right side
    of the brain does not have to let us unreasonable. I now believe that
    fulfilled life revolves around the right brain, and the left brain is
    there to moderate it.

    However, values have been instigated in the minds of the masses by
    the few outrageously rich families above so to promote high reasoning
    capabilities in the few of us who have access to high education, but
    often left with low means and minimum income. This was in order to
    format us into analyst machines that can also synthesize well knowledge
    and products, to be exploited.

    One is paid more if they achieve this. That is, one gets a “big job”
    if they can demonstrate those capabilities. But this big job is a big
    exploitation. Such an employee is nothing more than a modern “highly
    respected” slave.

    Don’t we have enough with high forms of hypocrisy and other lower
    forms as well? Don’t we have enough with living in a world where “damage
    control” is mainly applied?

    We have not resolved those political, economical, cultural and
    collective mentality as well as very personal and intimate issues as
    humans, and we would like to leap jump into becoming transhumans within a
    cyberculture, without having clearly defined them either as
    demonstrated within my hereby argument.

    It seems that either way continuous or quantum the leap towards
    becoming transhumans within a cyberculture, the task is uneasy and
    extremely more difficult than previously (naively) thought!

    Men love to play with boobs of a women they fancy, and women love to
    be bent over (in extra-marital affairs as well, it excites more many
    women) by Real Men only. That is the bottom line. For now, anything
    extra is mere details. Well, as shown here, there are salutary and
    worthy, but also shameful and unworthy detailed ways to go about it. For
    now the world has mainly opted for the latter…

    I understand technologies can enhance bodily pleasures and minimize
    bodily pains, which are allegedly tightly coupled with mental states
    too. But what we are proposing to do here, is to get ourselves a Formula
    1 car in order to get the unordinary thrill of speeds and
    accelerations, but having to drive it on utterly damaged and tortuous
    roads!!!

    Technology (and science) is not the solution to your political,
    economical, cultural, social, attractive as well as flirtatious,
    seductive, and sexual problems. It can even worsen them when used
    prematurely as we are witnessing.

    The world is suffering. People, the fauna and the flora, and the
    planet, are in pain. This is fundamentally due to our immature
    decisions, our mentalities and mindsets, and fundamentally our
    originating shameful and unworthy individual intentions! Technology
    (alone) can do nothing or little in these.

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