Transhumanism

Wikipedia article to get you started.

The concept that humanity can evolve from its current trappins and dramatically expand both intelligence and physical limitations.  I’d argue it’s where philosphy, technology, and religion intersect.

For a long time this was the domain of the golden age of sci-fi.  Tomorrowland.  Star Trek’s utopia.  Meritocracy.  Some would say, the childish naivety of the greater good.  My favorite book, Childhood’s End, covers this topic.  Foundation and Empire finishes with this.

Then the age of computers came upon us and we went through the cyberpunk phase.  Phillip K. Dick took the concept and turned it sideways to practical mental disease.  Rather than ask what’s next, it was more like what else is there.  We’re moving from the digital age into the quantum one now, where things are so small, things are so integrated, that it’s becoming much harder to see the line between human and machine.  Siri, Alexa, OkGoogle… all are integrated into society to a degree that we only realize they are there when we’re out of range.

And all of this is predicated on a singularity – a single transforming event.  We won’t likely understand it when it happens, but we’ll be able to point back to it.

Small Steps

Time is the ultimate currency.  You can always make more money, but you can never make more time – hence it’s value.  Opportunity cost is based on this principle – given the choice between two options, which provides the largest overall benefit?

It’s a simple fact that automation is here to stay, and will take over more and more of our lives.  Driverless cars seem neat, but driverless trucks are going to put thousands of people out of work.  Even super menial jobs for teens are going away (see Flippy).  Assembly lines and mining/timber have been gutted with this fact.  Regardless of what is being said, those jobs are not coming back.  Even the countries that were outsourced to in the past 20 years are moving away from hiring people.

People require food, rest, space… robots do not.  One robot working 24/7 replaces at least 4 people in terms of time, and likley dozens in terms of productivity/accuracy.  The math is not hard here, and the people doing the math are the ones without any interest in the people. If you have any stocks, then odds are you actually have no idea what the impact is to the workers on the other end of that stock.

Everytime we make something more efficient, or connect something, or share something, we are taking smaller steps to a collective.  It’s hard to articulate the tangible differences between someone in north america and someone in Autralia – aside from culture.  Even culture is blurring… there are more 2nd language English speakers on the planet than native speakers.

The Big Question

What makes you, you?  If you were to replace a bit of you every week(eye, arm, foot) with a robotic part, when do you stop being you?  If you were to completely swap human bodies, but kept your mind, are you still you?

What proof do you have that you exist?  If memories are just triggered synapses, could they be faked?  Sensory input is just electrical charges, those can be replicated (see Matrix for one argument, and many bionic limbs do this as well).  It is possible, though unlikely, that we are just a few days old – the imaginings of a more powerful set of beings.  No different than restarting from a save point in a video game, and we go back to some default state.

How can anyone prove either for or against?

Progress

It’s our unfailable certainty of our own existence that keeps us sane and grounded.  It’s the basis for science, in that what is observed is fact.  It took a long time for science to delve into things we cannot see (the 4 forces, notably), and even longer into things we cannot easily comprehend (quantum mechanics for starters).

At each step of progress, there’s the discovery and then the integration into society.  We can’t imagine a world without electricity, but even 100 years ago it wasn’t all that common.  Nowdays our kids are infinitely connected to all sort of people and things, and privacy is a 4 letter word.  And there’s no going back, that genie is out of the bottle.  Best we can hope for is an educated consumption of technology.

But how do you educate when society changes so rapidly?  Facebook hit its apogee years ago.  Kids (well college age folk) were all over it, then younger kids came onboard.  Time has gone on and as much as grandparents use it, today’s youth wants nothing to do with it.  They’ve moved on.

The blogging community is somewhat unique, in that we live in a world of tech, to differing levels.  I can generally understand the technology presented to my children, and I can communicate my set of values and ethics within.  But it doesn’t prevent them from finding a youtube channel by chance, that is full of content I don’t want them to see.  I have to be extra vigilant, and take the time.  I can near guarantee that the majority of my social circle doens’t even process that thought.

Change for the sake of change.

What’s Next

VR & automation.  We’re at the cusp of both being integrated into our daily lives.

VR is a much higher fidelity now.  Even just augmented reality is on the doorstep.  People reprenting themselves with avatars has been commonplace for 20 years, but to integrate that concept with reality isn’t far off.

Automation not in the sense of robots, but in the concept of anticipatory intelligence.  I wake up and make a coffee most mornings.  Automation would detect me waking up, and based on my behavior patterns, make a fresh brew.  I’m a few years from asking for an “earl grey, hot” and it magically appearing.

As cool as it all sounds, I’m terrified.  I’m not altruistic enough to always make the right decision, and I’m not evil enough to take advantage of the situation. The future is much closer than it appears.

 

4 thoughts on “Transhumanism

  1. It’s the jobs thing that is really scary.

    Those automated trucks will save thousands of lives. They don’t get tired or make mistakes.

    At some point, the idea of a basic income will be mandatory for all governments. Shared work weeks (3 days a week? 4?) Things like that. I won’t be alive to see much of this, but will be interesting to guess at what my son will go through.

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    • Basic income already exists in some european countries, and there are a few pilot programs in Canada. I think I’ll see it before I retire.

      I say this because technical progress is exponential, not linear. It has and will continue to take 9 months for a baby to be born to humans. There are plenty of computer intelligence samples that show recursive improvements compound themselves. The MarI/O project is only one example – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qv6UVOQ0F44

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  2. I first read about Transhumanism in Homo Deus and it’s very fascinating. As someone who’s never bothered to acquire a driving license, self-driving cars actually sound pretty cool! Yet at the same time entrusting an increasing amount of tasks to machines and algorithms also makes me uncomfortable, especially the latter, where we’re basically letting them do the “thinking” as well… for all their efficiency, they still run into problems when they encounter unusual situations that they weren’t programmed for but that a human would instantly flag as wrong. That’s how we get things like entertainingly inappropriate phone covers and corpses trending on Youtube. Yet at the same time, if we could get them to be smart enough to think beyond their basic boundaries, what would that lead to? It’s a bit worrying to think about.

    In the meantime, I just wish we’d prioritise making robots to do the kind of stuff humans really don’t like to do, like clean toilets.

    Liked by 1 person

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