The ‘transhuman transition’ describes the means and phases of change from the current state of homo sapiens (the human condition as we know it in 2019), to drastically altered state of expanded physical and mental capabilities. This likely leads to an eventual transition to completely unimaginable states of being, doing, and understanding (posthuman condition).
I posit that the transhuman transition leaves humanity in a very precarious state. It is the beginning of a great blossoming in the trajectory of intelligence and sentience – and could easily lead to an arms race in AI and neurotechnologies, and an all-out war to define the future of humanity and the trajectory of intelligence itself.
Is the transhuman transition important?
In my article Two Questions, I posit that the human race has two critical questions to answer in the 21st century:
1. What is a beneficial transition beyond humanity?
2. How do we get there from here without destroying ourselves?
Is the transhuman transition already happening?
Many people argue that the TT is already underway. Brain-machine interfaces are already in place for any humans (albeit in rudimentary forms), and the explosion in research on AI and genomics – plus the redefined ways of life that smartphones and digital technologies have brought about – have already redefined human experience.
One could argue that eyeglasses are augmentations of our bodies, or that written language is an augmentation of our thought. All of these interpretations have credence.
Is the transhuman transition inevitable?
I believe that – barring nuclear war or other global catastrophes – transhumanism is inevitable, whether we believe it to be “good” or “best” or not.
The economic and military advantages (strength) gained from cognitive enhancement and man-machine merger would be massive, leading organizations and nations to push towards TT.
In addition, the default human experience is so laden with suffering (read: The Vessel is Flawed) that human beings will be inevitably drawn towards states of bliss and wellbeing that can only be obtained outside of the normal human condition (i.e. lotus eating).
What technologies are (or will be) facilitating the TT?
A handful that come to mind:
- Artificial intelligence – This is why I built Emerj Artificial Intelligence Research – because I believe that facilitating a global conversation around AI’s capabilities (and keeping a tight “pulse” on AI’s implications and applications) will be important in build what will be a (hopefully) better transhuman future (read: The Cause).
- Neurotechnologies – Brain-machine interfaces are another critical aspect in the transhuman transition. Combined with AI, this is likely to allow for the greatest, most drastic changes in the human condition itself (volitionally modulating emotion, extending memory or focus, potentially duplicating mental processed to run in parallel, removing certain default human drives or adding entirely new and novel ones, drawing upon the whole of the internet for every possible problem rather than having to re-invent the wheel, etc).
- Gemonics / genetics – Altering human genes may be a critical element to extending our physical and mental abilities, or designing more powerful or blissful future humans, or (arguably most importantly) altering our minds and bodies to make them more compliant to an integration with machines.
- Nanotechnology – I’ll leave Kurzweil to explain this one. “How to Build a Mind” and “The Singularity is Near” are good starting points for understanding the role of nanotech and nanobots in the transhuman transition.
What are some of the potential negative outcomes of a transhuman transition?
Let me count the ways:
- Arms race – Event without cognitive enhancement or artificial general intelligence, the USA and China could go into cyberwar to gain an edge in critical AI and neurotech advancement, eventually leading to a potential full-on war / Thucydides Trap.
- War over the very idea of transhumanism – People (organizations, nations) who want to maintain the human condition go to war with people who want to expand beyond the human condition, viewing them (probably rightly) as an existential threat.
- Transhuman conflict – Beings with alternative kinds of minds and ways of valuing things are almost certainly likely to go into conflict with each other (read: Conflict). Note: I have posited that virtual worlds
- Substrate monopoly – The being who controls the substrate that houses virtual experience and the most powerful AI could tyrannically determine the fate of all conscious beings (particularly humans), potentially leading to massive benefits to a few, a massive suffering for most conscious beings (read: Substrate Monopoly).
- And on and on and on…
What are some of the potential positive outcomes of a transhuman transition?
- Humans could exist forever in blissful super-expansive conscious states via mind uploading (read: Sugar Cubes)
- Humanity might be able to eventually merge into some gargantuan superintelligence that populates the galaxy
Frankly, I think that posthuman intelligence will be necessary to discern higher kinds of “good” to strive for. The best we can do today (which is still pretty good) is to strive to maximize happiness, minimize suffering (utilitarianism), and strive for fairness or other admittedly-arbitrary-but-still-useful hominid ideals of virtue (read: AGI for Finding the Good).
What should we (humanity) do to make the most of the impending transhuman transition?
Avoiding an international arms race and determining a globally agreed-upon (probably impossible, let’s say “somewhat globally agreed upon”) set of “preferable” and “non-preferable” future conditions would be the two most important steps.
Something along the lines of:
- Determine a global forum to flesh out preferable and non-preferable futures continuously
- Get the citizenries of all major powerful nations to care deeply about the transhuman transition – and to believe that alignment and cooperation/coordination is critical (and that mutually assured destruction is the alternative)
- Eventually establish an international global steering (where to go?) and transparency (“who is doing what?” and “is everyone playing by the agreed-upon rules?”) consortium, vastly more complex and nuanced than present efforts around nuclear non-proliferation.
I’m not saying that those bullets are “right”, but they are, at the time of this writing, my best guess at what a good attempt at a transhuman future would start with.
Aint gunna be easy.
Header image credit: Extreme Tech