“We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”
— Stewart Brand (1968) Whole Earth Catalog
Once again it has been a busy week for future news, so it becomes difficult to know what to write about. There was an interesting OpEd piece in The New York Times about how recreating the human brain will be all but impossible this century and maybe next. That would be good news for The Lightstream Chronicles where the year is 2159 and artificial intelligence is humming along smoothly, brain cloning or not.
A couple of other web articles caught my attention both emanated from the site, Motherboard. They frequently write about the world of Transhumanism. This week there was an interesting article on “the Father of Modern Transhumanism” Fereidoun M. Esfandiary, who changed his name to FM-2030, FM was a futurist, a UN diplomat, and writer. In 1970, he began writing about utopian futures that broke free of all the “isms” that were holding back humanity. The author, Ry Marcattilio-McCracken, writes:
“For FM-2030, the ideological left and right were dinosaurs, remnants of an industrial age that had ushered in the modern world but was being quickly replaced and whose vestiges were only holding humanity back. He proposed a new political schema populated by two groups: UpWingers and DownWingers. The former looks to the sky, and into the future. The latter down into the earth, and into the past. UpWingers see a future for humanity beyond this planet. DownWingers seek to preserve it.
FM-2030 was an unabashed UpWinger.”
FM imagined some prescient future scenarios such as open-source genetic blueprints, the disappearance of the nuclear family and cites replaced with something he called mobile, as well as the end of aging and disease and anything resembling our current form of politics. The article continues:
“Science and technology serve as the engine behind FM-2030’s “true democracy,” one he believed could chaperone humanity beyond its oppressive, hierarchical, and tribal origins and into the future it deserves.”
FM died at 69 of cancer and was frozen, “but his political ideas have lived on.” The up-winger, down-winger terminology has been replaced by Proactionaries and Precautionaries by philosophers and sociologists.
“Proactionaries (UpWingers) argue, most simply, that the risk inherent in any technological or policy venture is unavoidable and, further, often offset by the rewards of progress. They aver that the universe is a fundamentally perilous place.”
Precautionaries are a bit more egalitarian and more risk averse. I would call them the voice of reason, but then I’m probably one of them.
The article sums up noting how far the transhumanist movement has come, citing the advent of the Transhumanist Party and its current Presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan. Istvan also writes occasionally for Motherboard.
So I jumped to an Istvan article on the same site, Why I Advocate for Becoming a Machine. Istvan begins with this simple statement: “Transhumanists want to use technology and science to become more than human.” He explains that our present feeble makeup cannot see 99% of the light spectrum, we can’t hear like bats, nor energy patterns, nor vibrations from the Earth’s core. To Istvan, that we owe ourselves and humanity a rebuild.
“The reality is that many transhumanists want to change themselves dramatically. They want to replace limbs with mechanical endoskeleton parts so they can throw a football further than a mile. They want to bench press over a ton of weight. They want their metal fingertips to know the exact temperature of their coffee. In fact, they even want to warm or cool down their coffee with a finger tip, which will likely have a heating and cooling function embedded in it…Biology is simply not the best system out there for our species’ evolution. It’s frail, terminal, and needs to be upgraded.”
Istvan makes one a good argument: that we are confused about the point at which we become no longer human. For example, he notes that if we had all of our internal organs replaced many of us would probably find that acceptable. If, however, we replaced our arms and/or legs with super-charged titanium versions most would think we are crossing the line.
Here are some of my questions: If, within our current capabilities, we are unable to find happiness and fulfillment, then why should we expect to find it when we can throw a football a mile, or bench press a ton? What is to keep it from becoming two miles or two tons? Will we be happier or safer when the next Hitler can run faster, jump higher or live forever? Is the human propensity to foul things up going to go suddenly away when we can live forever?
One could argue that from the beginning of time, (literally) we have been obsessed with becoming God. As god-like as we have become over the centuries, it appears that we are still no closer to knowing what it means to be human or finding meaning in our lives. It seems that might be something we should get a grip on before moving on to the divine.