Future Predictions and Contradictions

In his consideration of the theory of technological politics, Langdon Winner has made repeated reference to the way in which “the adoption of a given technical system unavoidably brings with it conditions for human relationships that have a distinctive political cast” (1986, p. 29). Recognizing that future advances in technology represent a certain existential risk, transhumanists frequently assure the public that disaster prevention will be built into the design (Bostrom, 2003). For example, although the end goal of current nanotechnological research aims towards the production of self-assembling and self-organizing systems, the potential environmental impact of nanotechnology is virtually unknown, and the possibility that self-replicating nano-bots could quickly become overrun (Arnall, 2003), although little reference is made as to how this outcome could be avoided.

Advances in artificial intelligence, interface technology, and other scientific realms of discovery, are anticipated to be, for society in general, “a mixed blessing” (Dvorsky, 2008, p. 64). Some of the anticipated changes to the socioeconomic landscape of industrial society include massive unemployment (and the need for guaranteed income) in addition to a general rethinking of how humans should conduct their daily activities and spend their time (Dvorsky, 2008). Some transhumanists ethnocentrically caution those with conflicting viewpoints that, “For people who cling to dated, comforting, and static worldviews, including those who suffer from scientific illiteracy, are heading for serious bouts of future shock” (Dvorsky, 2008, p. 64).

Most transhumanists view the current paradigm of democracy as a fundamentally flawed system, anticipating that social evolution will eventually provide an alternative (Hughes, 2010). H.G. Wells was a notable proponent of “a practical World State,” (Wells, 1999, as cited in Carey, 2009). Following in this tradition, some transhumanists have advocated for the establishment of a “Singleton” to “guide global civilization,” (Hughes, 2010, p. 629) consisting of “a single decision-making agency at the highest level” (Bostrom, 2006, as cited in Hughes, 2010, p. 629). This Singleton could consist of any of the following: a dictatorship, an interdisciplinary panel of experts to serve as an administration to a democratic world republic, or a super-powerful intelligence machine (Hughes, 2010). In fact, advances in surveillance, mind-reading or mind-control technology, and artificial intelligence would likely guarantee the necessity for a Singleton society (Hughes, 2010). Many transhumanists believe that human rationality will be vastly eclipsed by the hyper-rationality of self-improving AI (Hughes, 2010). It has been proposed that the cognitive bias towards aggression and self-absorption that humans frequently display would be a motivating factor in the abdication of self-governance (Hughes, 2010).

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Critics warn that many of these predictions are overly ambitious, “When innovation opens a new space, there is at first a euphoria of endless horizons. Somehow, though, a new frontier is never stable” (Tenner, 1996, p. 11). For transhumanists, it’s as if this euphoria is never ending. In his consideration of transhumanism through extroprianism, Max More established a series of unsustainable principles, including: boundless expansion, self-transformation, dynamic optimism, intelligent technology, and spontaneous order in the form of decentralized power (Bostrom, 2005). Transhumanist David Pearce, co-founder of the WTA, developed the Hedonistic imperative, premised upon the alleviation of suffering through advanced neurotechnology, proposing a positive program of paradise engineering (Bostrom, 2005). In his 2004 book Citizen Cyborg, James Hughes made reference to an ideal future where technology is safe, widely available, and does not impinge on human rights (Bostrom, 2005).

The aforementioned critic Langdon Winner once sardonically remarked, “Scarcely a new invention comes along that someone doesn’t proclaim it as the salvation of a free society” (1986, p. 20). In recent times, “the future has acquired a new expression in the development of modern technologies of information processing and decision making by computers and cybernated devices. Here the future is a participation ritual of technological exorcism whereby the act of collecting data and allowing the public to participate in extrapolating tends and making choices is considered a method of cleansing confusion and relieving us from human fallibilities” (Carey, 2009, p. 135). Aldous Huxley was one of the first critics to notice how promises of the future served a similar function as assurances of attaining a heavenly afterlife, acting as “a form of ‘false consciousness,’ a deflection away from the substantial problems of the present, problems grounded in conflict over wealth and status and the appropriate use of technology, toward a future in which, by the very nature of the future, cannot exist” (Carey, 2009, p. 139). The religion of the future and an unerring faith in progress plays a crucial role in the worldview of transhumansists today; in a recent survey, two thirds of transhumanists self-identified as atheist or agnostic, and the remaining third considered themselves to be spiritual, with 1% of respondents reporting that transhumanism itself served as their religion (Hughes, 2010). Regardless of their specific spiritual denominations, most transhumanists today recognize “the transcendental potential of intelligence requires a new scientific theology” (Hughes, 2010, p. 626).

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Artificial Intelligence and Human Enhancement

 There have been a number of unacknowledged concerns that have arisen in critiques of transhumanist thought. Critics have argued that artificial human enhancement would lead to the allocation of special rights to modified humans (aka post-humans) in accordance to their level of enhancement (Hughes, 2010). Many have expressed concerns of post-human (the decidedly more evolved human) domination over the rest of normative humanity, and some even believe that human inferiority would ensure that docile servitude would represent the best possible outcome (Hughes, 2010). However, in a recent survey, 46% of transhumanists reported that they believed that humans and post-humans could peacefully co-exist with one another (Hughes, 2010).

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Eternal Life

There are a number of theories regarding future forms of life eternal, primarily focused on the eradication of disease (what with disease being a major contributor to death, and all), and developments in nanotechnology and virtual reality. Optimistic estimates have purported that, with current and future screening technologies and greater comprehension of human genomics, genetic diseases will have been entirely eliminated by the year 2040 (Dvorsky, 2008). Researchers focusing on continued consciousness have posited the potential for nanotechnology in a process involving the upload and transferrence of a human mind to a computer (Bostrom, 2005). This would involve a detailed scan of a human brain, reconstruction of the neuronal network, integration with computer models, and would allow for a person to inhabit a robot body, or live in a virtual simulation of reality (Bostrom, 2005). There is a small subsection of the transhumanist community who subscribe to a school of thought known as transhumanist cosmotheism, that has made intimations of ressurection through simulation in their proposal of a future that is managed and manipulated by an “Order of Cosmic Engineers,” intelligence architects with the ability to custom tailor the universe for human ends (Hughes, 2010).

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