Transhumanism: The Search for Human 2.0

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Neuroscientist Tallis on Technological Enhancement of Humanity

...The most often repeated claim is that we are on the verge of technological breakthroughs – in genetic engineering, in pharmacotherapy and in the replacement of biological tissues (either by cultured tissues or by electronic prostheses) – which will dramatically transform our sense of what we are and will thereby threaten our humanity. A little bit of history may be all that is necessary to pour cooling water on fevered imaginations. In 1960, leading computer scientists, headed by the mighty Marvin Minsky, predicted that by 1990 we would have developed computers so smart that they would not even treat us with the respect due to household pets. Our status would be consequently diminished. Anyone seen any of those? Smart drugs that would transform our consciousness have been expected for 50 years, but nothing yet has matched the impact of alcohol, peyote, cocaine, opiates, or amphetamines, which have been round a rather long time.

It was expected that advances in the understanding of the neurochemistry of dementia in the 1970s would permit us not only to restore cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s disease, but also to artificially boost the intelligence of people without brain illness. The results have been a little disappointing, as the recent judgement by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence that anti-dementia drugs have only modest benefits reminds us. Gene therapy that was going to deliver so much in the 1980s is still waiting to deliver.

So don’t hold your breath; you’ll die of anoxia. Of course changes will come about eventually. But it is the pace of change that matters. We can individually and collectively adapt to gradual technological changes; that is why they never quite present the insuperable challenges some doomsayers and dystopians anticipate. In Victorian times, it was anticipated that going through a dark tunnel in a train at high speed (30 mph) would be such a shocking experience that people would come out the other side irreversibly damaged. In one of his last poems, published in 1850, Wordsworth opined that the infantility of illustrated newspapers – the first tentative steps towards the multimedia of today – would drive us back to “caverned life’s first rude career” (‘Illustrated Books and Newspapers’), and he felt that the endless influx of news from daily papers would incite us to a level of unbearable restlessness.

Railway journeys and tabloid newspapers have not had the dire effects that were predicted. Even the most radically transformative technologies have not had the impact we might have expected....
We humans are unique among the animals in having a coherent sense of self, and this begins with our appropriating our own bodies as our own. This is our most fundamental human achievement: that of transforming our pre-personal bodies – with their blood and muscles and snot and worse – into the ground floor of our personal identity (see my forthcoming book, My Head: Portrait in a Foxed Mirror, Atlantic Books). Looked at objectively, our bodies beneath the skin are not terribly human; indeed, they are less human than our human technologies. There is very little in my purely organic body that I could say is me. Most of the meat of which I am made and which I assume as myself is pretty alien: “our flesh/ Surrounds us with its own decisions” as Philip Larkin said in ‘Ignorance’ in The Whitsun Weddings. On the whole, those decisions are not very pleasant.

At the root of humanity is what in I Am: A Philosophical Inquiry into First-Person Being I have called ‘the Existential Intuition’ – the sense that ‘I am this’; our appropriation of our own bodies as persons who participate in a collective culture. Even at a bodily level, this intuition withstands quite radical changes. And by this I don’t just mean coping with a wooden leg or a heart transplant, or being able to reassume ourselves and our responsibilities each morning when we wake up or when we come round from a knock-out blow. I mean something more fundamental – namely, normal development. We grow from something about a foot long and weighing about 7 pounds, to something about 6 foot long and weighing about 150 pounds, and for the greater part of that period we feel that we are the same thing. We assimilate these changes into an evolving and continuous sense of our own identity.
If, as I believe, the distinctive genius of humanity is to establish an identity which lies at an ever-increasing distance from our organic nature, we should rejoice in the expression of human possibility in ever-advancing technology. After all, the organic world is one in which life is nasty, brutish and short, and dominated by experiences which are inhumanly unpleasant. Human technology is less alien to us than nature (compare: bitter cold with central heating; being lost without GPS and being found with it; dying of parasitic infestation or spraying with pesticides). Anyone who considers the new technologies as inhuman, or as a threat to our humanity, should consider this. Better still, they should spend five uninterrupted minutes imagining the impact of a major stroke, of severe Parkinson’s disease, or Alzheimer’s disease on their ability to express their humanity. Those such as Fukuyama who dislike biotechnology do not seem to realise that the forms of ‘post-humanity’ served up by the natural processes going on in our bodies are a thousand times more radical, more terrifying, and more dehumanising than anything arising out of our attempts to enhance human beings and their lives. Self-transformation is the essence of humanity, and our humanity is defined by our ever-widening distance from the material and organic world of which we are a part, and from which we are apart.

L’homme passe infiniment l’homme. (Blaise Pascal, Pensées)

In short, do not be afraid.



Neil Harbisson was born with achromatopsia, a rare condition that leaves around 1 in 30,000 people completely colorblind. But Harbisson embraced the opportunities afforded by modern technology - and the human brain's ability to adapt its methods of perception - and convinced doctors to implant an antenna into the back of his head through which he can now 'hear colours' through bone conduction.

In what may be a landmark moment marking the change from biological and technological evolution in humans, Harbisson is the person to be officially recognized as a cyborg by a government. Furthermore, the antenna doesn't just compensate for a deficiency - it also augments his senses allowing him to perceive things most of us cannot: parts of the spectrum that are invisible to humans, such as infrareds and ultraviolets, as well as signals from phones and satellites.

"I am a cyborg. And cyborg comes from the union between 'cybernetics' and 'organism'. And that's how I feel... My antenna is a body part.

...Before, I realised that people made connections between things or objects, and I could not see the link between these two objects. For example, the colour of the sky and the colour of someone's eyes - in the greyscale world there's no connection.

Now that I can hear colour, I have such connections - and connections go beyond that as well. Because when I hear sounds I can relate the sound to an object or a colour. So if I hear the G# of a taxi, the horn of a taxi, that to me is related to lime, because it sounds just like a lime."


Controversial Philosopher Says Man And Machine Will Fuse Into One Being

For years now, you have been arguing that a new type of being was coming into existence, as the human species fuses with its technological prosthetics — “anthropo-technology.” In this new being, man and machine are becoming one integrated, operative system linked by information.

All these years later, our consciousness has expanded into the cloud and the cloud into our consciousness; we have also learned to read, write and edit the genetic code, giving us the knowledge to purposively amend millennia of evolution.

How does your concept of “anthropo-technology” differ, or how is it similar, to that of futurist and AI proponent Ray Kurzweil’s idea of “singularity”? Kurzweil sees not only an epistemic break with the past, but a new phase of evolution altogether that reaches beyond consciousness into being and biology.

The concept of “anthropotechnics” rests on the hypothesis that the current psychophysical and social constitution of the species Homo sapiens — note the evolutionist emphasis of this classification — is based substantially on autogenic effects. In this context, the term “autogenic” means “brought about by the repercussions of actions on the actor.” The human being — especially in so-called “advanced civilizations” — is the animal that molds itself into its own pet. While evolution means adaptation to a natural environment, domestication means, from the outset, adaptation to the artificial.

What we call “civilizations” in moral and cultural-theoretical terms are, from the perspective of biological anthropology (which deals with the animal/human distinction), the result of a long sequence of auto-domestications. Tens of thousands of years before the Greek oracle could write the motto “Know thyself” above the place of encounter with the truth, the great mothers, chieftains and sorcerers had applied a different one to the lives of their own kind: “Tame thyself!” This led to what would become known much later as “education” — in Greek paideia, in Latin humanitas, in Sanskrit vinaya, in Chinese wenhua and in German Bildung.

The term “anthropotechnics” points to the fact that the process of the humans’ domestication by humans, which began very early on, retains an open future. Firstly, it describes the largely unconscious secession of humans from pure animality — whereby they became not only members of the “symbolic species,” a “ritual animal” (as Wittgenstein remarked on occasion), indeed a mythological narrative animal, but also a technical creature. Secondly, it points to future possibility of conscious self-shaping through forms of training of the mind, through chemical modifications, perhaps even through genetic impulses.

The concept of “anthropotechnics” thus refers to the entire autopoiesis, or self-creation, of “mankind” in its many thousands of cultural specializations. It is empirical, pluralistic and egalitarian from the ground up — in the sense that all individuals, as heirs to the memory of mankind, are free to surpass themselves.

Ray Kurzweil’s idea of “singularity,” by contrast, contains futuristic, monistic and elitist elements. Although “singularity,” according to its logical and rhetorical design, is meant to integrate mankind as a whole, it is evident that it could only encompass a tiny group of exceptional transhuman individuals.
All these years later, our consciousness has expanded into the cloud and the cloud into our consciousness; we have also learned to read, write and edit the genetic code, giving us the knowledge to purposively amend millennia of evolution.
Our consciusness has expanded into the cloud? :eek:
I have no idea what this means. Is it because we can google "Arctocephalus" and get an idea of what it is in less than 1 sec?
How is that different from looking it up on an old fashioned encyclopedia? :)

How exactly is our consciousness expanded? It seems to me that Facebook, Instagram and the like can have "shrinking" effects on our consciousness... if anything, boosting narcissisim, vanity and facilitating ADD :D

Is there any substance to these sort of claims, such as "Consciousness expanding in the cloud", besides fancy buzzwords?

Grumpy cat over and out :)
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Genetically engineered humans will arrive sooner than you think. And we're not ready.

Artificial intelligence has become the pet anxiety of luminaries like Elon Musk, Bill Gates,and Stephen Hawking. They have all expressed concerns about our Promethean quest to develop machine intelligence, and those concerns seem to be spreading every day.

But there’s another dimension of technological change that ought to worry us every bit as much as AI, if not more so.

Bioengineering has already allowed human beings to take control of their own evolution. Whether it’s emergent cloning technologies or advanced gene therapy, we’re quickly approaching a world in which humans can — and will — change the way they live and die.

Michael Bess is a historian of science at Vanderbilt University and the author of a fascinating new book, Our Grandchildren Redesigned: Life in a Bioengineered Society. Bess’s book offers a sweeping look at our genetically modified future, a future as terrifying as it is promising.

“We’re going to give ourselves a power that we may not have the wisdom to control very well,” he told me. But that won’t stop us from developing it, and Bess’s book is an attempt to wrestle with the implications of this.

I spoke with Bess last week about his new book and about the technological challenges that lie ahead.

Our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows.
Age of Em is probably the most horrifying piece of futurist speculation I've heard of. I am glad that I find it completely implausible.
It is an eschatological vision worthy of Hieronymus Bosch. Trillions of ems live in tall, liquid-cooled skyscrapers in extremely hot cities. Most of them are “very able focused workaholics”, who “respect and trust each other more” than we do.
Some ems will have robotic bodies; others will just live in virtual reality all the time. (Ems who are office workers won’t need bodies.) Some ems will run a thousand times faster than human brains, so having a subjective experience of much-expanded time. (Their bodies will need to be very small: “At this scale, an industry-era city population of a million kilo-ems could fit in an ordinary bottle.”) Others might run very slowly, to save money. Ems will congregate in related “clans” and use “decision markets” to make important commercial and political choices. Ems will work nearly all the time but choose to remember an existence that is nearly all leisure. Some ems will be “open-source lovers”; all will be markedly more religious and also swear more often. The em economy will double every month, and competition will drive nearly all wages down to subsistence levels. Surveillance will be total. Fun, huh?
An awful lot of transhumanist technologies could be turned in dystopian directions (and there may not be benevolent AI leaders around to help). In this case, mass-producible labour and the violation of the human mind combine with economic forces to quash individual liberties. That said, I don't think the 'ideal future' will necessarily contain nothing but humans in their present form. It seems too limited compared to the multitude of possibilities this universe must hold. But my perspective is also too limited to make many positive statements on the matter. Maybe we'll be ruled by giant telepathic brains like some old sci-fi short story, or we'll be discussing civil rights for genetically-engineered talking dogs.


When Will AI Be Better Than Humans at Everything? 352 AI Experts Answer

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of respondents thought machines outperforming humans would have a positive impact on humanity. But 48 percent also said there should be more research aimed at minimizing the risks of AI.

While the results of the survey are informative, it’s important to remember that machine learning researchers are inherently enthusiastic about the technology. That means they’re liable to overestimate the speed of progress, while simultaneously underestimating the potential negative implications.

They are also probably not really qualified to judge how technological advances will interact with things like politics, economics, and human psychology. Just because a machine can do something doesn’t necessarily mean it will. There are many other factors involved in determining whether AI will be widely adopted than just technological readiness.
When all the researchers’ answers were combined, the aggregate forecast was that there is a 50 percent chance that “unaided machines can accomplish every task better and more cheaply than human workers” within 45 years, and a 10 percent chance of it occurring within nine years.
And when the question was worded slightly differently to gauge when all human labor would (actually) be automated rather than just when it could be, the aggregate forecast was a 50 percent chance in 122 years from now and a 10 percent chance within 20 years.
Maybe a bit of caution is warranted here. From chapter 4 of After Progress: Reason and Religion at the End of the Industrial Age by John Michael Greer:

A glance back over the last century or so of prophecies of progress, as noted in Chapter 3, displays an extraordinarily large number of abject flops. From domed cities and vacations on the moon, through fusion power and household robots who can cook your dinner and do your laundry for you, to the conquest of poverty, disease and death itself, how many advances have been proclaimed as imminent and inevitable by scientists and the media, only to end up in history's wastebasket when it turned out that they couldn't be done after all?