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Transhumanism and th eNext Tech Age Transhumanism and th eNext Tech Age

Artificial Intelligence

AI, Transhumanism and the Next Technological Age

The relationship between technology and the self has always been strained. We’re happy to embrace its major societal advances, as well as the convenience it brings to our own lives. However, fear of the unintended consequences of what we’ve unleashed has a habit of creeping into our collective psyche.



Just look at your smart phone. This powerful device continues to embed itself deep into our lives and society. Entrenched societal norms and governments are being challenged by the speed of information being shared across the globe on this device. Its constant influence dominates our social discourse and greatly shapes how many of us view people and world.

It’s also the hub for powerful wearables like the popular Apple Watch. Advanced biometrics and health data, once only in the realm of healthcare providers, are now at our fingertips in real time.

This creates an interesting dynamic. On one hand, quickly advancing technologies may be the solution to some of the world’s biggest problems, such as climate change and degenerative aging. On the other, as we surrender what it is to be human to technology, at what point do we lose our sense of self?

Fear of Artificial Intelligence

The thought of AI (artificial intelligence) achieving superhuman intelligence keeps futurists like Elon Musk awake at night. This fear was shared by the likes of the late physicist Stephen Hawkins. On the other hand, Google’s chief engineer and futurist Ray Kurzweil sees AI as no more or less a threat than any other technology.

Like many things, the truth probably falls somewhere between these extremes. It’s hard not to entertain the thought that a virtual entity powering so much of our connected world that we cannot compete with it. It takes our jobs, renders us obsolete and then self-perpetuates until we lose the ability to control it.

We easily imagine it because the fear of being overwhelmed by technology and progress has always been around. It’s usually triggered by major societal shifts, like the one we are experiencing now.

History and Media has Shaped Our Anxiety

Think back a minute to your history class of the Industrial Revolution. The era brought massive change to our society and gave rise to industrial saboteurs who feared being replaced by mechanization. The birth of the Computer Age brought similar fears of being replaced by “thinking” machines.

With the speed technology advances today, it’s no wonder our thoughts now turn to the AI achieving singularity (self-awareness). Will it be our savior or morph into a dystopian villain?

Science fiction is filled with plots that play to this anxiety. I have to think that Skynet in the movie Terminator has influenced many of our opinions. It depicts a powerful AI that took over the world and built robots to exterminate humans. For older folks, it was the emotionless voice of the sentient computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey that chills down their spines.

At the core of these stories is a persistent, nagging fear: The next technological advance we make could be the one that ultimately leaves humanity behind.

Transhumanism: The Next Step in Evolution

Society has reached a level of technological capacity that will surpass humans’ ability to keep pace through natural means. Rather than fear it, the philosophical movement of transhumanism (H+) is ready to embrace advanced sciences and technologies to “direct” evolution.

Its goal is to apply them to human biology to create a new, better posthuman condition. In layman’s terms, it essentially means implanting technology into our bodies to make us better.

An Old Idea Coming to Life

The fundamental idea of melding advanced technology with human biology is not new. Modern thought on transhumanism reaches back almost a century to 1924.

Science fiction writers and Hollywood producers also found it a fertile playground. A quick application of technology to enhance our body’s limitations is all the hero needed to prevail! On the other side, technology is the monster to overcome. But, it was always set in a future or galaxy far, far away.

What it did accomplish in the real world is to introduce and to some degree normalize the concept of transhumanism to the general population

If You Can’t Beat Them, is it Time to Join Them?

Bits and pieces of transhumanism are already here. Artificial limbs controlled by your brain are getting more sophisticated with each passing year, with some surgically implanted to the bone. Bionic eye prototypes have been created and implanted in humans for testing.

Closer to the mainstream, sprinter Oscar Pistorious’ two lower-leg prosthetic carbon running blades created a stir more than a decade ago. This opened a big debate over the fairness of using prosthetic enhancements in sports.

Also, think about how many times you interact with your smart phone in a 24-hour period. We do it so much that scientists have discovered it is rewiring our brains. They have quickly become an extension of us.

In an increasingly complex and technological world, you may argue this is a good thing. Our biology is just adapting to the environment as we have done for millions of years.

Transhumanism is simply pushing to take our bodies further. For instance, your smart phone is with you around the clock. So why not just embed that technology into your body to interact directly with your brain?

You’ll gain things like enhanced peer-to-peer communication, real-time vital sign monitoring and virus/disease early warning, access to information at will (via augmented reality), improved digital security and a medium for seamless financial transactions. The list of potential benefits goes on.

The Tipping Point

That fine line—between mastering technology and being mastered by it—is where humans will always struggle. No individual wants to feel they are lesser than any man-made system or technology.

The technological leap of transhumanism will no doubt foment that fear and anxiety. This won’t be helped by wealthy early adopters, creating inequities between the technology-upgraded “haves” and poorer “have nots.” Hopefully, society can overcome this through scale along proven technological mass adoption curves.

So the question becomes at what point do the benefits of transhumanism outweigh our innate fear of change? We’re closer than you think.

Elon Musk’s Neuralink Ambitions

As if Tesla and SpaceX weren’t enough to keep him busy, Elon Musk is also dipping into transhumanism. His Neuralink tech demo this past September outlined plans to create a small and easily upgradable brain-machine interface for the masses.

He claims health benefits like solving paralysis, addiction, anxiety, brain damage and a host of other problems, and eventual interaction between your brain and AI. Although the underlying tech is not new, he aims to make it smaller, more easily applied (well, in a hole in your skull) and upgradeable.

Knowing his history with ambitious projects, I wouldn’t bet against him. The Verge has a great video discussing the Neuralink event, neuroscience and the tech.

For a Deeper Dive into Transhumanism

I highly recommend checking out the The site provides a substantial, central account of responsible transumanism by leading transhumanists. The site’s FAQ page is a fantastic read. Enjoy!