Years ago, the world was really different than today. There were no computers, machines seemed primitive compared to today’s. People made plans for their lives, got a job, got married, founded a family…
Things haven’t changed a lot : the more technology evolves, the more people seek pleasure and the less they want to work, but people still have the same objectives.
Technological progress through time has eventually enabled to replace dangerous, extremely physical or boring jobs by machines. These changes caused a lot of jobs to disappear but also created even more, more interesting ones.
The past centuries saw humans come up with incredible inventions which changed human life forever and, each time, with more and more effects.
Technology revolutionized the world in the past:
- The steam machine allowed us to make giant leaps: the train and the automobile changed everything in people’s lives, first in the life of those who could afford it but eventually in everybody’s.
- Computers changed the way we communicate : The Internet allows us to chat with everybody in the world instantly. It also changed the way we seek information : a few people still use the old way to learn things but they are getting fewer and fewer. Today, everybody browses the web when they need information.
Even today, technology is changing the world:
- 3D printers are still in development but they already changed a lot of things : in China, huge 3D printers are are used to build houses, even skyscrapers. 3D printers can also print bridges and a lot more and it is just the beginning.
- Advance in bionics allows us to replace humans’ parts or organs by augmented and more efficient ones.
The point is that technology reshapes the way we live, the way we think, but people’s major goal hasn’t evolved. The human body hasn’t evolved either in more than 200,000 years : we still have a similar primitive darwinian brain, which is the result of nearly 4 billion years of evolution.
The evolution is, as we all know, a natural process based on random choices made by nature.
The problem of this process is that it does not consider the future and it does not make decisions. If we want to evolve, we have to pass the genes and there are no other ways.
But if humans didn’t evolve a lot in more than 200,000 years, they will probably not be so different in another 200,000 years, and probably in a million years, if they are still here. That means we have to find a different way than passing the genes if we want to evolve and if we want to choose how we will evolve. Most people are not ready to change : they see the world as it was and they think it will remain like that forever, so they plan their lives as theirs parents and grand-parents did. They are not able to imagine what could happen and how their lives can dramatically change within a very short time. It’s not refusing change, it is that they don’t believe really important change could occur, and it is way worse.
In fact, changes occur all the time, and fast, even if we don’t see it and are not impacted yet : since 1900, the power of machines has been doubling every eighteen month, increasing significantly computation power. This leads to an exponential growth of computing. For example a simple PS3 is more than 800 times more powerful than the old but very famous 1975 Cray-1 supercomputer.
This chart is a bit out of date : nowadays, computers are more powerful than a mouse brain.
To make a comparison, the human brain has a capacity of 2.88*1017 calculus per second. A current computer has a capacity of 2.25*1015 calculus per second. It means that the brain is more than 100 times more powerful than computers. How much time do we have before computers can have the same power as our brains ?
This exponential growth is based on Moore’s law. This law will not last forever, but there are other paradigms with other ways of computation than classical computation (Quantum, DNA…).
An important paradigm is Rose’s law for quantum computers, which illustrates how important quantum computers are.
Nowaday, Google and NASA are in possession of a 1024 quantum bits computer that allow them to run a 10.000 years algorithm in only one second : computation is about 100 million times faster than conventional computer. Event through, quantum computation is only at its beginnings.
This exponential growth of computing is a part of the law of accelerating returns, one of the most powerful concept ever made for evolution in computer science.
The law of accelerating return is an analysis of evolution on earth. It does not limit itself to computer nor technology but also biological evolution. This law states that changes, especially technological, are exponential. The concept is that the more time passes, the less time between two major evolutions is reduced.
The graph is a good representation of this exponential evolution and we can believe that one day, the time between two events will be lower than a single second.
This law shows that the period 1900 to 2000 only saw 20 years of technological progress instead of 100 years based on the 2000 to 2020 scale. It also predict that this interval will be reduced again and again : 20 years of progress between 2020 and 2035, 20 between 2035 and 2041, 20 between 2041 and 2045 etc…
At last, this exponential evolution tells that the XXIth century will not see 20 or 100 years of progress based on today’s scale but 20.000 years.
The law of accelerating returns leads to an important event, potentially the most important event in human history : the technological singularity.
The technological singularity (or simpler, the singularity) is not a sure event, it is possible it will never occur but even if, we mustn’t ignore it because of all of its’ impacts. The singularity is an idea that one day, progress will be so fast that we will no longer be able to understand or control it : for example, you have the most powerful computer in the world, and, a second later, computers thousands of time more powerful already exists.
The question is if we can’t understand what we can create, how will we be able to create other thing even more powerful ? The answer is pretty simple : artificial intelligence. The singularity can be resumed in one citation :
“Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an “intelligence explosion,” and the intelligence of man would be left far behind.“ Irving John Good
The singularity may not dure forever, and it can also be finish within a minute. The major problem will be physical, there are always limits.
This event will occur (let assume it will) in a few years. Specialist estimated it will happen in 2045, based on the exponential growths. These growths predicts that in 2045, an artificial intelligence will be more powerful than all humans brains gathered.
This lead to an explosion of intelligence and a single human will not be able to live a life as he could have planned it nowadays. If we want to keep control we don’t have lots of choice.
We can decide to stop progress, but it’s quite unlikely or we can decide to evolve with technology, but as it was said previously, we still are primitive animals depending on nature to evolve. In a few years, technology allows us to change that : we are now able to change ourselves, to make us evolve in a predefined direction. The changes we can make are still in their beginnings and not always efficient for now. If we want to keep control or at least understand what will happen in a few decades, we have to become more than human, we need to transcend biology.
Transhumanism is an intellectual movement based on this idea. Transhumanists think that it is time to choose a direction to evolve, to change everything it means to be human through technology. One of the major objective of the movement is to destroy diseases, aging and even death.
Some ideas of transhumanists are quite extreme and non transhumanists people think it could be an abomination, such as eugenism like in the movie Gattaca. They also want to use artificial womb, like in the movie Man of Steel. A vast majority of their ideas are considered as unethical for lots of people.
The movement is based on Ray Kurzweil’s predictions and ideas about the future. He is at the head of engineering at Google which support and leads breakthrough in these ideas. All of his predictions have been listed on this page : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predictions_made_by_Ray_Kurzweil
Google (or Alphabet) is the leading organisation in transhumanists ideas and want to change the world following these ideas by extend human life, developing artificial intelligence and others. X lab for example is leading research in theses direction with projects such as bicentennial man or the Google car. Calico wants to push Human longevity further, Deepmind is designed to be the very first artificial consciousness… But even if Google is the leader in this kind of projects, Facebook, Tesla and Space X are also in the race for transhumanists’ technology.
The main ideas of transhumanism can be divided in some points :
As it was said previously, an important idea of transhumanism is to eliminate death and all other disease.
Let’s take an example :
Imagine a disease that kill 100.000 people a day. In thirty years, over a billion people will have died because of this virus. How much money in research would have been spend to stop this virus ? How people would have reacted ? We can imagine it will be priority number one and nobody would talk about anything else.
In fact, 100.000 people really die every day by ageing, and nobody bat an eye, it is not a global priority at all. So why that paradox? Maybe because people are thinking that ageing is part of life and inevitable, even if we now have the technology to fight it. Even worse, some people fight against the idea to fight ageing. The problem is that, even if we have the technology to stop ageing, there are a few support to do it. There are only company from the private sector to try something, such as Google with Calico which say that today’s millennium will not have to worry about ageing and will probably have the ability to live forever. The health system is based on the idea to make us live as long as possible. The idea of transhumanism’s longevity is to change the system to make us live as long as we want.
How transhumanists wants to make this possible ? There are some differents methods :
- Nanotechnology that exist in our body and act like antibodies : they can change our bodies, make us smarter, stronger and keep us from being sick. Nowadays nanotechnology are able to destroy cancer in mice.
- Cryonics allow us to preserve bodies by freezing them, but it is only recently that we succeeding in unfreezing these bodies without damages them.
- Uploading minds into computers and bionic could allow us to preserve minds, and upload them into non biological bodies, buts it is not a viable technology yet, even if some billionaires spend billions to make this technology possible. To do such a thing, we need more knowledge about the human brain.
- Gene therapy that could reverse the process of ageing, making us younger than we are. This method has already been successfully tested on human being.
Of course, this idea of longevity is the source of important ethical questions such as “How will we live on earth if nobody dies?” or “What about the resources?”…
Another main part in transhumanism’s ideas is the super intelligence. Transhumanists want to make themselves smarter. By smarter, they don’t mean to switch to 140 IQ to 180, but way more than that. They thinks that we have to develop artificial intelligence (AI) for many reason. First : achieve the singularity if possible, and next, fusion with AI.
We can distinguish three kind of AI :
- Basic AI like Deep Blue and even AlphaGo because they are making a tree of possibility, they don’t really think about what they are doing. It is the only kind of AI we master nowadays, even if it is a difficult field to work in.
- Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) are, nowadays, one of the world greatest challenge : an AI that learn and think, a kind of artificial consciousness. Even if it is not really AGI, there are Microsoft’s Tay or Google’s Deepmind. The main technology we use for AGI is the neural network, but none artificial consciousness as even been made.
- Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) is the same thing than an AGI, but way more powerful. An ASI is to an AGI what a supercomputer is to a laptop.
Today’s research in artificial intelligence is making some noise : Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and even Bill Gates are saying that AGI could rebel against us, turning the world into a Terminator’s world like. In general, people don’t understand nor know what could happen so it is not a recurrent actuality question yet, but chances are great it will be in the upcoming years.
Super intelligence and longevity could be great, but it could have a price on how we feel : we could feel bad, feel pain or live miserably… Transhumanists’ goal on well being is to eliminate everything that could lead us to pain. The vast majority of the projects require advances in artificial intelligence, computing and robotics. One of the most famous project is the jobless future, a world where all jobs are done by machine with artificial intelligence.
Others projects that already exist are the 3D printed organs to replace damaged ones, bionic to replace missing members.
In this idea of healthcare, there are projects that could reinforce longevity, strength, intelligence, such as cancer killer nanobots, muscles stimulators substances (In the same way than in Captain America).
This is not the most developed area in transhumanism’s ideas, but there are already important questions to ask for a jobless future : what will people do ? Will people get bored ? How people will gain money ?
In the same idea than artificial intelligence, there is an idea of augmentation of the human body. Transhumanists want to enhance themselves through technology. Let’s take an example :
This is Neil Harbisson. He was born color blind. He is considered as a cyborg since he wear a device that allow him to hear colors, even those beyond the range of sight.
There are a lots of other ideas : perfect vision regardless to the distance, night vision… These technologies exist, and are the beginning for something even more important : bionic. Nowadays bionic is efficient, but far away from biological members. Even if bionic can replace, it does not compete with biology. Not yet. A lot of people think that, one day, in a very near future, bionic will be far better. It is possible that some day, voluntary amputation will be a common thing.
We also can imagine that technology allow us to perceive new senses we never dreamed about.
The idea of augmentation could make us godlike because we could be way more than human : impressive strength and resistance, new senses and augmented one, new abilities such as flying, breathing underwater…
It is probably the most unethical idea because of all it impact on culture, religion, etc… There are a lot of religious people, and for a majority, change the human body like that is unthinkable and has to be punish or forbid. We can also ask ourselves about what could happen if augmentation became the new fashion.
All of these ideas could lead to an utopian future, but, as I said previously, there are some risks, such as artificial intelligence revolt. Theses risks are really important and cause the utopia to become a dystopia. We have to be careful about what a transhumanist future could bring. But whatever we do, the current evolution proves that this kind of future is inevitable, so we have to make it right and embrace whatever it brings.
A transhuman future is very likely to begin for the majority in the early 2030, although it has already begun for a few selected. Once these ideas will be seen as normal, and not as unethical as it is nowadays, more extreme ideas will start to become popular. For now, we only can make some suppositions or prediction. On the very long term, some of them have already been made on what the technological singularity could bring.
The technological singularity plays a very important important part in transhumanists plans. If it does not happen, things will still work the same way, only change will be slower.
Currently, there are two important concept of what could happen in an undated future. Nothing is certain, maybe it is nothing more than fantasy, but since we can’t say what the singularity will bring and how advanced our technology will be, we can’t be sure it will not happen.
The computronium is an hypothetical substance that could be used as a programmable material. The idea of the computronium is to turn everything we can into computable matter. This matter would opper calculus at the molecular level, that could lead to nearly infinite calculus power.
However, it is a dangerous idea : to create computronium, we must disassemble original and “stupid” matter before reassemble it. It means the creation of computronium implicate that we have to destroy resources and environment, even if it is only temporary. The risk is that computronium became a clever version of gray jelly.
Waking up the universe
The concept of waking up the universe in probably the most promising concept ever conceived. This concept is a list of prediction of what could occur :
- The end of transistor’s reduction will lead to bigger computers
- Because of this, AI will create more and more computronium until complete planets will be turned into computronium.
- Interstellar exploration will be made by nanobots turning entire solar systems into computronium.
- Possibility of transcending the law of physic : go faster than the speed of light.
- The universe will be entirely turned into a giant powerful computer. This mean humans will have both supreme intelligence and control over the entire universe.
The final phase of the process is to make human able to create other universes or to keep our own from dying.
The world is going to change in the upcoming years. The change will be very fast, and will impact everything in our lives for ever. People will resist ; people always do, but it will be vain, progress (good or bad) is unstoppable. We have to accept whatever the future could bring instead of looking back in time and think “it was better before”. People have to understand that nothing, especially technology is doomed to stay the way it is, and they have to embrace this reality instead of trying to keep it the way it is.