Thoughts on possible futures, singularities,
transhumanism and the frontiers of belief
Monday, November 30, 2009
The Last Human Century
Is this the view from the post-human world of the next century?
How exciting to be living in the last decades of the human! After so many centuries of human brilliance, cruelty, ignorance and insanity, the endless wars and primate dramas, it all looks to be coming to a close in this century — hopefully in my lifetime. It is said that people in every era want to believe that their time is special, the End Times, the last days before the Messiah, and I don’t doubt that this is true. This desire is probably at the root of all religious feeling, and is perhaps an expression of our fear of our own mortality. But in our time we don’t have to appeal to an all-powerful God or a hereafter to achieve immortality. Instead we can appeal to our modern de facto gods — science and technology — to bring forth a transcendent apocalypse.
The real "Good News" is that we are living in the last days of an awkward era during which our civilization and our biological programming have diverged wildly. The world for which we were selected as hunter-gatherers in the Olduvai Gorge has very little resemblance to the world in which we actually live today. So we suffer from chronic epidemics of mental illness, crime, drug dependency, health problems, obesity and so on — all symptoms of a civilization radically out of synch with the genetic programming of its members. More ominously, we now have the power to destroy ourselves many times over, and the risk grows with every technological innovation so long as our basic human nature remains unchanged.
As I see it there are two ways to solve these problems: end civilization as we know it, or end humanity as we know it. I tend to think both outcomes are quite possible, but strongly favor option #2 for the simple reason that it's new, unknown, and has the potential to be quite exciting and empowering. Ending civilization — the "Ted Kaczynski option" — would take us back to a place we've already spent a lot of time in as a species, and where a few in remote regions of the planet still dwell. This turning back of the clock and diminishing of our choices doesn’t really appeal to me though, and I’m certain humanity won't voluntarily choose this path. It may occur anyway, if we don't get our act together quite soon and begin operating as a truly global species, but that's a subject for another post.
Which leaves us with option #2: ending humanity. To be more precise, this option means re-engineering human beings into forms that are more compatible with our technological civilization. This approach is often referred to as "Transhumanism", which is nothing more than the application of technology to our brains and bodies with the same vigor as we have applied it to our environment in the building of cities, space rockets, computer networks, etc. If you think deeply about our predicament as a species, I hope you will realize that transhumanism really is the only way forward for progressive civilization. The great global challenges of the 21st century, from ecological overshoot to the threat of technological self-annihilation to the problem of insuring our survival against a cosmic extinction event, can all be solved by the application of transhumanist technologies. The weakest link in all these chains of potential catastrophe is us, the frail killer apes known as homo sapiens.
So I claim that we need to pursue the transhumanist agenda with the greatest urgency, without compromise or equivocation. I hope it is obvious by now that our legacy systems of belief, such as the Abrahamic religions, offer no solutions to the problems we face in the 21st century. None of our great modern dilemnas is written about in the tribal holy books, and none of their archaic prescriptions for humanity seem very relevant. Going forth and multiplying is not enough, nor even is loving thy neighbor; we need to enhance our intelligence, our flexibility, our very natures if we are to continue to adapt successfully to a rapidly changing world. So if you must have a religion, make yours the religion of technological transcendence, the transition to superhumanity, and the greening of the cosmos. These beliefs at least offer a way forward, in a world that has entered the last human century.