Review: The Philosophy of Transhumanism by Max More

Review Introduction

This is the first in what will be a series of reviews of the essays written by various authors over a number of years, collected by Max and Natasha Vita More in “The Transhumanist Reader” (link to purchase at bottom). It is intended to expose the reader to some key, high-level ideals coming from individuals who associate themselves as transhuman, the belief that  we can and should improve the human organism beyond natural limitations through the use of science and technology.

In his essay; The Philosophy of Transhumanism, Max More explores the concept of transhumanism and its growth as a philosophy and movement from a number of current and historical perspectives. I’ve picked out a few highlights while leaving much for the reader to explore.

The Philosophy

To the author, transhumanism has a distinct identity harnessed from different definitions and sources from the topic of philosophy. It bares open different themes, interests and values that make transhumanism what it is, which according to the author is “Philosophies of life…that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form.”

To him transhumanism ranks alongside Confucianism and secular humanism, both worldviews that practically impact our very lives without the use of superstition or (physically) transcendent beliefs. A philosophy that- contrary to religion and superstition, emphasizes a transformation inspired by reason and science.

Max More believes that the transhumanist reliance on technology to eliminate biological limits as opposed to education and cultural improvements means that risks and costs can be kept at a minimum while shaping our nature for deliberate results. We would no longer be human but rather, posthuman since we would no longer suffer aging or even death, although other challenges might surface at the time.

Posthumans would have free form and cognitive capabilities as well as better emotions (e.g less sorrow and more joy) refined and controlled by the posthuman and if transhumanists have their wishes, then there will also be a much larger environment to live in, not the least being space itself and newly created and rich virtual worlds.

Furthermore, the author maintains that understanding the potentials of transhumanism requires the integration of physical and social sciences such as was developed from the principles of “extropy,” first published in 1990 and that the value of independent thinking gives way to rationale whose advantages would be the ability to reason rather than be blinded to faith and in the end learning by experiment instead of believing. In the end however, he also suggests that emphasis on “transhuman-ism” over “trans-humanism” might cause transhumanists to reject the concept of open society even as it is thus far very compatible with their goals of continual improvement instead of a utopia.

He also states that some transhumanists have attempted to avoid cognitive biases as well as deficient cognitive shortcuts yet the philosophy requires extensive and critical thinking and analysis. Nevertheless, the epistemological (a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge) views of transhumanists range widely, where some thinkers support the concept of foundationalism such as was Descarte’s insistence that God was at the center of the foundations of knowledge. Idealists and empiricists- More continues- concentrate more on seeking unquestionable or self-evident signs of intellectual intuition while eliminating the idea of God, a view which is itself challenged by critical thinkers who insist that reasoning must be used systematically even while giving up justification.

Critical rationalism then would appear to be a close fit for transhumanism, but then, there also exists another group of transhumanists, inspired by Ayn Rand and remain committed to a foundationalist epistemology where knowledge is hierarchical and based upon undeniable axioms. To More, some critics confuse functionalism with dualism not paying attention to the fact that the cognitive system or mental state is not dependent upon the physical instantiation and he blames this to the theory that these critics have read too much mind “uploading” literature.

Max More also introduces us to Eliminativism, which argues against the concept of common sense and that some mental states are non-existent in the brain. Furthermore, eliminativism contends that belief, intention or desire don’t have coherent basis of neurology.

Revisionary materialism on the other hand argues that states are reducible to the state of physical phenomena as soon as changes have been made to the concept of folk psychology. This position excites transhumanists most because it allows the full extent of reconceptualization of the cognitive architecture of humans.

While humans have lived in an entirely physical universe, More suggests a time when we would actually spend considerable time in simulated environments. In fact, there are those who have questioned if we aren’t already living in a simulated environment! He goes on to suggest that transhumanism may actually be able to co-exist with religion, being a form of life without a reference to a higher power and even says that some transhumanists already hold religious beliefs anyway, most of whom seem to be Mormons (perhaps owing to their teachings that humans can ascend to god-like status) while Christian transhumanists are rare.

All in all, in the article’s section on Philosophy, Mr More takes us on a compelling a thought-provoking journey via comparative analysis to give us a view of some of the philosophical variances that exist thought the communities that identify as transhumanist. It is an enjoyable ride.

History

Max More, in his essay takes the time to run us through the history of transhumanism, from early definitions such as Dante Alighieri’s divine comedy of 1312 to Julian Huxley’s “New bottles for New wine” a 1957 book in which he included an entire chapter called “Transhumanism.”

More however emphasizes that the history of the philosophy that transhumanism became is varied and depends largely on different sources. There are precursors and proto-transhumanists between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries who searched the Elixir of life and philosopher’s stone. One such person was Pico della Mirandola whose 1486 essay “Oration on the dignity of man” has lately made him a subject of much controversy owing to his insistence that God is the craftsman. Some transhumanists today take offence at his refusal to give humans some credit especially as regards their ability to recreate themselves even as his essay suggests that God gave man the freedom to choose his form.

Darwin’s “Origin of species” 1859 was the one that ultimately released the possibility that humans could just be getting started in their evolutionary path and led to scientists such as Friedrich Nietzsche to suggest that “humans can be overcome” and used such boldness that transhumanists were inspired to follow through on his challenge to “overcome” humans.

Later precursors such as Nikolai Fedorovich Fedorov (1829– 1903), a Christian philosopher advocated for scientific methods to achieve immortality and even raise those who died back to life in new, immortal forms since evolution came with increased intelligence. Jean Finot, who came shortly after Fedorov went as far as to suggest the use of science to engineer life.

Mr More goes on to more modern, broader-thinking influences and notable introductions such as cryonics and the prospect of immortality, the role of the arts and Natasha Vita-More’s 1982 Transhuman Manifesto, the Extropy Institute, the 1998 Transhuman Declaration, and the on-line Vital Summit in 2004 birthing the Proactionary Principle.

Currents

Max More discusses current trends, or rather demonstrates a range of perspectives on transhumanism while acknowledging the unifying theme that to overcome biological limitations is as possible as it is desirable.  Likewise, they tend to favour the route of personal choice, such as cryonics, mood modifiers, and more freedoms of form.  Some transhumanists would favour, or at least predect a “singularity,” a kind of single government likely headed by one supercomputer.

He discusses in some detail the reasons for varying views on the subject and acknowledges that there are those that are wary of even the attempts to move toward a transhuman existence.

And there are risks.  More includes them in his essay while stating that since the early days of transhumanist discussions, risks were put into consideration thanks especially to the efforts of “bioconservatists” and other transhumanism opponents who continued to highlight them and insist on cultural consensus. Consequently, the likelihood of the extinction of the human race has been – and continues to be – explored. Some transhumanists have argued that extinction is inevitable (i.e. via catastrophes and pathogens) unless transhumanism is widely adopted and implemented.

Misconceptions

Finally, Max More takes the time to explain transhumanism by actually responding to various misconceptions about it.  These include critics who see the association as wide-eyed utopians, as people who claim to be predicting the future, and that transhumanists intensely dislike their bodies and are afraid of death. He counters each eloquently in turn indicating the principle of continuous improvement rather than any state of perfect stasis, transhumanist’s developing expectations along the lines of obvious technological advance (with no particular timelines, counter to ‘prediction’), the admiration of the human organism and the desire to improve upon it, and to counter the final criticism, that of thanatophobia, More cites the desire to maintain the continuity of existence rather than flee the unknown of death.

This is a great section of the essay that helps wrap things up by framing some of the philosophical underpinnings, in relatively concrete terms.

Review Conclusion

In conclusion of this review of Mr More’s essay, it is a terrific start to what I am now more than ever convinced will be a fantastic foray into the philosophies and perspectives generated by those with a common belief that we can and should improve the human organism.  I recommend getting your own copy of The Transhumanist Reader.

AMAZON: The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future

All quotes and examples are taken from “The Philosophy of Transhumanism,” Max More, as printed in the Transhumanist Reader (link above).

The Future Human Evolution Website does not gain financially from providing reviews of any future-related literature/media, nor do the views expressed in such media necessarily reflect the views of its writers, editors, and publishers.

 

Review of Kurzweil’s “How to Create a Mind”

Kurzweil has a solid reputation as an inventor of technically-advanced products that have very practical use. He is also a famed a futurists, and a shrewd businessman who has without a doubt learned how to capitalize, popularize, and monetize his own and other’s ideas and visions: some brilliant, some not so much according to skeptics.

As the New Yorker recognized, Kurzweil’s critics have not always been kind; PZ Myers, a renowned biologist once indicated that he is a genius… and one of the greatest hucksters of our time. The author of “Gödel, Escher, Bach,” Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Hofstadter said reading one of Kurzweil’s books was like mixing together good food with dog excrement: ultimately you can’t tell the good from the bad.

The astute reader will be aware of commercialization and hyperbole but not be dissuaded by it. Rather, I suggest you read to enjoy the broad strokes and general principles behind the ideas presented and use them as a catalyst to explore the various aspects he put together in an attempt to explain one of many possible approaches to achieving human-like artificial intelligence- that particular goal only one of several possible paths to self-directed thinking, perhaps consciousness, and sentience in a machine. See our Introduction to Artificial Intelligence for a brief overview of the various AI perspectives.

May Kurzweil’s collection of ideas inspire your imagination.

 Introduction

Kurzweil subscribes to the theory that Artificial Intelligence machines will soon be equaling the power of human thought-with all of its complexities and richness- and perhaps even outstripping it.

The rather broadly held theory is lent credence by some two major turning points;- In 1997, Gary Kasparov was beaten at Chess by Deep Blue of IBM, and in 2011, Watson an Artificial Intelligence machine also of IBM beat Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings in the Jeopardy Chess matches.  He uses these two events to support the argument that the neuro-networks responsible for higher level/ hierarchical thinking (known as the Neocortex) actually have simple principles that can be well replicated, and that some of the more advanced AI machines such Siri- iPhone’s voice recognition software- and the aforementioned Watson already have the pattern recognition scheme used in their installed “brain”.

Kurzweil explains that this pattern recognition scheme is naturally hierarchical, meaning that lower-level patterns that pick minute inputs from the surroundings combine, triggering higher-level patterns picking more abstract categories that must be taught. Also, information moves upwards and downwards, causing feedback between higher and lower order patterns in a theory called the Pattern Recognition Theory of the Mind (PRTM), similar to the design of our best AI machines, and with a little tweaking- Kurzweil continues- will make it possible to design computers that match human thought, with such features as Identity, consciousness, and free will by 2029, eventually outstripping even human capabilities since they don’t have such biological incapacities as will be explained later. This advance, though, will allow us to use technology to update our neurochemistry in a merger Kurzweil calls the “singularity”.

It should be pointed out to the reader of this review, that the Singularity has morphed into several definitions. Originally conceived it simply meant the point at which machine intelligence surpasses human intelligence. Machines have concepts and thought beyond our comprehension, developing even faster and smarter machines further separating us from the new masterminds of the universe. See more on our treatment of that in the Human Extinction: Risks to Humanity section.

HOW THE NEOCORTEX WORKS

The ability to reason, analyze and prioritize enables mammals to think abstractly, as well as be predictive so we can processes, manipulate and store information from which we can adapt to or change a surrounding based on what we have learned about it. This intelligence comes from the Neocortex, which was added to previously existing sections of the brain by evolution.

future-human-evolution-the-brain's-evolution

The Neocortex gives mammals like humans the ability to think hierarchically and to understand singular parts of larger groups, groups that also belong to much bigger groups, and so on, helping us survive and thrive in two ways; It gives us a detailed and precise likeness of our surroundings and allows us to understand and adjust to the surroundings as our thoughts climb the levels of hierarchies, becoming more abstract and complex. The lack of the Neocortex- some scientists believe- contributed to the extinction of dinosaurs. Mammal Neocortex differ in size and development and account for 80% of the weight of human brain.

Neuroscientist Henry Markram of Switzerland deduced that the Neocortex can be reduced to a single thought process- hierarchical thinking- because of its uniform structure, as found out in a study where he scanned mammalian Neocortexes in search of neural assemblies. He indicated that the Neocortex appeared to be constructed of Lego-like collections of several dozen neurons in layers, connected to similarly structured super-assemblies connected to yet a higher layer of neuronal collections, and so on until the highest level represented the entire brain.  He is now a Director at the Blue Brain project, intent on recreating the complexities of the human brain, beginning with a trial on rats.

future-human-evolution-lego-like-neuron-hierarchical-structure

 The Pattern Recognition Theory of Mind (PRTM)

The author, borrowing from others before him, says that each layer of neural assemblies stands for a pattern recognizer that finds hierarchically organized information in the surroundings whether auditory, linguistic or any other information. Neural assemblies are pre-organized and innate, but are taught at each level of the neural assembly, incorporated with exact information. Human higher level thinking uses some 30 million recognizers and writes all information into different levels of neural assemblies in our brains.  For example, on a human face the mouth and nose are recorded at a different neural assembly from the entire face such that even if some facial parts are absent, a face can still be recognized especially if enough parts of it are available to trigger a recognizer and send the information to the next upward level.

future-human-evolution-understanding-neurons-and-the-neocortex

Before a pattern recognizer at one hierarchical level triggers another one higher, they prime it before sending signals back to recognizers at the next-lowest level, to prime and prepare their senses for firing. In this instance, if a person’s eye is detected, the recognizers for the face will be primed before signaling to those representing other parts of the face to detect given features. The author considers this predictive.

Pattern recognizers communicate with positive or negative signals to encourage or hinder firing depending on the possibility of a given pattern to exist and whether they come from lower or higher conceptual levels.

Every new or change in a sensory scenario is detected by the brain and is saved given a new pattern recognizer. Some, like different expressions of a relative are saved multiple times while redundant ones, like a face not seen for ages are eventually replaced to save storage space. This replacement causes memory to fade away slowly to the extent that a face seen before is no longer remembered. Pattern recognizers have a redundancy factor of about 100 to 1 depending on importance (like between relatives and first sighting).

This example is exclusive of the great abstraction levels that we reach with alarming regularity and means. According to the author we might not, for example, remember a reason for laughing yet remember that we did laugh. We must also note that these signals are sent at very high speeds and pattern recognizers fire across many given faculties at any given time.

The reach and presence of the Pattern Recognition Scheme

As can be seen below, different mental capabilities from the Neocortex are found in multiple brain parts, and other parts of the Neocortex are available to perform tasks that are assigned to any other parts should it be found that the said parts are damaged or missing from birth (brain cells in various locations can be “taught”, or rather learn to be multifunctional if necessary for survival. This is known as neural plasticity and has even been found in people having congenital defects.

future-human-evolution-and-artificial-intelligence-neocortex-functions

Introducing Speech Recognition to Artificial Intelligence

As Kurzweil shows, advanced artificial intelligence machines and software programs already use the processes described of the Neocortex above.

When the author and other computer scientists first moved into the uncharted territory of artificial intelligence, they sought to solve problems using predefined intelligent solutions and  programmed these problem types and solutions into a computer to be applied to arising problems as they came. Speech to text conversion (1980’s) was first tackled in this way- recording digital patterns which the program would try to match against human voice inputs. But since enunciation and pronunciation differ between people of different nationalities or races, or even with one person as they age, this method quickly became impracticable- too many variations would be needed in the “answer” databank.  Kurzweil then tried another technique known as vector quantization: to summarize or reduce human speech into 1,024 points/ iterations.

He then recreated what goes on in a person’s brain while they spoke and simulated this so that the computer could identify new units of speech, as well as variations in enunciation and pronunciation using a technique very mathematical in nature known as the Hidden Markov Model which could “infer a hierarchy of states with connections and probabilities.”

With this done, he sought to set parameters of unknown data points and their organizational hierarchies, using the biological evolution and cross-bred multiple ‘solution organisms’ (genetic codes of multiple parameters) which even had mutations that were not definite, or properly defined in their parameter values. Multiple cross-breeding tests were conducted, where in the best resultant designs were set aside and used for setting parameters for the Hierarchical Hidden Markov Model (HHMM). This HHMM was trained with speech samples from people of different nationalities and races, and who had unique accents to learn “the likelihood that specific patterns of sound are found in each phoneme, how the phonemes influence one another, and the likely orders of phonemes.” At the end of the day, the HHMM discovered/ learned that there were different rules, which were very different yet delicate, but more importantly were much more useful than the previous hand-coded rules used. In short, as Kurzweil and team combined HHMMs to simulate the cortical organization that accompanies human learning and a genetic algorithm to simulate the biological evolution that gave rise to a particular cortical design. Both of these are self-organizing procedures. This became the cornerstone of subsequent speech recognition works and research, and is being used in other areas of AI like speech simulation and knowledge of natural languages.

The need for both self-organizing and pre-programmed systems

While self-organizing systems are generally more advanced than pre-programmed ones, Kurzweil says artificial intelligence machines are incorporated with both, especially because the pre-programmed systems are much faster when handling familiar information and present a good basis for lower conceptual levels of hierarchy. These two advantages over the otherwise more advanced self-organizing systems enable the self-organizing system to learn much quicker than it would do on its own, and be ready for practical use much faster.  Combining both optimizes an effective AI machine. After the self-organizing system has fully learned, it’s expected that the pre-programmed system will be discontinued.

Watson; The Most Advanced Machine in AI

According to Kurzweil, Watson is an AI machine which uses an ‘expert manager’ called UIMA (Unstructured Information Management Architecture) to choose the correct sub systems for use in different situations and then with “intelligence” combines the outcomes (answers) of these systems. This method allows Watson to contribute to a resolution even though it may not deliver an actual answer to a given problem.  This multi-processing also helps to gauge and build Watson’s confidence in its answers by use of a probability percentage. This example of probability percentages was witnessed at the Jeopardy matches. Kurzweil says the human brain also uses this method when statistical inference is used to resolve multiple hypotheses.

According to the author, Watson was designed around the complexities and richness of the Neocortex, although admittedly it’s still some way from posing as an actual human. For example, it could not ace the famed Turing test because it was never designed to pass it nor engage in intelligent conversation, rather it was designed to compete at Jeopardy and answer brief and not so complex questions. Kurzweil, though, believes with a little tweaking, Watson will perform those tasks considering that many AI advances occurred before the complexities of the Neocortex were well researched.

Simulating the Human Brain

Multiple attempts with varying degrees of success have been made to accurately simulate the human brain, ably assisted by technologies including the scanning technology used to uncover the grid-like patterns of the Neocortex’s connections.  There a number of such technologies including the latest MRI techniques which are noninvasive scanning technologies.

Human Connectome

The National Institutes of Health, through their Human Connectome project have chosen to use this technology and expect to build a complete 3-D map of the human brain complete with all its connections by 2014.

http://www.humanconnectomeproject.org/

The Blue Brain Project

The Blue Brain Project, on the other hand aims to model and “simulate the human brain, including the entire Neocortex as well as the old-brain regions such as the cerebellum, amygdala, and hippocampus, and by recording the measurements of ion channels, neurotransmitters, and enzymes that generate and regulate every neuron’s electrochemical activity. They will be using a patch-clamp robot, another scanning technology, in a system that is automatic and able to scan neural tissue at one micro-meter of accuracy, avoiding the destruction of delicate membranes. In 2005, participants simulated one neuron, and in 2011 did a neural mesocircuit of 100 neocortical columns.  They target 10,000 neurons and a rat brain by 2014. Their current goal is 2023 for fully-simulated Human Brain.

http://jahia-prod.epfl.ch/site/bluebrain/op/edit/page-52741.html

Educating the simulated brain

According to Kurzweil, the simulated brain cannot achieve human-level thinking unless it has the necessary content and he describes multiple potential methods to fulfill this requirement. The most likely, he surmises, is one that can simplify molecular models by creating functional equivalents at different levels of detail, starting with his personal functional algorithmic method to simulations that are closer to full molecular simulations. His book goes into greater detail, but he guestimates that it could speed the learning process 1000 fold or more.

Technological acceleration

Kurzweil explains that future-human-evolution-and-exponential-technology-growthhis Law of Accelerating returns (LOAR) is doubted by many because they don’t understand the concept of linear vs. exponential progressions where if forty linear steps is equal to 40 years, the same 40 steps on an exponential scale would equal a whopping trillion years. Based on the historical evidence of exponential advancement, he predicts more complex advances are coming, merging biological and technical evolution techniques. He confidently speculates on the possibility of a machine having human consciousness, identity and free will, purporting that any complex physical system will inevitably develop it.  He cites man’s best friend, the canine, as an example of a non-human consciousness.

Consciousness, Free Will and Identity?

He also argues- concerning free will- that there’s a likelihood that we humans actually don’t have it, but just feel that we do, or alternately, like consciousness, perhaps it’s also an emergent property that evolves at high, complex levels. If these are true then it’s likely possible that a machine of human-level thinking would also have the same, or feel (have the perception) that it does. Kurzweil holds that identity is borne of our sense of free-will and experience. He extrapolates that a self-aware machine would naturally possess the same belief.

Beyond Human Intelligence

Kurzweil is also a proponent of the more advanced applications of AI. Synthetically producing a Neocortex and replacing our own biological one would enable the functioning of more than 300 million processors- or more. A billion?  He considers the fact that digital neurons can be made to link up wirelessly- a big advantage over human ones which are linked physically.

He also considered the possibility of adding bug cleaning features to our brains, to remove/ reduce instances such as multiple thinking and inconsistent but colliding ideas in our brains. A module for detailed thinking could be designed to continually do background scans for inconsistencies in all existing ideas or patterns and update their compatibilities with each other. Inconsistent ideas would then be reviewed or eliminated. With this and other such implants, we would alleviate the risk of AI machines ever outstripping us in intelligence.  We could then take advantage of the singularity by incorporating the exponential advances into our own biology. By doing so we could dispel some fears of losing our identity or changing the continuity of our body cells any more than nature replenishes them for us currently.

Conclusion

It’s only fair to say we are in a race with technology which is ever advancing.  His far future vision is the spread of our non-biological intelligence to the four corners of the universe, infusing our deliberate will directly upon its fate.  If we are able to break the speed of light barrier we could have a universal omnipresence within a few centuries. It is our destiny.

Certainly on that last conclusion this reviewer and this site agree.  Science fiction writers and far futurists have been coming to that conclusion for years as well. See our own 2003 essay on the distant future. It is in fact the only logical conclusion to an assumed eternal existence in the known universe (although we disagree with the assumed ubiquitous non-biological entity).

In any case, let us all hope the boundaries of reality continue to expand the unknown at least as fast as our ability to consume and understand it, lest we be caught in the forever loop of The End is Just the Beginning.

Further Reading

FUTURE HUMANS: Four Possible Evolutionary Paths

In his article “Future Humans: Four ways we may or may not Evolve” dated November 24, 2009, James Owen honored the 150 year anniversary of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” by documenting what a few scientists speculate on some popular ways we humans may, or may not, evolve be as digitized electronic immortal beings or cyborgs bound in muscle.

four ways future humans may evolveHis first documented prediction considers the possibility that human evolution is in fact dead. In this prediction, he argues against Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ concept by suggesting that even the weakest survive long enough to transfer their genes to the next generation, thanks to medical advances. At the time that Darwin came up with this concept- James Owen notes, only a half of Britain’s population grew to the age of 21. Currently, that figure sits pretty at 99%.

Also, increased human mobility means a lot of cross-breeding among humans, indicating that Darwin’s theory of natural selection becomes irrelevant: there is no isolation therefore little chance that the fixation of any significant biological novelties would appear from which to select. We’re all stuck trading about the traits that currently exist in the gene pool.

His second relayed prediction- that evolution in humans will continue- also considers natural selection but Owen takes another view. On the one hand, in an increasingly complex technological world, mates will be selected for their ability to thrive in this new environment and average intelligence will increase as a result. Of course the proponent of this notion fails to take into account the actual inverse relationship between income and quantity of offspring that occurs in the real world.  As another part to the second prediction, on scientist argues that advancement in human biotechnology will ultimately make it possible for humans to select the best genes for themselves and especially their offspring. The end result will be an entire generation of humans with attractive characteristics such as height, masculinity, intelligence, health, and social status. Also, our immune systems will become stronger as pathogens travel ever increasingly to different corners of the earth, helping humans to become universally immune.

Four ways future humans may evolve

Four ways future humans may evolveJames Owens’ documented third prediction is a bit more far reaching; that humans will evolve into electronic immortals. This prediction considers the concept of transhumanism, a form of unnatural selection that is much faster than natural selection. Here, humans will live forever, use uploaded (and faster) minds (using advanced operating systems), download themselves to become robots at will and even travel at the speed of light as a pattern of information. Imagine reducing your food budget right to zero! These ‘humans’ will have brains that are scanned- one atom at a time and uploaded on computers. Even better, ‘copying’ will mean that humans wouldn’t need to take the biological 20 plus years to mature- they could just be mature in seconds, experiencing the years of angst via simulated reality in torrents of electrons.

Four ways future humans may evolveFinally, the author looks at the possibility of colonizing off world as an evolutionary direction.  Here, James Owen wonders what would happen if some humans just went on one way voyages into space and to some new places on the solar system. He considers the possibility that some habitable planets might be discovered, then some humans (perhaps all) would migrate to those planets. They would eventually likely develop features that would make them ever more comfortable there.

See the original National Geographic article here.

 

10 of the Weirdest Futurist Scenarios for the Evolution of Humanity

In the July 2012 article, “10 of the Weirdest Futurist Scenarios for the Evolution of Humanity”, George Dvorsky has a little pseudo-scientific fun with projecting out scenarios of future human evolution.  In the article he takes a squint-eyed view of 10 possible futurist outcomes of human evolution.

Homo heidelbergensis

Homo heidelbergensis

First, he thinks that voluntary devolution would be a nice idea. That it would be our great service to the rest of the animal kingdom to use our technological advances to take us backwards instead of forwards. The intent would be to return to pre-civilization and ultimately back to the jungle. That way, he contends, we will not be harmful to ourselves, our planet or other animals and would also make good prey for lions and their like.

Dvorsky doesn’t stop there; he goes on to provide another alternative- voluntary extinction! This also borrows from the idea that humans are the worst thing to happen to mother earth, and would be a nice idea- as says the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEM), if we just stop breeding and eventually die out. The result would be that every other creature would then be able to live and die on their own terms without being ‘encouraged’ by us!

eco-human-of-the-futureThen there’s the eco-human possibility. Here, most philosophers have their doubts about our ability to deal with climate change and more ecological disasters. What they are confident we can do however is to pharmacologically make ourselves dislike meat somehow (to increase the mortality rates of chicken, cows, pork and the rest), reduce our ecological footprints by reducing our physical selves, use cat-eyes technology to lessen our need for lighting and more. By this method, we would be preserving our resources like light and space.

He also thinks we could become transgenic humans, using transgenic technology to inter-mingle with the rest of the animals. Using this, we could borrow a dog’s high end sense of smell and hearing, cat eyes, eagles’ vision, and other useful traits to put all of them into ourselves. As transhumans, we could be quite something. Imagine having hawk vision, cat eyes, lizard scales and shark teeth while retaining your awesome thinking- quite the sight!

big-head-human-in-the-futureThe fifth scenario borrows from a fundamental belief about evolution- that unused parts of anything eventually wither away. Considering that humans lately use mostly their brains and hands to eat, Dvorsky sees a time when all humans will be just some huge brains walking around on hands and strictly following this principle, the guy has a point; we no longer walk- we just drive, so our legs will eventually disappear. There are suggestions we will soon stop eating, so our stomachs will wither away. We might also stop breathing if upcoming lung technologies work out, so basically we will just need our brains. It is hard to suppress a good laugh on this imagination.

Dvorsky also looks at the likely scenario where there will be a collective superorganism (like the bees and ants have), where the state controls the action- and more frighteningly- the thoughts of the populace. It will use cyber-brain hacking and nanobots to do this. Some find this ‘global brain’ idea fascinating but Dvorsky naturally asks how much of an individual would remain in such a sea of multiple conscious thoughts competing against one another! Might we be digging ourselves into some big hole? I don’t know.

post-gendered-humans-in-the-futureAdvanced cybernetic and reproductive technologies will make humans postgendered.  As males and females, we are basically biologically bound binary species but should we somehow manage to become cyborgs- as is expected, we would then have the privilege of having exosomatic wombs and choose sexual characteristics that please us instead or even discard the whole gender thing and just be asexual or just invent some fancy new genders that are easier to alter at a whim. At this point, we wouldn’t be your ordinary biological organisms.

Hot on the heels of this gender selection thing, we would then give rise to ‘designer babies’! You got that right. The trick here would be to select the finest traits we would like our kids to have and if they later don’t like those traits, even more advanced technology would allow them to remove or enhance those traits. The problem- or funny part (depending on which side of the fence you are on)- of this is- as Dvorsky observes- that people will reach weird levels in trying to outdo each other. Athletes for example have naturally developing characteristics. The future lads however will be made of sterner stuff. A basket baller for example thrives a lot on height, so he will likely enhance his height. His opponent will also then want to make himself much taller. The guy who started this will then seek to be still taller and so on. At the end of the day, how much height would they handle?

Consider swimmers- they thrive largely on limbs- won’t they then ultimately end up with limbs longer than swimming pools? Future Olympics will be quite interesting.

humans-all-limbs-in-the-futureHis ninth scenario takes us to space. Obviously, in our current form, we will suffocate out there so the good hearted scientists are tripping over themselves to get this fixed. Dvorsky cites Robert Freitas’ plan to eliminate the need for breathing and breathable air by somehow rendering human lungs unnecessary while Ray Kurzweil has advised that in future, nanobots will power our cells even better than food would. Craig Venter on his part has highlighted the need for an inner ear that will keep us safe from motion sickness. He has also called for development of DNA repair where radiation is likely and genes for bone regeneration. Other scientists have opted to suggest that we would be better off as some huge octopus wannabes able to slither effortlessly in this environment of zero gravity. Hairlessness, slower turn-over of skin, smaller stature and higher energy utilization will also be necessary. As soon as we can develop all these, then we can pack our bags and head out into space.

George Dvorsky’s tenth weird scenario for evolution isn’t necessarily the lousiest. Actually, it is one of the very highlights of future humans. The idea of uploading human consciousness right into a supercomputer.

This might seem fancy, but scientists are actually giving timelines about when it will be achieved- supposedly sooner than we might think. That’s not the weird part. The weird part is that using this uploading technology, uploaded minds will likely want to outdo one another in a competitive economy by making unlimited copies of themselves.

Another weird part would be that the upload could adjust its clock speed to even such low levels that the upload can literally watch mountains rise and fall.

The uploads could also switch their robot bodies effortlessly and alter the existing parameters of their environments generated by computers. The result; the very nature of subjective and physiological awareness could change.

Visit George’s original article here.

Reviews of Future Human-Related Media

There is a lot of material out there on the web related to the future human, the future of humanity, future human evolution, and the like. Some of it is scholarly, some ridiculous, some entertaining, etc.  As we have a keen interest in the topic we thought it would be helpful to do a little survey across the web from time-to-time and let you know about the more interesting media on our human future we think you’ll enjoy.

Future Human Reviews