Mark Walker recently wrote an interesting piece over at The Global Spiral suggesting that when it comes to preventing the extinction of civilization, transhumanism is the best of the bad options we have. He frames the problem in a familiar way: the democratization of existential risks. As things are going now, more and more people will become capable of doing greater and greater harm, particularly via biotechnology. But if business as usual is in effect the problem, relinquishment of the knowledge and tools to do such harm would require draconian measures that hardly seem plausible. Transhumanism, while risky, is less risky than either of these courses of action because “posthumans probably won’t have much more capacity for evil than we have, or are likely to have shortly.” That is to say, once you can already destroy civilization, how much worse can it get? Creating beings who are “smarter and more virtuous than we are” has a greater chance for an upside, as “the brightest and most virtuous” would be “the best candidates amongst us to lead civilization through such perilous times.”
At one level, Walker’s essay might appear as mere tautology. If the transhumanist project works out as advertised (smarter and more virtuous beings), then the transhumanist project will have worked out as advertised (smarter and more virtuous beings will do smarter and more virtuous things). But more interestingly, Walker nicely encapsulates a number of issues that transhumanists regularly seek to avoid thinking seriously about. For example:
1) What is the relationship between human and posthuman civilization? If proponents of “the Singularity” are correct, then the rise of posthumans would likely be just another way of destroying human civilization. Our civilization will not be “led through perilous times,” it will be replaced by something new and radically different. One could say that at least then human civilization would have led to something better, rather than simply lying in ruins. But then the next question arises.
2) What makes Walker think that posthuman wisdom and virtue will look like wisdom and virtue to humans? Leaving aside the fact that humans already don’t always agree about what virtue is, we label the things we label virtues because we are the kinds of beings we are. By definition, posthumans will be different kinds of beings. At the very least, why should we expect that we will understand their beneficent intent as such any better than my cat understands I am doing her a favor by not feeding her as much as she would like?
3) Walker suggests we have “almost hit the wall in our capacity for evil.” I hope he is right, but I fear he simply lacks imagination. The existing trajectory of neuroscience, not to speak of how it might be redirected by deliberate efforts to create posthumans, seems to me to open exciting new avenues for pain and degradation along with its helping hand. But be that as it may, I wonder if “destruction of human civilization” is really as bad as it gets. As is clear from discussions that have taken place on Futurisms, for some transhumanists that would hardly be enough: nature itself will have to come under the knife. That kind of deliberate ambition makes an accidental oil spill, or knocking down a few redwood groves, look like shoplifting from a dollar store.
So: human beings have made a hash of things, but since we can imagine godlike beings who might save us we should go ahead and try to create them. We might make a hash of that project, but doing anything else would be as bad or worse. That’s what you call doubling down.
Charles T. Rubin, New Atlantis contributing editor.
Adam Keiper, New Atlantis editor.
Ari N. Schulman, New Atlantis senior editor.
Brendan Foht, New Atlantis assistant editor.
Mark Gubrud, Futurisms contributor.
by Charles T. Rubin
- Machine Morality and Human Responsibility
- Beyond Mankind
- Why Be Human?
- Our Bodies, Ourselves
- The Rhetoric of Extinction
- Man or Machine?
- Artificial Intelligence and Human Nature
by Adam Keiper
by Adam Keiper and Ari N. Schulman
by Ari N. Schulman
by Mark Gubrud
by other authors
- Humanism and Transhumanism (Fred Baumann)
- The Trouble with the Turing Test (Mark Halpern)
- Disenchanting Determinism (Caitrin Nicol)
- The Anti-Theology of the Body (David B. Hart)
- Ageless Bodies, Happy Souls (Leon R. Kass)
- Transitional Humanity (Gilbert Meilaender)
- Till Malfunction Do Us Part (Caitrin Nicol)
- Methuselah and Us (Diana Schaub)
"There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" 1984 2001 30 Rock Aaron Saenz Abraham Lincoln academia addiction Adi Robertson Adventures of Huckleberry Finn advertising aesthetics Agents of Shield Agnes Heller AI AirLand Battle AirSea Battle Al Jazeera Alan Jacobs Alan Rubenstein Alasdair MacIntyre Alcor Aldous Huxley Alex Backer Alex Knapp aliens Allen Buchanan Alta Charo Amy Gutmann Ana Maria Cuervo Anders Sandberg Andrew Hessel animal uplift Anna Salamon anti-progress Apple argument from inevitability argument from infallibility Ari N. Schulman Aristotle arms control art Arthur C. Clarke artifacts Artificial intelligence artificial life artificial wombs Asilomar assisted reproductive technology assumption of mediocrity Aubrey de Grey Audrey Hepburn augmented reality authenticity automation autonomous weapon system autonomy Avatar avian flu AWS beauty behavioral science Ben Goertzel Benjamin Storey Beyond Therapy Big Dog Bill Joy bioart bioethics bionics body image body modification Brad Templeton Bradley Allenby Bradley J. Thames brain in a bottle Brain Preservation Foundation brain scans brain uploading brain-computer interfaces Brandon Keim Brave New World breathing Brian Christian Brian Malow Bryan Caplan C.S. Lewis Campaign to Stop Killer Robots Caprica Carl Woese cats CCW cell phones character Charles Darwin Charles T. Rubin Charles Taylor chess children chimeras China Christianity Christine Rosen Christmas Claremont Review of Books Clearpath Robotics cloning CNN coercion cognitive computing cognitive enhancement cognitive liberty comments commercials communication technologies compression computational biology Condorcet consciousness constant connection Constiution creativity CRISRP cryonics Cuban Missile Crisis cyborg Cynthia Kenyon Dale Carrico Daniel Sarewitz Daniel Sportiello Darlene Cavalier DARPA Darwinism David A. Noebel David Benatar David Brin David Chalmers David F. Noble David Foster Wallace David Gelernter David Pearce David Rose death Deep Blue democracy Derek Parfit design designer babies despair despotism dictators disability disruption distraction distributive justice diversity DIYbio DOD Down syndrome drones dualism e-memory e-readers Earth eclipse Eclipse of Man economics Ed Boyden Ed Regis efficiency Eliezer Yudkowsky ELIZA embodiment empathy enhancement Enlightenment entropy environmentalism equality of access Eric Drexler Eric Talbot Jensen ethics ETI eugenics everyday life evolution evolutionary psychology Ex Machina existential risks exoplanets extraterrestrial intelligence extraterrestrial life extropy eyes in the back of your head Facebook faith fantasy fashion faux caution fiction Fight Aging First Amendment Fixed Flannery O'Connor flash crash flash war folk psychology Foresight Institute Fort Hood Frances Willard Francis Bacon Francis Fukuyama Frankstein Fred Baumann free markets French Revolution Friedrich Nietzsche friendly AI Future of Life Institute futurism Futurism (art) Futurisms futuristic distance G.K. Chesterton gaming Garry Kasparov Gary Drescher Gary Marcus Gary Wolf gene editing genetic engineering genetics geoengineering George Dvorsky George Orwell germline gene therapy Gilbert Meilaender Gizmodo global warming gloomy God Gödel Golda Meir goodness Google Gordon Bell government GPS Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition Greg Benford Gregor Wolbring Gregory Benford H.G. Wells H+ magazine H+ Summit 2010 Halloween Hank Hyena Hans Jonas Hans Moravec heartbreak Heather Knight Heidegger Her history holism hope hubris human cloning human excellence human extinction human life human nature Human Rights Watch human significance humanism humanities humanoid robotics humility humor Iain M. Banks Ian Pearson ICRAC IEET immortality infanticide IQ Irfan Khawaja Isaac Asimov Isaac Newton Issues in Science and technology Itamar Arel IVF J. Craig Venter J. M. Bernstein J. Robert Oppenheimer J.B.S. Haldane Jamais Cascio James Hughes James Jorasch James W. Wagner Jamie Metzl Japan Jason Furman Jason Robert Jeffrey Thurnher Jende Andrew Huang Jeopardy Jesse Schell Jessica Scorpio JFK Jill Lepore John Harris John Markoff John Ruskin John Singer Sargent John Smart Jonah Lehrer Joseph Weizenbaum journalism joy Judaism Juergen Schmidhuber Julian Savulescu jus ad bellum jus in bello just war theory KAL007 Kathleen Lawand Katja Grace Ken Hayworth Kenneth W. Anderson Kevin Jain Kevin Kelly killer robots Kindle kissing Kyle Munkittrick L5 Society lambda calculus Lauren Silbert law law of accelerating returns LAWS LAWS2015 lay science Leon Kass Leon R. Kass Lepht Anonym liberalism libertarian transhumanism libertarianism life extension lifelogging linguistics Lisa Katayama literature Lockheed Martin loneliness Lost love LRASM Ludwig Wittgenstein MacIntyre Conference mainstream Malthusianism man as beast Marc D. Guerra Marcus Hutter Marilynne Robinson Mark Blitz Mark Gubrud Mark Walker Martine Rothblatt Marvel Marvin Minsky Marxism Maryanne Wolf materialism Matthew Crawford Matthew Waxman Max More memory Methuselah Foundation Methuselarity METI Micah Mattix Michael Anissimov Michael Nielsen Michael Pollan Michael Schmitt Michio Kaku Mike Treder Milan Kundera military Millie Ray mind as computer Mind Children mind control minds Modern Times modesty molecular manufacturing monstrosities moral relativism morality morphological freedom Morris Johnson Moshe Dayan movies multitasking nanotechnology NASA Natasha Vita-More Nathaniel Comfort National Geographic National Nanotechnology Initiative natural law natural rights Neal Stephenson Ned Seeman neuro-everything neurobiology neuroelectronics neuroengineering neuroscience Never Say Die conference New America Foundation Nicholas Carr Nick Bostrom Nick Carr Nietzsche Nikita Khrushchev Nikki Olson Nikolai Fyodorov Noah Goodman Noel Sharkey normativity nuclear weapons Oculus Rift Olympics ontological fortitude Orphan Black Orwells Outline of History Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics P. W. Singer paradox of choice parenthood Patrick Hopkins Patrick Lin Patrick McGuire patriotism pattern-identity Paul Ramsey Paul Scharre personal identity personhood Peter A. Lawler Peter Singer Peter Thiel philosophy of mind photography Pioneer plastic surgery plastination Plato politics positive sum game postmodernism predation President's Council on Bioethics Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues progress progressivism psychology public relations quantum computing racism Radiohead Ramez Naam Randal Koene rationality Ray Kurzweil Ray Tallis recommended reading regulation religion relinquishment René Descartes repugnance resentment watch response to critics resurrection rhetoric of inevitability Richard Feynman Rick Weiss rights ritual Road to Wigan Pier Robert Ettinger Robert P. George Robin Hanson robotics robots Rodney Brooks Roger Scruton romance Ron Bailey Ron Fouchier Russia Ryan Gariepy S. Jay Olshansky Sagan Santa Claus science science fiction scientific enterprise scientism scientists secrecy sectarianism seduction community self-driving cars semi-autonomous September 11 Seth Lloyd SETI sex sex selection sexual enhancement Sherry Turkle simulation Singularitarianism Singularity Singularity Hub Singularity Summit Singularity University Slate sleep smart phones SMBC social interaction social robotics society Socrates Sonia Arrison Sorites paradox space space colonization space exploration sports Stanislav Petrov Star Trek Star Wars stem cell research Stephen Cave Stephen Hawking Stephen Johnston Stephen Wolfram Steve Jobs Steve Sailer Steve Talbott Stuart Hameroff Stuart Russell substrate chauvinism suffering superstition suspended animation synthetic biology systems tacos Tao Tea Party movement Techno-Human Condition Ted Fishman Ted Goertzel Teddy Ruxpin Terminator terrorism The New York Times The New Yorker The Prospect of Immortality the rhetoric of extinction thinking Thomas Malthus thought experiments Tim Tyler Time magazine Tocqueville Todd May Total Recall totalitarianism Transcendence transhumanism transhumanist tech fail translation travel truth Turing Machines Turing Test TV Twitter Tyler Cowen tyranny U.S. government U.S. military UAVs UGVs uncanny valley unemployment United Nations United States government uploading USSR USVs utilitarianism Utopia UUVs Vasili Arkhipov Vatican verification Vijay Kumar virtual reality virtue virtues Voyager Wafaa Bilal Walker Percy Walter Kirn Washington Post Watson we are already x whole-brain emulation William Boothby William Dickens Winwood Reade Wired wisdom Witherspoon Council women's lib work XKCD Yom Kippur War Yuval Levin Zeitgeist Zoltan Istvan
- ► 2015 (24)
- ► 2014 (9)
- ► 2012 (38)
- ► 2011 (46)
- ▼ 2010 (83)