Thanks, but I can see the view just fine from here.

THE CLOSET TRANSHUMANIST: Who is this cat and why is she in the closet?

Three months ago I had never heard of Transhumanism.  The name Ray Kurzweil didn’t ring any bells, I hadn’t put much thought into our generation’s advancements in nanotechnology, genetic engineering, robotics, artificial intelligence, and other areas of discipline that constitute what Vernor Vinge coined as “the Singularity,” and the idea of humans being designing their own evolutionary replacements seemed perverse and eerily masochistic.  In fact, when my Mass Communication professor at UVU asked me what I was going to blog about and I answered with “The Singularity,” he said:

“What’s that?”

Exactly.  No one at first seems to know what the Singularity is, but we’re all part of it, like it or not.  However, to be fair, while the term “Singularity” may be unfamiliair to many in the context of Vinge and Kurzweil’s respective missions, it is a subject being discussed more and more in popular culture.  Discussed, that is, as science fiction, not as scientific fact.

Originally, and very loosely paraphrased, the singluarity is a term used by physicists in reference to the point just outside a black hole where all the existing laws of physics that we know of no longer apply.  Physicists believe that it is impossible to predict what will happen when something enters a black hole.  The Singularity in the context of transhumanism says the same: that it is impossible to predict what will happen when our technology takes on a life of its own.  All existing rules, especially those concerning ethics and morality, are off the table.  Out the window.  They no longer apply.

So why am I interested?  And why am I in the closet?

To answer the first, I am interested because technology really is advancing in ways that most of us are unaware of.  I never saw a news story about the first synthetic life created.  Instead, the news covered celebrity gossip and American politics.

I am interested because I want to know what to be ready for when advanced technology forces its way into my everyday life, and even in the life of my children.  For instance, my ethics professor posed this question to our class:

“If you had a chance to enhance your child in utero, would you?  And if you did, how would you justify having done the right thing without their permission, and if you didn’t, how would you explain to them that it was right to keep them untouched if, by being unenhanced, they were actually falling behind in class because the other students had been genetically altered?”

Or, as one of my friends added when I related this question to him, “How would you explain altering your kid’s little brother?  Now he has a younger sibling that is smarter, faster, healthier, etc.  What do you tell your first child?”

To answer the second question, I’m in the closet because transhumanism scares the shit out of me.  I’d much rather keep pretending that H+ is just a group of loony mad scientits and wishful immortalitarians.  However, it’s a movement that is useless to fight; our only option besides obstinant denial is to be informed and decide where we stand on the issues that arise with the ever-approaching Singularity.

As this blog is also an assigmnent for my Mass Communication class, I will be comparing and contrasting popular media (movies, cartoons, TV shows, books, etc.) that promote the Singularity idea as science fiction with actual scientific progress as reported in the news.

……

DISCLAIMER:

I am not an expert on the subject of the Singularity or transhumanism.  There are many, many people in the world who know much more about this subject than I do.  If any of you decide to speak up, please do so in a manner that is conscious of my ignorance.  This is a new subject for me, so while additional or corrected information is welcome, insults on my intelligence are not.   I will accept constructive criticism with grace; all other degrading comments will be deleted.

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2 responses

  1. Pierce Barney

    It is undeniable that technology is advancing. It is a fool who tries to ignore or resist it. Though, transhumanism scares the shit out of me as well, and how much I would like it not to happen, the reality is that it is happening on many levels. One of the most important question to ask ourselves is what are we going, or willing, to do with ourselves about it. I feel that if it has ever been needed before, now is the time that humans need to be educated about what we take most for granted: our existence. The time is now for us be serious about what makes us who we are as humans. We can no longer afford to quibble about gossip and other such mindless nonsense. We can no longer afford to let our minds grow dull and useless. We can no longer afford to disrespect ourselves nor the self of others. We can no longer afford this because existence as we know it may not exist tomorrow. And if we’re not serious about it we may not exist tomorrow either. Awake children of the world, awake and take heed, for eternal sleep may be upon us.

    September 13, 2011 at 3:18 pm

  2. TCT

    Pierce, there are those who would suggest that eternal sleep is the only medium in which the mission of our dreams will become reality. Where else but in our sleep (and consequently, in our dreams) can we truly transcend mortal boundaries? What I mean to say is this: does the (seemingly) inevitable transition from human to transhuman or post-human have to be negative? I’m still undecided on the issue, but I do believe it wise to give consideration to a potentially positive outcome. You raise an excellent point, however, when you mention being serious about what makes us who we are as humans. An ancient question, of course, but I’m not sure we’ve ever had to ask it in reference to our biology.

    September 13, 2011 at 6:26 pm

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