Cheating death is a serious goal of some transhumanists. Futurist Ray Kurzweil (now a Google innovator) calls such a digital fate the Singularity, as in his book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. Published in 2006, it is still in the top ten in artificial intelligence and biotechnology. In 2017, he announced,
2029 is the consistent date I have predicted for when an AI will pass a valid Turing test and therefore achieve human levels of intelligence. I have set the date 2045 for the ‘Singularity’ which is when we will multiply our effective intelligence a billion fold by merging with the intelligence we have created.
It sounds rather like avoiding death by becoming something that isn’t actually alive. Some thoughts to consider before we hit the Enter key… 😉
From playwright Libby Emmons at Quillette:
When the transhumanist movement began a few decades ago, its ideas had more in common with speculative science fiction than reality. But, inspired by Darwinian theory, the notion of human-directed, intelligent evolution has flourished alongside recent technological developments. The transhumanist perspective insists that humans have a distinctly separate mind and body, and that what happens to one need not affect the other… Experiments in reanimating slaughtered pigs’ brains are being conducted by neuroscientists at Yale. Investigations into creating a complete diagram of the brain’s signals and connections, with the aim of encoding memory and personal identity and copying that information to an artificial neural network, are underway. In time, it is hoped that this will allow a duplicate of an individual’s memories and experiences to survive the death of her material body. More.
Is it true that pigs have a mind separate from their bodies? And if our minds are continuous with those of pigs, why would it seem so important to preserve them?
From media theorist Douglas Rushkoff at CNBC:
There’s nothing wrong with madly optimistic appraisals of how technology might benefit human society. But the current drive for a post-human utopia is something else. It’s less a vision for the wholesale migration of humanity to a new a state of being than a quest to transcend all that is human: the body, interdependence, compassion, vulnerability, and complexity. As technology philosophers have been pointing out for years, now, the transhumanist vision too easily reduces all of reality to data, concluding that “humans are nothing but information-processing objects.”
Ultimately, according to the technosolutionist orthodoxy, the human future climaxes by uploading our consciousness to a computer or, perhaps better, accepting that technology itself is our evolutionary successor. Like members of a gnostic cult, we long to enter the next transcendent phase of our development, shedding our bodies and leaving them behind, along with our sins and troubles.
Our movies and television shows play out these fantasies for us. Zombie shows depict a post-apocalypse where people are no better than the undead — and seem to know it.More.
Come to think of it, what would be the point of existence as a software program, observing the lives of real people?
From screenwriter Alexander Thomas at The Conversation:
There is quite rightly a huge amount of trepidation around the creation of super-intelligence and the emergence of “the singularity” – the idea that once AI reaches a certain level it will rapidly redesign itself, leading to an explosion of intelligence that will quickly surpass that of humans (something that will happen by 2029 according to futurist Ray Kurzweil). If the world takes the shape of whatever the most powerful AI is programmed (or reprograms itself) to desire, it even opens the possibility of evolution taking a turn for the entirely banal – could an AI destroy humankind from a desire to produce the most paperclips for example? More.
Yes, one could become a program dedicated to a completely pointless task… forever.
Transhumanism is a curious blip in a science and technology culture in which it is otherwise axiomatic that humans are merely evolved animals, the mind is simply what the brain does, and consciousness may be an illusion, one shared by inanimate objects. In avoiding death, what is the transhumanist trying to preserve?
Traditional cultures have hoped that, facing death, we will see God, perfect ourselves, and meet loved ones again because humans, as humans, have an immortal nature as well as a mortal nature. Transhumanists believe that we are naturally animals who can evolve into cyborgs and eventually digitize ourselves. The motivation seems to be fear of death and perhaps, among powerful people, the desire to continue to wield power. Transhumanism is bound to fail, as do all attempts at immortality in a transient world, but the effort is likely to result in some pretty strange events.
See also: Reconciling mind with materialism, twenty-five years on Nothing has turned out the way the Hard Science proponents hoped. They got stuck with the hard problem of consciousness instead.