Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis
woman reflection in broken mirror
Shattered visage
Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Will AI shatter human exceptionalism?

Proving that humans are just another animal might help save the planet, writer says

Transhumanism (remaking ourselves as AI) escaped the fevered tech rags recently to land in cooler, more mainstream salons.

Last October, lawyer and author Wesley J. Smith declared himself not a fan of the Ultimate Upload:

Transhumanism would shatter human exceptionalism. The moral philosophy of the West holds that each human being is possessed of natural rights that adhere solely and merely because we are human. But transhumanists yearn to remake humanity in their own image — including as cyborgs, group personalities residing in the Internet Cloud, or AI-controlled machines. That requires denigrating natural man as exceptional to justify our substantial deconstruction and redesign. Thus, rather than view human beings as exclusive rights-bearers, the [Transhumanist Bill of Rights] would grant rights to all “sentient entities,” a category that includes both the biological and mechanical.

Wesley J.Smith, “The Transhumanist Bill of Wrongs” at American Spectator

Readers may recall futurist entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil’s efforts to morph into hardware/software and the mildly disconcerting revelation that another scheme includes attending one’s own funeral.

Well, writer and intellectual property lawyer Peter Clarke shot back:

Human exceptionalism posits that humans are categorically unlike, and fundamentally better than, any other animal. It’s not an explicitly religious claim, but it’s very close to one. In practical terms, it often functions as shorthand for we are special because we are created in God’s image.

From an evolutionary perspective, this is preposterous. The fact that humans are different from other animals is a distinction of degree, not of kind. Once we properly orient ourselves on the evolutionary tree, it becomes clear that we can learn more about ourselves by focusing on our similarities with other animals than by perpetuating the myth that we’re categorically unique.

Peter Clarke, “Transhumanism and the Death of Human Exceptionalism” at Areo

The advantage of adding talk of evolution to transhumanism is that it turns a perennial tale of immortality just out of reach into a chronicle of inevitable ascent, like the fabled “Ascent of Man.”

But what about the claim that humans are not “categorically unique”? Smith wondered about that in reply:

What other species builds civilizations, records history, creates art, makes music, thinks abstractly, communicates in language, envisions and fabricates machinery, improves life through science and engineering, or explores the deeper truths found in philosophy and religion? What other species can ponder “seizing control” of its own evolution, as transhumanists do? Which has true freedom? Not a one.

It seems to me that human exceptionalism is as close to a self-evident truth as one can find.

Wesley J. Smith, “Transhumanism, the Lazy Way to Human ‘Improvement” at National Review

In any event, if AI is evolving into our superior, it has a long way to go. In the real world in which we live, the human brain exceeds the most powerful computers in efficiency. But then even an amoeba is smarter than your computer and fruit flies can do more. Watson is not our new computer overlord and just about everything we hear along those lines is hype.

It’s actually worse than that. Sci-fi like artificial intelligences designing superintelligences and so forth, probably can’t happen because expecting AI to design AI that is smarter than itself is like asking someone to have better ideas than he can actually have. There are a number of other reasons AI isn’t taking over.

What is taking over, in an age when media are suckers for AI claims, is a tacit acceptance that transhumanism will (indeed must) happen. That can mean overlooking the obvious. For example, if we are responsible for degrading our environment, that’s because we can be responsible in a way that no animal that is degrading its environment can be. That makes us exceptional whether we want to be or not.

See also: AI and the future of murder (Jonathan Bartlett)

Claim: Yes, you can upload your brain

Attend your own funeral! It’s easy if you upload your consciousness to the cloud, says futurist. Ummm…


Can we cheat death by uploading ourselves as virtual AI entities?

Mind Matters News

Breaking and noteworthy news from the exciting world of natural and artificial intelligence at MindMatters.ai.

Will AI shatter human exceptionalism?