- Popular culture is abuzz with new terminology. Genetic
engineering. Cyborgs. Artificial intelligence. Consciousness uploading.
- The term " posthuman " in particular seems
to be gaining more and more currency with each passing year -- especially
in the media and academia, and among the techno-intelligentsia.
- Futurists such as Alvin Toffler suggest that the world
is moving fast towards a "fourth wave" in which humans will transition
themselves into posthumans, thanks to multiple and simultaneous advances
of technology. Such a change has been described by some experts as analogous
to when apes evolved into humans.
- Yet, as futurists make these grand prognostications --
as we casually toss the term "posthuman" back and forth -- do
we really know what's in store for Homo sapiens? Just how will we "improve"
ourselves? What do we really mean when we refer to the posthuman physical
condition? Just what, exactly, is the grand potential for intelligent life?
What does advanced intelligence look like?
- Speculations on posthuman organisms
- As we begin to ride the wave into human redesign, the
destination is still largely unknown. But despite all the unanswered questions,
we have a number of clues that can help us speculate as to what we truly
mean by the posthuman organism -- including the striking acknowledgement
that in all likelihood not just one type of posthuman awaits us, but several.
- We will re-engineer our biological constitutions, and
introduce silicon, steel and microchips into ourselves. Some may choose
to reside in computers as conscious wave patterns, while others will convert
themselves into durable robots and venture out into space.
- Simultaneously, we will create entirely new forms of
life, including artificial intelligence and perhaps even a global consciousness.
- Humanity's monopoly as the only advanced sentient life-form
on the planet will soon come to an end, supplemented by a number of posthuman
incarnations. Moreover, how we re-engineer ourselves could fundamentally
change the ways in which our society functions, and raise crucial questions
about our identities and moral status as human beings.
- Advancing technologies, advancing possibilities
- New developments in science and technology are occurring
so fast that some might begin to overwhelm our capacities to adapt to change.
Personal computers did not exist 30 years ago, cell phones did not exist
20 years ago and the World Wide Web did not exist 10 years ago.
- In the biological sciences, similar achievements have
been made since the discovery of DNA's structure in 1953, including new
medicines, bioengineering and cloning technologies.
- Additionally, in 2002, a living creature -- the polio
virus -- was assembled piece by piece with several biochemicals by scientists
at New York State University. We built life in the lab.
- With the mapping of the human genome, cloning, and the
creation of life in a laboratory now crossed off biologists' to-do lists,
we are beginning to ponder future possibilities. Today, such things as
nanotechnology and cryonics seem more plausible than ever.
- The pace of change is not only very fast but it also
accelerating. Some experts such as Ray Kurzweil speculate about a coming
" singularity ," in which artificial intelligence and artificial
life-forms will overtake human intelligence and human life. Slow biological
evolution seems to be fast approaching a dead end: Our species will continue
changing not through old and slow biological evolution, but through new,
fast and directed technological evolution.
- Already today many boundaries are blurring. Boundaries
between birth and death, between virtual and real, between morality and
immorality, between truth and falsity, between inner and outer worlds,
between me and "non" me, between life and "non" life,
even between natural and "non" natural. What is life? What is
death? What is "non" life? What is natural life? What is "non"
natural life? What is artificial life?
- These are all deep questions for the new and profound
world of transhumanism and subsequent posthumanism. The answers are complicated.
And they might be as difficult for us to comprehend as many of our current
problems might seem to monkeys, or even to ants.
- From transhuman to posthuman
- As the possibility for conscious human redesign has emerged,
so too has a philosophical movement that considers the implications. This
approach to future-oriented thinking, known as transhumanism, works on
the premise that the human species does not represent the end of human
evolution but, rather, its beginning. Its proponents believe that what
is required to manage the process is an interdisciplinary approach to assist
us in understanding and evaluating the possibilities for overcoming biological
limitations through scientific progress.
- Ultimately, transhumanists hope to see technological
opportunities expanded for people, so that they may live longer and healthier
lives and enhance their intellectual, physical and emotional capacities.
- Transhumanism emphasizes that we have the potential not
just to "be" but to "become." Not only can we use rational
means to improve the human condition and the external world, but we can
also use them to improve ourselves, namely the human organism. And we are
not limited only to the methods, such as education, which humanism (its
philosophical precursor) normally espouses.
- Rather, transhumanists argue, we will have the means
that will eventually enable us to move beyond what most would describe
as human. Transhumanists believe that, through the accelerating pace of
technological development and scientific understanding, we are entering
a whole new stage in human history. Advances in artificial intelligence,
robotics, bioengineering, cloning, cryonics, nanotechnology, new energies,
mind uploading , dietary interventions, "designer babies," cyborgs
, molecular chemistry, telecommunications, space exploration, immortality
and virtual reality will lead to substantial physical and mental augmentation,
possibly converging at a "singularity" point.
- Still, the historical human desire to transcend bodily
and mental limitations is deeply intertwined with a human fascination with
new knowledge, which might be both inspiring and frightening. How these
technologies are used could fundamentally change the character of our society,
and irrevocably alter the definitions of ourselves and how we have assessed
our place in the larger scheme of things.
- Emerging species
- If we believe that biological evolution has reached a
limit, what will come next?
- Finnish engineer Pentti Malaska tried to answer this
question in 1997 during a speech in Brisbane, Australia, while he was president
of the World Futures Studies Federation. Malaska speculates about several
bioengineered nonhuman generations in the pipeline of evolution. Specifically,
he describes the emergence of what he calls Bio-orgs, Cyborgs, Silorgs,
Symborgs and the Global Brain.
- Bio-orgs, namely Homo sapiens, are protein-coded bio-organisms
whose earthly infrastructure is their "natural" surrounding.
Cyborgs, short for "cybernetic organisms," are biological and
mechanical hybrids that in addition to traditional environments use the
- Silicon organisms are also likely to emerge, known as
Silorgs. This species, claims Malaska, will be humanlike nonhumans, fashioned
by coding artificial DNA onto silicon compounds with ammonium as a solvent
and intended basically for living in outer space.
- Symborgs, a "symbolic organism," will be self-reflective,
self-reproducing, self-conscious, "living programs" living within
the Internet as their "natural" infrastructure and using advanced
interfaces to function with other species. Also known as avatars, these
organisms may essentially reside in supercomputers as uploaded consciousnesses.
- Finally, speculated Malaska, there will be the "Grandparent
Internet" -- a global mind with superior intelligence and wisdom.
Such an intellect could very well be a Quantum Global Brain.
- Australian economist Paul Wildman, also an active member
of the WFSF and of the Millennium Project (of the American Council for
the United Nations University), further talks about alternate Forms Of
Life. Wildman uses the concept "borg" in its historical and generic
sense to identify a Bionic "ORGanism," and defines five such
terrestrial borgs: Orgoborgs, GEborgs, Cyborgs, Symborgs and Technoborgs.
- Wildman describes Orgoborgs as organic Forms Of Life,
including Humborgs (humans) and new and hybrid bioengineered Bioborgs.
GEborgs are genetically engineered organisms, while Cyborgs, Siliborgs,
and Symborgs are essentially as Malaska describes them. Wildman also described
the Technoborg, a Form Of Life with an external skeleton, much like an
- According to Wildman, some of these new life-forms already
exist in a technical sense, since 12% of the current USA population could
be considered incipient "cyborgs" that use electronic pacemakers,
artificial joints, drug implant systems, implanted corneal lenses and artificial
skin. All the Forms Of Life are our creations and will be populating our
world and remaking us genetically and mechanically and thereby changing
our consciousness forever.
- Moral implications
- While humanity will undoubtedly express itself in a number
of different incarnations, it will subsequently give birth to an entirely
new form of life: Artificial intelligence. The future will be populated
by several different forms of intelligent life, and humanity is already
attempting to reconcile the implications, particularly those in the moral
- The word "robot" was created in 1921 by the
Czech playwright Karel Capek in his book RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots).
It was immortalized in 1950 by Isaac Asimov in his book I, Robot.
- Throughout his fiction, Asimov addressed the integration
of robots into society. To this end, he developed the famous Three Laws
- 1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through
inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders
given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the
First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection
does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
- Asimov eventually improved his system and extrapolated
the Zeroth Law: A robot may not injure humanity or, through inaction, allow
humanity to come to harm. He also modified the other Three Laws accordingly.
- On a separate front, futurist Phil McNally and Pakistani
futurist Sohail Inayatullah wrote "The Rights of Robots" in 1987,
and feminist Donna Haraway published "A Cyborg Manifesto" in
1984. Both are important documents that defend robots and cyborgs on their
- Robotics expert Hans Moravec authored two books addressing
the rise of robots and the resultant implications on the future, Mind Children
in 1988 and Robot in 1999. Moravec argues that robots will be our rightful
descendants and he explains several ways to "upload" a mind into
- Similarly, Marvin Minsky, one of the fathers of artificial
intelligence at MIT, wrote his very famous 1994 article "Will robots
inherit the Earth?" in Scientific American. Here, he concludes: "Yes,
but they will be our children."
- As these authors and thinkers suggest, we need to start
preparing ourselves for the coming robot and artificial intelligence realities.
To ease the transition into a posthuman condition, we must ready ourselves
for the distinct possibility that Earth will be inherited by not one, but
several forms of highly intelligent and sentient life-forms.
- The human seed
- The human body is a good beginning, but we can certainly
improve it, upgrade it and transcend it.
- Evolution through natural selection may be ending, but
technological evolution has only started accelerating noticeably very recently.
Technology, which started to exhibit some dominance over biological processes
for the first time some 100,000 years ago, is finally overtaking biology
as the science of life.
- As fuzzy logic theorist Bart Kosko has said: "Biology
is not destiny. It was never more than tendency. It was just nature's first
quick and dirty way to compute with meat. Chips are destiny." (And
photo-qubits might come soon after standard silicon-based chips, but even
they are only an intermediate means for eternal intelligent life in the
- In the way to becoming permanent rational "demiurge"
of space and time, it is vital to be aware that even more important than
to create is to not destroy. As US author David Zindell has written: "What
is a human being, then? A seed. A seed? An acorn that is unafraid to destroy
itself in growing into a tree."
- José Cordeiro studied engineering at MIT, economics
at Georgetown University and finance at INSEAD in France. He is president
of the World Future Society (Venezuela) and cofounder of the Venezuelan
Transhumanist Association. He has also worked for NASA and UNIDO, and has
written several books about different aspects of the future of Latin America.
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