Humanity+ and the Upcoming Battle between Good and Evil by Jeanne Dietsch

This article from the humanity+ website (Humanity+ and the Upcoming Battle between Good and Evil) evaluates political stresses in light of transhumanism and the ever-nearing technological singularity.


 

Humanity+ and the Upcoming Battle between Good and Evil

obam and putin

Many transhumanists seek a better world, made possible through massively improved intellectual capacity, aka Humanity+.

Yet, though we have more power to achieve Good, we have no better understanding of Good than philosophers of millennia ago. If groups continue to gain power exponentially yet disagree on goals, the result might not be tranquility. So far, our super powers have heightened the potential for global destruction. The means to avoid war lies not in increasing the intelligence of our weaponry, but in taming the emotional, political and economic systems that feed its use. Will H+ really alter such psychological and social networks?

Will we finally be able to unite and collaborate toward a consensus goal?

Increased speed and capacity have demonstrably improved our ability to predict outcomes. Solving Texas Hold ‘em Poker is an impressive accomplishment. It suggests that once we decide on a goal, we will now be much more likely to discover the best way to achieve it, even if the path contains psychological bluffs and probability pitfalls.[i] With better speed, capacity and algorithms, our predictive and implementation powers grow.
Our goals, however, remain contentious. Each religious and philosophical in-group defines its own path to Good, Enlightenment or Heaven. To compress such variation into a single metric, some transhumanists propose sampling world populations or collecting a particularly enlightened group of religious and philanthropic leaders to create humanitarian norms that will be used to guide AGI behavior.

The latter was actually already accomplished on December 10, 1948, in response to the second World War. The drafters included Dr. Charles Malik (Lebanon), Alexandre Bogomolov (USSR), Dr. Peng-chun Chang (former Republic of China), René Cassin (France), Eleanor Roosevelt (US, Chair), Charles Dukes (United Kingdom), William Hodgson (Australia), Hernan Santa Cruz (Chile) and John P. Humphrey (Canada), with input from dozens of other representatives of nations as diverse as India and Iran.[ii]

The document is the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights[iii]. Forty-eight nations with widely varying cultures signed this Declaration. However, even in the case of something so broadly accepted, even within the consensus-seeking environment following WWII, eight nations abstained from support: the Soviet Union and five affiliated nations, plus Saudi Arabia and apartheid South Africa. And, although the new People’s Republic of China joined the UN in 1971, it publicly and pointedly values economic progress over human rights, at least until it catches up to developed countries.[iv] Moreover, a number of its 1.3 billion citizens agree.

The point is that there is no coalescing consensus of what goals for humankind should be, even on something as basic as fundamental human rights. Conflict has been our past and will be our future. Some transhumanists talk about upcoming battles.

Hugo deGaris[v] expects conflict between “Terrans” who want to remain homo sapiens and “Cosmists” who expect AGI to replace humans, but how long will struggles last between those who welcome super powers and those who fight them? More likely, the long-term wars of the future will resemble those that ravage us now. Although many young educated adults believe their generation is more cosmopolitan, less nationalistic and more humanitarian, their counterparts are joining conservative, anti-immigration political movements, or even the murderous Islamic State! Do we really believe that only those with progressive Western values will control all H+’s underlying drives? And, if not, are we not arming the enemy at the same time we arm ourselves with greater intelligence?

But fear of misuse is almost never a reason not to pursue knowledge. Perhaps H+, with superior intelligence, will be able to decode the patterns of the Universe and finally explain to us why we are here. Perhaps these super beings will finally reach consensus on our goals?

The aspiration for such a superhuman race is not a recent dream. In fact, over a century ago, Nietzsche wrote, in Also Sprach Zarathustra, that the ultimate purpose of humankind was to create a being transcending human abilities, an ubermensch. While ubermensch is often translated into English as “super man”, it is actually much closer to the concept of H+. The ubermensch was a person above all weaker beings, an empiricist who gained knowledge from his senses just as H+ will gain knowledge from trillions of sensors. The ubermensch would not be constrained by religious truisms but understand Nature directly.

However, ubermensch and H+ differ in at least two ways. First, Nietzsche’s character denigrated Platonic concepts and other abstractions because he considered them removed from experience, whereas we now view conceptual hierarchies as the brain’s means to find pattern and thinking efficiently. We expect H+ to be able to abstract patterns in ways that will enable it to predict future developments far better than homo sapiens. Secondly, H+ differs from ubermensch in its attitude toward the body. Nietzsche saw the body as the essence of humankind. H+ hopes to escape it. In fact, the H+ holy grail of substrate-independent intelligence – uploading brains — very closely mirrors the Christian concept of a soul, the essence of a person that lives on after the body dies.

This other-worldly aspiration was anathema to Nietzsche at the time because it was not grounded in reality. Would he feel the same way today when physics has transformed much of the invisible to material? Perhaps not.

Regardless, is not the goal of transhumanists the creation of a new, ideal being that will understand its purpose better than we do? Are we not, in our struggle to bring meaning to our lives, setting the creation of H+ as a reason for humankind’s existence, for our own existence? In all honesty, are we really seeking something so different from what humans have sought for millennia: a reason, a cause, a goal for existence?

If so, we might also consider Nietzsche’s conclusion. Such goals are futile. Nietzsche viewed Darwinian evolution not as a march toward the ideal, but as a climb across ever-changing terrain. Nietzsche viewed creations as cyclic, or — as we might say today — fractal. From this perspective, creating an ubermensch will not lead to an idyllic existence; it will not stop our struggle; it will only transfer it to venues of a different scale: enormous gullies or minutest crevices. The only force that will stop us fighting among ourselves is a greater threat from beyond.

In fact, Nietzsche came to believe that it is the balancing of conflict with structure, chaos with art, and entropy with life that is each individual’s goal. When Maxwell’s demon opens the door and differences disappear into unchanging calmness, Life is over. Meanwhile, H+ will supersede homo sapiens, but only as one more level of being. We can evolve into ubermenschen, better suited than our hunter-gatherer-brained predecessors to live in today’s complexity, but H+ will not be perfect and will never be finished.

Our ultimate purpose will forever remain just out of sight, past the misty curve of hyperspace.

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References

[i] Bowling, Michael; Burch, Neil; Johanson, Michael; Tammelin, Oskari. (2015) Science (Washington, DC, United States) 347(6218), 145-149.[ii] The Drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (2015) United Nations, New York, NY, US. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/drafters.shtml[iii] United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), United Nations, New York, NY, US. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml[iv] Moore, Greg. (1999) China’s Cautious Participation in the UN Human Rights Regime, in A review of China, the United Nations, and Human Rights: The Limits of Compliance, editor, Ann Kent. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.[v] De Garis, Hugo. (2013) “Will there be cyborgs?” Between Ape and Artilect: Conversations with Pioneers of Artificial General Intelligence and Other Transformative Technologies, editor, Ben Goertzel, Humanity+ Press, Los Angeles, CA.###

About the author

Jeanne Dietsch is a serial tech entrepreneur, Harvard graduate in sci-tech policy, group-thinking facilitator and founder of Sapiens Plurum, an advocacy organization looking out for the interests of humankind.

Jeanne Dietsch
Sapiens Plurum “The Wisdom of Many”

Blog: Saving Humankind-ness

jdietsch@post.harvard.edu


This article can also be found here.

 

The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas by Butsugen Chigen

This article (The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas from H+ Magazine) is a Buddhist perspective on transhumanism.  While the idea of Buddhism as a religion still makes me a bit skeptical, I think the idea of Buddhism as a philosophy can be a powerful tool.  In fact, it is a tool (particularly the aspect of meditation) that has greatly shaped my life and I think the idea of a Bodhisattva is, hands down, the most beautiful concept of which I have heard.  Tranhumanist Bodhisattvas would throw good parties, indeed!  Definitely my kind of people…


 

The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas

The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas are group of transhumanists who seek to obtain the goals of transhumanism for the benefit of other sentient beings. Rather than solely for themselves, the Transhumanist Bodhisattvas work to benefit everyone and establish a world of universal and beneficial abundance.The Bodhisattvas base their approach  on the notion of bodhicitta or non-dual compassion and recognize that the universe consists of a series of complex interconnected networks that depend on each other in deep ways. Our illusion of separateness divides us, but it remains an illusion. We are connected.

Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.

While Transhumanist Bodhisattvas may not have literally taken the Bodhisattva Vow, they work towards the benefit of other sentient beings and they base their actions around bodhicitta as well as the proactionary principle. The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas seek to compassionately extend and expand human life, enhance joy, and end suffering. They throw good parties.

Each Transhumanist Bodhisattva performs altruistic activity in the world specifically directed towards the benefit of other sentient beings, but they need not be a scientist or engineer or have any academic training in particular. However, many of the members of this movement have scientific training or other academic credentials and wisdom and knowledge are valued as well as compassion. It is a philosophy born from the dual sources of applied reason and universal compassion.

Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken. Take heed, do not squander your life.

In Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism the aspirant’s goal of practice is to be reborn an infinite numbers of times so that the aspirant can work to liberate other beings still trapped in samsāra. Transhumanist technologies hold out the promise of vastly extending life and potentially through cryonics or future developments unknown today of allowing transhumanists to return to life to continue their work. The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas plan to live a long time so they can help others do the same. They plan to return until they get it right.

The Ten Bulls is a buddhist text that presents a Zen Buddhist interpretation of the ten stages on the path of enlightenment experienced by a Bodhisattva as outlined in various Mahāyāna sūtras, most particularly the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. In the final or tenth stage, the student returns to the marketplace and mingles with humanity. The student returns, bearing a full wineskin and a smile.

“The Laughing Buddha” also known as “Hotei” was a wandering Chinese monk of the Tang Dynasty known for carrying a sack on his back, roaming the countryside, spreading joy and goodwill, especially to children. His sack contained endless treasures which he gave freely, characterizing his virtue of selfless giving. Transhumanist Bodhisattvas engage in DIY or other research efforts to extend and enhance human life. They do research or work with others and promote and communicate beneficial ideas widely. Bearing the fruits of their researches and efforts, they return to the marketplace to share the wine with a smile on their face.

Therefore the Bodhisattvas take the wandering monk Hotei as their patron and symbol. Hotei is also a symbol of the universal benign abundance we seek to achieve through transhumanist technologies for the benefit of all beings.

Recognizing the technical and scientific challenges and obstacles we may face in our most ambitious objectives of extending and enhancing life, we also recognize that we as individuals may not be able to personally benefit from all of these developments. Even if we extend life to several hundred years, millions would continue to die from age related diseases. We most certainly may be among them. The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas work diligently anyway, advancing the state of the art in cryonics, nanotechnology, genetics, robotics, and prosthetic design. If they are non-technical, they use their skills in communication to share the ideas of compassion based transhumanism.

The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas can be found around the fringes of the effective altruism movement, and they are as likely to be found reading Dogen as Kurzweil. Their interests include quantifying altruism, life extension and enhancement technologies, creating abundance, and technological systems which enhance well being and eliminate suffering. They seek to harness the singularity for the benefit of everyone and all beings. The two best known bodhisattvas in the Transhumanist Movement today are David Pearce and the IEET’s James Hughes but they are not alone.

Avalokiteśvara the Buddha of compassion is said to have 1000 arms each with which to reach out to help those who are suffering. The Transhumanist Bodhisattvas however still number much less than 1000. They need your help.

Myriad sentient beings remain trapped in samsāra, suffering, destined to die from aging and disease. No task is too small for a Transhumanist Bodhisattva if it is based in compassion. Seemingly small actions can have large effects, benefit others, and outlast their originators. Compassion starts with those closest to you, right where you are, right now. Reach out to help someone that needs you.

If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?

###

Quotations from Zenji Dogen. Hotei image artist unknown.


This article can also be found at http://hplusmagazine.com/2014/08/20/transhumanist-bodhisattvas/

 

“Transhumanism, Religion, and Atheism” by Zoltan Istvan

This video (“Transhumanism, Religion, and Atheism” by Zoltan Istvan) features Zoltan Istvan discussing his views on transhumanism and religion.  I can say he’s going to have a tough time in the elections by even mentioning that he is an atheist.  It’s too bad that this topic still sways the general election vote, but there you have it.


Runtime: 22:03


This video can also be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXOXBYr2Z7I

Video Info:

Published on May 29, 2014

At the Transhuman Visions conference on religion and Transhumanism, fourteen speakers from different faiths and positions (Islam, Raelism, Lutheran, Mormon, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Buddhist, Wicca, Urantia, Terasem, Atheism, Agnosticism) discussed the similarities and differences between religion and Transhumanism.

Transhumanism and Religion by John G. Messerly

Here is an excellent, bite-sized article from John G. Messerly on the IEET website called simply Transhumanism and Religion.  In the article, Messerly presents a case for why he considers religion to be premature transhumanism.  


 

Transhumanism and Religion

 

By John G. Messerly
The Meaning of Life

Transhumanism is: The intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities … transhumanism is a way of thinking about the future that is based on the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase.1<sup< p=””>

Transhumanism appears to have nothing in common with religion, defined as: “the belief in and worship of a god or gods, or any such system of belief and worship…”In transhumanism the gods play no role.

Yet the two are not entirely dissimilar. Religious people generally want to overcome the limitations of the body and live forever, just like transhumanists. Arising before transhumanist ideas were conceivable, religions had no other option but to advise their followers to accept death and hope for the best. Religious beliefs provided comfort in the face of death and natural evils before the advent of science and technology. We might think of religion as premature transhumanism. Religion is not the opposite of transhumanism but a seed from which transhumanism can grow.

However today the comfort provided by archaic religious superstitions impedes advancement and therefore should be set aside. We need to grow beyond religion. But must we relinquish religious beliefs now, before science gives us everything we want? Yes. The most important reason to abandon religious belief is religion’s opposition to most forms of progress. For the most part religion has opposed: the elimination of slavery, the use of birth control, women’s and civil rights, stem cell research, genetic engineering, and science in general. Religion is from our past; it opposes the future.

Can humans function without the old religious narratives? They can, they just need new narratives based on a scientific worldview. Such narratives could be transhumanist, of humans playing their role as links in a chain leading to greater forms of being and consciousness; or perhaps they will focus on the idea that cosmic evolution is the story of the universe becoming self-conscious through conscious beings like ourselves. Whatever shape those narratives take, they must be informed by the belief that humans can evolve into something much more than they are now.

But against this seemingly infinite temporal background, what of the significance of a single, finite human life, and what is the significance of all of cosmic evolution? We are significant if we play our part in advancing evolution, if we accept our role as the protagonists of the evolutionary epic. And if we succeed our post-human descendants will understand these ultimate questions, giving our own lives—by then long past—a significance we can now hardly fathom. For the moment we must take solace in the hope that the better world we imagine is indeed possible.

1. This quote is from the Humanity+ website’s FAQ section.

2. From “The Cambridge International Dictionary of English.”

Having introduced transhumanists ideas to university students over the years, I am familiar with typical objections to transhumanist philosophy: if we don’t die the world will become overpopulated; not having a body would be yucky; this is all science fiction; lots of things can go wrong; technology is bad; death makes life meaningful; immortality would be boring; etc.

So I was surprised after yesterday’s post to receive hostile responses of the “we shouldn’t play god,” or “we should let nature take its course” variety. You can find similar critiques at links like : “The Catholic Church Declares War on Transhumanism”  and “Transhumanism: Mankind’s Greatest Threat.” Here is a statement from the latter:

Various organizations desire to use emerging technology to create a human species so enhanced that they cease to be humans. They will be post-humans with the potential of living forever. If these sciences are not closely monitored and regulated, transhumanists’ arrogant quest to create a post-human species will become a direct assault on human dignity and an attack on God’s sovereignty as Creator. We must decide on an unmovable line now, one that upholds human dignity based on Biblical Truth.

It is no longer enough to be pro-life; we have now entered a time when we must be pro-human. Education about the full implications of these emerging sciences is a key to be able to directly confront these assaults on humanity.

If one truly believes that humans should accept their fate, that they were specially designed and created by the gods, and that the divine plans includes evil and death, then the condemnations of transhumanism are justified. But will this opposition succeed? I doubt it. Most do not desire to go back to the middle ages, when believers prayed sincerely and then died miserably.

Today some still consult faith healers, but the intelligent go to their physicians. Everything about technology plays god, and letting nature takes its course means that half the people reading this article would have died in childbirth or from childhood diseases before the advent of modern medicine.

Still there are good reasons to be cautious about designing and using future technologies, as Bill Joy outlined more than a decade ago in “Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us.”  (Here is my published criticism of Joy’s argument.) Yes, we should be cautious about the future, but we should not stand still.

​Do we really want to turn the clock back 100 years before computers and modern medicine? Do we really want to freeze technology at its current level? Look before we leap, certainly, but leap we must. If we do nothing, eventually we will go extinct: asteroids will hit the planet, the climate will change irrevocably, bacteria will evolve uncontrollably, and in the far future the sun will burn out. Only advanced technologies give us a chance against such forces.

If we do nothing we will die; if we gain more knowledge and the power that accompanies it, we have a chance. With no risk-free way to proceed, we should be brave and bold, unafraid to guide our own destiny.

Perhaps the best way to illuminate the choice is to consider a previous choice human beings faced in their history. What should they do about disease? Should they pray to the gods and have faith that the gods will cure them, or should they use science and technology to find the cures themselves? In hindsight the answer is clear. Praying to the gods makes no difference, whereas using modern medicine has limited death and disease, and nearly doubled the human lifespan in the last century.

When medieval Europeans contracted the plague they prayed hard … and then died miserably. Other examples also easily come to mind. What is the best way to predict weather, harness energy, capture sound, achieve flight, communicate over great distances, or fly to far off planets? In none of these cases is doing nothing and hoping for the best a good bet. All of the above were achieved through the use of science and technology.

These examples highlight another advantage to making the transhumanist wager—the incremental benefits that accrue as we live longer and better lives as we approach the holy grail of a blissful immortality. Such benefits provide assurance that we are on the right path, which should increase our confidence that we are making the correct wager. In fact, the benefits already bestowed upon us by science and technology in the past confirm that it is the best path toward a better future. (Half the readers of this essay would have died from a childhood disease just a century ago.) As these benefits accumulate, and as we become aware of them, our existence will become increasingly indistinguishable from the most enchanting descriptions of any afterlife.

So we should throw off archaic superstitions and use our technology? Yes Will we do this? Yes. I can say with confidence that when an effective pill that stops or reverses aging becomes available at your local pharmacy—it will be popular. Or if, as you approach death, you are offered the opportunity to have your intact consciousness transferred to your younger cloned body, a genetically engineered body, a robotic body, or a virtual reality, most will use such technologies when they have been shown to be effective. By then almost everyone will prefer the real thing to a leap of faith. At that point there will be no need to make a transhumanist wager. The transhumanist will already have won the be

However at the moment the above is science fiction and subject to trillions of variables. Contingent factors beyond our imagination will lead to some unimaginable future, or no future at all. Thus evolutionary progress is not inevitable, and in no way do our views entail technological optimism—technology can be used for good or ill.

But even if our technology can lead to a glorious future, it could be halted by terrestrial or celestial disasters, or by dogmatists, zealots, religious fanatics, and others who oppose progress. The opponents may have legitimate fears about the repercussions of future technologies, but they may also be guided by ignorance and irrationality.

They may long for a past paradise, fear what they don’t understand, believe they possess a monopoly on the truth, or think humans subservient to super beings. But for whatever reasons they oppose change, preferring stasis and stagnation to dynamic, progressive evolutionism. They prefer to prevent the groundswell of initiative, creativity, inventiveness, perseverance, and hope that drive evolution forward. They are fearful that the new world will render them and their beliefs, anachronistic. They are the enemies of the future.

But if the surge of cosmic longing presses forward, then higher forms of being and consciousness will emerge, and the universe will become increasingly self-consciousness. This is the story of cosmic evolution, of a universe becoming self-conscious through the creation of conscious beings. Humans are not an end, but a beginning. They need not fear imaginary gods, but need instead to have the courage to create minds more powerful than the gods. Let the dark ages not again descend upon us—let our most fantastic longings be realized. Let us have faith in the future.


John G. Messerly is an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET. He received his PhD in philosophy from St. Louis University in 1992. His most recent book is The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Scientific, and Transhumanist Perspectives. He blogs daily on issues of philosophy, evolution, futurism and the meaning of life at his website: reasonandmeaning.com.

This article can also be found at http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/messerly20150118