THOUGHTS ON THE TRANSHUMANIST WAGER, PART ONE.

THOUGHTS ON THE TRANSHUMANIST WAGER.


INTRODUCTION.


In March 2002, the Taliban, on orders from Mullah Mohammed Omar, destroyed two statues of the Buddha, which had been carved into the side of a cliff in Banyan valley, central Afghanistan. Several explanations have been offered to account for this destructive act. Some say they were destroyed in protest to international age exclusively reserved for maintaining those statues at a time when Afghanistan was in the grip of a famine. Others claim the statues were destroyed in accordance with Islamic law.


That latter reason epitomises everything bad about religion. It speaks of intolerance of the beliefs of others, and the need to assert one’s own dogma on everybody else, whether they like it or not. It is the kind of intolerant behaviour I never thought transhumanists would endorse.


But then I read ‘The Transhumanist Wager’ by Zoltan Istvan.


More on that much later. But I have lots to say about other topics, too. What follows is not a review of that story, but rather some thoughts inspired by its plot and the issues it raises. My intended audience are people who have read the book, so I do not intend to give a synopsis of its plot, nor will I shy away from spoilers. 


PART ONE: THE CONFLICT.


The main plot of ‘The Transhumanist Wager’ can be said to be loosely based on Hugo de Garis’ warnings of a coming ‘Artilect War’. According to de Garis, artilects are ‘artificial intellects’, whose existence is made theoretically possible by the physics of computation plus an assumption that the brain is, in some sense or other, a kind of computer. de Garis estimates the computing capacity of the human brain to be around 10^16 bits and pointed out that, if Moore’s law were to be extended long enough, we would eventually have nanotechnology that achieved one bit per atom. The computational capability of a handheld object whose every atom is processing a bit is 10^40 bits. In other words, it is theoretically possible, given the assumptions mentioned above, that artificial brains could be a trillion, trillion times better at thinking than human brains are.


Although it is called the Artilect War, what de Garis sees coming is not a conflict between humans and artilects. The final part of Istvan’s story nicely illustrates why such a conflict would be so one-sided it would be more like an extermination than a war if artilects were to turn against us.


In part 4 of ‘The Transhumanist Wager’, the story’s protagonist, Jethro Knights, has succeeded in obtaining not just life-changing but world changing money. With this huge investment, he recruits a workforce of the brightest and best individuals from various fields, all fully subscribed to his vision of what transhumanism ought to be. They quite literally build a new transhuman nation, constructing an artificial island out of oil platforms. Positioned 200 miles out to sea, the newly created land of ‘Transhumania’ is exempt from international law, according to the U.N Convention Act of 1984. Finally free from overbearing government regulations and religion-tainted ethics, this nation of super-geniuses quickly becomes the world’s top technological superpower.


The A10 countries, fearful of what technological horrors might be amassing on Transhumania but also eager to steal such technology for themselves, combine naval forces and attack Transhumania. But the island is well protected by its technological might. They have state-of-the art robot fighting machines with pinpoint accuracy, which can be teleoperated by human pilots who are champions in the  E-sport of online first-person- shooters. They have drone warplanes that fly at hypersonic speeds, so fast there is nothing on Earth that can shoot them down. Most importantly, they have the world’s best cyber-terrorists and huge supercomputers that can swiftly hack just about any computer network. The result is that the A10 countries find their weapons turn against them, and Transhumania suffers only minimal damage from one missile which makes it through the island’s defence shield, while the others are sent back to rain death and destruction on the entire fleet of the enemy forces. 


In Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters like ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Independence Day’, we are lead to believe that, if humanity was to come under attack from an invading force with vastly superior technology, somehow the plucky, resourceful humans would emerge from the conflict victorious. Ever noticed how, in Battlestar Galactica, the Cylon fighting machines look like they could not hit a barn door their aiming is so bad? In ‘The Transhumanist Wager’, ‘soldierbot’ comes equipped with micro-GPS satellite triangulation, and its weapons have built-in sensors that enable it to take into account wind, moisture, and dust in the air when aiming. It never misses. 


Now imagine such robots are artilects, equipped with brains a trillion, trillion times more powerful than human brains. In one second, they can engage in the equivalent of a million years or more of human thought. Imagine going up against an invading force of machines with perfect aim, executing military strategies that were the equivalent of a million years in planning, every conceivable strategy of the enemy simulated for weaknesses that can be exploited. 


So if de Garis’ Artilect War is not  war between humanity and artilects, what kind of war is it? It is a war of ideologies, waged by two human groups which de Garis called ‘Terrans’ and ‘Cosmists’. The ideology that divides them is based on how they answer what de Garis claimed would be the most important question of the 21st century: If we could build artilects, should we? For Terrans, the answer is ‘no’. They fear that we would have no control over such beings and if, for whatever reason, they decided to exterminate the human race, we would be powerless to stop them. Better, surely, to impose some kind of global law forbidding the creation of artilects.


Cosmists, on the other hand, also consider the extermination of the human race as a (perhaps very remote) possibility, but consider it a price worth paying. Just imagine the astonishing acts of scientific discovery, philosophical inquiry, and artistic creations minds trillions of times more capable than human minds could engage in. Every mystery and problem that has haunted the human imagination since time immemorial could be solved in an instant by these ultimate Oracles. What is consciousness? What is the secret to obtaining immortality? The gap between human intelligence and artilect intelligence is so vast, it would almost be appropriate to call them gods. Surely, the ultimate achievement of a technologically-capable species would be to build gods who could go forth into the universe and unlock all those secrets forever out of reach to mere human intellect? Why, not building artilects would be akin to ‘Deicide’- murdering gods!


You can imagine how, if artilects really are possible and we really are progressing toward being able to actually build them, a bitter conflict would break out between those ‘for’ creating artilects and those ‘against’. Perhaps this war would begin with essays published and lectures given, presenting the arguments from both sides of the ‘we should/ shouldn’t’ divide. For a time, while the technology seems too fantastic to take seriously, only academics with too much time on their hands- the sort who debate extensively over whether we have free will and other lofty philosophical questions- would give serious consideration to the question of whether or not to build artilects. 


But, as robots become a daily feature in our lives and it becomes obvious that each new generation is smarter than the last, a question may arise in more minds: ‘Will these robots carry on getting smarter until they surpass us?’. Terrans would begin campaigning for sanctions aimed at preventing AI from becoming too smart. Cosmists would look for ways around these laws, perhaps campaigning for the freedom to invest time and resources in the development of super-artificial intelligence that could be of immeasurable value to humanity. For the more radical Terrans and Cosmists, polite debate and laws would not be enough; they would be willing to go to war in order for what they so strongly believe. 


This is pretty much how the conflict in Istvan’s story develops. But it would be wrong to say that the plot straightforwardly borrows from de Garis’ ‘artilect war’. Rather, it raises similar questions concerning technological power and what it means for humanity and its evolution. There is no mention of artilects in the story, but one can make an association between artilects and Jethro Knights’ concept of the ‘Omnipotender’. He wants to evolve into the most powerful intellect the laws of physics allow for. What is that, if not a kind of artilect?


Nor is there any mention of ‘terrans’ or ‘cosmists’. The war of ideology in this story is waged between ‘transhumanism’ and ‘religion’. This raises two questions. Could transhumanism cause conflict? Is religion necessarily opposed to transhumanism?


CAUSE OF CONFLICT.


Considering the first question, given that transhumanism requires us to develop incredibly powerful technologies that affect the course of human evolution, there is scope for conflict depending on how those technologies are handled and the state of the world into which they are introduced. What, for example, would happen if mass technological unemployment was to happen in a world clinging to the belief that everybody must earn a living?


If ‘Transhumanist Wager’ is any indication, Zoltan Istvan certainly believes in everybody earning a living. Whenever ‘welfare’ is mentioned by transhumanists in the story, it’s pretty much always cast in a negative light, to the extent where it almost seems like welfare recipients rank second only to followers of monotheistic religion in terms of being the scum of humanity in the eyes of the heros in this tale.


Running searches on the word ‘welfare’ on my Kindle edition of the story brings forth passages such as:


“You spend hundreds of billions of dollars on lazy welfare recipients, on mentally challenged people, on uneducated repeat criminals, on obese second-rate citizens bankrupting our medical system”.


“We will not throw away years of our lives for uneducated consumers, for welfare-collecting non-producers…or for corrupt politicians who know law but don’t stand by it or practice it”.


“Transhumanists will halt all free government handouts to people- transhumanists do not believe in welfare; your freebies are over”.


Goodness. Clearly, in such a world as Jethro Knights would establish, you should fervently hope that you do not work for a business that is subjected to a hostile takeover and major layoffs of its employees. Nor would it do to live in world where those in the financial markets create speculative bubbles and a consequent collapse of the housing market, foreclosures, and you being turned out onto the streets. Not only would there be no welfare to prevent you from falling all the way to absolute rock bottom, you would find yourself being compared to repeat criminals, corrupt politicians and obese second-rate citizens every time you asked for help. 


In a world like ours, which is designed to allow the crony capitalists to grow wealthier when things go well (and not always as a result of their industriousness but rather because the monetary system as it exists today redistributes wealth from the bottom of the financial pyramid to the top) and to put the burden of failure on the poor while allowing the rich to grow richer when their high-stakes financial gambling generates high levels of debt, those are pretty tough breaks.


Now, arguably, I am being too generalist. A defender of Jethro Knights’ vision of transhuman utopia might argue that a phrase like ‘lazy welfare recipients’ is not intended to mean all on welfare recipients are lazy, but only that some are. You know, those with a ‘won’t work’ attitude. 


Be that as it may, it would still be very harsh to live in a world that expects everybody to be employed, provides no welfare for those out of work, and has also entered an era of massive technological unemployment.


The idea of technological unemployment is not one that causes everybody concern. Writing in the online magazine ‘Slate’, tech journalist Farhad Manjoo commented:


“Most economists aren’t taking these worries very seriously”.


And in ‘Robots Are Out To Steal Your Job But That’s OK’, Frederico Pistono wrote:


“Over the past two centuries we have continued to rely on machines to increase our productivity, but we have not been displaced by them. On the contrary, we have created new jobs, new sectors and new opportunities”.


That last passage sums up why many do not believe in technological unemployment. It is because past observations have shown that technology does not just eliminate jobs, it also creates them. For example, there was a time when pretty much everybody worked the land. But then machines like tractors and combine harvesters made us so efficient at agriculture, the human workforce was reduced to a tiny percentage of its former size. But all those who were no longer needed to work in agriculture were not permanently jobless. They found new work in factories and, eventually, in offices and IT. 


But the fact that technological innovation creates new jobs even as it reduces the number of people needed in old occupations or eliminates those old occupations altogether, is dependant on a couple of things. One is that machines have always tended toward specialization. They are designed to perform very well within a narrow range, but outside of this area of expertise they are utterly useless. A 1969 NASA report nicely summed up the great advantage people have over machines, and the reason why it is people who fill positions in new jobs:


“Man is the lowest cost, 150-pound, nonlinear, all-purpose computer system which can be produced by unskilled labour”.


The other thing that prevents technological unemployment from being a reality is that the tide of automation rises slowly enough for there to be a significant time delay between that tide catching up to newly created sectors and eliminating jobs. Even now, in 2015, there remains work in both white and blue collar employment that people can do better than machines, or cheaper, or both.


Once it is appreciated that technological unemployment is avoided so long as machines lag behind people in terms of general capability and adaptability, or that there is a significant delay between job creation and job elimination, it becomes obvious what could make it a reality. Either the rate of technological innovation speeds up to the extent where the rising tide of automation wipes out jobs faster than people can be trained to do them, or a type of machine is invented that beats humans in terms of being the cheapest, most efficient, and most flexible worker that can be found. 


Let’s look at what impact the successful development of humanoid robots with artificial general intelligence would have on a world that insists all must earn a living and provides no social safety net for those who do not have jobs.


According to Wikipedia, an AGI can:


“Reason, use strategy, solve puzzles, and make judgements under uncertainty;


represent knowledge, including commonsense knowledge;


plan;


communicate in natural language,


integrate all these skills toward common goals”.


In short, an AGI robot could do anything that people can do. This means that, unlike all the specialised machines we have ever known, who cannot compete with people outside of their narrow range of abilities, you are always in competition with an AGI. Although, actually, just as in the case of a war between humans and artilects, being in competition with AGI robots for jobs would be no competition at all, because such robots would have advantages humans could not match. A robot can work at optimal levels at all times. It does not get tired, it never gets bored. Once it has learned to do a task, it always does it superlatively. Robots can share knowledge and skills. Once one robot learns a task, it can upload that knowledge to the web so that other robots can download it and instantly become experts themselves. Humans take rather longer to pass on knowledge and skills.


Most importantly, robots work more or less for free. There is an initial purchasing cost. They need power and that would probably cost something (even if only a tiny amount). They are machines which could break down, so there would be maintenance costs from time to time (even if the robots repair themselves, the materials needed to carry out physical repairs would cost something). But other than that, it costs nothing to employ robot workers. They work for no wages, no holiday pay, no company or state pension. They take no lunch breaks, they do not require sleep, they never organise themselves into workers’ unions and demand higher pay or better working conditions. 


So, if you are a boss and your mandate is to increase productivity and cut costs, the only viable option is to replace your human workforce with robots.


It would seem, then, that in a world that insists on everybody earning a living, the owner/investment classes would reap all the reward of robot slave labour. Wages would drop to zero, and the money thus saved could be turned into more profit for the owners, and higher dividends for shareholders.


As for the working class (and in this context ‘working class’ is everybody who works for wages, white collar as well as blue collar) they no longer have any means of employment. AGI could conceivably cause the greatest inequality gap the world has ever known, between a fabulously wealthy owner/investment class and a working class faced with permanent joblessness. It would like the reality depicted in the movie ‘Elysium’. Only without Matt Damon or anybody working in factories or any other business. 


It is not hard to imagine how a world like that could breed bitter resentment that could boil over into full-blown conflict. That conflict could be further amplified if biotechnology or some other tech that can be applied to understanding and modifying our bodies finally achieves that goal which Jethro Knights sees as the most pressing concern of transhumanism: Achieving eternal youth. Throughout all of human existence there has been equality in the sense that, beggar or king, slave or emperor, we all grow old and die. Now imagine that, not only must you endure a harsh existence along with the heaving mass of other economically useless people while a minority live in splendour within gated communities, the rich and powerful also get to buy themselves eternal youth.


It could be that the actual cost of manufacturing the elixir of eternal youth is cheap but the price charged for it is very much higher. The actual ingredients in an average bottle of perfume cost between $1.20 and $1.50 but the final product is sold for a 3-figure sum. How much is it worth paying to remain fit and healthy indefinitely? Just considering the cost of some forms of plastic surgery ($25,000 for a full facelift, for example) which, let’s be realistic, does nothing to extend life and makes you look like you had plastic surgery rather than someone blessed with youth everlasting, we may conjecture that people would be willing to pay millions.


But why price it so high? Why make it so exclusive? One motivation might be population control. Whenever the possibility of ending ageing is raised, the first question people nearly always ask is, ‘if nobody dies, won’t we run out of space?’. If I were a transhumanist intent on developing a master race with me as its eternal, all-powerful leader, as Jethro Knights is portrayed as being, I would most likely be inclined to think, “hmmm, good point. Obviously we cannot allow just anybody to gain entrance into the immortality club. It should be a right reserved for those who are most successful in life”. In our world, success is almost always defined in terms of material wealth. Whenever somebody is called ‘successful’ it is always because they have a lot of money. Indeed, we may not know anything else about them, like for example, whether they have a friend in the world. So if you insist on defining success in terms of material wealth, and you think only successful people should be permitted not to die, wouldn’t you price the elixir of life highly enough to ensure only the worthiest- the wealthiest- obtain the transhuman gift of eternal youth? 


Getting back to AGI robots displacing all human labour, leading to a vast gap between an elite owner/investment class ‘haves’ and a massive, economically-excluded and impoverished class of ‘have-nots’, there is a major point we have neglected to talk about, and that is the paradox of automation.


The paradox is as follows. Imagine you are the boss of a company, and your mandate is to cut costs and raise productivity as much as possible. You become aware of the existence of AGI robots and you learn all about how they will work 24/7 for free (or almost free, since there is the cost of purchase and maybe other fees) and always work at optimal levels. You compare these machines to your human employees- those workers who demand wages and paid vacations, and who get bored and distracted and need sleep- and it becomes plainly obvious that robots should replace the workforce. The shareholders and owners will love you for it, when they see how much profit this cost-cutting initiative results in.


But then, some time after your business is fully automated, figures from the sales department come in and they make for grim reading. They show sales of your company’s product are going down, down, down and, consequently, so is profit. Why? Well, who is buying your product? People? No, they have been squeezed out of the job market by robots, as other bosses reach the same conclusion about the low labour cost and high productivity of robots compared to human labour that you reached. The robots? Obviously not. They work for free, which is why you replaced human labour with robots to begin with.


In the past, this paradox was avoided because tech was much more specialised and the tide of automation rose slowly, and that gave people who were displaced from one form of work to find employment in other areas. Thus, they could carry on fulfilling their dual role of workers and consumers, earning wages and spending their money on goods and services and thereby generating profits for the companies that provided them. But AGI made humanoid robots so adaptable there was no job that a human could do that they could not. From a cost-cutting and productivity perspective, robot labour seems ideal. But in terms of consumers with purchasing power, they are disastrous. And that’s the paradox. 


So how do we resolve it? I put this question to members of a Facebook group I belong to, and got a variety of responses. Manney Coleman’s response struck me as being rather like the solution Jethro Knights would advocate:


“It’s solved pretty easily, actually. Those who are the owners of roboticized factories will have capital. They’ll be the only ‘consumers’ left. This means that we can have a dieback of the now pointless 99% and let the 1% elite finally produce and consume in peace without having to endure all the Jerry Springer-watching, tractor pull-loving idiots that are dragging them down”.


There is a weird perspective in a response like that. It views the ‘1% elite’ as being the only true producers and consumers of the world, while the 99% who do all the manual work and service-related jobs that enables an economy to function, have nothing to offer except high viewing figures for trash TV. Like all crass stereotypes there is a grain of truth in such a statement. Some individuals on the list of the world’s richest people have set up companies that have produced products and services that make a genuine contribution to the economy and, for the most part, have brought improvements to our lives. And some of the 99% do indeed just watch TV all day long.


But, equally, there are those who have accumulated extreme wealth not by providing actual goods and services, but rather by operating within a financial industry that makes money simply by buying and selling nothing but money. As Andrie Gorz wrote in the essay ‘Exit From Capitalism’:


“Money itself is the only commodity the financial industry produces- through operations on the financial market that are more and more risky and less and less controllable. The amount of capital the financial industry siphons off and manages far exceeds the amount of capital valorized in the real economy….The value of this ‘capital’ is entirely fictitious; it is based largely on debt and goodwill or, in other words, on expectation…The real economy is becoming an appendage of the speculative bubbles sustained by the financial industry- until that inevitable point when the bubbles burst, leading to serial bank crashes and threatening the global system of credit with collapse and the real economy with a severe, prolonged depression”.


Of course, by the time the bubble bursts, the financial elite have grabbed so much money for themselves they are largely insulated from the effects of the crash. It is those at the bottom of the economic pyramid who suffer the most, not necessarily out of any fault of their own but because the fiat money system is set up to ensure that happens. We can also assume that the richest would have the capital to buy large amounts of stock in robotics companies, which in Manney Coleman’s solution buys your way out of a holocaust which affects all but the monied elite. We might therefore call this the ‘Final Solution To the Proletariat Question’.


Not all proposed solutions were as harsh and inhuman. Some, like Mike Lorrey and Alexander Biersack, pointed out that, since intelligent robots would lower the cost of providing manual and service-related jobs, that would also lower the barriers to starting businesses and more people could therefore be entrepreneurs. 


A comparison might be made with mobile phone technology. When mobile phones were introduced they were so expensive just being seen with one was as sure a sign that you were of the monied elite as the Lamborghini you just climbed out of. But over time, not only did the phones get smaller, not only did the range of services they provided go up, but the cost of access to such technology went down. Today, billions of people have access to mobile phones that are handy, pocket-sized web-enabled computers. Micro-financing initiatives emerged which enabled even the poorest nations to provide Internet access.


There are a billion people in the world who cannot afford to open a bank account (this costs $700 in Cameroon- more than most people make in a year). Mobile banking services dramatically lower the cost of banking, thereby enabling access to this service to more and more people. In Zambia, farmers without bank access use smartphones to buy seeds and fertilizer, and in India they are used to coordinate business transactions between fishermen and the markets who buy and sell their catch.


It is in no way absurd to suppose that the next great app or web-based industry- the next ‘Angry Birds’ or ‘Google’- will not be started by some MIT undergraduate but rather by somebody in the developing world who never went to school and whose family never knew any life other than subsistence agriculture. 


If robots follow the same trajectory of better performance and lower cost, that would open up access to many more business opportunities. As more and more physical devices join the Internet of things and gain some degree of intelligence, there will be more opportunity to create new products and services through mashups of existing products and services. Combinatorial explosion outruns exponential growth, so that may be how human ingenuity (perhaps augmented through Intelligence Amplification technologies like neuroprosthetics) stays ahead. There are no limits to the amount of new markets that can be created.


Alan Carl Brown commented, “If robots can do every job, this will enable you to just think up things, hand money to a robot and then wait for the product or service to become available…A world of abundance where you just have to come with with one idea that 1% of 1% of the world is willing to give you $1 in order to make your first million”.


This attitude sees the 99% not as a useless burden, but as a huge potential market, individually contributing negligible profit but collectively bringing very tidy returns to those who, like ebay’s auctions and Amazon’s retail, can make money out of the ‘long tail’ of lots of small transactions. 


IS RELIGION THE ENEMY?


I want to move on now and talk about the idea that religion is opposed to transhumanism. Is it? It is certainly true that if you seek you will find opponents of transhumanism whose objection is religiously motivated. In ‘The Transhumanist Wager’ there are various government organizations like the NAH (National Association of Health) and the NSFA (National Future Security Agency) that are supposedly ethics committees charged with assessing the potential risks of technology, but are actually theocratic organizations whose purpose is to thwart transhuman agendas. 


This sounds rather like the ‘President’s Council on Bioethics’, which was established in 2001 by George W. Bush and later closed by President Obama. Bioethicist Leslie A. Meltzer criticised the PCB for wrapping ‘political and religious agendas in the guise of dignity’, and argued its members were mostly christian affiliated neoconservatives. Elizabeth Blackburn accused the PCB of existing mostly to justify President Bush’s position on stem cell research and abortion. 


Go on Youtube and put ‘transhumanism’ into the search engine, and you will easily find videos with titles like ‘What Is Transhumanism? Is This Why YHVH (GOD) Destroyed Everything in a Huge Flood’? and ‘Satan’s New Lie: Transhumanism’. Does this count as proof that religion opposes transhumanism? Not, really, no. It’s just proof that some people with religious beliefs are critical of transhumanism. That’s not surprising, given that transhumanists hold some controversial views and the major religions have billions of followers. Among that many people you are bound to find some that have a negative opinion of any controversial topic.


If you seek, can you find people who do not see their faith as incompatible with transhumanism? Yes, and that is not surprising given how religion and transhumanism share many dreams in common, even if they disagree on the best methods to realize them. Religious anticipations of ascending to heaven in immortal angelic bodies, and of a returning Messiah who will establish a kingdom of Heaven on Earth, can be seen as analogous to transhuman dreams of uploading into immortal robotic bodies, and a coming Singularity that will transform civilization into paradise on Earth. 


The word ‘Transhumanism’ was first introduced in a book written by Julian Huxley in 1927, the title of which was ‘Religion Without Revelation’. The word obviously has its roots in ‘Humanism’. The Humanists were originally a group of practicing Catholics who believed that human ability was the best way to celebrate God.


Fast forward to modern times, and you can find people mixing scitech with religion. Rabbi Youseff Kazan said:


“The prophecy of isaiah is that the time will come when the world will be filled with the knowledge of God…We, today, are actually able to see this happen…You have…Satellites which are bringing the whole world connected into one small unit, where telephone and wireless technology is being able to bring everybody together”.


Look closely at two of the largest scientific projects of the 20th century- the Space Race and the Human Genome Project. Here, too, you will religious beliefs mixed up with secular science. In Russia, the origins of manned spaceflight can be traced back to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who preached that it was mankind’s destiny to dominate the cosmos and become reunited with God. Over in the West, the former Nazi rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun became a born-again Christian who argued that humans must go into space to spread the gospel. Historian David F. Noble pointed out how “the astronauts have carried literally thousands of Christian banners, flags…copies of the Bible etc into space with them”. One of the most memorable film sequences captured by astronauts was ‘Earthrise’- our home planet rising over the Moon’s horizon. What words were chosen to accompany this jaw-dropping sight? The Bible’s most famous passage, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth…”


What about the Human Genome Project? It was run by Francis Collins (there was also, of course, a parallel project headed by Craig Venter). Collins was an evangelical Christian who has written about how he thinks the resurrection of Christ was the most important event in history. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as ‘the’ human genome. Everybody’s genome is unique. When asked whose genome was being sequenced, the reply was (according to Noble) “it will be sort of a composite, and it will be male, sort of an Adam 2”.


Considering the way religious beliefs were mixed up with secular science, David F. Noble commented:


“Technological development, which appears to be the most worldly of activities, is in actuality an otherworldly project, rooted in Christian notion of redemption, the resurrection of original perfection. And the story, which is a peculiarly Christian one, is the story of the fall of Adam, and the promise of the recovery of Adam’s original divinity”.


Rather than the Christian Right being fundamentally opposed to transhumanism, we seem to have found evidence that it supports transhuman tech like genetic engineering for its promise to restore Eden. Again, not really. All we have done is find some religious scholars who interpret the mumbo-jumbo of Scripture in terms of prophecies that foresaw the Internet, and projects conducted by countries with histories steeped in religion, supplying a large body of religious imagery that some are tempted to apply to large scientific projects.


But it does at least show that someone whose beliefs sit at the conservative Christian Right need not necessarily be anti-transhumanist. Nor should we assume that someone whose beliefs lie at the opposite end of the political spectrum would necessarily be pro-transhuman. Indeed, many on the Left are distrustful of modern technology, most of which is designed by corporations, and therefore (they would argue) intended primarily to serve the interests of corporations and the wealthy owner/ investment classes that run them.


‘Transhumanist Wager’ is full of images of religiously-motivated folk opposing the agenda of Jethro Knights. In a town hall forum, “the conflict of religious imperatives versus transhuman aims was being called the next great civil liberties war”. Opponents of transhumanism in the story describe it as “anti-theistic… steeped in blasphemous egoism”. But this is arguably only a surface-level phenomena. Look deeper and there is another agenda at work in the story which in real life could very well oppose transhumanism as Knights defines it. By way of introduction to the agenda, and part two, I will leave you with the question: Who, in the story, is Jethro Knights’ opposite?

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2 Responses to THOUGHTS ON THE TRANSHUMANIST WAGER, PART ONE.

  1. To be blunt I haven’t read the book, and probably won’t, considering every review I’ve read so far, including a synopsis of the plot, has basically confirmed my suspicions that it’s little more than a transhumanist version of Atlas Shrugged. “Hey look! I’m so superior to everyone that I view the bulk of humanity as trash because I should be a member of the ruling elite! And I am willing to kill anyone who disagrees!”

    Which is why I find his political ambitions disturbing. His view of transhumanism seems actively genocidal.

  2. The book had many faults, but as a whole I found it just “ok”. While it does go down a quasi-genocidal path, I have to point out that it was done defensively but without mercy. He’s talked about the character Jethro going too far so I don’t think it’s Istvan’s personal way he’d do things even if Jethro mirrors him a lot.

    Everything is too simplistic in my opinion. Even with all the best scientists and equipment gathered into one place, his timeline for real discoveries is ridiculous. Some of the more simply things take years to figure out and that’s without regulators and lack of grant money taken into account. There are some good monologues though, hes got philosophical down much better than actual story.

    It was an entertaining read though, it’s brought a lot of fresh debate to the transhuman idea. It gives a lot of chances for some people to love the book and pass it on, or slam the book and say read this instead.

    I would say that in the story, Jethro Knights opposite is his wife. I also feel that had she not been killed in a terrorist act, he might not have gone down the road he did, even if he was able to get funding. I feel he snapped when she died and just started giving 0 fucks and became a corrupted version of his original mission.

    I much prefer the Post-Human series by David Simpson for near future Transhuman lit. And the Takeshi Kovacs series for far future ideas.

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