AI paves the way for a transhumanist future

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As AI brings disruptive change to industries including healthcare and is embraced by those hoping to extend the human lifespan, the concept of transhumanism is quickly moving from the realm of science fiction and dystopian futures like The Matrix and Cyberpunk 2077 to the reality of companies like Elon Musk's Neuralink implants, Open Bionics' robotic limbs, and longevity medicine.

Popularized in 1957 by biologist Julian Huxley (brother of Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World), transhumanism is a provocative theory that suggests we can use technology to transcend the human condition.

“It's not that transhumanists hate being human. We just want humanity to grow beyond what it has historically meant,” said Ben Goertzel, founder and CEO of decentralized AI network SingularityNET. Decryption “This opens up concrete possibilities like overcoming death, enhancing our bodies, and acquiring superhuman intelligence fused with computers,” he said in an interview.

Goertzel also serves as chairman of the Transhumanist Organization. Humanity+defines transhumanism as an intellectual and cultural movement dedicated to fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, in particular developing and sharing technologies that will eliminate aging and enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capabilities.

Transhumanism and AI

Though AI has only recently entered the mainstream, it has always been an important factor in the discussion of transhumanism. As AI applications proliferate across science, medicine, technology and other industries, Goertzel says AI aligns with the goals of transhumanism, as the movement relies on advanced technology to create big change.

“There's so much data on different levels of the human body and different organisms that it's hard for humans to understand and biostatistics and standard machine learning to keep up with,” Goertzel says. “The more AI advances, the better we'll be able to integrate different biological data and use AI to generate hypotheses.”

Goertzel pointed to nanotechnology as an area where AI can make greater progress than humans.

“AI is much better than humans at designing things at the nanoscale and even beyond that, the femtoscale,” he said. “We have a lot of practical know-how about how to build things with hammers and nails, at the scales where we have an intuitive understanding of physics, but we don't have great intuition for nanoscale or femtoscale physics. AI can deal with that scale just as well as it can with the scales we're at today.”

Transhumanism in Practice

“If you look at brain-computer interfaces, how do you decipher the signals that come from the brain? AI can be very helpful in coding the basic coding language that different parts of the brain use to describe things,” Goertzel said, noting that AI is optimized for retail and manufacturing.

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are technologies that allow direct communication between the brain and external devices, often controlling computers or prosthetic devices through neural signals. Companies currently operating in this neuroscience and biotechnology field include San Francisco-based Neuralink, Emotiv, and Halo Neuroscience.

“There are many applications that can be enhanced by AI,” he added, “and of course, once we get to AGI, we'll be able to use AI to tune all these different specific AI applications.”

Artificial general intelligence (AGI) refers to a type of AI that has the ability to understand, learn, and apply knowledge in the same way that humans do.

Is transhumanism just for the rich?

Critics of transhumanism claim that the movement is “playing God” or an alternative to religion, and that only the wealthy and elite stand to benefit from the fusion of humans and technology. Indeed, longevity and transhuman research come at high costs.

Goertzel said this isn't always the case and that more should be done to provide broader and more equal access.

“These little mobile supercomputers that we carry around with us are not just benefiting the wealthy,” Goertzel said, noting that his organization works with Ethiopian software developers.

“We have 50 software developers working at SingularityNET, and all the kids who are coding there have smartphones. If you go to rural villages in sub-Saharan Africa, everyone has a feature phone. They use it to stay in touch with their families and to check city prices for the different agricultural products they sell.”

Goertzel also highlighted the role that blockchain and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the upcoming Alliance for Artificial Intelligence (ASI) token will play in lowering the cost and accessibility of human enhancement technologies.

“In theory, the world of blockchain and cryptocurrencies could help address these issues by creating a parallel economic system that isn't tied to the traditional economic system,” he said. “In practice, this is difficult because many governments have banned cryptocurrencies.”

Another issue Goertzel highlighted are groups or organisations that hoard cryptocurrency.

“The cryptocurrency market itself is becoming dominated by an emerging elite of token whales,” he said. “So that's an important thing to be concerned about and something to work against. But it's not clear that transhumanist technology will make this phenomenon any worse than it is now.”

Looking to the future

Goertzel supports transhumanism and artificial intelligence, but acknowledges that there must be limitations to the research.

“I'm not saying there shouldn't be limits on research,” he says, “but obviously as a society that doesn't want all of its members to be killed, there are certain researches beyond that threshold that are better slowed down or not allowed.”

Goertzel noted that there are already laws on the books with such restrictions in mind, and said that as AI and cybernetics become more advanced and commonplace, the best course of action will be to determine how to apply these technologies in the public interest.

“I don't think attempts to ban AI will do any good because it provides too much useful value to too many people, too many companies,” he said. “There's not much precedent for a free society to ban something that's useful to everyone, and I think ultimately the same can be said about transhuman-oriented technologies.”

Editor: Ryan Ozawa.

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