William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Transhumanists Gather In San Francisco

David Pearce, transhumanist and vegan

My first thought when I read the title of today’s post (from Bioedge) was that it was some kind of warning. Look out! It’s the transhumanists! And then I figured what better place than San Francisco?

The only interesting comment, and the subject of today’s brief entry, was by somebody called David Pearce, who Wikipedia assures us “believes there exists a strong ethical imperative for humans to work towards the abolition of suffering in all sentient life.” Good luck with that, as the kiddies say.

Bioedge summed up Pearce’s contribution, which he calls “paradise engineering”, thusly:

the coming evolutionary transition could have three stages. In the first biological humans will rewrite their genetic source code and bootstrap their way to super-intelligence. In the second, cybernetic brain implants will allow us to fuse our minds with artificial intelligence and to “upload” ourselves onto less perishable substrates. In digital nirvana, the distinction between biological and non-biological machines will effectively disappear. In the third there will be an ultra-rapid “Intelligence Explosion” and an era of non-biological super-intelligence.

Comments which culminated in these ominous words:

Post-human super-intelligence may or may not be human-friendly.

So it appears the warning might not have been out of place after all.

25 Comments

  1. “Post-human super-intelligence may or may not be human-friendly”. Humans having evolved into super-intelligences, who are the humans to whom the super-intelligences may be unfriendly?

    Didn’t Mary Midgeley deal with all this in “Science as Salvation”?

  2. Rich,

    Those who haven’t evolved.

  3. It appears Pearce has basically mingled the plotlines of Star Trek’s Borg characters/society with that of the Terminator movies Skynet with its intelligent robots to concoct this not-really-new and not-really-innovative vision for the future.

    What does it say about our society when our intellectual elites can’t develop a vision that’s readily distinguishable from Hollywood Sci-Fi plots? We should expect–and demand–more…and…get these unimaginitive visionaries where they belong: writing stories for comic books.

  4. Sander van der Wal

    10 December 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Post-humans might be smart enough to understand the various proofs that God exist. That would be a good thing, not?

    I would also like to point out that the same God is both *the* super-intelligence and not at all fond of humans, as He will only allow 144.000 of them to enter Heaven.

  5. “Those who haven’t evolved” – if this is evolution we’re talking about then there won’t be any. Our present world is not cluttered with proto-humans who missed the bus. They were “deselected”. Same if ‘humans’ evolve into something else. There won’t be any humans left afterwards.

  6. Rich,

    There is no evidence that the past proto-humans as you put it vanished instantly nor that the transitions were peaceful. It is highly likely that the transitions took thousands of years and involved some sort of violent conflict between the old and new.

  7. You talk about the super power you want to have one day, and then you dump on people who want to get together to talk about the superpowers they want to have the next? Hypocracy!

  8. You may find this post over at chiefio interesting and may be able to offer some insight from a statistical perspective.

    Have a nice day
    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/do-temperatures-have-a-mean/

  9. Are transhumanists similar to transgenderists? I was unable to determine from the article in Bioedge.

  10. ‘I Robot’. I did actually like the Hollywood movie.

    Thus guy is not original, not at all.

  11. Redemption and salvation via genes and gizmos.

  12. Ye Olde Statistician

    11 December 2012 at 2:05 am

    His faith that the goal of existence is simply to continue existing (a la abandoning the flesh and put on a new body not made of flesh) and just being so all-darned smart (smart being defined as sharing the same vision) is touching, and fun to write stories about.

  13. This is oh-so Old Man’s War, et al. Or the more ‘ethically-sanitized’ star-trek teleporter that kills you, then re-builds a copy (at least using the same matter-2-energy-back2-matter): oh, sorry, I must be a stupid religious fanatic – tsk, tsk.

    So if someone makes a copy of me, an altered (‘improved’ in the opinion of some panel of hippies) one at that, then of course the inferior ‘me’ (i.e. ME!) must-can-may be ‘disposed’ of???

    Facepalm. Flipped out, psychotic, retards: i.e. hippies.

  14. So, basically Christianity repackaged then.

  15. MattS,

    No, hang on. This is evolution by natural selection we’re talking about isn’t it? A gradual process that, over millenia results in a new species? In those circumstances there can never be an instant when the old and the new exist together. But if we’re talking about humans ‘re-engineering’ themselves then we’re not talking about evolution.

  16. Rich, a bit of background. There is a school of thought that believes biological humanity is likely to be superseded by machine intelligence in consequence of the so-called Intelligence
    Explosion. (cf.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity#Intelligence_explosion )
    This school of thought is best represented today by the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (SIAI)
    http://singularity.org/singularity-faq/

    Another school of thought believes that humans and intelligent machines are going to merge – making the distinction between humans and artificial intelligence effectively meaningless. This tradition is best represented by futurist Ray Kurzweil:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Kurzweil

    In my talk, I outlined grounds for believing that it’s premature to write off biological life. Imminent mastery of our genetic source code will allow humans not just to choose the genetic make-up of our future children (“designer babies”), but also modify our own wetware in a runaway cycle of recursive self-improvement.

    Crazy stuff? Maybe, but perhaps conceptually quite tame compared to what the future has in store.

    [here is PDF of my talk, based on
    http://www.biointelligence-explosion.com/parable.html
    Will humanity’s successors be our descendants?
    http://www.biointelligence-explosion.com/organic-singularity.pdf ]

  17. Sander van der Wal–sounds like Jehovah Witness belief. You left out the part where those not in heaven are living in a paradise on the New Earth.
    It would seem that creating a super-human, highly intelligent being would be pretty much random chance. Who do we get to program something that is smarter than anyone on the planet? How do we know which genes to manipulate? I suppose it could happen by random chance, but one would think a mistake could send us all back to the stone-age. That would also make a great sic-fi movie, of course!

  18. @Rich

    Natural selection is not instantaneous. As you say, it takes millenia. The process will not simultaneously affect ALL of the offspring of any one generation. It is there fore a logical necessity that in the case of natural selection the old and the new coexist for some period of time before the new outcompetes the old for available resources and the old dies off.

  19. @Rich

    For natural evolution to not leave any overlap between the old and the new it would have to instantaneously affect not only offspring but mature organisms as well. That isn’t how it works. For evolution to work as it has been posited it is absolutely necessary for some period of coexistance.

    The process as posited will result in a single offspring with some advantage. It will there fore out compete it’s relatives and produce propostionately more offspring until slowly over time the old species is completely out competed and dies off, replaced by the new species.

    I have no idea where you got the idea that the old species would magically and instantaneously disappear and the new species would magically appear with a robust population.

  20. @Doug M

    “Hypocracy!”

    That would be “rule by those beneath”, wouldn’t it?

  21. MattS,

    I believe you are making the same mistake that David Pearce makes (or didn’t make – I haven’t followed his links yet). Far from positing an instant transition my point is that the transition is so gradual by comparison to the length of a generation that there is never a moment at which what is becoming the new is obviously distinguishable from what is being left behind as the old. Within any generation they all look pretty much the same. If that’s right then there can never be a confrontation between the new and the old. Indeed it may take millenia to be sure that a ‘new’ has emerged.

    So in my model natural selection is always operating on everybody. The whole population of whatever drifts toward the new species with some gene lines dropping out all along the way but not so anyone would notice.

    This models fails for sub-populations that are isolated from one another for very long periods and different speciation occurs in the two populations who finally meet up and one annihilates the other. But I’m not convinced that the article (which I really must read !?) is describing that situation.

  22. > work towards the abolition of suffering in all sentient life

    I’m going to fall back to an idea expressed in the matrix movies. Part of the human condition is defined by suffering. This would include physical.. mental.. self imposed and otherwise. The very idea that it would be possible… or desirable to eliminate suffering seems very juvenile to me. Not unlike the liberal fantasy of a totally ‘fair’ world. Past attempts to actually implement such an idea have not ended well. If you assume it will one day be possible to exist in some human/machine hybrid that is not subject to the problems of sickness, injury, or death.. you must also assume that such an existence will not be available to everyone.

  23. Well I’ve followed David Pearce’s links now and it’s clear that while MattS and I had fun we were off topic. The use of the word “evolutionary” in the post above was misleading. He’s not on about evolution at all.

    David, I’m more than astonished that you can build such a rich and baroque superstructure on the foundation, “We haven’t solved the hard binding problem and we don’t understand consciousness at all”. Also, the quote above attributes to you the idea that we can “upload ourselves onto less perishable substrates” yet in the linked material you deny this possibility more than once.

    Ian M Banks hasn’t been mentioned yet. He makes just this ‘uploading’ the basis of future heavens and hells. But not all science fiction is predictive of course.

  24. For me transhumanism is all about having control over Yourself and environment.

    For now You have very little control – Your mind is just a pretty weak and totally outdated computer You can’t change, at best it can barely understand one or two discipline after spending about 10 years of learning. And such tiny shit as brick fallend on Your head by accident can lay end to Your life.

    Transhunamism says – (maybe) we can change it – and have more control over our own evolution and life.

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