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4 February 2013

Responding to the call for a new Humanity+ manifesto

Filed under: BHAG, futurist, Humanity Plus, leadership, risks — David Wood @ 7:37 am

I’ve been pondering the call, on Transhumanity.net, to upgrade the Transhumanist Declaration.

This endeavour needs the input of many minds to be successful. Below, please find a copy of a submission from me, to add into the mix. I’ll welcome feedback!

Humanity is on the brink of a momentous leap forwards in evolution. If we are wise and strong, we can – and should – make that leap.

This evolutionary transformation takes advantage of rapidly improving technology – technology that arises from positive virtuous cycles and unprecedented interdisciplinary convergence. This technology will grant us awesome powers: the power to capture ample energy from the Sun, the atom, and beyond; the power to synthesise new materials to rejuvenate our environment and fuel our societies; the power to realise an unparalleled abundance of health, security, vigour, vitality, creativity, knowledge, and experience; the power to consciously, thoughtfully, proactively remake Humanity.

Through imminently available technology, our lives can be radically enhanced, expanded, and extended. We can be the generation that banishes disease, destitution, decay, and death. Our societies can become marvels of autonomy and inclusion, featuring splendid variety and harmony. We can move far beyond the earth, spreading ever higher consciousness in both inner and outer space. We can transcend our original biological nature, and become as if divine; we’ll be as far ahead of current human capabilities as current humans exceed the prowess of our ape forebears.

But technology is a two-edged sword. Alongside the potential for transcendent improvement lies the potential for existential destruction. We face fearsome perils of environmental catastrophe, unstoppable new plagues and pathogens, rampant unemployment and alienation, the collapse of world financial markets, pervasive systems of unresponsive computers and moronically intelligent robots that act in frustration to human desires, horrific new weaponry that could easily fall into the wrong hands and precipitate Armageddon, and intensive mechanisms for draconian surveillance and thought control.

Continuing the status quo is not an option. Any quest for sustainability of current lifestyles is a delusion. We cannot stay still, and we cannot retreat. The only way to survive is radical enhancement – moving from Humanity to Humanity+.

We’ll need great wisdom and strength to successfully steer the acceleration of converging technology for a positive rather than a negative outcome. We’ll need to take full advantage of the best of current Humanity, to successfully make the leap to Humanity+.

Grand battles of ideas lie ahead. In all these grand battles, smart technology can be our powerful ally - technology that can unlock and enhance our human capacities for insight, innovation, compassion, kindness, and solidarity.

We’ll need to transcend worldviews that insist on viewing humans as inherently diminished, incapable, flawed, and mortal. We’ll need to help individuals and societies rise above cognitive biases and engrained mistakes in reasoning. And we’ll need to accelerate a reformation of the political and economic environment, so that the outcomes that are rationally best are pursued, instead of those which are expedient and profitable for the people who currently possess the most power and influence.

As more and more people come to appreciate the tremendous attractiveness and the credibility of the Humanity+ future, they’ll collectively commit more of their energy, skills, and resources in support of realising that future. But the outcome is still far from clear.

Time is short, risks are high, and there is much to do. We need to open minds, raise awareness, transform the public mood, overturn prejudices, establish rights, build alliances, resist over-simplification, avoid the temptations of snake oil purveyors, dispel distractions, weigh up the best advice available, take hard decisions, and accelerate specific research and development. If we can navigate these slippery paths, with wisdom and strength, we will indeed witness the profound, glorious emergence of Humanity+.

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12 Comments »

  1. The only part I have an issue with is “so that technology can indeed facilitate the profound emergence of Humanity+.”

    For me, the problem is that we human’s need to facilitate the move, the controls needed are in part cultural, if we leave it purely to “technology” (ie the existing methods for technology creation and deployment) then we are in danger of the “existing powerful” manipulating the technology for their own means, ie driven by commercial benefit for a few that can participate.

    In some ways, “humanity v1.0″ needs to be implemented globally before “humanity+ {beta}” is released to the world, but, development of the {beta} is already un-stoppable and not that far away! after all, my 10 inch Mobile Computing Device connected to a global data network was pure fantasy / sci-fi a mere 20 years ago; I think humanity+ seems like “sci-fi” now to the majority, but the impact and implications of Humanity+ go such much deeper.

    Hope that makes sense. It’s a very difficult subject to express without appearing to overly alarmist, or, delving into “too much detail”.

    Comment by James Booth — 4 February 2013 @ 10:17 am

    • Hi James

      >The only part I have an issue with is “so that technology can indeed facilitate the profound emergence of Humanity+.”

      I struggled with that last clause too. I wanted to have something of a “bang” at the very end of the piece. On reflection, I’ve edited this, so that it now ends “to indeed facilitate the profound emergence of Humanity+”

      >In some ways, “humanity v1.0″ needs to be implemented globally before “humanity+ {beta}” is released to the world

      But due to the deep bugs in humanity v1.0 – bugs that already risk global collapse – I think it’s far more expedient to migrate asap to the new version :-)

      Comment by David Wood — 4 February 2013 @ 10:27 am

  2. The trouble is that ‘cognitive biases and engrained mistakes’ may appear dysfunctional but they are, in fact, evolutionarily successful adaptations of humanity to its highly complex environment. These, including prejudice, provide highly effective means for the resolution of really existing problems in human capacity. There will be no sudden leap from human to human+ – on the contrary, the process is likely to take tens of thousands of years though I have no doubt that it will be achieved eventually.

    Rational policies to deal with human and social complexity have almost invariably been proved to be inhumane and brutal, fine for the theoretician in the British Library, but dreadful in the field. This has been so, is so and will be so for many years to come.

    For a start, the ‘manifesto’ makes one remarkable cultural-specific irrational error out of simplistic belief in what should be rather than what is. It refers to ‘rights’ as if rights can exist except as an irrational human choice to manage its condition. There is no conceivable ultimately rational philosophical basis for the language of rights except in the context of an initial faith-based belief in their validity. Any philosophy of humanity+ must by its nature operate beyond rights as theory. It will be, simply because of the difference in category between humanity and humanity+, unable to be ‘universal’, just as universality is an essential fiction in the light of 6billion individual and complex persons who do not operate as a herd.

    From this first initial ‘prejudice’ about rights, reason works beautifully to create an entire culture of rights but you can do that with pretty well any flawed initial belief – God will give you the glories of Thomist theology and Marx’s interpretation of Hegel will give you the beauties of communism. Unfortunately, not only does humanity not work this way, it would be an evolutionary disaster if it did work this way – and humanity+ will, precisely for that reason, be an extremely advanced form of effective cognitive delusion rather than the advanced cognitive reasoning that the reasonable would like it to be.

    Comment by Tim Pendry — 7 February 2013 @ 8:29 pm

    • Hi Tim,

      >the ‘manifesto’ makes one remarkable cultural-specific irrational error out of simplistic belief in what should be rather than what is. It refers to ‘rights’ as if rights can exist except as an irrational human choice

      When I said “We need to… establish rights”, what I had in mind was short-hand for what Dirk Bruere has expressed as follows: “We favour allowing individuals wide personal choice over how they enable their lives, live their lives and if necessary end their lives. This includes use of techniques that may be developed to enhance intellect, mood, concentration, memory; anti-ageing therapies; reproductive choices and technologies that seek to alter genotype and phenotype”.

      >cognitive biases and engrained mistakes’ may appear dysfunctional but they are, in fact, evolutionarily successful adaptations of humanity to its highly complex environment

      Many of these cognitive biases had survival value in simpler times, but have grown increasingly problematic as society has become more complex. I accept that some biases may still have net positive value – as argued in the introduction of the Wikipedia article on “List of biases in judgment and decision making”:

      There are also controversies about whether some of these biases count as truly irrational or whether they result in useful attitudes or behavior. An example is that, when getting to know others, people tend to ask leading questions which seem biased towards confirming their assumptions about the person. This kind of confirmation bias has been argued to be an example of social skill: a way to establish a connection with the other person.

      But granting that possibility does not take away the observation that many of the biases (as listed in that same article) are indeed detrimental to our survival as a species.

      >There will be no sudden leap from human to human+ – on the contrary, the process is likely to take tens of thousands of years

      Changes in the amount of knowledge a person can easily access have been astronomical within just one generation. Why rule out the possibility of similar changes happening in the next generation in our mental, emotional, and social powers? Drugs can change people’s character very significantly. The right drugs could have very positive effects – and that’s only one of many kinds of potential tech intervention.

      Comment by David Wood — 8 February 2013 @ 12:50 am

      • I have much sympathy for Tim’s point about “cognitive biases and engrained mistakes”. The belief that one has identified cognitive bias in another or has liberated oneself from such can be a “Fatal Conceit,” to borrow a phrase from Hayek, and has indeed not infrequently given rise to inhumane treatment even of whole populations. One of my favourite sayings is David Hume’s “the rules of morality are not conclusions of our reason,” which is at the heart of Hayek’s Fatal Conceit argument.

        Also a lot of fallacious thinking and misguided policy-making stems in my view from an insufficiently critical assertion of the existence of individual rights, without sufficient consideration of the consequences for society. Take the recent and controversial example of the public debate about homosexual marriage in the UK. The change has been advocated as a rights and equality issue, not because the current definition of marriage is an unambiguous infringement of rights or of equality, but because it is difficult to resist a policy initiative ostensibly advancing rights and equality. How will homosexual marriage (as opposed to civil partnership) improve society? The assertion that it will appears to be largely a “faith-based belief” to use Tim’s phrase. To quote Michael Sandel’s conclusion on this subject in his excellent work “Justice”:

        “So when we look closely at the case for same-sex marriage, we find that it cannot rest on the idea of non-discrimination and freedom of choice. In order to decide who should qualify for marriage, we have to think through the purpose of marriage and the virtues it honours. and this carries us onto contested moral terrain, where we can’t remain neutral towards competing conceptions of the good life.”

        This I believe is a core consideration in any discussion of how humanity can move to the next level. How can we build societies and a world where we are all best able to pursue our conception of the good life in mutual harmony? Rationality is an important tool in this quest. But it is not and cannot ever be the foundation of “the good life”.

        Comment by Colin Turfus — 9 February 2013 @ 12:40 am

        • Some of this goes way over my head (I haven’t read Hayek etc), but, it strikes me that what is a rational point of view for some, isn’t considered rational (or sane / acceptable) by others; and therefore it boils down to the freedom to implement democratic morales based upon a rationale…

          for example, I think it’s not rational to stone people to death for committing adultery, or denying people education purely on the basis of gender, however – in some parts of human society these morals are purported to be a rational point of view by those who hold power over local society.

          it therefore follows (in my simplistic mind), that obtaining consensus of what is “rational” requires freedom of “expression on a point of view”, ie, on what is morally acceptable and rational. Democracy starts with expression of morales via a publication of a manifesto about what is constitutes the foundations of a “good life”, and these points of view surely have to be rationalised within the manifesto? So we come full circle.

          Anyway, long live the ability to debate and openly discuss the issues!

          Comment by James Booth — 9 February 2013 @ 9:59 am

          • ps.
            and I wish there was a way to edit my spelling mistakes on this site ;-)

            Comment by James Booth — 9 February 2013 @ 10:07 am

          • Hume has it in a nutshell I believe. “Rational” and “moral” are two entirely distinct categories. Neither one implies the other. The former is about logic and the mind; the latter about our affections and passions. No-one ever successfully derived an ought from an is (without sleight of hand or appeal to divine authority), “yet it is taken for granted, that [moral] science may be brought to an equal certainty with geometry or algebra.” (Hume, “A Treatise of Human Nature”, 1739). Not so much has changed then!

            Our mistake is in believing that “the good life” has to be justified rationally, when it never can. What we can be rational about is how to organise society so as to best facilitate diverse communities with divergent conceptions of the good life living alongside one another. Sandel’s “Justice” is a seminal contribution to that project. May the debate go on!

            Comment by Colin Turfus — 12 February 2013 @ 12:16 am

        • Hi Colin,

          Your comment is another reminder that I must make the time to read the Sandel book “Justice”. But in the meantime, I’ve published a new blogpost, that addresses some of the points your raise.

          One quick comment about “The belief that one has identified cognitive bias in another or has liberated oneself from such” – most of the authors I follow, on the subject of cognitive bias, readily acknowledge that it’s all too easy for them to fall victim, in unguarded moments, to the same cognitive biases that they write about. They don’t claim to be liberated from these biases. Indeed, the name of the main online community that seeks to address cognitive biases is LessWrong, rather than (e.g.) “We’ve got it right”.

          Comment by David Wood — 10 February 2013 @ 2:07 am

          • Indeed, Daniel Kahneman makes this point well in his recent seminal work “Thinking Fast and Slow”.

            Comment by Colin Turfus — 12 February 2013 @ 12:23 am

      • David – I suppose my point here is about language. Transhumanism, by using the shorthand term ‘rights’, is in danger of being accidentally appropriated by an entire philosophy that is conservative and belongs to the recent past – we might take Singer’s utilitarianism as exemplar where a huge edifice is constructed on false assumptions. It would be as if Soviet transhumanism had simply accepted Marxism or Hegelianism uncritically.

        In other words, the philosophical basis for a transhumanist manifesto starts with a ‘cognitive bias and engrained mistake’ simply by adopting a particular and contingent philosophical assumption – that rights exist. What Dirk describes has nothing to do with rights theory intrinsically. It could equally be interpreted as simple existential personhood beyond assumed rights.

        I have no problem with his or your formulation (and you know I support your project, albeit with some caveats) but somehow it must be disconnected from prevailing philosophical assumptions – especially as it is probably inevitable that transhumanist technologically-based transformation will radically change our thinking in new philosophical directions. To use the word rights is to embed ourselves in the present and so, by definition, in the past when we reach the future.

        As for the problematic nature of cognitive biases, we might reasonably ask whether we should have to change or whether society should be structured to be in greater conformity with our evolved natures. Every historical attempt to change our natures by force or persuasion has failed (the communitarian attempts to control drugs, sexual behaviour or culture usually end in misery).

        It could be argued that advanced technologies such as AI provide us with a remarkable opportunity to do the reverse – to allow the AI to take responsibility for the complexity in our situation and allow us, as humans, to be what we are instead of what we think we should be.

        For example, AI, in dealing with complexity, can be targeted at the creation of ‘safe space’ for transgressive desire or permit the modelling of absurd belief that reliably harms no other instead of, as is the rationalist tendency, trying to control desire within norms or eliminating belief as irrational. Paradoxically, advanced machine irrationality may allow us to be safely irrational and absurd. Any concern about this can usually be put down to a controlling tendency within humanity whereby the ‘right-thinking’ person insists on imposing their values on the rest.

        To create appropriate places for human irrationality means that we can ensure that science and technology remain rational, that individual experience can remain irrational (which is aesthetically and experientially to be preferred) and that the territory between these domains (the social) can be ‘squared’ with the help of technology. However, it equally means that human experience must have equal status to reason – that is, that the purpose of reason is to serve the human and not serve itself or have humanity serve reason.

        Finally, there is no such thing as a ‘species’ in quite the way you mean – it is a reification. To speak of a ‘species’ is simply to collect together a vast number of similar (in advanced cases) but not perfectly identical individuals. Under all reasonable scenarios in which we can claim to have agency, sufficient individuals will always survive to continue the ‘species’ or to evolve into another ‘species’. There is no point in taking an apocalyptic view here.

        The question is not whether the ‘species’ can change in shorter than ten thousand years but whether individuals who do change will become another ‘species’ altogether. This is what we are not addressing – ‘speciation’ within our own ‘species’. 6 billion people will not willingly (I assume the virtue of self-directed agency explicit in Dirk’s formulation) or have access to the same choices at the same time. Nor will the choices easily be transferable to the next generation except indirectly through technological culture.

        The core human person is either going to remain much the same for a considerable period of time or some humans will be transformed into something not merely trans-human but effectively post-human – different and not human. The defence of the human (as expressed as cognitive choice to be absurd and wrong) becomes a moral imperative during the very process of enhancement or else we shall have a war between the species as brutal as that said to have occurred between Homo Sapiens Sapiens and Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis.

        Comment by Tim Pendry — 9 February 2013 @ 11:31 am

  3. I’ve created a video rendition of this manifesto – see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2C0OslksDL8.

    Comment by David Wood — 13 October 2013 @ 2:31 pm


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