Jason Silva’s Latest: To Be Human Is to Be Transhuman

10,395 14 Loading

borg-future (1)

The term ‘transhuman’ inevitably (for me) summons grotesque visions of humans and machines merging into a Borg-like race bent on eradicating biological imperfection. These creatures’ cold rationality calls it an evolutionary improvement, but to my admittedly backward biological brain, it’s a terrible thought.

I’d prefer a little less HR Giger in my future, thank you.

In his latest Shots of Awe video short, Jason Silva says forget about Hollywood’s nightmare scenarios. Humans are, by definition, transhuman. We ceaselessly invent and reinvent what it means to be human. We circumvent biological evolution with technology.

But that doesn’t mean we’ll one day wake up with metal and microchips grafted onto our bodies, emotion and individuality scrubbed, a node in the collective. And neither will hacking our biology produce generations of transhumans with three eyes, tiger claws, lizard tongues, and extra limbs growing out of their foreheads.

We won’t generate such a future—unless that’s the future we choose. Quoting Edward O. Wilson, Silva says, “We have decommissioned natural selection, and now we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become.”

That sounds more like freedom to me. More like the messy, democratic process of competing ideas and inventions from which the future emerges.

Will we become one with our machines? Sure, we will. We already have—cars, planes, smartphones, these ever present ‘machines’ extend our physical and mental reach daily. We’ve been merging with machines for as long as we’ve had tools.

The Borg were supposed to be eons ahead of us, but their technology already looks hopelessly backward. Our technology is getting smaller, subtler, and more symbiotic—more elegantly and seamlessly absorbed into life’s fabric.

If we ever do physically merge with machines or hack our DNA, the outward manifestation will be far less obvious than bodies bristling with surgical implants, heavy hardware, and random animal parts. Why? Because we have a choice in the matter, and few (if any) of us want to be techno-Frankensteins.

Image Credit: Marcin Wichary/Flickr

Jason Dorrier

Jason is managing editor of Singularity Hub. He cut his teeth doing research and writing about finance and economics before moving on to science, technology, and the future. He is curious about pretty much everything, and sad he'll only ever know a tiny fraction of it all.

Discussion — 14 Responses

  • Benjamin Allen April 1, 2014 on 8:35 am

    Natural selection is inescapable.

    • Alexander Julian Moore Benjamin Allen April 1, 2014 on 9:55 am

      The length of time that natural selection takes has very much made it avoidable. By the time natural selection makes one minor change in the population based upon the environment, we have made drastic changes to how we interact with that environment, as well as changing the environment itself.

      Natural selection isn’t inescapable, because it molds species to survive in their environment, picking and choosing winners and losers based upon minor differences in how they interact with the world around them – humanity -is- the environment.

      Artificial selection on the other hand… That’s a different story.

      • Benjamin Allen Alexander Julian Moore April 1, 2014 on 2:03 pm

        Natural selection is a consequence of competition and variation in any replicating system. The author says that we’ll choose what modifications we will have, and we will. But those choices will have consequences.

        For example, if just a small group chooses the Borg route, and it happens to be wildly successful, they could eliminate other groups and rise to dominance. I don’t really expect that exact scenario to happen, but it demonstrates the idea; just because we’re in control of the modifications doesn’t remove us from selective pressures. It’s inescapable.

  • Nolux April 1, 2014 on 10:22 am

    So I guess I am a subsriber to ‘intellegent selection’ or ‘intellegent design’. So now they can teach a different kind of intellegent design in school – synthetic biology,

  • nils April 1, 2014 on 11:32 am

    I’m not sure we would have a choice. The philosophically misguided “destructive minduploading”-cult might become the norm and ultimately lead to a very uneven powerstructure in favour of “digitized” beings.

    “Adapt or die” (quote by Peter Diamandes in regard to merging with technology, and he probably ment “uploading” yourself, too. His face when he said it was scary).

  • Nolux April 1, 2014 on 3:04 pm

    Given the option i expect people would select an appropriate form depending on what they were doing. Possibly with there original genetic material stashed away for posterity they could inhabit some sort of deep space whale type creature for exploring other galaxies or alternate realities. Then for us old timers, clinging to our old world memories, you could take on super human form such as Thor or silver surfer – powers included of obviously!

  • Nolux April 1, 2014 on 3:05 pm

    But remember – when everyone is super, no one is super.
    A level playing field maybe?

  • Cheaperseeker coupon code April 2, 2014 on 8:02 pm

    So terrible it is!

  • Blair Schirmer April 2, 2014 on 10:11 pm

    Quoting Edward O. Wilson, Silva says, “We have decommissioned natural selection, and now we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become.”

    Funny stuff.

    We in fact will become what the very small handful of competing nations, consortiums, and corporations stumble into as they race to develop the first human level AI.

    Like the man said, human-level AI will be humankind’s last important invention.

  • Telcomcorp April 3, 2014 on 4:23 pm

    I’ve idealistically envisioned the transhumanism possibility for more than a decade now (expect the capability to be available around 2050’s) and the
    most logical physical appearance of the trans-sapien or neo-sapien would look similar to the silver surfer (basically a blank form that changes or adapts due to the needs or desires of that particular individual|)

    with the ability (powers!) to change and control multiple internal and external processes that all previous species including ours required multiple generations to change.
    also said trans-sapiens would render obsolete our species individual nonuniformity while at the same time allowing infinite nonuniformity based on indivdual situations and desires (indeed much of our-thier activity maybe purely artistic expression and enjoyment)

    I also envision aging,illness,poverty,gender and race to become irrelevant or obsolete to this species as well.

    and for those who worry about aggressive domination consider wolves and ants or should I say mammals and insects ,while mammals several levels more “evolved” than insects ,most members of each biological grouping are barely aware or concerned with each other and neither has the ability nor desire to render the other group extinct.

  • Nolux April 4, 2014 on 8:00 am

    Telcomcorp – i think we have similar thoughts on this. Id like to take it a little father though. Imagine disembodied people free to access all corners of a future internet of things that extends across our galaxy and beyond. You could choose to embody a form of your choice or design. The AI (impartial) galactic council might burden you with some limitations if your planned activities in the physical world could have negative impacts. Your personal AI representative could rebut the council arguing that going for a swim in a methane lake on Titan is hardly going to have any impact on that moon. Of course bureaucracy will survive the singularity!

  • markmorand April 4, 2014 on 10:37 pm

    I agree up to a point. The earliest use of tools sets us apart from most other forms of life, and our capacity to do so confers our destiny to do so. However the notion – and our perception – of freedom, choice, and deciding, is problematic because of power relationships within society – local and global – that, arguably, significantly influence outcomes, including in terms of our adoption and use of technology. These power relationships, however, are also intrinsic to our humanity.

  • Nolux April 5, 2014 on 5:02 am

    I have to disagree. I believe those power relationships are products or unequal resource distibution and fear. Once the playing field is level and there is no reason to have anyone employed to you because of some forms of strong AI then no one will tolerate being lesser than anyone else.

  • Frank Whittemore April 8, 2014 on 8:56 am

    Some perspective from the British Institute of Posthuman Studies…