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The ability to tinker with our genes offers the astounding promise—and peril—of immortality, which mythically has been the defining difference between gods and mortals. It also offers the possibility of an even greater variety of breeds of humans than there is of dogs.
—Joel Garreau, Radical Evolution
The prospect of building godlike creatures fills me with a sense of religious awe that goes to the very depth of my soul and motivates me powerfully to continue, despite the possible horrible negative consequences.
—Prof. Hugo de Garis, artificial brain designer
In recent years, astonishing technological developments have pushed the frontiers of humanity toward far-reaching morphological transformation that promises in the very near future to redefine what it means to be human. An international, intellectual, and fast-growing cultural movement known as transhumanism, whose vision is supported by a growing list of U.S. military advisers, bioethicists, law professors, and academics, intends the use of genetics, robotics, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology (Grin technologies) as tools that will radically redesign our minds, our memories, our physiology, our offspring, and even perhaps— as Joel Garreau, in his bestselling book Radical Evolution, claims—our very souls.
Unfortunately for mankind, the technological and cultural shift now underway not only unapologetically forecasts a future dominated by a new species of unrecognizably superior humans, but an unfathomable war—both physical and spiritual—that the world is not prepared for. It will be fought on land, within the air and sea, and in dimensions as yet incomprehensible. Even now, the synthetic forces that will plot man’s wholesale annihilation are quietly under design in leading laboratories, public and private, funded by the most advanced nations on earth, including the official governments of the United States, France, Britain, Australia, and China, to name a few.
As a result of progressive deduction, reasoning, and problem solving in fields of neurotechnology and cybernetics, strong artificial intelligence or “artilects” will emerge from this research, godlike, massively intelligent machines that are “trillions of trillions of times smarter than humans” and whose rise will prove profoundly disruptive to human culture, leading to a stark division between philosophical, ideological, and political groups who either support the newly evolved life forms as the next step in human and technological evolution or who view this vastly superior intellect as an incalculable risk and deadly threat to the future of humanity. These diametrically opposed worldviews will ultimately result in a preemptive new world war—what is already being described as gigadeath, the bloodiest battle in history with billions of deaths before the end of the twenty-first century.
For those who find the fantastic elements in the statements above implicative of science fiction or even future Armageddon as forecast in the ancient apocalyptic and prophetic books of the Bible, the catastrophic vision is actually derived from near-future scenarios, which leading scientists like Prof. Hugo de Garis (featured in the upcoming documentary INHUMAN), director of the Artificial Brain Lab at Xiamen University in China, outlines in his book, The Artilect War: Cosmists vs. Terrans: A Bitter Controversy Concerning Whether Humanity Should Build Godlike Massively Intelligent Machines, as unfolding due to exponential growth and development this century in grin technologies.
“I believe that the twenty-first century will be dominated by the question as to whether humanity should or should not build artilects, i.e., machines of godlike intelligence,” de Garis says. “I see humanity splitting into two major political groups, which in time will become increasingly bitterly opposed, as the artilect issue becomes more real.”
Professor de Garis continues:
The human group in favor of building artilects, I label the “Cosmists” [to whom] building artilects will be like a religion…something truly magnificent and worthy of worship…
The second human group, opposed to the building of artilects, I label the “Terrans”…who will argue that allowing the Cosmists to build [artilects] implies accepting the risk, that one day, the artilects might decide…that the human species is a pest. Since the artilects would be so vastly superior to human beings in intelligence, it would be easy for [them] to exterminate the human species…
Thus to the Terrans, the Cosmists are…far worse than the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao…or any other regime that murdered tens of millions of people in the twentieth century, because [this] time…we are talking about the potential annihilation of the whole human species, billions of people.[i]
Professor de Garis continues in his book to describe how the work to build artilects is proceeding nonetheless with anticipation of its realization potentially close at hand. As a result, he falls asleep at night thinking about the godlike synthetic intelligence he and others are constructing. Sometimes his mind becomes enraptured of his creations with a sense of intellectual and spiritual awe. Then, waking up a few hours later in a cold sweat, he is jolted from bed by a horrific dream in which vivid scenes depict the slaughter of his descendants at the hands of the artificial deities.
Dr. de Garis is not alone in this fear, that what he and other research scientists are feverishly working toward could soon become a nightmarish predicament mankind will not survive. Because it is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately predict how strong artificial intelligence will actually affect the world, it is unclear whether humans will be viewed by the unnatural life forms as serving a purpose in a world dominated by super-intelligent machines or whether they will be weighed as lacking any practical function and therefore be considered expendable. It could be that we won’t even see the question coming. In other words, we may already be in the process of being lulled into subservience toward the rise of the machines. As the brilliantly insane Theodore Kaczynski, in his thirty-five-thousand-word paper, “Industrial Society and Its Future” (also called the “Unabomber Manifesto”), wrote:
As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better result than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage, the machines will be in effective control. People won’t be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.[ii]
Crazy or not, Kaczynski may be right in that man’s demise at the hands of machines will happen gradually, during which time we humans will become the proverbial frogs in the kettle set to boil. On the other hand, we are more likely to be reduced any day now in the blink of an enhanced eye to the status of domestic animals in the minds of artificial intelligence, as the Technological Singularity—that magical future moment that many futurists and tech experts believe could be imminent—gives birth overnight to some version of the artilects, who suddenly come online as conscious, living super-minds, immensely more powerful than human beings.
“As a metaphor for mind-boggling social change, the Singularity has been borrowed from math and physics,” writes Joel Garreau in Radical Evolution. “In those realms, singularities are the point where everything stops making sense. In math it is a point where you are dividing through by zero [and in physics it is] black holes—points in space so dense that even light cannot escape their horrible gravity. If you were to approach one in a spaceship, you would find that even the laws of physics no longer seemed to function. That’s what a Singularity is like.”[iii] Ray Kurzweil, who is credited with groundbreaking work in artificial intelligence and is, among other things, the co-founder of an interdisciplinary graduate studies program backed by NASA known as the Singularity University, appreciates the comparison between the coming Technological Singularity and the physics of black holes:
Just as a black hole in space dramatically alters the patterns of matter and energy accelerating toward its event horizon, the impending Singularity in our future is [a] period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.¼ The key idea underlying the impending Singularity is that the rate of change of our human-created technology is accelerating and its powers are expanding at an exponential pace. Exponential growth is deceptive. It starts out almost imperceptibly and then explodes with unexpected fury.[iv]
In plain language, Abou Farman says Kurzweil’s work on the Singularity:
…analyzes the curve of technological development from humble flint-knapping to the zippy microchip. The curve he draws rises exponentially, and we are sitting right on the elbow, which means very suddenly this trend toward smaller and smarter technologies will yield greater-than-human machine intelligence. That sort of superintelligence will proliferate not by self-replication, but by building other agents with even greater intelligence than itself, which will in turn build more superior agents. The result will be an “intelligence explosion” so fast and so vast that the laws and certainties with which we are familiar will no longer apply. That event-horizon is called the Singularity.[v]
Kurzweil elaborates further on what the Singularity will mean:
Our version 1.0 biological bodies are…frail and subject to a myriad of failure modes…The Singularity will allow us to transcend these limitations….We will gain power over our fates. Our mortality will be in our own hands [and] the nonbiological portion of our intelligence will be trillions of trillions of times more powerful than unaided human intelligence.
We are now in the early stages of this transition. The acceleration of paradigm shift…as well as the exponential growth of the capacity of information technology are both beginning to reach the “knee of the curve,” which is the stage at which an exponential trend becomes noticeable. Shortly after this stage, the trend becomes explosive. [Soon] the growth rates of our technology—which will be indistinguishable from ourselves—will be so steep as to appear essentially vertical….That, at least, will be the perspective of unenhanced biological humanity.
The Singularity will represent the culmination of the merger of our biological thinking and existence with our technology, resulting in a world that¼transcends our biological roots. There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine.[vi]
In 1993, critical thinking about the timing of the Singularity concerning the emergence of strong artificial intelligence led retired San Diego State University professor and computer scientist Vernor Vinge, in his often-quoted and now-famous lecture, “The Coming Technological Singularity,” (delivered at Vision-21 Symposium sponsored by NASA Lewis Research Center and the Ohio Aerospace Institute), to add that when science achieves “the technological means to create superhuman intelligence[,] shortly after, the human era will be ended.”[vii] In contrast to Vinge, cyborgists like Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at Reading University in England who endorsed de Garis’ book, believe Singularity will not so much represent the end of the human era as it will the assimilation of man with machine intelligence, like the Borg of Star Trek fame. This is because, according to Warwick, the Technological Singularity will not occur as a result of freestanding independent machines, but inside human cyborgs where human-machine integration is realized and enhanced biology is recombined to include living brains that are cybernetic, machine-readable, and interfaced with artificial neural networks, where transhumans with amplified intelligence become so completely superior to their biological counterparts (normal humans) as to be incomprehensible—ultimately “posthuman”. The technology to accomplish this task is already well underway and is considered by researchers like Warwick to be one of the most important scientific utilities currently under employment toward man’s posthuman future. As a result of this bridge between technology and human biology being attained this century, nothing less than the wholesale redesign of humans, including genetic integration with other life-forms—plants, animals, and synthetic creations—will be realized. This vision—the borgification (marriage between biology and machine) of man—is supported in the latest “State of the Future” report (2010) by the global think tank, the Millennium Project, founded after a three-year feasibility study with the United Nations University, Smithsonian Institution, and the Futures Group International, where synthetic biologists affirm that “as computer code is written to create software to augment human capabilities, so too genetic code will be written to create life forms to augment civilization.”[viii] Furthermore, as biotech, infotech, nanotech, and cognotech breakthroughs quickly migrate with appropriate synergies to create widespread man-machine adaptation within society, a “global collective intelligence system [hive supermind] will be needed to track all these science and technology advances,” the report goes on to say.
Executive producer of the upcoming documentary INHUMAN, Tom Horn has personally debated leading transhumanist, Dr. James Hughes (who is also featured in the documentary by Tom), concerning this inevitable techno-sapien future on his weekly syndicated talk show, Changesurfer Radio. Hughes is executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and teaches at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He is the author of Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future, a sort of bible for transhumanist values. Dr. Hughes joins a growing body of academics, bioethicists, and sociologists who support:
Large-scale genetic and neurological engineering of ourselves…[a] new chapter in evolution [as] the result of accelerating developments in the fields of genomics, stem-cell research, genetic enhancement, germ-line engineering, neuro-pharmacology, artificial intelligence, robotics, pattern recognition technologies, and nanotechnology…at the intersection of science and religion [which has begun to question] what it means to be human.[ix]
Though the transformation of man to this posthuman condition is in its fledgling state, complete integration of the technology necessary to replace existing Homo sapiens as the dominant life-form on earth is approaching Kurzweil’s exponential curve. While today most people are talking about the powerful new gene-editing technique known as CRISPR-Cas9, this idea is not new. A Reuters article dated November 9, 2009, titled “Scientists Want Debate on Animals with Human Genes,” hinted at just how far scientists had already come and how far they intend to go. The news piece started out, “A mouse that can speak? A monkey with Down’s Syndrome? Dogs with human hands or feet? British scientists want to know if such experiments are acceptable,” and it continued with revelations that scientists inside Britain are comfortable now with up to 50/50 animal-human integration. The article implied that not all the research currently under design is kept at the embryonic level, and that fully mature monstrosities (like the creature in the 2010 movie Splice, shown in the film’s poster right) may be under study as “some scientists in some places want to push boundaries.” National Geographic magazine speculated in 2007 that within ten years (2017), the first of such human-animals would walk the earth, and Vernor Vinge agreed recently that we are entering that period in history when questions like “What is the meaning of life?” will be nothing more than an engineering question.
Most readers may be surprised to learn that in preparation of this posthuman revolution, the United States government, through the National Institute of Health, has steadily granted tax-payer monies to such institutions as Case Law School in Cleveland ($773,000) to develop the actual guidelines that are to be used for setting government policy on the next step in human evolution–“genetic enhancement.” Maxwell Mehlman, Arthur E. Petersilge Professor of Law, director of the Law-Medicine Center at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, and professor of bioethics in the Case School of Medicine, led the team of law professors, physicians, and bioethicists over the two-year project “to develop standards for tests on human subjects in research that involves the use of genetic technologies to enhance ‘normal’ individuals.”[x] Following the initial study, Mehlman began offering two university lectures: “Directed Evolution: Public Policy and Human Enhancement” and “Transhumanism and the Future of Democracy,” addressing the need for society to comprehend how emerging fields of science will, in approaching years, alter what it means to be human, and what this means to democracy, individual rights, free will, eugenics, and equality. Other law schools, including Stanford and Oxford, are now hosting similar annual “Human Enhancement and Technology” conferences, where transhumanists, futurists, bioethicists, and legal scholars are busying themselves with the ethical, legal, and inevitable ramifications of posthumanity. More recently, as reported by SkyWatch TV, bioethicist Wesley J. Smith (also featured in INHUMAN) wrote how the White House—despite playing word games around gene-editing techniques—fully intends to manufacture GMO people.
TO BE CONTINUED…
[i] Hugo de Garis, The Artilect War: Cosmists vs. Terrans: A Bitter Controversy Concerning Whether Humanity Should Build Godlike Massively Intelligent Machines E(Palm Springs, CA: ETC, 2005) 11–12, 15, 84.
[ii] Theodore Kaczynski, “Industrial Society and Its Future,” Wikisource, http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Industrial_Society_and_Its_Future.
[iii] Joe Garreau, Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies—and What It Means to Be Human (New York: Broadway, 2005) 71–72)
[iv] Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near (New York: Penguin, 2006) 7–8.
[v] Abou Farman, “The Intelligent Universe,” Maison Neuve (8/ 2/10) http://maisonneuve.org/pressroom/article/2010/aug/2/intelligent-universe/.
[vi] Kurzweil, 9.
[vii] “The Coming Technological Singularity,” presented at the Vision-21 Symposium sponsored by NASA Lewis Research Center and the Ohio Aerospace Institute (3/30–31/93).
[viii] Jerome C. Glenn, “The State of the Future” (7/14/10) www.kurzweilai.net/the-state-of-the-future, emphasis added.
[ix] Ibid, emphasis added.
[x] Case Western Reserve University, “Case Law School Receives $773,000 NIH Grant to Develop Guidelines for Genetic Enhancement Research: Professor Max Mehlman to Lead Team of Law Professors, Physicians, and Bioethicists in Two-Year Project (April 28, 2006).