The world is inching ever closer to the final merging of man and machine. The goal of the transhumanist movement is to ‘improve’ humanity by merging us with computers, via chip implants, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and robotics. Taking up where the eugenicists left off a half-century ago, this school of thought can trace its origins back to Julian Huxley, brother of Aldous and unapologetic elitist and eugenicist.
Transhumanists speak glowingly about the forthcoming ‘singularity’ , a moment in the near future – 2045, according to the most prominent transhumanist cheerleader, Ray Kurzweil- when artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence. Humans will be in danger of becoming extinct from irrelevance, but by ‘augmenting’ ourselves with nano-technology and genetic alterations, we can go into our brave new world as a ‘post-human’ species.
Twenty years ago, I would have laughed at such nonsense, but given the speed at which technology is advancing and the equal speed with which humanity, and especially the current young generation, is eagerly adopting the new technologies, it is clear that this is no laughing matter. The people promoting this are serious and their plan to forever alter homo sapiens sapiens is gaining momentum , and more importantly, acceptance.
One of the most prominent public faces of this movement is Michio Kaku, the theoretical physicist who appears regularly on the History Channel, BBC, Discovery Channel , and the Science Channel. Kaku is the new front man and he’s a good choice. He speaks easily and fluently about complex scientific topics and has a laid-back, approachable demeanor. Of course, I can’t help asking when I see celebrity figures like this with lots of advanced degree letters next to their name, ‘don’t these guys have a real job?’ If Kaku spent half as much time in his office working on theoretical physics as he does putting on make-up to go on television , he might actually accomplish something worthwhile for humanity. But I digress..
In a recent program aired on The Science Channel, Kaku first informed his audience that the singularity was inevitable, then he stated that the results of it could be catastrophic, and then finally ended the show by saying we should all just embrace it.
He stated, ” Most experts (a cheap rhetorical trick) agree: the technological singularity is inevitable. If uncontrolled, the results could be catastrophic. They (the machines) may eliminate everything that stands in their path, including us.” But then suddenly, he changed his tone and said, “I’ve changed my mind. I think we should embrace the singularity. Fundamentally, I’m an optimist. The solution? Merge with them. When the singularity arrives, WE will be in control. By merging with machines, we will enter a new age of super human existence. We will be ‘ homo superior’. Who’s with me?” At this point in the show, the geeky crowd of young futurists in some Manhattan studio , many wearing Star Wars costumes, broke out in a roar of approval and hand clapping.
You can’t get much more blatant than that. All the rhetorical and manipulative techniques perfected by social engineers over the last century were put on display. ‘Do not resist. The future has already been determined. Resistance is futile. Join us…..or die.’
Many of my young students, who already spend most of their day staring at some screen and sleep the whole night with their smart phone under the pillow, will unquestioningly accept this techno-future and even embrace it. Chip implants? No problem, which arm would you like?
Luckily for me, I found some thinkers when I was in my early 20s who wrote critically and thoughtfully on the subject of technology and human existence and provided a needed antidote to all the drivel that I was subjected to in the corporate, mainstream and advertising world, as well as inoculating me against the incessant pro-technology propaganda.
Jerry Mander wrote a incisive book titled In the Absence of the Sacred: The failure of technology and the survival of the Indian Nations (1991) which really blew my mind. Here at last was a prominent intellectual writing about the other side of the story, i.e. the shadow side of technology. Daniel Quinn’s novel’s Ishmael (1992) and The Story of B (1996) explored some similar themes, albeit in a very different format. The late Neil Postman, media theorist and cultural critic, wrote wonderful books for the mass market about the intersection of humans, technology, culture and education, including: The Disappearance of Childhood, Amusing Ourselves to Death, How to Watch tv News, and Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology.
The future is rushing upon us quickly, and humanity is at a crossroads. If we are to survive, we will need to evolve, and quickly. But evolve how? By merging with machines and rushing headlong into a technological dystopia, into a world run my intelligent machines? Is there another way? Shouldn’t we be exploring other possibilities? I believe so. Even a cursory study of human history shows that we don’t handle technology responsibly. We haven’t used nuclear energy responsibly. Nor do we know how to integrate new technologies into society while still maintaing traditions, culture, and respect for each other. Technology has far outraced humanity’s ability to understand it, let alone use it well.
If we want to talk about a future evolution of homo sapiens, how about Osho’s vision.? He spoke of the blending of the Zorba’s joy of life with the discipline and insight of the Buddha to create ‘Zorba the Buddha.’ It’s a beautiful vision and one worth exploring. Humanity has the capability to evolve using the tools we have right here and now: our brains, our hearts and our will. We should not toss away so easily our humanness to plunge into a future which would be even darker and more monstrous.