Between Transhumanism & The Darkness of Reality - Essay
Updated: Apr 28, 2022
A Short Review Of Days Two & Three at TransVision 2021 by Denisa Lepădatu
If you were asked to name all the places where you can find a humanoid robot, secret sauces for foresight, and metaverses, how many could you identify? One thing is sure: if you took part in the 2021 TransVision conference in Madrid, there would at least be one - a blend of insight and creativity aimed towards the future of Earth and humanity.
Two decades have already passed since TransVision first took place, and leading figures are regularly gathering to present their views and perceptions, facts, and advancements. Because the world has an amalgam of facts to present to us:
Never before has the rate of change been this accelerated. Yet a great number of impairing and tormenting diseases have to be fought, singularity approaches as we speak, but, at the same time, climate change makes the world hang by a thin thread. Which challenges ought to be prioritized? Where do we look for, in expectation of novel solutions to these complexities? As TransVision showed us, many heads turn to transhumanism in all its forms.
There is no way around the fact that artificial general intelligence (AGI) is one of the most beloved topics in transhumanism. It captures the attention of most visionaries and the ovation of the large public. And Ben Goertzel knows this best, by putting Grace, his robotic medical assistant, into the spotlight. Yet, it is still an artificial narrow AI.
How far are we from an AGI or even superintelligence? On a similar note, Roberto Menendez brought into discussion the exponential growth of computing and the meaning of artificial consciousness, with the emblematic question embedded in everybody’s minds, “where is the future leading us?” Each speaker tries to answer it, in its own manner: singularity, sustainability, life beyond Earth, or gene therapies. Diversity of opinion thrives, and ideas emerge. Some heads turn to neuroscience: individual brain waves give rise to states of mind just like Seurat maneuvered pointillism to generate art, as Philip Low puts forward. Describing them could lead to a much-desired understanding of the brain.
What is the secret of accurate foresight, here, now, and ever? Secrecy, opportunity, and creativity, Daniela Goldman says, but the talks did not stop there; rather they dive straight into the depths of this multifaceted domain.
On a different note, Anders Sandberg provided the audience with a concept he emphasized in great detail: the hinge of history. That is, a point in time that will matter most for the evolution of everything and anything we know of. And since pinpointing the hinge is a hopeless path, our actions must be guided by considering the hinge is happening now: everything we do affects us and posterity alike, here, as well as galaxies away. Always providing a double perspective (“gloomy” and optimistic), technological singularity itself becomes ground for acute debate, even starting with the meanings it can acquire. Superintelligence can theoretically, but not practically, be separated from it. Technology leans towards self-improvement and impelling economic and social growth, but how far does reality comply with our imagination? Fundamental limits, like the laws of thermodynamics, will never be fooled. Increasing complexity will increase instability and lead to crisis. Reaching our maximum leads to inflection points, where we are forced to slow down. Everything, in short, has a payoff, and we have yet to explore the limits.
Then, immaterial planes of existence are being introduced by von Nedervelde, who wants to debunk what a ‘real’ metaverse is. Both utterly ancient and hyper-new, the dream of present philanthropists, it is described as a persistent social virtual world, where one can live (reside and socialize), create (buildings, games, art), work (as employee or employer), and play (PixeMon or MR games). To be able to take over your life in a different, though, artificial reality; dream come true for most people.
Nevertheless, transhumanism does not only tackle technology outside of human beings but also in symbiosis with them – and this might actually be the most truthful version of transhumanism. The biological part is addressed by João Pedro de Magalhães, as he explores the means of manipulating aging, especially through longevity drugs, as well as the limitations of such endeavors. The advances in cell reprogramming (Yamanaka factors), telomerase activation, gene editing, and many others outline the “aging and anti-aging paradigm.”
Every possible way that the future might unfold raises more questions. TransVision tries to address: How will transhumanism affect human behavior? How will the organic and the artificial co-evolve? How are moonshots powered by paradigm shifts? What are the ethics and the limits as we approach novelty?