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Soldiers without Banners - Why the Future Doesn’t Need Transhumanists

Posted: Mon, January 21, 2013 | By: Boris Karpa

It should not be a surprise to any of our readers that the Singularity is approaching. Perhaps the term ‘Singularity’ is incorrect - we cannot be certain that, specifically, strong AI will be invented in the near future. But what is absolutely clear from even a cursory reading of any technology news site is the fact that technological progress is accelerating, inventions piling upon inventions at a speed that is heralding not merely an improvement in processing power or storage capacity, but a qualitative change in the way people live their lives and perceive themselves and the universe is clearly arriving. The confluence of these qualitative changes - a revolution in the way people live and even think - is what is commonly called ‘the Singularity’.

Now for the unpleasant news: if you are reading this article, it is most likely that the Singularity does not need you. That is to say: most of the people in the transhumanist movement - including myself - are not actually contributing meaningfully to bringing this future about as soon as possible.

And do not be mistaken - the future is not going to arrive by itself. It may be delayed by the actions of political luddites, or because of the vagaries of the economy, or for any other reason. The time-frame can alter from ten years to twenty or thirty. (The shipping container was delayed for decades by political interference).

And yet, as I said, most of us are not useful to the cause of advancing the future. This is not a typical call to the banner - I do not mean here to merely say that ordinary transhumanists are too lazy to work for bringing about progress, although perhaps some are. No, the problem I seek to identify is deeper and more terrible.

Think of it: In what way are most of us actually involved in bringing the future about? A small minority are actually involved in developing better AI technologies, building robots, or doing other things that will push humanity forward. Some are popular writers, or wealthy philanthropes giving millions of dollars to charities like SENS. But for the majority of us, there’s very little role to actually play.

Oh, of course, may of us bought copies of Ending Aging, or perhaps are watching Kurzweil’s lectures on TED. But how many of us contribute meaningfully? How many of us are, to use the military analogy, foot-soldiers in the struggle for the future?

Many of course do minor things that make them feel they’re part of the fight, but for the majority, we’re doing nothing. At best we’re writing short stories or drawing fan art of the beautiful future.

This not because we are lazy or stupid. It would be the height of presumption for me to accuse my fellow men of being lazy or complacent when I, myself, have done as little (and perhaps less then) them.

This is to say - we are doing nothing because there’s so very little to do. Transhumanism as a movement has so far generated few opportunities for men to help it. There are simply too few banners for the foot-soldiers of progress to gather under. There are few transhumanist activist organizations, few activist events, and even too few ideas for personal transhumanist activism.

This is almost self-evident (Google yields 338 search results for ‘transhumanist activist’ and 295 for ‘transhumanist activism’ - most dating back to the mid-2000s). And yet it is clear that transhumanist activism is needed. The future has many enemies, and for the future to win in our lifetimes, we must prepare to confront those enemies.

If we want to bring this future closer - if we do not want to die of old age two months before an aging cure is invented - then we must work, not even on defending the future, but on building the social structures that will enable us to defend it.


Well, one thing we can do is raise awareness of some of the near term possibilities here.  Some anti-aging research is moving forward very quickly, and yet it’s badly underfunded and under-supported, by private individuals, by investors, and by and the government.  Why?  As far as I can tell, it’s because most people just don’t understand how close we are and how soon we could actually get some of these things.  It’s just unbelievable that we may already have drugs that could extend everyone’s life (drugs in caloric restriction mimic family,, but we don’t actually know which ones of them work and which don’t because the biotech firms trying to do the research can’t get the funding to test them. 

I mean, if people actually understood just how close we were, can you imagine how much investment money and government support would pour into drugs that can slow aging?

By Yosarian on Jan 21, 2013 at 6:39am

You are right. And While my scientific education is limited, I’m going to bet that similar situations exist in fields other than anti-aging.

By Boris on Jan 21, 2013 at 2:23pm

This piece ought to be posted at IEET,
for comments to ensue.

By Alan Brooks on Jan 21, 2013 at 8:02pm

boris i couldn’t agree more with the thrust of your article. transhumanism i feel is hitting a cieling of its own creation.

too much of trasnhumanism is foccussed on fantasy and as a result many important practical issues regarding our future are neglected because they don’t fit in the consistent immortality and enhancement themes of transhumanism.

some authors try to write on transhumanism and modern social themes, such as war, but come up short in their lack of treatment of the defficienies of transhumanism. i’m not sure so much that i am a transhumanist. i am a futurist and find that transhumanism has some interesting features in its conception. how can a technology oriented focus be integrated into a philosophical and social outlook. how to the normative concerns in each of these three areas ( our values ) balance with what we see as our predictions ( based on our best objective extrapolations from the past behavior of humanity in these three areas )

By zeev on Jan 23, 2013 at 8:21pm

Should we feel obligated to do our best to aid the singularity anyway? As little as we can help, shouldn’t help be the right thing to do? If it goes off wrong, bad things could happen, it should be monitored properly to prevent it falling into the wrong hands.

By Adam on Feb 05, 2013 at 7:31am

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