Posted: Tue, November 27, 2012 | By: James Hutton
Of all the places and situations people were in when they became Transhumanists, mine may have been one of the strangest. My family and I were Christian missionaries in Tajikistan, and they didn’t know it yet, but I was having doubts. I had read accounts of how the people of this country had spent millennia leading short, backbreaking lives, punctuated by epidemics and huge child mortality. Then I saw first-hand how the arrival of the Soviets and their hospitals and schools and technology had brought, (at least in the post-Stalin years), unprecedented increases in nearly all societal metrics. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, Tajikistan was plunged into ruinous civil war, and the people’s health and standards of living fell, this was followed by slightly over a decade of peace, and slowly the standards of living began to rise again. The wellbeing of the people seemed to be correlated to their access to technological progress, and where was God in all of this? I seemed to be on the wrong side.
I don’t remember exactly why I bought Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near but I do remember reading it on my laptop in the dark because the power was out, (we had a lot of power cuts), and I remember finishing the book and realising my life would never be the same again. If I hadn’t spent the last two years of life in a country that could’ve been rich, but for the lack of access to technology and infrastructure, I may not have understood it as instinctively as I did. But I knew that technological progress was the key to… well, just about everything. It was by improving technology and access to that technology that life expectation, wealth, happiness, productivity and overall quality of life increased. I also knew I couldn’t do what I was doing anymore. We had to go back to New Zealand, and I needed my life to go in a completely different direction.
Over the course of that next year, I lost my faith entirely, and with it my direction and purpose in life. I also nearly lost my marriage too, but we’ve come through that. After a few months in New Zealand I realised I wanted to become a Counselor, to help others who had been through life changing shifts in perception, and had lost things with it along the way. So I began working towards that, signing up to do a degree, and all the time I stayed lurking around the fringes of the transhumanist scene, reading and learning.
So it was natural for me to start to put the two together, counseling and transhumanism. I’ve always been good at listening and connecting with people, so I found myself thinking about what the impacts of these highly disruptive technologies will be on people and their families. I began thinking about how I could help people through some of these problems.
My wife is pretty wary of anything related to body modification or life extension, and we’ve already had some tense conversations about it. I can foresee issues ahead, and if it’s happening for us, it must be happening for many others too. I know that on websites like this one we spend a lot of time thinking about these transhumanist technologies and we’ve become used to them, but for most people technology just happens to them, and they aren’t prepared for it. We’re going to begin to see a lot of relationships get into trouble when these technologies start changing people, and others aren’t ready for it. We hear a lot of talk about existential threats to humanity, but what about filial threats, or others? Most us live within complex social networks, and the reactions to our new bionic legs, or 200 year lifespan are going to be varied, some enthusiastic, some hostile, and everything in between.
As of right now, a lot of this is academic. I don’t see these technologies really arriving until the early 2020’s, which gives us time to prepare, (and me to get qualifications), but I do believe it’s something that those of us who are pondering these problems should spend the intervening time preparing for.
I began thinking of some of these issues that are going to arrive for thousands of people when these disruptive technologies hit mainstream. I’ve outlined below a few potential client types, and their situations:
GARY, 34: Gary is a transhumanist who has been in the scene for years. He’s married to Diane, who never paid much attention to Gary’s online community, figuring it was just a hobby. Recently, Gary took a trip to Thailand and came back with eyeball implants, allowing him to overlay a virtual layer onto the real world, and respirocytes in his blood, allowing him to hold his breath for an hour. Now he says his wife won’t go near him, and calls him ‘robot’ and ‘that thing.’
DIANE, 35: Diane is married to Gary, and they have two beautiful children and she has always worked hard to create the perfect family and home life for Gary. Recently he went to Thailand, telling her it was to meet up with old friends; instead he came back with mechanical ‘things’ in him. Now she can see tiny lights in his eyes when she’s close to him, and he doesn’t seem human to her anymore. She’s moved into the spare room, and doesn’t want the children near Gary, as she doesn’t trust him not to hurt them.
VIRGINIA, 77: Virginia has been married to David for just over 50 years, and they’ve raised 4 kids together, through good times and bad. Watching their 10 grandchildren grow up, Virginia missed being able to run around with them, so she jumped at the chance to have some rejuvenation work done. Now she has the body of someone in their 30’s and she’s out every chance she gets. Her husband is horrified, and feels betrayed and left behind. He refuses to be rejuvenated, and has completely withdrawn from her.
DAVID, 79: David has been married to Virginia for most of his life. He worked hard at the Ford factory for decades to give her and their children a decent life. They had always promised each other they were going to grow old together, and now, having done everything that was expected of a man, Virginia has betrayed him. She’s turned herself into something unnatural and has gone completely insane. She spends her days going out to concerts and playing around in virtual reality while completely ignoring him and treating him like a caveman, after he’s spent his life working for her.
MADISON, 18: Madison now spends nearly all of her time in a virtual world. It’s a complete real time simulation of Earth, except it has, in her words, “no limitations, no scarcity, no pain, and no suffering; it’s perfect”. All of her friends are there, and she owns big houses, fast cars and can do whatever she wants, all day. Real life time is only for sleeping and eating, and she resents having to do that. She’s annoyed that her parents can’t understand why she’d want to live in virtual reality, and doesn’t see any practical different between it and reality. They’ve threatened to disown her if she continues.
SCOTT, 47, and BARBARA, 46: Their daughter, Madison, is addicted to a drug far more potent and deadly that cocaine, heroin and meth put together. This virtual world has robbed their daughter of her life, her prospects, and everything they’d hoped for her. She’s emaciated, unkempt, and has no interest in life outside of that game anymore. They want to support her, but the emotional toll on them is so great, they don’t think they can do so much longer.
Those were just a few of the scenarios I’ve imagined. I hope it was obvious that I was presenting two sides of the same coin for each scenario. I was reporting their situations as if each one was a client of mine, and I had made notes on what they had told me. I feel that most scenarios that play out like these will hinge on the perception each party has of the situation, and it will be important for people to see others’ perspectives and to empathise with each other. I see “transhumanist counseling” as working with people from both sides, and trying to get them to come to an agreement and understanding.
I also tried to get across the suddenness of these technologies arriving in people’s lives and upsetting the apple cart. In general, people don’t look ahead to anticipate technology, it just happens to them. Most people only discovered smartphones when someone showed them one in real life, and these technologies will likely be no different. People will have very little time to react and evaluate the significance and meaning of these things in their lives.
So that’s basically where I’ve got to in regards to transhumanist counseling. If it all sounds very fledgling and embryonic that’s because it is. So far it’s mostly been me and my thoughts, although others within the Zero State organisation have been very encouraging and helpful in exploring ways this field could be expanded.
So I’m putting out the call to anyone who found this brief article resonated with them, and would like to get in touch with me to take this further. If you’re reading this and thinking “I wonder if he’s thought of…” chances are I haven’t. I’d love to hear to from you, and discuss ideas together. There are also new techniques that will need to be developed, new concepts of self and understanding ourselves to be explored, and it would be great to talk to non-westerners about different ideas around the self, and relating to the wider community. I’d love to hear from women and people in different life situations, and expand this topic together.
And finally, if you’d just like to talk about some of these issues I’ve brought up, I’d love to hear from you. It won’t be “therapy”, just a sympathetic and interested ear that can possibly give you another perspective. Contact me directly at jamesh9000(at)gmail(dot)com or Skype me at jjehutton, (although I’m really bad at remembering to be on Skype), and we can continue this conversation. Also, if you’re already a member at Zero State, feel free to talk to me there, either on the facebook page or the mailing list, and if you’re not a member, join up, and we can keep throwing ideas around with the input of others, as it’s a great, encouraging place to incubate ideas together.