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Transhuman: The Face of Things to Come?

by Peter Topolewski

Besides millennial angst and facile introspection, the approach of the Year 2000 also led "futurologists", tech pundits, and social commentators to speculate on humanitys fate. And despite the childishness of much of the latter speculation, something worthwhile did emerge from all the hype: a few optimistic scenarios which see technological advance as a key to renewed personal freedom.

The Year 2000 seemed to register in our unconscious that the future is now, so among techies and new media gurus the watchword of the day became convergence. Like most new cliches, convergence suffers from such overuse as to defy definition, but nonetheless has often served as a starting point to discuss advances in the Internet, bio-tech, computing powerand how all these and more will, sooner than we think, lead to bio-machines, conscious robots, and immortality.

Up to and somehow through the onset of 2000, discussion of these predictions has widened, but in unusual ways. Sci-fi buffswho have been keenly tracking technological advances and quietly advocating changes in ethics and education which will make spacecraft and brain implants available to them ASAPhave succeeded mostly in attracting more sci-fi buffs. Meanwhile the scientists making the new discoveries and new tools generally publicize the specifics of their work without providing educated guesses as to where they could lead, leaving that to quasi-colleagues who coolly assure readers of esoteric journals and less-read books that inevitably all this research will lead to intellectually superior robots wiping out humanity. Mainstream media outlets pick up the subject and, awestruck by such discoveries as those made in genetics, present them in a manner that leaves no doubt of an unshakable faith in the infallibility of science.

Oh, Joy!

Now were well into March 2000 and should be glad to see that Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems has put the subject of technology-and-the-future in the mainstream, and more importantly has tackled it himself with greater detail than usual. His longish essay, "Why the Future Doesn't Need US", in a recent issue of Wired recounts how not too long ago he realized he was a man who, to paraphrase him, could build the tools that will build the robots that overthrow mankind. Where atomic-sized machines and artificial intelligence were once the exclusive domain of science fiction, today they are front-page concerns of Wired magazine and, according to Joy, realities  with all their pros and cons  within thirty years.

Joys essay is a welcome warning to scientists and capitalists looking to alter nature with too little foresight. It is far more valuable, however, if it brings attention to a small but growing contingent of people pushing for life-altering technological advances while working to prevent the disasters they could make possible. Transhumanists are people who hope to benefit from technology that will eliminate aging and enhance mans intellectual, physical, and psychological capabilities. Molecular nanotechnology for instance could one day give people control over the reactions in their bodies and thereby eliminate disease. Transhumanists have dedicated themselves to studying such radical changes before they occur by examining the potential benefits and dangers of applying science and technology to breaking through current human limitations, to in fact making us something beyond human. This outlook, which like humanism holds the individual in a cherished position, views the use of technology to create transhumans as a natural part of evolution.

According to some of the more general transhumanist literature available on the Web, transhumanists do not follow any particular politics but cover the spectrum. If anything, transhumanist writings which advocate both democracy and freedom in the same sentence probably signal political confusion. But a branch of the transhumanist movement, extropianism, has more to say about politics and more lucidly than their other transhumanist counterparts.


Extropianism is based on seven principles: perpetual progress, self-transformation, practical optimism, intelligent technology, open society, self direction, and rational thinking. At its heart extropianism rejects authoritarian social control in favor of decentralized power and the rule of law. In the technological advances that can transform humans  be it into immortal biomachines  extropians see the transformation of social interaction and thus the possibility for people to fully reclaim individual liberty.

While obviously I do not claim to speak for all extropians, I can outline some of their guiding ideals, particularly with regard to one of their most cherished values: individual liberty. Generally extropians believe that as technology grants individuals increased physical and mental capacities, they will have a greater opportunity to break the almost universal assumption that the law rests in the power of the state. Extropians simply do not accept that rights are handed down from a "state" but are granted by the assumption and acknowledgment of personal responsibility. Thus, enhanced humans with enhanced capacities interacting in an environment of mutually assumed responsibility and reciprocity would have no use for state-created laws. Dispute resolution would fall into the sole purview of private mediators, not by force but by necessity.

The extropian take on the future of law, and the states irrelevance in relation to it, is typical I think of the extropian prediction for the individual. With increased abilities to think, communicate, and imagine  to an extent beyond our present power to guess  transhumans of the future will simply bypass governments. Governments will fall into disuse, and without any juicy bait will lose their power to dictate. Theyll be dictated to, if they dont fade away first.

Its interesting that Bill Joy writes as though robots, through mass self-replication, will inevitably rule the earth. Probably a purposeful attempt to scare us into averting such a destiny. Extropian writing on the other hand is pervaded by an unstated belief in the inevitability of progress while it acknowledges the fine line humans must walk to avert technologically driven doom. Joys efforts might be valuable but they dont necessarily fall in synch with extropianism. It seems his best case scenario for the future, with all its technological pros and cons in place, is a utopia based on altruism. Extropians see a rosy future built on individual freedom.

If Joy and extropians fail to educate each in their own way  that is, if we fail to avert a massive, uncontrollable self-replication of nano-machines, robots, or whatever  were in for an ironic future. Our evolution over the next thirty years will be an evolution from state tyranny to automated tyranny.

Be glad extropians have joined the freedom fight. They already push for strong encryption.


Peter Topolewski was born in Canada in 1972. Against the odds that seem stacked against everyone at birth, he is just now beginning to learn that the society and system of authority one is born into is not the society and system of authority one must accept. He lives and works in Vancouver, where his corporate communications company is based. His email address is

-- Jim Morris (aka SuperLuminal) (, March 20, 2000


Here is the link to the original article:

Transhuman: The Face of Things to Come?

-- Jim Morris (aka SuperLuminal) (, March 20, 2000.

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