ACM - Computers in Entertainment

Transhumanism: Today’s Tomorrow

By Brendan Anduze

The following is Brendan Anduze's review of Chapter 28 of the book "Google It: Total Information Awareness" published by Springer Science+Business Media. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

According to Bruere, transhumanism is a reaction to the current state of humanity, in which the world's abundance of developing technology has granted us with almost all the answers but little use for them. It seems that as we inch closer and closer to our technological apex, we will soon have to face a difficult decision. If technology doesn't lead to humanity's evolution, it will most certainly lead to our extinction. As predicted by the earliest and most prominent science fiction authors, it will play a major role in this decision.

Bruere is most concerned with asking us if we as a species are ready to evolve and if so, how do we? Many believe that technology is what has, in many ways, "dumbed down" humanity. What began as tools to make manual labor more bearable has expanded into factories, medicine, entertainment, and lifestyles. Because services and information are at our fingertips, the lack of effort has made us not only stupid and lazy, but easily persuaded and susceptible to outside influence. A key example of how the access to vast information has, in fact, caused widespread ignorance would be the recent presidential election in which false news stories were widely circulated across the internet, namely through Facebook. Bruere, however, suggests otherwise. People have always been this stupid, but new technology has granted many with platforms for them to broadcast from or invest in.

The opening of Bruere's argument recounted his adolescence and being the subject of ignorance driven violence: schoolyard bullying. This was the golden era of "boys will be boys" as a reality instead of a television cliché. It was the culture of the time, primarily across western/ european civilizations. A homogenous brand of aggressive stupidity that dressed up our most primitive traits in suits and skirts and normalized them. In 2016, these traits came up victorious in the form of a bad hair piece with an orange spray-tan after liberal progressiveness had been thought to be the beacon moving forward. Bruere described the irony of his adolescent education, citing teachers who would stifle student learning by discouraging free thought. Television was becoming more affordable for families, soon becoming the number one source of entertainment and news. It was a new friend and teacher in the dawning age of the technological lifestyle. Television brought about two distinct observations in developing human intelligence.

First, it was a means to distract the populous from the horrors of the world. Bruere described watching his parents get sucked into evening programs every night, curious to know what they found so interesting in the glowing idiot box. Second, it took the errs of society and presented them as relatable and welcomed characters. Sexism, racism, threats of domestic abuse as  comedy, all of these societal norms were reinforced through television. It's a small seed that would constantly change and grow throughout its development, sometimes making headway into smarter programming while occasionally taking several steps backward, eventually opening a doorway for a reality TV star to gain access to the most powerful position in the world. Bruere believed that new technology (namely lifestyle-driven technology) was responsible for heightening our species' preexisting ignorance. It didn't cause it, per se, but it certainly amplified the banality of our existence. This, combined with humanity's general (and growing) laziness, was enough to signal that we were in desperate need of an upgrade.

Much of what Bruere practiced was social interaction. In order to avoid the discomfort that comes with big thinking and critical discussion, he learned the body language and conversation points of those around him. Human interaction is about moving from one chemically induced experience to the next and putting up with everything that comes in between. Psychoactive drugs, such as marijuana and LSD, were and remain popular as a way to bring people together in order to set them adrift mentally and internally with themselves. Where many abuse these psychedelics for dopamine delights, others have turned to them to expand their consciousness and intelligence. "If meditation was a candle in the darkness LSD was like a nuclear explosion" (Bruere). His first of multiple trips brought him his most heightened and introspective moment of his life. He doesn't specify if he began his trip with questions, but he came out with one of life's most obvious but well kept secrets. This "reality" is as far from normal as our physical world permits us.

Everything that has led us to our current position and will lead us to the next is part of a large and convoluted accident. Life, society, and culture is built on trial and error, but we as a species and culture are more defined by our mistakes than our virtues. Why not the other way around? Because, as Bruere clearly states, the world was built on (and will continue to build on) the stupidity of the majority. Currently, and for decades, our world has lived in a skewed symbiotic relationship between the highly intelligent and the masses. The intelligent give the masses means to live and platforms to stand on while the masses ensure that our population doesn't dwindle. To clarify, I am not saying the highly intelligent are the ones in power. They are simply the hidden lubricant in the system. They are the authors, innovators, inventors, artists, and creative directors that have secretly facilitated our lives forever. There are times when the scales are most certainly off balance. Sometimes, the creations of these men and women are implemented in ways that they were never intended, or for purposes shaped by the masses instead. Such is the development of nuclear bombs, a concept that created our biggest and most powerful scientific feat for the use of something as stupid and barbaric as war.

Right now, in the beginning of 2017, we can see that this relationship is no longer working out. Last year's presidential election perfectly encapsulated this dynamic. Never has there been such a distinct and powerful difference between two candidates. Clinton, a natural elitist, represented a sleek and modern intelligence. Whether or not you agree with her platform and policies, there is no denying that she is a deeply intelligent woman - and that seemed threatening to many. It was the image of being calculated and in constant thought that ultimately made her seem impersonal and even condescending - which potentially lost her the election. Trump, on the other hand, is an elitist who managed to disguise himself as a fighter for blue collar workers. He appealed to the rash, often testosterone fueled ignorance of people who are constantly told the world is against them without any authentic form of proof. He helped to ferment a paranoia amongst lower class white people that Clinton would bring about a new era that would favor the concerns of minorities over them. They were to be left behind, the existential crisis of becoming obsolete in a progressive America. Because of these instilled thoughts, a billionaire successfully fooled half our country into believing he was one of them, and he used a platform that appealed to the base values of many uneducated people. The fact that his victory was aided by false news only solidifies this point. This election made one thing perfectly clear, there is now a divide growing between the rational and the reacting. Some who voted against her, saw Clinton as a threat to their "traditional" values whereas Trump presented a path to take back many of these lost "values". Suddenly, the words "liberal" and "conservative" became weaponized insults thrown from one side to the other, endlessly.

There is a growing war between those with a rationality to think things through, and those with blind faith who react and follow. Because of this divide, we cannot collectively evolve to a higher intelligence. There are some who will be left behind. Ignorance made its biggest victory in November by managing to take steps backward when we were supposed to be at the height of social and intellectual progression. I will note that there is a large group of people who voted for Trump even though they didn't like him. It was the contrasting image of Clinton that ultimately persuaded their choice - in part with an unsettling distillation of "Party Politics". This is not a war between Republicans and Democrats, although news seems to shape it as such. This is far more complex. It's a fight between morals and values, between forward thinking and "in the moment", between selfishness and selflessness. Collectively, we have entangled ourselves, our history and future, our cultures and identities, into a giant messy web. We have now discovered an immensely divided world that has been bubbling beneath our feet for ages. There are no more opportunities for civil discourse when everyone is talking, even yelling, over one another. We need to be guided as one in order to make it past this mess and evolve. It is time for the intelligent to make the next move.

We have reached the peak of our biological evolution as earthbound humans. If we do not vacate the planet or die from nuclear annihilation, the carbon footprint that is our species' greatest achievement will poison us to extinction. The evolution that Bruere addresses is driven by our intelligence and technology, not our genetics. We have come as far as humans possibly can. Our legacy will largely depend on our future creations rather than our heritage and history. In order to transcend humanity, we must become gods.

This was Bruere's proposal, whether or not he said it so bluntly. Technology and innovation have always been an extension of human capabilities. Defined by these terms, Bruere is correct to believe that our only logical step forward would be through such innovation. His suggestion? Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). Though our output of new technology continues to build upon itself exponentially, we are still very far from true A.I. as a reality. What truly separates God from man is the ability to create free thought, or the illusion of it. Consciousness that, on average, is more intelligent, resourceful, and empathetic than our own. "It has been said that we are a halfway stage between apes and angels. I say it is time to edit out the ape and enhance the angelic qualities, which are the things which truly distinguish us as Human" (Bruere).

Although I fully understand Bruere's argument for the creation of Artificial Intelligence, I do not agree with him entirely. What makes Bruere a "Transhumanist" is his belief that the traits that define humanity are love, intelligence, and morality. Depression, grief, and anger are primitive emotions, and are ultimately what keep our species from evolving. According to Bruere, these are the things that cause stupidity and ignorance in the modern world, it's what bigotry and violence feed off of. The only way to move forward, to make humans reach full potential, is to create consciousness stripped of these primitive feelings. To an extent, I agree  with him. It astonishes me that humans haven't matured past concepts of murder and rape, but I argue that traits like anger, fear, and depression are important human flaws. They may not be the best attributes man can offer, but these are the traits that ultimately define us as deep characters  in life. They make us authentic. We learn from them. They shape us as people, for better and for worse.

Bruere believes that when Artificial Intelligence is a fully realized part of life, and humans have successfully created consciousness, that these creations will only be able to experience empathy, restraint, and love. But true consciousness allows room for free will, which can lead to confusion, fear, anger, and resentment. Personally, I don't think our technology could quite reach that extent. Likely not in my lifetime if at all. I think our culture is aware that our future is being shaped more and more by the dangers of international politics and climate change than by lifestyle advances through technology. Gone are the family value fantasies of The Jetsons, here are the colder, bleaker, and more lethal futuristic interpretations of Phillip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury, the worlds of Mad Max and Children of Men. We, as a species, may not have the time to put forth scientific effort into something like A.I. when there are more serious issues at hand. The nuclear option feels closer now than ever before. Climate Change is now irreversible. Artificial Intelligence is as much of a pipe dream now as it is a plot point in science fiction. But, on the off chance that it could happen, I don't think it should. We should implement technology to help our species without replacing it.

I am not a transhumanist. Although I acknowledge the many problems with our species, I don't believe replacing us coincides with evolution. Stupidity is abundant, and its tenacity is abundantly clear. But, like all problems, it deserves a deep understanding that Bruere seems to abandon. I am an existentialist. I am as equally concerned with our purpose, my own purpose, and where we will inevitably end and what it will mean to whoever or whatever comes next. It is easy to forget that you aren't alone when considering the world and people around you. Because we think to ourselves so often, we tend to believe that the most interesting conversation in the world is in our minds. And because of this inner monologue, everyone else is nothing more than a face and a statistic. This is why it is so easy to dismiss the thoughts and actions of others, they do not seem completely real because they belong to somebody else. Nobody, no matter who, will never be as simple to understand as you believe them to be.

Bruere claims that one of the angelic qualities humanity must strive for is empathy, but he spends most of his argument railing against his targets. He clearly has a deeper understanding of himself than he does of most people, which is fine, but contradictory to his point. I too believed that this inner consciousness, and my ability to debate against myself and think rationally, was somehow a sign that I was smarter and more likely to survive than anyone else I knew. I thought the interests my parents held were defining their personalities. That arguing smugly with them and professors was a trait of intelligence instead of arrogance. But I was wrong. These assumptions do nothing but further distance yourself from the world and your relationships. Because, whether or not you believe it, everyone feels this way. Everyone has experienced frustration and anger because the person next to them expresses "stupidity". This sense of entitlement is just another one of humanity's perfect flaws. It is perfectly okay to feel this way, just as it is to feel fear, anger, and grief, just as long as you are aware others feel it too.

If we are going to evolve as a species, we must do it together. Humans serve a bigger purpose than trading in our flesh for silicone and our gray matter for circuitry. We may not have figured out that purpose yet, but creating conscious life could be our biggest downfall if it isn't our greatest achievement. What happened to the gods before us? What will happen to us and the gods after us if we mess up? We've been lucky so far despite the creation of nuclear warheads, there is no need to add more potentially dangerous technology to our culture. We must focus on what we already have at hand in order to fix the things that lay before us. I believe that, over a long time and with much effort, we will be able to surgically remove violence, hatred, and apathy from our coding without getting rid of grief, depression, fear, and anger. Because if we lose those precious things that make us flawed, we lose what makes us human. Without them, we'll have nothing to learn from and nowhere to go.