Thought — 4 Min Read

Human Enhancement

by Case Greenfield, August 12th, 2022

Thought – 4 Min Read

Human Enhancement

by Case Greenfield

August 12th, 2022

The new, dawning reality that I wrote about earlier will be a reality where some, and hopefully everyone, will be an improved version of ourselves through human enhancement in many dimensions. It is just going to happen, whether ethically good or not.

In my art I try to express the messy mixture of our daily reality, our self-created realities and a new, dawning reality. In this story I want to elaborate a bit on the dawning reality. In an earlier story, I wrote about the Immortalia scenario for humanity:

If you know my thinking a little bit by now, you won’t be surprised that I believe that it will be infinitely attractive to us as a species to go for the second of the four futures, Immortalia. We will try to rule over our planet, our solar system, and beyond. And we will try to engineer ourselves into Homo Deus, as Yuval Harari has called it.

I’m not saying that it is the best, most successful or most desirable scenario. I’m just saying that, knowing ourselves, this is what we will try. In fact, we are already on that path, we have been for many centuries now.

(‘Immortalia’ is the movement that believes in anthropo-centrism and that places man above all else. It is the movement towards the superhuman and trans-humanism. This movement reflects man’s obsession with living longer and longer and eventually becoming immortal.)

Immortalia is all about human enhancement: improving ourselves. It is nothing new, we have always done it. Since the Stone Age, we have made ourselves stronger (by natural selection and exercising), we have made ourselves more beautiful (through body paint, tattoos, etc), and we have made ourselves wiser (by learning). And today, we go to the gym, use nutrients like proteins, testosterone and worse to improve our body; we paint our hair, use make-up, have our teeth, breasts and other body parts made more beautiful; we pay outrageous amounts of money to attend ivy leage universities, we use brain stimulants – from sugar to cocaine and worse, and we experiment with connecting AI and the internet to our brains with BMI’s – Brain Machine Interfaces.

The 21st century will be the century of human enhancement.

So what different now? The new technologies, that we created to further enhance ourselves, are much more powerful. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia:

Existing technologies

Three forms of human enhancement currently exist: reproductive, physical, and mental. Reproductive enhancements include embryo selection by preimplantation genetic diagnosis, cytoplasmictransfer, and in vitro-generated gametes. Physical enhancements include cosmetics (plastic surgery & orthodontics), Drug-induced (doping & performance-enhancing drugs), functional (prosthetics & powered exoskeletons), Medical (implants (e.g. pacemaker) & organ replacements ( e.g. bionic lenses)), and strength training (weights (e.g. barbells) & dietary supplement)). Examples of mental enhancements are nootropics, neurostimulation, and supplements that improve mental functions. Computers, mobile phones, and Internet can also be used to enhance cognitive efficiency. Notable efforts in human augmentation are driven by the interconnected Internet of Things (IoT) devices, including wearable electronics (e.g., augmented reality glasses, smart watches, smart textile), personal drones, on-body and in-body nanonetworks.

Emerging technologies

Many different forms of human enhancing technologies are either on the way or are currently being tested and trialed. A few of these emerging technologies include: human genetic engineering (gene therapy), neurotechnology (neural implants and brain–computer interfaces), cyberware, strategies for engineered negligible senescence, nanomedicine, and 3D bioprinting.

Speculative technologies

A few hypothetical human enhancement technologies are under speculation, such as: mind uploading, exocortex, and endogenous artificial nutrition. Mind uploading is the hypothetical process of “transferring”/”uploading” or copying a conscious mind from a brain to a non-biological substrate by scanning and mapping a biological brain in detail and copying its state into a computer system or another computational device. Exocortex can be defined as a theoretical artificial external information processing system that would augment a brain’s biological high-level cognitive processes. Endogenous artificial nutrition can be similar to having a radioisotope generator that resynthesizes glucose (similarly to photosynthesis), amino acids and vitamins from their degradation products, theoretically availing for weeks without food if necessary.

There will be two ways to ‘enhance humans’: “augmentation” and “alteration“. Augmentation means adding technology to the body (and mind), eg. through chips or chemicals. Alteration means changing the body (and mind) itself, eg. by modifying DNA or conditioning the brain.

Personally, I think new technologies and techniques like DNA manipulation, eg. CRISPR, genetic engineering and application of artificial intelligence, AI (as an augmentation to the human brain) are potentially very impactful. And other forms of us interfering in (“speeding up”?) natural evolution. In short, as Yuval Harari calls it, the transition from organic life and intelligence (based on biology and evolution) to anorganic life and intelligence (based on biotech, technical engineering and AI).

And I am convinced the list will grow spectacularly in the next few decades. Why? Because it has always been, is and will always be infinitely attractive for us as a species to create a better, stronger, longer living and happier version of ourselves, creating the Übermensch. It is just going to happen.

I know, the term Übermensch is controversial, because it was used by the Nazi’s in a totally wrong way. And, to be honest, I’m afraid that risk still exists when we talk about human enhancement. Especially, because the rich are and will be more in a position to enhance themselves than the poor. It already starts with sending their children to the best schools and universities. Possibly leading to a social upper layer, as was nicely depicted in the movie Elysium. And let’s be honest again, a form of social upper layer somewhat like in the movie of course already exists.

Every technology, whether it is a simple knife, nuclear energy or AI, always is a two-sided sword: it can be used in a good and in a bad way. The problem with modern technologies is that the scale and impact of eg. nuclear and AI are much bigger than the impact of eg. a knife, both positively but also negatively.

So, there are always two sides. Here I talk about Übermensch the way German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche originally meant it: the Übermensch relates to humans the way humans relate to apes: ‘superhuman’, superior, better. That may be the ultimate objective of human enhancement. So, a radically improved version of ourselves (in the eyes of the human enhancement momevement). But the danger still exists.

Now, let me be very clear. I am absolutely not clear whether this is a good thing, whether it is desirable (at a personal level) and, most important, whether it is ethically desirable at all. We know what it lead to in the past. I’m just saying, that it will be infinitely desirable to improve ourselves – we already do it every day – and that with new technologies we will have unimaginable possibilities to do so. Who – and whether everyone – will benefit from it will be a big, big philosophical and ethical question.

So, the new, dawning reality will be a reality where some, and hopefully everyone, will be an improved version of ourselves in many dimensions. It is just going to happen, whether ethically good or not. When? Fifty years, hundred, two hundred? Who will say?

(After-thought) – Tonight, I incidentally watched a recent discussion between psychiater Slavoj Zizek and historian Yuval Harari. In the last ten or so minutes it gets really, really interesting: “What will be the consequence of enhancing ourselves into a drastically improved version of ourselves?

Well, we fundamentally do not know. It is a very risky endeavour, maybe the most dangerous endeavour ever in the history of the earth. Usually, such big undertakings end-up differently than intended, often exactly the opposite. And there is another point. What will happen if we succeed, and the new tools, technologies will fall in the wrong hands, in the hands of a new Stalin?” Übermensch after all?

And then I watched the discussion between AI expert Fei-Fei Li and Yuval Harari. Harari raises the question about combining AI and biotechnology. He thinks we are at the brink of a new philosophical paradigm. AI combined with biotech will give people the ability to fundamentally re-engineer the human race. The big question is how this will work out. Many people still believe in free will. But is there fundamentally a free will, at al? That is the first question. And the more practical observation is that even if there would be one, it is easily manipulated. Is the customer always right? Well, he or she is easily manipulated with marketing tricks. Is the voter always right? Wel he or she is easily manipulated, as the Cambridge Analytica case in the USA 2016 presidential elections – and many other similar cases – have shown.

And that is just the beginning. What will happen, if an AI – eg. the one of Facebook – knows you better than you know yourself? Meaning, the AI can better and faster accurately predict your behavior than you can yourself. And if someone – an evil person – owns this AI and wants to manipulate you? What happens then?

And there is this discussion between Daniel Kahneman and Yuval Harari about decision taking by humans being step-by-step replaced by decision taking by – or augmented with – AI algorithms. Hence, enhancing the thinking process, all together. Both agreed that AI will be much better at taking unbiased and noise free decisions than human beings. So, they agree, it is going to happen.

(And, of course, there are many more similar discussions.)

So what?

For me, as an artist, the big point is: how can I express he messy mixture of our daily reality, our self-created realities and this new, dawning reality in my art!

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(After-thought, August 30, 2022) – Climate change and global warming

It is absolutely clear to me that the seduction of human enhancement will be infinitely attractive to the human species. So, it will 99% sure happen and be the most significant development for the next fifty to three hundred years.

That is …

That is, if not global warming will have the dramatic effects on our lives, human life and all life on our tiny planet, the pale dot. I hope not, but I am more and more starting to believe that it will. And the results will be dramatic. Not the first order effects, such as heavy storms, heavy draughts, sea level rise.

No, the second and third order effects will be dramatic. People will panic, populations will start riots, huge populations will move around the globe, regions and countries will start wars. Collectively, we have not been rational enough to reduce climate change, collectively we will sure not be capable of staying calm and solve the many problems that will arise from it. It will be horror.

That is why we must reduce climate change and global warming now. Now! Now! With all that we have.

And if we don’t succeed, the term ‘human enhancement’ will get a totally different meaning.

(After-thought, September 24, 2022) – Uploading a brain will not happen

I read this article (The Empty Brain, Your brain does not process information, retrieve knowledge or store memories. In short: your brain is not a computer) about – among other things – uploading a brain into the internet, the cloud, the metaverse, or whatever digital realm. It convinced me: that is not going to happen.

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