Tuesday, 4 September 2007

MS-352 Virtual Life week 7

7. ‘ shortly after, the human era will be ended…’: TRANSHUMANISM, POSTHUMANS AND ‘THE SINGULARITY’

Over the last few decades a new philosophical movement has gained attention. New technologies, their rapid development and their potential to transform our world have inspired the emergence of ‘transhumanist’ or ‘posthumanist’ thought. The terms themselves are often treated identically as describing the broad position that technology will propel a new evolution of our species beyond the traditional definition of the human, although sometimes the terms are distinguished, with transhumanism representing a movement pushing for the evolution of the human into the ‘posthuman’. At the heart of the transhumanist’s hopes are a range of technologies, in the short term these involve advanced computing power and cyborg technologies but in the long term they look forward to the cumulative impact of artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and genetic engineering. This GNR revolution (genetics, nanotechnology and robots) will, according to thinkers like Kurzweil, propel the human into realms and worlds and experiences and possibilities that we can currently only dream about. The point at which these technologies begin to impact on each other, pushing each other forward exponentially is known as ‘the spike’ (as its path is represented on a graph as an upward curve) and the point at which everything will have changed is known as ‘the singularity’. For the transhumanists we can’t even imagine now what will happen after that: it is the limit point of our present thought. This lecture will build on our discussions of transhumanist ideas so far (such as in debates around virtual reality and the work of thinkers such as Moravec) and critically introduce and explore the transhumanist philosophy.


On ‘the singularity’ and ‘the spike’

Broderick, D. (2001) The Spike, New York: Tom Doherty Associates LCC.

Vinge, V. (1993) ‘The Technological Singularity’, lecture at VISION-21 Symposium sponsored by NASA Lewis Research Centre and the Ohio Aerospace Institute, 30-31st March, at: http://mindstalk.net/vinge/vinge-sing.html
and http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/vinge/misc/singularity.html

On posthumanism:

Bostrom, N. – homepage of Nick Bostrom at: http://www.nickbostrom.com/ with a lot of transhumanist resources.

(2005) ‘A History of Transhumanist Thought’, at: http://www.nickbostrom.com/papers/history.pdf

(2003) ‘Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?’ at:

Bostrom, N. and Pearce, D. (2002) ‘The Transhumanist Declaration’, at:

(2005) ‘World Transhumanist Association’, Homepage, at:

Drexler, E. (2005) Engines of Creation, at:

FM-2030 (2005) ‘FM-2030’, at: http://www.fm2030.com/index2.cfm

Joy, B. (2000) ‘Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us’, in Wired, 8.04, at:

Kelly, K. (1995) Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World, New York: Perseus Books.

Kurzweil, R. (1999) The Age of Spiritual Machines, London: Orion Business Books.

(2005) ‘Human 2.0’, in New Scientist, 24th September, pp. 32-7. See also: http://www.smh.com.au/news/next/human-20/2005/10/24/1130006035858.html

(2005) ‘KurzweilAI.net’, Homepage, at: http://www.kurzweilai.net/index.html

(2005) The Age of Intelligent Machines, at: http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?m=12

(2005) The Singularity is Near, London: Gerald Duckworth and Co. Ltd.

(2003) ‘Human Body Version 2.0’, at: http://lifeboat.com/ex/human.body.version.2.0

Mazlish, B. (1993) The Fourth Discontinuity: The Co-evolution of Humans and Machines, London: Yale University Press.

More, M. – Max More’s personal webpage at: http://www.maxmore.com/

(1994) ‘On Becoming Posthuman’, at:

(1997) ‘Beyond the Machine’, at: http://www.maxmore.com/machine.htm

(2003) ‘The Principles of Extropy’, Version 3.11, at:

(2005) ‘Extropy Institute’, Homepage, at: http://www.extropy.org/About.htm

Naam. R. (2005) More Than Human. Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement, London: Broadway Books.

Richards, J. W. (ed.) (2002) Are We Spiritual Machines? Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong AI, Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute Press.

Stock, G. (2003) Redesigning Humans. Our Inevitable Genetic Future, New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Vinge, V. (2001) True Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier, New York: Tom Doherty Associates, pp. 241-330 [1981]. Available at: http://home.comcast.net/~kngjon/truename/truename.html

Vita-More, N. – Natasha Vita-More’s webpage at: http://natasha.cc/
(-) ‘The Transhumanist Culture’ at: http://natasha.cc/transhumanistculture.htm

Really, this is just the beginning of what’s available on the net. I’d advise sticking to the idea s of the most famous transhumanists – Moravec, Kurzweil, Bostrom, the Mores etc. as recognised thinkers in the movement and be careful of the fringe commentary on this fringe movement… For a critique of transhumanism/posthumanism look to the work of Davis, Dery, Fukuyama and Hayles:

Davis, E. (1988) Techngnosis, London: Serpent’s Tail.

Dery, M. (1996) Escape Velocity, London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Fukuyama, F. (2002) Our Posthuman Future, London: Profile Books.

Hayles, N. K. (1999) How We Became Posthuman, London: The University of Chicago Press.
(2005) ‘Computing the Human’, in Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 22 (1): 131-

Look up news stories over the last few years on nanotechnology, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, prosthetics, cyborg technology and neuroscience for more information about posthuman developments.

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