Jottings on science, religion, technology, pop culture and faith from the Antipodes.

AI/Robotics, Cyborg, Digital Technology, Research, Science & Technology, Transhumanism

Notes from the Transhuman Frontiers

I’ve spent a bit of time today going through web links that have been archived in the “Research” folder this year. Here’s a selection of things related to various technological and transhumanist fronts.

Whatever Happened to the Transhumanists?

George Dvorsky ponders what has happened to all the hype around transhumanism from the late 1990s through into the 2000s. His conclusion is that it is because some of those transhumanist visions have become actualised in parts (in medicine, for example), but also because people have lost hope in technology in the face of problems like global warming.

What was once a piercing roar has retreated to barely discernible background noise. Or at least that’s how it currently appears to me. For reasons that are both obvious and not obvious, explicit discussions of “transhumanism” and “transhumanists” have fallen by the wayside.

The reason we don’t talk about transhumanism as much as we used to is that much of it has become a bit normal — at least as far as the technology goes, as Anders Sandberg, a senior research fellow from the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, told me.

“We live lives online using wearable devices (smartphones), aided by AI and intelligence augmentation, virtual reality is back again, gene therapy and RNA vaccines are a thing, massive satellite constellations are happening, drones are becoming important in warfare, trans[gender] rights are a big issue, and so on,” he said, adding: “We are living in a partially transhuman world.” At the same time, however, the transhumanist idea to “deliberately embrace the change and try to aim for such a future has not become mainstream,” Sandberg said.

George Dvorsky, Whatever Happened to the Transhumanists? (2022)

Beyond our ‘ape-brained meat sacks’: can transhumanism save our species?

In this interview piece, Celina Ribeiro engages in conversation with Oxford University transhumanist Elise Bohan about her hopes and fears about the future. The ‘God language’ being used is what got me interested in this area back in the mid-90s.

Souls, she admits, is a loaded word. But without an alternative vocabulary for what makes consciousness, she is not averse to using spiritual language.

“Is transhumanism encroaching on domains that religion has traditionally held? I think yes.”

When Bohan was a PhD student, she gave her first big paper at a conference. Afterwards, a biologist came up to her and congratulated her on her work.

“Then he looked me in the eye and whispered to me: ‘We’re building God, you know,’” she chuckles. “I looked back at him and I said: ‘Yeah, I know.’”

They knew they didn’t mean it as religion, she says. “But a lot of what has been talked about in religion – omniscience, omnipotence, hopefully omni-benevolence – we are at least getting closer to that all seeing, all knowing, all exploring [force].”

Who controls that force or those forces is, of course, a critical question. The early 21st century’s rapid growth in technology has seen power and wealth accumulate and concentrate among a small number of predominantly white men. A criticism levelled at transhumanists is that they never quite stopped clinging to the sci-fi that fascinated them as young boys.

Elise Bohan in Celina Ribeiro, Beyond our ‘ape-brained meat sacks’: can transhumanism save our species?, (2022)

Faith in the metaverse: A VR quest for community, fellowship

In this article from the start of the year, Luis Andres Henao explores the ways in which American churches and Christians are experimenting with virtual church communities, sacraments, and relationality.

He’s among many Americans — some traditionally religious, some religiously unaffiliated — who are increasingly communing spiritually through virtual reality, one of the many evolving spaces in the metaverse that have grown in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ranging from spiritual meditations in fantasy worlds to traditional Christian worship services with virtual sacraments in hyperrealistic, churchlike environments, their devotees say the experience offers a version of fellowship that’s just as genuine as what can be found at a brick-and-mortar temple.

LUIS ANDRES HENAO, Faith in the metaverse: A VR quest for community, fellowship (2022)

Does Artificial Intelligence Change Our Understanding of the Imago Dei?

A thought piece by Sara Lumbreras exploring possible relationships between artificial intelligence and human uniqueness seen in interpretations of the image of God. Of interest for me because of my own work in this area.

However, if we affirm that the developments of AI demonstrate that any human capability is attainable by the machines, then our unique role in creation will need to be shared with the spiritual machines. The machines would share Imago Dei, even according to the relational interpretation, at least to a degree depending on their specific characteristics. If successfully built one day, humans would have performed the most radical act of creativity, fulfilling their role as, in Hefner’s terminology, created co-creators. The machines, in turn, would join us as a second generation of created co-creators. This possibility opens new questions regarding how these new beings should be designed and how we should relate to them. Thus, the dialogue between the concept of Imago Dei and recent developments in AI have deep implications for Christian anthropology, morality and our relationship with technology, and a deeper reflection on this topic can lead to fruitful outcomes.

Sara Lumbreras, Does Artificial Intelligence Change Our Understanding of the Imago Dei?, (2022)

A transhuman biohacker implanted over 50 chips and magnets in her body

A brief biohacking piece by Deena Theresa examining how various people implant technology in their bodies in experiments that connect to novelty, utility, and playfulness.

“It’s not really about my personal relationship with technology. It’s more like the relationship with technology that I’ve seen, for other humans. I grew up around the time when technology was becoming more present in our lives…and it had a lot of potentials to help people’s lives. That’s what transhumanism is – the use of technology to improve the quality of life. And I’ve tried to do that in some small way and spread knowledge on the same,” she says.

Lepht Anonym quoted by Deena Theresa, A transhuman biohacker implanted over 50 chips and magnets in her body (2022)

The Wearable Cyberpunk Future on the Horizon

And, finally, a light piece by Cameron Coward looking at the current state of wearable technology.