On December 3 and 4, Humanity+ will host the first-ever transhumanist conference in Asia — Humanity+ Hong Kong, at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. We’ve got a great cast of speakers lined up — a mix of H+ regulars from the US and Europe, with new blood from Hong Kong and China. There are four sessions, covering life extension, artificial intelligence and robotics, the science of consciousness and spiritual experience, and “transformative technologies” ranging from startup countries to femtocomputing.
Videos of Conference talks and interviews:
You can find out more about the conference on the conference website, and I encourage you to register and come to Hong Kong to join the fun. This is going to be a great conference, and Hong Kong is a great place to visit! And if you really, really, really can’t make it, be sure to catch it on streaming video at the conference website. (Sure, if you’re American, the time zone is opposite yours, but what could be more fun than an all-nighter party sharing cognitive enhancers and watching H+ conference videos stream past?!)
In fact — casting all modesty aside in the interest of frankness and entertainment value — I’m going to make an argument that this is more than just a great conference … it may even be a sort of historic event! The first transhumanist conference in Asia, at this point in history, has more significance than would, say, the first transhumanist conference in Antarctica or Eastern Europe. This is because Asia — and especially China — plays a special role in the world today. This is why, in spite of an extremely busy schedule with various research and development projects, I decided to take the time to organize Humanity+ Hong Kong, together with the help of a lot of wonderful colleagues at Humanity+ and Hong Kong Poly U.
A great deal has been written about how the 21st century is going to be the Asia-Pacific Century — how Asia, especially China with its massive, well-educated and ambitious population, is increasingly going to dominate the world in many respects as the century progresses. I wrote a bit about this idea a couple years ago in my H+ Magazine article on the Chinese Singularity.
At the same time, techno-optimist and transhumanist visions of the future, like Kurzweil’s in “The Singularity is Near”, tend to largely overlook this aspect. This is partly because they are focusing on broader trends that transcend geopolitical particularities, and partly because they are largely concerned with extrapolating current specific science and technology trends into the future — and the majority of futuristic technologies in advanced stages of development today are, in fact, being developed mainly in the West, most of all in America. China, India, Korea, Singapore and other Asian nations are on the rise in many ways, and Japan remains powerful — but nevertheless, the list of the world’s top 100 universities is dominated by American schools; and American companies are still driving practical technology innovation more than those in any other nation.
But you don’t have to spend much time in major Asian hubs — Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Bangkok, Singapore, Taipei, Seoul, etc. — to feel the energy. I’m personally spending a lot of my time in Hong Kong these days, and I feel an energy in the business and technology world there that I haven’t felt in the US since the dot-com bubble burst a decade ago. My point isn’t just that there are swarms of smart young scientists and technologists in Asia, nor that there are wealthy bankers there eager to do all manner of business deals — my point is that there’s a feeling of enthusiasm and opportunity in the air, of openness to new ideas and prospects. This sort of feeling in itself won’t necessarily get you anywhere, but in this case it’s backed up by some fundamentals — like a solidly-educated Chinese population with a generally strong work ethic, rapidly and methodically becoming urbanized and modernized.
The Internet has had an amazingly strong effect on China, perhaps stronger than anywhere else in the world– because in China, the Internet has provided the younger generation with a window into the world outside their country, whereas (due to a combination of media and travel restrictions with cultural and practical factors) previous generations since the Communist Revolution had remarkably little contact with the world outside. But nevertheless, communication between East and West — and particularly between China and the West — is not what it could be, or should be.
Western scientific and technological achievements are well-documented worldwide, but Chinese scientists and technologists are largely unaware of the currents of thinking in the Western transhumanist community. And Western technologists and scientists are often oblivious to advances being made by their Chinese counterparts, in areas ranging from robotics and AI to stem cell therapy, genomics, nanotech, biofuels … you name it.
There is no single silver-bullet solution to this communication problem — it’s something that will get resolved over time, as communication technologies improve and cultures shift and more people move back and forth between Asia and the West. But every little step counts, as part of this overall process — and this is why conferences like Humanity+ @ Hong Kong are so interesting. By getting Eastern and Western scientists, technologists and futurist thinkers together in person, conceptual and cross-cultural bridges are built in a way that can’t happen via reading papers or sending emails. There’s no way to tell what collaborations and creative brainstorms will eventually emerge from the mental and social connections made at a conference like Humanity+ @ Hong Kong — but it’s easy to predict there will be plenty!
Ultimately, advanced technology is going to bring us to a point where differences between nations, parts of the globe, and human cultures are relatively insignificant, compared to the far broader and more fascinating horizons before us. But the path to this grand transhuman future, involves navigating a lot of complex practical and human issues that are bound up with current political, cultural and geographical realities. In my view, to have the best chance of creating and enjoying an amazing transhuman future, we should maximize the degree to which the whole human race is thinking about the problem of humanity’s future together. And that is why events like Humanity+ @ Hong Kong are not only fun but important.
See you in Hong Kong!