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Will Transhumans Be Transocial?

Transhumanism has been defined by Humanity+ as the intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities, as well as the study of the ramifications, promises, and potential dangers – and the ethical matters involved in developing and using – such technologies. Humanity+ also sees Transhumanism as a transitional step to Posthumanism – a future point in our enhanced evolutionary where the divergence from humanity as defined today would be hard for us to envision.

I’ve been considering the longer-term Transhuman future, and here have broadened the scope of inquiry to include not just changes to genotype and phenotype, but also our evolutionary biology-based hierarchical group-forming behavior. Humans are – along with several other intelligent species, including primates, elephants, cetaceans, and others – a social species. That is, each group of individuals has a periodically-replaced alpha leader; neurobiology evolved to enhance recognition of same-species individuals, learned behavior transmitted though culture, and other salient characteristics.

The genome is not a deterministic machine operating to organize itself in a defined pattern. Rather, it evolves according to natural, sexual and – in the minds of some, such as the often-controversial biologist Edward O. Wilson – group selection. Moreover, a gene that expresses as a physiological or behavioral trait can be associated with another gene such that the former essentially “piggybacks” on the latter. This implies that extensive inheritable genomic engineering could, intentionally or otherwise, modify not only those genes that express as characteristics we want to improve, but also those associated with our being a social species. If this happens and becomes a dominant trend, what might that future look like? Will we still form familial or other groups – and if so, why and how?

My view is that we would not – at least, not as we do today. At the same time, massive technological advances will lead to Transhumans becoming meshheads: individuals endowed with exocortical cognition, which will interconnect them through a real-time, pan-species distance-agnostic cognitive network. In such an exonet, individuals will form self-optimizing submesh associations to pursue goals and other activities. Some of these activities will include those analogous to what we engage in today, albeit conducted in complex information spaces in which Transhumans and AGIs will form what Ben Goertzel refers to as mindplexes.

While these recognizable activities will likely include discussion, problem solving, ideation, recreation, research, and development, others are beyond our current grasp: in cognitio procreation, instantaneous concept-to-instantiation fabrication, unlimited multilingual fluency, post-lingual information exchange, and – through mind uploading and substrate independence – instantaneous travel without physical displacement.

Moreover, by transcending our hierarchical alpha-based social structure, cooperation might finally trump competition, diminishing or eliminating our proclivity for the strong to dominate and exploit the weak. Coupled with theoretical energy sources as far beyond nuclear fusion as fusion is beyond steam – such as zero-point energy, nanoscale singularities, and antimatter conversion – Transhumans will abandon our destructive drive to treat the planets they inhabit as consumable resources.

Taken together, these two possibilities describe a Transhuman future that sounds counterintuitive: By evolving beyond our heritage as a hierarchical social species, we may become our planet’s first transocial species. However, the transition from social to transocial will not necessarily be without difficulties: It seems unlike that all humans will transformed simultaneously, creating history’s all-too-familiar populations of haves and have-nots, along with the political discord accompanying unequal distribution of resources. On an individual level as well, seems to us today that the social-to-transocial change will unlikely be binary or instantaneous – meaning that those in transition may likely experience conflicting states of mind that may result in unmanageable states of consciousness.

That being said, it’s important to realize that these concerns are being made at a time when the technologies under discussion are but conceptual, leaving more room for optimism than might be assumed. In addition, advanced neocortical reprogramming and neuropharmaceuticals may ameliorate or eliminate the complicating factors outlined above, facilitating the transocial emergence of a genetically engineered Transhumanity that is benign, creative and egalitarian by nature rather than nurture.

Live long and bifurcate.