1. Eternal Life Through Data Storage
In many respects the Holy Grail of transhumanism, many transhumanist authors and artists have imagined a future in which the human being is essentially immortal via the capability to upload memory, personality, and consciousness into a database and then reload this information into a new body when a person dies. Several scenarios have been played out in fiction and film, one of the most interesting being The Golden Age series by John C. Wright. In a utopian world where personalities are immortal and bodies are replaceable, memory becomes one of the most important possessions. Judging by the current state of progress in neuroscience maps of the human brain, thoughts, and emotions, this transhumanist development is probably one of the more distant possibilities on the horizon. Biotech life extension is a more likely possibility in the immediate future. Still, humanity has dreamed of immortality since the days of Gilgamesh more than four thousand years ago, and no doubt this hope will continue to live on in the human psyche well into the future.
2. Personalized Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology has become the “magic bullet” of near-future science fiction. We can imagine a future in which everything from healthcare, architecture, engineering, design, chemistry, agriculture, electronics, and warfare are heavily dependent on nanotechnology in various applications. One interesting avenue of nanotech relevant to transhumanists is the application of biological nanotech, such as nano cells that act as white blood cells, fighting diseases, or stimulating parts of the body internally through the blood stream or in muscle tissue. Right now, there are dozens of start-up companies doing research and development for various medical and engineering uses, most of them involving industrial manufacturing. Within the next twenty years, we can expect to see increasingly creative applications of nanotechnology, some of which will no doubt involve medical uses, and eventually even entertainment and personal uses as information technology becomes increasingly embedded into the human organism.
3. Persistent Virtual Reality Worlds
Of the topics on this list, this idea is the closest to present reality. Currently there are several persistent virtual reality worlds, although many of them are devoted solely to entertainment, like World of Warcraft. Probably the most interesting virtual reality world for Transhumanists is the program Second Life, in which a person takes on an avatar and interacts in a world resembling a dreamland utopia where the rules of physics can be manipulated to the user’s desires. Residents can interact with other people living thousands of miles away, form groups and clubs, conduct commerce, and host various live events. Second Life is so successful that many large corporations have bought real estate and set up virtual shops, as well as smaller independent businesses. There are no objectives or game-related goals in Second Life. It resembles more of a freeform “sandbox” game in which the user has lots of geographical and contextual freedom. With its own currency, property ownership, and avatar customization, Second Life is currently the best example of a realistic persistent virtual reality world as envisioned by pioneering sci-fi authors like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson.
4. Cybernetic Society
With the advent of the Internet and the multifold informational connectivity that we now experience every day, our current modes of social and political organization desperately need to be upgraded. We are living in a society with a political system that is more than 200 years old, while the technological infrastructure is little more than half a century old. In terms of the accessibility and scope of the Internet, this current mode of connectivity is only about two decades old. Facebook is only a few years old. With the ability to make real-time decisions potentially including millions of people, and the ability to store and organize data in large quantities, the future of politics, education, commerce, and social communication could look vastly different than it does now. The Internet allows for a real democracy, a democracy in which elected representatives are no longer needed. Through information technology, every citizen could individually vote on every law, local and federal. We no longer need to make a month long horse and buggy ride to get to Washington. We can send emails or text messages instantaneously. Considering the vast lip service paid to the institution of democracy by our former administration, it is now time to consider expanding our definitions of democracy and politics, and begin utilizing information technology in such a way that every person can truly have a voice in their political system.
5. Artificial Intelligence
Another development that is very close to reality (and, depending on who you ask, may have already been achieved) is Artificial Intelligence. By most standards, a “strong AI” has yet to be achieved, but several small-scale A.I. experiments and robotic designs have shown promise. Several cutting edge robots have been built with sensors that can “perceive” various aspects of physical space and move accordingly, such as the ASIMO robot developed by Honda. There are several different conceptual approaches to developing a more robust Artificial Intelligence, including cybernetics, neurological modeling, logic and computational intelligence, and linguistic approaches. The possible applications of AI are virtually limitless, so we can bet that these projects will keep developing towards a real, independent “strong AI” sometime in the near future. Hopefully, by that time, human intelligence will have also evolved toward a more thoughtful and reasonable mode of being, and we can look forward to a peaceful and constructive co-existence with our synthetic offspring.
Tristan Gulliford is a writer, musician, and DJ living in Boulder Colorado. He graduated recently from CU Boulder and is currently engaged in several music projects and writing sci-fi short stories.