People who are new to Humanity+
and to transhumanist thought in general might well be under the impression that the H+ movement is primarily an American beast. Optimism with regard to the future seems to be part of the American psyche, so I was surprised when I learned that H+ began its existence as the World Transhumanist Association, founded in the UK by philosophers David Pearce and Nick Bostrom in 1998. Ten years later, the organisation was renamed to Humanity Plus, and the first UK conference for H+ was held in London in April 2010.
The first H+ conference of 2011 will also be held in London on January 29th
, building upon the success of last year’s meeting, and promises to be a fascinating exchange of ideas. Here’s a brief outline of what I’m personally looking forward to at this year’s conference:
Firstly, there will be people talking about Artificial Intelligence. Dr Anders Sandberg will be talking about the present state of machine intelligence, as well as future possibilities; Anna Salamon will be talking about how humans might struggle to survive in a world with better than human artificial intelligence; and David Pearce will be highlighting the importance of building AIs which are able to empathize with us humans – perhaps a solution to the problems raised by Anna’s talk.
As well as artificial intelligence, there will be presentations about enhancement of human intelligence. Professor Kevin Warwick has pioneered research in using rat neurons to control robot bodies, and will be talking about future possibilities of neural implants for human beings. Ajit Jaokar will be talking about meditation as a transhumanist technology, and Tom Michael (that’s me) will be talking about cognitive enhancement from a neuropsychological perspective.
Next up is the popular transhumanist topic of life extension. Dr Marios Kyriazis will be talking about how the convergence of different areas of science may allow dramatic life extension, and will briefly discuss some of the implications to our society. Following from Marios’ talk, Dr Aubrey de Grey will give a presentation on some of the latest developments in the field of life extension, explaining that if we are able to extend our lives by more than one year per year of progress, we can achieve a longevity escape velocity and potentially live for a very long time indeed. (Hmm, strange but true: when writing this sentence I mistyped indeed and my geek-modified spell-checker decided it should read undead.)
Life in the future could be very different from today, and for this reason, several of our speakers are talking about how we might live and what sort of problems we might have to overcome to live in a better future. Firstly, David Wood will be asking five key questions about the future: what are the realistic scenarios, what are the existential risks, what are the implications of this change? What are the pros and cons of becoming transhuman? and finally, what can we do to make this happen? Luke Robert Mason will also be talking about the future implications of technology and how it might change us as human beings. Dr Rachel Armstrong will be talking about the use of synthetic biotechnology to create the cities of the future, and Richard Osborne will be talking about the potential future for space exploration, based on technology that is currently in development.
Finally, it’s possible that events, technologies or reactions to them might bring about a very different future than envisaged by optimistic futurists – perhaps a much worse future. For this reason, it’s good to see speakers talking about existential risks. Michael A. Woodley will be talking about how society is not well prepared to deal with evolutionarily novel transhumanist technologies, and how growing disparities in wealth may cause society to try and repress these technologies, for reasons which are due in part to evolutionary psychology. Further to this problem, Pieter Bonte will be talking about how humanity might react to technologies with a second wave of existentialist angst. Essentially, a transition from religious to humanist philosophies has been very hard for humanity (and this struggle is clearly still ongoing). Therefore a transition from our lives being limited by nature to our lives being limited purely by the technology we create will also very likely be a difficult transition.
So, which of these topics fascinate you the most? Personally, I’m most worried about rat brains controlling robot bodies. It’s not smarter than human AGI that scares me; can you imagine a rat with the strength of 10 gorillas?