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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Will Technology Help Us Transcend the Human Condition?

Michael Hauskeller & Kyle McNease

Transcendence used to be the end of a spiritual quest and endeavour. Not anymore. Today we are more likely to believe that if anything can help us transcend the human condition it is not God or some kind of religious communion, but science and technology. Confidence is high that, if we do things right, and boldly and without fear embrace the new opportunities that technological progress grants us, we will soon be able to accomplish things that no human has ever done, or even imagined doing, before. With luck, we will be unimaginably smart and powerful, and virtually immortal, all thanks to a development that seems unstoppable and that has already surpassed all reasonable expectations.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, we used maps and atlases to find our way around. Occasionally we even had to stop and ask someone not named Siri or Cortana if we were indeed on the correct route. Today, our cars are navigated by satellites that triangulate our location in real time while circling the earth at thousands of miles per hour, and self-driving cars for everyone are just around the corner. Soon we may not even need cars anymore. Why go somewhere if technology can bring the world to us? Already we are in a position to do most of what we have to or want to do from home: get an education, work, do our shopping, our banking, our communication, all thanks to the internet, which 30 years ago did not exist and is now, to many of us, indispensable. Those who are coming of age today find it difficult to imagine a world without it. Currently, there are over 3.2 billion people connected to the World Wide Web, 2 billion of which live in developing countries. Most of them connect to the Web via increasingly versatile and powerful mobile devices few people would have thought possible a couple of generations ago. Soon we may be able to dispense even with mobile devices and do all of it in our bio-upgraded heads. In terms of the technology we are using every day without a second thought, the world has changed dramatically, and it continues to do so. Computation is now nearly ubiquitous, people seem constantly attached to their cellular phones, iPads, and laptops, enthusiastically endorsing their own progressive cyborgization. And connectivity does not stop at the level of human beings: even our household objects and devices are connected to the internet and communicate with each other, using their own secret language and taking care of things largely without the need for human intervention and control. The world we have built for ourselves thrives on a steady diet of zeroes and ones that have now become our co-creators, continuing the world-building in often unexpected ways.

The paper is here.