The text A
Rope over an Abyss by Laurence Hitterdale is interesting, by
its way of starting with absurdly abstract generalities such as "avoidance
of a negative outcome must take priority over the production of
a positive outcome" which did not seem to make sense in a
first reading, but wisely concluding that his initial abstract
considerations are practically irrelevant, and that relatively
much more "modest" but concrete steps need urgent attention
instead, specifically about climate change and protection of the
environment, because, indeed, these are the concrete facts
happening to give sense to that sentence : avoiding currently
predicted negative environmental outcomes happens to be more
urgent than the kind of absurdly remote positive outcomes that
futurists (AI specialists and transhumanists) usually discuss.
We'll come to the concrete realities later. Let's start with the absurd generalities.
After the Singularity, the next of these, that is found in
several other essays as well, is the perspective of transhumanism.
But even though some clues can be found here or there, I did not
find a very clear and seducing answer to the question : why the
heck would anyone be interested to become transhuman ? Well, of
course it may interest a minority of crippled people to recover a
leg or two, or a few sports passionates to get wings to fly. But
what would a majority of people get here ?
Most transhumanist think about augmenting human intelligence. Be serious : hardly anybody feels any interest to become more intelligent than they are. Only other issues may happen instead:
So the main working ways to augment intelligence is, on the one
hand the development of IT, on the other hand by genetic evolution
(that will be discussed below) with the advantage is that it is a
permanent progress, that will not be canceled by the next fashion
of human practice.
Someone suggested that all people physically "merge" as if the coexistence problem came from the separation between bodies, assuming that, if there was only one body for all people then there would be no more physical fights between different bodies. How ridiculous. If people disturb each other and might feel a need to get rid of each other it's not because they are separate ; on the contrary it's rather because they are too close to each other and they compete. If they were "parts of a same body" there would still be competition for the proportion of the body they use, and for not feeling disturbed by other members.
More seriously, I would say, people would no more comfortable and thus with less risks of conflicts if, first of course, they would be few enough for having each a comfortable share of resources under hand for their physical needs, and second, if they feel free do do what they want each on one's side without being disturbed by others. And what to do, means, with their senses. They need privacy.
Transhumanism can be useful for distance work. Indeed why does not everybody work online from home, eventually operating a robot at distance if a physical action is needed ? Robots will soon be able to do as good physical moves and sense detection of the environment as humans. For doing all the same work at distance as what could be done face-to-face, the other needed step will be to develop the human-machine interface, for a wider range of human senses to participate if needed. This can greatly reduce the inequality of salaries between countries when skills are equal. But it has potentially huge consequences : if work can be hidden in the private sphere and be done for any customer at another end of the world, and if tools of private online finance are also available, then work will also escape all possibilities of taxation and regulation for those who want to escape them. And given the fact that huge taxes on work currently applied leaves official bureaucratic regulations not so interesting to follow (as soon as a good online reputation system is available to avoid deceptive transactions), I fail to see what can stop the subversion of work regulations by the development of unregulated parallel economies, only leaving as taxable objects, the things that are sufficiently concrete to be clearly measurable by the tax administration, such as real estate or the use of natural resources. But this is only about boring work, which will have less and less importance in life as technological progress creates economic growth and lets more work be replaced by machines. Let's now see the rest of life, what is more joyful.
Expensive physical actions (sports) may be interesting for some
but are not the only way to have fun. Other interesting freedom
would be to develop a virtual reality to live in. And this sort of
"economic growth" that better satisfies people's needs in the pure
terms of what happens to their senses from a virtual reality where
they can also virtually interact with others, can be very cheap
with respect to the Earth's resources. There is no more need of
expensive, energy-consuming travels if you can virtually bring the
world to your home. For example all the music of the world is
online accessible with no need to drive an orchestra home. For
this we don't have anymore to choose between giving up our desires
or using up the planet's resources.
Why would it be different for anything else ? I consider all often-heard calls against economic growth as missing the point : while economic growth often went through a bigger use of natural resources until now, there is no big necessity here. Technological advances can as well succeed to increase the perceived comfort (that is financially measurable, belonging to "economic growth" or anyway achievable by free market, which is not reduced to what "makes money" since lots of free resources are available online and free market is compatible with this) while reducing physical consumption.
Evolution Through Massively Decentralised Distributed Resilient
Might it be that the system "humans" is naturally evolving an enabler of a non-growth based cultural and economic system, one which will in the long run outcompete the growth-based paradigm, that has been beneficial up until some time ago, and without which the latter could not have existed?
In other words, was growth inevitable to reach the conditions that would create an efficient and sustainable post-growth system ?
The word "growth" is ambiguous. Growth of what ? The problem was
the growth of use and misuse of natural resources, that wasted our
planet. Economic growth is another thing, that means taking a
better benefit from what we have. Sometimes we can take more
benefit from using a bigger amount of resources, but this is not
always the case. Some people want to oppose growth in the name of
saving the planet, but such a way of just going backwards in time
is totally unrealistic : what we need is to push for new
technologies to make an optimal use of resources. The core of the
economic system (money etc) is only about what people need at the
end, and is basically neutral towards how much natural resources
are used. To save resources, the needed change of the system is
not so fundamental : it may "only" require giving a cost to the
use of natural resources by taxes, or sometimes even putting
prohibitions on it, as will be discussed below. We "only" need to
actually do that needed push, instead of remaining so lazy and
passive with respect to some administrative habits.
More concretely ? For what I read from the essays I did not see
very concretely seducing ideas why would people like to become
transhuman. However I did happen to read such suggestions a few
years ago. That was in the online draft of David D. Friedman's
Imperfect". This is a very interesting work with lots of
good ideas in different fields, and, I think, generally more
inspiring than all essays of the fqxi contest themselves.
For this topic, one idea is Mind drugs. Another, is about Virtual Reality (VR):
"Suppose we succeed in cracking the dreaming problem, figuring out enough about how the brain works so that we too can create full sense illusions. We then have deep VR. Anyone who wants it has a socket at the back of his neck. Signals through the cable plugged into that socket can create a full sense illusion of anything our senses could have experienced (...) Why do I want to visit my friends? To see them, to feel them, to hear them, to do things with them. Unless one of the things is building a house or planting a garden that really has to be built or planted, the whole visit is an information transaction. With good VR, my body stays home and my mind does the walking. If you find this an odd idea, consider a phone call. It too is a substitute for a visit. VR simply increases the bandwidth to cover all our senses(...)
Eating is a material transaction, tasting an informational transaction. Tape-record 10,000 meals from the world's best restaurants and your lentils are filet mignon, sushi, ice cream sundaes. Much the same holds for other material requirements. My body occupies only five or ten cubic feet of space. With a mind free to rove the virtual universe, who needs a living room -- or even a double bed? Viewed in real space, it is not much of a world. Everyone is eating the cheapest food that will keep a human body in good condition, (...)
To the people living in it, it is paradise. All women are beautiful, and enough are willing. All men are handsome.
Which is true -- slum or paradise? It depends on what matters. If all that matters is sensation, what you perceive, it is a paradise, even if that is not obvious to a superficial inspection."