Monday, May 27, 2013

Transhumanist Blither

It's late but I'm going to get this down anyway, before the bees kill me.

First of all, from Wikipedia: "Transhumanism (abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an international cultural and intellectual movement with an eventual goal at fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities." Ref: the Cybermen, Khan Noonian Singh, Ghost in the Shell, and Transmetropolitan (God help us all). A lot of people got interested in it thanks to Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity; I got interested in it thanks to Charles Stross.

io9 pointed me towards The Transhumanist Wager, a book that is apparently the Atlas Shrugged of transhumanism. It follows Jethro Knights, a man obsessed with obtaining eternal life through biological and technological improvements to his own person, up to and including brain uploading. The Randian bits come in from repressive governments and religions that are cracking down on the Movement and Knights's radical Libertarian philosophy.

Fair enough. And I checked the book out on Amazon, read through the first few pages, and decided I wasn't going to go any further, if only because I've got a list of epic fantasies on my plate and I don't have time. But I did read Jethro's Transhuman equivalent of Asimov's Three Laws, which are:

1) A transhumanist must safeguard one's own existence above all else.

2) A transhumanist must strive to achieve omnipotence as expediently as possible - so long as one's actions do not conflict with the First Law.

3) A transhumanist must safeguard value in the universe - so long as one's actions do not conflict with the First and Second Laws.



My brain is imploding!
I'm going to assume these weren't written for the same reason Asimov wrote his Three Laws of Robitics, namely to abuse every loophole possible to write some cracking fiction. So are these three laws really the sort of thing transhumanists should obey?

Let's take Law One, which boils down to "Fuck the women and children, I'm getting on the boat!" Should it really be an ideal that preserving one's own existence comes before preserving the lives of one's children? It's fine if you're a sociopath, I suppose, but not great for people capable of normal human emotion. (I am, granted, ascribing human emotions to beings who might not be technically human.)

Then there's Law Two: "Become God." This is problematic on a ton of levels. First, an omnipotent being isn't likely to maintain "existence" as we would define it, so fulfilling Law Two might very well be mutually exclusive with Law One. Second, omnipotence is generally considered to be a singular attribute, possessed by only one entity (read: God), with members of a pantheon necessarily being vulnerable to other members of the pantheon. So transhumanist values must necessarily result in a Highlander situation: "There can be only one!" Finally, omnipotence is not necessarily a desirable state for a transhumanist, when a post-scarcity culture would suffice. Why be God when you can just be an immortal Superman with infinite wealth?

And then there's Law Three, which seems to be nothing more than a veneer of morality over some pretty messed up values. Screw that! If you're going to seek to be a sociopathic god, go all out. Don't limit yourself! Destroy planets, devour suns, harvest stem cells from newborns - whatever it takes! You've got to look out for Protogod Numero Uno.

Anyway, that's my science fiction allotment for the evening. Now I have to go figure out how many gods it takes to make up a decent magic system. I'm thinking ten...

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