There was a time when Transhumanists didn’t dare argue that disparities and wealth and power might lead to massive and deadly asymmetries. That kind of talk used to be socialist and not welcome in Transhuman circles. But times have changes and a new sense is dawning. I am happy to seen article from the crown Prince of Transhumanism appear that exemplifies this concern in no uncertain terms.
For billions of years on this planet, there were no rules. In many places there still are not. A wolf can dine on the entrails of a living doe he has brought down, and no one can stop him. In some species, rape is a more common variety of impregnation than consensual sex. Nature is fucked up, and anyone who argues otherwise has not actually seen nature in action.
This modern era, with its relative orderliness and safety, at least in the West, is an aberration. A bizarre phenomenon, rarely before witnessed in our solar system since its creation. Planetwide coordination is something that just didn’t happen until the invention of the telegraph and radio made it possible.
America and Western Europe are full of the most security-deluded people of all. The most recent generations, growing up without any major global conflict — Generation X and Y — are practically as ignorant as you can get. Thousands of generations of tough-as-nails people underwent every manner of horrors to incrementally build the orderly and safe society many of us have the luxury of inhabiting today, and the vast majority of Generation X and Y neither appreciate nor understand that.
Wilsonian idealism, in particular, proved to be a turning point in the way Americans think about social interaction on a wide scale. Wilson was one of the first leaders to argue that national actions should be based on approximating some benevolent global goal or ideals rather than narrow national interest. This is not a terrible idea in principle, but without the brutal threat of military force or economic intimidation, it can’t be carried out. High ideals are a luxury purchased with the currency of de facto and de jure power. De jure power itself is just a fabrication, a consensual illusion that draws all its strength from de facto power to persist, like a flower depends on its roots and stem.
A defenseless peasant of the Middle Ages could talk all he wanted about treating thy neighbor as thyself, kindness, sharing, reasonableness — whatever. It wouldn’t necessarily stop a power-mad knight from riding onto his land the next day, chopping off his head, taking his wife, and setting fire to his house and fields.
Benevolence, to flourish, should be promoted with words and ideas, but also force. Ultimately, people often choose to be stubborn and ignore all words. There are also those who pretend to go along but coordinate to violate norms discretely, usually with thinly veiled humor.
Security is the foundation of everything else. Free speech, including the ability to criticize the government and military, only exists because the highest power in the land permits it. If it’s a God-given right, God had a funny way of implementing it when denied it from all his subjects by default for thousands of years, living under feudal rule and local warlords or strongmen.
Security does not come easy, since there are many people who will violate it any chance they can get for personal gain. Perhaps there exist some aliens who naturally cooperate peacefully, but we are not them. If anything, human beings are more bloodthirsty and warlike than most species, not less. Or, you could say we have a wider variance of behavior — the ability to be highly cooperative as well as highly uncooperative.
Humanity’s tendency to break apart unless constantly under self-vigilance will become an even greater liability for us when the Pandora’s Box of Transhumanism is finally opened in the 2030s and 2040s. There are many people in the world interested in technology for only one reason — to give them a better opportunity to screw over their enemies.
This urge in humanity is simply too omnipresent and intense to be reconciled or eliminated in the very short 20 or 30 years we have before things start to get more intense technologically. We can count on it being there, just as it has been there for thousands of years. The question is what sort of order, or disorder, will emerge when some human beings become radically more powerful than others.
There is a reason why conservatives are afraid of change. If the status quo is seen as acceptable, change makes things worse. Most possible changes, arguably, do. Every improvement is necessarily a change, however, so change is necessary if we are going to improve.
Some transhumanists confront of the challenge of massive power asymmetry like children. They see nanotechnology, life extension, and AI as a form of candy, and reach for them longingly. Like children, they have a temper tantrum at any suggestion that the candy could have negative effects as well as positive ones.
Transhumanists have to grow up. The world is not your candy basket. The technologies we are pushing towards could lead to our demise just as easily as our salvation. You and everything you love could be eliminated by the technologies you were so excited about in the 2010s and 2020s.
A cognitive transhuman, in particular, will be a bewitching thing. Someone who thinks faster than you, understands what your microexpressions mean, and has superior predictive theories of both the natural and artificial world will be able to solve “impossible” problems with some regularity. Detectives and the FBI do not primarily solve cases with guns, but with their minds. Superior transhuman minds will run circles around the merely human minds in law enforcement and the FBI, unless the latter has the equivalent or better intelligence enhancement technology.
The intelligence arms race has the potential to get uglier faster than any merely physical arms race before it. An intelligence with access to its own mind, under threat, will have an incentive to actually boost its paranoia through neural self-modification. Psychological extremes never imagined will become routine states for the most experimental and ambitious of the new self-enhancers. They will have every incentive to downplay their accomplishments, hide their abilities, and they will succeed.
The second we create an intelligence superior to ourselves, the world could become fundamentally unsafe in a new way. The delicate balance of roughly human-level intelligence will be broken. All rules will be thrown out the window. Transhumans will not feel intimidated by the threats of humans. This is a really good thing if they are on our side, a really bad thing if not. The choices we make in creating the first transhumans will determine whether they are on our side or not in the longer term. The great tree of the Transhuman World will be grown by the seed we plant today.
The future is not exciting and optimistic. The future is dark and uncertain, imbued with the heavy sense of responsibility we personally have to make things go well. Reflecting back on this century, if we survive, we will care less about the fun we had, and more about the things we did to ensure that the most important transition in history went well for the weaker ambient entities involved in it. The last century didn’t go too well for the weak — just ask the victims of Hitler and Stalin. Hitler and Stalin were just men, goofballs and amateurs in comparison to the new forms of intelligence, charisma, and insight that cognitive technologies will enable.