Artificial Intelligence: Transhumanism is Narcissistic. We Must Strive for Hyperhumanism

Article by Joël de Rosnay  published on "L'OBS Le Plus" - April 26, 2015

As long as human beings are able to ensure worldwide control of artificial intelligence, the exponentially evolving intelligence of robots and interconnected digital networks will open new dimensions of the human brain. This is the perspective of Joël de Rosnay,scientist and special advisor to the President of Universcience (Cité des sciences et de l'industrie et Palais de la découverte).


Recently, scientists and influential business leaders publically stated that artificial intelligence (AI) is one of humanity’s greatest threats. It’s an opinion shared by astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and even Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX.


Even though Stephen Hawking, afflicted with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), communicates with the outside world using a computerized voice synthesizer he controls with his eye movement, he explains that AI might lead to humanity’s downfall because computers and robots that become more intelligent than humankind will eventually reduce us to slaves. It’s the same alarmist language from the founder of Microsoft, who also warns of the danger of AI’s domination over humanity. As for the creator of Tesla Motors or the satellite cloud that will provide internet access to the entire world, he subsidizes The Institute for the Future of Life in million dollar increments to find a way to control, and even stop, AI and intelligent robots.


New dimensions rather than domination


The individuals cited above often commit an error; that is to compare the rate of the exponential advancement of computers, neural networks and robots, to that of brain neuron mutations, which are linear. Here again we find the famous temporal discrepancy between geometric progression and arithmetic progression that Malthus has already identified by comparing the rate of demographic change leading to overpopulation to that of humanity’s ability to produce enough food for its survival.


Yet, an in-depth study of technical and societal trends suggests that our brain’s intelligence, symbiotically interconnected with robots, AI and digital networks, is evolving simultaneously and at an exponential rate. It is a process that could open new, still unknown dimensions of the human brain, rather than dominating it. That is only if we are able, of course, to ensure a synergetic relationship between AI and interconnected human brains.


The Frankenstein myth


One of our greatest fears is both biological and human: we fear that our own creation might turn against us. It’s the Frankenstein myth. The second fear relates to the loss of jobs. If robots gradually replace the least skilled jobs, and if the work quality provided by artificial intelligence can rival doctors, lawyers, journalists, teachers, etc., what will remain for human beings? Hence the third major fear: the demise of work. The creator of social connections, the very foundation of life in society and the meaning of life for many; work as we know it today is threatened.


This philosophical and ethical question of work has been asked since the origin of humanity. Robots, and more widely, robotics, are not immune to these questions. Man has always been wary of robots, except in certain Eastern cultures. In Japan, for example, robots are considered as essential assistants to humanity’s evolution. As for robots, “artificial intelligence” combines two words in apparent contradiction to “natural intelligence”. How can intelligence, the primary function of our human brains, be created from scratch? It’s an “unnatural” form, which causes it to be rejected.


Computers and robots are already developing learning abilities using all of the information available on the networks (Big Data). Intelligent machines will then learn how the world around them works, and how to interact with living beings like humans and animals. It’s not difficult to imagine that these intelligent robots will someday be equipped to be sensitive, empathetic, abstract thinkers, and even intuitive…Qualities until now reserved only for living beings.


Should we fear “humanoid” creatures? We should fear artificial intelligence less than natural stupidity. In other words, human education and training is paramount, as much as it is necessary to "educate" the robots at the same time.


A quasi-religious, irrational rear


A quasi-religious myth has been created to heavily personalize artificial intelligence or Big Data. It echoes those old notions about the end of the world, the apocalypse and final judgment…The concept of “singularity” dear to Ray Kurzweil has hints of sacredness, of "divinity". There is a pantheistic vision in artificial intelligence and singularity. However, artificial intelligence is still undeveloped, and Moore’s law doesn’t apply to it. We are far from algorithms that are able to feel, be intuitive, make enlightened decisions, and have the physical tools to threaten humankind.


Followers of transhumanism think they have found the solution to AI’s overcoming humankind by creating superhumans and individual supra-intelligence. Theories of transhumanism have also emerged over the past five decades, with acceleration in the 21st century. Julian Huxley, brother of “Brave New World” author Aldous Huxley, coined the word “transhumanism” in 1957. In 1998 the World Transhumanist Association (WTA) was created, leading to the actual declaration and publication of “transhumanist rights” on the internet.


Is transhumanism humanism?


Does Transhumanism, involving improvement through individual transformation, lead to an impasse by focusing on the individual? Does transhumanity open the way to inhumanity? And moreover, is transhumanism humanism? Recall that humanism is all thought that puts the development of essential human qualities at the forefront of its focus. Humanism rests on the ability to distinguish good from bad based on universal human qualities, and rationality in particular. It’s the affirmation of all individuals’ dignity and worth. It’s the reason why we might doubt the humanist nature of transhumanism, which often appears as an elitist, egotistical and narcissistic process.


Elitist, because the transformations intended for the body or the brain are reserved for the privileged few who have the financial means, enabling them to integrate new abilities or to undergo changes.


Egotistical, because everything that comes from nature, must return to nature. In all aspects of evolution, we note that life and death are inseparable and indispensable to one another.


Narcissistic, because the quest for immortality may lead to a world of conflict between the younger and older generations competing for access to resources and power. We would see superhuman supremacy rise over the subhuman; the Alphas over the Gammas. If the temptation of one caste dominating another and eugenics are never far away, we must respect transhumanist advances as they can lead, through critical and constructive philosophical reflection, to push the limits of the human body, to prolong life expectancy and contribute to a positive human and societal evolution. Benefitting through NBIC (nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science) from a symbiosis between biological-mechanical-electronic and digital.


In fact, with biological and digital advances, the line between human beings and electronics, the mechanical and electronic, is gradually disappearing. With synthetic neurobiology, humankind can enter into increasingly closer symbiosis with digital machines and benefit from synergy with robots and artificial intelligence. Already, objects connected in the digital ecosystem (the Internet of things (IOT)) act in close symbiosis with humans. Thus they create a planetary macro-organism that has its own functionalities in its ability to process information.


I described this increasingly close hybridization between human beings and digital machines in my book “The Symbiotic Man” (Seuil, 1995). I called this planetary macro-organism the “Cybion”, the result of the marriage of cybernetics and biology. A theory now shared by scientists and philosophers of complexity, in particular within the framework of the Global Brain Institute (GBI). There was no question of the advent of the Cyborg, Bionic Man or Superman, but a “symbiotic” human being, connected to a planetary macro-organism constructed from within, in which we are the cells and the neurons.


There is another path: hyperhumanism


It is at this stage that artificial intelligence can help open another path. A path that will enable us to overcome the individualistic, elitist or egotistical nature of the proponents of transhumanism, which means to consider the integration of human beings and their symbiosis, rather than their individual transformation.


Imagine if the human species could take a quantitative and qualitative leap beyond transhumanism, to what I would call hyperhumanism. Beyond a “philosophy” focused exclusively on the individual, which seems to deny the collective the ability to evolve in tandem and in symbiosis with digital machines and artificial intelligence; on the contrary, it’s toward integrated and collective symbiosis that humanity must achieve. And that’s the whole challenge facing Earthlings in the third millennium.


The Cybion has started living in symbiosis with us: we already get it to handle very complex problems like monitoring the weather, performing stock market transactions, controlling highway traffic, etc. that our individual brains and computers are unable to handle in real time. This Man/Cybion symbiosis will develop at an exponential rate making us, through a kind of transmutation, mutants of a new age, or rather transmutants. It doesn’t mean becoming transhuman, but suprahuman to enter the hyperhumanism age rather than into the transhumanism age. Human characteristics could be even further developed and even more human than evolution has produced.


Such laws exist in nature. They are called differentiation integration laws. In the human body, a red blood cell, a white blood cell, or a liver cell are much more "themselves" than supernatant in petri dish filled with nutrient solution placed on a lab table. Our body contains 6000 billion cells, a thousand times more than human beings on the planet. All of our cells and useful microbes that we host in symbiosis (microbiome) are a meta-genome that researchers are trying to decipher. Each cell in the body, each microbe in the microbiome contains all the functionalities enabled by their genome and its operation within a body or an integrated ecosystem, much more efficiently than if they were isolated.


This parallel shows that a symbiosis leading to hyperhumanism might develop other dimensions of the brain today obscured or inhibited by competition, the need to survive in a sometimes hostile world geared to individual survival rather than cooperation, solidarity, altruism and sharing.


A kind of virtual immortality


While many fear that integrating through close symbiosis into something larger than ourselves would trivialize humankind, it would be, on the contrary, hyperhumanity and hyperhumanism that take precedence over a controlled or dominated humankind. It is possible that feelings like fraternity, altruism, helpfulness, empathy, respect and solidarity would develop in ways we cannot yet imagine.


The wealth of ideas and knowledge accumulated by humanity over millennia could be passed on to new generations, and provide everyone with a kind of virtual immortality. Thus it is no longer about reaching biological immortality, as transhumanists desire, but achieving virtual immortality by ensuring that humanity as a whole – hyperhumanity - benefits virtually in real time from all innovations and creations, the fruits of labour and thought of people connected to this collective intelligence, the ultimate development point of the complexity and awareness towards which the universe is heading. A “Point Omega” rather than a point of Singularity.



Opinion column taken from lectures about the “Utopia of Transhumanism” at the Grand Orient de France (GODF) on February 3, 2015.



Joël de Rosnay 

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