Forbes | Human 2.0: is coming faster than you think

in print | feature with Ray Kurzweil
December 11, 2018

— feature —

publication: Forbes
story title: Human 2.0: is coming faster than you think
deck: Will you evolve with the times?
section: Innovation
topic: artificial intelligence + big data
special label: contributor group | Cognitive World
author: by Neil Sahota
date: October 1, 2018

— introduction —

Ray Kurzweil — futurist, inventor, and best selling author — said: “Our technology, our machines, is part of our humanity. We created them to extend ourselves, and that is what is unique about human beings.”

In the past few years, there has been considerable discussion that we’re slowly merging with our technology — that humans are becoming trans-human with updated abilities: including enhanced intelligence, strength, and awareness.

Considering Kurzweil’s words is a good place to begin this talks. It’s no secret that Google has trans-humanistic aspirations. In 2011 author Steven Levy made this bold statement about Google in his book In the Plex: “From the very start, Google’s founders saw the company as a vehicle to realize the dream of artificial intelligence in augmenting humanity.”

note: Steven Levy is a journalist + book author.

Steven Levy | home
Steven Levy | Good Reads

note: Google co. makes web services + products: advertising, web search, cloud computing, mobile, software, hardware

Google | home
Google | research

It makes sense Google would bring on Ray Kurzweil to be one of its Directors of Engineering in 2012. For years, Kurzweil has been pushing the cultural conversation toward the idea of human transcendence with his thought-provoking books.

Kurzweil has gained notoriety for the proposing provocative idea: “The singularity will represent the culmination of the merger of our biological thinking + existence with our technology — resulting in a world that is still human but that transcends our biological roots.” But the term “singularity” originated in a 1993 essay titled: The Coming Technological Singularity by science fiction author Vernor Vinge PhD.

note: Vernor Vinge PhD is a book author of science fiction, and computer science + math educator.

Vernor Vinge PhD | Good Reads
Vernor Vinge PhD | essay: “The coming technological singularity”

To grasp the significance of Vinge’s thinking: it’s important to realize where we were as a society in the early 1990s. Back then, smart-phones and social media websites were years away. The web — so vital to all aspects of our life: communication, commerce, entertainment — was in its infancy. But Vinge boldly proclaimed: “In 30 years we’ll have the technological means to create super-human intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.”

Here we are, almost 30 years from Vinge’s prediction and the reality of trans-humanism has caught-on with the general public as a distinct possibility. Writer Michael Ashley — co-author of my book Uber Yourself Before You Get Kodaked: a modern primer on AI for the modern business — and I sought to tap into the cultural zeitgeist on this topic, by interviewing  Ben Goertzel PhD.

note: Michael Ashley is a screen-writer, and book author of fiction + non-fiction.
note: Neil Sahota is a journalist + book author, and business development consultant.

Michael Ashley | page
Neil Sahota | page

note: Ben Goertzel PhD is founder + CEO at SingularityNet co.

Ben Goertzel PhD | page
SingularityNet | home

Goertzel is the right person to speak about human potential in the age of AI. He’s founder and CEO of the company SingularityNet. Along with robotics engineer David Hanson of the company Hanson Robotics, Goertzel co-created Sophia — the first robot to gain national citizenship.

Like Vinge and Kurzweil, Ben Goertzel PhD is fascinated by the idea of trans-humanism. He explains it’s not pie-in-the-sky conjecture — trans-humanism has been happening for awhile in analog form. Goertzel said: “It’s happening bit-by-bit. If you take my glasses away, I’d become heavily impaired and couldn’t participate in the world.”

He points to subtle ways humans are already merging with computers. He said: “If you take the smart-phone away from my wife or kids, they will go into withdrawal and also become heavily impaired.”

note: David Hanson is founder + CEO of Hanson Robotics co.

David Hanson PhD | page
Hanson Robotics co. | home
Hanson Robotics co. | the robot: Sophia

Still, many people fear trans-humanism. Critics warn of designer babies and chips implanted in our minds. Theologians fear we will denigrate the soul’s sanctity by achieving immortality. In the early 2000s, the editors of Foreign Policy asked policy intellectuals: “What idea, if embraced, would pose the greatest threat to the welfare of humanity?” Francis Fukuyama, professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, pointed to transhumanism, calling it the “world’s most dangerous idea.” Writing for Psychology Today, Massimo Pigliucci stated, “There are several problems with the pursuit of immortality, one of which is particularly obvious. If we all live (much, much) longer, we all consume more resources and have more children, leading to even more overpopulation and environmental degradation.”

No matter the intellectual misgivings surrounding this controversial topic, the fact remains that if we view transhumanism the way it is conventionally defined, people have been evolving toward an updated version of humanity for some time. “In some ways, we already operate as human machine-hybrids,” said Goertzel. “If a caveman came into the modern world, he would be astounded at how symbiotic we are with the various machines we use. We use cars to get from point A to point B and air conditioners to regulate our temperature. In Hong Kong at least, you never see anyone who’s not holding a phone in their hand and staring at it.”

But there may be other, more pragmatic reasons why we need to become transhuman, if only to stand up to the intelligent machines that are coming. Early on, Elon Musk sounded the alarm about humans being usurped by artificial intelligence in a series of well-publicized warnings. Since then, he has suggested that the only way not to be overtaken by computers is to merge with our creations. His venture, Neuralink, is in development precisely for this purpose. Meant to combine human brains with computers, it’s his attempt to symbiotically join our minds with the machines. “The merge scenario with A.I. is the one that seems like probably the best,” he recently said on the podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience. “If you can’t beat it, join it.”

A visionary himself, Goertzel has long foreseen Musk’s vision coming, yet he urges caution in its implementation. “The next step to take is to wire these machines directly into the brain and body rather than have them held in our hands. Clearly, this takes time and thought because you need to be careful with sticking wires into human brains and bodies. But that work is being done, and it’s not going to take more than a decade.”

Returning to Vinge’s prescience at the end of the 20th century, we can see he was imagining a future that would occur even sooner than he predicted. If we take Goertzel at his word, we are through Fukuyama’s and others’ hand-wringing stage. We’re now at the point to think about practicalities. Technology slows down for no one. Whether we like it or not, there is a pre-smartphone and a post-smartphone world. Presumably, we all know someone who was loathe to adopt the new technology — it’s likely their business even suffered until they began using an iPhone or Android — or got swept aside by adapters willing to change with the times. Are we at the precipice of a similar phenomenon? Are we staring down the gulf at “Human 2.0?”

To put this dilemma in clearer focus, Goertzel advises considering the question, not from your perspective, but from your child’s. He paints a picture: “Imagine it’s eight years from now. All the other kids in your daughter’s third-grade class are way ahead of her because their brains are connected directly to Google and a calculator, and they’re SMSing back and forth by Wi-Fi telepathy between their brains while your daughter sits there in class being stunted because she must memorize things the old-fashioned way and can’t send messages brain-to-brain.”

Goertzel suggests you consider what you would do if your daughter’s teacher brought you in for a parent conference and told you your daughter couldn’t keep up with her classmates. Imagine she suggested some form of upgrade. You love your daughter. You want the best for her. What would you do?

At this point, the prospect of trans-humanism stops being an intellectual exercise. It becomes a question of subsistence.

— notes —

* Vernor Vinge: is Vernor Steffen Vinge PhD
* David Hanson: is David Hanson PhD • Jr.
* Ray Kurzweil: is Raymond Clyde Kurzweil