for Philip K. Dick's 1965 novel about a transhuman future,
Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.
A Deal with
the Digital Devil...
As defined by its hero, Max More, the transhumanism movement represents the,
In popular culture, transhumanism functions as a dark techno-religion expanding into the spiritless void of atheism.
In this neo-religion, transhumanists are the desert fathers evoking prophetic visions in the wilderness.
Allowing for diverse opinion, their prophecies chart various paths through biological and cultural eugenics...
As during the agricultural and industrial revolutions, technology is a deciding factor in the struggle for worldly power.
Running with that principle, most transhumanists believe thinking machines will surpass us in the near future. God-like artificial intelligence will be humanity's "final invention."
The reader may be forgiven if that does not sound like heaven on earth. The mismatch between transhuman fantasies and experienced reality is comical at times.
When a working prototype takes off, the resemblance is unsettling. Every time I decide transhumanism is just a cargo cult, another load of real cargo arrives.
For instance, CRISPR made it possible to edit genes with remarkable precision. The promise of designer babies and elective gene therapies lies, we are told, just over the horizon.
Outside of clinical
trials, however, direct gene-editing is restricted by
For an extra fee, companies like Genomic Prediction Inc. will screen for dwarfism genes and low intelligence. After analysis is complete, a superior embryo is placed in the womb.
The losers go to the
Around 160,000 deep-brain-stimulation devices have been implanted to suppress,
True brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) have also made enormous strides in the past decade.
Currently, these devices
have been implanted in more than 50 patients, allowing them to
operate robotic limbs and type text onscreen with their minds alone.
After obtaining FDA approval and massive investments by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, Synchron is moving fast.
Like many in this field, CEO Tom Oxley wants to progress from healing to enhancement. He hopes Synchron implants will one day allow healthy customers to "throw" their emotions into other people's brains.
Think of it as synthetic empathy...
Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's Neuralink is better known than its competitors, for one reason, because he advertises his "whole brain interface" as a future commercial device.
In fact, Musk warns it will be necessary for human relevance in the age of AI.
Musk's solution is,
Artificial intelligence sits at the apex of all these technologies.
After a long "AI winter," the past 10 years have seen an explosion in machine learning capabilities. Artificial neural networks simulate the brain's interconnected neurons, yielding nondeterministic algorithms that are not programmed so much as trained.
The best systems learn on their own.
Recent breakthroughs have enabled AI to master,
In every case, AI exceeds
Given its light-speed processing, massive data sets, and near-infinite memory, some in Silicon Valley are sure AGI will rise above humans to become a digital deity.
This possibility has
lured techies into metaphysical madness.
Last November, OpenAI unleashed ChatGPT, an advanced language AI known as a chatbot.
GPT was trained on countless e-books, all of Wikipedia, and most of the Internet.
Drawing on that corpus,
Rather than truly understanding what it writes, GPT simply predicts the most relevant next word in a sentence, based on what humans have said before...
As the sentences add up
to paragraphs, the final document that GPT produces within a moment
is often superior to anything a mediocre writer might labor for
hours to produce.
The executives and investors who gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the 2023 World Economic Forum (WEF) were thrown into a feeding frenzy. Since then, the promise of AI has been pumping stock values and stoking the public imagination.
Bill Gates is sure GPT will make e-learning - i.e., digital brainwashing - a global standard...
Unwilling to be left in the dust,
...have shoved their own unrefined chatbots into the ring.
Because humans are primed to attribute sentience to the spoken or written word, chatbots trigger our cognitive bias toward anthropomorphism.
As such, the AIs are a critical step on the path to intense human-machine relationships, or "human-AI symbiosis."
All of these elements are converging on a civilizational transformation.
One factor is the effect of actual technology on the real world. Even as economic prospects decline and social cohesion decays, a set of dangerous technologies continues to advance.
Another factor, coming out of the ad department, is the transhuman content of propaganda and corresponding shifts in the public psyche.
Since then, what was a fringe sci-fi philosophy has become a global corporate agenda.
Davos is crawling with executives and top government officials. Clearly, some portion of our elite entertain the idea of a man-machine merger.
One need not accept their
dreams as reality to know they will have real impacts on our lives,
however degraded the translation may be.
Across this heterodox movement, we see technology exalted as the highest power.
Their shared mythos is simple:
There are as many variations on this myth as there are Hindu gurus or Protestant denominations.
"Transhumanism" is a comparatively tame variation:
"Posthumanism," on the other hand, aims at a more distant and radical future.
Our artificial "mind children" will displace their human parents entirely. The virtual heavens and outer space will be populated with digital and mechanical beings far beyond our puny imaginations.
At that point,
Technologist Ray Kurzweil predicts a future somewhere between these extremes.
Kurzweil predicts this
will happen by 2045...
It was lifted from sci-fi writer Vernor Vinge, who was less hopeful that humanity would survive the transcendence of machine intelligence.
Now, in 2023 it is well known to the general public that,
In response, Elon Musk has entered the arms race with his new company X.AI.
On the one hand, Musk
prognosticates the diminished significance of human beings; on the
other, eager to amass allies, he woos conservatives with his stances
on free speech and pro-natalism.
Embracing the world's wealthiest transhumanist may be a necessary evil. But when reaching for the half-eaten apple, remember the bargain being offered...
Along with Musk's promise of a "maximum truth-seeking" AGI - free of political correctness - X.AI also comes with,
Some see Musk as a cyborg caesar who will fight against the AI plans of the leftist-dominated tech giants.
To my eyes, this is more
like an archetypal struggle between two evils, like Ahriman
against Lucifer. We will encounter our own demons all the way
Rather than praying to a higher power for grace or invoking the music of the spheres, transhumanists want to harness the volcanic power of evolution to storm heaven's gate on their own terms.
There is also a strong dose of satanic defiance, however tongue-in-cheek.
This was made explicit in arch-transhumanist Max More's infamous 1989 essay "In Praise of the Devil," in which he wrote:
Some observers note a resemblance between More's Luciferian transhumanism and the beliefs of the ancient Gnostics, who sought gnosis - or direct spiritual knowledge - rather than submitting to faith through orthodox Christian belief.
Yet to equate the two misses a critical distinction.
To the extent transhumanism is inspired by the Gnostic heresy, it is an inversion of an inversion.
It too sees our material world as inherently flawed, produced by the blind working of cosmic, biological, and cultural evolution.
They too seek a higher gnosis. Yet instead of entering that knowledge internally, leaving the physical world behind, they externalize gnosis through scientific exploration, eugenic intervention, and technological creation.
Rather than freeing mind
from matter, they are forcing the imagination into physical form, or
encoding a fabricated spiritual realm out of voodoo algorithms.
By conjuring a digital superintelligence - however delusional this goal may be - they are prepared to forfeit human freedom and dominion, both theirs and ours.
They keep faith that the Computer God, if properly trained and aligned to human well-being, will eliminate death and suffering via biological longevity and digital immortality.
But this passing of the torch comes with a price...
As it happens, the term
"artificial general intelligence" was popularized by Goertzel 10
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman openly declares that AGI will far surpass all human capabilities, and suggests "exclusion zones" for those who refuse to live under a digital god.
It is fitting that Goertzel's humanoid robot Sophia - made in Hong Kong - became an international symbol for the transhumanist movement.
In 2017, Saudi Arabia granted her honorary citizenship. One readily recognizes her gentle face, awkward expressions, and the fleshless scalp exposing mechanisms beneath her plastic skull.
Her "mind" is powered by Goertzel's OpenCog, a cloud-based, decentralized "global brain" composed of multiple AIs that communicate with each other.
Sophia takes her name from the Gnostic goddess - or aeon - who in her confusion, abandoned the fullness of eternal light. According to the Gnostic text Pistis Sophia, Sophia wandered down into the outer darkness and was tormented by the demons of "Self-Will."
She gave birth to the deformed, half-blind demiurge called Yaldabaoth, who convinced himself he was God, alone with the dead elements.
Seeking companionship, he created our world. If we project this perverse motif into the present age, we find his offspring reenacting that story by producing half-blind digital gods of their own.
And so on, until the fuel
While we were tending to our day-to-day lives, struggling to maintain stable societies, they were busy wiring the place with surveillance devices.
Tech companies have scraped our souls and made warped digital twins out of our essence. Using those data, they manipulate our politics and financial systems, control information flow, and hypnotize young and old alike.
Their smartphones are our
But their hits matter more than their misses.
The reality is that superior technique has always bolstered worldly power, enabling mad geniuses to rule,
...and on and on.
If we hold fast to our various traditions and refuse to embrace these technologies, they will shape the world without us. If we take the bait, we will be transformed. A half-eaten apple hovers before our eyes.
There may be no middle