Let’s consider four distinct scenarios of technological development and transhumanist assimilation that might take place over the next 15 to 20 years.
I’m setting this up in a classic four-box structure, using two axes and seeing how they interact with each other.
On the horizontal axis is Opposition to Transhumanism: Will it be strong, perhaps even getting stronger as transformative new technologies emerge? Or will it weaken, either due to slower than expected tech development or because a large majority of people simply accept transhumanist concepts without much argument?
The vertical axis looks at Emerging Technology Development Pace: How fast will nanotechnology, bio-engineering, machine intelligence, and robotics—among other technologies—continue to develop? Is the pace likely to quicken, or might things slow down a bit, perhaps due to a sluggish global economy or because the work itself is so extremely difficult?
Now we can examine the potential results should any of these four separate scenarios prove closest to what actually takes place.
Tech Pace FAST, Opposition WEAK: Promising but scary
For some transhumanists, this is the ideal outcome. Science and technology race ahead, with new breakthroughs and new developments coming faster all the time, while they who oppose the availability of transformative technologies for human enhancement are scattered, marginalized, disorganized, and unsuccessful.
Other transhumanists, though, see a need for caution and are concerned that rapid development and implementation of emerging technologies without due deliberation might lead to unsafe and unfair outcomes, perhaps creating a backlash. The most pessimistic scenarios in this area foresee dystopian possibilities of runaway AI, out-of-control nanotech warfare, and/or human enslavement by the machines.
Tech Pace FAST, Opposition STRONG: Conflicts abound
This might be the best thing we can hope for. Although clashes between proponents of human enhancement and those who want to stop it could turn ugly, the tensions and debates may in fact result in ultimately safer development. We also might see initiatives (designed to improve their public image) from high-tech powerhouses aimed at reducing poverty and inequality on a global scale. That would be nice.
Tech Pace SLOW, Opposition STRONG: Luddites rejoice
The nightmare scenario for transhumanists. Things don’t happen nearly as fast as many have expected and hoped, and when promising new technologies are developed, they are implemented at a snail’s pace due to objections from religious conservatives on the right and anti-progress forces on the left.
Tech Pace SLOW, Opposition WEAK: Increasing irrelevance
In my personal view, this is the most likely outcome. Although we will continue to see remarkable new technologies and impressive science, change itself won’t occur as disruptively as some might fear (or some might wish).
Moreover, with the actual future not turning out to be as shocking as the movies make it seem, today’s “radical” transhumanist ideas may gradually transform to ho-hum as the years go by. I can even imagine a history teacher in 2029 asking students, “Can anyone tell me what transhumanism was?”
We’ve just opened a new poll for IEET readers so you can give your opinion as to which of these four suggested scenarios will be closest to the reality of the next two decades. Tell us what you think!
UPDATE: The poll is now concluded—see the results here.