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East Asia is More “Transhumanist” than the USA & Europe
Hank Pellissier   Sep 1, 2013   Ethical Technology  

Transhumanism is a “Western philosophy” - it’s roots can be traced to FM-2030 (born in Iran, but lived and taught in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami) and Max More (born in England, founded Extropy Institute in California, currently CEO of Alcor in Arizona). Transhumanism today is primarily identified with Humanity Plus, a nonprofit affiliated with two California groups - Singularity Institute and Foresight Institute, plus Utah’s Mormon Transhumanist Association.

Humanity+ has dozens of chapters worldwide, but the bulk of them are in the USA. China is listed by H+ as having one chapter, and Japan’s “organizing” a chapter - but South Korea and Singapore aren’t represented. 

Does the history of Transhumanism and present-day H+ centralization in the USA/Euro sphere indicate that the rest of the world is far, far behind in “transhumanist” and “techno-futurist” thinking?  

To be more specific: Is East Asian (China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan) lack of representation in transhumanist organizations signify that it is lagging in forward-thinking?  That it hasn’t grasped the visionary potential of transhumanist philosophy? That it is years behind the West in creating a world that significantly enhances the human species?

No. Quite the inverse, in my research-substantiated opinion. 

This essay will assert and seek to prove that East Asia is actually the present Leader in “Transhumanist” ideas and on-the-ground implementation. East Asia will also, in the future, IMO, increasingly guide the rest of the (more backward) planet with its innovative, forward-friendly success.

Here’s a list of “transhumanist” categories that East Asia is triumphant in:

Elevated Brain Power - Empowering human intelligence / mental ability is a preeminent transhumanist goal. To be “superhuman” necessitates that a person is, of course, “supersmart.” Every transhumanist poll, like the Terasem Survey I conducted, also indicates that “increased intelligence” is one of the two most desired goals of transhumanists (the other is longevity). Now, let’s examine which nations have achieved the highest intelligence (IQ) per capita. Here’s the Top 12, according to statisticbrain.com:

1. Hong Kong     107 IQ

2. South Korea 106 IQ

3. Japan 105 IQ

4. Taiwan 104 IQ

5. Singapore 103 IQ

6. Austria 102 IQ

6. Germany 102 IQ

6. Italy 102 IQ

6. Netherlands 102 IQ

10. Sweden 101 IQ

10. Switzerland 101 IQ

11. Belgium 100 IQ

12. China 100 IQ

The Top 5 are all East Asian nations. Although China, with its 1.3 billion population, is “only” #12, it is still far ahead of the USA - #19 with 98 IQ.

Longevity - Living a radically long life, i.e., eliminating death via attaining “immortality”, is perhaps the primary goal of transhumanists. The attainment of this accomplishment will most realistically be accomplished in small bite-sized increments of time. What nations are presently leading in life extension?  Who is most effectively chipping away at the power of death?

1. Monaco   89.63 years

2. Macau 84.46

3. Japan 84.19

4. Singapore 84.07

5. San Marino 83.12

6. Andorra 82.58

7. Guerney 82.32

8. Switzerland 82.28

9. Hong Kong 82.20

10. Australia 81.98

East Asian zones take 3 of the top 4 slots here, and 4 of the top 10. (Admittedly, China and South Korea are far behind). The most significant statistic is Japan’s high-ranking, because it’s population of 127 million is approximately 4X greater than all the other nations on the list, combined. Japanese are generally recognized as the longest-living people, with extremely healthy senior citizens that routinely do amazing feats, like the recent 80-year-old Yuichiro Miura who climbed Mount Everest. 

Education - Training learners in fields that are required for technological innovation must be regarded as a transhumanist goal. Nations that best educate their children to contribute positively to “enhancing” humanity need to be applauded for their valuable schools. So.. what nations are presently producing the best-educated youngsters? Who will contribute “Human Capital”? What nations are preparing kids that out-compete all others in international tests? Below is the Top 12 ranking for PISA (Program for International Student Assessment)   

     Math

1. China: Shanghai 600

2. Singapore 562

3. Hong Kong 555

4. Korea 546

5. Chinese Taipei 543

6. Finland 541

7. Liechtenstein 536

8. Switzerland 534

9. Japan 529

10. Canada 527

11. Netherlands 526

12. China: Macao 525

     Science

1. China: Shanghai 575

2. Finland 554

3. Hong Kong 549

4. Singapore 542

5. Japan 539

6. Korea 538

7. New Zealand 532

8. Canada 529

9. Estonia 528

10. Australia 527

11. Netherlands 522

12. Chinese Taipei 520

East Asian nations clearly dominate in this category, as they did in the “Elevated Brain Power” (Intelligence) rankings. The results are even more skewed when one considers that the Western competitors generally have minuscule populations - Finland (5.4 million), Estonia (1.34 million), Liechtenstein (36,304).

Per Capita Income via “Human Capital”

The ability to generate economic wealth via one’s intelligence should also be regarded as a “transhumanist” value. This characteristic has been defined as “human capital.” Many regions of the world are wealthy due to exploitation of local natural resources, such as mineral deposits, timber, fertile agricultural land, oil-and-gas. Getting rich doing that is just “lucky” - far more impressive is the generation of wealth solely via one’s ability to create, invent, innovate, discover and lead. 

What nations are world leaders in “Human Capital” ? Unquestionably, we’re back to admiring East Asia. Many regions here - Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan - are significantly lacking in natural resources. Their primary method of income is simply their own well-educated, hard-working population.

Take a look at the chart below - it is a forecast - an estimate of the leading nations in the world in Per Capita Income in 2050. 

1. Singapore 137,710

2. Hong Kong 116,639

3. Taiwan 114,093

4. South Korea 107,752

5. USA 100,802

6. Saudi Arabia 98,311

7. Canada 96,375

8. UK 91,130

9. Switzerland 90,956

10. Austria 90,158

If you think 2050 is too far away to be relevant, please note that Singapore is already #1 - it has passed oil-rich Norway.

The McKinsey report that produced the forecast, states that, “It is not hyperbole to say we are observing the mostsignificant shift in the earth’s economic centre of gravity in history.” 

Another report, by Citigroup/Knight Frank, predicts “nearly half of the world’s economic output—49 per cent—will be in Asia by 2050. Today it is at 27 per cent. Europe and North America’s share, currently at a combined 41 per cent, will fall to a mere 18 per cent by 2050.” 

​Scientific Leadership

Transhumanism’s goals need to be guided by leaders who are well-educated and scientifically-literate. Does the West fit this description?  Decidedly not. 

Out of 44 Presidents in the United States, only one of them received a PhD (Woodrow Wilson, in history and political science). Additionally, only one President - Herbert Hoover - had a science / engineering background. The bulk of USA executive leaders have been lawyers or soldiers.

Meanwhile, in contrast, East Asia is presently guided by leaders who are far more scientifically-trained than their Western counterparts. For example, the behemoth nation of China has a President (Hu Jintao) has a degree in Hydraulic Engineering, the Premier (Wen Jiabao) has an advanced graduate degree in Hydraulic Engineering, and eight of the top nine top officials in China are engineers. 

Want more?  The current President of Singapore, Tony Tan has a Master’s in Science from MIT in operations research, and a PhD from the University of Adelaide in Applied Mathematics. In South Korea, Park Geun-hye, the first woman elected President, earned her degree in electronic engineering.

Tech-Savvy Populace, Innovators & Investors

The ability of a population to be “early-adaptors”, “tech-literate”, and financially supportive of new research and development is a decidedly transhumanist requirement. In multiple areas of this category, East Asians are also either in-the-lead, or highly competitive. Here’s numerous stats with links:

China leads the world in patent filings

Japan leads in patents granted  

East Asia leads in “business funding” 

Three East Asian nations are ranked in the Top 7 in Bloomberg’s list of “Most Innovative Nations.”  (South Korea #2, Japan #6, Singapore #7)

Singapore is ranked #1 as best country in which to run a business

Japan leads the robotic industry. Hot on it’s mechanical heels are China and South Korea.

China is the “leading nation in the artificial intelligence research field in terms of the number of publications” 

China is “soaring ahead in nanotechnology” 

Taiwan “Well-placed to be a Biotechnology Leader” 

My Conclusion

It seems clear to me that the future, technologically and economically, is rapidly shifting to East Asia. But it doesn’t seem like transhumanists are cognizant of this.

There are occasional exceptions. Ben Goertzel has written about East Asia in essays such as The Chinese Singularity and A Samsung Robot in Every Home by 2020? and he organized a Humanity+ transhumanist conference in Hong Kong. I’ve written about East Asia for Hplus in my essay The Next Global Superpower Is… Korea? and for IEET in the article “Why is “Confucian Culture so Wildly Successful?”  Additionally, there have been 2 articles written about Japanese “robot butt-cheeks”… here and here but very little other coverage of anything else East Asian. 

What’s my gripe? 

I believe transhumanists, and the West in general, need to wake up and examine the East Asian phenomenon with open eyes. In doing so, we  might face realities that are jarring, uncomfortable. For example: East Asian success was NOT gained entirely via Western-style democracies. China and Singapore, for example, had authoritarian, one-party governments - defined, IMO, as “Intelliarchies” or Plato’s “Rule By The Wise” systems. Should we consider: is Western-style democracy, with its huge impediments caused by bickering two-party and multi-party systems, and its corruption-via-corporate-billionaires - absolutely the “perfect” form of government? Does East Asia offer any solutions?  

I believe Transhumanism needs to acknowledge, respect, and educate itself on East Asian accomplishments, and what-seems-to-be-inevitable East Asian future leadership. If Transhumanism retains it’s blinkered, Western-centric POV, it runs the risk of looking xenophobic, ignorant, and irrelevant.

Cryonics, perhaps ironically, is the main transhumanist technology that presently out-paces East Asia… but will the healthiest way to “thaw-out” be discovered via superior East Asian scientists?

Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.



COMMENTS

@Hank Pellissier:

Respectfully, Hank, I am not sure I understand the connection you are making here. It seems like what you are showing is that successful progress towards trans-humanist ends- has no connection with the existence of trans-humanist social movements, which I am sure was not your point at all.

Perhaps that is because at least some trans-humanist ends, such as increased longevity, can be seen as social goods from a variety of perspectives.

What I think it would be interesting to know more about is how East Asian societies view the future more generally, and to know how those views are similar/different from ideas of the future in the West, both trans-humanist and others. That would give us an idea of how much our vision of the future is influenced by deeper cultural/historical currents and how much is a product of a now globally shared modernity itself.

If we knew that, and you are right that Asia is destined to shape the technological landscape of the future, we would have an indication of what the future might look like which might have strikingly different emphases than the future we in the West imagine.

Hi Rick - the points I want to make are:

1. Transhumanism is a Western philosophy but it’s goals are put into practice better in East Asia plus research & development of Big Transhumanist Goals will most likely be accomplished in East Asia.

2. This likelihood is seldom acknowledged in transhumanist conversation, although it is widely forecast by professional futurists

3. Western transhumanists should be examining the success of East Asian nations
perhaps consider that we can learn something… but there seems no inclination to do that

 

 


4. I think transhumanism will be attained when enhancement tech products enter the marketplace and are universally adopted, like smart phones. East Asia will have more capital more scientists and engineers better schools and a far larger population of consumer “early adopter”

5.. this is all good,

To conclude, i just think transhumanism would look smarter and more grounded in upcoming realities if it acknowledged the rise of East Asia with greater consistency.

 

 

 


4. transhumanism will be gained by new tech products entering the marketplace and being widely adopted. There will be far more capital in East Asia, more scientists and engineers, better education systems and a far larger population of consumers / “early adopters”

5. This is all good, probably.

To conclude I just think transhumanism would look smarter and more grounded in realities if it acknoledged the rise of East Asia with consistent regularity

Thanks, Hank.

Totally agree that paying attention to East Asia is essential.

“To conclude, i just think transhumanism would look smarter and more grounded in upcoming realities if it acknowledged the rise of East Asia with greater consistency.”

And not only transhumanism. I have the impression that most of the West is woefully ignorant - and/or in denial - of the rise of East Asia, and the (albeit evolving) values of those societies. I also have the impression that there are less cultural / religious / social impediments there than in the West.

“To conclude, i just think transhumanism would look smarter and more grounded in upcoming realities if it acknowledged the rise of East Asia with greater consistency.”

America is insular; so is the country that originally created the US:
England. Both are protected by lg. bodies of water. Both have thought of themselves as the greatest nations in the world; both separately and in tandem pushed imperialism to the furthest limit. ‘The West’ is more of an abstraction, it would be impossible to address ‘the West’ in a comment except to say you are quite right the West is woefully unaware of Asia—and Africa is considered of little account. In fact in the Midwest you hear the N-word if you’re out on the street.
So right now it doesn’t look good. In W. Asia we are going nowhere fast because of the same lack of awareness. (Someone might mention in the comments on Messrs Murphy’s and Eskow’s articles the outcome of the Syrian situation will be harsh language, no action, a Lebanese-type chronic civil war. Nationalism rules).
This is what makes me cringe:

“Transhumanism is a ‘Western philosophy’ - it’s roots can be traced to FM-2030 (born in Iran, but lived and taught in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami)”

I knew the guy, and if you examine the entire package of transhumanism, FM was and is an embarassment. As things develop we have to more on-the-ball; in your own lives you surely are. In the future people are not going to tolerate a jet-set son of an Iranian diplomat preaching down to them. It did work in the past, Giulio and others who lived through the beginnings of transhumanism can probably confirm that. Today, though life is harder-edged, there is more of a degree of seriousness- or at the v. least there’s a greater awareness. Less are going to allow the wool pulled over their eyes by Maharishis or futurists. Positive things are occurring, but wealthy academics ought not tell the poor:

“too bad you’re hungry, but here’s a book on transhumanism, and soon marijuana will be fully legalised—hope you don’t get the munchies!”

This is not aimed at anyone at IEET, only at FM and his ilk. Goes back yet again to not being everything to everybody. In the past it was simpler.. people were simpler. At the New School of Social Research in 1967, smarm wasn’t so bad. The larger society—of boys being mincemeat in ‘Nam for instance—was far worse. (Which is where the mass escapism of hiding in Haight Ashbury derived from). Today subcultures are countless thus it would be impossible to write what is and is not escapism today. But one can see negative reinforcement right in front of you, everywhere. And bad advice is everywhere as well. Doesn’t matter to me anymore because I now see it will be like this until at least mid-century. Forty/fifty years of this, at least, is excessively discouraging to any older person who doesn’t want to drown themselves in drink to forget. Why do you think alcoholism is common?

It is true pep talks are necessary, though does anyone at IEET believe in the fatuous predictions made for the next couple of decades? Or take Stephen Hawkings IEET quotation of the day:

“The survival of the human race depends on its ability to find homes elsewhere in the universe because there’s an increasing risk that a disaster could destroy Earth as we know it. Humans could have a permanent base on the moon in 20 years and a colony on Mars in the next 40 years. We won’t find anywhere as nice as Earth unless we were to go to another star system.”
—Stephen Hawking, Ph.D.

We could have a base on the Moon in the next 20 yrs; a colony on Mars in the next 40, however we wont, will we?

“I believe transhumanists, and the West in general, need to wake up and examine the East Asian phenomenon with open eyes” - yes, Hank, undoubtedly.

However it would be useful to distinguish transhumanist technologies, meaning those that can support and advance TH’s goals, vaguely defined as they are, from transhumanism as an ideology.  I write this from personal observation based on having lived in japan for six years during the 90s and traveled there a lot since then, and i found that while technologically there is a lot going on in the region, there is not that much taking place in respect to discussing TH principles.  Admittedly my view is limited because i do not speak the language, but my wife, who is native, does, and every so often i ask her to check the web for certain issues and it is rare that she comes up with anything, at least in japan.

I define TH as becoming aware of our own part in evolution and beginning to take control of it, which implies agreeing on where we want to go with this new and developing power, which is necessary at least as long as we are confined to this small rock together, and which is the main subject of the current TH debate.  Not much of this debate currently takes place outside of europe and the americas.

Therefore i would complement your correct conclusion, that western transhumanism must become more aware of what is going on there thus: the people active in the region likewise must become more aware of the discussion of the foundational, ideological transhumanist principles, and transcend the dependence on being driven largely by markets and fashions.  It is time for the TH Internationale.

I intend to move back to japan in the near future and hope to play my part in the emerging debate.

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