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What “Irrelevance” Means and What It Doesn’t
Mike Treder   Mar 9, 2010   Ethical Technology  

I have proposed that a scenario of slower-than-disruptive tech development over the next 15-20 years combined with weak or reduced opposition to human enhancement could result in “increasing irrelevance” for transhumanists. But what exactly does that mean?

Does it mean that nothing remarkable will happen, that the world of 2025 or 2030 will look almost exactly like 2010? Does it mean that the work of transhumanists at places such as the Future of Humanity Institute, or here at the IEET, isn’t important?

The answer to both questions is definitely No.

Even if Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns doesn’t turn out to provide a century’s worth of progress in the next 20 years, and if we don’t have smarter-than-human artificial intelligence or desktop nanofactories by the late 2020s, and if the merger of humans and robots into our cyborg descendants is still the stuff of science fiction two decades from now—even IF all those things happen (or, should I say, don’t happen), still a lot of things will have changed by then, and rather dramatically.

The drama, however, will only be apparent to those who haven’t lived through and experienced the gradualness of those changes as they take place on an incremental bit-by-bit basis.

Time Traveling

imageSure, if you took a time traveler from 2010 and plopped them down in 2030, they’d see things that surprised and perhaps even shocked them, just as a Sleeper from 1990 awakening today would find some changes that take a little getting used to.

But although we are all time travelers, moving steadily into the future at a rate of about 86,400 seconds per day, most of us never get to take a big leap ahead and so the future we experience, one day at a time, seems boringly familiar.

And in the same way that carrying a device in your pocket that allows you to take and send photographs, watch movies, or phone someone half a world away seems familiar to you now, so will the gadgets and gizmos and enhancements of the late 2020s seem familiar and unsurprising to you then.

Unconscious Confirmation

What happens in the meantime is a process that I call Unconscious Confirmation. We experience change gradually, so that sometimes things we might consciously have said we would never adopt or tolerate become acceptable when they come upon us a bit at a time, incrementally. We end up unconsciously confirming the tolerability of what we once would have labeled unacceptably dramatic change. We adapt and adopt without ever realizing it.

That’s why, 20 years from now, transhumanism might be largely forgotten—because everyone will be a transhumanist. Though, of course, they won’t call themselves that.

As Giulio Prisco puts it, “That would mean transhumanism, once revolutionary and disruptive, has dissolved into the fabric of the zeitgeist, and everyone just assumes that human enhancement and transcendence of all limits is good.”

But in the process of getting to that point—of going through many years of gradual change—decisions will be made at each step that will have an influence on the safety, the effectiveness, the acceptability, and the availability of various human augmentations or other transformative developments.

And as those decisions are made, someone needs to be around arguing in favor of choice, of morphological freedom, of fairness, and of reasonable precautions. That is the important role that technoprogressive transhumanists will play during the next two decades.

Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.


I think the transhumanist spirit has only little to do with the expected pace of technology development.

Transhumanists think human enhancement, from moderate prosthetics to disruptive breakthroughs like indefinite lifespans (aka immortality) and mind uploading, are feasible and desirable in principle.

Most transhumanists realize that reality is more complex than simple mathematical models, and the actual pace of technology development may well be much slower than we wish.

I don’t think our generation will see immortality and mind uploading. More specifically, I don’t think I will live long enough to see mind uploading, and I don’t think I will live much longer than my grandfather. This makes me sad. Does this mean I am not a transhumanist?

Not at all, quite the contrary. I do think future generations will see immortality and mind uploading, and I think their lives will be much better for it. This makes me happy. I do think the efforts of our generation are contributing to wonderful outcomes for our grandchildren. I wish them a very long, very interesting cosmic journey with awesome vistas much beyond our imagination, and I am happy for them. This is why I call myself a transhumanist.

To be a transhumanist is to view the world as a machine, a very very very complex one, yet just a machine. To be a transhumanist is to be a naturalist.

When you’re feeling or creating something that \“no machine could ever be capable of,\” you must only look back at the history of the species to realize your mistake. Our distant ancestors (not so many generations ago) were physically incapable of creating and feeling the things we today take for granted as part of the normal daily human experience. Specifically, they were incapable of generating and processing the mind states of our brains. Our thoughts would be as incomprehensible to them as they are today to any other species but human.

In the future there will be minds that far surpass our current ability to create and feel - as a result natural evolution, no artificial enhancement needed, just add time. But of course artificial enhancement is necessary for further progress, at some point, since biological systems have their inherent very limiting limitations that other arbitrary atomic configurations do not share.

It seems inevitable that our descendants will be more capable of everything we are now capable of. Our minds will be incompatible with their minds. Perhaps not on a daily, mundane level, but on some more fundamental level. You can\‘t tell the difference between a top physicists and, say, yourself, when you\‘re talking about the weather or shopping - when you\‘re doing non-expert things. The fundamental differences of cars aren\‘t obvious unless you put the pedal to the metal.

The future is, obviously, the result of the efforts of each generation, and as a transhumanist, one must make sure that the efforts are not only the right ones but the best possible ones - as soon as possible. Keep the pedal to the metal.

What mike, do you assume that ‘some stereoscopic VR contact lenses’  and ‘a decade of life extension benefits’ will suffice by 2025? Exponential growth will also exponentially give me and other H+ians new ideas to want want want now.

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