Why 'upgrading' humanity is a transhumanist myth | Douglas Rushkoff | Big Think

Why ‘upgrading’ humanity is a transhumanist myth
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Though computer engineers claim to know what human consciousness is, many neuroscientists say that we’re nowhere close to understanding what it is, or its source. Scientists are currently trying to upload human minds to silicon chips, or re-create consciousness with algorithms, but this may be hubristic because we still know so little about what it means to be human. Is transhumanism a journey forward or an escape from reality?
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DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF:

Douglas Rushkoff is the host of the Team Human podcast and a professor of digital economics at CUNY/Queens. He is also the author of a dozen bestselling books on media, technology, and culture, including, Present Shock, Program or Be Programmed, Media Virus, and Team Human, the last of which is his latest work.
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TRANSCRIPT:

Douglas Rushkoff: I think we still know so little about what it means to be human that the confidence with which we think we can upload ourselves to silicon or recreate ourselves with algorithms is shocking to me. The only ones out there who think they know what human consciousness is are computer engineers. If you talk to actual brain researchers and neuroscientists, they say, we’re nowhere close. We don’t even know for sure what goes on in a single square centimeter of soil. We’re still trying to teach agriculture companies that the soil is alive, that it’s not just dirt that you can put chemicals on. It’s a living matrix. If we don’t even know what a single centimeter of soil is, how do we know what the human brain is? We don’t. We don’t know what the source of consciousness is. We don’t know where we come from. We don’t even know if there’s a meaning to this universe or not. Yet, we think that we can make a simulation that’s as valid as this? Every simulation we make misses something. Think about the difference between being in a jazz club and listening to a great CD. There’s a difference, you know. And some of those differences, we understand, and some of them, we don’t.

So when I see people rushing off to upload consciousness to a chip, it feels more like escape from humanity than it is a journey forward. And I get it. Life is scary. I mean, women, real-life women, are scary. You know, the people are scary. The moisture is scary. Death is scary. Babies are scary. Other people who don’t speak the same language or have the same customs, they’re scary. All sorts of stuff is scary. And I understand the idea of this kind of having a Sim City perfected simulation that I can go into and not have to worry about all that stuff I don’t know, where everything is discrete, everything is a yes/no, this/that, all the choices have been made. There’s a certain attractiveness to that, but that’s dead. It’s not alive. There’s no wonder. There’s no awe. There’s nothing strange and liminal and ambiguous about it.

I was on a panel with a famous transhumanist, and he was arguing that it’s time that human beings come to accept that we will have to pass the torch of evolution to our digital successors. And that once computers have the singularity and they’re really thinking and better than us, then we should really only stick around as long as the computers need us, you know, to keep the lights on and oil their little circuits or whatever we have to do. And then, after that, fade into oblivion. And I said, hey, no, wait a minute. Human beings are still special. We’re weird. We’re quirky. We’ve got David Lynch movies and weird yoga positions and stuff we don’t understand, and we’re ambiguous and weird and quirky. You know, we deserve a place in the digital future. And he said, oh, Rushkoff, you’re just saying that because you’re human. As if it’s hubris, right? Oh, I’m just defending my little team. And that’s where I got the idea, all right, fine, I’m a human. I’m on Team Human. And it’s not Team Human against the algorithms or against anything other than those who want to get rid of the humans. I think humans deserve a place.

Certainly, until we understand what it is we are, we shouldn’t get rid of us. And as far as I’m concerned, we’re cool. We’re still weird and funny and wonderful. And yeah, we destroyed the environment. We did really nasty things. But I would argue we do those things when we’re less than human. We do those things when we can dehumanize others. You can’t have slaves if you’re thinking of those as people. You can only have slaves if you’re thinking of them…

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Comment (36)

  1. Since all the cybertrons didn't get it, here's a summary of his main point on simulation uploading (just one type of uploading among the radical transhuman tech): Simulations are imperfect because knowledge is imperfect. Epistemology is imperfect and thus a brain copy is not a brain in every and all ways. So while okay for nonliving environments, simulation is problematic for brain uploading in ways we don't know that we don't know.
    There, argue that.

  2. I think I'd have to watch this again to understand his point but the obliteration of actual authentic humanity seems like a possibility and that's frightening. We are not machines we are flesh and blood, we care, we love, we laugh and we have finite lifespans. We are created beings boom time I redpilled the reader… objection: science has disproved God hasn't it? Well of course it has by creating a strawman parody of God eg zeus threw lightning bolts now we know how lightning works so zeus doesn't exist therefore no God could ever exist. What if the God that michio kaku postulates about could exist? A mind and being so far beyond us that anything we imagine him/it to be is a laughable anthropomorphism as ridiculous as an ant trying to imagine a quantum supercomputer..
    I return to my belief we are created beings of immense complexity and we will lose our souls in the process of becoming transhuman. Man needs transformation but of his inner being not mind control brain chips that strip him of independent thought and God given autonomy. Just my thoughts hey. Accuse me of religious dogma and small mindedness if you want

  3. There are results in computer science that say basically everything can be simulated on a computer. We have a lot of uncertainty about what consciousness is, but we still know its the sort of thing that can be simulated. We might have a lot of uncertainty about what something is or where it exists, but still know its made of atoms.
    This is the view from which Neurologists:"we don't understand the human mind" and computer scientists:" It can be simulated" are consistent.

  4. People are talking about how we will probably have the tech to upload minds someday. Researchers are scanning flaworm brains. I don't think many people are actually rushing to upload minds now.

  5. "Every simulation misses something". Yes, and in the case of mind uploading, one of those somethings will be brain cancer. The aim is to make a virtual world that is at least as good as reality, not one that is realistic in every particular.

  6. Why does mind uploading entail a "discrete" world where all the choices have been made. You can attach a simulated mind to a robot body and go out into the real world. 100% prosthetics.

  7. I'm on team transhuman. I want to a future containing recognisably human beings. But I also want those humans to be the best they can be. This is a careful balance of fixing the most glaring and problematic deficiencies of the human bodies, yet leaving the enough to stay human. I think that mind uploads in unageing superhelthy semirobotic bodies is about the right point in the tradeoff. They would still be human, still speaking human languages, making jokes and cultural references with all the strange diversity of modern humanity and more. If you met one on the street, you would just see an impressively fit and attractive human, and that wouldn't change as you got to know them. They would just never need to go to the doctors or the graveyard.

  8. One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun.


    Reinhold Niebuhr, Beyond Tragedy

  9. This guy honestly seems cynical and pretty ignorant on the actually philosophies and technicalities of transhumanism and kind of comes across as condescending especially when he starts saying that we only want to escape the "scary aspects of life".

  10. Transhumanism is pretty cringe lmao it takes fear of death and tries to make it a noble thing kinda pathetic.

    Fact is transferring a consciousness is impossible in any foreseeable way currently as it is likely not a thing tangible in the physical universe you may be able to create a copy with all your memories but your dead and that isn't the same consciousness its just an entirely new one most likely with a newer body most likely to be afficted with the physical limitations of a body that may outlast the memory storage of its own brain. So your likely just creating a new person with all the same memories with a newer body who will be stuck unable to adapt to a changing world or even form new memories essentially there likely to just be riddled with alzheimers and likely no way to adapt to a changing world. Because for one this process would be to expensive for most people to even undergo so the world will change witrh new people as it always has.

    So yes immortality in the current way we understand how things work is impossible and quite frankly Im glad it should stay that way people are meant to die. And I would never choose to live forever you would just subject yourself to misery out of fear.

  11. i believe that humanity is the realization of sapience, thus if u are an advanced ai with sapience and now that then you are human. further than that how does uploading brains have to do with getting kids in caves to mine rare earth metals? Bruh what

  12. This guy is an absolute moron. I don't think he understands what the internet is. We know the soil is alive. We know, but big companies choose to ignore it, and urge farmers to use their chemicals regardless.

    People are not scary. Babies are not scary. Women are not scary. Humanity is not scary. We're stuck. We're stuck in the same model we've had for 20+ years. Humans are meant to evolve with our world. BREAKING NEWS: The world has evolved. Humanity is stagnant.

    He does not understand this idea. Nowhere close. A simulation that you can go into to escape the "real" world? Not really. This follows the same vein as that BBC video.

    Something to contemplate: The absence of life is not death. Are cell-phones dead? Is concrete?

    Humanity is already 'passing the torch,' it just isn't happening as fast as what is readily available. Do me a solid, think about what people in the 70s or 80s would think of a modern cell phone. They'd think it's science fiction. There's no buttons, no headphone jack, and in some cases, no charging cord.

    At this point, he's just repeating himself. We're weird, quirky, we make shit movies for profit, and we don't know everything there is to know. Does he not see that that's THE POINT? As lifespan increases, so does knowledge, usually. Ergo, why would you not want to increase that as far as possible?

    Sure, humans deserve a place. In history. Not as the be-all end-all of life. If the technology to transcend this mortal coil becomes available, why wouldn't you take it?

    Finally, all of this isn't now. We're taking strides towards it, yes. However, it'll be available to your grandchildren, IF we take the steps now. The environment won't hold for that long. At this point, humanity has entered a race against the clock. Will we destroy our only hope of life before we can save ourselves? He wants the continuation of humanity, yes? Then let us take the steps that we need to take now.

  13. At this point, he is right: we can't fully simulate universe, we can't recreate consciousness or upload it, but you can't really look at transhumanism through the lens of common intelligence. Lots of times creation of new technology expands the area of possibilities in a way we couldn't have anticipated.

  14. We can tinker but make a god? I guess…extinct ourselves? Sounds dumb. But is this the natural course of evolution? The serpent was right! Ya shall be as gods! Go to jesus bcuz the bible called it homies.

  15. Any woman who employs manmade bio-modification for the purposes of birth control is not a biological female but trans-human. They are already amongst us.

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