Last weekend, I had the honor to give a speech at the World Futurist Society's 2014 conference in Orlando, Florida. The World Futurist Society is the largest nonprofit organization of its kind with over 25,000 members in nearly 100 countries. Its yearly conference is a mecca for thousands of futurists looking to hear the latest forward-looking news and ideas. Hundreds of speeches, workshops, panels, meet-the-author sessions, poster presentations, and luncheons occurred. My three favorite presentations were made by Chair of the London Futurists David Wood, Serious Wonder.com founder Gray Scott, and Singularity University professor Jose Cordeiro and his former graduate student Bj Price.
My own speech at the conference was loosely based on an essay I recently wrote titled Everyone Faces a Transhumanist Wager. I wanted to share a condensed version of the talk because it presents a fundamental dilemma every human being on the planet must confront. Here's the shortened speech:
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem. Each one of us has a problem. In fact, no matter where you go on the planet, no matter who you find, every single person on Earth has this same dire problem.
That problem is our mortality. That problem is called death.
The reason it's a problem is because human beings love life. We all love the precious chance of existence. Even in one's darkest psychological despair, or one's most exhausting hardship, or one's most catastrophic tragedy, the thing we call life is still always miraculous. We cherish life and we don't want to lose it or have it end.
But end it will. No matter how much we wish otherwise. The stark truth is right before our eyes--that nothing in today's world can save us from death. The obviousness of this overwhelms us every time we see a loved one or a friend whose body is lifeless, never to reach out, touch, and communicate with us again. Death is final.
The great irony for our species is that we don't just have this one problem--but two problems. The second problem is nearly as vicious as the first. The second problem is the fact that most people around the world are just not worried about the first problem--they're not worried about dying. They're either religious and have the supposed afterlife all worked out, or they just don't care, or they just don't think conquering human death is possible. Whatever people's reasons, they just don't see the first problem as serious enough to warrant immediate concern--especially in a meaningful, tangible way that makes them not die. And by not recognizing death as a problem, many people have no reason to attempt to defeat it.
I have made it a mission in my life to make people aware of these two problems. It is why I wrote my philosophical novel The Transhumanist Wager. The concept of the Transhumanist Wager in the book is simple. It explains that in the 21st Century--the age of unprecedented technological innovation--it is a betrayal of ourselves (and the potential of our best selves) to not tackle and solve our two most pressing problems using modern science. More importantly, my book explains how we can solve these two problems.
But first, some of you are asking: What is a transhumanist? What does such a person want? What are the main goals? Some people around the world still don't know what transhumanism means. When explaining the term to people, I find it easiest to use the Latin translation. "Transhuman" literally means beyond human.
Transhumanist goals are broad and varied, but mostly they revolve around human beings using science and technology to radically improve and enhance themselves, their lives, and society. Transhumanists often concentrate on stopping or reversing aging--we are sometimes called life-extensionists or longevity advocates. Many transhumanists also focus on robotics, bionics, artificial intelligence, biohacking, and other similar fields of study. Transhumanists are often, but not always, nonreligious. They find meaning in their own lives and possibilities, without a divine creator. The philosophies of transhumanism make it possible that in the future--using extreme science and technology--one may become a so-called divine creator if they wanted. In almost all circumstances, transhumanists prefer reason over any other method of understanding to guide themselves in life.
Every transhumanist comes to their own realization of why they feel they are a transhumanist. Each path is unique, personal, and totally different than another. I want to tell you briefly about my path. I was first introduced to transhumanism as a philosophy student attending Columbia University in New York City. For a class assignment, I was told to read a magazine article on some of the recent breakthroughs in cryonics. The article described a small but passionate group of scientists who believed that science and technology would be able to bring frozen patients back to life in the future if they were preserved properly. The article also discussed the transhumanism movement, which it described as a community of reason-based futurists who wanted to use science and technology to improve their lives and live indefinitely. I was deeply intrigued. I finished that article and wanted to know more. I spent the next ten years reading everything I could find on future technologies, human enhancement, and transhumanism. I discovered the writings and work of Max More, Aubrey de Grey, Ray Kurzweil, and futurist FM-2030.
However, it wasn't until I was in the jungles of the demilitarized zone of Vietnam as a journalist for the National Geographic Channel that I came to dedicate my life to the field of transhumanism--that I came to the powerful conviction that human life should be preserved indefinitely. While in the jungle filming Vietnamese bomb diggers searching the ground for unexploded ordinances to recover and sell, I almost stepped on a partially unburied landmine. My guide pushed me out of the way, and I fell to within a foot of the mine. Tens of thousands have died from landmines in the DMZ in the last forty years, and I was lucky I was not one of them.
For me, nothing was ever the same again after that moment. The landmine incident permanently stamped into my mind how fragile the human body was--how precious our minutes alive on this planet really are. Upon returning to the Unites States, I began writing The Transhumanist Wager. The reason I tell you my personal story about becoming a transhumanist is that every one of us has their own story. But the two main problems we each face: death, and general apathy of death--and the choice we must make regarding them: a Transhumanist Wager--that is not just for some people. It is for every reasonable person in the world.
Indeed, in the quickly advancing 21st Century, making a Transhumanist Wager approaches us now as an ultimatum--the most challenging one we may ever face. Luckily, given how fast modern science is growing and changing our lives, making the wager is also the only reasonable option. If you love life, you will dedicate yourself to finding a way to preserve that life. Transhumanists do not want to preserve their life via heaven-promising religions, false hopes, an unconscious mystic super spirituality, or otherwise. There are only rational ways transhumanists will do it: through the tools they can create with their own hands; through the reason their brains can muster; and through the conviction their being prompts of them by not wanting to die and disappear. To do otherwise in today's world is to remain irrational and, as my novel discusses, to be masochistic and even borderline suicidal. In a world where we have the technology to travel to Mars, where we can video chat on our cell phones to someone 10,000 miles away, or we can triple the lifespan of mice with biotechnology, it's our evolutionary destiny to significantly extend our lives and to be transhuman.
Once you have identified the human race's two main problems, and you understand that you each face a Transhumanist Wager, the question is: what to do? How can you solve these problems and make the right choice in the wager.
It's quite simple, really. The journey of the transhumanist requires no ritual, no prayer, and no spiritual sacrifice or payment. It requires only your ability to reason. Ask yourself how you can best dedicate yourself to a specific cause of transhumanism and its various fields: aging research, cyborgology, stem cell science, suspended animation, singularitarianism, genetic engineering, machine intelligence, or the dozens of other areas. Then do it. For some, this may mean going into science or technology as a new career. For others it will mean volunteering in transhuman groups that need support. For some it will mean going into politics and pushing for more science-friendly laws. For others, it will mean donating resources to scientific centers and struggling innovators. For some, it will mean creating transhumanist art and using it a vehicle to push for a more scientific-minded society. For others it will mean just talking with friends and family about why you think science and technology are the best drivers of civilization.
Whatever it is that one can do, be transhumanist-minded. Be a people that belongs to a bright, rational scientific future, not one dogged by the old ways of archaic institutions, apathy, fear, or primitivism. Be transhuman, and let us all embrace our evolutionary destiny and the joys of perfect health and being that science can help us reach.