In late January 2021 I joined a protest against political persecution at the Russian Consulate in New York City and at Times Square.
The reason I wrote what I wrote on my sign is that Vladimir Putin’s regime is very dangerous not only for the people of Russia (spoiler alert: it is dangerous for everyone who is within reach of the current Russian state). It’s dangerous for humanity. This regime is a source of a whole bouquet of existential risks.
Russia possesses a massive arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. This fact should concern us not only because Putin can give orders to use these weapons. This situation is dangerous because of the degradation of all social institutions in Russia, a tendency which increases the probability of accidents. 2020 was full of messages about ecological disasters in Russia. Sooner or later something will go wrong with nuclear technologies that have such poor oversight.
Putin uses every opportunity to escalate conflicts around the world – starting from the Second Chechnya War, which allowed Putin to become president in first place, then direct invasion of Georgia and Ukraine, and frequent sending of Wagner private militaries (“they are not there”) to Syria, Libya, Mozambique, and other conflict zones.
This regime uses every opportunity to create conflicts remotely. A troll factory in St. Petersburg is working day and night to create and support fake news around the globe. They create divisions among people to spread chaos. And while the world struggles against othering and is moving towards encouraging belonging, these trolls support conservative-nationalistic groups.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and artificial general intelligence (AGI) are becoming more and more powerful. Even despite the regime’s practice of pushing talented people to move outside of its borders, Russia has a very strong pool of specialists who have technical ability to develop sophisticated AI systems. And Putin’s regime is going to use such abilities to create a “Digital Gulag” (“sovereign Internet”) and lethal autonomous systems.
Last but not least, the regime distracts human potential and resources from solving important problems like aging, climate change, income inequality, existential risks, othering, and numerous other major issues. Instead the operatives of the Putin regime create a system of oppression, more police, more prisons, more private militaries, and more luxury palaces for Putin and his friends. (The approximate expense of Putin’s palace in the south of Russia is $1,327,500,000.)
Humanity needs a free, prosperous, and responsible Russia! Humanity needs a Russia which will be able to help solve world problems, not to add to them. That’s why Putin and his kleptocratic administration has to leave right now!
Pavel Ilin is the Secretary of the United States Transhumanist Party.
This summary is prepared based on the State of AI Report 2020, which was crafted by Nathan Benaich and Ian Hogarth.
The AI industry is very diverse in its application, and it’s going through a transformation from the magical-wand stage to the plateau of adequate development. Let’s take a look at what is happening in the AI industry.
We haven’t come up with new super-smart algorithms. Progress in model performance keeps being driven by big computational budgets and huge data sets. Training of the GPT-3 language model, with its 175 billion parameters, cost approximately $10 million. At the same time larger models require less data to achieve the same level of performance. With a deep-learning approach we are getting close to the point when the cost of training will grow outrageous with incrementally smaller improvements of the model.
An important fact is that the code base of most artificial intelligence systems remains closed. Only 15% of papers publish their code. This raises a lot of concerns about reproducibility and AI safety. AI explainability remains a critical issue for AI safety research; there are promising avenues of exploration such as Asymmetric Shapley Values, but so far it’s unknown how AI systems make decisions.
Natural language processing (NLP) models successfully simulate common scenes and linguistics, but they fail dramatically with understanding problems and context and forming knowledge.
Talented people with skills in math and computer science are the drivers of the progress in the AI field. More and more US professors are being recruited by tech companies. This affects the quality of education that US universities can provide. We already can see a decline in the level of entrepreneurship among recent graduates. At the same time Universities are creating AI-related degree programs.
The US keeps its position as the main attractor of talented individuals. For example China contributes to the talent pool of AI developers, but after publication of their first results, talented people are most likely to move to the US. 90% of international PhD graduates stay and work in US universities and corporations. Demand for AI talent remains much higher than supply, even despite COVID-19’s impact on market growth.
AI keeps progressing not only on a theoretical and research level. Many real world applications are already in use, and they are affecting the industries in various ways.
New drugs are being designed by AI, and they are already in clinical trials. For example AI-designed drugs for OCD treatment are out for testing in Japan. AI drug-discovery startups keep raising funds. Also big pharma is teaming up with startups around preserving privacy during drug discovery. For example OpenMined uses federated learning to preserve privacy with medical data. Viz.ai presented the first product which was approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the US. Their product analyzes tomography scans and alerts specialists who can treat patients before they receive damage that leads to the long-term disability.
Progress in self-driving cars stays limited. Only 3 companies in California have permission to conduct testing of self-driving cars without a safety driver. Self-driving mileage remains microscopic compared to human drivers (2,874,950 miles for self-driving cars versus 390,313,739,000 miles for humans). The research and development process for self-driving cars remains very expensive. The major companies in this field raised around $7 billion since July 2019. Tesla chose to approach gradually adding self-driving features to its cars, but human drivers still remain in the loop. Recent approaches such as supervised learning do not perform well enough. To make dramatic breakthroughs, new approaches are required.
Computer vision unlocks faster accident and disaster recovery intervention. It also reduces the amount of human hours spent using a microscope, which could lead to acceleration of development processes and reduction of product costs.
AI drives sales and at the same time reduces costs in supply chains and manufacturing. Robotic process automation and computer vision are the most commonly deployed techniques in the enterprise. Speech, natural language generation, and physical robots are the least common. Recently IBM partnered with health insurance company Humana. IBM implemented natural language understanding (NLU) software which is already live and handles calls. It not only redirects calls to the different queues; it’s able to answer basic questions, such as “How much will the copay be to visit a specific specialist?” without human intervention.
Modern AI, in order to perform well, requires a lot of computing resources. Specialized AI hardware keeps progressing, and companies are now presenting second generations of their products. Graphcore M2000 offers faster training time to drop the cost of state-of-the-art models. Google’s new TPU v4 delivers up to a 3.7x training speedup over their TPU v3. NVIDIA will not rest either; it has achieved up to 2.5x training speedups with the new A100 GPU vs V100. Increasing interest towards machine learning devOps is a signal that the industry shifting its focus from how to build models to how to run them.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, investments keep coming into the industry. Private funding rounds of greater than $15 million for the AI-first companies remain strong.
Usage of AI for facial recognition tasks is extremely common around the world. Around half of the world allows facial recognition. This has become a recognizable political and ethical problem, especially when use of this technology leads to the wrong arrests. There were two highly publicized cases of wrong arrest in the US (which is probably just a tip of the iceberg). In May 2019, Detroit police arrested Michael Oliver who was wrongly accused of a felony for supposedly reaching into a teacher’s vehicle, grabbing a cellphone and throwing it, cracking the screen, and breaking the case. In January 2020, Detroit police arrested Robert Williams as a shoplifter who allegedly stole five watches from Midtown’s trendy Shinola store in October 2018. In both cases charges were dismissed but harm was done.
Industry took a more thoughtful approach as a reaction to the AI mistakes. Microsoft deleted its database of 10 million faces, Amazon announced a one-year pause on letting the police use its facial recognition tool Rekognition. IBM announced it would sunset its general purpose facial recognition products. Washington State in the US introduced requirements to acquire warrants to run facial recognition scans. The ImageNet, a popular image database, is making an effort toward reduction of the biases in its image collections.
As Deep Fake technology produces more and more realistic media, it becomes illegal to use in certain states in the US. California passed a law, AB 730, aimed at deep fakes, which criminalizes distributing audio or video that gives a false, damaging impression of a politician’s words or action. Many other US state bills have been passed, addressing different risks. For example Virginia law amends current criminal law on revenge porn to include computer-generated pornography.
The US government keeps pursuing implementation of the military AI systems. DARPA organised a virtual dogfighting tournament where various AI systems would compete with each other and a human fighter pilot from the US military.
AI nationalism is on the rise. Countries tend to pursue protectionist policies to scrutinize acquisitions of AI companies by the players from other countries.
Every year AI plays a more and more noticeable part in our lives. It becomes cheaper, and you learn how to do new things. But we have to remember that at the moment AI is still a tool. And there are some philosophical and methodological difficulties which we have to overcome before it will be possible to deliberate about the potential sentience of the AI. It’s very important for the policy makers to make informed decisions based on how technology actually works and not on magical understanding formed based on popular sci-fi.
Pavel Ilin is Secretary of the United States Transhumanist Party.
U.S. Transhumanist Party Reform Summit – Public Session – November 29, 2020
Gennady Stolyarov II
Art Ramon Garcia, Jr.
Osinakachi Akuma Kalu
On Sunday, November 29, 2020, at 1 p.m. U.S. Pacific Time, the U.S. Transhumanist Party held the Public Sessionof its Reform Summit as its Virtual Enlightenment Salon for that week. During the Reform Summit, USTP Officers and several trusted members discussed some of the outcomes of a previous closed Executive Session and potential ideas to put forward before the membership. Member input was also solicited via the YouTube chat on the following issues:
The USTP Reform Summit was highly productive, and important reforms to the U.S. Transhumanist Party Constitution are expected to be proposed during December 2020 based on the input provided by USTP Officers and members in the course of the conversations.
August 29, 2020 – The United States Transhumanist Party (USTP) expressed alarm at the troubling and saddening events in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which began with the tragic and unjustified shooting on August 23 by police of Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man, multiple times in the back. Violence was escalated in subsequent days by looters who robbed and destroyed numerous peaceful businesses, and also by a lone individual who killed two protesters. During the night of August 27, 2020, while returning from the Republican National Convention in Washington, D.C., Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a long-time advocate critic of police shootings and advocate of police reform, was violently assaulted along with his wife, by a crowd of about 100 protesters who threatened his life and attempted to push through the police who were escorting him and to violently lunge at him.
Opposition to racism and other circumstantial discrimination, as well as the unequivocal condemnation of violence resulting from such attitudes, has been a cornerstone of the USTP Platform since its inception. Section II of the USTP Platform, adopted by its members during the first USTP Platform vote held on January 15-21, 2017, and subsequently amended during November 11-17, 2017, reads, “The United States Transhumanist Party supports all acceptance, tolerance, and inclusivity of individuals and groups of all races, genders, classes, religions, creeds, and ideologies. Accordingly, the United States Transhumanist Party condemns any hostile discrimination or legal restrictions on the basis of national origin, skin color, birthplace, ancestry, gender identity, or any manner of circumstantial attribute tied to a person’s lineage or accident of birth. Furthermore, the United States Transhumanist Party strongly opposes any efforts to enforce said restrictions regardless of cause or motivation thereof. Additionally, any institution that uses violence, suppression of free speech, or other unconstitutional or otherwise illegal methods will be disavowed and condemned by the United States Transhumanist Party, with an efficient, non-violent alternative to said institution being offered to achieve its goals if they align with the Party’s interests.”
The USTP has also long stood against police brutality and excessive use of force. During a vote held during March 26 – April 1, 2017, the USTP members adopted Section XXI of the USTP Platform, which reads, “The United States Transhumanist Party supports a concerted effort by governments and by public opinion to eradicate police brutality against peaceful citizens, such that violent force is only utilized against individuals who actually pose an imminent threat to human lives.”
The text of Section XXI was originally authored in 2015 by USTP Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II, who remarked, “Police brutality has long been a personal issue for me. In June 2009, I was peacefully exercising in the fitness center of my apartment complex at the time, when two police officers barged in with guns pointed at me, in response to an alarm triggered by an unknown individual, which summoned them automatically. This situation was the closest I had ever come to death and thus was the moment in my life where I as a transhumanist faced the greatest threat and the greatest injustice. I managed to successfully narrate my every move to the police and de-escalate the situation over the course of a minute during which guns were pointed at me. But I sometimes wonder what my fate would have been had I lacked the presence of mind to cooperate, or had I looked different or been less readily able to prove that I had a key to the facility. The next day I learned from the assistant manager of the apartment complex that the police had treated him the same way. It became apparent to me that threatening and deploying lethal force against unarmed individuals has become a default modus operandi for American police – a practice that verges dangerously close to a bias for shooting first, asking questions later. We can also expect that every organization will have its ‘bad apples’ – individuals without moral restraint, who are also often prone to racial stereotyping. Combining violence-prone training with violence-prone mentalities of the few but still highly damaging racially biased police officers leads to a situation where many black Americans have suffered disproportionately from these unjust killings – but many Americans of all backgrounds have paid this heavy toll as well. No unarmed, non-violent, or non-lethally-violent person – of any skin color – should ever be killed, injured, or threatened with such undeserved punishments by police. No other country with even a quasi-representative form of government has anywhere near the rate of police killings that are widespread in the United States. It is evident that police training and protocols regarding the use of force need urgent reform, and far less violent options that are routinely practiced in Europe, Canada, and Japan should be implemented in the United States.”
The USTP Platform advocates for numerous other measures to quell police brutality, including Section XXXIV (sousveillance / body cameras), Section LXXXIX (prohibition against police being equipped with military-grade hardware), Section XC (requirement for police to be equipped with and mostly use rubber bullets), Section LIX (requirement for outside investigations of police misconduct), Section LX (prohibition of collusion among law-enforcement entities to cover up police misbehavior), Section LXXXVI (improved reporting of police misconduct), and various additional approaches to achieve police accountability. Had these measures and others – such as banning no-knock raids, banning chokeholds, implementing mandatory de-escalation protocols and interventions by police officers who observe wrongdoing by their colleagues, and ending qualified immunity for police officers accused of misconduct – been implemented in the United States, many victims of police killings – including Tamir Rice, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and USTP member Duncan Socrates Lemp, who was killed by a SWAT team during a no-knock raid in Potomac, Maryland, on March 12, 2020 – would likely have been alive today.
Moreover, Section VI of the USTP Platform champions morphological freedom, defined as “the right to do with one’s physical attributes or intelligence whatever one wants so long as it does not directly harm others” and entailing “the duty to treat all sapients as individuals instead of categorizing them into arbitrary subgroups or demographics”. Discussing the implications of morphological freedom, Art Ramon Garcia, Jr., the USTP Director of Visual Art, articulated the hope that it will “make white supremacy irrelevant” and likewise obliterate the remnants of every other form of irrational prejudice based on a person’s origins, “morphological freedom in an age of genetic engineering […] will allow anyone to become anything.”
Tom Ross, the USTP Director of Sentient Rights Advocacy, condemned the violence in Kenosha and explained that “These [shootings] are racist. A white man walked right by cops with an assault rifle strapped to him and Jacob Blake was simply walking away.” Mr. Ross pointed to two of the USTP’s three Core Ideals being in conflict with these violent events.
The USTP’s Core Ideal 2 states, “The Transhumanist Party supports a cultural, societal, and political atmosphere informed and animated by reason, science, and secular values.”
Mr. Ross remarked regarding the police shooting of Mr. Blake, “The actions of the police are not reasonable. They are fueled by systemic racism which the U.S. has been mired in for two plus centuries. We also recognize that the current Executive Branch of the government is fomenting this violence by ignoring the overwhelming call for tolerance and equal justice for African-Americans and other minorities. We recognize that this current President is desperate to stay in office by whatever means necessary to avoid charges and possible imprisonment if defeated. He is attempting to do so by fanning the flames of civil unrest and emboldening racist actions in our Law Enforcement. The USTP absolutely recognizes that these actions and personalities are the exception that proves the rule, and we do not promote defunding the Police entirely; rather we think Police Departments are overburdened by activities that other civil social operations should handle, and funding should be redirected. But let’s call it what it is, racism and an abuse of power.”
The USTP’s Core Ideal 3 states, “The Transhumanist Party supports efforts to use science, technology, and rational discourse to reduce and eliminate various existential risks to the human species.”
Mr. Ross pointed to how the downward spiral of violence can endanger the prospects of humanity. “One of the clear existential threats to our species is the sensationalization of such violence. Today’s media technology is used too often to share discord, and our news services understand that sensational stories with ‘graphic content’ are ways to increase ‘likes’ and ‘views’, which directly affects their ratings and revenue. Media plays on the basest instincts in humanity and profits on this greatly. The ‘Human Condition’ has been made to be a negative attribute because of this machine of sensationalism. ‘If it bleeds it leads’ is the principle on which this machine operates. Although we recognize that this ship will not be easily turned, the USTP strives to find trimtabs in our society that can make the small and necessary changes in their own communities to right the ship of state.”
At the same time, the USTP emphasized that more violence is never the answer to the problem of unjustified violence. “The businesses in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the many peaceful civilians whose lives have been disrupted and who have been met with threats and injury, had no involvement in the tragic shooting of Jacob Blake or the many other victims of police misconduct,” Chairman Stolyarov stated. “Efforts should be focused toward reforming unjust protocols and institutions, not lashing out against innocent third parties who might quite likely have been potential allies in the task of reform. The path offered by the U.S. Transhumanist Party is to deliberate about how science, technology, and rational discourse – and their ethical and effective implementation through well-thought-out policies – can right these wrongs in a lasting manner, enabling racism, police brutality, and opportunistic looting alike to all become relegated to the dustbin of history by a society whose members come to know better. We express our support for those who, through peaceful and constructive action, are seeking solutions to this feedback loop of recurring and mutually escalating tragedies. All persons of conscience who wish to improve the situation must desist from initiating violence in any form and must turn their attention toward building instead of destroying.”
Tom Ross also criticized the violent attacks on Senator Rand Paul by the crowd in Washington D.C., “Regardless of our personal political bents or positions on this issue, our central motive must be to stand against all forms of violence. As a Transhumanist, I consider physical violence to be a primitive action that is motivated by fear and perpetuates a mob mentality. To protest police brutality with brutality is not only counterproductive but gives bad actors more justification for it. This is not a binary issue between Democrats and Republicans, Right and Left; it is a nuanced and multifaceted issue that requires a holistic approach. Senator Rand Paul is a proponent of criminal-justice reform, and so the protesters who attacked him have, well, lunged at Peter to scare Paul.”
Chairman Stolyarov concurred. He remarked, “A mob of people threatened the life of a Senator who, by all reasonable understandings, has been a leading proponent of curbing police brutality and eliminating abuse from the criminal-justice system. If we are to stand against the unjust violence perpetrated against Jacob Blake and others, then we must also stand against this purely counterproductive conduct. Injustice does not give license to perpetrate further injustice. Two wrongs – or thousands of wrongs – cannot ever make a right. Only de-escalation and a return to rational discourse, focusing on systemic and technologically powered reforms, can chart a way out of the present crisis.”
Pavel Ilin, Secretary of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, emphasized the need to refocus the conversation toward shared goals that include everyone. “As transhumanists we are trying to overcome a built-in brutal evolutionary heritage by building an environment of inclusion and dialogue. We try to transcend division between ‘us’ and ‘them’ by creating a larger concept of WE in which every sentient form of life is included, protected, and celebrated. There are no ‘Others’, only ‘we’. Murder is an extreme form of othering which cannot be undone. The life of each sentient entity is sacred. We are often talking about curing aging and living indefinitely long. But death from aging is no different fundamentally than death from a gun. No one should lose life involuntarily. No one should have a right to take it away.”
Liz Parrish, the U.S. Vice-Presidential candidate endorsed by the USTP, called on all Americans to transcend violence and join the effort to build a brighter future for all. She stated:
“We must build a future founded in the principles that every American can agree with by stating the obvious; we are all in this together. We need each other. We must deny drowning in party-line negativity, condemn violence, and use these current events as fuel to create positive change. We can bring this country back together over principles that we can all agree on — health, freedom, liberty, and justice.
“As a country, we will unite to create a future through science and technological advancement— eradicate disease and thereby increase human health-span and create technological developments that can reach every adult and child. We will lead by rational conversation, compassion, and connection.
“Regardless of religion and identity, everyone is invited to build this future with us—a future without the abuse of power, unequal resources, and unfair treatment. We must overcome our brutality and greed to make these next advancements. The future awaits us as a logical, feeling, and intelligent species. And in this newfound peace, we will create new advancements and connections to expand our reach beyond the stars.”
Join us in restoring a shared vision of a brighter future. Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free in less than a minute, no matter where you reside.
Near-Term Improvements to Cities to Combat COVID-19 – Article by Pavel Ilin
While we are still on lockdown and there is no certainty about when we can safely reopen everything, it is worth reflecting on how we organize our living spaces. COVID-19 is not the first and not the last virus-caused pandemic humanity will have to encounter, and we should be prepared.
Especially we should focus on what improvements can be implemented right away. But first, let’s analyze how the novel coronavirus is spreading.
It appears that viruses travel inside of droplets. Virus particles can’t travel far just in the air. If that were the case, and the virus could be distributed by the ventilation system within the buildings or in public transportation, then the infection rate would be much higher. We don’t see that yet, and therefore we can conclude it is not happening, and we are very fortunate in that case.
It seems that the virus can be transmitted through close contact (3-4 feet, 1-2 meters away) from person to person. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions. Spread.) Also it can be transmitted through surfaces. It has been observed that the virus can live on surfaces in some cases between a few hours and few days. (Source: CDC updates COVID-19 transmission webpage to clarify information about types of spread.)
The challenge is that in a lot of cases, people carry the virus asymptomatically, and they have no idea that they carry a potential threat to the lives of others.
How can we reduce spread?
I can identify 4 levels of control where we can intervene and stop or reduce spread of the virus:
1. Eliminating the source of infection
Efforts could be devoted toward implementing automated virus checks while people come into buildings. We can do automated temperature screens, measure oxygen level in the blood, and implement more potential technologies powered with artificial intelligence (AI) systems to come, which can help with automated and non-invasive testing.
Of course this raises big questions about surveillance, collecting data without people’s consent, and potential discriminatory practices. This is another big conversation we should have.
2. Administrative control
Social distancing – it’s what we are doing right now. And it’s not only a stay-at-home solution. We can also make public spaces less dense. We can put fewer chairs from conference rooms, fewer desks in the offices. Most of the office jobs do not require physical presence. And many manual-labor jobs can be automated.
Of course if we ask people to stay at home, they have to be able to stay at home. First, people should have a home to stay in. To ensure that everyone has a place to stay, we can use rapid 3D printing of the houses and give them to the people who cannot afford to take out a house loan or make a rent payment.
We can see how job markets have shrunk during recent the pandemic, and many people simply cannot afford to stay at home. Pandemic or not, you have basic needs such as food, hygiene, communication, and healthcare. And these needs must be met in order to keep people in a good physical and mental state. I believe that introduction of some form of basic income would be a good solution.
3. Engineering controls
Through engineering tools we can upgrade our spaces without fundamental rebuilding of the infrastructure.
Increasing ventilation rates in the rooms allows one to bring in more outdoor air, and the implementation of personalized ventilation and a personalized exhaust system for airborne infection control can reduce the risk of airborne infection significantly. (Source: Ventilation control for airborne transmission of human exhaled bio-aerosols in buildings. Hua Qian, Xiaohong Zheng. J Thorac Dis. 2018 Jul; 10(Suppl 19): S2295–S2304. doi: 10.21037/jtd.2018.01.24)
Installation of the UV-C light within the ventilation system can clear the airflow from any germs and viruses. (Source: Aerosol Susceptibility of Influenza Virus to UV-C Light. James J. McDevitt, Stephen N. Rudnick, Lewis J. Radonovich, Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 Mar; 78(6): 1666–1669. doi: 10.1128/AEM.06960-11)
As was mentioned before, viruses can survive on the surfaces for some time and can be transmitted while people touch the surface. Through remote-control technologies we reduce interaction with surfaces to minimum. Light switches, elevator buttons, doors, and other aspects of a building can be controlled through the phone or other devices without direct interaction.
4. Personal protective equipment
This level is especially important during an active pandemic situation. Masks, gloves, and face-protection shields, should be produced in advance, stockpiled so they can be available for the people, especially for essential workers when they need this equipment.
To implement all these preventive measures, we don’t have to invent anything and completely rebuild cities’ infrastructure. All technologies are there; we just need to use them rationally and be willing to invest some time and effort into implementation. In the next article we will look into the future and talk about more radical city planning approaches, such as 3D cities and Arcologies.
Pavel Ilin is Secretary of the United States Transhumanist Party.
Othering: The Ultimate Challenge of Sentient Life – Article by Pavel Ilin
We come to the point in history when compassion and belonging become not only a necessary part of building inclusive culture, but the practices which determine the survival of sentient life as we know it.
Most of us are locked in our local tribes – national, ideological, corporate, and so on. Living in different tribes is a way to establish one’s own subjectivity and identity. Most of the time we are part of the different tribes at the same time. The problem comes when we are not engaged in cross-tribal dialog and consider members of other tribes as “Other”. That’s how othering happens.
Most commonly, othering expresses the boundaries between “we” and “them”. “We” belong; “they” are Other and cannot belong. Those who are “them” can be described in the negative language of disgust.
When people say “they are barbarians”, they deny the right of the other to belong. When Ancient Greeks called slaves “speaking tools”, or they allowed only males to vote, they denied the others’ humanity and right to belong. When Romans expand their empire, they called other nations they conquered barbarians, unless they adapted the Romans’ culture – and by doing so the Romans othered these peoples. We can go on and on. The history of sentient life as we know it is full of othering.
When we deny the opportunity for the other to belong, then the other is not a person anymore in our eyes. You are allowed to do things to an “Other”, which would be unthinkable to do to one of “Us”. It’s very easy to deny access to resources, deny rights, deny compassion, and deny life to the “Other”. Taking away life is an extreme form of othering.
On the personal level othering happens very often. Susan Fiske from Princeton University shows in her “Stereotype content model” how othering works on neurological level. Studies show that when we see other people, there is a part of our brain that lights up when we see another human being. It’s an interesting authentication mechanism which allows us to identify our own species. But when we see, for example, homeless people, or undocumented immigrants and refugees, this part of the brain doesn’t light up. Instead, there lights up a part of the brain responsible for fear and disgust.
Studies also show that if we put different people in situations when they have to work together to achieve a common goal, othering tends to diminish. When people engage in dialog, when people communicate and coordinate, people start to see each other, and neural activity gets changed. The person who previously provoked a fear response becomes a human again.
The moral here is that in order to overcome othering on a personal level, we should collaborate with as many people as we can.
But it’s not enough to deal with othering on a personal level. We live in social structures which determine our behavior and our identity.
For example, the US government calls all immigrants “Alien”. And by doing that on a structural level, the government said to the immigrants that “you do not belong”.
When police profile people based on how they look, it’s othering on a structural level.
When we allow such a huge level of income inequality, it’s a structural problem. The whole system of resource distribution is organized in a way that it others the poor and favors the rich.
What to do with structural othering? Create an inclusive structure which allows people to belong. It sounds easier than it is, but this way we can upgrade our culture.
Implementing basic income, removing immigration barriers, providing access to educational resources to all are all important steps. It is also vital to create organizations within which belonging is cultivated. The USTP is a great example of such an organization. Everyone is welcome to participate regardless of residence, income level, and a variety of other circumstances or attributes. You are welcome in the USTP even if you are not human or not an organic-based form of sentient life.
Why is it important to talk about othering in the context of the building of transhumanists’ future?
In context of the COVID-19 situation, it’s become very clear that we can’t hide inside our small narratives. It’s impossible to stay away from the pandemic situation. In order to get over this pandemic with minimal loss of human lives, we have to work together. It’s not going to be the last pandemic, and in order to prepare for future threats, we have to cooperate more closely. A virus is only one of the potential existential threats. What about climate change, bio-terrorism, asteroids, and destructive AI? We have to work together to survive!
As transhumanists we should prepare ourselves to face the “other” and to become “other” in certain situations as well. I think we need to create structures which can be inclusive not only for humans but for all sentient beings.
Other Modified Beings
There are millions of people around the world with artificial body parts and this number will keep growing. How will the culture react when organization goes from regaining physical ability to enhancing ability? We can face creating a new other and potentially new discrimination.
Recognizing that animals are living beings with feelings and thoughts is pretty new phenomenon. And mostly right now animals are considered commodities. We will have to have a very difficult dialog about humans behavior with animals uplifted to human-level intelligence.
Other AI Entities
While we create Artificial Intelligence, we should remember that creating tech slaves is not going to end anywhere good. We should create colleagues with whom we are going to work to build a transhumanist future. We might even become artificially intelligent forms of life ourselves.
But race is the child of racism, not the father. – Ta-Nehisi Coates
I believe that othering is an existential issue. If we keep dividing people and other beings into “us” and “them”, then we will keep facing discrimination, conflicts, and wars. This is extremely concerning for me because we have now a lot of technological power at our disposal, and it keeps growing – and with great power comes great responsibility. What I mean is that we can easily destroy our planet by just pressing the nuclear button. And if we consider people in other countries or in other social groups as Others, if they are outside the circle of our concern, then it’s very easy to deny help and start wars.
We have built virtual walls between us, and I think it’s time to tear them down by reclaiming and living and practicing belonging where no beings and lives are outside of the circle of concern.
Pavel Ilin is the Secretary of the U.S. Transhumanist Party.
The Transhuman Quest Initiative – The USTP’s First Global Initiative Towards Consensus Building Conversations
[New York, NY, September 14, 2019] The spirited debates in the world’s first formal Transhumanist Party Primary for President of the United States were, at times, too spirited to be productive. In an effort to make this election more fulfilling and productive, the USTP has convened a Task Force to develop a global initiative designed to facilitate consensus-building conversations.
The USTP is excited to announce The Transhuman Quest Initiative – its first global initiative to help elevate the Transhuman narrative and attitude, especially during this polarizing time of elections, towards a kinder, wiser, and more optimistic dialogue immediately and into the future.
USTP’s Director of Admissions and Public Relations, Dinorah Delfin says that this initiative aims to, “…harness and upcycle the energy of the membership by releasing high-minded questions and/or polls periodically.” The members’ answers will steer the conversation and activities that the Task Force will monitor to determine the most relevant issue to research and pose questions about next.
A soft launch begins the week of September 13th to the 19th. During this week, the THQ Task Force will post the First Official Transhuman Quest(ion) to spark a conversation about the topic of “Otherness and Prejudice”.
On Friday, September 19th, we will launch the Transhumanist Quest Initiative broadly. This Initiative’s First Principle is to seek consensus, so it will insist on productive comments and posts in the threads and remain committed to finding a majority consensus before moving to a new issue or topic.
Ms. Delfin, along with Party Officers Pavel Ilin, John Stifter, and Tom Ross, agree that facilitating a positive and results-driven platform to find consensus on the issues our members care about is the best way to fight the negativity that can otherwise fill that void.
Though shared widely between all state and local USTP Social Media pages, the Initiative’s primary platform for discussion will be the USTP (Transhumanist Party) Facebook Group. All members are encouraged to steer the conversation by weighing-in on all questions, especially those Transhumanist issues they most care about.