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Why Transhumanism Needs More Positive Science Fiction – Article by Rykon Volta

Why Transhumanism Needs More Positive Science Fiction – Article by Rykon Volta

Rykon Volta


In the modern Age of Accelerating Returns, more commonly known as the Information Age, technological growth is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. Never before in the history of humanity has technological growth shown itself so clearly to the human race. As noted by famous futurist Ray Kurzweil, the trend of exponential growth in technology follows a double exponential curve.

One famous example of this exponential growth that you might be familiar with if you are into the world of tech is, of course, Moore’s Law, but in The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil demonstrates that other technological fields, including medicine, have been accelerating as well. Ray Kurzweil shows that technology has actually been accelerating since before the Stone Age, although a man in the Roman Empire would not have noticed any ramifications of progress considering that his grandchildren would not live in a very different society from the one his grandfather and he inhabited. For the first time in recorded history, we are commonly thinking about where we will be in 100 years, where we will be in 50 years, and now we are even thinking about where we will be in a decade as technology progresses into the 21st Century. If Ray Kurzweil is right, machines will have sentience, and AI, or artificial intelligence, will be greater than human intelligence, resulting in a hypothetical event known as an “intelligence explosion” or “technological singularity”. After this point, machines will be much smarter than average human beings and will be able to carry on progress much faster than we can even begin to comprehend with our natural brains.

In the wake of the recognition of these future possibilities, many science-fiction authors and script writers have created a plethora of media to warn us that AI and future genetic augmentation pose many existential threats to the human race. Examples that now dominate the mainstream media include Terminator, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, and many more that warn us that AI might kill us all. Gattaca expresses the great fear of an unfair society of elitism in a genetically enhanced world where a man who was born naturally is unable to get his dream career because he wasn’t born with genetic modifications. In parallel, people demonize the idea of genetic modification by ruthlessly attacking GMOs and saying that they’re bad for us when GMOs have in fact solved famine in some parts of the world due to higher yields. People are always fearful of something they do not understand.

In the Golden Age of Science Fiction, a period during the mid-20th Century that saw many sci-fi works hitting the stage, spreading optimism and futurism, science fiction had a brighter outlook on the future. Isaac Asimov imagined future Spacer societies and a Galactic Empire in his Robot Series and Foundation Series. Gene Roddenberry took us on fantastic voyages across the stars in the Enterprise alongside Captain James T. Kirk and Spock. Other authors inspired visionaries to have a brighter outlook on the future as the Space Race sent the first humans to the Moon.

Today, we have, in a way, a form of cultural stagnation. While some still see the future in an optimistic light, it seems much more popular today to look at the future as a dystopia, and New Age movements all over the place actually act like demonizing technology is some kind of “morally right” position. Despite the trends of growth continuing to accelerate, mainstream culture seems to be propagating more fear of the future than hope and inspiration. Why are we doing this? While I agree that dystopian sci-fi has it’s place and that we should in very deed analyze and contemplate existential risks in our future that we might steer clear of, progress is going to happen and we are going to try everything we can to “play god”, as the enemies of transhumanism like to say transhumanists are trying to do. To them, of course, I say, “Were we not created in God’s image? Did God not give the Earth to mankind? Were we not meant to achieve our full potential, to subdue the Earth and conquer it, bending it to our will?” Indeed, this phrase in Genesis seems to be divine permission to modify our bodies and accelerate a brighter future. However, this is mainly an appeal to my fellow religious folks who may be averse to progress. We are not playing God because, quite honestly, God would not even make that possible. We are just using our God-given talents to hack our own genetic code and modify the machinery of our initial, still quite wonderful creation. To those Christians who say that we are insulting God and telling him “You didn’t make me good enough”, the beauty of mankind is that we were in fact created with the ability to modify ourselves. Don’t modify yourself with the intention of insulting your creator, but with the intention of becoming closer to your creator. Why would he give us the ability for self-modification if he didn’t intend for us to use it? It’s like saying that we shouldn’t work out because self improvement is some kind of blasphemy against God. Do you really believe God wants us to intentionally limit ourselves from our full potential?

Others may fear the coming of AI as a usurping of humanity as the apex predator upon this planet, and they may be afraid of a Skynet scenario where a rampant AI destroys us all. I argue that the solution is to merge ourselves with the machines, allowing us to cause ourselves to evolve. Ray Kurzweil and many other singularitarians would make the same argument. By evolving our own bodies and replacing our cells with nanobots whereby we can enhance our brains to the point where neural signals travel at light speed, we will be able to keep up with AI in the evolutionary arms race to come. You can choose to live in fear in the face of the Singularity that is coming, getting left behind in its wake, or you can step boldly and bravely forward into the new world that it will create, surpassing all your physical, mental, and morphological limitations and ending your mortality fully.

As I have written before, mainstream media is overwhelmingly sending out negative signals and warnings about the future, painting into the memespace, or ideaspace, of mainstream culture the notion that technology is a negative influence and that it should be contained and controlled. Society is largely crying for a return back to the caves because many people are fearful of what they don’t understand. This trend needs to cease. People need to see that the light of the future is much brighter than they think. AI is coming, and the technological Singularity is coming, and it’s going to be better than anyone can imagine. This is a call to arms; artists and sci-fi writers who see the ramifications of the future and how it can create an abundant, prosperous utopia, I urge you to write science fiction that portrays AI not in a negative, but rather in a positive manner. Show AI in a benevolent form and show how it can aid humanity in its future quest for survival. Show how it can solve global problems like hunger and global warming and cure disease. Stories that put the Neo-Luddites in their place, and show that the pseudo-religious zeal of anti-progress-minded people is ultimately a negative factor only holding us back from creating a better world in the long run. Know and understand that the content in the mainstream media has a huge effect on the minds of the people, and indeed much of culture is shaped by what is put out there and consumed by the masses. Transhumanism needs more positive science fiction to help gain support for the movement and to inspire the next generation of scientists and inventors to design the future we all desire!

Rykon Volta is the author of the novel Arondite, Book I of The Artilect Protocol Trilogy. Arondite is available on Amazon in hard-copy and Kindle formats here. Visit Rykon Volta’s website here

Watch the U.S. Transhumanist Party Virtual Enlightenment Salon of  July 19, 2020, when Rykon Volta was the guest of honor and discussed science fiction, his novel Arondite, and the ideas surrounding it with the U.S. Transhumanist Party Officers.

 

Review of Rykon Volta’s “Arondite” – A Fascinating Exploration of a Hypothetical Future History, With Relevance to Our World – by Gennady Stolyarov II

Review of Rykon Volta’s “Arondite” – A Fascinating Exploration of a Hypothetical Future History, With Relevance to Our World – by Gennady Stolyarov II

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Gennady Stolyarov II


 

Arondite by Rykon Volta offers a fascinating exploration of a hypothetical trajectory of humankind’s future history, in which Hugo de Garis’s dire predictions of an “Artilect War” had come to pass. As in de Garis’s narrative, so in Volta’s, the anti-technological reactionary Terran faction initiates that war to assail emergent sentient artificial general intelligences and their philosophical allies, the pro-innovation Cosmists. Rather than allow such artificial general intelligences to develop, the Terran General Vantus destroys the entirety of the Earth in the year 2071 and binds the remnants of humanity to an Artilect Protocol, which imposes the harshest punishments on any humans who experiment with genetic modification, cybernetic implants, or artificial intelligence.

The story of Arondite takes place 500 years later, in 2571-2572. Humanity has, over the course of five centuries, risen slowly from the ashes of the Artilect War, and multiple competing societies and governments have taken hold in the Solar System – particularly the Martian Republic and the Jovian Empire, who are now on the edge of major war. The historical narratives at the beginning of each chapter are among the most intriguing aspects of Arondite and serve to add great depth to the world in which the events of the plot transpire. Indeed, the historical scenario presented by Volta is reminiscent of two epochs already experienced by humankind: the emergence of Classical Antiquity after a gradual recovery from the Late Bronze Age Collapse, and the rise of Medieval and then Renaissance societies after the Dark Ages following the fall of the Roman Empire. Every such recovery of civilization is a testament to human ingenuity in the face of immense adversity, and in the world depicted by Volta, the hardships of outer space certainly magnify those constraints for the remnants of humanity. Yet by developing extensive settlements both on multiple planets and in space, as well as advanced spacefaring vessels on which much of the book’s plot takes place, humans demonstrate irrepressible innovation by advancing in practically the only directions available to them. Still, the harsh boundaries imposed by the Artilect Protocol are beginning to fray, and indeed, would need to be overcome in order for further progress in the Solar System to be possible.

The protagonists of Arondite are a group of space pirates – Peron, Ashlyn, and Carlile, as well as their various and situationally shifting allies – who are quickly drawn into matters far weightier and more perilous than they could have expected, as they unwittingly find themselves at the epicenter of the struggle by multiple major powers for the Arondite Chip – a map to one of the few artilects rumored to remain. Without revealing the specific details, the plot features numerous rapid developments in this struggle – filled with shifting allegiances, sudden changes of fortune, and revelations of hidden motives which diverge from surface appearances. The reader is kept wondering throughout as to who will gain possession of the Arondite Chip – the pro-artilect Acliate Brotherhood, the Martian Republic, the Jovian Empire, the tense and ever-precarious alliance of the protagonists who must resist pressures from each of these forces, or perhaps someone else entirely. Characters from every faction, however, are united in their recognition of the vast transformational power of an artificial general intelligence; some fear it and wish to destroy it, whereas others wish to harness it for their own objectives. But will the protagonists be not only capable enough to locate this artilect, but wise enough to truly understand its capabilities and nature – and respect its autonomy?

The events of Arondite are driven strongly by all-too-familiar flaws of human character – from irrational fear to the desire for the subjugation of others to the perception of existence as a zero-sum struggle of all against all. Because of the prohibitions of the Artilect Protocol, these flaws have persisted and become endemic within the societies of 2571; after all, no fundamental improvements upon human nature had been made available via technological pathways. Thus, for all of humankind’s spacefaring progress, the aforementioned deleterious vestiges of the suboptimal evolution of the human mind had not been corrected; another major war looms on the horizon and threatens to undo centuries of hard-earned advancement. However, the rediscovery of the artilects might just open an entirely different and more hopeful set of possibilities for the future of civilization.  One can only hope that, in our own civilization, that set of possibilities can be opened much sooner and with major conflicts averted.

Through the plot of Arondite, Volta illustrates the futility of attempting to impose restrictions on technological progress – restrictions which only serve to mire humankind in an escalating war of all against all. The protagonists are thrust into such an all-encompassing struggle, but because of their relative naiveté (despite being space pirates) are able to keep their minds open to alternative possibilities and thus have a chance to bypass the numerous hostile forces and machinations standing in their way. There is a broader message contained in this kind of narrative – the ability of an earnest individual, who is not altogether experienced with “the way things are done” in a given field, to significantly influence that field and overcome institutional barriers that had hitherto prevented progress past a certain point. Both in the world of Arondite and in our world, Volta shows that the philosophy of transhumanism, with its openness to technologies that can radically transform the human condition to remedy age-old flaws, is the way forward, transcending the destructive power struggles which needlessly stunted the advancement of humanity in the past.

Gennady Stolyarov II is the Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party. 

Arondite is available on Amazon in hard-copy and Kindle formats here

Watch the U.S. Transhumanist Party Virtual Enlightenment Salon of  July 19, 2020, when Rykon Volta was the guest of honor and discussed Arondite and the ideas surrounding it with the U.S. Transhumanist Party Officers.

 

U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II Speaks with Steele Archer of Debt Nation

U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II Speaks with Steele Archer of Debt Nation

Gennady Stolyarov II
Steele Archer


Watch this wide-ranging discussion between U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II and Steele Archer of the Debt Nation show, addressing a broad array of emerging technologies, the aspirations of transhumanism, and aspects of both broader and more personal economic matters – from the impact of technology on the labor market to how Mr. Stolyarov paid off his mortgage in 6.5 years. This conversation delved into Austrian economics, techno-optimism, cultural obstacles to progress, the work and ideals of the U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party, life extension and the “Death is Wrong” children’s book, science fiction, and space colonization – among many other topics.
Choose Your Own Story – by Nicola Bagalà

Choose Your Own Story – by Nicola Bagalà

Nicola Bagalà


Editor’s Note: In this set of short stories originally published by our allies at the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF), Nicola Bagalà illustrates  through convincing scenarios of possible futures why we should take seriously research and activism into rejuvenation biotechnology. It may make the difference between our own survival and flourishing into the indefinite future, or the painful suffering and demise that currently accompany old age.

~ Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party, July 30, 2018


Today, I would like to tell you two short stories describing what your far future might look like, depending on the choices that you—though not only you—will make in the near future. Feel free to leave a comment to let others know which one you’d rather have as your real future.

Story 1: A day in 2140

The blinds in your bedroom slowly whirr open, as a gentle melody gradually fills the environment. Ferdinand—your AI assistant, to whom you decided to give a far less extravagant name than most other people do—informs you that it’s 7:30, your bath is ready, and so will be your usual breakfast once you’re done in the bathroom. Getting up that early is never too easy, but your morning walk in the park is always worth it, because it puts you in a good mood.

As you enter the bathroom, you step into the health scanner, and, after a few seconds, a couple of charts and several biomarkers show up on the display—the final report says that you’re a perfectly healthy 137-year-old whose biological age is about 26. It’d be enough by itself, but you think the charts and the data look cool; Ferdinand knows that.

You’ve got one of those awesome bathrooms with HyperReal WallScreens—well, nearly everyone does anyway—so today you’re taking your bath in the rainforest. As you enjoy your hydromassage, you’re listening to the latest news; your heart almost skips a beat when you hear that the Stephen Hawking Deep Space Telescope, the one that NASA and the African Space Agency sent pretty much to the edge of the solar system, has finally confirmed earlier observations: JSS “Jessie” 431 c, an exoplanet 95 light-years away, harbors multicellular life. They’d been chasing “Jessie” for a while, and now the chase is over; it’s an unprecedented discovery, and while it took surprisingly long to finally get this data, this is a world-changing breakthrough, and it leaves you yelling and splashing around in joy embarrassingly loudly. As you quickly get out of the tub, you imagine that all the geeks at work won’t be talking about anything else.

Your breakfast, freshly out of your molecular assembler, is as delicious and tailored to your specific nutritional needs as Ferdinand got you used to, but you’re too hyped today to spend too much time eating. Ferdinand casts a virtual, disapproving glance at you as you quickly gobble your food up and leave the flat. Your usual walk is cancelled as well, you think as you get into the elevator, because you’re too eager to discuss the news at work. As Ferdinand leaves room for Alice—the building’s AI janitor—you look through the glass walls of the cabin, gaining inspiration from the several other elegant skyscrapers towering over your beautiful city. After a quick descent from the 87th floor, you’re finally on the ground and ready for the commute to work—a quick trip of about 400 kilometers, which, when you were in your 20s for real, would’ve been anything but quick.

At the time, the world was so very different, you think to yourself. Take work, for example: your life depended on it, in pretty much the literal sense of the word. Nowadays, although the word “work” stuck, it is just something you really enjoy doing and you’re good at, and people look back at the whole “having to earn a living” idea in pretty much the same way as they looked at hunter-gatherer tribes when you were a child. It’s unnerving to think that you could’ve missed all of this by a hair’s breadth; when you were in your early 20s, the social movement for the development of rejuvenation biotechnologies really started to pick up, and therapies eventually followed suit. If it hadn’t—and that might well have been—right now you’d be six feet under, just like your poor grandma. She’d have loved the world today, your father always says.

Anyway, there’s no time to get melancholic now; another great day awaits you.

Story 2: A day in 2078

If this story had the same year as the previous one, it’d be very short: you’re dead, and you’ve long been such. The end. However, that’s not how it’s titled, so it is going to be a little longer than that. Whether that’s better or not, I’ll leave up to you to decide.

You wake up in your hospital bed to the beeping coming from multiple monitors and sensors, which by now have become your most consistent companions. It’s not even morning: you fell asleep in the middle of the afternoon, and now that you think about it, some of your family was there with you. Probably, as you fell asleep, they decided it was best to let you rest.

Not that you’re that much awake, anyway. You feel barely conscious, and most of what you can feel is either pain or tiredness. Up until a month or two ago, you could still sort of manage with some difficulty, although with the help of your caregiver or your children, but then everything changed. You’ve been waking up in the same hospital bed ever since you passed out that day, and one of the first things you heard when you woke up right after they brought you in was that, at 92 years old, you’re lucky to be still alive.

You’d like to know what time it is, but you can’t quite make out the clock on the wall nor any of the screens around you. You could ask the computer in the room, if you had any breath left, but you don’t. If nothing else, it probably has alerted the doctors that you’re awake, and maybe someone will turn up soon. Spending energy to push the damn button doesn’t seem worth it, what’s the point, anyway, you wonder—today might well be your last day, and given the outlook, it’d be as good a day to go as any.

That’s too bad, though, you think, saddened. You’d really have wanted to see your great-grandkids grow up, and all in all, the world has surprised you, turning out much better than you expected. Not perfect, granted, but you’re genuinely curious to know how things will change in the coming decades, with all these advancements in technology and science—and the overall political situation looks okay, too. Well, looks like you’ll be taking your curiosity to the grave with you, because these advancements didn’t happen quite everywhere in science, nor did the bureaucrats do much to make them happen. Tough luck.

Bitterly, you think this was at least a little bit your fault too. You didn’t do much to make them happen either. When you were in your early thirties, there was a lot of talk about rejuvenation biotechnology, and the talk intensified somewhat by your late thirties, but the whole thing never really saw the light of day. Oh, you tell yourself, it’ll happen eventually, but not any time soon. It certainly didn’t happen in time to spare yourself what you’re going through right now—thankfully, it’s almost over.

Back in the day, you were in the “unsure” camp, tending to “best not to mess with nature.” In hindsight, you’re not so sure you actually agreed with that view; possibly, you only said so because so many other people said the same and you didn’t feel like being one of those fruitcakes who wanted to change everything, or something like that—what the heck, that was 60 years ago and the memories are foggy. You do remember, though, that when you saw your own parents go through an ordeal very similar to yours, some thirty years ago, the thought that you might have misjudged the “fruitcakes” crossed your mind, but it was already too late.

Unfortunately, by then, populist discourse appealing to the cycle of life, a bunch of other, supposedly more important issues, and “the future of our children” had won over the crowd, and rejuvenation research had taken a back seat, making way for better services for the elderly instead; they’re not bad, but maybe, if a choice was available between better machines to take you to the toilet and drugs that kept you able to walk there on your own, the latter might have been preferable.

The future for your great-grandchildren is similarly rosy, as they get to watch their own parents and grandparents turn into almost-vegetables and then die, not to mention the financial burden—not just on individual families, but the world as well. With so many old and dependent people, and fewer and fewer young people, the economy doesn’t look so okay. The way they’re going about this is by offering financial incentives for families with kids, which, coming from the very same people who opposed rejuvenation for fear of overpopulation among other things, is quite ironic.

Maybe, you tell yourself, you should’ve listened. Maybe you should have taken the whole issue more seriously and helped the early advocates somehow, rather than having dismissed the idea of rejuvenation. Maybe, if you had helped, and if others had too, it’ll have happened in time to save you, or at least your children—they’re in their sixties and seventies now, and if rejuvenation didn’t happen in the past sixty years, despite the initial wave of enthusiasm, you can bet that it isn’t going to happen in the next twenty years when nearly nobody cares.

You turn your head slightly towards the door. Nothing. No one’s coming, but then again, you’ve only been awake for ten minutes tops, and the doctors have got plenty of other geriatric patients in this wing. Your eyelids are becoming heavy again, and as you won’t accomplish much by staying awake anyway, you decide to let them go down. Who knows if they’ll open again.

Both of these stories are fictional, though the first one contains more fiction than the second, because it describes a future that might or might not come to be. The first story is perhaps overly optimistic and even a tad too Star Trek-ish for your taste, but it’s just my happy story—you are free to replace it with whatever positive future you’d like to see. It’s just a possible scenario, and for all we know, the future might be nothing like that and more like a dystopia. It’s hard to tell for a fact.

However, the second story contains much more reality than the first, because it’s pretty much what it means to be in your 90s these days; depending on a number of factors, even being in your 70s and 80s can be not much better, even if you’re not bedridden. Unless we do something about it today, a story similar to this will be our story—your story—too, just like stories of infectious diseases killing millions would’ve still been very much current even today if we hadn’t done anything to change those stories before they could unfold.

I’ve already chosen my favorite version of the story a long time ago. The question is, which one is yours?

About Nicola Bagalà

Nicola Bagalà has been an enthusiastic supporter and advocate of rejuvenation science since 2011. Although his preferred approach to treating age related diseases is Aubrey de Grey’s suggested SENS platform, he is very interested in any other potential approach as well. In 2015, he launched the blog Rejuvenaction to advocate for rejuvenation and to answer common concerns that generally come with the prospect of vastly extended healthy lifespans. Originally a mathematician graduated from Helsinki University, his scientific interests range from cosmology to AI, from drawing and writing to music, and he always complains he doesn’t have enough time to dedicate to all of them which is one of the reasons he’s into life extension. He’s also a computer programmer and web developer. All the years spent learning about the science of rejuvenation have sparked his interest in biology, in which he’s planning to get a university degree.