In a couple of weeks, TransVision 2005, the 7th annual transhumanism conference will take place in Caracas, Venezuela. I am acquainted with the conference chair for the program, Jose Cordeiro, through some work I did with the Millennium Project a few years ago. I thought it would be interesting to catch up with him and have a conversation about transhumanism and what it might mean for the future of work. Along the way, he introduced me to the chair of the Venezuela committee, Santiago Ochoa , so I sent them both the same questions via email and asked them to respond.
First things first: what is transhumanism? The FAQ from the World Transhumanist Association states that:
Transhumanism is a way of thinking about the future that is based on the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase. We formally define it as follows:
(1) The intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.
(2) The study of the ramifications, promises, and potential dangers of technologies that will enable us to overcome fundamental human limitations, and the related study of the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies.
There are a variety of ideas that go along with transhumanism, including superintelligence, singularity and extropy. Perhaps the most well-known feature of transhumanism is its seeking of immortality, most visibly represented by Ray Kurzweil.
I read through a variety of resources (listed at the end of this post) about these topics, and was struck by how there was virtually no mention of work. With superintelligent, immortal transhumans running around, what would that mean for work? Now, I ask that question in a tongue-in-cheek fashion here, but honestly, as we look into the future, the increasing melding of technology and humans seems to be inevitable. So it would seem worthwhile to discuss what these trends might mean for work. Our Q&A, accomplished through email, follows. I have edited some of the answers for length.
Elizabeth: After reading the material you provided me about transhumanism and extropy, I was struck at the virtually total lack of discussion about human work. Can you describe for me what a transhumanist and/or an extropian thinks about work?
Jose: Human work will be considered less and less as "work" and more and more as "pleasure" since it will be more enjoyable and entertaining. In fact, throughout human history, the amount of free time has steadily been increasing. Since the time of the cavemen and the cavewomen, when most of our energies were spent just on survival, humans have continuously enjoyed more leisure time. In the future, it will be more so, and human work will be a pleasure in itself, with lower work forms being performed by machines. I believe that it was Winston Churchill who said that humans can do the thinking and machines can do the work.
Santiago: Its hard to tell what other transhumanists think about work since there is probably not just one opinion on the matter, but I will tell you what I think.
In general, I dont like to work for others, and I believe most humans share this view, but we have to do it in order to maintain an acceptable living standard. On the other hand, we all like to work on things that we consider fun; for example, I like reading, writing, translating interesting articles from English to Spanish, maintaining our website, doing sports and answering interesting interviews about transhumanism! In other words, things that are intellectually stimulating and fun and nobody is telling me when or how to do them.
However, I believe civilization would have never reached this level of advancement if it werent for jobs. Because people have to make a living, they study, get prepared and look for jobs. This way, entrepreneurs and business owners can find qualified employees to develop or create whatever they need for their business to succeed and bring progress to humanity. Because of our ancestors sacrifice, we might be able to reach a level of development where we could all do what we like to make a living.
Elizabeth: What does the future of work hold for us, as humans become transhumans or cyborgs?
Santiago: The more advanced technology becomes, the less we will be forced to perform physical tasks to survive. We should have more time to dedicate to things we like and, if we have an enhanced brain, those things should be more intellectually stimulating and creative, like ideas, philosophies, inventions, science, arts, games. We should have a lot of time to spend on these hobbies which we should be able to exchange with other transhumans so we all benefit from each others creations.
Jose: You can find plenty of ideas in the Robotic Nation book. Another important consideration is that nanofactories will be producing most of the things that humans will require in the future, and nanoproducts will be incredibly cheap and made in environmentally friendly ways. Humans version 2.0 will live in an era of abundance.
Elizabeth: A longer life span, if not immortality itself, is a stated goal of transhumanism. What ramifications does this have for careers? For education? For funding a retirement (or does retirement exist anymore)?
Jose: With youthful longevity, people will keep learning and working forever. You can be an engineer for 100 years, then maybe a medical doctor for another century, and so on. There will be no retirement as such.
Santiago: There might be a transitional period when some jobs could be lost. Young people might find it hard to get a new job, especially if they are not well qualified for intellectually demanding jobs. Old people will be healthier and will work longer. Education will need to concentrate more on building intellectual careers. Eventually, thanks to robotics, nanotechnology and cybernetics, transhuman hobbies could become jobs and there wouldnt be a need for retirement.
Elizabeth: The US is going through a heated debate right now about revising the Social Security system, which is going broke faced with an aging population and the baby boomers who are heading towards retirement. How do governments plan for transhumanism? Longer life spans? Do transhumans have a moral responsibility to save for their own retirement so as not to overstress a system that wasn't designed for them?
Jose: Just as average human lifespans have increased from 25 to 50 to 75 and soon to 100 years, over the last 2,000 years, societies have to adapt to these extraordinary changes in human longevity. Since people will live longer and stay employable for ages, the concepts of retirement and social security will eventually become obsolete. In any event, each person should be responsible for his/her own work and possible retirement, if ever (governments have no role to play there, like it was before Bismarck created social security in Germany during the XIX century).
Santiago: Is there something governments should be doing to make sure we all benefit from this transition? Probably just help technology become cheaper faster, so everyone can benefit, not only the rich. Maybe they could fund human enhancement and antiaging, since eventually this will turn into savings as more people get healthier and more productive. Promoting stem cell research is also a good idea.
Eventually, as most people become enhanced, knowledge and resources would be exchanged with other transhumans and posthumans, eliminating the need to have companies or governments. Actually, my brain is still not enhanced enough to be able to determine what new types of economic and political systems posthumans might be able to develop but they would surely be better than what we have now.
Elizabeth: Are the people who are thinking about superintelligence also thinking about how that would change the nature of work? Will people still be motivated to work? Does leisure become where we spend our time? How do people make a living?
Jose: Knowledge is the "infinite resource". The more we know, the more we seem to want to know. Since there is no apparent limit to the things that we can learn and discover, we can spend whole lives studying and creating. How about spending half a century in the USA, then starting again all over in China? And then maybe moving a hundred years to Mars before finally deciding to travel outside the Solar System for a few centuries. Our dreams can be almost as big as the universe itself.
Santiago: There are two ways in which we could take advantage of the development of superintelligence: one is to build superintelligent robots and computers, which could become new independent posthuman life forms; the second would be to enhance our own intelligence to become ourselves posthuman life forms. I think both can happen but the second should be more useful and interesting. Most superintelligent robots and computers could probably be used as extensions of ourselves so as to allow us to perform many tasks and solve many problems simultaneously.
With respect to spending our time and making a living, as I said, I am sure we will spend a lot more time having fun than we do now. The difference should be on what we call fun and how we spend our leisure time. Very intelligent people usually consider thinking and theorizing or philosophizing as fun, as well as arguing about complex topics and exchanging ideas. I believe, as transhumans, we should all be able to profit from this.
Elizabeth: Are there specific ideas of transhumanism, particularly regarding its embrace of technology, which can be adapted by corporations seeking to move into the future as regards their responsibilities towards employees, communities, the environment, etc.?
Santiago: The closest we can get to a transhuman work environment at the moment is to allow employees to work from home, at their own times, and reporting their work and interacting with their employers through Internet. This way we are adapting to the way transhumans will probably work and, at the same time, we are helping the environment by not having to commute to our workplace with contaminating vehicles and by freeing our streets from traffic.
I also think companies should invest in high level training and education so as to build a future workforce prepared for knowledge and information technology based jobs as opposed to jobs requiring physical and repetitive tasks which will eventually be filled by robots. Baby boomers should also be trained if they want to make a living as consultants, inventors or any other transhuman type job, once antiaging technologies become available.
Jose: Transhumanist technologies (mostly Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno) will be the new corporate gold rush of the future. The NBIC technologies will become more and more environmentally and user friendly. Just to give one example, according to the US NSF Nano Initiative, close to one trillion dollars and millions of jobs will be produced thanks to nanotechnology in the year 2015.
Elizabeth: Can you share with me any other thoughts you might have on the future of work and transhumanism?
Santiago: The first transitional stage will probably occur in the next 30 to 50 years, the second transhuman stage should be between 50 and 70 year from now, and the third posthuman stage should probably start more than 70 years from now, but we can obtain a lot of benefits by identifying which transitional changes are already occurring and how to adapt to them.
Internet is already changing the way we work by allowing us to find any information as soon as we need it. Also by allowing us to exchange that information immediately through email or instant messaging systems. And, as I said, we can even work from home and for any employer in any part of the world.
Biotechnology is starting to cure many old age diseases allowing people to remain active and healthier longer. The development of stem cell research will speed this trend in the next ten years.
Cognitive enhancement drugs are already increasing our capacity to work longer, smarter and more creatively, allowing people to enter more easily into the knowledge and information technology workforce.
We already have quadriplegics connecting their brains to computers, imagine in ten years from now when they will be able to browse the web, send emails, program computers, write reports and create worksheets with their brains, much faster than we can, and working from home. Wed better connect our brains too if we want to compete!
Jose: The future is just fascinating, and transhumanism is the philosophy to transcend our human limitations thanks to science and technology. Human work will finally be enjoyable, and people will never get tired of learning and doing new things, for as long as anyone desires to live.
Elizabeth: There are clearly a wide variety of jumping off points here for discussion, and I leave it to you, dear readers, to choose which ideas you want to debate. I think Jose and Santiago gave us some big picture ideas to think about, but from my point of view, I'd like to see further discussion about the stresses that will incur as we move towards a transhumanist future. Perhaps Jose and Santiago will join us from time to time to discuss these issues. And to you other transhumanists out there: Please join in as well!
Founder and president of the World Future Society (Venezuela Chapter), cofounder of the Venezuelan Transhumanist Association, chair of the Venezuelan Node of the Millennium Project of the American Council of the United Nations University (UNU), director of the World Transhumanist Association and of the Extropy Institute, advisor to the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, member of the Academic Committee of the Center for the Dissemination of Economic Knowledge (CEDICE), former director of the Club of Rome (Venezuela Chapter, where he has being active promoting classical liberal ideas) and of the Venezuelan Association of Exporters (AVEX), and consultant to various companies and organizations, both Venezuelan and international. A full biography can be found here.
Cofounder and Director, Venezuelan Transhumanist Association, Caracas, Venezuela. A full biography can be found here.
World Transhumanist Association
* Declaration: http://transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/declaration/
* FAQ: http://transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/faq/
Essays About Transhumanism: http://www.aleph.se/Trans/Intro/index-2.html#Essay
Human Body Version 2.0 by Ray Kurzweil: http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0551.html