Friday, September 16, 2011

transhumanism and me...

Recently added my "official author's bio" to Amazon. 'Tis as all its gory grandness ;-)

Transhumanism and me…

For about twenty years I was a trade press journalist. Specifically, I reported on computers. Among other things, I saw the introduction of the IBM PC and the demise of the minicomputers, wrote about UNIX when it was still just a cool thing that hackers did at Stamford and/or AT&T ("UNIX is a trademark of…"), got caught in the crossfire between AIers and Neural Netters, fought in the RISC wars (I was a SPARCist), got sucked into the Web, wrote about hackers and computer security, and finally ended up doing white papers about middleware.

All of this, by the way, I did under another name. For a variety of odd reasons, I find it useful to keep that part of my life a little bit separate from other parts of it. But, if you really, really want to know all the gory details, drop me a line and I'll reveal my (gasp!) true identity. Or, at least, the identity I used back then.

Anyway, a while back, I got bored with journalism and started doing fiction… particularly science fiction. I've done stories on all sorts of different topics. But, at the moment, almost all the SF I write has to do with "transhumanism," that is, the idea that we will eventually use artificial means to transcend our own limitations—a moment in our history that is sometimes, but not always, associated with the term "The Singularity."

I'm an optimist on the subject. I genuinely believe that the day is coming when it will be possible for us to become superhuman. And, I genuinely believe that will be a good thing.

But that's not to say I think that it is going to be easy.

Indeed, my "transhumanistic" fiction reflects four basic suppositions about just how hard it is going to be.  Let me take them one at a time:

1) When the day comes when we can change ourselves, many of us will decide not to.

After all, it is kind of a spooky idea. Imagine having someone say to you, "Hey, here's a cup of nanobot tea. Swig it down and by morning you'll be completely, utterly, and totally remade. You'll have powers beyond your wildest dreams, but you'll never be the same again." I'm betting a lot of folks would respond to that suggestion with another proposal, far more forcefully stated, about where you could stick your damn 'bots.

So, I predict that after the Singularity, we'll see the human race divide between those people who decide to remain, well, people…and those who don't.

2) Further, the individuals who elect to be more than human will evolve very, very rapidly. They’ll be able to improve themselves continuously, after all. They'll be adding new powers, new abilities, new facets of themselves, all the time. Which means, I suspect, that they'll soon evolve right out of sight.

What do I mean by that? Well, as one of my characters says, consider the ant. It is a very successful being. It lived long before us. It will exist long after we're gone. But does it see us? Does it think about us as we think about it? As a living being? As an entity with its own goals and aims?

I submit that it doesn't. First, I'm not sure it has concepts like "entity" and "living," but, second, even if it did, I'm pretty sure it would see us as just big, warm, moving, something-or-others. And our constructions? Our cities and farms? No different from any mountain or field.

My point, then, is that once transhumans were as far removed from us as we are from insects, they might be pretty much invisible to us.

3) When all this happens, particularly if those who elected to become transhuman were basically disappearing from view, society might well collapse. The population would be dividing into two radically different sorts of people. Nations, social institutions, economies, even families would be ripped apart. Normal humans might well regress all the way to something like pre-industrial society.

After that, we (meaning normal humans) might forget what had happened. Historians might look back and say, "oh, there was a period of social chaos at the end of the twenty-first century, but it wasn't much different from similar periods of chaos that have happened before and will doubtlessly happen again."

4) Given the above, then we might not have one Singularity but many. Every few generations, the human race would struggle up to industrialization. Gradually, it would develop railroads, factories, and computers. Someone would suggest linking brains and machines. And then we'd be off again. Once more, some would decide to be more than human. Others wouldn't. There'd be a Dark Age …reindustrialization… and, in a few hundred years, yet another Singularity.

So, those four basics are behind most of what I write.

Do I actually believe that the future will work out the way I'm predicting? Ah, er, um…maybe. Or, then again, maybe not. If the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray, then predictions are an order of magnitude more likely to get really scr*wed up.

But I do think all this makes for good fiction.

In any case, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. If you like, stop by my blog and let me know how you see the matter. I'm at And, of course, you can always find me here at Amazon.

Hope to meet you soon.

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