What happens when humans become more than human? Or when computers surpass humanity to become the dominant 'species' on earth in new cyborg hybrid?
Most scholars believe that the movement of transhumanism was unofficially started in 1923 with J.B.S. Haldane’s essay “Prometheus: Science and the Future”. In this essay, Haldane introduced a notable idea; that current political and economic states made it likely that science will develop on its own. This would allow recent developments in biology to impact political choices. These scientific developments would include topics like Eugenics—something fraught with peril—and ectogenesis (the creation of life within an artificial environment). Haldane’s thoughts would pervade much of science for the next 100 years, creating a sense that mankind was in a perfect environment politically and economically to create the tools that would allow one to overcome their bodily weaknesses and become like Nietzsche’s Supermen.
The official founder of transhumanism—and the individual who coined the term—is considered to be biologist Julian Huxley, brother to famous author and activist Aldous Huxley. In a 1957 essay, Huxley presented a new idea:
“Up till now human life has generally been, as Hobbes described it, ‘nasty, brutish and short’; the great majority of human beings (if they have not already died young) have been afflicted with misery… we can justifiably hold the belief that these lands of possibility exist, and that the present limitations and miserable frustrations of our existence could be in large measure surmounted… The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself —- not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity.”
This belief that humanity has the potential to “transcend” its current state seemed revolutionary.
This idea of transcendence would pervade early science fiction as early as the ‘50s and ‘60s. The best example of this thought was Arthur C. Clarke’s book 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). In this novel, the hero finds a technological obelisk on an alien world that provided an opportunity to overcome physical barriers and become a being of pure energy, transcending human evolution. However, Clarke’s understanding of this cultural evolution is not the only one.
Another key idea is that artificial intelligence’s mental capabilities will eventually go through a “Singularity”, where the data capability exceeds that of a mortal man. This Singularity is a concept invented by computer scientist Vernor Vinge who predicted the sudden rise of transistors and intelligence in computer brains. From this, futurist Ray Kurzweil suggested that humanity would eventually mix its subconscious with an AI, becoming “one with the machine”. There are multiple variations on these stories, but all of them offer the same result, the ability to gain immortality through technology and overcome human suffering.