The fruit of the transhumanist project will not be a better human being, but an indeterminate and impersonal “something”

For the time being, it seems that far more dangerous than artificial intelligence itself are the people who manage it and are already using it, for example, to invigilate society or to control people’s moods, preferences, even opinions, says Father Dr Michał Ziółkowski MI.

TVP WEEKLY: Ilya Samoylenko, one of the commanders of the Azov battalion, is called a “Cyborg” by the Ukrainian media. In 2015, he lost his left arm, which was replaced with a titanium prosthesis, and his right eye in the fight against the Russians, so he uses an artificial one. Can we consider this as an example of transhumanism?

In order to judge whether a particular intervention in the biological structure of the human being is transhumanist, it must be assessed against the overall perspective of this ideology. Transhumanists write a lot about the cyborgisation of the human being, but it should be remembered that in transhumanism the whole sphere of science is subordinated to a certain neo-Gnostic, techno-spiritualist vision. Transhumanism in its futuristic projects ultimately wants to free the human mind (consciousness) from the body. The body is therefore an obstacle to “divinity”, which transhumanists identify with the abiological post-human stage. This is why transhumanism nurtures – one might say – a deep hatred of the body.

So the aim of transhumanism is not to help human beings on the basis of therapeutic intervention?

No. Endo or exoprosthesis (cyborgisation) is not in itself transhumanist, unless the person undergoing it wishes to “no longer be human” and has done so for that very purpose. The nature of transhumanism is a disagreement with remaining in a biological body. We can call the enhancement of the body by various kinds of technology transhumanism if it is strictly subordinated to the expectation of the arrival of such technology that will make it possible to leave the corporeal dimension, e.g. by transferring the mind to cyberspace.

Is transhumanism characterised by an extreme instrumentalisation of human existence?

Of course. It is not difficult to see in it a technological substitute for an anti-Christian religious system. Such conceptual creations found in transhumanism as technotranscendence, techno-gnosis, the technological singularity, super-intelligence or the post-human are in fact parareligious concepts, merely dressed up in a technological robe. Transhumanism is judged by the representatives of this movement themselves to be a neo-Gnostic system. History shows that the doctrine of Gnostic sects has been fought against by Christian intellectuals, if only because of the glorification of the figure of Satan by some Gnostics. We can also find similar examples in transhumanism, e.g. in one text by leading transhumanist Max More we find a manifesto entitled “In Praise of the Devil”.
Endo or exoprosthesis (cyborgization) is not in itself transhumanistic - argues Fr. Ziółkowski. In the photo: a 30-year-old Turkish woman, Zubeyde Nisa Karabacak, who lost her arm. She regained her fitness thanks to a bionic prosthesis. Photo Kerem Kocalar / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
If transhumanism has little to do with cybernetic prosthetic arms or legs, then what about cybernetic sensory organs which, by means of neural implants, combine the workings of the brain with the activities of artificial intelligence? With the modification of human genes, on the other hand, it is possible to completely change a human being or design one from scratch. Is such a person still a human being or already a cyborg? How will this process continue to evolve?

Linking human brain activity to an artificial intelligence programme could be classified as a cyborgisation process, if such a link were permanent. Elon Musk is a pioneer here, although he claims that subjecting humans to such an experiment would be therapeutic. He wants to apply this to patients with quadriplegia. He has already experimented – reportedly successfully – on pig and monkey brains.

  When it comes to the type of interventions into the human brain and their level of risk to humans, experts, e.g. neuroscientists, neurosurgeons, neuroinformaticians, should be consulted. In doing so, attention should be paid to which model of anthropology the scientist in question identifies with.

An intervention concerning, for example, the sense of sight and the associated insertion of a so-called “cyber-eye” does not destroy the integrity of the human person. On the other hand, technological interventions affecting the entire human nervous system are certainly very dangerous. A human being, as a result of genetic manipulation, when we incorporate alien genes into the genotype, can be either a hybrid or a chimaera. Let us not confuse this with cyborgisation. If, on the other hand, we wanted to refine the human genotype using the selection of “better genes” derived from human genetic material, then... well?

Then a super-human would have been created?

It is certainly a eugenic practice. Scientists categorised as bioconservatives believe that the genetic code defines “human nature” and therefore it must not be corrected, because intervening in human nature would violate human dignity. They also call it “playing God”.

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Unfortunately, an increasing number of scientists do not accept the definition of “human nature” as an objective and immutable structure or value, let alone that, worldview-wise, they are adherents of “scientific atheism”. For many of them, the human body is simply biomass that can and should be improved by biotechnological processing. How will this develop? One dreads to think. They are already creating ape-human embryos and perhaps more than one individual has already had its genotype improved. Huxley described this “bright future” in “Brave New World”. It must be remembered, however, that biological human enhancement is only an intermediate phase for that measure of perfection towards which transhumanism aims, and which would be an abiological post-human.

You point out in your book that “according to transhumanist doctrine, the next evolutionary stage of humans would be an abiological post-human subject. Although transhumanists associate the emergence of a more perfected format of rational being with a certain turning point in the development of artificial intelligence technology, known as the advent of the singularity, there is much to suggest that this is a more crypto-religious concept than a scientistic one, or some conceptual hybrid representing a fusion of the two ways of describing reality, which are science and religion”. Within which sciences, then, should transhumanism be studied, technical or theological?

Transhumanism is a chimaera, i.e. a heterogeneous conceptual creation. What is important is its goal: not to be human, to liberate human existence from natural conditions, to become a “techno-god”. Therefore, the backbone of this transhumanist, chimerical idearium is spiritualist in nature, and certainly a theological sensibility makes it possible to properly assess this hostile to man ideology. At the same time, however, it has various other parts, which are the subject of almost all progressive specific sciences.

The concept of the technological singularity is central to the overall perspective of this strand and concerns AI technology.

Transhumanists prophesise that in a few decades artificial intelligence will surpass humanity’s intellectual potential and become an autonomous superintelligence. A new “god” managing the universe. Its IT structure would become the “living environment” for a post-human entity.

Using modern scientific categories, we are unable to describe what the condition of a post-human being existing in cyberspace would be. A human being is not just a mind, and so even a futuristic transfer of the mind to the cyberworld could not be a way for the “next stage” of the evolution of the human being to occur. There is a lack of continuity between the biological and abiological stages. It is rather like moving from the level of nature to the level of culture. A post-human would simply be some kind of artefact, perhaps an extremely humanised computer program. However, the transition to a new dimension of the “wonder world” is quite blatantly reminiscent of religious schemes.
The novel that made Aldus Huxley (1894-1963) most famous is the dystopia "Brave New World". Photo ullstein bild / ullstein bild via Getty Images
It is worth noting that in Aldous Huxley’s famous dystopia “Brave New World” the perfection of the human being is relative – it depends on the role the individual plays in society, in most cases, the said “perfection” means outright degradation of the human being... It seems that transhumanist projects are not free from this danger? In contrast, the end of history predicted by Francis Fukuyama in his famous book has not happened. Is the famous thinker right to see transhumanism as a threat? In “The End of History and the Last Man”, he writes that biotechnology is supposed to create a new, more perfect human being.

Transhumanism is very dangerous because it is anti-human at its core. The various technological “innovations” intended to improve the quality of human life are merely advertising gimmicks. It should be remembered that ideology becomes a great danger when its representatives come to power. Unfortunately, we are living in a time when the whole of world politics is increasingly subordinated to technocrats. This is a great opportunity for transhumanism and therefore one must be vigilant. The transhumanism that Fukuyama writes about is more like the transhumanism of the Huxley brothers.

Today’s experts, however, see a far greater threat – not in biotechnologies, but in the misdirection of AI technology, as more and more human activity, of all kinds, is moving into cyberspace and this process will intensify. And someone is managing this cyberspace, after all. Ultimately, its only perfect administrator will be – according to transhumanists – an autonomous superintelligence.

What then becomes of human freedom?

It seems that there will be none at all, because man will lose his autonomy once he is subjected to full control and steering by the aforementioned superintelligence. “Conceptual foreground” of this type of project can be found today, for example, in Chinese society and the extensive surveillance programmes there concerning the so-called “social credit”. Let us assume that the futuristic transhumanist project of a post-human being – although it seems completely absurd – could be realised, its fruit would not be a better human being, but not a human being at all. It would be an indeterminate, amorphous and impersonal “something”. Therein, it seems, lies the fallacy of transhumanism as a project that supposedly liberates the human being – but in fact deprives the human being of freedom, individuality, personality. “Techno-nirvana” does not, therefore, make a “god” out of man, but rather its aim is the annihilation of human existence.
What is the concept of transhumanism as presented in Ray Kurzweil’s “transhumanist bible” entitled “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology”? Are the theses presented there scientific?

This is a holistic perspective on transhumanism. In my opinion, Kurzweil’s words about the need for a new religion – which many downplay – are key, but before the author gets to that, he obviously refers to the whole realm of science and gives the impression that he knows his stuff. The panorama of references to the detailed sciences is built in line with the overall concept of transhumanism, i.e.: from the natural human through the transhuman – transcending biology – to the abiological posthuman. Hence pharmacology, implantology, genetics, cyborgisation, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence technology, interfaces, avatars, mind transfer, religion. Scientific theses are certainly the starting point for most transhumanist projects, although there is often no shortage of ideological attitudes already at the “starting point”.

I understand, but can you find examples of unscientificness there?

Such an example would be anthropological reductionism that reduces the whole of human existence to the functionality of the human brain alone. Many projects also look like super-optimistic technological probabilism, i.e. they are formulated with the consideration that a given technology – with regularly accelerating technical progress – will be able to develop successfully. It is well known from experience that many “fantastic” scientific projects are eventually “left hanging”, and their further development passes onto the pages of science fiction books. However, it should be remembered that many futurologists living in the first half of the 20th century became true prophets for the 21st century. Quite a few transhumanist projects sound strongly utopian, but there are also some that have surprised with the accuracy of their predictions... as many have already been realised.

You point out that some of the theses propounded by transhumanists are not scientific. How are they justified?

It’s a bit like Plato. When he couldn’t argue something philosophically, he referred to religious beliefs. For many, Plato’s system is more of a theology dressed up as philosophy than a real philosophical system. In transhumanism there is often an extrapolation of scientific theses into gnostic, and therefore religious, schemes. These are not side plots – as some claim – but key concepts that capture the nature of this trend. An example of that is mind uploading, or the transfer of the mind (consciousness) to cyberspace. This is nothing more than the gnostic release of the “spark of light” from the body and a return to Pleroma, only dressed in contemporary technological garb.
Raymond Kurzweil in a time when he was still mainly devoted to computers. Photo Steve Liss / Getty Images
That is, they have a theological basis, and yet theology is a science. Is there not a falsehood hidden here? For according to the transhumanists, theology does not fit into the modern paradigm of scientific character that they “profess”, yet their concepts are not free from theological thinking.

Yes, I would even draw attention to a certain demonological aspect. In transhumanism there is also a gnostic exposition of the figure of Satan as the promethean liberator of humanity. We find this in the texts of one of the leading transhumanists, Max More, president of the cryopreservation institute and an expert on extropy. Similarly: the messianic revelation of the technological singularity, the divine superintelligence, the techno-nirvana in cyberspace, or the disembodied post-human. This is difficult to defend today even with the help of natural science. They are rather ideological parareligious constructs. The “unscientificness” of transhumanism thus consists largely in the creation of concepts that are a kind of fusion of religious thinking and specific sciences.

What is the purpose of making such claims?

To gain followers, gain influence, gain power and arrange the world in their own way.

When will artificial intelligence become superintelligence and what will be the consequences? Will AI take control over humans?

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The year 2045 appears in many publications, according to a graph showing an exponential increase in the speed of computer processors. At that time, the artificial intelligence programme would be so powerful that it would no longer need humans for anything. Superintelligence would then begin an autonomous process of self-improvement ... which would have no end. This is why it is then attributed “divine” prerogatives. Sceptics usually say that it is impossible within such a technological progression to move from quantity to quality. That is to say, even the incredible power of processors will not result in at least the phenomenon of the emergence of consciousness and therefore, they claim, we need not fear an all-powerful AI.

Well, do we really not need to fear AI?

This is a bit of a misconception, as AI does not need to be self-aware at all to threaten humans or even the human population, e.g. rocket weapon systems guided by artificial intelligence do not need self-awareness to cause a major tragedy. Similarly with so-called autonomous cars. Sometimes all it takes is a small error in the software. For the time being, it seems that far more dangerous than artificial intelligence itself are the people who manage and use it already today, e.g. to surveil society or to control people’s moods, preferences, even opinions.

What is technotranscendence?

It is simply the transgression of the natural human condition by means of various technologies, where the entry into a new dimension of reality is linked to the subject’s ever-deepening engagement with life in the cyber world. It is therefore not transcendence in the vertical sense, but in the horizontal sense, which can also be called technological transgression. At the apex of this transhumanist conception is the liberation of the mind from the body and the transition – which has the character of a transfer at the ontological level – into cyberspace.
According to Fedorov, God crowned the efforts of all people and sciences - reminds Fr. Ziolkowski. Portrait of Nicholas Fedorov by Leonid Pasternak. Photo Wikimedia
What is the connection between the technocentric current of transhumanism and the deeply religious Nikolai Fedorov, the 19th century Russian thinker, founder of cosmism, and author of a scientific project for the resurrection of the dead that is unique in the history of mankind? Was it a scientific project, or was it nonetheless a religious one?

Transhumanists have chosen Fyodorov as their “prophet”. However, this is an instrumental and highly adulterated treatment of his person and his immortalist conception of man. Fyodorov was methodologically doing the opposite of the transhumanists. He simply wanted to argue the truths of faith in a scientific way. Thus, for example, starting from the theological doctrine of the resurrection, he tried to present the project of raising the dead as a scientific project.

Transhumanists conversely: they start from the claims of the detailed sciences, and when they run out of scientific arguments, they extrapolate their theories to, for example, gnostic religious schemes. Although sometimes this also seems to be a form of “hidden satanism”, which uses technological developments to deceive humans. The Gospels, after all, say that the devil is the Father of Lies. Fyodorov’s project was, of course, heterodox to traditional Christian doctrine, but it was deeply religious.

For Fyodorov made the ultimate success of his project dependent on the intervention of an omnipotent and transcendent God.

Yes. The transhumanist project, on the other hand, is the work of a transhumanist who is ultimately to become a new “god” belonging to a cyber-pantheon governed by a superintelligence (super-god). In other words, in Fyodorov’s work, God crowns the effort of all human beings and the sciences practised by them to raise the dead. Humanity in the effort to overcome death was to unite in such a way as to constitute the earthly image of the Trinity. A human community in the image of the Trinity would guarantee that God’s omnipotence would work through this community. This is why Fyodorov – although doctrinally preaching heresy – firmly believed in the success of this project. Meanwhile, transhumanism is a project to create a “god”. The difference is therefore fundamental. Ultimately, the transhumanist quest to achieve divinity brings death to man. This transhumanist conceit can be traced back to biblical protology, where one of the angels seemed so perfect that without God he could do everything himself.

– interviewed by Tomasz Plaskota

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and journalists

– Translated by jz

Fr. Michał Ziółkowski MI, a member of the Order of Servants of the Sick (Ministri Infirmorum), known as Camillians, since 1997. He was ordained a priest in 2005. He was chaplain of a psychiatric hospital and rector of the Transfiguration Church in Tworki. He is a member of the Scientific Thomistic Society. He is interested in bioethical problems, the ethics of artificial intelligence, the evolution of the idea of the antichrist in biblical texts and its contemporary incarnations in the space of the “religion of technology”, as well as the concepts of thinkers of the Russian philosophical-religious renaissance.
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