As long as they're earthbound, most people shrug off the idea of being anything other than a biological human. Some people are even repulsed or angered by the concept of scientifically tampering with the human body and brain too much. However, the time is coming when radical technology will allow us to expand and significantly improve the abilities of our minds and the forms of our bodies. A transhumanist age is nearly upon the human race -- an age where cyborgs, sentient robots, virtual lives based in computers and dramatically altered human beings may become commonplace.
Already, there are hundreds of universities, laboratories and companies around the world where transhumanist projects are underway. A transhumanist is a person who aims to move beyond the human being via science and technology. Some of the most eye-opening projects are military-oriented, such as the "Iron Man" armor suit being created for American soldiers. Trials runs of the suit are tentatively scheduled for this summer. Another well-known project is at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden where scientists are connecting robotic limbs to the human nervous system of amputees, essentially creating cyborg-like people. The first arm surgeries are scheduled to occur in less than 12 months. Of course, private companies like Google are also very much involved in the broad field of transhumanism. They are spending many millions of dollars on creating artificial intelligence, which one day may have its own sentience and be thousands of times smarter than humans. Renowned futurist, Ray Kurzweil, is one of Google's top technologists working on the project.
Even though some of these technologies seem frightening to the layperson, they should be here in a matter of years, not decades. One of the most exciting and controversial ideas of transhumanism is the complete integration of the human mind with a machine. Similar to the extraordinary technology featured in the movie The Matrix, humans may be able to download themselves into computers and live virtual existences.
Lately, I have been speaking more frequently about mind uploading in conferences, interviews and in casual conversations with friends. I often get asked in a highly dubious way: Could you really just let yourself disappear into a machine, Zoltan?
The study of how and why human beings and society accept technology and innovation is fascinating. Generally, people are wired to be wary and afraid of treading new paths and considering unknown ideas; we are engrained with a powerful "flight" mechanism, designed to preserve our safety and well-being. Yet, that has hardly stopped civilization from progress. The first time fire was seen by our homo erectus ancestors, it was likely treated as a great evil or a monster. Later, it became our species' foundation for warmth, disease-free food and light. The history of anesthesia is similar. At first, some considered it too unnatural before realizing how useful it was for successful surgery and medicine. Even the automobile was considered too loud and problematic when it first came out. Nonetheless, like all great technologies, society did embrace it, even if skeptically at first.
In time, many humans will also come to view mind uploading and virtual lives as just as important and real as biological human lives. Already on sites like Kickstarter, there are companies looking for funding that will create thought-capturing headsets and haptic feedback suits to bring us that much closer to complete virtual world immersion. Even virtual sex, considered bizarre by most, will likely come to be a popular way to enjoy intimacy with a partner. In an increasingly busy world where many travel for work and are away from loved ones for days at a time, such intimacy may be welcomed. Some may laugh at these concepts now, but the personal computer was laughed at by many too when it first came out.
A concept I've defined in my philosophical writings as the "futurization of values" promotes the idea that people should try to live according to where they believe they are going in life, and not only where they actually are. With science and technology advancing so rapidly, it would be valuable to begin examining the perspective from our projected future selves. In this way, we might not be so skeptical or afraid of new technology that might be beneficial to our species. Rather than mock and shrug off such advances that will soon be a part of our lives, we might consider instead what their value is and how they might improve our lives and those of our loves ones.