Marriage is one of the most sacred and historically important institutions in society. Few other human acts involve as much excitement, ritual and celebration as tying the knot. Regardless of which culture, religion or nation one belongs to, the promise of lifelong legal commitment to another person transcends virtually every other barrier humans have created for themselves. For many people, it is the quintessential rite of life, culminating with the chance to create offspring, merge new families together, and secure long-term love.
Nevertheless, no matter how powerful or psychologically ingrained an institution like matrimony is in society, it is unlikely to outlive a paradigm shift for the human species. Gathering strength on the horizon in the guise of technology -- transhumanist technology -- a paradigm shift is about to sweep over the human race. The word transhuman literally means beyond human. Broadly explained, it's the idea of using science and technology to fundamentally improve and advance the species. Many prominent technologists and futurists believe the creation of artificial intelligence thousands of times smarter than humans, uploading one's mind into a computer, and the replacement of many human body parts with synthetic ones are only 25 to 35 years away. This begs the obvious question: Will marriage still be practiced in a world of advanced machine intelligences, computer-generated virtual lives, and indefinite cyborg lifespans?
The roots of legal matrimony date back centuries to the Middle Ages, when much of marriage was a tool for negotiating wealth and property rights, as well as ensuring maximum advantage to parents and offspring. In many ways, modern marriage hasn't changed much at all. It's often still a function of those very same practices.
The reason new marriages will likely sharply decline in the coming transhumanist era is simple: The practice of matrimony is a very human endeavor, tied to mammalian emotions and long established social rituals. However, in only a matter of decades, transhumanist technology will lead us to become very different beings with very different rituals, regardless of past heritage or cultural influence. Consider human mortality, for example. Many experts, such as futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil, expect science to achieve the ability to provide an ongoing sentience for the human mind and body by around 2045. Human death, disease and old age will likely begin disappearing in significant portions of the human population soon after. If you are able to be downloaded into a computer, or if you have your body parts all replaced until you are a bionic cyborg, will you still desire to have children? Will you really legally commit for an eternity to someone when life, your perception, and the human species are changing so rapidly?
"Technology is upending many important things in our lives," said Chris T. Armstrong, a futurist and contributor to the Institute of Ethics & Emerging Technologies. "For many people, the notion of their wealth and private property are already mostly digital in practical terms. Wealth can be transferred, hidden and spent in a matter of seconds, rendering some of the historical benefits of marriage obsolete."
While many in the world may not realize this, civilization is on verge of the greatest change it has ever known. Entire social systems and institutions may soon become obsolete, nonfunctional, and even unsafe. Take birthing for instance, considered one of natural mainstays of many new marriages: In less than 25 years, some experts believe it will be considered dangerous to have a normal child birth. Ectogenesis, as it applies to persons, is the growing of a human being in an artificial uterus -- where every heartbeat, kick and moment of a fetus's life is carefully monitored -- will be far safer and more reliable. Mothers will no longer have to bear the responsibility of growing a child inside them or of enduring a grueling birthing process that is wrought with medical perils. As with all new technology, old-fashioned biological and social customs will ultimately give way to newer practices steeped in safety, efficiency, and practicality.
The precipitous decline of new marriages brought on by radical emerging technologies is still a few decades off. The old world and the tools society used to move forward will become obsolete. New marriages will not likely outlive this century. However, the coming transhumanist world will have its own exciting tools and customs too, and they also will be worthwhile. Love, attraction, relationships and progeny creation will remain with us far into the future. They will simply evolve and reinvent themselves. A new rewarding world of social interaction and complex relationships will arrive, and it will be one that will have incredible depths and curiosities to explore.