Good news for humans: it is impossible to predict whether we will be replaced by machines anytime soon, William Grassie, founder of the science and religion research organization Metanexus Institute, said at a talk Wednesday.
In front of an audience of 20 students, faculty and community members at 77 Prospect St., Grassie spoke about plausibility of transhumanism — the use of science and technology to improve human abilities by methods such as super machines, enhanced brains and engineered genomes. In the talk, sponsored by the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, he argued that it is impossible to foresee the evolutionary changes of the future due to the unpredictability of human evolution, the knowledge limits of technology, and the reality that humans are already “post-human.”
“Resistance is futile,” Grassie said. “We are already living in a post-human world.”
Grassie began the talk by discussing whether society can realistically anticipate transhumanism. Although there is hype in the media about the next step in human evolution, Grassie said it is impossible to envisage or control the selective pressures that influence adaptation. Because factors ranging from climate change to the global economy affect human evolution, Grassie said, it would be impossible to control all of the variables.
Grassie also addressed the knowledge limits of technology in creating advanced human beings. Issues of complexity and the limit to human thinking speed pose challenges to technological knowledge that should not be unexpected, he said. After all, he said, with the exponential rate of technological growth that has occurred over the past century, there must eventually be a limit.
But Grassie said that perhaps one of the biggest issues with transhumanism is the misguided notion of human cells functioning as machines. The reality is not as simplistic as models suggest, Grassie said, and there may be a knowledge limit when computers attempt to model this behavior.
In fact, Grassie suggested, society might already be in the transhuman or post-human phase of existence. He proposed that if humans view themselves as being in the post-human stage, they would be saved from future evolution and concrete notions of the world and would instead be able to look more critically at the present. But regardless humans should still invest in the future and in a vision guided by a deity, he said.
“It’s hard to design one’s life in advent of an unpredictable future,” Grassie pointed out.
Audience members said they wished Grassie had more time to go into greater depth.
James Felton Keith, author of the book “Integrationalism: Essays on the Rationale of Abundance,” said that while he agreed with the majority of points Grassie made, he would have liked to hear more about the transhuman efforts to seize total control.
For community member John DiPrima, who attended the talk, Grassie’s discussion of the limitations of technology was most interesting, he said, though he added that he was interested in hearing more about transhumanism as something which transcends man.
William Grassie is the author of the book “The New Sciences of Religion: Exploring Spirituality from the Outside In and Bottom Up.”