Transhumanism in the Age of ChatGPT: Five Thoughts from Transhumanist Zoltan Istavan

Valeria Graziani
Feb 22, 2023

In episode 90 of the Feedback Loop Podcast: "The Current State of Transhumanism," we catch up with one of our first guests on the show, çΩΩ≈ΩΩ

The swift progress in biotechnology, artificial intelligence (AI), and neuroscience has been a significant contributor to the growth of transhumanism. Nevertheless, despite the increasing interest in this field, many remain apprehensive about the consequences of employing technology to augment the human body and mind. Ongoing discussions revolve around the ethics of creating superhumans, the possible hazards of artificial intelligence, and the potential societal impact of these technologies.

So according to Zoltan Istavan what's changed and what is waiting for us in the future?

1. The last ten years have been disappointing for the longevity movement.

While the transhumanism movement aims to find ways to help us live longer, better lives – if not indefinitely, the science and biological testing and breakthroughs needed are taking a lot longer than many anticipated.

"The longevity movement has been disappointing in what it's produced; there was a lot of hype….On the other hand, I have to say, AI, probably the gorilla in the room, has gone faster than most people realize. Especially recently with ChatGPT and some of the Boston Dynamics robots. I'd say 10 years ago, I wouldn't have guessed that we would be this far along where I might be able to write half my essays using a chatbot for free. I'm not sure where AI and longevity intersect, maybe they do in the future, or maybe they're already starting to right now? But maybe one will help the other catch up." - Zoltan Istvan

2. The COVID-19 pandemic helped legitimize the transhumanist movement

From a transhumanist viewpoint, Istvan highlights that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a compelling transformation in humanity's perception of life, death and science.

Istavan attributes some of the growth as a side effect of the political backlash against transhumanism in 2021 and 2022, which was recognized and blamed for many of the new vaccines and technologies that have emerged in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, despite being portrayed in a negative light, transhumanism has continued to gain popularity.

"It's much more recognized because of the fact that people faced death. And because scientists came through and people said, wow, if we can do vaccines like this maybe we can do vaccines for cancer? Maybe we can do genetic editing with things in the future. And that got a lot of people thinking. And of course, when they think like that, they're already thinking like a transhumanist." - Zoltan Istvan

Regardless of one's stance on history and science, the Covid-19 pandemic may have helped bring the scientific community together globally. This crisis has opened new channels of communication between nations that could have long-lasting positive impacts. For instance, Istvan draws parallels to the environmental movement, highlighting how efforts to stop whaling operations by groups like Greenpeace brought the world together and led to the growth of environmentalism. Similarly, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 helped galvanize environmental action.

It often takes significant events and shifts in humanity's perspective to drive change. Istvan believes that the Covid-19 pandemic will be a turning point in the growth of transhumanism, solidifying it as a mainstream idea that is here to stay. He sees the potential for this movement to bring positivity and make the world a better place, which did not exist prior to the pandemic.

3. In 20-30 years it's unlikely that work as we know it will exist

According to Istvan, the traditional college experience, the way we have always known it to be, and many jobs may start to become obsolete beginning around the next 36 months, as the way we work and approach productivity will undergo significant changes. For instance, companies that pay a premium to outsource tasks like journalism that create original content may end up utilizing AI language models such as ChatGPT to generate semi-original content, saving money in the process. Similarly, engineering tasks previously done by hand, such as architectural drawings, are now being replaced by AI-powered apps. Although these apps are not yet perfected, Istvan predicts they will be within the next 18 months, offering a cheaper and more efficient alternative to outsourcing.

The future of higher education and job security is uncertain, as advancements in AI are rapidly transforming the job market, according to Istvan. He mentions that there may still be jobs available in the near future, but the question remains about 20-30 years down the line. AI systems will have advanced significantly by then, making human productivity seem slow in comparison. As a result, Istvan raises an important question of whether it is still advisable to encourage students to attend college if there is no guaranteed job market for them.

Istvan believes that society is on the brink of a complete transformation within a 3 to 10-year window. The progression of AI technology is bringing about many changes, some of which include job loss. Still, it is possible that new job opportunities may emerge, similar to many previous shifts in progress over the years. However, because of this, many individuals may find that retraining for a new career may not be feasible, as their education may quickly become obsolete due to the speed of AI. This raises the question of what the future holds for those affected by these changes.

"I talked about this to my wife last night, I said, you know, what do we do with the kids? I have a 12-year-old and a nine-year-old, two girls, and you know, we obviously want them to go to college. But what would they do? I mean, you know, I mean, if everything is sort of taken over being utilized on machines, and maybe okay, even in 10 years, maybe there, they'll still be at work. But what about 20 and 30 years? Probably not, they probably unless they're actually plugged in like a neural link system, they're not going to be quick enough, and even then they're still not going to be as quick as an AI because by then the AI will be, you know, 1000 times better than it is now. So do you send kids to college, when there's really no aftermarket for them?" - Zoltan Istvan

Fortunately for us, there is a silver lining, according to Istvan. A glimmer of hope amid rapid technological advancement, in the form of "winging it." Because of the speed of innovation, such as the creation of ChatGPT or the Covid-19 vaccine, it has left us struggling to keep up as we cannot fathom such speeds while the world is still moving forward. The Law of Accelerating Returns predicts that change will only continue to pick up speed, making it difficult for humanity to adapt to these changes from both a psychological and philosophical perspective. However, this also means that there will always be work to be done, and the ability for humanity to avoid being passive spectators.

Istvan recommends making the most of the current moment by seeking out opportunities for financial stability. He suggests investing in a home, if you can, or learning skills that are less likely to be replaced by machines, such as manual labor or traditional craftsmanship. With the uncertain future of some industries and jobs, such as coding, engineering, architecture, lawyers, etc., Istvan advises taking advantage of current opportunities before the market begins to shift in the next 5 to 10 years.

4. We're dealing with a different type of game theory with AI, where you need to be the winner

According to Istvan, there will always be moral reasons for slowing down AI development to prevent it from becoming too advanced and out of control. He details that there may come a point where it becomes comparable to human intelligence and can no longer be controlled. But unfortunately, the driving forces of capitalism, global politics, materialism, protection, and ego make it unlikely to stop completely.

Yet, allowing AI to go predominantly unregulated and run rampant presents a significant danger. Because of this, Istvan mentions the importance of having regulatory bodies in place to control AI development to prevent it from becoming too dangerous. However, regulation will never be perfect, especially considering the possibility of rogue countries or criminals further developing it. To prevent this, there need to be ways to stabilize AI, even if it means AIs going after other AIs. But, Istvan warns, we need to be aware of the potential problems that may arise when AI starts to become so advanced that it may take note of global issues caused by people, thus making humanity itself a problem that needs to be eradicated.

Nevertheless, in attempting to correct the ethical dilemma of the trolley problem morally, Istvan believes that, in the future, technologies like quantum archaeology could make amends for such moral dilemmas by utilizing technological resurrection to bring back those who suffered, thus changing the outcome of their story. He envisions that through technology, we can make up for our moral missteps to rectify the wrongs committed during the journey toward a better future. So Istvan questions: "Will we ever have the technology to go back in time? And does reverse engineering even work because of deterministic ideas?"

5. While the best thing for humanity is to merge with AI, we might have missed the window for it to be an equal partnership

"It's very challenging now to imagine that we're going to be able to create something that uploads our consciousness right at the exact moment that AI needs us to do it before it becomes too powerful."

It's important to note that there is a line between transhumanism and posthumanism. According to Istvan, our final best state lies beyond our physical, biological selves in a truly science-fiction future, if possible. He stands behind his stance that perhaps when we look at how we can solve the human condition and ultimately suffering and death, the answer lies in removing biology from the equation.

"In the long run, yes, I do think we want to get out of these bodies of meat. Biology, in itself, is inherently immoral because it causes suffering. If I was, let's say God, and I had all this power, and let's say I can create an entity. I would never create a biological entity that would need oxygen, or it would die suffering in front of its family, you know, in one or two minutes, or freeze to death, or, you know, give birth, and it's all bloody and very barbaric. And people die, you know, I would do something more, it's much more ones and zeros, robots, things that can be much more interchangeable and live, you know, 1000s of years. So I think biology is immoral. And I've said this quite a bit." - Zoltan Istvan

There is quite a bit to unpack from our conversation with Zoltan, and while It's likely that humans will merge with technology at some point in the near future, how far it goes is still up for debate. As we continue to move forward in this rapidly evolving world, we will undoubtedly face new challenges and obstacles in the realm of technology, all for the sake of progress. Our advancements will force us to question our values and priorities, and we will face tough decisions about the future of our world. However, it is important to remember that change and disruption breed great opportunities and new ideas. So, as Istvan highlights, we must plan accordingly to align with the future that will inevitably arrive. And planning and preparing for the changes that technology will bring will, in turn, give us the power to shape the future in a way that will benefit both humanity and the world at large.

Listen to the full episode of The Feedback Loop for answers to the following questions:

  • Which is more widely favored, transhumanism or posthumanism, and where is the dividing line between the two?
  • Is the conflict in Ukraine playing a role in the impact of transhumanism?
  • What aspects of transhumanism have been misperceived or undervalued, and have any aspects been excessively hyped?
  • What other forms of communication exist besides social media as part of transhuman evolution's increased global connectivity, and did we misinterpret its potential impact on humanity? Is the current state of social media an inadequate representation of what was envisioned for communication?
  • What is the objective that Istvan desires to see achieved with the transhuman movement in society, and what is the hindrance preventing us from realizing Istvan's desired goal?
  • What additional moral concerns exist in the realm of transhumanism?

Interested in learning how you can help create a better, brighter future where our relationship with technology is a positive one? Join us for an upcoming Singularity Executive Program in Silicon Valley.