A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Post-Humanity

By Stephen Cass | February 9, 2009 5:25 pm

Cover of trade release of TranshumanThe future belongs to the post-human, suggests an increasing number of science-fiction writers and serious futurologists (in some cases, they are one and the same person). Post-humanity arises when people and machines merge to create sentient individuals that have capabilities (and possibly motivations) that are so far beyond our current scope as to represent a new stage in human evolution. Immortality and the ability to exist entirely as software within a computer network are only two of the more pedestrian possibilities that may be open to the post-human.

But before we get to the post-human, there will be the short reign of the transhuman, where we begin to move beyond our biological heritage, but still remain bound to it — and some contend we may have already have begun to enter this stage, with the advent of technologies such as always-on-and-everywhere access to the Internet enabling us to leverage our native intelligence. If transhumanism really gets under steam though, it will be difficult to predict what will happen — except for one thing: it will be messy. In last week’s release of the trade comic paperback of Transhuman, writer Jonathon Hickman and artist JM Ringuet explore just how messy things might get, as venture-capital-funded start ups battle it out in the marketplace regardless of the human cost. (Warning: this is a book for adults and some may find the graphic violence offensive.) It’s not the first work to plumb the messiness of transhumanism (Ian McDonald’s tales of India in the late 21st century come to mind), and the plot sometimes veers into the fantastic (I doubt any amount of genetic engineering will ever really enable telepathy!), but it’s a clever tale filled with all-too-believable characters and a mordant sense of humor.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biotech, Comics, The Singularity

Comments (16)

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  1. I have loved this series and am glad to see it in TPB. It raises tough questions in fun ways, and in ways that the optimistic Singularity crowd somewhat neglect. Folks can still get a free five page preview of the book here: http://www.pronea.com/th.html

  2. Science fiction is fine as long as everyone understands that science fiction is pure bunk. Futurism is fine as long as everyone understands that futurists are engaging in fantasy and nothing else.

    Post-humanity is coming … that much is true … but extinction will bring it about, namely the extiction of the Homo sapiens.

    At some point in the future, Science & Technology will fail just as all of the gods of former generations have failed. Simply stated: Nature owns the Earth and Nature will dictate humankind’s fate.

  3. Fred Jorgensen

    Re David: Todays bunk is tomorrows Iphone. If Christopher Columbus has been greeted
    by natives with cellphones, the best minds of the time would have been left with no other
    explanation than religion and magic.
    And that is just 500 years of evolution in the ideosphere – a blink of an eye in the
    evolutionary biosphere.
    We can choose to evolve, to settle on other planets, to expand across the galaxy.
    The problem is simply better understanding of our wetware information processing.

    But we can also choose not to. We can resign ourselves with fatalism and
    religious navel gazing to a future where inexorable, mechanical Nature will replace us through environmental stress and selection, favoring other species such as bacteria or cockroaches. And that will be the end of the only self-aware creature we know.
    For the Universe: No biggie! For us: Too bad!

  4. Catulus

    To suggest that science fiction is pure bunk is at the very least an unenlightened thing to say. Many years ago space flight, and landing on the moon were pure science fiction, as were many of Heinlein’s gadgets like his wireless communication device, read cell phone. Regardless of whether those technologies existed at the time they seem oddly prescient now. We also have examples such where a science fiction writers, who often go out of their way to learn the science and then theorize, have had a theory proven correct, ie birds and dinosaurs. Even more important than this though is the fact that they provide inspiration to those who create the future and its technologies. If the ideas transhumanists purport cause them to exist in the future this would surely not be such a bad thing.
    As far as futurism goes it is long beloved tradition, extended and practiced by speculators and buisnessmen everwhere. Loans, stock markets, currency speculation, weather forecasting, global climate change predictions, all of these are futurist predictions on which our society as a whole has profited from. Prediction of the future based on current events is something people are good at, there is even speculation that the brain evolved as an evolutionary method to predict the future. So futurists are not so alone as you would believe. We live in a society where we depend on predicting the future and anticipate the actions of the environment and those around us every day. So I guess we just live a fanrasy world and nothing else ;)
    Also, you little cynic, it is the laziest course to lie down and die as you have chosen with your Death by Nature. Pessimism is the virtue of the lazy and beaten. Before you consign us all to a leafy green death I would beg you to take into consideration the incredible achievments of our species. We have left the planet, and have even managed to live outside it for limited periods of time, which we can only expect to expand. We have a vaccine for AIDS! AIDS, are you listening, the plague of the 20th and 21st century. The boundaries of natural death have been slowly pushed back by nothing more than our creativity and will to do so. Avenues of synthetic biology offer us the chance to create entirely new forms of life and to reengineer existing froms to reverse the damage we have already caused. We live in an age where geoengineering is not only possible, hint: Thats terraforming our own planet, but being done.
    Also you forget the inherent difference between the spiritual and scientific. Gods failed becuase man no longer needed them and didn’t exist in the first place. Science is real, tangible, and is the only thing which our species has created that has consistantly made life better. For comfort turn to God, for miracles do your research.

  5. Cory

    “We have a vaccine for AIDS! AIDS, are you listening, the plague of the 20th and 21st century.”

    Really? Maybe you should tell somebody about this as I am unaware of any vaccine that has made it past phase 1 trials.

  6. 1) The First World is transferred to hardware.
    2) Microsoft OS.
    3) The First World blue-screens.
    4) Four billion parasites lose their hosts.
    5) God smiles a perpetual rictus of planetary poverty, hunger, disease, filth, death, and silk-clad priests with whips.

  7. Thank you very much for the nice review. We tried to talk about the future of humanity with tongues firmly planted in our cheeks and we also showed through satire how this future could be in the hands of a few companies – and the people that run them. It’s a very interesting read I think in this times of corporate greed and the desire of becoming better human beings.

    And the book is very easy to order from Amazon:
    http://www.amazon.com/Transhuman-Jonathan-Hickman/dp/1582409226

    Since we own all the rights on the book every sale goes to supporting our creation and our future projects.

  8. CincyJeff

    Perhaps David, (sci-fi and futurists are fantasy and bunk), should consider visionaries Leonardo da Vinci, Jules Verne, Nikola Tesla, H.G Wells, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Arthur C. Clarke, Bill Gates, William Gibson, Ray Kurzweil, Michio Kaku, etc. Although we may prove too socially primitive to survive our snowballing technologies, we’ve had a decent run, species-wise. And should we manage to dodge the bullet by evolving psychologically, which could also be aided by science, only our imaginations will set the limits.

  9. earsz

    It seems to me that science fiction, at its best, asks “what if,” and then extrapolates possible (or perhaps probable) futures on the basis of the answers _ all while telling intriguing and engaging stories. Within such contexts, authors may expose and explore our current foibles as well. That has always seemed to me to be quite a useful package, to gain insight with one’s entertainment. At the risk of being discourteous by mentioning one blog within another, one has but to drop by the Technovelgy site periodically to get an idea as to sci-fi’s often succesful foresight.

  10. ddd

    everyday scifi becomes part of the mainstream. indeed some, if not many, science fiction writers are more visionary than we often realize. not so long ago the idea of ionization to propel spacecraft through space was considered science fiction. yet today we use electronic rockets to fuel several satellites. indeed i am often pleased when mainstream science catches up to the inspiration of the fringe. as einstein remarked, “imagination is more important than knowledge.” using protons to treat disease not too long ago would have seemed like science fiction. nonlethal weaponary is another example. it is likely transhumanism and hybrid technologies will mainstream to increase the longevity and quality of life. my only reservation is the currently most vocal proponents seem to turn it into a quasireligion and philosophy. life extension is not eternal life so there is really little need to be so fanatical about it. i support human enhancement for the betterment of humanity and to increase the chance of survival of a viable civilization. resistance is futile!

  11. re. CincyJeff’s list of visionaries:
    Yes to daVinci, Tesla, Orwell, . . . but Bill Gates?!?!
    You place him there because he happened to be the guy that IBM gave the Keys of the Kingdom to, and didn’t realize that hey had done so until ten years later? Gates BOUGHT the original, awful operating system know as DOS from a poor duped programmer who was more than happy to accept the $50,000 that Paul Allen offered to him. That is the ONLY reason that we have ever heard of a company called Microsoft. Incidentally, the guy Gates ripped off called it QDOS, which stood for Quick & Dirty Operating System. He knew what a POS it was. Visionary? When the Internet first came out, Gates didn’t think that it had any future. He vetoed the creation of a Microsoft browser until after Netscape had garnered 90% of the early market. If you want to put Gates in your list, then I guess you’d have to include Mark Cuban, Larry Ellison, and Michael Dell. After all, they became rich from being in on the ground floor of the computer industry boom too. Visionaries? Good business people, yeah; but visionaries? No way.

  12. TaErog

    Beware of conformation bias! Science Fiction is not reality! and has a greater chance not to be correct then to come true. But we key in on the Hits anyway rather then all of the misses because it is more exciting.
    Just like dealing with a Fortune Teller, a wildly general hit is no really hit at all. For example Science Fiction “gave us space flight” but a majority of scifi gives us space flight that is horribly wrong in most every way, and freely flaunt it. are these hits because of the simple fact they ARE in space? A rather wide criteria.
    I tend to agree with earsz “science fiction, at its best, asks ?what if,? and then extrapolates possible (or perhaps probable) futures on the basis of the answers _ all while telling intriguing and engaging stories”
    NONE of it HAS to become reality! for it is simply a story of “what if”, some of it may, most of it will not . . The “what if”s of the possibilities and the story are driving force of scifi, not some ?real? future prediction. . Though these may help us think differently, expand and may be eventually attain some new tech cited in some fiction or possibly something completely different.
    Look back in history . . . did anyone predict accurately the changes made by The wheel, Clocks, electricity, Cars, flight, computers, the Internet, etc (and the 1000s of other advance?)
    Does H.G Wells’s wonderful hit with the Submarine mean a time machine is even possible? Does anything what so ever in star wars can or have any basis in our reality (apart from very very general terms)? No?
    :) Science Fiction is one of my favored types of literature . . but it is fiction and no Crystal ball of the future . . but it may . .just may give us shadows and glimpses of what if . . but Reality is stranger still. .

  13. Great discussion about a wonderful book that if nothing else makes you think “what if” and “could that really happen”. If you read the book, which everyone should because it is so good, there are several things that are not huge leaps and bounds from where we are now to where we could be.

    Tell my grandpa when he is 7 years old that we would put a man in space and he would have said NO WAY.

    Everyone should check out Transhuman

  14. BRT

    While science fiction is at its heart fiction, it is a way for humanity to dream… and when humanity dreams, it looks for ways to achieve those dreams. In some cases, we do not succeed… in other cases we do… but we should never stop dreaming. The moment that humanity stops dreaming, and stops exploring, is the moment that humanity is truly doomed (IMO).

    We should treat technology as what it is: tools. Tools are not good or evil, they just are. It is what we do with those tools that is important.

  15. Miles

    I also doubt that genetic engineering will ever allow us to evolve telepathy. But neuroscience advances already allow us to interface with computers via brain implants just by thinking. Commencing wild predictions based on flimsy evidence: as this technology becomes more accurate, easier to handle, and wireless, we may use it to access the internet and watch video feeds with our mind’s eye and control motors (i.e. to move stuff around by thinking). That might legitimately be called telepathy.

    It might even redefine “you.” If you regularly move things around your house and use video cameras to see, all without moving so much as an eye-muscle, then the law might come to view possessions as part of one’s person. Or the law may limit “you” to your brain. Attacks on one’s body might be relegated to property offenses if medical science makes any organs replaceable.

    Before we are able to digitize the brain and turn ourselves into software, the intermediate step of wireless internet access by thought sounds promising. Think of the possibilities! Virtual reality & video games would definitely feel a lot more real if you could do all the data processing on a server over the internet.

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