The Lifeboat Foundation has a special report detailing their view of the top ten transhumanist technologies that have some probability of 25 to 30-year availability. Transhumanism is a movement devoted to using technologies to transcend biology and enhance human capabilities.
I am going to list out each of the ten technologies described in the report, provide my own assessment of high, medium, or low probability or mass-market availability by a given time horizon, and link to prior articles written on The Futurist about the subject.
10. Cryonics : 2025 – Low, 2050 – Moderate
I can see the value in someone who is severely maimed or crippled opting to freeze themselves until better technologies become available for full restoration. But outside of that, the problem with cryonics is that very few young people will opt to risk missing their present lives to go into freezing, and elderly people can only benefit after revival when or if age-reversal technologies become available. Since going into cryonic freezing requires someone else to decide when to revive you, and any cryonic ‘will’ may not anticipate numerous future variables that could complicate execution of your instructions, this is a bit too risky, even if it were possible.
9. Virtual Reality : 2012 – Moderate, 2020 – High
The Technological Progression of Video Games
The Next Big Thing in Entertainment, Part I, II, and III
The Mainstreaming of Virtual Reality
8. Gene Therapy : 2015 – Moderate, 2025 – High
The good news here is that gene sequencing techniques continue to become faster due to the computers used in the process themselves benefiting from Moore’s Law. In the late 1980s, it was thought that the human genome would take decades to sequence. It ended up taking only years by the late 1990s, and today, would take only months. Soon, it will be cost-effective for every middle-class person to get their own personal genome sequenced, and get customized medicines made just for them.
Are you Prepared to Live to 100?
7. Space Colonization : 2025 – Low, 2050 – Moderate
While this is a staple premise of most science fiction, I do not think that space colonization may ever take the form that is popularly imagined. Technology #2 on this list, mind uploading, and technology #5, self-replicating robots, will probably appear sooner than any capability to build cities on Mars. Thus, a large spaceship and human crew becomes far less efficient than entire human minds loaded into tiny or even microscopic robots that can self-replicate. A human body may never visit another star system, but copies of human minds could very well do so.
Nonetheless, if other transhumanist technologies do not happen, advances in transportation speed may enable space exploration in upcoming centuries.
6. Cybernetics : 2015 – High
Artificial limbs, ears, and organs are already available, and continue to improve. Artificial and enhanced muscle, skin, and eyes are not far.
5. Autonomous Self-Replicating Robots : 2030 – Moderate
This is a technology that is frightening, due to the ease at which humans could be quickly driven to extinction through a malfunction that replicates rouge robots. Assuming a disaster does not occur, this is the most practical means of space exploration and colonization, particular if the robots contain uploads of human minds, as per #2.
4. Molecular Manufacturing : 2020 – Moderate, 2030 – High
This is entirely predictable through the Milli, Micro, Nano, Pico curves.
3. Megascale Engineering (in space) : 2040 – Moderate
From the Great Wall of China in ancient times to Dubai’s Palm Islands today, man-made structures are already visible from space. But to achieve transhumanism, the same must be done in space. Eventually, elevators extending hundreds of miles into space, space stations much larger than the current ISS (240 feet), and vast orbital solar reflectors will be built. But, as stated in item #7, I don’t think true megascale projects (over 1000 km in width) will happen before other transhumanist technologies render the need for them obsolete.
2. Mind Uploading : 2050 – Moderate
This is what I believe to be the most important technology on this list. Today, when a person’s hardware dies, their software in the form of their thoughts, memories, and humor, necessarily must also die. This is impractical in a world where software files in the form of video, music, spreadsheets, documents, etc. can be copied to an indefinite number of hardware objects.
If human thoughts can reside on a substrate other than human brain matter, then the ‘files’ can be backed up. That is all there is to it.
1. Artificial General Intelligence : 2050 – Moderate
This is too vast of a subject to discuss here. Some evidence of progress appears in unexpected places, such as when, in 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue defeated Gary Kasparov in a chess game. Ray Kurzweil believes that an artificial intelligence will pass the Turing Test (a bellwether test of AI) by 2029. We will have to wait and see, but expect the unexpected, when you least expect it.
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The Futurist: The Top Ten Transhumanist Technologies