Do you think civilization is collapsing? Or do you have hope, believing humanity is on the cusp of a new renaissance? Does your attitude towards the future come from science fiction or science fact? Science fiction usually takes one of two paths. Either we’re reading about exciting futures we can’t wait to see, or we’re reading about nightmare futures we hope never to see.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve become skeptical of science fiction. When I was young I wanted everything good science fiction imagined coming true and everything we feared to be conquered by our species’ growing wisdom. Age has shown me our species doesn’t change. What I wanted isn’t possible for Homo sapiens. Yuval Noah Harari knows this and gives a wise assessment of our future. O’Connell profiles people who know this but think they can overcome this knowledge with magical technology. Tegmark knows this and expects humans to be supplanted by a new species, intelligent machines. He also believes AI minds will help us. His dreams could come true, but we will still be Homo sapiens and not Homo superior.
Harari is essentially a philosopher who understands our limitations. O’Connell is a philosophical journalist, skeptical of the visionaries he profiles. He knows they are Dr. Frankenstein tragically striving for immortality. Tegmark understands the larger vision of evolution. Reality constantly is spinning off greater complexity. Life 1.0 is a spinoff of chemistry, which was a spinoff of physics. Life 2.0 is us, and yes we’re amazing, but we’re not the final spinoff. Life 3.0 goes beyond us.
In 1818 Mary Shelley first speculated about how we might overcome death, which makes Frankenstein’s monster the first transhuman. A few decades after Darwin, H. G. Wells imagined humans evolving into two new species in his 1895 novel The Time Machine. In 1911 J. D. Beresford came out with The Hampdenshire Wonder about a human mutation with psychic powers. Then Philip Whylie wrote Gladiator in 1930 that imagined creating superhumans (which probably inspired the creation of Superman in the comics). Also in 1930, British author Olaf Stapledon published Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future. Stapledon imagines eighteen species of humans evolving over two billion years.
Science fiction keeps wondering about what new species will replace our species. Transhumanists want to make themselves into that next species, but I believe we’ll create Life 3.0 like Tegmark imagines. Most people still hope we can become a better species. Early next year Steven Pinker comes out with his new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. I’m curious why so many writers are speculating about the future of our species. I’m afraid it’s because everyone feels we’re living at the end-of-days.