Okay, so there you are, wearing a lab coat, in a lab, brainy af, with billions of research dollars available to back up your idea to create an artificial intelligence (AI), which you hope will basically be better, smarter and wiser than us, and will save us from ourselves. Is it feasible?
For all the hype about AI, and fears of exponentially self-evolving AI turning into a ‘Singularity’ that will rule us all, AI is just algorithms and algorithms do not a singularity make. They can build cars. They can hound and harass welfare recipients. Can they feel wistful during a poignant moment in a Vivaldi concerto? No.
Just because you might be able to design an AI that passes a Turing Test, that doesn’t mean it can perform the most critical level of intelligence underpinning it all—emote. And in case you think emotions are a useless by-product of human reasoning, you’ve got it backwards. First, we care. Then we think about why we care. Then we act. Make your AI algorithms as recursive as you like, but you’ll never make it care.
Okay, so how about renovating homo sapiens?
Transhumanists are a diverse group, but they, like most sci-fi writers, tend to focus on physical and mental ‘augmentation’. But we are already massively augmented. Mentally, the phone in your hand augments your brain into the global consciousness. You’re also physically augmented. Need to connect two pieces of wood? Transform your entire body via a hammer and a nail. Need to travel distant places fast? Buy a plane ticket. Need to leap tall buildings? Take the elevator.
Also, critically, transhumanism is inherently fascist and, with the best will in the world, missing the point. The idea of an ‘ideal’ human ignores the historical and biological reality that, in a group, diversity is strength—even if it looks like and sometimes is a weakness. The Third Reich wasn’t a failed plan but a Big Lie.
So, when we writers think we’ve created a ‘superior’ or ‘advanced’ human species—or a truly novel alien species for that matter—we’ve merely transposed fascist, racist and colonial templates onto the future. Just as the English thought themselves superior to First Nations Australians, so our fictional future humans or aliens are largely versions of the Colonial Lie—which is that tech, or appearance (pale skin), or bigger guns, or culture, make us somehow ‘better’. But how are post-colonial humans ‘better’ if we’re not sustainable on a global scale? What’s stopping us being better? Biology.