Transhumanism: what will future wars look like?

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Institute for ethics &emerging technologies

Throughout the transhumanist movement there is a strong belief, that transhuman technology will eventually end all wars and poverty. On the other hand there is a very large military interest in transhuman technology, like DARPA. There is an old saying, that war stimulates progress, but like with every stimulant, one must care not to overdose.

Many transhumanists point out that all the wars and horrors of armed conflicts are caused by economic scarcity and “primate behaviour” or religions. Aside from the debate, whether atheists should leave the transhumanist movement, or should it be the other way around, removing the religious and new age based members from the movement, the sole topic of faith, religion and science are a regular flashpoint. Can’t prevent it? Join it.

Transhuman technologies, outlined in the NBIC report as well as in other major publications could help us enhance humans via augmented perception, direct braincomms1 , increased durability, self-regeneration, built-in emergency life support, interchangeable bodies/avatars and “black boxes”2(containing personal backups) would both improve the human condition and life expectancy, as well as create better super-soldiers. How will the future war or wars be fought?

Quoting Albert Einstein, farther future wars would be fought with rocks. This would mean that there would be either a Mutually Assured Destruction, or on the other hand, like in several sci-fi and cyberpunk novels, it would involve the usage of mass drivers and launching asteroids towards the enemy. But this would probably a weapon of last resort. Most scenarios include using specialized armed forces – cyborg agents, robots and drones3 – terminating threats and securing the target area. Low costs and collateral damages at a high gain with extremely high precision. But what would the transhumans fight for?

Freedom? Probably, but what kind of freedom? To something or from something. A fight to liberate those who want take a step further, alter themselves, upload, clone or immortalize, could lead to an armed conflict, which can easily get out of hand.

Resources? That would be quite probable, for it is unlikely that there is going to be a post-scarcity economy in the nearest transhuman future. More resources (asteroids, helium 3, space-based solar power) gives one more means to intimidate, harass or influence other parties. There would be still rare resources and markets (transhumanism doesn’t rule out corporations, rather most works concerning AI personhood law are based on the concept of corporate personhood, or even expanding it).

Ideology? This is one of my personal favourites. It revolves around a concept, by which transhumans are enforcing their world view on everybody else. Settling two things straight, transhumanism is not a monolithic philosophy, it’s very diverse and has multiple approaches ( from left and right, as well as from the green, LGBT or white supremacist point of view), and like with every ideology, one can be forced to join it, or face the dire consequences.

As American science fiction fans would recall the Borgs assimilating every encountered specie into the collective (with their famous catchphrase “Resistance is futile”), Cybermen “upgrading” humans, hard science fiction literature shows us a more reasonable example. In the Revelation Space universe, created by Alistair Reynolds, featuring both the future of humanity and a number of posthuman factions, the one I would like to consider in this article would be the Conjoiners. Long story short, the more people were “conjoined” via their implants and collective consciousness, the more sophisticated were their inventions and achievements.

Hence the larger need to “expand the web of minds”, and those who refused were taken in by force, which of course had started a war against the Conjoined. If computational power is needed for solving large problems, like for example in bitcoin mining, could one force unemployed people to sell their “computing power” (via direct BCIs) in exchange for a percentage of the profit? Can we imagine detention camps, where those socially unfit, criminals and so on would be serving a life sentence, and be voluntarily, or not, used as living computational engines?

This is one of the main rupture points in transhumanist views, should we go collective, with p2p thought exchange, or be a “movement” of independent individuals. Same as with space colonies, either they’d be held on a tight economic leash, or left on their own, which could also have catastrophic outcomes. A tight leash will sooner or later become the main cause of abuse, political, social, economic, when on the other hand, without any authority watching over the colony, being able of rapid response in case of any hazardous event, its residents would be exposed to danger resulting in many casualties, if not the death of the entire colony. If one of the main purposes of transhumanism is creating a spacefaring humanity or posthumanity, we also need to take those things into consideration.

Though “space warfare” won’t be no Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica, more like Harrison’s “No War or battle’s sound”, accelerations and forces acting on the pilot during evasive manoeuvres would be fatal to that person, therefore “space combat pilots” should be altered or augmented to withstand those forces… or on the other hands we could use autonomic drones, or informorph controlled ships.

Or may it be the other way, rebelled masses of those who refuse to be part of this trans or posthuman society attack databanks containing uploaded personalities, ruin atmospheric controllers, sabotage power stations, upload viruses to damage the AIs. Transhumans would have two main options available, either let them be and destroy, for we are higher consciousness beings and need to understand their frustration, or they can fight back. As posthuman times require posthuman means, the law in this case would also have change, like abolishing the institution of “human rights”, and making another legal institution in its place, that would recognize great apes, cetaceans, sentient AIs, baseline humans, posthuman beings or “corporate entities”4 as persons or sophonts. Despite the introducing a rule that once an entity has gained personhood, it cannot be stripped of its rights, the right to live and the right to one’s mental integrity would be severely altered. That could be a cause of a major turmoil, or a civil war, unless proper preliminary actions would be taken. Either way damage will be done.

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