The Hybrid Age
by Dr. Thomas R. Horn
In recent years, astonishing technological developments have pushed the frontiers of humanity toward far-reaching morphological transformation that promises in the very near future to redefine what it means to be human. What science has already done with genetically modifying plants and animals will soon apply to Homo sapiens. An international, intellectual, and fast-growing cultural movement known as transhumanism supports this vision, as does a flourishing list of U.S. military advisors, bioethicists, law professors, and academics, which intend the use of genetics, robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and synthetic biology (Grins technologies) as tools that will radically redesign our minds, our memories, our physiology, our offspring, and even perhaps—as Joel Garreau, in his bestselling book Radical Evolution, claims—our very souls.
I have personally debated leading transhumanist, Dr. James Hughes, concerning this inevitable posthuman future on his weekly syndicated talk show, Changesurfer Radio. Hughes is executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and teaches at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He is the author of Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future, a sort of bible for transhumanist values. Dr. Hughes joins a growing body of academics, bioethicists, and sociologists who support:
Large-scale genetic and neurological engineering of ourselves…[a] new chapter in evolution [as] the result of accelerating developments in the fields of genomics, stem-cell research, genetic enhancement, germ-line engineering, neuro-pharmacology, artificial intelligence, robotics, pattern recognition technologies, and nanotechnology…at the intersection of science and religion [which has begun to question] what it means to be human.1
Though the transformation of man to this posthuman condition is in its fledgling state, complete integration of the technology necessary to replace existing Homo sapiens as the dominant life-form on earth is approaching an exponential curve with many experts predicting the first substantive steps in Grins human-enhancement starting any time after the year 2012.
National Geographic magazine concurred in 2007, speculating that within ten years, the first “human non-humans” would walk the earth, and retired San Diego State University professor and computer scientist Vernor Vinge (who delivered the now-famous lecture, “The Coming Technological Singularity,” at Vision-21 Symposium sponsored by NASA Lewis Research Center and the Ohio Aerospace Institute in 1993), agreed recently that we are entering that period in history when questions like “What is the meaning of life?” will be nothing more than an engineering question.
Most readers may be surprised to learn that in preparation of this posthuman revolution, the United States government, through the National Institute of Health, recently granted Case Law School in Cleveland $773,000 of taxpayers’ money to begin developing the actual guidelines that will be used for setting government policy regarding the next step in human evolution—“genetic enhancement.” Maxwell Mehlman, Arthur E. Petersilge Professor of Law, director of the Law-Medicine Center at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law and professor of bioethics in the Case School of Medicine, led the team of law professors, physicians, and bioethicists over the two-year project “to develop standards for tests on human subjects in research that involves the use of genetic technologies to enhance ‘normal’ individuals.”2
Following the initial study, Mehlman began traveling the United States and offering two university lectures: “Directed Evolution: Public Policy and Human Enhancement” and “Transhumanism and the Future of Democracy,” addressing the need for society to comprehend how emerging fields of science will, in approaching years, alter what it means to be human, and what this means to democracy, individual rights, free will, eugenics, and equality. At the Brookings Institute—the #1 think tank in the world and the #1 policy think tank in the United States—a new series titled “The Future of the Constitution” is likewise examining how the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights will need to be amended to insure rights and privileges for new forms of humans including genetically engineered homosexual entities.3 Law schools, including Stanford and Oxford, are hosting annual “Human Enhancement and Technology” conferences to consider the ramifications as well, where transhumanists, futurists, bioethicists, and legal scholars are busying themselves with the ethical, legal, and inevitable ramifications of posthumanity.
COMES THE ÜBERMENSCHEN
As the director of the Future of Humanity Institute and a professor of philosophy at Oxford University, Nick Bostrom (www.NickBostrom.com) is a leading advocate of transhumanism who, as a young man, was heavily influenced by the works of Friedrich Nietzsche (from whom the phrase “God is dead” derives) and Goethe, the author of Faust. Nietzsche was the originator of the übermensch or “Overman” that Adolf Hitler dreamed of engineering, and the “entity” that man—who is nothing more than a rope “tied between beast and Overman, a rope over an abyss”—according to Nietzsche, will eventually evolve into.
Bostrom envisions giving life to Nietzsche’s Overman (posthumans) by remanufacturing men with animals, plants, and other synthetic life-forms through the use of modern sciences including recombinant dna technology, germ-line engineering, and transgenics (in which the genetic structure of one species is altered by the transfer of genes from another). The former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Dr. Leon Kass provided a status report on how real and how imminent the dangers of such Grins technologies could be in the hands of transhumanists.
In the introduction to his book, Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenges of Bioethics, Kass warned:
Human nature itself lies on the operating table, ready for alteration, for eugenic and psychic “enhancement,” for wholesale redesign. In leading laboratories, academic and industrial, new creators are confidently amassing their powers and quietly honing their skills, while on the street their evangelists [transhumanists] are zealously prophesying a posthuman future. For anyone who cares about preserving our humanity, the time has come for paying attention.4
Notwithstanding such warnings, the problem could be unavoidable, as Prof. Gregory Stock, in his well-researched and convincing book, Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future, argues that stopping what we have already started (genetic enhancement of plants, animals and humans) is impossible. “We simply cannot find the brakes.”5 Verner Vinge agrees, adding:
Even if all the governments of the world were to understand the “threat” and be in deadly fear of it, progress toward the goal would continue. In fact, the competitive advantage—economic, military, even artistic—of every advance in automation is so compelling that passing laws, or having customs, that forbid such things merely assures that someone else will get them first.6
Academic scientists and technical consultants to the U.S. Pentagon have advised the agency that the principal argument by Vinge is correct. As such, the United States could be forced into large-scale species-altering output, including human enhancement for military purposes. This is based on solid military intelligence, which suggests that America’s competitors (and potential enemies) are privately seeking to develop the same this century and use it to dominate the U.S. if they can.
This worrisome “government think tank” scenario is even shared by the Jasons—the celebrated scientists on the Pentagon’s most prestigious scientific advisory panel who now perceive “Mankind 2.0” as the next arms race. Just as the old Soviet Union and the United States with their respective allies competed for supremacy in nuclear arms following the Second World War through the 1980s (what is now commonly known as “the nuclear arms race during the cold war”), the Jasons “are worried about adversaries’ ability to exploit advances in Human Performance Modification, and thus create a threat to national security,” wrote military analyst Noah Shachtman in “Top Pentagon Scientists Fear Brain-Modified Foes.” This special for Wired magazine was based on a leaked military report in which the Jasons admitted concern over “neuro-pharmaceutical performance enhancement and brain-computer interfaces” technology being developed by other countries ahead of the United States.
The Jasons are recommending that the American military push ahead with its own performance-enhancement research—and monitor foreign studies—to make sure that the U.S.’ enemies don’t suddenly become smarter, faster, or better able to endure the harsh realities of war than American troops...They are particularly concerned about [new technologies] that promote “brain plasticity”—rewiring the mind, essentially, by helping to “permanently establish new neural pathways, and thus new cognitive capabilities.” 7
Though it might be tempting to disregard the conclusions by the Jasons as a rush to judgment on the emerging threat of techno-sapiens, it would be a serious mistake to do so. As Grins technologies continue to race toward an exponential curve, parallel to these advances will be the increasingly sophisticated argument that societies must take control of human biological limitations and move the species—or at least some of its members—into new forms of existence. Prof. Nigel M. de S. Cameron, director for the Council for Biotechnology Policy in Washington dc, documents this move, concluding that the genie is out of the bottle and that “the federal government’s National Nanotechnology Initiative’s web site already gives evidence of this kind of future vision, in which human dignity is undermined by [being transformed into posthumans].”8 Dr. C. Christopher Hook, a member of the government committee on human genetics who has given testimony before the U.S. Congress, offered similar insight on the state of the situation:
[The goal of posthumanism] is most evident in the degree to which the U.S. government has formally embraced transhumanist ideals and is actively supporting the development of transhumanist technologies. The U.S. National Science Foundation, together with the U.S. Department of Commerce, has initiated a major program (nbic) for converging several technologies (including those from which the acronym is derived—nanotechnology, biotechnologies, information technologies and cognitive technologies; e.g., cybernetics and neurotechnologies) for the express purpose of enhancing human performance. The nbic program director, Mihail Roco, declared at the second public meeting of the project…that the expenditure of financial and human capital to pursue the needs of reengineering humanity by the U.S. government will be second in equivalent value only to the moon landing program.9
The presentation by Mihail Roco to which Dr. Hook refers is contained in the 482-page report, “Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance,” commissioned by the U.S. National Science Foundation and Department of Commerce. Among other things, the report discusses planned applications of human enhancement technologies in the military (and in rationalization of the human-machine interface in industrial settings) wherein Darpa is devising “Nano, Bio, Info, and Cogno” scenarios “focused on enhancing human performance.” The plan echoes a Mephistophelian bargain (a deal with the devil) in which “a golden age” merges technological and human cognition into “a single, distributed and interconnected brain.”10
The “Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance” document mentioned above was published nearly a decade ago and predicted the time frame around 2012 as the date after which a new form of humanity would begin emerging as a result of Grins alteration. Numerous other national and public reports have likewise focused on 2012 as an event horizon. Is there a spirit behind this effort to create a new form of man, a modern Nephilim following 2012? Is it the same influence that caused so many ancient occult societies—the Maya, Aztec, Hindu, Cherokee, the Cumaean Sibyl (not to mention prophecies in the Zohar and elsewhere)—to predict the end of their calendars during 2012 followed by the emergence of a new form of man? If so, are we witnessing the fulfillment of Matthew 24:37—“But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be”?
1. Jerome C. Glenn, “The State of the Future” (7/14/10) www.kurzweilai.net/the-state-ofthe-future, emphasis added.
2. Case Western Reserve University,“Case Law SchoolReceives $773,000 NIH Grant to Develop Guidelines for Genetic Enhancement
Research: Pro fes s o r Max Mehlman to Lead Team of Law Professors, Physicians, and Bioethicists in Two-Year Project (April 28, 2006).
4. Leon R. Kass, Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics (New York:Encounter, 10/25/02).
5. As quoted by Margaret McLean , PHD., “Redesigning Humans: The Final Frontier,” http://www.elca.org /What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Journal-of-Lutheran-Ethics/Book-Reviews/Redesigning-Humans-by-Gregory-Stock/Redesigning-Humans-The-Final-Frontier.aspx.
6. “The Coming Technological Singularity,” presented at the VISION-21 Symposium sponsored by NASA Lewis Research
Center and the Ohio AerospaceInsti tute (3/30–31/93).
7. Noah Shachtman,“Top Pentagon ScientistsFear Brain-Modified Foes ,” Wired (6/9/08)http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2008/06/jason-warns-of/.
8. Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Human Dignity in the BiotechCentury (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity,2004) 75.
9. Ibid., 87, emphasis added.
10. Mihail Roco, Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance (U.S. National Science Foundation and Department of Commerce, 2002)