Trans-humanists take solace in living forever. “If you ask me today, is it possible to live to be 500? The answer is yes,” said Bill Maris, the founder of Google Ventures, in 2015.
In 2018, biomedical researcher Aubrey de Grey estimated that “people in middle age now have a fair chance” of living forever.
Covid-19 might be exactly the crisis needed to accelerate transhumanism, according to an op-ed in WSJ called Looking Forward To The End of Humanity by Adam Kirsch. “With our biological fragility more obvious than ever,” people might be more willing to adopt the Transhumanist Declaration, an eight-point program first issued in 1998. “We envision the possibility of broadening human potential by overcoming aging, cognitive shortcomings, involuntary suffering and our confinement to planet Earth.”
Transhumanists are obsessed with altering our biology. “Humans could be around for a billion years, or more, if we don’t screw it up,” wrote the science writer Tom Chivers during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Coronavirus won’t be the thing that kills us all, but it’s a bloody good illustration of how something could.”
In WSJ, Kirsch suggests trans-humanism can replace religion. “People have always feared death and dreamed of escaping it,” he wrote. “But until now, that hope has been formulated in religious terms. Trans-humanism promises that death can be conquered physically, not just spiritually.”
Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel and Elon Musk have invested in life-extension research. How might we live forever? “Nanorobots could live inside our cells and constantly repair damage, halting aging in its tracks,” writes Kirsch. “Genetic engineering could eliminate the mechanisms that cause us to age in the first place.”
He admits these technologies don’t yet exist, but trans-humanists believe super-powered artificial intelligence will hasten the availability of these technologies.
“Ultimately, however, the hope is that we won’t just use computers—we’ll become them,” writes Kirsch. “Today, cognitive scientists often compare the brain to hardware and the mind to the software that runs on it. But a software program is just information, and in principle there’s no reason why the information of consciousness has to be encoded in neurons.”
The Human Connectome Project was launched in 2009 by the National Institutes of Health. It is “an ambitious effort to map the neural pathways that underlie human brain function.” If such pathways could be translated into 0s and 1s, such data could then be uploaded to a computer and then, theoretically, survive forever.
“We’re going to put the connectome on a laser beam and shoot it to the moon,” said physicist Michio Kaku. “In one second, our consciousness is on the moon. In 20 minutes we’re on Mars, in eight hours we’re on Pluto, in four years our consciousness has reached the nearest star.”
According to Kirsch, the pandemic has presented us with the biggest challenge in regards to our trans-human future. “New kinds of social inequality that will make the existing ones seem minor,” he writes. “During the months of lockdown, a sharp division emerged between people who work with information—images, words, numbers—and people who work with objects—shelving groceries, delivering packages, nursing the sick. The former can shelter in place and communicate through screens, but the latter have to venture out into the physical world, putting themselves at risk of infection.”
The author foresees the creation of a “virtual elite” served by a working class. “[S]oon, you may be able to pay someone to take your place in the disease- and danger-ridden physical world, while you stay behind the safety of a screen,” he said. “A trans-human future in which mortality is optional may sound like paradise, but if it arrives sooner for some of us than for others, it could prove to be a dystopia.”