I ONCE READ somewhere that Hershey’s Kisses were named after the machine that forms them—the two mechanical parts that first deposit the chocolate come together as they lift up and look like lips kissing the conveyor belt. In this day and age you can barely get by with something as vague as “I once read somewhere,” and someday our intelligence will be so integrated with artificial systems as to render such obscurity obsolete. But for now, the idea of a machine exhibiting human qualities—and vice-versa—is germane.
In this issue we offer an in-depth look at what our science and religion correspondent Clay Farris Naff declares “the coming transhumanist revolution.” It’s a future that is, in some ways, already here. So-called smart technology allows us to insert or attach all manner of machinery to our bodies to monitor biological functioning and brain activity, and even guide us where we want to go. (It’s worth noting that with vibrating smart shoes and self-driving cars you still have to decide where you want to go.)
Imagine later on. As nanobots regulate our immune systems, race and gender disappear, and we finally upload our minds to computers: What will we have done? As our present lives become more integrated, enhanced, and simplified (and in other cases, complicated) by technology, scientists and philosophers alike are urging us to consider whatit means for humanity. Will the artificial surpass the human, and will we be able stop it from doing so? Envisioning a transhumanist future in which we become more like machines, will they become more like us or will they simply outgrow and override all that’s human? Naff got very different answers to these questions, from a philosopher and a technologist who’ve both given artificial intelligence a great deal of thought.
In a 1963 interview in Art News, Andy Warhol mused, “I think everybody should be a machine. I think everybody should like everybody.” (Again, I’m falling back on figurative language, I suppose in an attempt to keep the humans on top.) But Warhol was an atheist in this regard, failing to acknowledge the programmer gods we would become. So now we must ask whether we can build a better human and if we’re prepared to become something we’re not. “Individual autonomy, education, and democracy, among other things, face seismic upheavals,” Naff warns, but his outlook is neither dystopian nor utopian. Rather, he sees humanists as best suited to embrace technological advance while promoting economic, social, and political progress as well.
Meanwhile, the climate keeps changing, the world keeps warring, and the old-time challenges prove hard to shake. But look up and through—there’s much more to digest in the issue at hand. Stuart Jordan offers some tough and practical talk on mitigating climate change, Rebecca Goldstein and Andy Norman get to the heart of mattering, and criminal defense attorney Bradley Alan Fuller shares a novel take on what it means to be fit for trial. Elsewhere, humanists are raising money for child refugees fleeing to the United States. They’re officiating weddings and making sure their legal standing to do so is safe. They are challenging each other to understand and champion transgender identity in the modern age.
The future is here.