Exponential Technological Trends and Humanity’s Future

Current trends of technological growth and development suggest that humanity is on an accelerating path toward posthumanity or a posthuman condition. This has surprising implications for our future, both near and long-term.

Exponential Growth and the Post-Human

Assuming that certain technologies continue to progress exponentially, humans are about to see a huge increase in our capacities to sustain human life and human communities. Consider how much more powerful and far reaching the Internet is than Gutenberg’s press, or a nuclear weapon compared to a spear. The rate of technological progress and growth will likely continue at an ever accelerating rate.

portrait of James E. Talmage
Some of the latest and highest achievements of humanity in the utilization of natural forces approach the conditions of spiritual operations. To count the ticking of a watch thousands of miles away; to speak in but an ordinary tone and be heard across the continent; to signal from one hemisphere and be understood on the other though oceans roll and roar between; to bring the lightning into our homes and make it serve as fire and torch; to navigate the air and to travel beneath the ocean surface; to make chemical and atomic energies obey our will—are not these miracles?
James E. Talmage
Articles of Faith

Along with a general increase in intelligence and abilities—in the things we can do with technology in our homes and professions and communities—our technology will almost certainly continue to integrate more and more with our bodies. Think about the advancement from glasses to contact lenses, and hearing aids to cochlear implants. As technology advances, it becomes more intimately connected with our bodies and our biology.

This combination of exponential growth and increasing integration of technology with our bodies will have powerful consequences for humanity. We are probably on a path towards becoming “superhuman,” what transhumanists often prefer to call post-human. Why do we call these future people “post”-human? Because posthumans will likely be as different from you and me as we are from our “prehuman” ancestors.

For example, you might have heard of Homo erectus. These human ancestors walked upright like a modern human and used tools like fire and stone, but their brains were notably smaller than ours. Thanks to our intelligence, abilities, and tools, modern humans impact the world on a much larger scale and in much more powerful ways than homo erectus ever could.

Super- vs Post-Human: Terminology

The nomenclature involved in these discussions, particularly “superhuman” and “post-human” (or “posthumanity”) can often be off-putting for readers. On the one hand, superhuman carries connotations that suggest a kind of megalomaniacal approach to human potential, the hubristic advent of individual, god-like, all-powerful, all-knowing beings. On the other hand, posthuman can imply moving beyond our humanity, leaving behind something or some things that are intrinsic to the human condition in the best sense. It can carry dehumanizing overtones.

Some Mormon transhumanists have embraced the term transfiguration to get around some of this terminological baggage. Transfiguration has strong religious overtones and history, including and especially in the LDS tradition. It also relates to the term translate/translation, which, in Mormon nomenclature, often implies an existential transformation and applies to both individuals and communities—even to entire worlds. Finally, it strongly suggests the involvement of divine power in these transformations.

In that day an infant’s life shall be as the age of a tree; and when they die they shall not sleep, but shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye.
Doctrine and Covenants 101:30-31

Still, because of the persistence of terms like post-human in transhumanist circles and forums, there’s really no getting around having to use it. We should strive to use the term cautiously and responsibly, with a conscious awareness of the potential implications it carries (especially to people less familiar with transhumanism), and use the potential problems of the terminology as an opportunity for having deeper, more nuanced discussions about the meanings and connotations under consideration.

Impacts of Posthumanity on the World

Humans in a posthuman condition (a transfigured humanity) will have the power to affect the world in ways we cannot currently conceive. Imagine, for example, a world where we can transform a desert into a verdant region in short order; where we don’t just have cochlear implants to enable the deaf to hear or artificial legs to allow the lame to walk but all kinds of smart, bionic body parts to enhance and extend our lives and abilities—perhaps indefinitely. What would happen if artificial intelligence is seamlessly integrated with your everyday experience so that you can’t tell where your knowledge ends and the web of information begins?

As our ability to use and integrate technology grows, our descendants will be incredibly powerful. When our descendants can access all knowledge in an instant, travel at unprecedented speeds, and regenerate their bodies at will, one might conceivably describe these abilities as “god-like,” and it is possible that our prehuman ancestors would see us as gods. Recently, a popular transhumanist author referred to such a future being as Homo deus, or human-become-god. Christian and Mormon theology call this Theosis.

Questions for Discussion

  • What are some tools that human beings are developing or could develop to become more powerful?
  • What are some of the likely positive and negative consequences of such technological leaps?
  • How do you imagine the ideal future society? What kind of people would live in that society? What kind of abilities and capacities would they have? Are there things we can do today to make that kind of society more likely to happen?
  • What are some of the implications of terms like “superhuman” and “posthuman”? What are the potential benefits and/or drawbacks of using these terms (as opposed to something like “transfiguration”)?
  • Do you think it’s accurate to say that posthumans could be gods? God-like? Why or why not? Do you have an initial, gut level response to such an idea, either positive or negative?

Advance to Primer 6