17. Transhumanism - The Status Quo in 2020
First this chapter should be headed by the title “Transhumansim – The Status Quo in the 21st century”, but as this is only a cross-sectional contemplation at the current time without being able to foresee the future of the coming 80 years, I decided for 2020. In 2020, the COVID-19 restrictions accelerated the (forced) change of communication culture.
Larger and larger parts of occupational and business communication, but also teachings are (forced to be) carried out using digital media. Forced lockdowns of entire societies made communication without intercalation of digital media impossible, if one did not want to risk becoming victim of police violation for having breached some of the confusing administrative orders. The supporters of transhumanism claim well-meaning motives for melting the world of humans and the world of machines, such as healing and preventing diseases. Technical achievements from the fields of prothetik are given as illustrative examples of technology for improving our lives. Examples are exoskeletons for mobilizing people with muscle-weakness or hearing and seing aids. The purpose of such supportive prothesis is out of question, however, they should not deceive over the abuse-potential in creating interfaces between humans and machines.
Whistleblowers, such as Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange demonstrated to us, to what extent state surveillance, data-collection and control-mechanisms had already been established before COVID-19. Here we do not have to assume that surveillance will mean “everything is being overheard”. Rather all kind of communications can simply be recorded and saved. If then, somewhere in the world, the character assassination of a human being seems desirable, one only has to screen the records for kompromat that can be framed in a way to instrumentalise them against the target. An example from the recent past was the switching-off of the former German president Christian Wulff (132). The courts cleared all allegations of corruption, but at that time he had already been pushed out of office. Wulff was accused of having taken benefits as the prime minister of Lower Saxony by a film producer, who had invited him to the Munich Oktoberfest with Hotel and catering and for whom Wulff later on asked the German company Siemens to support film projects. Furthermore, he had been given a private loan on favourable terms. The pressure on Wulff reached a peak, after he had left an imprudent message on the answering machine of the chief editor of the “Bild”, Germany’s largest tabloid. Due to his high office, Wulff was particularly exposed.
In future, however every individual could be exposed to the thread of character assassination, simply because of the fact that the unbelievable amount of saved data records, kompromits can probably be found for every individual. With changes of the “zeitgeist”, nobody can be sure that action and behaviour that is entirely normal today will not become criminalized or at least socially ostracised later in time. “Social Credit” systems can trigger submissive behaviour compliant to rules in real-time. “Nudging” means to trigger certain behavious by soft enforcement. Brutal force with physical torture and murder of opponents as described in Orwells’ 1984 may not be necessary. However, freedom restrictions and sanctions that attack social positions or character assassination may be used on a large scale. In a world, in which electronic payment systems become more and more widespread and may replace non-electronic payment systems (cash) entirely, the Leviathan can restrict individual access to means of payment with a mouse click. The process of punishment and restrictions can be established in a highly standardized way and in line with laws and rules, for example by linking sanction- and reward-systems with the “Social Credit” score. No actual person in the power apparatus would have to shoulder the guilt or responsibility of sanctioning or punishing another human being as this would be done automatically by the system. A sentence without a judge and punishments without an executer.
In modern work-life it is hard to withdraw from tele-conferences, if you do not want to end up offside and even a total abstinence from the use of mobile-phones could bring about disadvantages in professional live. But at least, I can still switch off my mobile phone and in principle I can live well without a mobile phone and move freely. I also remain an integrated member of society without a mobile phone and can (still) make business transactions (although there seem to emerge already some restrictions). The world of humans and machines are physically still separate.
Information exchange between human and machine (or between humans with a machine interposed) uses written words and acoustic and optical signals. The interface can (still) be cut off anytime. But already, the more and more numerous interfaces between humans and machines (although still physically separated) trigger fears that a surveillance society emerges.
Meanwhile some technology-prophets praise the micro-chip implantation under your skin. This would create a permanent interface linking us to the world of machines. The escape of a human being from the world of machines can then be made impossible. Most humans will probably reject the implementation of such a microchip and I do not assume that its implementation will be enforced on a large scale. However, thanks to technology, brute enforcement will not be necessary.
When regarding the rapidness of progress in nano- and computertechnologies, we may assume that the amalgamation of the world of humans with the world of machines could be a gradual process that remains nearly unnoticed. Maybe even “inadvertently”, for example if molecules can be detected like scanner codes. Let us imagine a hypothetic substance, of which traces end up in every human body and forms an individually unique molecule structure in each individuum. Then, only a detection technology for this substance had to be found and the gates for machines to “hack” into every human in the world would be open. Less elegant, but maybe easier to control would be the admixing of nano-robots in ubiquitious substances that are being taken up by every human being in the world (e.g. as food, water or air).
In 2020, electronic vaccination records became a matter of public debates, and methods for bio-digital marking of a vaccination status seems to be under consideration. If one would admix a digitally detectable marker-molecule to a vaccine, the detection of this molecule could select individuals, who had the vaccine from individuals, who did not have it. Correspondingly one could claim epidemics control purposes to limit the freedom of movement and travel of people who did not have had a certain vaccine. The „Digital Identity Alliance“ aims to implement digital identities (https://id2020.org). According to the internet-homepage of the initiative, the digital ID will create more equity and aims to protect poor people without a passport and no credit card and ensure their contractual capability. The Digital ID is meant to give all humans in the world the possibility to participate in political, socia and economic life. The initiative declares the “abilty to prove, who you are a fundamental and universal human right”. I leave it to the reader to reflect about potential disadvantages of Digital IDs
The replacement of real social space (by virtual space)
New York became a hotspot of the COVID-19 pandemc regarding reported number of cases and media reporting. Governor Andrew Cuomo distinguished himself as a strict crisis manager, who did not hesitate to mandate drastical restrictions of freedom for Health Security. In the subsiding epidemia, Cuomo conferd with important persons from Sillicon Valley, in order to take chances offered by the crisis. Cuomo had gathered an expert commission for the new-conceptualisation of New York state for the “Past-Corona-Time”, which was headed by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Schmidt issued clear announcement, which course he wants to take (133, 134).
“The first priorities of what we’re trying to do, are focused on telehealth, remote learning, and broadband. …”
Schmidt viewsm his visions of the future, are in line with other important persons from the Sillicon Valley, particularly with Bill Gates, whom he considers a visionary leader, whose support and products will make a “more elegant education system” possible
„… all these buildings, all these physical classrooms — why with all the technology you have?”
Surely modern communication technologies offer many opportunities in the educational sector. This should not be questioned here. However, Schmidts’ visions threaten most real social rooms of interaction, which schools and universities also are, after all. If all human-to-human interaction have to play out via computers, it may suffice to simply allocate an apartment (box) for every individual to live in. In crisis situation (for example during a declared pandemic) the inhabitant remains confined to the box or may leave it only with a digital permission that has to be taken (for example on the smartphone) on this furlough. The box would not only be home, but via the intenet it would also serve as school, doctors office, sport-studio and in special crises (for example during a pandemic) it would become protective shelter. If somebody received sanctions due to Social-Credit Score deficits, it could become a prison. Feeding and supply could be managed by delivery services and payment will simply consist of data exchange after cash has been abolished. There will only be rare occasions (and ultimately no occasions), when the individual needs to leave the box.
The Digital Shock Strategy of the Sillicon Valley billionaires may also have strong support in the American political apparatus as digitalization is seen as crucial in the strategic competition with the raising world power China. According to an advisory opinion issued by Schmidt for the “National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI)“, the Chinese surveillance culture leads to a strategic advantage for China over the USA in all digital key technologies and in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), medicine, autonomous driving, smart-cities and cashless trade. China has 3.5 times more human beings and thus consumers than the USA, and in contrast to the USA, many of them recently emerged from poverty and became newly established as consumers, which makes it easy to directly absorb them into the digital sphere, be it for delivery services or digital payment. The lack of doctors in China will assure a high demand for digital medical services. Schmidts NSCAI advisory opinion paper stresses powerful public-private partnerships for mass-surveillance and data acquisition as a competitive advantage.
Public-private partnerships, however, are not at all a Chinese phenomenon. The USA have a long tradition in supporting the development of relevant technologies in public institutions and with public grants and handing over the emerging products into private hands for making profit (135). All modern computer technological developments from which emerged the large international cooperations of the Sillicon Valley, were (and are) supported by public money often from the pentagon (defence budget), or benefit from public-funded research and innovation for example in universities. Stories about ingenious innovations by unworldly, altruistic nerds working in garages may be good for modern legends, but hardly explain, what really drives digitalization. This, firstly, is money and power. By evoking the “China Threat”, Schmidt can open the floodgates of money supply of the American government.
Technological innovations that foster the transhumanistic amalgamation of human and machine, seem to be the key technologies, around which local and global power and control and economic success emerge. Values such as societal and individual freedom or democracy appear to face these developments as David versus Goliath. After the Neolithic revolution progress (progressive farmers) prevailed over freedom (free and egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies).