Transhumanist High-Achievers

In a comments thread on a post of mine earlier today, a commenter asked, “What is it that you transhumanists actually do other than talk about technologies and improve your thinking, behavior and health with smarter ideas?” Here are a few transhumanists whose accomplishments you can read about (in no particular order):

Martine Rothblatt, Chairman and CEO of United Therapeutics
Philippe van Nedervelde, CEO of E-spaces, Director of Foresight Institute Europe
Nick Bostrom, Oxford philosopher, Director of Future of Humanity Institute
Ray Kurzweil, pioneering inventor, CEO of Kurzweil Technologies
Max Tegmark, Associate Professor at MIT, leading cosmologist
James Hughes, lecturer at Trinity College, author of Citizen Cyborg
Marvin Minsky, AI pioneer and co-founder of MIT’s AI laboratory
Ramez Naam, developer of IE and Outlook, formerly CEO of Apex Nanotechnologies
Ben Goertzel, prolific author and CEO/CSO of Novamente LLC
Bruce Klein, President of Novamente LLC
John Smart, entrepreneur and futurist, founder of Accelerating Studies Foundation
Susan Fonseca-Klein, Director of Development for Methuselah Foundation
Max More, Strategic Philosopher, ManyWorlds, Inc.
Natasha Vita-More, cultural strategist and designer
Harvey Newstrom, Founding Partner, Newstaff, Inc.
Dan Stoicescu, biotech millionaire, 2nd person to pay for his genome to be sequenced
Brian Cartmell, successful Internet entrepreneur and millionaire, now VC
William Sims Bainbridge, Co-Director of Human-Centered Computing at the NSF
Terry Grossman, Director of the Frontier Medical Institute
Phil Bowermaster, telecom professional
Richard A. Clarke, formerly counter-terrorism czar for the US government
Kevin Warwick, Professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading
Stelarc, acclaimed performance artist
Amara Graps, astrophysicist at the Planetary Science Institute
Steve Mann, Professor at University of Toronto, cybernetics pioneer

Not bad for a movement that only includes about 10,000 people. There are thousands more. Some of them are philosophers and futurists, and I suppose that qualifies as “talk”, but professional talkers that consult with Fortune 500 companies and organizations like the CIA, put on leading technology conferences, and head major departments at universities is nothing to sneeze at.

Obviously, there is a selection effect going on whereby transhumanists that like to talk are more conspicuous and visible. For every transhumanist talker, there are 10 that actually get things done. There are many other transhumanist high-achievers I didn’t list because they prefer to stay below the radar.

Of course, it’s possible to play ring-around-the-rosie and point out why Person X or Person Y on this list hasn’t really achieved anything of value. The point is that transhumanists are obviously deeply involved with the development of technology in the real world, but at the same time we care about discussing it. No contradiction. Everyone has enough time to do both, and discussion is necessary.

And if you’re a transhumanist who was bothered I missed you on this list, my bad.

Comments

  1. anonymous

    I’m a transhumanist who hasn’t accomplished anything. I doubt I ever will.

    I just wanted to point out that transhumanists can come from all walks of life. Even losers.

    P.S. Firefox spell check can’t handle “transhuman” and its variants. Heh. Where’s my AI spell check?

    • richard holt

      You are contributing to this forum and that is not without value. You can contribute just in casual conversation within your social circle. Even if your friends all think you are crazy, you can plant a seed. Transhumanism is one of those ideas that starts out as ridiculous and ends up as obvious.

  2. Don’t worry anonymous; you don’t have to be a transhumanist to accomplish nothing.

  3. Pablo Stafforini

    I didn’t know Tegmark was interested in transhumanism. Cool.

    There were some important omissions in your list. Accomplished transhumanists unduly left out include Anders Sandberg, Aubrey de Grey, David Pearce and, of course, Michael Anissimov.

  4. A self-sustaining and sharpening human intellect supported by an economy that thrives on new intelligence is the $ingularity. The $ingularity can be achieved by humans in a human environment before long and depending on propagation of existing knowledge according to my economic and scientific theories.

    Please see my email to you Michael about this topic. Others, view my science page at http://www.timetravelisforsuckers.blogspot.com.

    The singularity of an AI must be a different topic. No machine will be able to duplicate human intelligence without a self-sharpening focus of its own, curiosity, pursuits, and without discovering and continually unraveling the uncertainty as we do uniquely to ourselves by doing it. When we find this ‘mystery gear’ grounded in infinite articulation, the machines will live as we live.

  5. Richard Clark? really? I didn’t realize he was a self-identified transhumanist, interesting.

    Also, I thought Marvin Minsky had expressed some retrograde opinions on futurism, or was that Hofstadter?

  6. Pablo, the person in the other thread was asking about transhumanists that actually “do” things, so I somewhat wanted to avoid philosopher-types (even though me and you respect them a lot).

    Aubrey says he doesn’t like the word transhumanism. Richard Clarke may or may not self-identify, but his book Breakpoint (during which a character explains the philosophy of H+ early on in the book and the transhumanists are the protagonists) and his appearance in the upcoming Singularity is Near movie are a pretty strong hint.

    Justin, you commented! That was Hofstadter. I’ve hung out with Minsky at several transhumanist events in the last year.

    Nato, duh. Do you feel threatened that anyone was ever implying as such? You seem very defensive to practically every post — tell me what I say to get back on your good side and convince you that I probably share most of the same values with you.

    I think I might be slightly more impressed with transhumanism than most because I actually know who many transhumanists are, including people that keep it relatively quiet.

  7. Justin, Hofstadter made disparaging remarks about Kurzweil and H+.

    Anonymous, is that sarcasm?

    I’ll answer it anyway.

    What makes you a loser in transhumanism? Why do you believe you would *never* contribute anything?

    You don’t have to write intimidating papers like the giants of transhumanism. Wow, the Bayesian Existential Reconfigurable RSI theory!

    Don’t you think there is at least work to be done between the cracks of their footsteps?

    The movement is wide open. There’s more to be done than anybody knows.

  8. I’m curious about Hofstadter’s views on H+. Anyone can elaborate a bit more or point me in the right direction? Thanks.

  9. “In any case, the vision that Kurzweil offers (and other very smart people offer it too, such as Hans Moravec, Vernor Vinge, perhaps Marvin Minsky, and many others — usually people who strike me as being overgrown teen-age sci-fi addicts, I have to say) is repugnant to me…”

    “I don’t even like thinking about this nutty technology-glorifying scenario, now usually called “The Singularity” (also called by some “The Rapture of the Nerds” — a great phrase!) — it just gives me the creeps. Sorry!”

    http://tal.forum2.org/hofstadter_interview

  10. I’ve looked it up a bit, the most I can really say is the Hofstadter is something of a romantic, and he finds the idea of strong AI threatening to the lovely confusion of some of his ideas about human thought.

    He also, unusually for a strong patternist, subscribes to the ‘radical options will dehumanize us’ objection.

  11. Julian Conrad

    Sorry, Michael. Artists and people with Ph.D.’s after their names don’t necessarily impress me.

    I also notice that Eric Drexler’s name doesn’t appear on your list, despite his importance in the transhumanist religion. Is it because he’s considered an irrelevant crank by the mainstream scientific community now?

  12. Artists and people with Ph.Ds after their name don’t necessarily impress me either. The people on this list impress me because of what they’ve accomplished and what they know, not their titles.

    If H+ is a religion, why do we accept criticism, constantly change our opinions, and have no dogmatic texts?

  13. I’m impressed, very impressed with Clarke. I’ll need to get his book Breakpoint. The guy was a cabinet advisor under President Clinton, counter-terrorism, no less.

    By all my exposure to him(mostly 9-11 materials) he is a very smart, level-headed, experienced dude. But also a very main-stream, conservative political type. For him to be into transhumanism would seem to be a much bigger jump than for the rest on the list, who have some professional or personal incentive, where Clarke actually kind of has some disincentive, given his prior environment and reputation.

    Very cool.

  14. Some people who believe in substantial amounts of Transhumanism.
    Craig Venter, who has had quotes about making humans many times more intelligent using genetics.

    I saw the Google Founders (Page and Brin) at a Foresight conference the year before Google hit it big. They also have quotes in regards to AI.

    There are VCs and angels who attended the Foresight conferences. Steve Jurvetson being the most prominent.

  15. austin

    “Richard Clarke never gave us any actionable intelligence.” General Tommy Franks.

    Richard Clarke had several chances to get Bin Laden and shut down AQ and he did not. His incompetence led to 9/11. He even acquiesced to putting up the barrier between the CIA and the FBI which was main reason the 9/11 plot was not rolled up in the summer of 2001.

    I think he is dishonest and incompetent.

  16. Michael,

    My first post here on this thread was merely a joke.

    I’m perplexed by your perception that I “feel threatened” and am “very defensive” in other posts. I don’t see that. Why is it so common in the blogosphere to resort to psychoanalysis?

    I do get the feeling that I’m becoming a bit of a broken record on the whole tech/policy dichotomy, but I do feel strongly about it.

    I already consider you on “my good side” because you respond to these issues, when I bring them up. But the reason I keep bringing them up is to prompt you to confront them here for people to see, so that those new to these pages aren’t able to assume what your positions on these issues are. There are plenty of “non-representative” (as you see it) transhumanists and singularitarians out there with reactionary views you don’t share. You want to make sure they get your version of these philosophies; I’m just trying to prompt you to articulate them.

    Look at it this way: I’m trying to paint you into the corner you’re already in, with lines bright enough that people can see clearly.

  17. Nato, alright, it’s hard to catch jokes because of lack of tone sometimes. I thought you were seriously somehow implying that I think that only H+ folk achieve things of real significance.

    Anyway, thanks for the response, I feel satisfied by it. Maybe I’m just jumpy because of all the critics surfacing lately. (I really shouldn’t be.)

    Brian, you’re right, Venter and Jurvetson are probably de facto transhumanists, especially Jurvetson, but I decided to leave him off the list, because I wouldn’t want to take the chance of pissing him off.

  18. D

    Michael, I recall you saying recently that people have been hyper-critical of your past few posts. I think you’re right. I feel that people have begun to take the consistently excellent journalism found on this site for granted. I want to let you know that I for one love your blog. You’re a very evocative writer (which is the hardest quality to achieve). Particularly your manifesto pieces always move me. I think “Transhumanism as Questioning our Nature” was my favorite piece. In it you essentially say everything that I’ve been trying to say except clearer and more elegantly. And you say it in a way that makes it seem so incredibly obvious. I think that you have a remarkable ability to synthesize a vast amount of information and present it in an easily digestible and compelling way. Anyway, I just thought I’d let you know that I appreciate all of the quality work that you have produced over the years.

  19. Michael i think you missed Robert Bradbury too. But a good list! Slip ups are allowed, such lists are very difficult to compile. :)

  20. Transhumanist High-Achievers don’t matter very much.

    Transhumanism achievements would be significant, if there were any.

  21. ghi

    You do not know
    One step behind

  22. Hawkeye

    Michael,
    I was thinking you might want to have a “Top Ten” blog posts for your site. It is probably more, but I often see people referring back to old posts and navigating to them through the tags isn’t necessarily easy. It also seems like there are a few discussions that get rehashed repeatedly. Maybe it isn’t a “best of” or “top ten”, but a beginner’s guide to your blog (or intro to H+).

    I think this list could be an interesting running theme…along with the H+ achievements.

  23. HighBar

    Aubrey de Grey is definitely in my top 10. Have you seen the article that just came out in WIRED about him? Awesome stuff. Encouraging progress is being made by the Methuselah Foundation.

    Here’s an audio version of the article:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSk9_ZeciEk

    Enjoy!!!

  24. Ike

    i guess this blog died…pity

  25. 4822

    Good opportunity to catch up on back articles!

    Hope all is well, MIchael!

  26. 4822

    When Michael takes leave for a month I start to think he’s been drafted to work at a top secret AI lab deep in the Nevada desert ;^)

  27. Ike

    Or got tired of blogging.

  28. Isaac

    Has Michael ever disappeared like this before? I’ve only been reading this blog for about 6 months, and I’m far too lazy to search through his archives for previous gaps in blogging.

    I really do hope that he’s ok. This is my favorite blog, after all.

  29. 4822

    He hasn’t ‘apparently’ logged into his Myspace account since 6/10/2008.

    http://www.myspace.com/anissimov

  30. Ike

    well hopefully he’s still alive and if he isn’t then hopefully he’s frozen up at Alcor. ;)

  31. 4822

    Checking over at http://www.sl4.org MA’s last post was 27 May and
    EY’s was 27 June.

    Does anyone have information of their whereabouts and/or safety?

  32. 4822

    Thanks for the link.

  33. Am I not allowed to take a break from blogging once in a while? :( Yes, I do do this occasionally, usually in the midst of summer and in the midst of winter. Currently I’m participating with the SIAI Summer Research Team and creating a probabilistic model of the future of AI. We are very busy here.

    And yeah, you can see from my del.ic.ious that I’m not dead…

    I’ve not logged into Myspace much, but I do log into Facebook.

  34. 4822

    You’re certainly allowed and some of us can return to catching up!

    Thanks again for this blog and have fun!

  35. For some thoughts on the Transhumanist agenda and the Singularity please my blog:

    http://singulatarian.blogspot.com/

  36. steven

    singulaRItarian

    RI RI RI RI RI

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