Nick Bostrom (bostrom@ndirect.co.uk)
Fri, 14 Aug 1998 22:43:22 +0000

Here is the last section of the FAQ. After allowing a few days for people to comment on this, it's time to write up. Experienced transhumanists who want to contribute in the writing up stage should email me personally (n.bostrom@lse.ac.uk). A preliminary draft will later be put up on a web page and anybody will be able to suggest further modifications, using CritLink.


[I have suggested answers for three of these questions. I found the first two questions rather difficult to answer in a meaningful way in just a few paragraphs. I'm not satisfied with my replies to those two.]

What evidence is there that it will happen?

Many of the developments that transhumanists discuss are already happening: e.g. the Internet, imperfect mood drugs, genetic engineering and advanced medicine are part of today's reality. Some are near-future developments that nobody really doubts will happen: it is obvious (barring a major cataclysm) that we will have faster computers that will support some forms of virtual reality; wearable computers; neurological prostheses; much more powerful genetic engineering tools that will make it possible to choose many traits of our offspring; improved mood drugs; advanced collaborative information filtering structures on the Internet, etc.

As for superintelligence and nanotechnology, see the questions about these. When these two technologies are developed, it will be possible to cheaply manufacture most material structures that are compatible with physical law. Thus, it should be feasible to: colonize the universe by sending out self-replicating probes; upload biological brains; reanimate cryonics patients; experience full-blown virtual reality; have control over our emotions and mental states - which means that boredom and suffering could be replaced by a sense of deep meaningfulness and excitement, for example.

These transhumanist prospects will not happen within a hundred years; won't it take more like a thousand years?

Considerations about what is permitted by physical laws can tell us what is in principle possible. Theoretical exploration of plausible design-paths can be used to make a case that certain technologies, such as nanotechnology, will eventually be practically feasible. It is harder, however, to argue rigorously for when this will happen. The uncertainty in the time-scale is partly due to our ignorance of exactly how hard some developments will be, and partly to the fact that the speed of progress in a specific area depends on how much resources are made available, which in turn is determined by hard-to-predict social and economic factors.

Most transhumanists think that superintelligence and nanotechnology will both happen in less than a hundred years, and many believe that they will happen well within the first third of the next century. (Some reasons for believing this are outlined in the sections about these two technologies, respectively.) Once there is both nanotechnology and superintelligence, a wide range of special applications should swiftly follow.

Many transhumanist goals can and are successfully pursued with currently available tools. There is not a sharp distinction between transhumanist prospects and other worthwhile goals. Humans have always endeavoured to improve things, including themselves. Transhumanists just want to continue this process of human self-augmentation, even to the point where we will redefine some of the features and boundaries that are currently seen as fundamental to human nature.

What if it doesn't work?
Then we would presumably back to status quo. But the issue is not whether it will work so much as what will work and how and when. With many potentially transforming technologies already available and others uncontroversially on the line, it is clear that there will be large scope for human self-augmentation.

As for the more superlative transhuman technologies, such as nanotechnology and supertintelligence, they are reachable through several independent paths. If one path turns out to be blocked, we can try another. This adds to the likelihood that it will be possible to reach the target.

If nevertheless for some unforeseen reason we can't develop molecular nanotechnology and superhuman artificial intelligence, and not the things that these technologies would make possible - uploading, reanimation of cryonics patients, indefinite life-spans etc. - that would be disappointing. We could find some solace however in all the useful things that we would no doubt have discovered on the journey: new tools for genetic engineering, mood-drugs, information technology, faster computers, new useful chemicals, new medicines and organ transplantation techniques, more compact computer memories. And in other areas of life and science the field of possibilities would still be wide open.

How could I become a posthuman?

Isn't the possibility of success in cryonics too small?

Will the people of the future be interested in restoring you?

What recent progress has been made towards transhumanist goals?

How can I become involved in transhumanism?

Nick Bostrom
Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method London School of Economics