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“Did you see the robot?” I asked the male housekeeper as we passed in the hallway of New York City’s Empire Hotel.
The gentleman stopped and gave me a curious glance; “What are you talking about?”
“You passed by a robot,” I said matter-of-factly, gesturing down the hall behind us. “He’s the one sitting.”
The housekeeper turned to look at a group of people standing five doors down, where, close by, an Asian man was seated on cart-like carrier.
“That’s not a human,” I emphasized, “it’s an advanced robotic head on a mock body.”
The fellow looked harder; “No… that’s a man. He must be handicapped, that’s why he’s sitting in the cart.”
“Walk up and look closely,” I said, “you’ll see it’s not a person at all.”
Pointing to an individual who looked identical to the one sitting, I explained he was Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro, a Japanese robotics inventor, and that the “head” on the false body was his creation – and because of advanced software, the “head” reacts to its environment. The housekeeper stared harder, and quietly exasperated; “That can’t be true!”
“Walk by and take a look,” I assured him. “It’s not what you think.”
Retreating, he sauntered past the group and guardedly examined the person on the cart. Soon he was stopped, peering closely at the “human,” shaking his own head in disbelief.
From June 15-16, 2013, world-renowned scientists, inventors, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and spiritual leaders met in New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Global Future 2045 International Congress. Just a hop from the Empire Hotel, where many GF2045 participants were staying, the Lincoln Center was buzzing with excitement as transhuman aspirations were proclaimed. Transhumanism, the idea of a technically based future human evolution – and the accompanied call for a worldwide, evolutionary strategy – was the purpose of this global gathering.
However, GF2045 was not a one-off event, but part of a movement that started in 2011 under the guidance of soft-spoken Russian multimillionaire, Dmitry Itskov. Working with experts in computer interfacing, robotics and artificial systems, Itskov birthed the 2045 Initiative as a comprehensive campaign toward social evolution and a new global spirituality – predicated on the goal of cybernetic immortality.
The GF2045 programme puts it this way,
“The main goals of the 2045 Initiative are the creation and realization of a new strategy for the development of humanity which meets global civilization challenges; the creation of optimal conditions promoting the spiritual enlightenment of humanity; and the realization of a new futuristic reality based on 5 principles: high spirituality, high culture, high ethics, high science and high technologies.
The main science megaproject of the 2045 Initiative aims to create technologies enabling the transfer of an individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality.”[i]
Through the 2045 Initiative, a new program was introduced to the transhumanist community: the Avatar Project – an audacious plan to accelerate “the creation of technologies that will enable a gradual transition from our biological bodies to an increasingly advanced artificial carrier of the human self.”[ii] Organizers believed that a technological point will arrive when we can upload our consciousness, take possession of an android body, and escape the bounds of mortality. Or so goes the theory.
Does this sound like science fiction? That’s because it is. But more; it’s the attempt to shape a future reality.
The Avatar Project explained the robotic head I saw in the hotel, described as a “Gemanoid” by Dr. Ishiguro. Other techno-developments at GF2045 included Ishiguro’s Telenoid, a genderless and featureless human-like child robot; and Nigel Ackland’s bionic arm, the world’s most advanced artificial limb. Each was presented as a clue to what an “advanced artificial carrier” might entail.
But the one item many came to see was “Dmitroid,” the android head of Itskov.
During the Congress, Itskov was supposed to introduce a robotic copy of himself. Designed by the renowned robotic inventor David Hanson, Dmitroid was to be unveiled on the first day of the event. But by the end of day two, the robot head still hadn’t appeared, nor would it. Later I discovered that Dmitroid was waiting backstage, but technical glitches kept the android from its public debut.
Advanced theoretical concepts were also discussed at GF2045, including Neural Dust – microscopic transceivers powered by ultrasound and sprinkled to free-float within the brain. Once injected, these miniature devices would interface with neurons, and send signals to an outside receptor: a computer, an advanced prosthesis, or a “Dmitroid.”
Presently, Neural Dust isn’t functional. Nevertheless, the team from the University of California, Berkeley, that’s heading the project were excited about its potential applications.
All of these remarkable ideas and technologies were placed in the context of global crisis. Itskov himself spoke of the need for an evolutionary leap that would bring lasting world peace, the end of war, and the eradication of disease. With global crisis averted, the improved human species could then bathe itself in spiritual enlightenment. Others too, like billionaire philanthropist James Martin, spoke of looming global catastrophe, particularly climate change. To meet these challenges, we were told, requires the transformation of human nature and the necessity of becoming transhuman.
World crisis, the transhuman quest, and the formulating of a new spirituality were interwoven.
From Itskov’s first speech to the closing of the event with an interfaith panel, spirituality was an integral part of the GF2045 process. Dmitry was publicly upfront; explaining that his journey to transhumanism came through a spiritual experience. In my brief conservation with the Russian tycoon, he acknowledged a metaphysical crisis, and noted the role of Cosmism in his search for meaning.
Practically unheard of in the West, Cosmism is a spiritual-scientific worldview that’s traceable to the 19th century. It’s truly a Rossiya conception, one that follows the Russian intellectual map of a multidisciplinary approach to the questions of life, immortality, perfection, and the role of Russia as the epicenter of world salvation. Cosmism’s history combines Russian Orthodoxy, occultism and Theosophy, science and art, and philosophical speculation; as Christ rose from the dead, so Mankind must embrace self-resurrection.
Although suppressed during the Soviet era, Cosmism nevertheless formed the intellectual soil for the Soviet Union’s space industry – which succeeded in putting a man in orbit first. In fact, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a Russian founding father of modern rocketry, was a leading Cosmist.
Today, Tsiolkovsky still exerts an influence on Russian spiritual-scientific thought, and at least one other GF2045 speaker – Akop Nazaretyan – admitted to this worldview. In essence, Cosmism is “Russian transhumanism,” and as the Congress was weighted with Russian-based presenters and 2045 staff members, I was left with little doubt as to the resurgence of this Russian paradigm.
While Cosmism is an undeniable intellectual force in Russian transhumanism, it must be noted that many who find Cosmism attractive also embrace other spiritual traditions. Dmitry exemplified this by expressing his interest in Eastern spiritual practices as a way to reach divine potential. Therefore, Tibetan Buddhists and Hindu Monks, along with other religious representatives, joined GF2045 to discuss the vitality of religion in achieving evolutionary perfection.
One of these leaders was Russian yogi, Swami Vishnudevananda Giri. During his talk, he explained that we were reaching for transcendental humanism – to form a race of immortal God-men and develop a God-like civilization. Such transcendent God-men, he noted, will control thought and time, and possess immortal bodies located in multiple realities. “Fantasy will become reality,” he stated.
Hindu yoga master, Mahayogi ‘Pilot’ Baba, a former Wing Commander in the Royal Indian Air Force, told us; “You are the light, you are the truth, you are the beginning, you are the end.”
As a Christian, I recognized where Mahayogi Baba pulled these words from – and they weren’t his. Baba had simply created a montage of Jesus Christ’s statements about Himself as the exclusive Son of God, taken from John 14:6 and Revelation 22:13.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” (Revelation 22:13).
These words of Jesus Christ parallel God’s declaration in Isaiah 44:6,8. Indeed, Jesus Christ is the Redeemer, “the Lord of hosts,” declaring Himself as “the First and the Last.”
“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God… Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.”
And here is the cosmic irony of GF2045: It affirmed, in the negative, the reality of the True God.
In fact, the Biblical foundation that speaks to the existence of an exclusive God becomes inescapable when you consider the consistent and determined efforts of Man, attempting, over and over, to raise ourselves as God. All we do is repeat the ancient theme; through special knowledge we too can become God-like. Certainly there is “nothing new under the Sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Nor can originality be found. Instead, the Genesis justification for our own spiritual deceit is repeated ad nauseam,
“You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)
GF2045 also had a political goal. Organizers hoped to compel the United Nations into taking a lead role in transhumanism. As Dmitry wrote in the GF2045 programme, “I believe that the new evolutionary strategy should be considered at the level of large public and transnational organizations and government leaders.” Thus, an open letter was sent to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, calling on the UN to promote a “strategy for the transition to neo-humanity.”
The GF2045 international political goal hasn’t materialized. However, I anticipate that sometime soon a UN “study group” will emerge with suggestions for managing “future human evolution” – with or without prompting from the 2045 Initiative.
On the technical end, I’m not convinced all transhumanist dreams will be realized. True, technology will continue to impact society in monumental ways, but as impressive as Dr. Ishiguro’s android was – and as incredible as the theoretical Neural Dust may prove to be – science is still groping on so many levels. For example, the question “what is consciousness” was repeatedly referenced and left open by GF2045 participants. No one had an answer.
Likewise, “mind engineering” and the creation of synthetic brains were key talking points. The reason: governments are funding “brain mapping” projects – seeking to map the neural maze of the human brain and pry out its secrets. However, one speaker reminded us that we have successfully mapped the neural system of the roundworm, which contains 302 neurons, and yet there are mysteries to it we don’t understand. And the human brain? Over 100 billion neurons.
Indeed, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Science has revealed much, yet there are complexities far greater.
Nevertheless, we have to acknowledge our scientific advances, enabling great deeds and much good. But this too must be tempered with the fact that technical developments are not without problems, unforeseeable negative consequences, or the granting of capacity to commit acts of evil. Political machinations also press in, and much of the scientific community itself has become politically charged, creating what nuclear physicist Ralph E. Lapp once called “the new priesthood.”[iii]
I am reminded of Neil Postman’s query in his book, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology; “to whom will the technology give greater power and freedom? And whose power and freedom will be reduced by it?”[iv] Good questions.
If anything, GF2045 reinforced the Biblical truth; “there is nothing new under the sun.” The mechanism may vary, but the goal remains the same: to be as God.
[i] Global Future 2045 International Congress, June 15-16, 2013, official program, p.4.
[ii] Ibid., p.3.
[iii] Ralph E. Lapp, The New Priesthood: The Scientific Elite and the Use of Power (Harper & Row, 1965).
[iv] Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (Vintage Books, 1993), p.11.