If you've heard of transhumanism, you probably first think of the people putting LED lights in their skin, magnets in their fingertips, and RFID chips in their arms. You might expect transhumanists to seem pretty, well, extreme. But Peter Xing, co-founder of Transhumanist Australia, doesn't fit the cliches.
For the past seven years Xing has worked in business tax. He presents himself as a businessman with big dreams. Someone who believes society is accelerating so fast that people have become desensitised to the many possibilities available at our disposal.
It was at his workplace, Deloitte, that Xing first went "full nerd," after his research brought him into the world of artificial intelligence. In 2014, he dove deep into transhumanism, which he describes as the transformation of the human condition through technology.
Xing has made immortality Transhumanist Australia's biggest priority. The group has been petitioning for several months to get ageing deemed as a disease and force governmental change. On one level, they have succeeded. The Science Party, after forming an allegiance with Transhumanist Australia, has agreed to include this anti-ageing policy into their health strategy for 2017. Xing, also an executive member of the Science Party, says this is a big step in the right direction.
Not all transhumanists agree with the concept of immortality. But Xing is closely following in the footsteps of Zoltan Istvan, leader of the Transhumanist Party in the US and current independent presidential candidate. It was after watching how effective Istvan's public relations campaign was and garnering thousands of members, that Xing last year decided to start his own official movement in Australia.
"Everyone is already connected through technology," Xing explains to me as we sit in one of the many meeting rooms at his high rise office. "It has become an extension of our human brain, tapping into that collective knowledge of society."
While the concept of immortality feels as though it's verging on science fiction, Xing insists this resistance is misled. "It's very poetic to say there is a narrative arc with life and death," he says. "But it's a social construct. As society matures, we're starting to see this."
Xing tells me that recent scientific studies support the idea that ageing is not a fixed certainty. Earlier this month, the lifespan of mice was extended by 35 percent after removing stagnant cells, a study which has the potential to be adapted to humans. Trials of Metformin also start this year, a drug that could possibly increase human lifespan to 120 years.
"For me it is an existential risk. We will have a finite life if we don't encourage innovation towards the field of health span extension," Xing says. "One example is the Human Brain Project. These types of projects help find ways to kill Alzheimer's and other types of neurological diseases."
It's hard to fathom what the implications of age extension could be. The idea that we could live forever contravenes aspects of religion, culture, and ethics that we often think of as fundamental. There is also the question of how society will survive under the strain of an even larger aging population.
Xing; however, is confident that as society progresses, we will learn how to cope with any impediments. "People will look at resources and say 'I can live indefinitely, why not have children later?'" he says. "We are also only a speck in the grand scheme of things. Eventually, for society to survive, we will become a multi-planetary species."
There are times in our conversation when Xing strays into the higher concepts of transhumanism that are beyond what I can understand and/or Google. He notes that a counter argument to his movement is that society will become conservative, because old generations aren't dying and making way for new generations and new worldviews. "But we'll be constantly connected to the collective intelligence of everyone so we will actually get fresh ideas," he assures me.
He speaks of mind uploading: "You could potentially do this by synthetically adding on neurons while slowly letting go of old ones, so that you're still conscious as part of the process."
As you would expect from an accountant, Xing has a well sorted five-year plan. He is gradually building up a membership base through collaborations at Deloitte, where he tells me bio-hackers, virtual and augmented reality enthusiasts, effective altruists, technology entrepreneurs and space enthusiasts meet regularly.
On the political side of things, a party is already in the works for Transhumanist Australia. Their alliance with Science Party is to maintain influence until they have enough members to form their own party. He views the Science Party as a bridge between technological advancements and what society is ready for.
In the meantime, Xing says he is concentrating on eradicating the negative stigma that surrounds transhumanism. "We're trying to use the word as often as we can," he says. "To shy away from the concept is not accelerating the progress."
Xing is planning a gradual change to give society time to adjust. "It still has its danger, like what happened with the Nazis and eugenics. But that's when the moralities of society don't catch up to the technology. That's very important to address and we want to bring it to the forefront."
"We don't expect to win the 2020 election. 2045 is the singularity date, where technology exceeds human intelligence. We've got a due date probably a bit before that."
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