Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of the book The Transhumanist Wager, and founder of the Transhumanist Party. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond natural human ability.
Last holiday season I speculated that AI Day would replace Christmas in less than 25 years as the most popular holiday on the planet. AI Day is the day an artificial intelligence smarter than human beings is created on Earth. But what would a holiday season centered around such a technological phenomenon mean?
Would there still be gift-giving? Eggnog? And painfully long lines at the airport? Would we transfer some our cherished rituals of the normal holiday season to AI Day? Would the power of Santa Claus disappear or morph into something tech-dominated and digital?
If we fast forward 50 years into the future, and my AI timeline prediction is correct—giving us an additional 25 years to reap the benefits of what AI has designed for us—then the landscape of human experience might be really different. Remember, AI could become 10,000 times smarter than us in just the first few years of its existence. I don't think most people factor what kind of future could come from an entity that intelligent instructing us how how to live.
Back at home for the gift-giving of the transhuman holiday, kids may be disappointed
But what about the holiday experience? Would that be really different too than today, whether it was Christmas or AI Day? Well, for starters, AI would likely have already figured out how to teleport human beings from one place to another. Like Star Trek, we'd step into some kind of teleportation chamber that would instantly take us around the planet to our chosen destination. Because travel would be so easy, it's likely holidays wouldn't be spent entirely at home, but in some far-off destination. Perhaps morning coffee and breakfast atop Kenya's Mt. Kilimanjaro, then to New York's Rockefeller Center for socializing and sightseeing.
If this sounds crazy, consider that earlier this year scientists successfully teleported quantum data with high accuracy. While there's a big difference between that and a whole person, it's a start, and it shows that at least the physics might be possible, setting science up to pursue what could prove to be one of the 21st century's greatest achievements. The human species is due for a major upgrade in how it gets around. Passenger jet travel, airports, and even the long awaited flying car may become passé in the future.
Okay, so this might be a bit awkward, but give it 50 years.
Back at home for the gift-giving of the transhuman holiday, kids may be disappointed. The holiday season will almost certainly not involve physical presents waiting under a Christmas tree (or a hologram of a Christmas tree). In the future, most presents will be made on demand in 3D printers.
Most households will possess at least one of these printers, which will become the most utilized appliance in any house. That new smartphone you asked for will be created right in front of your eyes, though it won't look like a smartphone. It'll look like a small coin or watch battery that you attach to the side of your head. Most communications and internet will be thought-controlled, using electroencephalography (EEG) brain wave tech.
Another common gift will be upgraded or new organs, part of the ever-increasing drive in the future to fine tune one's body and maintain perfect health. In this case, people will buy the right to 3D print the best organ they can afford (actually the best blueprint of the organ), and then schedule the surgery.
The surgery will likely be done by the family robot, which will be programmed for doing myriad tasks, including all things medical, fixing electronics, personal safety, and of course gardening and cleaning tasks too. Expect family robots to have at least four appendages and more fingers on those limbs than humans have on their hands. There's no reason to be limited to five digits if you're really going to be useful.
After receiving presents, it'll be time to sit down for the holiday dinner. More family members will beam in—or arrive via their flying vehicles, if they're old school. Each member will be dressed in the latest wearable tech. Uncle Bob will be wearing his full body MRI scanning suit that annoyingly mirrors and displays in real time all his body's inner workings across every inch of material on him, like a giant walking human TV. Someone will make him turn it off, since no one wants to see how his digestive tract is taking the the brie and crackers.
There's no reason to be limited to five digits if you're really going to be useful
Always fashionable Aunt Sally will have the latest upgrade for her adjustable breasts, calves, and buttocks, which all can be made bigger, smaller, or firmer via her smartphone to fit whatever occasion she happens to be in. Her lips and cheeks will also have wifi-controlled nano-color particles injected in them, making mascara and lipstick application unnecessary. One can color their skin and lips from a command on a smartphone, and the color never smears or lessens in intensity.
Cousin Oliver, who's in high school, will keep everyone guessing whether he actually painted his hair purple and green, or if it's just another projected hologram, like the leathers he pretends to never take off.
The rest of his family will be lucky if he even says a word to them, as he often games endlessly in his mind, courtesy of the gaming contact lens he wears. This popular lens—constructed with sophisticated circuitry, microchips, and software in them—allow gamers to remain in virtual gaming worlds indefinitely without ever being detected. Interactive games literally just stream right into their eyes.
And then there will be the meal itself. Tomatoes the size of cantaloupes. Salmon so fresh it tastes like it was caught two minutes ago. And meatless sausages grown in a laboratory that taste better than the real thing. For dessert, there will be pies that contain fruits not yet invented today. Entire new dishes from genome recombination and tweaking will make them possible in the future. Finally, after dinner there will be alcoholic forms of ImagineAid, the choice of drink in my novel The Transhumanist Wager, a nootropic cocktail tailored specifically to boost creativity.
As far-fetched and speculative as some of this future transhumanist holiday stuff sounds, it's likely that if the human race can create an artificial intelligence that's far smarter than people—and we can keep it from destroying us—then there will be an unprecedented intellectual, cultural, and spiritual renaissance for the planet in the mid-21st century.
In fact, it's likely that in an AI's first year of existence, its discoveries will force most major science and engineering texts to be rewritten with updates, improvements, and totally new ideas. Science and human technology will change forever. That seems like cause for transhuman holiday cheer.