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The Law & Trans-Humanism

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

In his 1994 book The Scientific American,  Professor Marvin Minsky begged the question: “Will Robots Inherit the Earth?” And he says yes they will, but will they be our children? Marvin Minsky is respected as one of foremost researchers and writers in many fields of the Computer Sciences, particularly in Artificial Intelligence, the area which studies ways of imitating the human brain’s cognitive functions in a computer.

 Transhumanism is a new age idea that man is merging with technology.

Transhuman is a term used to refer to a broad range of ideas that technology is significantly enhancing human capabilities. This means, everything from bionic limbs; brain implants; artificial intelligence; to even someday uploading our minds to the internet. We already have a symbiotic relationship with our technology, and in that regard, we are already transhuman. Transhumanism is the future of connectedness! It is technology as an extension of ourselves.

How do we get from where we are today to this science fiction future?

Technological jumps are astronomically rare occurrences. Technology usually follows a very predictable evolutionary path. It is the groundwork laid by previous technologies that allow for new levels to be achieved. For example, the cell phone infrastructure allowed for the rise of mobile computing; and the internet allowed for the rise of social networks.  It is hard to imagine where these advances would take us as a species because we are only able to observe these incremental steps along the way.

I believe that technological momentum will evolve to the point where biology will become the limiting factor, as it is exponentially surpassed by the multiplicative stealth of artificial intelligence. Think about it: How many thoughts can you hold in your mind at once? Two? Or maybe three? Many of use no longer employ cognitive recall in our day to day memorisation processes; For example, we telephone digits in our phone contact list with no need to remember the numbers. Essentially, we have already begun the process of augmenting the capacity of our minds unto our devices.

A possible roadmap for the future.

For the last few years, Immersive has been researching motion-aware computing.  Their webcams can interpret individual facial muscles.  It can detect a frown; It can be thought to learn what a smile is; what an adverse reaction is as well as what is anger.  Immersive has trained these machines to interpret and understand human emotion. Currently, there are about a billion and a half cameras that are enabled into our laptops, cameras, and phones — during the next five years, this number will double.  The beauty of this technology is that it would provide solutions for those with autism, smart cars that can detect drowsy or distracted drivers, or allow robots to develop a form of synthetic empathy with the aim of understanding and interpreting human intent.

The next big thing has now been determined as wearables or smart clothing. However, it isn’t a new idea. Many of you may have fitness trackers that you wear already.  Fashion companies have already manufactured sporting clothes for football teams to track their vital signs on the field. In the near future, your family members will also have computers embedded in their clothing and their spectacles. Further along the wearable continuum, there will be things like embeddables — small sensors placed underneath your skin, and as technology becomes, cheaper, smaller and more powerful, 50 billion devices will be connected over the next decade, and the internet will increasingly morph into a utility.

Just like electricity, the net will be something you plug into, and this intangible force will connect all fragmented systems, evolving into a digital nervous system for the planet, that you, me, everything we interact with, will become a part of, rendering us decimal points on a mathematical configuration of infinitum networks. In this sense, the internet of things has already commenced, we have a number of sensors in our phones such as GPS, accelerometers, ultimators and a number of other data access points.  The real power comes from the fact that these devices have begun to communicate with each other. Devices in your home will adjust to match your home’s optimal energy usage, and your alarm clock will adjust to suit your google calendar.  These devices will check weather conditions, and these agents will run in the background, taking care of you.

Soon thereafter, you won’t just wear technology, but you will ingest it. Smart pills powered by your body will monitor your vital signs for up to 72 hours, and it will provide real-time insights on your health wirelessly to your doctor. If this sounds like science fiction, it’s already received FDA approval.  If that weren’t weird enough for you, Body 2.0 would include artificial eyes, with zoom capabilities, infrared sensors and night vision will be possible. In addition to this, prosthetic limbs of the future will be even more flexible, more powerful and more efficient than our organic ones.  Retinal implants will allow the blind to see and recognize faces in the near future, and there are already arms that can be controlled by human thought using a small implant in the brain.

Was inception just a movie?

MIT scientists have implanted memories into mice, they have isolated an individual memory in the brain of mice and induced recall of that memory, by forcing neurons to fire.  The researchers have also been able to pinpoint memories and erase them, eliminating them without affecting other memories.  Therefore, we can conclude that in the future it may be possible to remove and implant memories, or even treat things like dementia, Alzheimers, post-traumatic stress, personal traumas or other types of neurological disorders.

The beginning of the age of mind reading.

Scientists have been able to reconstruct images, using a simple MIR scan.  We are now in the early stages of being able to see images, through another person’s eye. Perhaps one day, they will be able to record dreams.  Computer chips won’t just be on your laptops or your phones, doctors will implant them into your brain, and they will restore sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf.  Today, there are already over 300’000 people with cochlear implants, a form of a neural prosthetic that allows certain types of deaf people to regain audibility.

Further along the AI continuum, are brain implants which Michio Kaku describes as your very own augmented mind. Many researchers see this as the beginning of the brain-net, a possible successor to the internet.  A form of virtual telepathy, which will allow you to create music, drive a car, communicate with other people and even surf the web at the speed of thought. Movies will no longer be these two-dimensional slate tablets that you look into that blasts sound at you.  Your television will be fully immersive experiences, complete with feeling and emotion, the way the writer and director originally intended. Everything will be stored, every memory recorded and available on a cloud service.  Mind uploading will allow your friends to share their digital vacation experiences that never actually took place, but only in their mind – somewhat of a total recall.

Legal implications of transhumanism.

If scientists get to the point of being able to produce human-machine hybrids, or to significantly modify the genetic makeup of human beings so as to create a new race of superhumans, post-humans, transhumans, homo sapiens 2.0, or techno-humans, by combining advanced robotic technology with human biology, then what would be the legal standing of these beings? Should these new brands of creatures be subject to the same judicial procedures that regulate humanity, or will there need to be a parallel legal framework for these new creatures? Would killing or enslaving one of these creatures be the same as killing or enslaving a human being, or would that be a lesser crime or no crime at all?

Perhaps questions like these seem like the stuff of science fiction. Think again! Even as scientists race to create upgraded human beings, academics and legal scholars worldwide are meeting to discuss the changing legal frameworks that will be needed.

The Constitution in the face of technological change

Speaking at the Brookings Institution in 2011, at an event on the future of the Constitution in the face of technological change, Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu  argued we are missing the magnitude of the questions we contemplate as we make law and policy regulating human interactions with these ubiquitous machines that mediate so much of our lives. We are, in fact, he argued, reaching “the very beginnings of a sort of understanding of cyborg law, that is to say, the law of augmented humans.” Our phones cause us to be technologically enhanced creatures, and those technological enhancements, which we have attached to our bodies, also make us vulnerable to more government supervision, privacy invasions, and so forth.

Humans have rights, under which they retain some dominion over their bodies. Machines, meanwhile, remain slaves with uncertain masters. Laws do not recognise the rights of machines, nor do the laws recognise cyborgs—hybrids that add machine functionalities and capabilities to human bodies and consciousness.  Law generally falls into two incongruent categories: the natural law and the positive law. While the natural law encompasses universally accepted moral principles and social sense of justice, reflecting the zeitgeist or the spirit of time, the positive law ignores these premises, focusing instead on human-made laws, such as statutory and common law or civil code.  In its current state of legal advocacy, transhumanism does not precisely fit into either of these categories, representing an amalgamation of the two.

Some transhumanist lawyers support same-sex marriage and morphological freedom, viewing it as the zeitgeist, as opposed to the morality-based fossil socio-legal structure. Others, seeing death, ageing and anthropocentrism as archaic and obsolete, advocate for granting legal rights to individuals in suspended animation and personhood rights to non-humans, such as sufficiently advanced AIs, cetaceans, great apes, elephants, etc. Transhumanists certainly need skilful lobbyists and litigators in their ranks to effectively advance this cause, but what do they want? Do they want absolute and unsanctioned freedom of scientific pursuit: such as chimerical engineering of humans; neural emulation; cyber ware; senescence suppressants; cognitive enhancements or morphological modifications with no legislation prohibiting or inhibiting privately funded research? Or do they want governmental funding for anti-senescence treatment, suspended animation, cyberwar implants, and enhancements?

Do they contemplate the need for enforcing medical treatments, such as vaccination, and establishing a “morpho-law” where proper authorities would supervise and monitor human and non-human modifications and protect the “modified” from the “unstable” and “harmful” mods, or do they intend to follow the “my body, my right, my choice” initiative with all the pros and cons such freedom entails?

Visualise the legal future.

So what will the legal system look like in the future? Will the Computer Assisted Everything age dispense with the need for a real-life attorney? As the computer technology introduces new means of controlling our environment, it seems likely that future legal services would be provided by our AI assistants, whose skills would undoubtedly exceed the capabilities of any traditional law office. Equipped with the Internet of Things technology proficient at gathering, processing, and analysing legally significant data from our environment – through relays, sensors, displays, etc. – our AI assistants would instantaneously provide us with sound legal advice in any area of law.

Through continuous environmental monitoring and data processing, such technology would protect us from falling victim to an accident or a crime or from inadvertently making costly mistakes, such as engaging in criminal conduct or forfeiting our contractual rights. And in case of a mishap, evidence based on data feeds would be sent to the “Authority Grid” where the representing us AI counsel would “flash plead” before the Artificial Judicial Intelligence court presiding in a virtual courthouse, which would then empanel a jury by randomly selecting AI assistants from other users.

This kind of solution would actually simplify the currently automated cargo ship procedures, which would come in handy in the future. Instead of protracted litigation, the Internet of Things technology would perform a data-based assessment, similar to the one performed after a collision of freight ships or mining hauliers. The counselling AIs would provide the Judicial AI with a “fact sheet” based either on sensory data, or, if the ship was crewed, on crew’s statements verified against the recorded onboard sensory input. Moreover, Once the stock exchange becomes automated with flash-trade bots, essentially everyone could take their own virtual lawyer with them everywhere they go, never face a real-life judge, and skip the useless paperwork because the AIs would take care of everything.

A final thought

Finally, there is one last issue we tend to forget. As the society changes in response to cultural currents and advances in science and technology so does the law. And The law doesn’t revolve only around trade, commerce, rights to safe medical procedures. Criminal law does not remain static, and its concepts of criminal conduct, criminal offences, and punishment evolve gradually and delectably to reflect those changes. Today the death penalty becomes increasingly recognized as an unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment, and more and more countries are moving away from the traditional imprisonment model toward rehabilitation and resocialization of criminal offenders.

One may wonder whether the justice system could eventually forgo fines (because the notion of currency would become obsolete) and imprisonment (because of extended lifespan) and focus instead on neuro resocialization which would safely and permanently prevent criminals from committing the same or a similar offence in the future.  However, because neuro-resocialization could endanger the criminal offender’s personal, morphological, and cognitive liberty, there would be exceptions to its application, mirroring the same precedent as the current attempt to criminalise and persecute vaccination refusal.

But if one’s choice of conduct poses a lethal threat to other members of the society, would the authority, “manned” or “unmanned”, have the right to perform an involuntary treatment? Will the merged, augmented transhumans and AIs ever feel the need to respect one’s liberty when faced with reliable data estimates showing that one’s planned activity could have harmful or damaging effects, or will they automatically disregard one’s freedom to act?

We can also envision an anarcho-individualistic scenario where the AIs would assume the role of personal advisors, and where trans and posthumans would not need any laws or robots rendering legal judgments on their actions.  Or perhaps the future legal system would fall in between, with some branches of posthumans merging into hives, while others are free to live their long lives and engage in the pursuit of happiness according to their own rules. In either case, neither the nomadic posthumans nor the collectives of merged beings would require physical law offices or courthouses to function correctly.

Will there ever arise any kind of tension that could lead to violence between these distinct groups of post-humans? While the post-scarcity economy should eventually eliminate the need to seize new territories or resources, which is the primary cause of armed conflicts, it is likely that post-humans would inherit their progenitors’ innate propensity for violence. The abundance of breathable air never kept humans away from using violence against one another.

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