The Singularity meets Eastern mysticism in Human+, by U.K.-based writer and journalist Martin Higgins, a just-published science-fiction page-turner inspired by of futures studies, psychic spy research, and the transhumanist movement. Required reading for Turing Church discussions. See also this review on KurzweilAI.
“Each artificial neuron would communicate with the brain via electrical signals and would be able to wirelessly interface with external hardware, enabling brain-computer networking. Once such networking was established, David noted with interest, Internet telephony could be quite simply deployed. Synthetic telepathy, in other words.”
Such advanced brain-to-computer interfaces may be developed in a couple of decades, transforming us into a “telepathic” species. But what if we already have “natural” psychic abilities, emergent properties of quantum entangled neurons, waiting to be unlocked by appropriate training?
Would you prefer becoming more than human by means of nanotechnology or meditation? Should we develop technological immortality, or wait and wake up in an afterlife?
Or both? Can transhumanist human enhancement and the new-age human potential movement co-exist peacefully? Or are they on an inescapable collision course?
The answers come in bits and pieces as the story unfolds. The novel captures well the tension between human psychic potential and its bioengineered version, and the different mindsets of those who promote them.
David is the young man next door in a surreal New York of fast moving impressions — sometimes an artist, sometimes a drifter who spends his welfare checks on drugs. He sees things — things that shouldn’t be there. One morning in the subway he sees a beautiful young woman, and something makes him follow her.
David joins a “strange psychic group” and embarks on a high-tech training program to unlock his latent psychic powers. He becomes David McKinley, a highly paid futurist and expert of emerging technologies. His precognitive visions and ability to download information into his brain from elsewhere — perhaps from the Akashic records? — put him in the right place and time to develop a roadmap for inhalable “smartdust,” nanobots small enough to pass through the lungs and the blood-brain barrier, and able to connect with neural cells.
“The convergence of nanotechnology and biotechnology is creating an exciting new wave of drug delivery applications. When this technology is combined with other fields, the potential for further innovation increases exponentially. Nanotech has become an enabling technology, rapidly developing already established fields and even whole industries.”
Nanotechnology will change the world and the group’s new, highly capitalized technology company, Thetis, will lead the change and accumulate wealth beyond their dreams. But is this really how David wants to change the world? What happened to the beautiful vision of a world spiritually enlightened and awakened? Did something awfully wrong take its place?
Philip, the master mind, a charming psychiatrist with a spooky past, seems to have all the answers. But who is Philip, really? How does he influence Thomas Ames, the venture capitalist who pours his endless wealth into Thetis’ plan to take over the world? Perhaps Astrid, the enigmatic girl in the subway, David’s love at first sight, is the group’s means to control Ames? And what did Philip do, decades ago, to set things in motion?
At a mega party organized to showcase the forthcoming technological utopia to the elite, David meets Ruth, a journalist who doesn’t seem enthusiastic about their new world. Surprisingly, David’s psychic powers fail with Ruth. Even more surprisingly Lawrence, David’s friend and first psychic trainer, now sees Thetis and the new world that it is preparing as something evil, a betrayal of the initial vision of spiritual enlightenment. Lawrence and Ruth are set to uncover Ames’ — and Philip’s — schemes.
I am persuaded that transhumanist ultra-technologies will bring very radical change, someday soon. I am less persuaded of naturally occurring psychic abilities and otherworldly realms, but I hope to be wrong, because these things would be cool — very cool.
I am not aware of any reproducible experimental evidence, but as Arthur Clarke said, there are so many reports that they can’t be all wrong. I look forward to seeing new experiments and, if the result will be that we have no latent psychic powers, it is good to know that we will be able to engineer them. If psychic abilities are latent in some human, it makes sense to think that they can be enhanced and amplified by technology, just like other human abilities, and re-created for people without native abilities.
If both the Singularity and a spiritual awakening of psychic abilities are on the horizon, I would totally agree with Philip’s position: “Who’s to say the two can’t develop together — technology and human potential — perhaps should develop together?”
Though Higgins tries not to take sides and presents both sides’ viewpoints as objectively as it gets, we get a certain feeling that David, after his intoxicating techno-power trip with the elites, feels more and more close to Lawrence’s spirituality. But the last scene, climactic and hermetic, perhaps in the dream world, perhaps in the real world, or perhaps in an undefined in-between, leaves both options open.
I look forward to seeing Human+ the movie, and I recommend the book to everyone for a few hours of thought provoking reading pleasure.