Humanism Amidst Our Machines   /   Summer 2011   /    Humanism Amidst Our Machines

Last Man or Overman?

Transhuman Appropriations of a Nietzschean Theme

Michael E. Zimmerman

A hiker views the Milky Way; Jacob W. Frank/National Park Service via

In The Singularity Is Near, multimillionaire inventor, software designer, and futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that in a few decades humans will create artificial intelligence with vastly greater intelligence than our own.4 In astrophysics, a “singularity” refers to a stellar black hole, the enormous gravitational field of which prevents light from escap- ing. In futurism, the Singularity refers to the emergence of intelligence so great that mere mortals will not be able to catch a glimpse of its aims. In this presumed turning point in cosmic evolution, we will pass the evolutionary baton to post-organic beings, progeny of whom we may be proud, astonished, and perhaps fearful. What Kurzweil calls the “accelerating returns” made possible by the confluence of nanotechnology, arti- ficial intelligence, robotics, and genetic engineering will ostensibly transform the world far more rapidly than we can imagine. “Transhumans” (transitional humans) will soon be engineered to have greatly enhanced capacities and a dramatically extended life span.

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