Gigadeath: The Metric of Transhumanism

Giga-death is the characteristic number of human deaths in a
major 21st century war.

As previously addressed here at Uncivilized Animals, anarcho-primitivists have been harshly criticized for suggesting that the size of the current human population is not compatible with a living earth that can also support other forms of life. This assertion has lead to vitriolic accusations labeling primitivists as genocidal.

Ironically, the most genuine alternative to primitivism—transhumanism—also has what we might call a genocide problem…and it is not simply an accusation made by the most uncharitable of critics; rather it has been voiced by one of their own.

Meet Hugo de Garis:Hugo_de_Garis

I see humanity splitting into two major political groups, which in time will become increasingly bitterly opposed, as the artilect issue becomes more real and less science fiction like.” (11)

I am so pessimistic that I am glad to be alive today. At least I will die peacefully in my bed. However I fear for my grandchildren. They may well see the horror of it and very probably they will be destroyed by it. (17)

The above quotes are from de Garis’ book The Artilect War. In the book, de Garis lays out a doomsday scenario where the development of artifical intellects (hence his term “artilect”) divides humanity into two rival camps: Cosmists and Terrans. The Cosmists are those who wish to rapidly move forward with the development of these seemingly god-like artilects while the Terrans are essentially the Luddites who aim to halt the project seeing it as an existential threat to humanity. The Cosmists are purportedly motivated by awe whereas the Terrans are motivated by fear.

The two camps will be so passionate about their respective positions that billions will die in the conflict. Given his idiosyncratic tendency to coin new terms and acronyms, de Garis labels the result as “gigadeath”.

One startling aspect is that de Garis’ own area of research has been the development of artificial brains and intelligences. Before retiring in 2010, he was the director of Xiamen University’s Artificial Brain Lab in China. So what he is suggesting is that the most deadly war in the history of humanity (“a planetary civil war” (86) which will destroy his grandchildren) is a likely—perhaps even inevitable—consequence of his life’s work.

I feel terribly guilty in many ways, because I feel that my own work is part of the problem.” (82)

And while he may express some guilt, it is apparently not the kind of guilt that results from feeling one has made a serious mistake or would do things differently if given the opportunity; it’s guilt without regret. In The Artilect War he dedicates a whole chapter a set of arguments that could be employed by the Cosmists and an additional chapter for arguments that could be employed by the Terrans (these are probably the two most worthwhile chapters of his needlessly long book), but he does not pretend to be neutral; he is, at heart, a Cosmist.

If such a war does occur, killing billions, “gigadeath,” doesn’t that make me a monster, and the worst monster, worse than the monsters of Hitler, the Japanese, Stalin and Mao? Yet despite all this, I push on, because at the deepest level, I’m a Cosmist. I think that NOT building the artilects would be an even greater tragedy.” (84)

Humans “are of zero significance on a cosmic scale” (88) and so for de Garis there is no number of human death that could outweigh the pursuit of an intelligence that would purportedly be trillions of trillions of trillions of times more advanced than human intelligence. The loss of human being is in fact no loss at all. This is transhumanism.

By way of conclusion, it is important to note that amongst transhumanists de Garis is not a fringe figure. He has appeared in films such as Transcendent Man (a documentary on Ray Kurzweil), Singularity or Bust, and the BBC’s Human v2.0. His work is taken seriously be prominent transhumanist organizations and websites such as the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Humanity+, Singularity University, and KurzweilAI. He has been the subject of numerous interviews within transhumanist circles and The Artilect War has been widely reviewed by his colleagues. His work has been referenced in mainstream publications such The New York Times and Forbes magazine.

The existence of transhumanists such as de Garis creates something of a dilemma. On one hand, it is tempting to dismiss them as kooks or perhaps value them simply for the entertainment value of their grandiose aspirations. On the other hand, their fantasies do not need to be feasible in order for the pursuit of such fantasies to be genuinely dangerous.

de Garis predicts that Ted Kaczynski may eventually come to be regarded as “the first Terran” who was “decades ahead of his time” striking out at proto-Cosmists and that he may eventually occupy a historical place similar to that of abolitionist John Brown (174)

Hugo de Garis’ The Artilect War can be read in its entirety online at:

*Numbers in parentheses all refer to de Garis’ The Artilect War.