Interview with José Luis Cordeiro, Teaching Fellow, Singularity University

José Luis Gordeiro «We will become transhumans and posthumans»

Longevity, human limitations and enhancements and surviving death – José Luis Cordeiro, teaching fellow at the Singularity University, California, has the future mapped out.

At the moment, you are a teaching fellow at the new Singularity University (SU) together with Ray Kurzweil and many scientists from Google, NASA and other prominent institutions. How does the work at SU differ from other universities?
The nascent Singularity University has been created as an interdisciplinary university whose mission is to assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies in order to address humanity’s grand challenges.
With the support of a broad range of leaders in academia, business and government, SU hopes to stimulate groundbreaking, disruptive thinking and solutions aimed at solving some of the planet’s most pressing challenges. SU is based at the NASA Ames campus in Silicon Valley and is currently only offering summer courses and executive programs.

One human dream is immortality. There are evolving life concepts of merging humans with robots. How realistic are these?
Humans have been merging with machines for a very long time. There are already prosthetic limbs, artificial organs, cochlear implants, and many other external parts that improve and enhance humans. Even glasses are a simple form of human enhancement, just like many medicines and other pharmaceutical products.
Soon, most of our body parts will be completely replaceable, and we will also be able to continuously improve our biological bodies. Furthermore, aging itself will be controlled and we might reach indefinitely long life spans. According to some biologists, aging is just another disease, and it might soon be a curable disease as well. In fact, physical immortality is finally becoming a real possibility, not just science fiction, and the death of death might soon be within our grasp.
In a way, humans are already cyborgs, combining mechanical parts with our biological bodies, and we are getting closer and closer to robots. As my MIT-professor Marvin Minsky, one of the “fathers” of artificial intelligence, says: “Robots will inherit the Earth, but the robots will be us.” Indeed, it seems that the robots will be us and that we will be the robots of the future.
Humans will reach physical immortality via two fronts: biological replacement and rejuvenation as well as computational uploading and virtual reality. It is still difficult to say which technologies will come first, but both scientific fields are moving ahead very fast.

What is the future of evolution and of human beings?
Since the Big Bang, the universe has been in constant evolution and continuous transformation. First there were physical and chemical processes, then biological evolution, and finally now technological evolution. As we begin to ride the wave into human redesign, the destination is still largely unknown but the opportunities are almost limitless.
Biological evolution continues but it is just too slow to achieve the goals now possible thanks to technological evolution. Natural selection with trial and error can now be substituted by technical selection with engineering design. Humanity's monopoly as the only advanced sentient life form on the planet will soon come to an end, supplemented by a number of posthuman incarnations. Moreover, how we re-engineer ourselves could fundamentally change the ways in which our society functions, and raise crucial questions about our identities and moral status as human beings. Thanks to science and technology, we will transcend our human limitations and become transhumans and posthumans.

Communication and information technologies as well as the mobilization of people revolutionized the 20th century. Where will the major technological shifts be in the 21st century?
Change is not constant, in fact, change is accelerating very fast. The changes of the 20th century will seem like nothing compared to what we will see in the 21st century. Some technologies are radically changing humanity, in general, and also changing human beings, in particular.
Many experts now talk about the four sciences and technologies of the future: NBIC (Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno). Furthermore, the NBIC fields are rapidly converging and they will help to transcend many human limitations and to improve human lives all around the world, and soon beyond Earth as well. In the next few years, humans, transhumans, posthumans, cyborgs, robots and other forms of natural and artificial intelligences (if there can still be a difference) will be leaving our cradle planet to explore the universe.

With today’s ICT everybody can be reached pretty much everywhere 24/7. What will the next improvements be – 5, 20 and 50 years from now?
With the accelerating improvements in ICT, the whole world will soon be completely connected. Not only our computers, but soon our brains too, will all be connected in a continuous real-time interplanetary network. Languages will disappear as an obstacle to communications, and brain-computer interfaces will make telepathy a reality.

What can we look forward to hearing in Lucerne?
We will discuss about the technological singularity as the theoretical future point which takes place during a period of accelerating change sometime after the creation of a super intelligence. Life after the singularity will have nothing to do with reality today. Science fiction will finally become science fact.

José Luis Cordeiro studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, USA, where he received his Master of Science (M.Sc.) degrees in Mechanical Engineering. He later studied International Economics and Comparative Politics at Georgetown University in Washington, USA, and then obtained his Masters of Business Administration (MBA) at the Institut Européen d´Administration des Affaires (INSEAD) in Fontainebleau, France, where he majored in Finance and Globalization.
At present, he is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Developing Economies, IDE - JETRO, in Japan. He is an independent consultant, writer, researcher and professor. He has lectured as an Invited Professor at several major institutions, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and London Business School (LBS) to the Institute for Higher Studies in Administration (IESA) and the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), where he created the first formal courses of Futures Studies (“prospectiva”) and of Austrian School of Economics in Venezuela.
Mr. Cordeiro is founder of the World Future Society (Venezuela Chapter), chair of the Venezuelan Node of the Millennium Project of the World Federation of United Nations Associations.

The Futures of Technologies and the Technologies of the Futures José Luis Cordeiro, Teaching Fellow, Singularity University
Thursday, October 15, 2009; 14.15h
Culture and Convention Centre KKL Luzern