The Transhumanist Pipe Dream of a ‘Zero-Cost’ Future
“What is possible is speeding up at such an accelerating rate is that it’s challenging our sense of stability…. We’re rapidly moving toward a world in which the things we need… are rapidly trending toward zero cost.”
So says Peter Diamandis, speaking to a group at Singularity University, where he is executive chairman and co-founder. He sees a day when every basic human need will be so freely abundant, so cheap, so easy to acquire, it will be as if it were free. And when that happens, who needs money?
What is Singularity University, you ask? You can explore its web page to find out, but one good place to start is with its transhumanist beliefs. For example, that “leveraging the convergence of exponential technologies will set us on the path to solve our global grand challenges and shift from an era of scarcity to abundance.” Also, as they as they move closer to their grand mission, they believe they’ll help “usher in, quite literally, a massive transformation for humanity.”
Zero cost for the things we need would certainly mean massive change. In this video Diamandis explains why he thinks it’s can happen. Following the video I’ll explain why I think it’s a pipe dream at best, dangerous at worst.
Transhumanism’s Missing Human Factor
He makes some good points. The most impressive one has to do with the power of your smart phone. What it can do for almost zero marginal cost would have cost millions of dollars using 1960s-era technology. Video conferencing alone was beyond imagining for all but the wealthiest until recently.
And there may be good reasons to think energy, food, travel, medical and other costs will go down almost the same. I don’t know. There’s a telling moment where he says smart phones will become free for everyone in the world who doesn’t have one now, because “How else can people sell them things?” That doesn’t fit too well with his idea that we’re moving beyond capitalism.
But let’s suppose he’s right, just for the sake of argument. There’s still something crucial missing: the human factor.
For Singularity University was founded (by Diamandis and the more prominent Ray Kurzweil) to promote a movement called Transhumanism. The movement is defined by the Oxford Dictionaries as “the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology.”
Wikipedia (which is likely a good enough source on this topic) tells us, “The most common transhumanist thesis is that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into different beings with abilities so greatly expanded from the current condition as to merit the label of posthuman beings.”
In other words, humans aren’t the crown of creation, created in God’s image for His glory. We’re just today’s snapshot in the long course of evolution toward something far grander and far better. That’s mistaken to start with. But there are at least five reasons the world’s basic needs won’t become free of cost:
A Cost-Free Society Isn’t Possible No Matter How Great Our Abundance
Material abundance isn’t what being human is about.
- Our “basic needs” are ever expanding. Who needed unlimited text messaging fifteen years ago? No one. Who needs it now? Every teenager in the Western world. The chase to supply every person’s “basic” needs will never end, for the “needs” keep changing. The entire world is richer now by far than we were even a hundred years ago. Yet we still feel we need more. Much more.
- Power and prestige will never be equal; therefore prosperity will never be universal. The great humanitarian tragedies of the past hundred years (at least) have hardly ever been the result of natural disasters. They’ve been caused by proud men warring. Or by powerful men hoarding for themselves, denying goods to the people they control. North Korean and Venezuelan poverty are obvious examples today. The same has also been the case for most African famine of late.
- Material abundance doesn’t produce moral greatness. Are the richest men and women on earth dependably the most moral? ‘Nuff said.
- Material abundance isn’t what being human is about, anyway. Material sufficiency is important, no doubt. Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” has some (limited) truth to it. But it doesn’t capture all of life.
- The spiritual dimension is utterly missing. I suppose Diamandis and Kurzweil would call it “spiritual” enough to have a sense of “awe at the universe.” If, however, there is indeed a God (as I’m convinced is the case), He would call that idolatry, not spirituality.
“Who is the LORD?”
The wisdom of Proverbs 30:8-9 is still wise, for spiritual and moral fault can come through either too little or too much:
Give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the LORD?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.
Diamandis is saying, in effect, “Who is the LORD?” One day he will find out. Let us pray it is sooner rather than later.