AR Philosophy > Morality Index

Avatar Polymorph

We stand on the threshold of the greatest change in our planet's history, its true birth. With self-directed evolution and full environmental manipulation including through neural instruction we enter a new type of existence.

Extropians and transhumanists favour unlimited growth and unbridled optimism. This is positive in itself. The question is, how can we in the transition period contemplate such enormous changes, intellectually and emotionally? For transhumanists, these are practical issues, for we are aware that most of those humans around us, at the very least, will be part of our lives for immense periods of time. How do we exist in the sorts of worlds postulated by nanotechnology and superscience?

The practicalities of amortality (chosen lifespan) are obviously solvable, as are those of altering the solar system, at least as a crude molecular rearrangement. However the ethical issues involved have not yet been properly addressed.

The first issue involved is how far do we allow intelligence boosting to extend? Do we include all beings with neurological systems? Or simply domestic pets? Or simply human beings, modified or otherwise? Or human beings and AIs? Or just AIs? (I would argue that the nature of self-directed evolution means that no one system, whether "organic" or "inorganic" is either superior, immutable or inflexible. Beings can change from one type of organizational structure to another and back again. Therefore, AIs are not superior to "flesh," as some transhumanists have claimed. The silliness of these definitional boundaries is illustrated by the fact that each cell can contain dozens of supercomputers, brains can contain nanostrands and aspects of a neurological system can be stored in different bodies.)

The second issue is that of the extent of physical space, whether for macro-level organisms or smaller, that is, "virtual" level, organisms. If amortality and children are combined, the solar system is not going to be enough for macro-level organisms, even if it is completely re-engineered at the molecular level.

The third issue is that of the extent of quantum transference of consciousness. If it is possible to proceed with Tiplerian possibilities, is it ethical to "leave behind" "bad" people from any Tiplerian multiversal scenario, as Tipler suggests?

All three ethical issues are interlinked, and even the questions depend on what degree of connection exists between pre-Escalation science and nanotechnology and superscience including Tiplerian abilities. There is also an additional question: do Tiplerian abilities exist now? Tipler, in his book The Physics of Immortality, assumes Earth as the starting point and sole origin of his Omega Point (which is initially driven by nanotechnology).

Let us examine some scenarios.


-- Scenario one:

Only humans and AIs are boosted. This leaves all other species and beings to await a long-term Tiplerian rescue, bearing in mind that nanotechnology can produce organic products. Under this scenario, a non-engineered Earth has 500 million years for other sentient beings to evolve "naturally." Surviving animal species which evolve might or might not be taken in to the immediate fold. After this period Earth has to be preserved, moved or abandoned for human-style inhabitation.

-- Scenario two:

Limited numbers or unlimited numbers of domestic animals are also boosted.

-- Scenario three:

Limited numbers or unlimited numbers of all beings with neurological systems are boosted, that is, all beings with neural tubes/brains, such as ants, bees, birds, cats and humans. This results in the disintegration of animal food chains and their replacement by plant sources, nanotechnologically derived foodstuffs and other solutions related to body modification which can provide energy and materials in different ways. Once boosted, especially in intelligence, beings become self-directed and capable of altering themselves. Major initial input from the booster beings, that is, humans and AIs, would be present for other species. (In this regard, I would argue that the more intelligent a species the greater emotional range it has and the more that it can - potentially - control those emotions. It is highly likely that AIs and boosted humans will have more emotions than humans currently, not less.)


-- Scenario one:

Limitations on children allow a set number of beings to survive in the solar system until the Tiplerian (or Extropian, if you like) effects set in. Numbers would be limited on the macro-level, and greater but finite on the virtual level.

-- Scenario two:

Tiplerian mechanisms could operate now, for example within singularities, and create virtual infinities or constantly-approaching-infinities.

-- Scenario three:

Manipulation of spacetime could allow for finite but constantly expanding physical space within the solar system. Ideally this would allow for zones for conservatives who wished to remain with their own "species."

In addition to these three scenarios, there is also the highly likely possibility that other universes exist and may be accessible (a multiverse).


-- Scenario one:

Leave behind the non-human species and possibly the AIs.

-- Scenario two:

Leave behind the "bad" humans.

-- Scenario three:

Transfer all sentient beings and boost all to the point where they can make decisions. (It is interesting to note that under a Tiplerian end-game - or perhaps beginning-game - the ethical responsibility increases because "rejection" can no longer be justified on the basis of lack of space or lack of resources. The only justifications for inaction left is that either boosting itself is "unnatural" or else that ants or bees are somehow morally "unworthy". These two opinions are not based on science, which holds that other species have abilities, consciousness and feelings, but on certain religious notions of an external monotheistic Judeo-Christian-Islamic God. Boosting is arguably more ethical than animal slavery, animal killing and animal breeding.)

In order to ensure that free will remains in an era of high level ability it is necessary to understand that those who choose to die are ethically entitled to do so and that if "bad" people are provided with continued existence a protective mechanism is put in place. In other words a universal protective shielding mechanism must be advocated to allow those requesting assistance from violence to survive unharmed. As a corollary, in order to allow free will those who consent to live within a system involving force must be allowed to do so. In an era of high levels of ability including sensory abilities and neural communication this becomes possible. A further corollary of this is the notion that the only monitoring of internal thoughts that should occur is that required for "automatic" activation of the protective shielding mechanism.

The notions above lead to an interactive system of stability and fairness. The better the physical options immediately available, the wider the "net" of transhumanism can be cast and a world of maximum choice and minimum force can be created.


The solar system after the Escalation (or Spike or Singularity) in the near future is not a "single organism". The gravest mistake of simplistic thinkers is to extrapolate from cells to solar system, to regard the solar system in the future as one "organism". This is not Gaian thinking in its scientific sense. Although solar-wide neurological and mimetic "systems" and "beings" will undoubtedly exist, cells (as currently defined) have no neurological structure. Individual neurological systems, whether AIs or group minds or humans, should be considered morally as independent beings and never be forced into amalgamations. There will always be those who wish to be conservative or separate and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this. The only proviso for allowed behaviour is that force should only ever operate with consent. Just as in western societies today, human sacrifice is prohibited but religious tolerance is usually observed, in the future conservatism should be allowed but such activities as animal killing, child bashing or torture should only be permitted where the victims have consented (and, in the case of immature beings, consent can only be provided after adulthood). Again, these understandings will lead to stability for societies or groups often made up of individuals who will be living for billenia and more.

Another key point to consider in the transition period is the word "natural". We have to begin to consider plants to be like macro level viruses (i.e. only "semi" alive) unless a neurological system has been inserted into them. If the animal foodchain disintegrates (leaving the plant foodchain) then the "natural" world has to be re-engineered (by us). This can include such things as insertion of non-dying plants and "synthetic" movement-creatures (for example, some akin to "flying plants").

A final minor point to consider within the transition period is the process of ageing. For three and a half centuries Westerners have lived in a world were human ageing occurs for two to three times longer than was ever the case in the millions of years of human development. The 30 year lifespan has been our formerly "natural" condition - a world sometimes brutal but full of youth and energy. The commentators who bewail criticism of the "fat and old" and attack the "cult of youth" are protesting against hundreds of thousands of years of social programming. When older people have the ability to look young again it is highly likely that most who choose to do so will oscillate in appearance between 7 and 40. (It is interesting to note that ageing as a child does not denote "decay" but firstly "growth" and briefly "stability".)


There are three jump points on the road to the Techno-Rapture, the post-Escalation (or post-Spike or Singularity) period. The first is around 2015, when genetic therapies and primitive intra-cellular nanotechnology will allow for youthful appearance and near-perfect health. The second is around 2020 when self-reproducing intelligent nanotechnology boosted by developments in AI will allow for full-scale nanotechnological development. This period will be marked by instant "space colonies," space towers and the like. The last point is the Escalation itself, around 2027 in the Christian calendar, driven by AI and, in all probability, contact with existent systems of sentiency beyond Earth.


The best situation ethically will be one where the physical substratum is the best possible. Such a world (apparently quite contradictory to the intense but still limited world of 2001) would encompass:

-- amortality (i.e. immortality, mortality or "wait and see how I feel later")
-- extension of physical space as far as required (this can still be finite even if ever-increasing)
-- teleportation
-- quantum transference of consciousness at the moment of any apparent death
-- amortality offered to all sentient beings
-- consent as a requirement for action and interaction
-- maximum choice
-- protection against non-consensual force
-- high levels of ability and self-modification and communication where chosen
-- travel to other universes

This world is not one of perfection according to one ideal. It is a set of rules which enable social adventures to occur, where the past and future can be consensually explored. Groups can retire together in isolation or conservatism or can reach out to one another. Some individuals will be annoyed by the notion of lack of non-consensual force. Others will be annoyed because people will withhold consent. This world is not one where "unrequited love" is returned. That is not a physical problem but an emotional one. Ethically, the choice of one person cannot be enhanced by depriving another person of their consent. The ethical rules of superscience are not the ethical rules of mortality, including within the transition period. Indeed, their strangeness to most of those within the zone of transition will ensure that their adoption will occur only near the point of acceleration of the Escalation and afterwards. For example, the bio-ethicist Peter Singer argues in favour of the ethicality of killing deformed babies without taking into account medical abilities in a decade from now - even while hospitals issue press releases stating their belief that (more) organ replacements will be able to grown from the recipients' own cells within ten years. Peter Singer is not only arguing "mortal ethics," he is arguing ethics based on the Social Darwinism of the 1920s - that is, he has not understood the nature of self-directed evolution and our release from the vagaries of mutation through the odd cosmic ray.

Finally, the best position physically and ethically would be that this coming world exists now, outside of both Earth (which has not been interfered with to this point) and, logically, the many other worlds with developing pre-Escalation life.

Again, these understandings will lead to stability for societies or groups often made up of individuals who will be living for millennia and more.

Views on these issues are contained in:
Damien Broderick, The Spike and The Last Mortal Generation
Books by Frank Tipler and Eric Drexler
Extropy magazine
Foresight Institute website
Transhumanist websites and books
The spiritual message of Avatar Polymorph can be found at