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A Timeline of Transhumanism: 1906 to 2015

transhumanism transhuman cybernetics robotics history 1900s human augmentation cosmism extropians humans

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#1
Yuli Ban

Yuli Ban

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A Timeline of Transhumanism

 

  • 1906  
    Nikolai Fyodorov establishes Russian cosmism, a spiritual belief system and precursor to transhumanism which advocates for physical immortality, space exploration, and resurrecting the dead through science.
  • 1923  
    British scientist and Marxist J. B. S. Haldane publishes Daedalus; or, Science and the Future which offers an early vision of transhumanist thought, particularly concerned with the ethical implications of the advancement of science.
  • 1929  
    British scientist John Desmond Bernal publishes The World, the Flesh and the Devil, introducing ideas central to transhumanism including liveable space habitats, and the future changes science could bring to human intelligence and physicality.
  • 1931  
    Amazing Stories publishes "The Jameson Satellite," a short story by Neil R. Jones, about a man whose corpse is sent into orbit, where it remains near absolute zero for millions of years until a race of cyborgs discovers it, defrosts its brain, and installs it in a robot's body.
  • 1948  
    Inspired by "The Jameson Satellite" cryonics founder Robert Ettinger publishes his short story "The Penultimate Trump," in Startling Stories. In it, Ettinger proposes cryonics as "one-way medical time travel to the future."
  • 1951  
    Noted eugenicist and evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley coins the term "transhumanism" at a lecture delivered in Washington titled Knowledge, Morality and Destiny. Huxley describes his philosophy as "the idea of humanity attempting to overcome its limitations and to arrive at fuller fruition."
  • 1954  
    Jerry Sohl publishes his sci-fi story "The Altered Ego," in which a man is able to make a digital duplicate of his mind and access it after his death. This marks the first appearance of mind-uploading in fiction.
  • 1959  
    Physicist Richard P. Feynman presents the lecture, There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom, suggesting the possibility of the manipulation of atoms in synthetic chemistry. The lecture will later inspire the field of nanotechnology.
  • 1964  
    Robert Ettinger publishes "The Prospect of Immortality," a manifesto for cryonics. A small number of cryonics societies are established across the US.
  • 1965  
    Cryptographer and computer scientist Irving John Good publishes "Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine," the first proposal for a possible future intelligence explosion in machine learning.
  • 1967  
    Philosopher Harry Overstreet make the first mention "extropy" — the attempt to counteract the natural law of entropy — in a 1967 volume of the journal, Physis.
  • 1967  
    The first person is cryogenically frozen at the Cryonics Society of California by the society's president — Robert Nelson, a television repairman. The operation was ultimately deemed unsuccessful and Nelson's clients were "lost."

....and so on to 2015.

 

Courtesy of the Verge! 

 

Now for my comment: everyone on this forum already knows I have unusual tastes, and one of those is an adoration of futurism in olden times. Up to the 1750s or so, simply believing the future would be any different or better than the past was enough to be labeled a "futurist" or "utopianist" in modern terms. By the early 1900s, most of modern futurism was already established. Thanks to Jules Verne, space exploration was considered to be a hot topic among futurists as far back as the late 1800s (it sounds strange to our ears, but some scientists were taking seriously the consideration of putting men on the moon as far back as the 1890s). While robotics as we think of it didn't come into view until the 1920s, the ideal of a highly mechanized society was considered to be part of a "high tech" future in the 1800s as well. Steampunk's fascination with a hyper-mechanized 19th century didn't appear out of thin air, after all.

 

But it really wasn't until the mid-1900s that we started to consider the possibility of using technology to directly alter the human body in any large way, though the first inklings of these beliefs date back to very early in the century. It's odd to think about proto-transhumanists from before the first World War simply because we know they're doomed by time. That might be why I love thinking about and imagining the past from the perspective of a 21st century person— even if you believed wholeheartedly in future progress and great things and actively worked to bring them about, if you were my age in 1906, you simply were not going to live long enough to see the truly transcendental stuff. There was absolutely no doubt about this. The only way you could ever believe you would live longer than your natural expiration date was through alchemical magic. 

Whereas it feels a bit more up-in-the-air for this generation, and it's astounding to think we're actually at such a point where we are seriously having debates about curing death. Even if the technology for it escapes us at the moment, things are becoming so out of control that no one can say with 100% certainty that we won't still lack the technology 100, 50, 30, perhaps even 20 years from now. If you try saying so, you're either just too religious or conservative to believe that any other possibility could ever be possible, ignorant to all the advancements happening in biological science, or just making a judgment call due to not knowing either way since there's still a ways to go.

This was never the case before in human history. At no point in our 100,000+ year history as a species have we ever been able to say "we will cure death" and actually have the means of doing so. This despite it being very common in our 100,000+ year history as a species for us to say "we will cure death". Before the present, it's always been through magical means. Things like the Fountain of Youth or other elixirs of life, getting the favor of the gods, dealing with the devil, reincarnation, etc. were our mythological means of attaining physical immortality. And, as far as we know, none have ever worked for obvious reasons. 

 

Yet starting early last century, we came to realize there may actually be a way...


  • Casey, Erowind, BasilBerylium and 1 other like this

And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.


#2
funkervogt

funkervogt

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Here are more milestones for possible inclusion in your list:

 

  • 1872
    Inspired by the recent publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species and by the rapid industrialization he observed in his native England over his lifetime, author Samuel Butler publishes Erewhon, a sci-fi novel about a futuristic society. That society has banned machines because it recognized that they were evolving much faster than humans, and might attain consciousness and become smarter than humans.  
     
  • 1886
    French author Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam publishes a sci-fi novel, The Future Eve, in which a fictionalized Thomas Edison creates a female robot for a wealthy friend. The book marks the first modern use of "android" to refer to human-looking robots, introduced the concept of sexbots, and explored the notion the humans and machines are, at a basic level, the same things, and that advanced machines might have souls or display emergent properties in their thinking and behavior. 
     
  • 1920
    Against the backdrop of Russia's Bolshevik Revolution and attempted communist revolutions elsewhere in Europe, Czech author Karel Capek writes the science fiction play Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots). It invented the word "robot," introduced the concept of mass technological unemployment, and of machines initially created to serve humans overthrowing their masters. 
     
  • 1966
    Scientist John von Neumann's remaining theories are posthumously published as the Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata. Among other insights, he mathematically proves that, once machines reach a certain level of complexity, they will be able to make perfect copies of themselves and to improve themselves through directed evolution. He shows that the ability to reproduce and evolve will not stay restricted to biological organisms. 
     
  • 1974
    Dr. George E. Palade wins the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work using electron microscopy to identify and characterize cell organelles. Among those were ribosomes, which are organic nanomachines and serve as proof of concept that nanometer-scale machines that perform useful, guided operations can exist. 
     
  • 2016
    The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart, and Bernard L. Feringa for their work inventing the first synthetic nanomachines

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Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: transhumanism, transhuman, cybernetics, robotics, history, 1900s, human augmentation, cosmism, extropians, humans

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