Jeffrey Epstein & Transhumanism

In November 2018, journalist Julie Brown of the Miami Herald published an important three-part report called “Perversion of Justice,” describing the case of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.  Brown’s reporting strongly indicates that Epstein’s punishment appeared relatively small when compared to the crimes that were actually committed.  The report, in part, led to further examination of the case and a recent indictment by the Southern District of New York.  Eventually the Secretary of Labor, Alex Acosta, resigned his cabinet position over questions about his role as a prosecutor in the case a decade earlier.

If the account of the crimes isn’t horrific enough, the New York Times reported last week that Epstein used his wealth to speak to prominent scientists about his goal to spread his DNA world-wide through impregnating groups of women at his New Mexico ranch.  In what reads like a creepy sci-fi novel, the articlereports: “Mr. Epstein’s vision reflected his longstanding fascination with what has become known as transhumanism: the science of improving the human population through technologies like genetic engineering and artificial intelligence.  Critics have likened transhumanism to a modern-day version of eugenics, the discredited field of improving the human race through controlled breeding.”

Epstein used his wealth and influence to ingratiate himself to the scientific community, according to the Times.  Prominent attorney Alan Dershowitz is quoted in the article: “Everyone speculated about whether these scientists were more interested in his views or more interested in his money.” Not surprisingly, several of the scientists contacted by the Times had a less than positive view of Epstein’s scientific musings.

One of the appeals of transhumanism is its goal to make humanity better through technology.  Living easily past 100 without all of the ailments of old age seems like a worthy goal. However, as is often the case, technology runs ahead of morality.  In Jeffrey Epstein’s case, it contradicts our understanding of basic human rights to think that the future belongs solely to amoral billionaires and the scientists they enlist in their causes.

Cyber Life After Death

In The New Yorker this week Laura Parker reports on a new internet start-up that has a technological solution to a vexing old problem: mortality. Eterni.me has the tagline in huge font on its site, “Simply Become Immortal.” The CEO, Marius Ursache, says he is trying to solve the “incredibly challenging problem of humanity.”

Transhumanists like Ray Kurzweil have been arguing for a while now that it is our unique arrangement of information that makes us human—not anything to do with flesh, or emotions, or spirit, per se. Therefore if you capture those data sets and upload them, then “you” could “live” forever. The Transhumanists are more hopeful that artificial intelligence would allow the sine qua non of sentience to emerge from the machines into which our data becomes hard-wired. This Eterni.me website really only strives to maintain your “digital footprints” and through a scanned 3D avatar present a facsimile of you to those whom you choose. For example, Facebook posts, timelines, Twitter feeds , Instagram posts, and emails are all collated, and then they are “taught” to interact with your loved ones after you pass on. Not quite as nefarious a project as the Transhumanists have in mind. Think of the hologram of Princess Leia popping out of R2D2 in Star Wars, “Help us Obi-Wan Kenobi, you are our only hope.” An image with historical content meant to remind those you left behind of your absence.

This is clearly the next logical step as more and more of our relationships are limited to a virtual realm, and authentic face-to-face encounters are becoming almost quaint. Theologically, this is just a further expression of St. Augustine’s homo incurvatus in se, or humankind’s turning in toward itself rather than looking to God for salvation. It’s a classic expression for our times: a technological solution trading on our narcissistic concern that we all die and will be forgotten, utilizing our curated and projected “self-image” as portrayed online, and sent to haunt those whom we choose. While it is a little bit creepy, it is more of a barometer for the state of human affairs as we continue the secular search for meaning beyond death.