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Beyond our ‘ape-brained meat sacks’: can transhumanism save our species? | Australian books

Ageing cured. Death conquered. Work ended. The human brain reverse-engineered by AI. Babies born outside of the womb. Virtual children, non-human partners. The future of humanity could be virtually unrecognisable by the end of the 21st century, according to Elise Bohan – and that’s if we get the transition right. If we get it wrong, well.

“The future is wildly scary,” says the young philosopher-macrohistorian-futurist with a smile. “I can’t lie to you about that. In ten years time it’s all going to look pretty different, and in another ten years that’s a total event horizon for me … I think it’s eminently plausible at that point that the game has changed in some very fundamental way, whether for good or bad.”

Bohan, 31, is speaking from a sunny Mosman apartment, where she is house-sitting and looking after the plants. It’s a distance away from the Hawkesbury river on the outskirts of Sydney where she grew up; a place with pretty spots but where it was tough to be a smart kid. And it is a half world away from Oxford University where she forms part of the Future of Humanity Institute.

She’s in Sydney seeing family and promoting her new book Future Superhuman: Our Transhuman Lives in a Make-or-Break Century. The subtitle isn’t a gambit. “I believe that,” she says. “We are in the century that defines the future of humanity like no other.”

Transhumanism is a movement that aims to address – or end – what Bohan calls the “tragedies of reality”: ageing, sickness and involuntary death. It is, she writes, “a philosophy and a project that aims to make us more than human”.

Whether we recognise or understand it, that project has already begun, she says, and it will transform our world – and minds and bodies – within our lifetimes. Not only is it happening, she says, but this transition is necessary if humanity is to survive in perpetuity.

Elise Bohan.
Elise Bohan says her new book is a ‘love letter to humanity’. Photograph: Jessica Hromas

For Bohan, it is no great to leap to imagine that a baby born in 2030 may have its entire genome mapped at birth, that data uploaded to a central health record and cross-referenced at any medical appointment throughout its life. It is no great stretch to think that AI will become the most powerful intellectual force of the century. That human consciousness might be transferred from our “meat sacks” (bodies) into a technological sphere. That the rise of AI and automation might render great swathes of human labour redundant, and that maybe – if we get it right – that could leave more time for leisure, big thinking, meditation, connection.

Experiments are already underway in the realm of artificial wombs, and Bohan is sure – when viable – women will be “clamouring” to be freed from the shackles of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.

The book, she writes, is a “love letter to humanity”, but hers is a “tough love”. A love which sees a future for humanity, but not necessarily for human beings as we know it.

‘We love, we lose, we die’

When Bohan first encountered transhumanism, at around the age of 21, her first reaction was, “It’s crazy. It’s science fiction. It’s so far out. How weird,” she says. “But also – how interesting.”

Her brother had bounded down the stairs and insisted they watch the documentary Transcendent Man, about godfather of transhumanism Ray Kurzweil. He thought they’d find it hilarious – “which we did” – but it introduced Bohan to the idea of rapid acceleration of growth in computer technology, technological singularity (the theoretical point at which the force of technological change becomes out of human control and can shape human civilisation), and the idea that there was a future for humanity beyond what she calls our “ape-brained meat sacks”.

At the time she was an English literature undergrad, obsessed with poetry and the written word.

“It was a point of sadness for me as a young person, recognising that there were so many wonderful things that had already been written – forgetting all the things that would be written in the future – that I would never live long enough to encounter, to explore, and to put all these things together,” she says.

Fiction began to bore her as her interest in transhumanism increased. If fiction was all about exploring the human experience, it became evident that there was a tragic repetition. “We work, we learn, we love, we lose, we die,” she writes. Transhumanism offered something better.

Elise Bohan.
Elise Bohan. Photograph: Jessica Hromas

By the age of 28, she had written the world’s first book-length history of transhumanism for her PhD. It’s ironic, she says, to have cleaved to this – she’s always had an aversion to “isms”. They have a “ring of cult-like fascination” to them.

‘We’re building God, you know?’

Transhumanism is perhaps best known for preoccupation with achieving human immortality. A deathless life, however, is a confronting concept. As scarcity determines value, does not the fact that our time on earth is finite give that time its value? What exactly is tragic about death?

“For me, it is the loss of everything that matters. It’s a loss of all things of value,” she says.

On the contrary, she says, “if humans could go on in a state of robust health, could keep learning, you’d have this cumulative effect where our experiences and knowledge would accumulate much faster. The things that our species could do with that! The mysteries of the universe that we could unlock. The problems we could solve. And the depths of each others souls that we could explore.”

Souls, she admits, is a loaded word. But without an alternative vocabulary for what makes consciousness, she is not averse to using spiritual language.

“Is transhumanism encroaching on domains that religion has traditionally held? I think yes.”

When Bohan was a PhD student, she gave her first big paper at a conference. Afterwards, a biologist came up to her and congratulated her on her work.

“Then he looked me in the eye and whispered to me: ‘We’re building God, you know,’” she chuckles. “I looked back at him and I said: ‘Yeah, I know.’”

They knew they didn’t mean it as religion, she says. “But a lot of what has been talked about in religion – omniscience, omnipotence, hopefully omni-benevolence – we are at least getting closer to that all seeing, all knowing, all exploring [force].”

Who controls that force or those forces is, of course, a critical question. The early 21st century’s rapid growth in technology has seen power and wealth accumulate and concentrate among a small number of predominantly white men. A criticism levelled at transhumanists is that they never quite stopped clinging to the sci-fi that fascinated them as young boys.

“There is a degree to which many of them probably still are little boy fantasists,” says Bohan. “But they happen to be very, very clever little boy fantasists who also have engineering degrees and are very capable at building reusable rockets and what have you. I don’t think we can dismiss the real tangible, species-advancing projects they’re actually at the helm of.”

Regulating technology during this transhuman transition, argues Bohan, is not a good idea.

“All things being equal, would I rather a politician or cluster politicians ruling the nuclear powers of the nation states, or would I rather someone with a PhD from MIT who’s really really smart and understands the technological systems as best as a human being can?” she asks. “I’d rather it be the tech geek.”

“But that said, I’d rather it not be a human at all.” A technological solution to regulation would free decision-making from human biases, short-termism and tribalism – if done right, she says. “It might not go like that.”

Elise Bohan
Elise Bohan: ‘2100 … I think we’re going to be much farther ahead in the game.’ Photograph: Jessica Hromas

Best case, worst case

The worst case scenario she imagines sounds drawn from the pages of science fiction dystopias. A future where ruling AI does not share the values of human beings, nor value human beings at all.

The best case scenario for the end of the century? Bohan fully expects to still be alive (she’d be 110). “My honest answer is that I think the best case scenario is that by the end of the century… humans are done. But humanity is not done, right? So intelligence goes on,” she says.

There is a utopianism associated with that ideal of just being incredibly intelligent, being able to see farther than any intelligent human being has ever seen, to know more, to experience more, to feel more, to discover more.”

Future Superhuman by Elise Bohan front cover

But this imagining, she has come to believe, is beyond the capacity of most mortals. For them, there are the Cliff’s Notes.

“I think the comfortable version is: we have really good health care and everyone’s rich. And there’s lots of equality,” she laughs.

“But, 2100 – I don’t think that’s where we’re going to be. I think we’re going to be much farther ahead in the game.”

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Culture

Top 10 Florida Cities Dominate The Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

Top 10 Florida Cities And Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

The Voice Of EU | Florida emerges as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors, with its vibrant business landscape and conducive environment for startups. Renowned for its low corporate tax rates and a high concentration of investors, the Sunshine State beckons aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fertile grounds to launch and grow their businesses.

In a recent report by WalletHub, Florida cities dominate the list of the top 10 best destinations for business startups, showcasing their resilience and economic vitality amidst challenging times.

From Orlando’s thriving market to Miami’s dynamic ecosystem, each city offers unique advantages and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Let’s delve into the chronologically listed cities that exemplify Florida’s prominence in the business startup arena.

1. Orlando Leads the Way: Orlando emerges as the most attractive market in the U.S. for business startups, with a remarkable surge in small business establishments. WalletHub’s latest report highlights Orlando’s robust ecosystem, fostering the survival and growth of startups, buoyed by a high concentration of investors per capita.

2. Tampa Takes Second Place: Securing the second spot among large cities for business startups, Tampa boasts a favorable business environment attributed to its low corporate tax rates. The city’s ample investor presence further fortifies startups, providing essential resources for navigating the initial years of business operations.

3. Charlotte’s Diverse Industries: Claiming the third position, Charlotte stands out for its diverse industrial landscape and exceptionally low corporate taxes, enticing companies to reinvest capital. This conducive environment propels entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to sustained economic growth.

4. Jacksonville’s Rising Profile: Jacksonville emerges as a promising destination for startups, bolstered by its favorable business climate. The city’s strategic positioning fosters entrepreneurial ventures, attracting aspiring business owners seeking growth opportunities.

5. Miami’s Entrepreneurial Hub: Miami solidifies its position as a thriving entrepreneurial hub, attracting businesses with its dynamic ecosystem and strategic location. The city’s vibrant startup culture and supportive infrastructure make it an appealing destination for ventures of all sizes.

6. Atlanta’s Economic Momentum: Atlanta’s ascent in the business startup landscape underscores its economic momentum and favorable business conditions. The city’s strategic advantages and conducive policies provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures to flourish.

7. Fort Worth’s Business-Friendly Environment: Fort Worth emerges as a prime destination for startups, offering a business-friendly environment characterized by low corporate taxes. The city’s supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives facilitate the growth and success of new ventures.

8. Austin’s Innovation Hub: Austin cements its status as an innovation hub, attracting startups with its vibrant entrepreneurial community and progressive policies. The city’s robust infrastructure and access to capital foster a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

9. Durham’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Scene: Durham’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene positions it as a promising destination for startups, fueled by its supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives. The city’s collaborative culture and access to resources contribute to the success of new ventures.

10. St. Petersburg’s Thriving Business Community: St. Petersburg rounds off the top 10 with its thriving business community and supportive ecosystem for startups. The city’s strategic advantages and favorable business climate make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and high inflation, these top Florida cities remain resilient and well-equipped to overcome obstacles, offering promising opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs alike.


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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.


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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.


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