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How to Conduct Future Shock

Lincoln Cannon

24 February 2024

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"Conducting Future Shock" by Lincoln Cannon

After watching a demonstration of Sora, Tyler Perry canceled plans for an $800 million expansion of his movie studio. “It’s shocking to me.”

Sora is an AI that converts text into video. It’s the latest iteration of development from OpenAI, the creators of ChatGPT. If you haven’t yet seen what it can do, take a look at Sora’s demonstration videos. Even for many who aren’t experts in the film industry, who may not intimately know the complexity of the art, it’s shocking.

Referring to the film industry, Perry observed, “I just don’t see how we survive.”

For better and worse, it’s just the beginning. Artificial intelligence will continue to change our world in unprecedented, unexpected, and challenging ways. And the rate of change will probably accelerate, as long as we survive it. Future shock is coming for you.

“Future shock” is a term that was popularized by Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book of the same name. It’s a psychological state of individuals or entire societies that are subject to an overload of rapid social and technological change. Its symptoms can include disorientation, stress, and the straining of social norms. It may feel like being forcefully and relentlessly thrust through change that seems increasingly convoluted.

Future shock is coming for us all, even those of us who are anticipating it. But understanding and anticipating it, and developing strategies to cope with it, can be helpful. To that end, some world views are better positioned than others.

Transhumanism is a cultural movement that advocates for the ethical use of technology to enhance human abilities, potentially extending life, expanding physical capabilities, and accelerating human intelligence. Transhumanists view technology as a means to overcome present human limitations. Singularitarianism, a subset of Transhumanism, specifically focuses on speculation associated with eventual creation of artificial intelligence that exceeds all human capabilities. Known as the Technological Singularity, the emergence of superhuman intelligence is anticipated to thrust humanity into a period of rapid and perhaps uncontrollable change.

Anticipation of future shock is built in to Transhumanist and Singularitarian world views. Turbulent change brought about by technological evolution, as Toffler predicted, is nearly the definition of Transhumanism, or at least an inseparable practical consequence of our aspirations.

But, for Transhumanists, such change isn’t only a source of fear. Of course there can be, and arguably should be, some reasonable amount of fear. After all, Transhumanism is about ethics and not merely technological cheerleading. Rather, turbulent change through technological evolution is also a source of excitement, reinforcing our hope for transcending present limits, improving lives, and potentially even conquering death itself.

Anticipation of future shock is also built in to Mormon world views, particularly in prophecies related to the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. In Mormon theology, the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times refers to the present epoch, when the work of God is accelerating. According to the prophecies, God will restore all the truths and blessings of past epochs, while revealing “many great and important things” to facilitate future epochs. Much like the accelerating change anticipated by Singularitarians, Mormons envision a swift and comprehensive unfolding of God’s work.

Indeed, we can draw specific parallels between Transhumanist ideas and Mormon theology. For example, Joseph Smith’s teachings on eternal progression and human potential to become like God resonate with the Transhumanist vision of self-directed evolution and enhancement. And the millennial era of peace and abundant life, as prophesied in Mormonism, bears striking similarities with Singularitarian hopes for a post-scarcity future, featuring radically improved living conditions and extended life spans.

Perhaps the most striking parallel is the Mormon concept of worlds without end, and the idea of living in a computed reality, as argued by Transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom. Like computer simulations that replicate our world with increasing detail, our mortal life is an emulation of God’s life, designed to help us become like God in both compassionate and creative capacities. That includes the capacity to participate with God in the ongoing creation of worlds without end, the eternal cultivation of creators.

So how can we cope with future shock? Mormon Transhumanism suggests an integration of secular and spiritual adaptations. On the secular side, this involves promoting education and understanding of technological evolution, advocating for ethical development and use of technology, and persistent improvement of socioeconomic systems toward universal distribution of the benefits of technology.

From a spiritual perspective, faith communities like the Mormon Transhumanist Association offer a foundation for interpreting and even operationalizing rapid change in a way that facilitates comfort, inspires hope, and increases our capacity for purposeful action. By incorporating seismic shifts of technological evolution into a well-established ideological framework, we can navigate future shock in a manner that is constructive, productive, and spiritually rewarding.

As our world accelerates toward futures that will be shocking, and sometimes frightening, an ability to reconcile our trajectory with the powerful esthetics of religious tradition may prove to be an antidote to the worst of future shock. Mormon Transhumanism is an invitation to curiosity, speculation, and creation, with courage and compassion. It’s not a map for our journey into the future, but it’s a blueprint, the spiritual creation that precedes the physical.

Not for the passive or fatalistic, Mormon Transhumanism is for those who would terraform that which others may eventually map. It’s for those who would not merely cope, but rather conduct future shock. Mormon Transhumanism is for those who would become Gods, the same as all other Gods have done before.

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