Every day comes more news of the devastating consequences of climate change: floods and fires, droughts and rising sea levels, forced migrations and extinctions. Almost as frequent now are headlines about the potential benefits and harms of artificial intelligence: maybe it will cure cancer and Alzheimer’s, or maybe it will first replace us at work and then enslave us. On the surface, these two topics seem unrelated, but they both stir up deep anxieties about the long-term future of humanity. Not everyone, though, is anxious about the prospect of a future without us. Some radical environmentalists believe that the earth would be better off if the human race went extinct, while transhumanists promise that AI will soon replace our frail organic brains and transmit what is most valuable about humanity—our rationality—to the farthest reaches of the universe. The radical environmentalists condemn technology; the transhumanists embrace it. But despite their obvious differences, the two groups agree in welcoming the end of humanity’s reign. Or so argues Adam Kirsch in The Revolt Against Humanity: Imagining a Future Without Us. We asked four writers—two theologians (Gilbert Meilaender and John F. Haught), a philosopher (Nolen Gertz), and an expert on the law of artificial intelligence (Frank Pasquale)—to discuss the developments Kirsch describes. Should we be worried about a posthuman future, and if so, why? Do Christianity, humanism, or democracy have the resources to resist either the radical misanthropy of what Kirsch calls “Anthropocene antihumanism” or the siren song of techno-utopians?
All the illustrations for this symposium in print, including the cover image, were generated by artificial intelligence. They exhibit some of the strengths that appeal to transhumanists: the ability to quickly illustrate concepts like “a world where humans are no longer physically present.” But they also demonstrate some of AI’s weaknesses: because it is not, in fact, human, the AI image generator made bizarre mistakes no real illustrator would make—a bird’s wing morphing into a moss-covered line, a seagull-eagle hybrid, neatly pruned trees in a world without gardeners. The images, though serviceable and suggestive, are also cautionary examples of what we lose when we replace the human hand, eye, and mind with AI.
To view the full collection of articles together, click here. To access the free discussion guide we've developed for this symposium, click here. To listen to Senior Editor Matthew Boudway discuss the book with the author on the Commonweal Podcast, listen below or click here.