Are You Ready to Become a Cyborg?

Dan Forbush
Dan Forbush
Last updated 


February 20, 2022

UU TransHumanists invite UU congregations nationally to join the conversation about AI and the human.  Following is the script of a service we're happy to share and, if you'd like, host in Zoom with you. 

Dan Forbush, UU Saratoga,
Ron Roth, UU Boca Raton,

"Second Wind"
Dan Berggren

"Is the acorn better than the oak which is its fulness and completion? Is the parent better than the child into whom he has cast his ripened being? Whence, then, this worship of the past? The centuries are conspirators against the sanity and authority of the soul."Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841
"Self Reliance" in

"It is the celebration of this miracle of human intelligence that is the core of our humanist creed, that is the common root between the two belief systems of transhumanism and Unitarian Universalism." James Hughes, 2005
"Transhumanism and Unitarian Universalism: Beginning the Dialog"

To the UU Congregation of Manchester, Connecticut

"Technological advances are racing ahead of any individual’s grasp, computing power is growing exponentially, beyond our wildest dreams. The growth has a drumbeat of inevitability, marching toward a future we can’t begin to fathom. It feels as if it’s being driven by something beyond us. On a spiritual level, this is worth paying attention to."Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons, 2019
"God as Singularity"
To the First Unitarian Congregationalist Society of Brooklyn 


Good morning, everyone, North and South. A special welcome to our new friends in Saratoga Springs. As you can see, we're doing a hybrid service that enables us simultaneously to stay safe and enjoy the sunshine outdoors. I'm Ron Roth, a member of both UU Boca Raton and AI and Faith.

DAN FORBUSH: And I'm Dan Forbush, with UU Saratoga and also a member of AI and Faith, which we describe as a new community of ethicists, philosophers, theologians, and AI engineers who are working together to ensure that the transformative power of AI is developed in a way that respects fundamental human values of dignity and justice. As UUs, Ron and I want to see AI developed in accord with our Seven Principles and so we've launched a new web platform at AI and the Human to support this conversation in UU congregations across the country, naturally starting with our own.

RON: As an expression of our hope to generate new insights and realizations on this journey, we now light our chalice.

DAN: May our chalice flame consume our regrets for the past, our fears about the future, and our worries about today. May it light for us a path of joy and peace.


REV. HARRIS RIORDAN: It's a pleasure to welcome you all. If Unitarian Universalism is new to you, we can explain it briefly as a faith in which all mutually support one other in our search for meaning and truth. No creed is imposed on us. We think for ourselves, so it's not surprising that we can count among our members many independent and innovative thinkers.

Such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller and Elizabeth Palmer Peabody.  We met them in high school as Transcendentalists. No one ever told us they were Unitarians -- but they were and they had a profound influence on the development of our faith.

The Transcendentalists stood for the Voluntary Principle. They believed their churches should be governed by the people who joined its covenant, contributing whatever they're able.

They also stood for the Social Principle. That meant they considered themselves to be free to meet between services and discuss anything they chose. They could educate each other on the issues and mobilize for the social good, such as establishing a home for women who were fleeing domestic abuse. Way back in the 1840s, they were looking around, asking, "Who's doing this important work?" Nobody was, so they did.

DAN: Times have changed. We've seen nearly 200 years of scientific and technological progress, and so now in UUism we have our great TransHumanists, including:
  • Ray Kurzweil, who’s developing new technologies at Google and is the thinker most credited with envisioning the Singularity, the moment in time at which our machines take control of their own evolution; 
  • James Hughes, the former chief of the World TransHumanist Association and now head of a "technoprogressive" TransHumanist think tank at headquartered at UMass Boston. 
  • Steve Fuller, author of Humanity 2.0 and director of Humanity-Plus, the new name that the World Transhumanist Association has adopted for itself. 
These are smart people with a firm grounding in science and a keen ability to look down the road and see what’s coming. Let’s listen to what they’re saying and start seriously discussing the future of AI and the way it’s integrating with us via the brain/computer interface.

James Hughes is best known for the book he published in 2004 titled Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future.

Hughes made this prediction: 

"The political terrain of the twenty-first century will add a new dimension -- biopolitics. At one end of the biopolitical spectrum are the bioLuddites, defending humanity from enhancement technologies, and at the other the transhumanists, advocating for our right to become more than human. Since biopolitics cuts across existing political lines, it creates very odd coalitions. Either side can win public support, depending on these coalitions and the lines they draw."

RON: Hughes goes on to pose this question: 

Are transhumanist enhancement technologies a threat to humanity and democracy and therefore should be banned? Or must we defend our rights to use reason and science to improve the human condition, to control our own bodies, and to create a TransHuman democracy safe for an increasing variety of citizens?

We must decide the direction in which humanity evolves. AI is out of the labs and working its way into our minds in profound ways. See how attached we are already to our phones. Elon Musk aims to put the algorithmic power of a million iPhones directly into our brains. He says he'll have a whole-brain interface with AI by 2045 right about the time our grandchildren are entering their 30s.

Are you ready to become a cyborg? And, if so, what kind cyborg? With what capabilities? With what limitations? With what rights? With what liberties?

It's time we all ask such questions, of ourselves and of others. As UU Transhumanists, our goal in alliance with AI and Faith is to bring them to the forefront nationally of UU discussion and thought.


DAN: In a remarkable 2005 sermon, James Hughes called on Unitarian Universalism to be a shelter for refugees from more rigid faiths shaken by the transformation of the human into new forms. 

"The celebration of the miracle of human intelligence is at the core of our humanist creed," he said, "and it's the common root between the two belief systems of transhumanism and Unitarian Universalism."

He continued: 

"We Unitarian Universalists have a unique understanding that humanity is called to be a co-Creator of our own future. We see no bright shining line drawn by God that proscribes the limits of our creativity. As a species, we can transcend ourselves." 

"This desire to transcend the human condition is one of the most fundamental spiritual drives we know. We are hard-wired to seek out dances and chants, sweat lodges and fasts, fermented berries and bitter mushrooms, that scramble our routine modes of perception. Since the invention of symbolic culture we have been praying, making offerings, going on pilgrimages, in search of healing, eternal youth, transcendent knowledge, the power of flight and transformation."

RON: Technology's potential to transform the human is no longer a matter of mere speculation by sci-fi writers. Tech giants and startups alike are developing new technologies to improve humans and make us more capable.

Take, for example, the new science of mind reading -- also known as thought decoding, about which James Somers recently wrote in The New Yorker.

Using fMRI scanners, cognitive psychologists now can tell whether a person is having depressive thoughts. They also can see which concepts a student has mastered by comparing her brain patterns with those of her teacher. Computers processing brain scans can now edit together crude reconstructions of movie clips you’ve watched. Scientists can now accurately describe the dreams of sleeping subjects.

Princeton, MIT and Stanford all have established thought decoding institutes. Go upstairs at Princeton's Neuroscience Institute and you'll see toddlers wearing tiny hats outfitted with infrared brain scanners. In the basement, scientists have sliced open the skulls of genetically engineered mice so they can use lasers to control individual neurons.

DAN: The technology of scanning hasn't changed much. It's the data analysis that's changed, so transformed by AI that scientists now can locate thoughts in a physical space. 

“The space of possible thoughts that people can think is big—but it’s not infinitely big,” says Ken Norman, chair of the psychology department at Princeton University. 

Scientists may soon be able to produce a detailed map of concepts in our minds. 

Imagine your brain as a three-dimensional grid made up of you cubes, each of which is one cubic millimeter in size. A millimeter is the length of a point on a pencil. Each cube has about one million neurons. All of these neurons consume oxygen. Scientists can monitor the patterns in which this consumption occurs. 

By reading these patterns, scientists are able to read our minds. Researchers track patterns playing out across tens of thousands of voxels at a time, "as though each were a key on a piano, and thoughts were chords," writes Somers. 

Every word we know fits somewhere in a "semantic space" that powerful AI engines are now able to create and model. 

As Unitarian Universalists, how do we feel about such advances? Are we for them or against them? Or are we merely cautious, waiting and seeing?

 It's time we decide. 

RON: There's a TransHumanist aspect to virtually every religion. In his Resurrection, Christ evolves into an eternal spirit. In our own faith tradition, human improvement was a constant theme for our Transcendentalists. 

"We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents," Emerson wrote in "Self-Reliance."  

Human nature is not fixed. We can evolve into something more. Something divine, Emerson suggests. 

DAN: "Human nature and the human condition will be very different in the future, and the way we're going to make it different is through technology," says Ted Peters in a remakable presentation that's easily found on his website.

Its title: The Future of TransHumanism as a Religious Movement. A founding member of AI and Faith, he teaches seminars in systematic theology and ethics at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.  

"Technology really does change things," Peters says. "There's no doubt about that. We foresee the feasibility of redesigning the human condition, including such parameters as the inevitability of aging and limitations on human and artificial intellects." 

Peters call TransHumanism the "Cadillac of intellectual ideologies," a "totalized philosophy system" that works on three levels: 

First, the Metaphysical and Cosmological Level, which says that we understand the world as an evolutionary process that drives toward ever more complex structures.   The most complex structures have intelligence and the future is aimed at increasing intelligence.

The Psychological Level, which roots evolution in our sense of who we are, recognizing that we have a will to evolve.

The Ethical Level, which says we have a moral responsibility to evolve by continually striving to expand our abilities throughout life and by acting in harmony with the essential nature of the evolutionary process.

We must break free from our biological servitude, say the TransHumanists. Free choice is the way we'll take hold of our evolutionary future and fulfill the Will to Evolve, the very meaning of life.

"Live to Evolve, Evolve to Live!” 

Because I believe this, I call myself a UU TransHumanist. 

RON: As a software engineer I code the kind of applications you mentioned. I've worked in the tech industry for over 20 years. And do you know what I've learned? It is far better to be for something than against many things. Why? The strongest of movements are successful by projecting their vision of a better world into the culture they wish to change. Our principles are a list of dos, not a prohibitive list of don'ts. So what if we faced humanity's technological future with wonder, hope, and advocacy?

We must get involved in promoting the ethical use of machine learning and emerging technologies to save the soul of humanity from exploitation and enslavement at the hands of the world's leading tech companies. It's only the future of the human race we're talking about here. I'm a TransHumanist. I believe in choosing a responsible, ethical, and moral path for human beings to merge with the machines we create. Being a TransHumanist means improving the human condition, advancing biomedical therapies that are slowing aging, curing disease, and extending healthy lifespans, and supporting advances in biotech, nanotech, and AI to help solve the Earth's environmental problems. It's not just inevitable. It's a discussion I'm willing to have.

Let's take a close look at where things are going.

Berkeley researcher Jack Gallant envisions what he calls a "general-purpose thought decoder" -- a "thinking hat" that will sit on top of our skulls coupled with video-recording and other sensors that will enable us to record everything we see, hear, and think, and thereby ultimately create an exhaustive inventory of our minds.

"Wearing the thinking hat, you could ask your computer a question just by imagining the words," he says. "Instantaneous translation might be possible. In theory, a pair of wearers could skip language altogether, conversing directly, mind to mind. Perhaps we could even communicate across species."

Imagine the conversation we might telepathically have with our pets.   

Granted, this technology is not right around the corner.  An fMRI machine today weighs 20,000 pounds. For this to work as Gallant imagines, the scanners would have to be miniaturized. They might use lasers, ultrasound or even microwaves.

But it's coming. We know all about the exponentially increasing power of computing and the abilities of AI. And so, in UU congregations, we need to be asking: What do we make of this?

What do we make of it? If you think this is an important conversation, please join the UU Transhumanists.

REV. RiORDAN: "Maybe this is all part of the evolution of consciousness," mused Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons in "God as Singularity," a sermon she delivered in 2019 at First Unitarian in Brooklyn. 

"We have a lifeless raw material universe, composed of quarks and atoms and neutrons, becoming more and more conscious of itself. Parts of the universe are now alive and able to see a sliver of the whole majesty of it. This is what the mystics have been saying for years – that the universe is on a journey – it wants to be known – and we humans are a step in that journey. 

"Just as simple reptilian consciousness was a giant leap up from simple Protozoa and mammals were a leap from reptiles, humans were a leap from other mammals. We can contemplate ourselves and the cosmos at a new level. Maybe computers are bringing the next leap in consciousness. They have the capacity to become aware of the universe in a way that humans probably never will." 

Dan Berggren

Imagine That, Then Make It So

When hungry mouths have enough food 
When tired souls have been renewed 
[When kindness like a river flows 
Imagine that, then make it so] [2x]

When fearful friends are no longer scared 
When broken hearts are repaired  
[When we all practice the good we know 
Imagine that, then make it so] [2x] 

When faith in others is restored 
When nature's wonder is not ignored 
[When we've learned lessons from long ago 
Imagine that, then make it so] [2x]

When the weak are finally strong 
When every person knows right from wrong 
[When our hard work begins to show 
Imagine that, then make it so] [2x] 
When beliefs do not divide 
When we're sharing side by side 
[When seeds we've sown begin to grow 
Imagine that, then make it so] [2x] 

© 2021 Dan Berggren 


Dan Berggren

Seek and Find

I am on a journey
Already out the door
Don’t know where I’m going
But I’m ready to explore
There will be disappointment
And answers I don’t know
Yes, there will be trouble
But still I will grow

*With an open heart and open mind
I will seek, I will find
With an open heart and open mind
I will seek, I will find
I will sweat and labor
And do what it takes
I will help my neighbor
And learn from my mistakes

I am not a pilgrim
Searching for a sacred place
Each step along the journey
Can be filled with love and grace

Thought I had all the answers
When I was in my youth
Now all I want are good questions
That will lead me toward the truth

With eyes and ears wide open
As the boat leaves the shore
Join the adventure
Get ready to explore
2015 Dan Berggren / Berggren Music (BMI)


We extinguish this flame, but not the light of truth,
The warmth of community, or the fire of commitment.
These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.