A.I. and the Fourth Industrial Revolution revive Nietzsche’s concept of the ‘Superman’.

A.I. and the Fourth Industrial Revolution revive Nietzsche's concept of the 'Superman'.

The Birth of the Superhuman: A Journey from Nietzsche to AI


When Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about the Übermensch, he was grappling with the Second Industrial Revolution, a time of mass production and societal change. His writings, obscure during his lifetime, foreshadowed a 20th-century filled with what he called “nihilism.” Nietzsche famously proclaimed, “God is dead,” and introduced the concept of the Übermensch, a being who rejects traditional Christian morals and creates their own values to conquer life’s challenges.

Today, as modern technologists proclaim the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with artificial intelligence at its forefront, we find ourselves asking: is humanity still the proverbial rope over the abyss? To understand the implications of this question, we must delve into the fascinating journey of the superhuman concept, from Nietzsche to the present day.

Faster than a Speeding Bullet

During times of technological upheaval, Nietzsche’s vision of the Übermensch has always resurfaced. Two famous examples stand out. Firstly, in 1939, Action Comics released their first issue, featuring the iconic character “Superman.” As society entered the atomic age, Superman represented a figure capable of conquering modern technology. With catchphrases like “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!”, Superman embodied the idea of a superhuman who could easily navigate the challenges of the modern world.

Unlike Nietzsche’s Übermensch, who rejected religious norms, Superman was a product of human advancement. He possessed incredible abilities such as bulletproof skin and laser-beaming eyes. Additionally, Superman retained the moral uprightness associated with the original Übermensch, even in his alter ego as Clark Kent, a morally infallible idealistic journalist.

The concept of the superhuman, intertwining with the idea of transhumanism, has been embraced by capitalists and technologists. Transhumanism proposes that advanced technology can augment humans in transformative ways. It echoes Nietzsche’s depiction of humans as something to be overcome. Throughout the 20th century, movements ranging from Communism to Fascism, and even Nazism, sought to create the perfect citizen through science and technology—a notion fraught with tragic consequences.

These concepts, while seeming bizarre to modern digital natives, remain embedded in mainstream politics and popular culture. Figures like Elon Musk, a known transhumanist, explore technologies to colonize space and implant computer chips in our brains. Science fiction, from “Blade Runner” to “The Matrix,” continues to examine variations of the superhuman and transhuman, often in dystopian contexts. Even recent cultural phenomena like the Barbie movie touch upon the idea of transhumanism, exploring the challenges of being a “Superwoman” in modern life.

Whatever Happened to the Superman of the 21st Century?

The idea of the superhuman, especially in relation to technology, has become a powerful political tool. Sociologists theorize that political transhumanism could give rise to a hyperfocused era of tech-driven productivity leaps, referred to as “Capitalism 2.0.” As we approach the Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterized by smart automation, interconnectivity, and artificial intelligence, many wonder who or what will emerge as the Übermensch of our time. While it’s still early, history suggests that people will seek an aspirational icon capable of transcending the power frameworks of our age.

One individual who has already posited a theory in this regard is Masayoshi Son, the CEO of Japan’s SoftBank and one of the world’s richest men. Son believes that artificial intelligence is the “Birth of Superhuman.” In tears, he underwent an existential crisis upon witnessing the emergence of ChatGPT, an AI tool capable of producing innovative ideas. Son resolved to dedicate his company and career to “designing the future of humanity.”

Son’s relation to the Übermensch is striking. He collaborates with AI daily, leveraging its capabilities to develop over 600 new inventions within a year. Through a transhumanist lens, Son augments his intelligence and ideation abilities using emerging technology. As the world undergoes another technological upheaval, and people yearn for an entity capable of transcending the existing power framework, it is essential to reflect on the nature of that framework itself, which can arguably be seen as information.

While Nietzsche’s Übermensch and comic book superheroes were fictional characters, AI is a real tool driving rapid change in the world. Much is still uncertain about how AI will transform the workforce, but we should approach the idea of a superhuman with caution. The pursuit of superpowers through technology may bring us closer to the abyss rather than help us transcend it.

In conclusion, from Nietzsche’s philosophical musings to the birth of Superman and the current emergence of AI, humanity has long been fascinated with the concept of the superhuman. As we explore the potentials and ethical implications of artificial intelligence in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we must navigate the unpredictable path between technological progress and the preservation of our humanity.