Transhumanism is a relatively new philosophy that believes in the possibility of humans and technology merging to the point of being indistinguishable from one another. Through technology, humans will be able to transcend the current limitations we all have in our mortal and fragile bodies. Longer life spans, reversing and or repairing hearing loss, removing blindness, brain implants to help with a variety of mental and physical issues and abilities as well has the possibility to travel the stars and settle on distant planets are just a few of the near limitless things that can be achieved through chemical manipulation, gene splicing,bio implants and even hacking the human body itself.
There are many different ways in which it is possible to get to these points but before we go further, I suggest we take a closer look at the origin of this philosophy and then discuss some of the terms that are commonly used in the transhumanist community. Furthermore, I will limit this discussion to what is possible using some of the technology that is already available and some of the changes to our overall society that have already happened thanks to people that are already pushing the boundaries of normal humanity. I will also introduce and explain the fundamental differences of Transhumanism and becoming “post human”. Finally, I will introduce several arguments against the Transhumanism/Post human philosophy, and where those arguments fail when compared to the actual philosophy.
In the most simple of terms, transhumanism( H+ ) is the belief that we as a race should be inclined to pursue and promote a longer, healthier life span through the use of both science and technology to accelerate human evolution in order to reach our full potential as a species sooner rather than later. “Full potential” is a term that is up for debate amongst those who identify as members of the transhumanist community simply because as of right now, it’s unclear s to what the upper limits of potential that a human without the aid of technology can possess. However, for the sake of simplicity, it is understood that technology and science is needed in order to achieve the next evolutionary step in our development wherever that may lead us.
In reality, this is something that humans have always done. Our ancestors, using the technology that was at hand, have always tried to make their lives easier. The building of shelters, first being crude structures for just a single family have evolved to structures that house many families at a time. Clothing, has evolved to simple rags to more practical designs to better protect us from the elements and until recently at least exhibit some form of modesty.
A significant number of mankind also possess failing eyesight and again using the available technology, have made products such as eyeglasses and contact lenses to overcome that particular shortcoming, not to mention improvements in laser eye surgery which can replace the need for either entirely. The list goes on, including hearing loss, which can be corrected with hearing aids. An insufficient heart, whether due to a birth defect or damaged in some way can be repaired through surgical means, and if necessary, can be replaced outright with a 75 per cent survival rate after the first three years after the operation. On a more basic level, humanity has developed items to make our social interactions easier on our senses as well. Things such as deodorant, hair care products makeup and dental hygiene products have been used for at least the past 100 years, and no one can argue that without these inventions, that were inspired by the same type of curiosity and ambition that today’s Transhumanist movement exhibits, humanity would be in a different place entirely.
Before we go further I would like to discuss and define a term that comes up during many discussions involving H+ and that is the BREAK EVEN POINT. (BEP) The Break even point occurs when the average life expectancy is one year longer than what current medical and technological advances will allow. It’s based on the fact that has a person ages, the medical and scientific field will continue to increase the basic understanding of human biology and therefore increase the average life expectancy of humans. When the BEP is reached, human beings, at least in theory can live an infinite lifespan. This of course is supposing that there are no barriers, legal or ethical, to hinder the ever growing technology. Has it stands now, with restrictions on stem cell research, human testing and other legal restrictions as well as traditional theistic beliefs, we as a species have a long way to travel to achieve this point.
Even with the current restrictions in place, it is interesting to note that, according to renown scientist Dr. Aubrey De Grey, the first person born to live to be 150 years old has already been born in 2011. He also states that there is better than a 50/50 chance that the first person to live to be 1000 years old will be born within the next twenty years. This can be achieved through regular “maintenance” which would include stem cell replacement, immune system “reboots” and other techniques that, has of now would require the rewriting of certain legal legislation and force most scientists to rethink certain procedures on a ethical and moral level. Another term I would like to bring to light is Singularity. This a branch of post humanism that believes in and actively pursues the means to merge all of humanity into one single conscious form. The Singularity can be achieved by brute force uploading individual brain patterns into a collective data bank that is overseen by those who have already been uploaded in the same data bank. This can be also be achieved with the help of A.I or artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, or smaller bots that were developed for this very purpose. Essentially this is done so that humans can shed their biological limitations and pursue travel amongst the stars in an equal fashion and has one race and not has a collection of individuals.
This brings up a distinction that must be made between the term transhuman(H+) and post human(pH+) To be considered H+, one must first be willing to accept that the current biological form we has a species inhabits can be upgraded to perform well beyond our current capabilities. It also helps, but it is not necessary, to pursue all methods of enhancing your own current body, either through chemical means, surgery, or through methods using microchips and data implants. Using these methods are collectively known has “biohacking” or transbiomorphosis.
To be Posthuman, is to be one that who has already gone as far as one can go while pursuing the transhuman agenda. That is to say, to be considered post human, a person will have an enhanced physique, as well as an advanced intellect, along with a psychological capacity almost alien in nature, has well has have an advanced way to care for one’s self without any outside means AND have the potential to be immortal all the while increasing one’s self potential to near unlimited extremes.
Some believe that aforementioned Singularity movement plays a key role in this stage of transhumanism, that is to say that the only true way to achieve this status is by merging into one collective mass of data, going so far as to shed out biological form altogether. BUT a type of schism has developed over the years concerning the transhuman philosophy as a whole. On one side you have those who champion the Singularity, with it’s near Marxist view(in as far as that people should be treated as equals across the board) the opposing view is that in order for humanity to fully achieve our true potential, we should be able to do so as individuals, with as much technology as the individual allows themselves.
According to this view, the pursuit of transhumanism is good for the individual and society as a whole as long as the technology does not become to advance as to take over the agent willing/able to become one with. Where society benefits is, that has individuals grow comfortable with the technology and only allow themselves to be “upgraded” as they desire, then certain jobs and roles within society will be filled by people who upgraded themselves to fill that specific role, and in turn everybody in that society will have happier and more productive lives.
For example, say an individual wishes to be an auto mechanic. After learning everything there is to know about being a mechanic, the individual in question can have the option to optimize themselves to be a auto mechanic. Upgrading themselves with better sensory capabilities(improved eyesight, touch and possibly even hearing and an enhanced sense of smell) our auto mechanic becomes an even better mechanic. Possible even the best mechanic in his/her area. This in turn will lead to a higher wage earning potential and an overall better quality of life for our new transhuman, who at this point can be considered a cyborg, or a combination of man and technology.
This way of thinking also allows for humans to use what is considered our greatest asset:creativity. Our new cyborg mentioned above, with all of his new enhancements can now repair automobiles faster and more efficiently, and because of his new enhanced state, he may also look closer to find potential problems and take care of them ahead of time, and using the inherent creative impulse, may also redesign the entire vehicle so as to not have a particular problem ever again.
Another example would be to use this technology on the battlefield. Or rather using this technology to avoid battlefields and future wars all together. With a little imagination on our part, we could see the need for war between nations to be obsolete in the future, simply because as technology would advance enough to where either side involved in a war would be virtually indestructable and nigh immortal, it would be a waste of resources to even wage a war in the first place. This in turn would force leaders of nations to be more open to negotiation, and this in turn would lead to an overall better quality of life for citizens of the world over, given that war would no longer level their homes and kill off innocents caught in the crossfire.
As with all philosophies, H+ has it’s detractors. The first and most obvious one is Christianity, which argues that tampering with the human body is akin to playing God, and therefore transhumanism is a road best not traveled upon, with some of the more fundamentalist and fringe groups thinking that transhumanism is a gift from the devil and by allowing society to transform into something God did not intend for us to be, we are going to bring about our destruction as foretold in the book of Revelations, equating technology as “the mark of the Beast”.
Another main focus of the more mainstream Christian argument is that by using technology to enhance all of the abilities of mortals we would some how lose what makes us human, ie emotions. They envision a world inhabited by souless automations that exist only to lord it over other God’s creations and turning our backs on the world in general, existing only for the sake of existence.
Let me begin countering these arguments first by pointing out the counter diction that is apparent to these arguments. These same “true believers” state that nothing can exist without the permission of God. So, using reason, if this technology exists and more importantly if the POTENTIAL for this technology also exists, then therefore, is it not allowed by God? Also, these same “true believers” will state that there is no way to know the mind of God and that he “moves in mysterious ways.” So, one has to ask, how does anyone know what God will and will not allow given these parameters to which we are forced to interact with him?
At first, one can say that advancing such arguments shows short sightedness at best and at worst, a desire for humans to suffer needlessly. However, if we are to look deeper it also shows a very powerful force that must be overcome in order for transhumanism to flourish and the force is fear, or to be more specific a fear of the unknown. The best way to overcome this fear, or any fear for that matter, is to proceed with caution and guard against catastrophic disaster, not to shun and run away from that which causes fear in the first place.
Another argument that is often forwarded by the antitranshumanist crowd is the potential of creating a global caste system due to the availability of technology in certain parts of the world. This argument’s central thesis is that not everybody in one particular region, let alone the world over, would have access to or afford the same level of technology. This in turn would create a definitive divide between the “haves” and the “have nots”, with the “haves” being virtually disease free and possessing longer life spans, and the “have nots” still suffering from all of the conditions of having a non enhanced bio body. Some fear that this may even create a new form of racism, or “bioism”, where those who have enhancements may take advantage of those that do not to the point of bullying and outright exploitation.
The answer to this dilemma is two fold. First, the very nature of transhumanism is that of humanity as a whole to transcend our biological limitations so that as a species we can achieve more with or without the Singularity Event. In order for this to happen on a massive scale, technology would have to be open sourced, so that anybody with even the most limited knowledge of the subject can have the same access as somebody with say more money or resources. Sadly, as it stands, neither of the “Big Two” (Microsoft and Apple) are in a position to do just that. In the case of Apple, I feel that it is because under their current business model, where all of their technology is under proprietary management, it would be impossible for them to keep up with such a high demand that would come as a result on a global scale.
In the case of Microsoft, their history speaks for itself. Microsoft’s current business plan is to throw it all on the wall and see what sticks. This has caused some of their technology to be unreliable and in some cases unstable upon release, which has resulted in constant and much needed updates in order for it’s system to function properly. Neither of these scenarios make an ideal situation when we are talking about people needing technology to move forward on the evolution scale.
On the flip side of this, however is Google. Google has made leaps and bounds in their pursuit of technology and it’s everyday applications for everyone. The search engine, along with other third party developers have designed Google glass, a wearable technology that allows instant access to the Internet anywhere, made strides in prosthetics which now include a life like feel and are currently being upgraded and expanded to include the sense of touch and many more including robotics and body armor for the military. And the best part? Most of the tech is open sourced, meaning that anyone with the know how can gain access regardless of race, social class or location. The second answer to this dilemma is to stress the need not to upgrade, or rather to frame the transhumanist philosophy and all of the wonders that a new, less bio dependent body has in a way that 1)does not force people to upgrade just to keep up with “the Jones” and 2) does not stress the differences of “trans” and “non trans” people. Implementing the first statement is easy enough. First, the H+ community, while pursuing transcendence, can show the rest of the world the need of such technology, by first only pursuing the available technology for medical and scientific research. For example, by pursuing the technology to eliminate blindness or using stem cell research along with other bio wear to create a new liver, it can be shown that H+ movement is not some diabolic and evil voodoo that is trying to pass itself off as science, but rather a new force that can benefit the global community as a whole.
It is the second statement that may prove to be most difficult. As technology advances and becomes more prevalent in normal social settings, we may have to redefine the idea of personhood to accomodate. That is, where is the line between a person with transhumanism tech implants and a human with none, are they both considered “human” and thus are still held culpable under the same laws, or are legal systems going to have to adopt new standards and laws for those with a certain amounts of technological implants? If the latter is the case, what/where is the line of how much is one or the other? Another question that will have to be confronted and dealt with is the subject of religion and the need for and implant that could possibly save a life. In this instance, say a fundamentalist group who is against the H+ philosophy has among their membership people who need or would benefit from the science and technology. Could the law step in in favor of the people who need these treatments/upgrades or does religious freedom win out in the case?
If the H+ movement is to gather steam and push the global society forward then these types of questions must be dealt with as soon as now. Guidelines concerning the implantation of bioware need to be put in place now, while the movement is still in it’s “idea” phase. At the current rate of movement for technology, it is possible that a future of no blindness, superhuman endurance and the ability to communicate with thoughts instead of words could happen within the next 25 years. Telepathy has been a favorite pursuit for those in the H+ community and as recent as 2012, Dr. Robert Knight and his team have actively been pushing the laws of science to discover just that.
So the time to handle the ethical and moral question is not just now but right now. If the global community is not willing to deal with the potential issues of H+ then I’m afraid that the glory that could come out of the H+ tech could indeed become a nightmare. With no global consensus on technology that can be used for betterment of mankind, we could very well see rogue states with cyborg lead armies running rough shot over nations that don’t have any way to keep up and are unprepared for such an assault. It is also possible that cyborgs become a new class that is discriminated against with “Jim Crow” laws being put in place to keep them in line.
The future will wait for no one. It’s time to move and move fast to see what is waiting for us, and the sooner we address the laws and ethics behind the H+ movement, the sooner we can become more than we are and embrace the future together.
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- Hero Image used from http://foxinshadow.deviantart.com/art/Crab-Robot-426426933