Five indicators of transhumanism
While biological and technological evolution follows similar processes, our biological evolution can be considered to be at a virtual standstill. As such, it only makes sense that technological evolution will eclipse its biological counterpart. Either as a means to augment, amplify, or substitute our senses and biological functions but equally to create totally new senses or functions altogether.
While today, these upgrades to our human bodies are considered to be unethical, dangerous, or just a academic frivolity, transhumanism has to be considered as a milestone in our long-term survival as a species, and will have a profound impact at a socioeconomic scale over the next hundred years.
Today, discussing transhumanism is often dominated by Silicon Valley-esque elitist pseudoscience. As a result, modern day discussions on this topic are too often dominated by populist anarcho-techno babble. But as an ideology, the idea of upgrading the human biology finds it roots in the deeper seeded origins of eugenics, with proponents such as of Sir Francis Galton and Julian Huxley, that expresses the belief and practice that aims at improving the genetic quality of the human population.
Even at university, my professor Genetics taught me how Eugenics is a controversial and widely misunderstood topic, as the process of genetic improvement was often subject to an all-too-common distortion of the social history of genetics policy, and amongst many other negative examples, often associated with Adolf Hitler’s Endlösung.
However the controversy, ambitious and promising endeavours are found in RNA interference and gene therapy. Gene therapy replaces bad genes with good genes, and RNA interference can selectively knock out gene expression. Together, they give us an unprecedented ability to manipulate and improve our own genetic code. This already resulted in staying slim while eating a lot of fats, and stronger wheat crops.
As reported on the 2045 Initiative, DARPA’s Human Artificial Chromosomes (HAC) project goes even further, and aims at developing new genes. This solicitation was originally put out under the category of Advanced Tools for Mammalian Genome Engineering (PDF), introducing “The ability to deliver exogenous DNA to mammalian cell lines is a fundamental tool in the development of advanced therapeutics, vaccines, and cellular diagnostics, as well as for basic biological and biomedical research.”
Regenesis and eugenic research and breakthroughs seem to be in full swing, and while no scientist has yet performed gene therapy on germline cells, due to the ethical controversy, it will be a matter of time before science is producing genetic changes which are heritable.
Five Socioeconomic indicators
Personally, I believe following socioeconomic indicators will be fundamental cornerstones in a transhumanist society:
- Voluntary Prosthetics. As prosthetics will demonstrate a better functionality than our biological features, “disabled”and “handicapped” will become anachronous. Voluntary amputation and replacement with improved prosthetics will enable humans to modify, correct and augment their body, health and biological capabilities. Ranging from health induced proactive amputations, such as Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy, to giving back hearing capabilities to Michael Chorost through cochlear implants. The cybernetic engineering capabilities will consist of vision enhancement, metabolic enhancement, artificial bones, muscles, and organs, and even brain-computer interfaces. All with the purpose to improve the human body and take the next evolutionary step. These cybernetic systems will greatly improve our everyday experience, from letting us hear a wider range of ambient sounds, to viewing millions of stars rather than just a few thousand, to making us more resistant to accidents.
- Cognitive Enhancements, Assistants and Replacements. It appears that our minds are defined more by the information patterns they embody than the particular hardware they are implemented on. Most people don’t want to realize that they’re “just” data structures being implemented as computational automata on biological neurons, but it is hard to think of it any other way. The brain can’t tell if it’s made out of traditional meat, or accelerated biological neurons, or entirely nonbiological neuron equivalents. The computation remains the same. This means that artificial brains are a possibility, as is uploading or replacing memories, personality and cognitive capabilities of an individual. But also cognitive enhancing drugs and research in Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) will be ethically controlled and interwoven elements of our superior cognitive capabilities.
- Responsible Procreation. Human reproduction is, at the moment, not generally worthy of the term “procreation.” Procreation implies planned creation and conscientious rearing of a new human life, and we are far from doing this. Responsible reproduction will involve better birth control for men and women as well as and stricter, proactive, health screening. Procreation will need to become a conscious act of responsibility, and will most likely involve the liberalisation of abortion, adoption and surrogate pregnancy laws, or even a parental license, as responsible child rearing will be more highly valued than biological parenthood.
- Ageing as a Disease. Finding its roots in eugenics and identified states of negligible senescence in animals, initiatives, such as Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence aim to postpone age-associated diseases for as long as possible. Organizations, such as the Methuselah Foundation, but even Google, are investing a considerable amount of financial resources in the research for an indefinite lifespan. In the future, ageing will be considered as a disease that should be controlled and managed.
- A Human Right. Transhumanism cannot happen without a legal structure that allows individuals to control their own bodies. Therefore, having the right to modify your body should become a UN human right, as this means the technology should be made affordable, and accessible to all individuals. One’s genetic make-up, neurological composition, prosthetic augmentation, and other cybernetic modifications will be limited only by technology and one’s own discretion. This rights discourse is more fundamental than the transhumanism debate, and will shift to personhood instead of common humanity. This debate will expand so that also animals (including humans) will be granted rights based on varying degrees of personhood (much like James Hughes’ Citizen Cyborg). This will ensure the rights of new forms of intelligence, be they alien, artificial, or animal.
The next evolutionary step
As we’re shaping our future today, amazing breakthroughs are happening on a daily basis, and pushing us closer to a transhumanist future. The topic still remains a hot debate and contains a set of highly controversial topics of ethical, moral, social, legal, political and technological nature.
As with AGI, also transhumanism is simply not a matter of if, but when. A lot of exceptionally bright people are working on related fields on a daily basis, and it might take longer than most enthusiasts care to admit, but a day in a distant future a 127 year old man will wake up, send his avatar to work in the mines on Mars, while enjoying a morning run with his new prosthetic limbs…