The intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.
The study of the ramifications, promises, and potential dangers of technologies that will let us overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as of the ethical issues involved in developing and using such technologies.
Transhumans and posthumans
Transhuman (“transitional human”): someone with moderately enhanced capacities.
Older definition: someone taking the first steps towards becoming posthuman.
Posthuman : someone whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards.
A transhumanist is someone who accepts transhumanism.
As a posthuman, you would enjoy a better…
Lifespan. – You would not deteriorate with age, giving you indefinite youth and vitality
Intellectual capacity. – You would be smarter in all areas than any human genius
Bodily functionality. – If you still have a body, you would be able to shape it according to your wishes. If you’re an upload, you could make backup copies of yourself, transmit yourself at light speed, etc.
Sensory modalities, special faculties and sensibilities. – New modalities, better sensibilities for music, humor, eroticism, spirituality, aesthetics, etc.
Affective self-control. – Greater subjective well-being, energy, self-control, ability to choose your emotions, e.g. preserve your romantic attachment to your partner undiminished through time.
Theme going back to ancient Sumer; esoteric Taoism, magic,…
Ancient Greece (Prometheus, Daedalus): logic, skepticism, natural philosophy
The Renaissance (cultural humanism): Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man (1486); Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo
The Age of Enlightenment: Bacon’s Novum Organum (1620); Isaac Newton, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Marquis de Condorcet; rational humanism
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire speculated about extending human lifespan through medical science; Darwin
The gradual growth of civilization: science, technology; economic growth
20s and 30s: J. S. B. Haldane, J. D. Bernal, Olaf Stapledon, Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932)
Science fiction: Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Stanislav Lem; later, Greg Egan and Vernor Vinge
Robert Ettinger: The Prospect of Immortality (1964) started the cryonics movement
FM-2030 (aka F. M. Estfandiary): the UpWingers; Are You a Transhuman? (1989)
70s and 80s: organizations for life extension, cryonics, space colonization, science fiction, and futurism; Marvin Minsky
… Modern history (cont.)
Eric Drexler Engines of Creation (1986); Foresight Institute (1986)
Hans Moravec Mind Children (1988); Ed Regis Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition (1990); Frank Tipler Physics of Immortality (1994), inspired by the writings of Teilhard de Chardin; Ray Kurzweil Age of Spiritual Machines (1999)
Max More and Tom Morrow: Extropy Magazine (1988); Extropians email list (1991); Extropy Institute (1992)
Nick Bostrom and David Pearce: The World Transhumanist Association (1998); Journal of Evolution and Technology (1999); The Transhumanist FAQ and the Transhumanist Declaration (1999); WTA Constitution (2001), James Hughes
Alexander Chislenko, Anders Sandberg, Robin Hanson, et. al.
The opposition takes shape
Historical Luddism (1811)
Fictional dystopias; Mary Shelly: Frankenstein (1831); Karl Čapek: Rossum’s Universal Robots (1921); Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)
Postmodernism; radical environmentalism
Religious conservatives opposed to “hubris” and playing God
Leon Kass: “The Wisdom of Repugnance” (1997), Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity (2002)
Bill Joy: “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” (2000)
Francis Fukuyama: Our Posthuman Future (2002)
Bill McKibben: Enough (2003)
Information technology (virtual reality; wearable computers, etc.)
Artificial intelligence and superintelligence
Collaborative information filtering
How transhumanism could fail
Existential risk – one that threatens to either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or to permanently and drastically curtail its potential
Bangs : Earth-originating intelligent life goes extinct in a relatively sudden disaster resulting from either an accident or a deliberate act of destruction
Crunches : The potential of humankind to develop into posthumanity is permanently thwarted although human life continues in some form
Shrieks : Some form of posthumanity is attained but it is an extremely narrow band of what is possible and desirable
Whimpers : A posthuman civilization arises but evolves in a direction that leads gradually but irrevocably to either the complete disappearance of things we value or to a state where those things are realized to only a minuscule degree of what could have been achieved.
Inventory of existential threats
Evolution into oblivion
Oppressive, totalitarian global regime
Artificial intelligence or transcending upload takeover
Technological stagnation or permanent civilizational collapse
Meteor or asteroid strike; runaway global warming; extraterrestrials; gamma ray burst; supervolcanoes…
The space of possible modes of being
We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Transhumanist values and basic conditions
Having the opportunity to explore the posthuman realms
Derivative values and goals
Nothing wrong about “tampering with nature”; the idea of hubris rejected
Individual choice in the use of enhancement technologies; morphological freedom
Peace, international cooperation, anti-proliferation of WMDs
Improving understanding (research and public debate; critical thinking; open-mindedness; scientific progress; open discussion of the future)
Fallibalism; willingness to reexamine our assumptions as we go along
Pragmatism; engineering and entrepreneur-spirit; “can-do” attitude
Diversity (species, race, religious creed, sexual orientation, life style, etc.)
Caring about the well-being of all sentience
Saving lives (life extension, anti-aging research, and cryonics)
Some moral concerns
Inequality (unfairness & threat to social fabric)
Positional goods externalities
Unwitting erosion of deep human values
Some currents within transhumanism
Extropianism (Max More)
Singularitarianism (Eliezer Yudkowsky)
The Hedonistic imperative (David Pearce)
“ Salon transhumanism”
Democratic transhumanism (James Hughes)
“ Theoretical transhumanism” (Robin Hanson, Nick Bostrom)
Transhumanism in art and culture
The Transhumanist Declaration…
(1) Humanity will be radically changed by technology in the future. We foresee the feasibility of redesigning the human condition, including such parameters as the inevitability of aging, limitations on human and artificial intellects, unchosen psychology, suffering, and our confinement to the planet earth.
(2) Systematic research should be put into understanding these coming developments and their long-term consequences.
(3) Transhumanists think that by being generally open and embracing of new technology we have a better chance of turning it to our advantage than if we try to ban or prohibit it.
(4) Transhumanists advocate the moral right for those who so wish to use technology to extend their mental and physical (including reproductive) capacities and to improve their control over their own lives. We seek personal growth beyond our current biological limitations.
… The Transhumanist Declaration (cont.)
(5) In planning for the future, it is mandatory to take into account the prospect of dramatic progress in technological capabilities. It would be tragic if the potential benefits failed to materialize because of technophobia and unnecessary prohibitions. On the other hand, it would also be tragic if intelligent life went extinct because of some disaster or war involving advanced technologies.
(6) We need to create forums where people can rationally debate what needs to be done, and a social order where responsible decisions can be implemented.
(7) Transhumanism advocates the well- being of all sentience (whether in artificial intellects, humans, posthumans, or non- human animals) and encompasses many principles of modern humanism. Transhumanism does not support any particular party, politician or political platform.