The Problems of Transhumanism Are Problems of the Enlightenment - James Hughes - H+ Summit @ Harvard


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Transhumanism is part of the family of Enlightenment philosophies. As such transhumanism has also inherited the internal tensions and contradictions of the broad Enlightenment tradition. From the beginning thinkers and movements have interpreted core Enlightenment values of reason, secularism, self-determination, progress, universalism and individualism in radically different ways. It is essential that transhumanists understand how our internal divisions and arguments are playing these three hundred year old debates so that we can avoid old mistakes and dead ends.

"Dr. J." Hughes is the Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and the former Executive Director of the World Transhumanist Association. A bioethicist and sociologist, Dr. Hughes teaches health policy at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut. Dr. Hughes is author of Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future, and produces a syndicated weekly radio program, Changesurfer Radio. He is a Fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities and the Working Group on Ethics and Technology at Yale University.

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The Problems of Transhumanism Are Problems of the Enlightenment - James Hughes - H+ Summit @ Harvard

  1. 1. J. Hughes Humanity+ Summit – June 12, 2010 Harvard University, Cambridge MA
  2. 2. Copyright Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies 2006
  3. 3. <ul><li>Natural philosophers </li></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>1660 Wishlist </li></ul><ul><li>Life extension, anti-aging therapies, transplants, telemedicine </li></ul><ul><li>Strength and speed enhancement, body armor </li></ul><ul><li>Glasses, telescopes, microscopes and electric light </li></ul><ul><li>Flying, traveling under water, GPS locators </li></ul><ul><li>Speeding up agricultural production </li></ul><ul><li>Smart drugs, amphetamines, sleeping pills, analgesics and hallucinogens </li></ul><ul><li>Synthetic biology and genetic engineering. </li></ul>
  5. 5. <ul><li>“ D'Alembert's Dream” 1769 </li></ul><ul><li>Mind = body/brain </li></ul><ul><li>Animals can evolve intelligence </li></ul><ul><li>Machine minds are possible </li></ul><ul><li>Minds can be stored and re-bodied </li></ul><ul><li>Science can bring back the dead </li></ul><ul><li>Human-animal hybrids OK </li></ul><ul><li>Sexual freedom </li></ul>Copyright Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies 2006
  6. 6. <ul><li>Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind (1795) </li></ul><ul><li>Reason liberates us from church, authoritarianism, nature </li></ul><ul><li>Women’s suffrage </li></ul><ul><li>Opposed to slavery </li></ul><ul><li>Radical life extension </li></ul><ul><li>Freedom from work through technology </li></ul>Copyright Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies 2006 Marquis de Condorcet
  7. 7. <ul><li>&quot;Nature has set no term </li></ul><ul><li>to the perfection of human </li></ul><ul><li>faculties; the perfectibility </li></ul><ul><li>of man is truly indefinite; </li></ul><ul><li>and the progress of this </li></ul><ul><li>perfectibility, from now onwards independent of any power that might wish to halt it, has no other limit than the duration of the globe upon which nature has cast us.&quot; </li></ul>Copyright Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies 2006
  8. 8. <ul><li>Arguments within H+ and between H+ and our pro-Enlightenment friends </li></ul><ul><li>A four hundred year-old conversation </li></ul><ul><li>Parallel movements and issues </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>We promote reason, but reason is not self-validating </li></ul><ul><li>Acknowledge our pre-rational side </li></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>Natural philosophers divided between deists and atheists </li></ul><ul><li>If super-intelligence is possible, then god(s) are possible </li></ul>
  11. 11. <ul><li>Why shouldn’t smart people control the things instead of democracy or markets? </li></ul><ul><li>How about super-friendly AIs? </li></ul>
  12. 12. <ul><li>Rational planning vs. exchange between rational actors </li></ul><ul><li>Democratization of economic power vs. minimizing state power </li></ul>
  13. 13. <ul><li>Faith in the inevitability of progress vs. radical uncertainty </li></ul><ul><li>Existential risks </li></ul><ul><li>Optimism of the will and pessimism of the intellect </li></ul>
  14. 14. <ul><li>Enforcing ethical universals, while respecting pluralism and the contingent, evolving nature of our values </li></ul><ul><li>Evolutionary psychology, Jon Haidt and Sam Harris </li></ul>
  15. 15. <ul><li>Liberal individualism vs. the illusion of autonomous, continuous, discrete selves </li></ul><ul><li>If we upload and live for millennia, who survives? </li></ul>
  16. 16. <ul><li>Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul>