The aims of the transhumanist movement are summed up by Mark OConnell in his book To Be a Machine, which last week won the Wellcome Book prize. It is their belief that we can and should eradicate ageing as a cause of death; that we can and should use technology to augment our bodies and our minds; that we can and should merge with machines, remaking ourselves, finally, in the image of our own higher ideals.
The idea of technologically enhancing our bodies is not new. But the extent to which transhumanists take the concept is. In the past, we made devices such as wooden legs, hearing aids, spectacles and false teeth. In future, we might use implants to augment our senses so we can detect infrared or ultraviolet radiation directly or boost our cognitive processes by connecting ourselves to memory chips. Ultimately, by merging man and machine, science will produce humans who have vastly increased intelligence, strength, and lifespans; a near embodiment of gods.
Is that a desirable goal? Advocates of transhumanism believe there are spectacular rewards to be reaped from going beyond the natural barriers and limitations that constitute an ordinary human being. But to do so would raise a host of ethical problems and dilemmas. As OConnells book indicates, the ambitions of transhumanism are now rising up our intellectual agenda. But this is a debate that is only just beginning.
There is no doubt that human enhancement is becoming more and more sophisticated as will be demonstrated at the exhibition The Future Starts Here which opens at the V&A museum in London this week. Items on display will include powered clothing made by the US company Seismic. Worn under regular clothes, these suits mimic the biomechanics of the human body and give users typically older people discrete strength when getting out of a chair or climbing stairs, or standing for long periods.
In many cases these technological or medical advances are made to help the injured, sick or elderly but are then adopted by the healthy or young to boost their lifestyle or performance. The drug erythropoietin (EPO) increases red blood cell production in patients with severe anaemia but has also been taken up as an illicit performance booster by some athletes to improve their bloodstreams ability to carry oxygen to their muscles.
And that is just the start, say experts. We are now approaching the time when, for some kinds of track sports such as the 100-metre sprint, athletes who run on carbon-fibre blades will be able outperform those who run on natural legs, says Blay Whitby, an artificial intelligence expert at Sussex University.
The question is: when the technology reaches this level, will it be ethical to allow surgeons to replace someones limbs with carbon-fibre blades just so they can win gold medals? Whitby is sure many athletes will seek such surgery. However, if such an operation came before any ethics committee that I was involved with, I would have none of it. It is a repulsive idea to remove a healthy limb for transient gain.
Not everyone in the field agrees with this view, however. Cybernetics expert Kevin Warwick, of Coventry University, sees no problem in approving the removal of natural limbs and their replacement with artificial blades. What is wrong with replacing imperfect bits of your body with artificial parts that will allow you to perform better or which might allow you to live longer? he says.
Warwick is a cybernetics enthusiast who, over the years, has had several different electronic devices implanted into his body. One allowed me to experience ultrasonic inputs. It gave me a bat sense, as it were. I also interfaced my nervous system with my computer so that I could control a robot hand and experience what it was touching. I did that when I was in New York, but the hand was in a lab in England.
Such interventions enhance the human condition, Warwick insists, and indicate the kind of future humans might have when technology augments performance and the senses. Some might consider this unethical. But even doubters such as Whitby acknowledge the issues are complex. Is it ethical to take two girls under the age of five and train them to play tennis every day of their lives until they have the musculature and skeletons of world champions? he asks. From this perspective the use of implants or drugs to achieve the same goal does not look so deplorable.
This last point is a particular issue for those concerned with the transhumanist movement. They believe that modern technology ultimately offers humans the chance to live for aeons, unshackled as they would be from the frailties of the human body. Failing organs would be replaced by longer-lasting high-tech versions just as carbon-fibre blades could replace the flesh, blood and bone of natural limbs. Thus we would end humanitys reliance on our frail version 1.0 human bodies into a far more durable and capable 2.0 counterpart, as one group has put it.
However, the technology needed to achieve these goals relies on as yet unrealised developments in genetic engineering, nanotechnology and many other sciences and may take many decades to reach fruition. As a result, many advocates such as the US inventor and entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil, nanotechnology pioneer Eric Drexler and PayPal founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel have backed the idea of having their bodies stored in liquid nitrogen and cryogenically preserved until medical science has reached the stage when they can be revived and their resurrected bodies augmented and enhanced.
Four such cryogenic facilities have now been constructed: three in the US and one in Russia. The largest is the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona whose refrigerators store more than 100 bodies (nevertheless referred to as patients by staff) in the hope of their subsequent thawing and physiological resurrection. It is a place built to house the corpses of optimists, as OConnell says in To Be a Machine.
Not everyone is convinced about the feasibility of such technology or about its desirability. I was once interviewed by a group of cryonic enthusiasts based in California called the society for the abolition of involuntary death, recalls the Astronomer Royal Martin Rees. I told them Id rather end my days in an English churchyard than a Californian refrigerator. They derided me as a deathist really old-fashioned.
For his part, Rees believes that those who choose to freeze themselves in the hope of being eventually thawed out would be burdening future generations expected to care for these newly defrosted individuals. It is not clear how much consideration they would deserve, Rees adds.
Ultimately, adherents of transhumanism envisage a day when humans will free themselves of all corporeal restraints. Kurzweil and his followers believe this turning point will be reached around the year 2030, when biotechnology will enable a union between humans and genuinely intelligent computers and AI systems. The resulting human-machine mind will become free to roam a universe of its own creation, uploading itself at will on to a suitably powerful computational substrate. We will become gods, or more likely star children similar to the one at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
These are remote and, for many people, very fanciful goals. And the fact that much of the impetus for establishing such extreme forms of transhuman technology comes from California and Silicon Valley is not lost on critics. Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, the entrepreneur who wants to send the human race to Mars, also believes that to avoid becoming redundant in the face of the development of artificial intelligence, humans must merge with machines to enhance our own intellect.
This is a part of the world where the culture of youth is followed with fanatical intensity and where ageing is feared more acutely than anywhere else on the planet. Hence the overpowering urge to try to use technology to overcome its effects.
It is also one of the worlds richest regions, and many of those who question the values of the transhuman movement warn it risks creating technologies that will only create deeper gulfs in an already divided society where only some people will be able to afford to become enhanced while many other lose out.
The position is summed up by Whitby. History is littered with the evil consequences of one group of humans believing they are superior to another group of humans, he said. Unfortunately in the case of enhanced humans they will be genuinely superior. We need to think about the implications before it is too late.
For their part, transhumanists argue that the costs of enhancement will inevitably plummet and point to the example of the mobile phone, which was once so expensive only the very richest could afford one, but which today is a universal gadget owned by virtually every member of society. Such ubiquity will become a feature of technologies for augmenting men and women, advocates insist.
Many of these issues seem remote, but experts warn that the implications involved need to be debated as a matter of urgency. An example is provided by the artificial hand being developed by Newcastle University. Current prosthetic limbs are limited by their speed of response. But project leader Kianoush Nazarpour believes it will soon be possible to create bionic hands that can assess an object and instantly decide what kind of grip it should adopt.
It will be of enormous benefit, but its use raises all sorts of issues. Who will own it: the wearer or the NHS? And if it is used to carry a crime, who ultimately will be responsible for its control? We are not thinking about these concerns and that is a worry.
The position is summed up by bioethicist professor Andy Miah of Salford University.
Transhumanism is valuable and interesting philosophically because it gets us to think differently about the range of things that humans might be able to do but also because it gets us to think critically about some of those limitations that we think are there but can in fact be overcome, he says. We are talking about the future of our species, after all.
LimbsThe artificial limbs of Luke Skywalker and the Six Million Dollar Man are works of fiction. In reality, bionic limbs have suffered from multiple problems: becoming rigid mid-action, for example. But new generations of sensors are now making it possible for artificial legs and arms to behave in much more complex, human-like ways.
SensesThe light that is visible to humans excludes both infrared and ultra-violet radiation. However, researchers are working on ways of extending the wavelengths of radiation that we can detect, allowing us to see more of the world - and in a different light. Ideas like these are particularly popular with military researchers trying to create cyborg soldiers.
PowerPowered suits or exoskeletons are wearable mobile machines that allow people to move their limbs with increased strength and endurance. Several versions are being developed by the US army, while medical researchers are working on easy-to-wear versions that would be able to help people with severe medical conditions or who have lost limbs to move about naturally.
BrainsTranshumanists envisage the day when memory chips and neural pathways are actually embedded into peoples brains, thus bypassing the need to use external devices such as computers in order to access data and to make complicated calculations. The line between humanity and machines will become increasingly blurred.
The rest is here:
- Teacher who insulted pupils and colleagues in 'Gossip Girl' style blog faces being struck off - Mirror Online - January 29th, 2021
- It's A Sin cast: meet the unknowns behind 2021's first TV hit - NME.com - January 29th, 2021
- FDA sends warning letter to company that is advertising COVID-19 curing tea - Food Safety News - January 14th, 2021
- The QAnon Doctor Pushing Wild Conspiracies About the COVID Vaccine - VICE - January 14th, 2021
- BravePicks 2020 - The Scribes Speak! Paul Stenning - bravewords.com - January 14th, 2021
- VidCon Now to Debut at the Singapore Media Festival - Branding in Asia Magazine - November 24th, 2020
- Watch This Superb Fan Adaptation of Peter Watts' Blindsight - tor.com - October 19th, 2020
- Pandemics and transhumanism - The Times of India Blog - September 18th, 2020
- CD Projekt Red have nabbed Cyberpunk, but here are 5 other punks that deserve games - PC Gamer - September 18th, 2020
- Scientific Psi? Neuralink and the smarter brain - Covalence - September 18th, 2020
- Transhuman - Wikipedia - August 10th, 2020
- The Transhuman Revolution: What it is and How to Prepare ... - August 10th, 2020
- What No One Will Tell You About Robots - OZY - July 25th, 2020
- Black LGBTQ+ playwrights and musical-theater artists you need to know - Time Out New York - July 25th, 2020
- ANTIBOY: The Family of Harry Hains Unveils Animated Video For Good Enough Single - Icon Vs. Icon - July 22nd, 2020
- Immortality or Bust - Film Threat - July 20th, 2020
- In Dan Brown's AI Hype Novel, the Hero Stumbles Onto God - Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence - July 15th, 2020
- Quote of the Day on the Morality of Those Seeking Heaven - Patheos - July 13th, 2020
- A music and arts festival for Mumbaikars - Times of India - July 3rd, 2020
- Experience never seen before immersive music and art festival with transhuman collective 'UNRATED' - RadioandMusic.com - July 3rd, 2020
- This startup is ensuring babies get a good nights sleep with its smart mattress - YourStory - July 3rd, 2020
- Who exactly was Jeffrey Epstein? A history of the mogul and his crimes - Film Daily - July 3rd, 2020
- Livestream event on Steve Fuller's Nietzschean Meditations - Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies - June 22nd, 2020
- Transhuman - TV Tropes - June 13th, 2020
- Artificial eye with 3D retina developed for the first time - Advanced Science News - June 13th, 2020
- How to go on holiday in a pandemic - The Economist - June 13th, 2020
- The Best Way to Handle Your Decline Is to Confront It Head On - The Atlantic - June 13th, 2020
- Humans will be able to replace their bodies within 50 years claims transhumanist writer - Express.co.uk - May 27th, 2020
- How Britain's oldest universities are trying to protect humanity from risky A.I. - CNBC - May 27th, 2020
- Heres Everything Coming to HBO Max in June - TheWrap - May 27th, 2020
- Durham's Kriya Therapuetics lands $80M to advance gene therapies for diabetes, severe obesity - WRAL Tech Wire - May 15th, 2020
- Introducing When the Sparrow Falls, the Debut Novel From Neil Sharpson - tor.com - May 15th, 2020
- New Releases And Eshop Discounts Week 20 - N-Europe - May 15th, 2020
- Things To Do: Antonio Eyez Will Perform At R&R Studios April 30 - Houston Press - April 27th, 2020
- Five Essay Collections to Read in Quarantine - Willamette Week - April 27th, 2020
- OISTE.ORG Foundation endorses preserving the human right to privacy statement during the Covid-19 pandemic signed by a group of more than 300... - April 27th, 2020
- The Demo For Soldat 2 Is Now Free On The Steam Platform - Happy Gamer - April 2nd, 2020
- Friending the World Sociality and the Transhuman Vision - Patheos - March 28th, 2020
- Technology and Human Creativity in Theological Perspective - Patheos - March 28th, 2020
- What is an artificial womb and can it work for humans? - Screen Shot - March 28th, 2020
- How the Fast & Furious Movies Should End (and Live on Forever) - Observer - March 28th, 2020
- Oxford academic claims future humans could live for thousands of years - Express.co.uk - March 26th, 2020
- Electioneering on the Eve of the Virus Nathan Thornburgh and photographer Shane Carpenter were in New - Roads and Kingdoms - March 26th, 2020
- MultiBrief: Surviving coronavirus: Bravery, health, and strength - MultiBriefs Exclusive - March 26th, 2020
- Coronavirus and the Rise and Fall of Humanism - CounterPunch - March 26th, 2020
- The Fight against Socialism Isnt Over - National Review - March 16th, 2020
- Harry Hains, actor in American Horror Story and The OA, dies at 27 - SYFY WIRE - January 11th, 2020
- WISeKey to Hold its 13th Annual Cybersecurity IoT Blockchain Roundtable in Davos on January 22, 2020 - GlobeNewswire - December 25th, 2019
- Misinformation, hacking, and imploding startups: 18 books to read in 2020 that puncture Silicon Valley utopianism - Business Insider - December 25th, 2019
- Best books of 2019 - Patheos - December 21st, 2019
- The 50 best TV shows of 2019: No 4 Years and Years - The Guardian - December 21st, 2019
- The Big Read Poppy: Human After All, the NME interview - NME.com - November 13th, 2019
- Jonathan Kay: What to make of racism, sexism and homophobia from the same people lecturing us about bigotry - National Post - November 13th, 2019
- How Australian viewers are reacting to 'Years and Years' - SBS - November 13th, 2019
- Are LED lights and other techno-implants slowly turning us into the Borg? - SYFY WIRE - October 16th, 2019
- The finale issue of House of X/Powers of X: We dig into every detail - Polygon - October 16th, 2019
- Yudkowsky - The AI-Box Experiment - June 3rd, 2019
- Corporate Growth Summit and International M&A Awards - June 3rd, 2019
- 7 Reasons Why Transhumanism is the Greatest Threat to the ... - May 22nd, 2019
- Transhuman | Future | FANDOM powered by Wikia - April 20th, 2019
- Transhuman | Snafu Comics Wiki | FANDOM powered by Wikia - April 20th, 2019
- The TransHuman Code Initiative | A new initiative that ... - April 20th, 2019
- THE ADVENT OF THE TRANSHUMANS - News - Dreadnought - April 20th, 2019
- Transhuman Treachery - TV Tropes - April 20th, 2019
- Home - Believer - April 12th, 2019
- Transhuman by Jonathan Hickman - April 7th, 2019
- Calls for papers Conferences taking place in May 2019 - April 5th, 2019
- Transhuman Artificial Intelligence Coming to a Hive Mind ... - April 5th, 2019
- Transhuman Space Wiki | FANDOM powered by Wikia - March 18th, 2019
- Overwatch Transhuman Arm | Xenic-HL2RP Wiki | FANDOM ... - March 18th, 2019
- The TransHuman Code Initiative - January 8th, 2019
- Groundbreaking project seeks to 'bring dead back to life ... - December 5th, 2018
- The Transhuman Code - December 5th, 2018
- Transhuman r/Transhuman - reddit - December 5th, 2018
- Transhuman Space - Steve Jackson Games - November 3rd, 2018
- Transhuman Space: Bioroid Bazaar - November 3rd, 2018
- Believer - Transhuman - Amazon.com Music - August 22nd, 2018
- When Robots Take Over, What Happens to Us? - July 29th, 2018
- Nick Knight - Home - July 14th, 2018
- Transhuman Aliens - TV Tropes - May 30th, 2018