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The Transhumanistic Era

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According to Futurium  the online platform of the Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology of the European Commission:

“By 2050, a new form of human (a trans-human) will emerge, where ICTs and bio-medicine will fundamentally improve the human condition and greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. The augmentation of human beings’ cognitive and intellectual abilities through technological implants, such as memory and energy storage, will be possible.”

The 2013 report was a study of a variety of themes or stories about the future, and a total of eleven different themes were considered in a poll format. An electorate of 449 voters responded, and cast votes

The purpose of the survey was to give an indication of:

  1. the relevance or impact generated by the themes: measured on a scale from 1 to 10)
  2. the timing the themes would need policy attention: 2015, 2020 or 2050.

The eleven themes were developed as “a synthesis of more than 200 Futures co-created by hundreds of ‘futurizens‘ within the Futurium and in brainstorming sessions, both online and actual events all around Europe.”

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According to the site, the “co-creation process started as a trial in autumn 2011, a series of internal brainstorming workshops involved all units within the Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technologies (DG CONNECT)…Brainstorming sessions continued during 2012-2013 to engage Europeans in the co-creation of futures, using the Futurium as the underlying model….From July to October 2013, DG CONNECT consolidated the Futures to improve their quality and fill-in gaps (e.g. to cover missing ICT R&I topics in FP7 or H2020).”

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The Futures were then summarised into the 11 themes.

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Respondents were asked to vote for themes but also to give an estimate of their expectations about the timing of the theme and its relevance. Interestingly the theme entitled, “the Trasnhumanic Era”, which covers transhumanist developments received the most votes of all eleven themes but was ranked 2nd to last in terms of relevance.

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Although the report doesn’t actually offer an explanation of this, a couple of theories are presented here. First, might have respondents felt transhumanist technologies were farther into the future than the other choices and respondents did place the trasnhumanistic era at around 2050 the latest time period considered. Alternatively, respondents might have felt they wouldn’t benefit from these technologies, an idea discussed in the presented issues.

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The report goes on to state that “Humans will benefit from better senses and biological capabilities that are so far the prerogative of other species (e.g. speed, resistance, adaptation to extreme conditions, etc.). ” Both risks and opportunities are covered, but it takes a precautionary approach focusing mostly around the risks and arguing that “Understanding the ethical and regulatory implications of the ‘enhanced human’, managing change and impacts on individuals (body-mind adaptation), preventing new divides, regulating use of ‘add-ons’ (e.g. for military use)” are key issues that need to be addressed by policy makers.

The themes include several other possible futures that will be of interest to transhumanists and h+ readers in general. The theme Super-Centenarian Societies explores impacts of longevity science including anti-aging technologies, rejuvenation, healthspan enhancement, and impacts.

Within the transhumanistic era discussion itself, sIxteen issues and opportunities are discussed and included here for further discussion.

  • Safety: the impacts generated by the contamination of biology with technology are unpredictable, particularly, the side-effects on biological functions and psychology. These remain largely to be studied even today (e.g.  drugs for cognitive enhancement).
  • Social issues: whereas individual enhancement might be considered an individual’s right, the social implications raise issues such as: dealing with the dichotomy of haves and have-nots, avoiding disparities, for instance from the economically disadvantaged not being able to access certain enhancements, societal acceptance, etc.
  • Human identity and values: human enhancement blurs the notion of identity and of what it means to be human. It may also lead to a new normative view of the human, thus stigmatising what does not attain this norm, by choice or otherwise. These issues exist already at the heart of debates around trans-humanism.
  • Regulation and law enforcement: can we ensure that the rights of all beings (and machines) are accurately defined, reflected in law and respected, as our shared values evolve?
  • Legal issues: e.g. how might society view the transfer of augmentation features to offspring, or the right of parents to choose certain augmentations for their children before or after birth?
  • Trade-offs: what challenges might arise in building human enhancement technologies to reflect trade-offs between control and freedom, and between risks and needs to advance research?
  • Bioethics and the need for new concepts and regulations: what are the moral implications of using human-enhancement technologies for offensive or competition purposes, like combat, intelligence, or sports?  Will humanity be able to agree on strong regulations and enforcement worldwide?
  • Clash between regulatory frameworks and demand for human enhancement; too restrictive regulatory policies could lead to a potentially huge shadow economy in the related sectors.
  • Divides: emergence of an inequality gap between enhanced and non-enhanced humans.
  • Acceptance: what might be the primary ethical debates regarding big data storage about human anatomy, diseases, lifestyles; religious acceptance against human extension?
  • Will a shared framework of ethical governance that helps ensuring the integrity of all beings, from human to machine – as interconnectedness between humans, machines, and other life forms accelerates, and our shared cognition, and perception of cognition, emerge?
  • How will new technologies and applications in bio-medicine, ICT and material sciences; and new market sectors leveraging new technologies and responsible innovation, evolve?
  • Will we be able to resolve equality and inclusion issues, particularly recovery and enhancement of lost or damaged physiological functions, making the body more resilient and resistant for all?
  • In the light of potential emergence of trans-humanity, will we see enhancement of safety and healing, and improving living conditions for all?
  • How, and to what extent, will enhanced capabilities increase of people’s productivity?
  • Will transhumanism open up significant opportunities to reduce dependency on unsustainable technologies (e.g. running instead of driving)?

Join the conversation. What do think are the issues are for the “transhumanistic era”? Did the Futurium get it right? See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prediction_market

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H/T JIm Lai for the pointer to this study.