What Does it Mean to Be a Transhumanist?
To me, transhumanism is a temporary movement — transitional. Its role is to help individuals and society transition to living in a world where some portion of society technologically transforms their minds and bodies on both incremental and fundamental levels. This might vary from getting a Google-connected neural implant to uploading one’s consciousness into a virtual world. We transhumanists consider (cautious!) developments along these lines to be a good thing, and feel that the most pressing objections and concerns have been adequately addressed, including:
– What are the reasons to expect all these changes?
– Won’t these developments take thousands or millions of years?
– What if it doesn’t work?
– Won’t it be boring to live forever in a perfect world?
– Will new technologies only benefit the rich and powerful?
– Aren’t these future technologies very risky? Could they even cause our extinction?
– If these technologies are so dangerous, should they be banned?
– Shouldn’t we concentrate on current problems…
– Will extended life worsen overpopulation problems?
– Will posthumans or superintelligent machines pose a threat to humans who aren’t augmented?
– Isn’t this tampering with nature?
– Isn’t death part of the natural order of things?
The key is to see “Transhumanism” as a philosophy being just a temporary crutch, a tool for humanity to safely make the leap to transhumanity. Transhumanism is really only simplified humanism. Eventually, transhumanists hope to see a world where a wide variety of physical and cognitive modifications are available to everyone at reasonable cost, and their use is responsibly regulated, with freedom broadly prevailing over authoritarianism and control. When and if we arrive at that world in one piece, everyone will become de facto transhumanists, just as today, most people are de facto “industrialists” (benefit from and contribute to modern industrial society) and de facto “computerists”.
It is also possible to imagine someone who doesn’t anticipate taking advantage of transhumanist technologies being in favor of “transhumanism” nonetheless. That is, insofar as transhumanists competently and openly discuss the potential upsides and downsides of certain ambitious technological pathways such as extreme life extension and artificial intelligence, and make progress towards beneficial futures. Since widespread cognitive and physical enhancement is something that will soon effect everyone, including the unmodified, everyone has an obvious stake in the trajectory of enhancement technologies even if they do not personally use them.
Transhumanism can also be viewed as a discussion primarily among those who anticipate taking advantage of enhancement technologies before most others. As such, transhumanism forms a beacon that alerts the rest of society to likely changes and informs society about the kind of people who are most interested in human enhancement. Since certain “transhumanist” technologies, particularly intelligence enhancement, may prove to have decisive power over the course of history in the centuries ahead, it is important to examine the groups pursuing it and their motives.
For instance, DARPA is a hotbed of enhancement research. So, the role of the transhumanist is to alert society to that fact, ask them if they care, and if so, what they think about it. Is it a good thing that the development of human enhancement is being spearheaded by the United States military?
A transhumanist elicits opinions and perspectives of human enhancement from a variety of commentators who might not spontaneously offer their opinions otherwise. This includes critics of enhancement such as The New Atlantis, representing the “Judeo-Christian moral tradition”.
Another purpose of the transhumanist is to be a concentrated source of facts and opinions on the concrete details of proposed enhancements, with facts and opinions clearly distinguished from each other. In theory, if the long-term dangers of a particular new technology or enhancement therapy plausibly exceed the benefits, transhumanists are responsible for discouraging the development of those technologies, instead developing alternative technologies that maximize benefits while minimizing risks. It would be easier for transhumanists to divert funding away from dangerous technologies, than, say bio-conservatives, because researchers under the influence of the extended transhumanist memeplex are the ones developing the crucial technologies and bio-conservatives are not.
A transhumanist is not just a blind technological cheerleader, enraptured by the supposed inevitability of a cornucopian future. A transhumanist should acknowledge the hazy and uncertain nature of the future, accepting beliefs only to the degree that the evidence merits, guided not by ideology but by flexible thinking, always welcoming criticism and views contrary to standard orthodoxies.
Michael Anissimov is the editor of H+ magazine and media director for Singularity Institute.