In the modern age of electronics, the word transhumanism has begun to enter into common vernacular as it diffuses into the mainstream (Bostrom, 2003). Some view this phenomenon as a burgeoning lifestyle choice and a cultural phenomenon that exercises foresight and participates in social activism (Dvorsky, 2008). Transhumanism views the world through a linear lens (Dvorsky, 2008), and emphasizes ideals of autonomy and personal liberty (Bostrom, 2005) with the aim of achieving biochemical control over naturally occurring process (Bostrom, 2003). As has been the case for many social and cultural movements in recent history, “The Internet played an important role in incubating modern transhumanism by facilitating the meeting of minds” (Bostrom, 2005, p. 15).
Even under unifying umbrella provided by the WTA, transhumanists have a diverse range of opinions and priorities. The modern transhumanist tool kit includes virtual reality, pre-implantation screening and diagnosis, genetic engineering, pharmaceuticals, cosmetic surgery, prosthetics, and computer-human interface (Bostrom, 2005). In his 1989 book Are you a transhuman?, F.M. Esfandiary defined the state of being transhuman as being a human-in-transition, who, through their extensive use of technology and evolving cultural values, would serve to usher in “the coming era of posthumanity” (Bostrom, 2005, p. 14). Signs of this reckoning included: prosthesis, plastic surgery, intensive use of telecommunications, a cosmopolitan outlook, globe-trotting lifestyles, androgyny, emerging reproductive technologies, the absence of religious beliefs and a rejection of traditional family values, although no reference was made as to why a cosmopolitan jet-setter who had undergone liposuction and rejected family values would represent a preferable evolutionary trajectory (Bostrom, 2005).
“#IfObamaDon’tWin I say we try to build a new planet and all go live there.” Lady Gaga
Image courtesy of Breitbart.com
Not everyone is so quick to embrace these developments, however. In general, biotechnologies have the capacity to disrupt those common life experiences that are generally taken for granted, and those biotechnologies that pertain to the beginning and end of life are often the most controversial (Joralemon, 2010). Biological conservativism is a school of thought that opposes the technological manipulation of biological capacities, primarily based on a perceived threat to human dignity due to the dehumanizing potential of these technologies (Jotterand, 2010). Most of these emotivist arguments are quickly overturned (Jotterand, 2010), likely because “it is characteristic of societies based on large, complex technological systems… that moral reasons other than those of practical necessity appear increasingly obsolete, ‘idealistic,’ and irrelevant” (Winner, 1986, p. 36).
Other criticisms for the advancement of biotechnologies highlight the “ongoing social process in which scientific knowledge, technological invention, and corporate profit reinforce each other in deeply entrenched patterns” (Winner, 1986, p. 27). For example, oversight of the commercialization of nanotechnology – the ability to measure, see, predict, and manufacture on an atomic scale – is conducted by three major organizations worldwide, with over 70% of the research in this field being conducted in the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Japan, and Russia (Arnall, 2003). Recently, the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology Program at MIT was awarded a $50 million contract by the United States Army (Arnall, 2003). Politicians have been eagerly investing in any scientific domain that make any sort of claims pertaining to nanotechnology for three reasons: this field is predicted as having potential for future sources of catalystic energy, advancing the fields of genomics and pharmaceuticals, and is likely to be adapted to military technologies (Arnall, 2003). The latter is of particular concern, considering the prevailing history of michromechanical research in the context of nuclear weapons development, which has contributed to the fear of a nanotechnological arms race between the industrialized nations (Arnall, 2003).
Tom Clancy’s “Future Soldier”
Courtesy of uk.Playstation.com
Artificial Intelligence and Human Enhancement
Moore’s law, writ into being by the co-founder of Intel, states that computing power doubles every eighteen months to two years (Bostrom, 2005). Originally, the singularity hypothesis referred to the likelihood that rapid speed-up will lead to a discontinuity between man and machine; today, the term makes reference to the creation of self-improving artificial intelligence (Bostrom, 2005). In 1993, Verner Vinge wrote, “Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly thereafter, the human era will be ended” (Bostrom, 2005, p. 9). Today, transhumanists have divergent opinions on the likelihood of singularity (Bostrom, 2005).
Like many others, cognitive scientist Andy Clark believes that computer literacy extends and transforms human cognitive capacity (Rheingold, 2002), and there are those that emphasize how continual connectivity has the potential to increase productivity and memory (Turkle, 2011). The notion of interface technology is close to being realized; the work of researchers at MIT’s Media Lab began a process of physical and digital transformation in 1996, and “Thus provisioned, they called themselves cyborgs and were always wirelessly connected to the Internet, always online, free from desks and cables.” (Turkle, 2011, p. 151) Currently, transhumanists promote three principles in the decision to augment the human figure: human enhancement technology should be available to everyone, individuals have a right to morphological freedom, and parents have the right to decide which technologies are suitable on the behalf of their children (Jotterand, 2010). Howard Rheingold would be the first to point out that “without adequate knowledge of the of the dynamics of such changes and of how people want their lives to change, there is no guarantee that new uses of communications technology will improve the [human] experience” (Rheingold, 2002, p. 207).
Image courtesy of Anderjak Creations
In 1962, Robert Ettinger published The Prospect of Eternal Life, postulating the idea of cryonic suspension (Bostrom, 2005). Even today, this post-mortem option remains a fringe alternative, and two cryonics labs have filed for bankruptcy, allowing their clients to thaw (Bostrom, 2005). Barring the cryogenics movement, few alternatives to mortality have been successfully identified and capitalized, although the current aim of research is to preserve good health for an indefinite period of time (Bostrom, 2003). Transhumanists use the word “biohacking” to refer to the idea of fooling the body’s natural biochemical process, reflecting the notion of the body as a machine (Dvorsky, 2008). For example, recent studies have indicated that caloric restriction may contribute to longer lifespans; knowing this, many biohackers have voluntarily adopted calorie restricted diets in order to promote longevity (Dvorsky, 2008).
Image courtesy of ExplainingtheFuture.com