Wise 1 Kevin Wise Mrs. Crawford AP Lang, E Block 28 February 2011 Embracing the Ones Who Embrace the Future The alchemists’ dreams: flight, the ability to manipulate the elements, and immortality. The goal of any alchemist was to reach their full potential, mentally and physically. Not unlike the transhumanists. “We have transmuted the elements and learned to fly,” says Max More. “Immortality is next” (More). More is a prominent figure in the subculture of transhumanists. In fact, he was the one who coined the term “transhumanism” in 1994 with his essay On Becoming Posthuman. However, being a transhumanist and being an alchemist are two totally different things, as can be seen in the definition of transhumanism. Transhumanism can be separated into two categories: transhumanism and transhumanism. The former is the belief that humans are able to move beyond their biological constraints through improvements in technology. The latter is simply an implication that transhumanism has the markings of its ancestor, humanism. Both belief systems promote the positivity of humanity and have an overall optimistic outlook on mankind’s progress (More). There are no rites or rituals. To be transhuman is to believe in those two notions. And, although the transhumanists are not alchemists, their roots are very similar. The idea to transcend humanity was the catalyst for both groups back in the Middle Ages, but the idea of being transhuman had not yet been incorporated at that time (humanism was the big ideology that was forming). However, as technology began growing rapidly in the Industrial Age, ideas of Wise 2 how important technology was for the progress of mankind began to spread and traces of transhumanist ideas could be seen. But it was not until the late 20th century that transhumanism came to the forefront. The idea that humans could be enhanced technologically existed earlier, but with the explosion of the Internet came the proof of concept (Garreau 27-28). Transhumanist theories were created in lieu of this massive social change. One such theory was pioneered by Ray Kurzweil, the inventor of the text to speech machine and a prominent futurist. “Kurzweil believes computer intelligence is advancing so rapidly that in a couple of decades, machines will be as intelligent as humans. Soon after that they will surpass humans and start creating even smarter technology” (Lyons). Kurzweil, a highly influential transhumanist, predicted the popularity of the Internet and has written a few books containing even more predictions of the future. And he was already a big name with his invention of the text to speech and speech recognition programs. So, with those achievements under his belt, many take his word for it. However, while his previous theory seems feasible, it is the next one that proves divisive for most, and ultimately separates the transhumanists from non-transhumanists. “[Kurzweil] also thinks we’ll be able to embed our consciousness into silicon, which means we can live on, inside machines, forever and ever […] Kurzweil calls this moment The Singularity,’ and says it represents the next great leap in human evolution, when humans will transcend biology by merging with technology” (Lyons). The Singularity is a popular idea amongst transhumanists and is the culmination of that goal mentioned earlier: immortality. That is what transhumanists fight for in the modern era. However, it is this fight that makes transhumanists a controversial subculture. They do not receive criticism for acts of violence or irrationality. They do not do that. It is their beliefs that receive criticism and create the air of controversy surrounding the subculture. The quest for Wise 3 immortality is the big one. According to prominent transhumanist figures like Garreau and More, the idea of elongating their lives or becoming immortal is what humans fear the most. “[…] there’s the problem you encounter when asking people what they would do if offered the chance to live for a very long time-150 years or more. Nine out of 10 boggle at this thought. Many actually recoil” (Garreau 21). More agrees with Garreau on this point, but also feels that the increase in life expectancy is gradually accepted into society. People do not like thinking they will outlive the modern norm, even though they most likely will (More). But it is not just the transhumanist belief that life expectancy will increase all the way to immortality that scares people. There is also the process by which transhumanists want to get there. Kurzweil’s theory on the Singularity was already mentioned and that idea already scares a few people away from transhumanism. But there are more ideas. Biological implants, nanotechnology, performance enhancing drugs; these are widely accepted methods of enhancing the human life by transhumanists. That is scary to people, not just because of the daunting idea of immortality, but because of another big question. How far until one loses humanity? With all this merging of machinery, reliance on drugs, and dependence on technology, at what point does one lose what makes us human? Without faults, what is the point of achieving perfection? And does that not spit in the face of transhumanism? Dehumanization is a serious criticism against the ideologies of transhumanism and the merging of human and machine that should emerge. An almost nightmarish scenario detailed by Garreau in Radical Evolution is almost a point in the favor of the opposing side of transhumanism. Garreau makes the hypothetical situation of a girl in the future who does not receive any of the biological enhancements obtained during the era and compares her to the huge population that does. The girl is forced to compete for grades in a class filled with cyborg-like Wise 4 teenagers. She realizes that she may never succeed the same way they will in the future. They are all beautiful; symmetrical faces, muscular without exercise. They are all linked to a social network in their own head, constantly communicating. If they ever need an answer to a question, all they have to do is cock their head to the side and receive an answer, like an advanced search engine (Garreau 24-26). They are all too perfect, too robotic, to be considered human. The one human in that class has to be left in the dust of her too perfect classmates, and the barely human become the prominent force in that world. Of course, this entire situation is made up, but, if predictions like Kurzweil’s prove to be true, this scenario could be something to fear (or celebrate, depending on one’s point of view) and provides the fuel for Francis Fukuyama’s fire. Fukuyama is an example of the opposite end of the transhumanists: a naturalist philosopher. He claims that tampering with human traits and abilities is “one of ‘the world’s most dangerous ideas’” (Anderson). He believes doing so would cause us to lose humanity. And he has a point, if these predictions prove to be true. More would be quick to disagree with Fukuyama’s point, however. He states that the transhumanist ideas of enhancing humans technologically would actually expand their own humanity. More’s defense: humans are already programmed. It is a common belief amongst transhumanists. Kurzweil believes that neurons and brain function are controlled by some sort of code that humans can eventually figure out and manipulate in order to become more human (Farrar). More states our programming is not so robotic. Our emotions are what dictate our actions. More wants these enhancements to keep our thoughts and desires and check. He also wants to control our biological needs through technological improvements. He, and transhumanists, believes that these enhancements will be accepted through time, like greater life expectancy, and cites examples of the modern day to prove his point. Artificial joints, contact Wise 5 lenses, inhalers; these are all examples of enhancements to a body that is suffering in one area that are widely accepted. However, the difference between these enhancements and the ones that transhumanists want to ascend to perfection are that the former are somewhat necessary. More states that the, through time, the unnecessary ones will become the norm through time (More). So More’s counterpoint to Fukuyama really puts the debate into a stalemate. But then, as the battle seems equal, society’s popular entertainment and media comes to Fukuyama’s aid, blowing More and his transhumanist friends out of the water. Transhumanist ideas have had a huge effect on the entertainment industry, whether it be movies, comics, or even videogames. However, rarely any of these mediums portray transhumanism in a good way. They normally paint a bleak future filled with conformed and disconnected humans (Garreau 38). For example, the popular movie and videogame, respectively, Gattaca and Deus Ex. Gattaca was a movie about a man in a world filled with humans that had their entire lives determined for them at birth through genetic engineering. This man was the only one who was born naturally and worked his way higher up the hierarchy by pretending to be a higher genetic ranking. Gattaca takes transhumanist concepts that are supposed to suggest optimism for the future of humanity (modifying babies at birth to make them better than they would be otherwise) and modifies it to tell a naturalist tale about overcoming the overwhelming odds technology presses upon plain humans. Deus Ex, a videogame, was similar. The player took control of a technologically enhanced cop, given the choice to act mercilessly towards his foes (kill enemies) or carry out the missions without casualty (stun enemies). However, by the end of the story, the corporation that created this enhanced cop is portrayed as a greedy, malevolent force and must be stopped by the player, no matter what decisions were made earlier. What both these pieces of media manage to do is take the exact opposite of the transhumanists’ view of the future and release it to the public, Wise 6 while placing a negative spin on popular transhumanist ideas. Even if the average human being does not think about what they are watching or playing, they may subconsciously gain opinions on the innovations they are observing or experiencing. This leaves a bad taste in their mouths when they are introduced to any transhumanist concept, because they have already been exposed to media that tells them not to tamper with human nature (More). This certainly did not help. Maybe this would not be such a big problem if society was more well-informed on transhumanists and their ideas. But the transhumanists are very quiet about any major discoveries in a field that relates to them. Either that, or people just do not find it interesting enough. Others have suggested that transhumanists just are not living up to their claims. “[…] the rational materialist denial of discrete persistent selves calls into question the transhumanist project of individual longevity and enhancement” (Hughes). Hughes makes a good point; that the transhumanists really cannot give a through explanation as to how any of these technological enhancements, like immortality, are truly going to work, which would explain why the transhumanists have no control over how their ideas are spread. More agrees, to an extent. The transhumanists do not have control over the negative light placed on their ideas, but that is only because they do not have the chances to prove it wrong. There is a lack of funding towards research in the areas life enhancement, something that More and most transhumanists feel is unjust and, quite frankly, senseless. The only reason they feel they cannot explain their theories is because there is not enough money going their way to prove them (More). Wise 7 However, even with the lack of resources to do so, transhumanists have made great strides recently. “Another drug, propranolol, has the quite different aim of weakening troubling memories. Memories are etched with particular strength in stressful situations, including wars, car accidents and rapes” (Anderson). The drug has not been mass produced, but has been tested on rats and has completely erased their memory without hampering their learning. More states that Dr. Aubrey de Grey from SENS has been very important in the transhumanist movement in life longevity through the creation of rejuvenation techniques and medicines (More). “One scientist is developing something called a respirocyte, a robotic red blood cell that, if injected into the bloodstream, would allow humans to do an Olympic sprint for 15 minutes without taking a breath or sit at the bottom of a swimming pool for hours at a time. Other researchers are developing nanoparticles that can locate tumors and one day even eradicate them” (Farrar). These are innovations that are under the spotlight, ideas immensely inspired by transhumanist ideas and theories. It is safe to say that the transhumanists have had a profound effect in the area of science. Science is not the only branch of humanity affected though. Looking back at Deus Ex and Gattaca, those were both successful. In fact, they became classics within the mediums they were representing. Transhumanism’s ideas of human enhancement and great dependence on technology have created a darker genre within sci-fi. A genre that portrays the future as a bleak dystopia where humanity shall be controlled by super computers and A.I. Sure, these themes do not play in the transhumanists’ favor, but it does prove that transhumanist ideas have had an effect on popular media and helped create a well-received genre. And it is not like the transhumanists are immoral monsters creating Frakensteins left and right. In fact they gather to discuss the ramifications of their actions and theories at conferences Wise 8 and summits. “On the final day of the Global Catastrophic Risk Conference, experts will focus on what could be the unintended consequences of new technologies, such as superintelligent machines that, if ill-conceived, might cause the demise of Homo sapiens” (Farrar). They even discuss situations that are conceived in the media mentioned earlier! “Human enhancement enthusiasts sing of a future, or a present, in which human beings have escaped all manner of physical limitation. They engage in deep conversations about the real-world ethics of creating superbeings, about ending suffering by ‘redesigning the hedonic treadmill’” (Cavanaugh). The transhumanists are careful with the innovations they both propose and create, and realize that there can be risks to what they say and do. However, they believe that their goals are noble ones, producing a greater good than evil. And they do not want to sacrifice ethics to obtain their goals. Referencing transhumanism’s idea of performance enhancement through technology, Van Hiilvoorde and Landerweed make this statement: “Technological developments for disabled athletes may facilitate their competition in standard elite sports. They raise intriguing philosophical questions that challenge dominant notions of body and normality” (Hiilvoorde and Landerweed). More was happy to provide an answer to these questions, in transhumanist terms. If there are rules to the game, he believes, enhancements should not be used if not advocated. If anything is game, he strongly promotes using technological enhancements to make sure one can play or just enhance one’s play style. However, he was quick to make the point that the use of steroids or their ilk is ill-advised as they can cause heart problems and transhumanists do their best to fight such an adversity (More). And that is the transhumanist belief on how transhumanist ideologies should relate to sport’s ethics. They take a similar neutral stance on many ethical decisions. Wise 9 The transhumanists just seem like a group that is misunderstood. They want the best for humanity and do their best to fight for it, but they are constantly pushed away by the very people they are trying to help. They cannot be detrimental to this society because it is only the ideas of transhumanism that scare people away and these ideas cannot even be validated by those who advocate them. So, unfortunately, people accept these same ideas from media that chooses to highlight possible negativities of the subculture’s notions. From those who are more aware as to what the transhumanists are trying to convey, transhumanists receive criticism for their way of thinking and lack of substantial evidence for their predictions. Even then, transhumanists look for ways to enhance humanity, both scientifically and philosophically. They take baby steps towards their goals, looking for support from all sides. Embracing the future, they look for those that will embrace them.
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