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 range 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.

Comments

  1. RespectfulDisagreement

    “- What are the reasons to expect all these changes?
    [removed for brevity]
    – Isn’t death part of the natural order of things?”
    This is hardly the list of the most pressing objections try reading Dales blog. He has a host of objections which are not answered here and you have failed to refute as far as I can tell. I think its a little presumptuous to declare the primary objections answered when in fact there is a blog filled with cogent objections that you cannot and have not answered.

    “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. [removed for brevity] 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”.”

    I couldn’t disagree more. This is attaching credit to transhumanism for social and technological advancement that transhumanists have not earned. Transhumanists cannot claim credit for any of their superlative future technologies or for current scientific progress. Simple reason: because current scientific progress has nothing to do with being a transhumanist. Further more the primary techno-scientific developmental discourse takes places outside of transhumanism, where transhumanists have little or no impact.

    “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.”

    How is this anything but cheerleading?

    “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?”

    Actually DARPA tells people what they are up to. The news tells you what they are up to, and the majority of what they are up to is not publicly accessible so I hardly think this is fair to consider tranhsumanism as playing any significant role here.

    “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.”

    What concrete facts can you present on FAI? Math, Published Papers, Patents? What concrete facts do you have about your proposed robot bodies? How about cryonics? Can you present any concrete facts beyond the fact that cryobiologists think they can freeze people in a viable way. How about the full revival of a person who has died, what concrete facts have you to back that up?

    “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.”

    So tell me what is one single technology that transhumanists have brought to market or significantly impacted the funding of? Where are these transhuman scientists who out number non-transhuman researchers and would have such an impact? I am curious where transhumanism becomes the motivating factor for current techno-scientific development? The way you talk is like transhumanism is the dominant viewpoint which it is not. In fact transhumanism is fringe and is outnumbered by (gasp) christians, buddists, hindus and muslims etc. I bet we can even find other cults with more members.

    “A transhumanist is not just a blind technological cheerleader, enraptured by the supposed inevitability of a cornucopian future.”

    I am curious how this squares with ideas such as dyson spheres? How is this based on scientific fact or any current science? I am curious in the absence of actual transhumanist developed technologies what role do think transhumanist have played up till now? What has transhumanism done that isn’t already done in a more impactful way in current socio-political and techno-scientific discourses? How have you done anything but cheer for technologies and create a sci-fi fanbase?

    What impact as transhumanism had that is actually measurable? I see lots of wishful thinking and lots of claims of connectedness with science and history but no actions to which these connections can be tied. In fact it seems to me you are claiming credit for ideas which are not original to transhumanism, that in fact are common place concepts which transhumanists love to claim credit for. I do not have to be a transhumanist to be concerned about technology and its impact nor do I need transhumanism to do science. I think you have failed in your burden of proof for this argument.

  2. Michelle Waters

    I tend to see a transhumanist as someone who is interested in discussing technologies that have the ability to interface closely with humans. A lot of transhumanism IS about fantasy but real issues come up as well. Look at what we have currently.

    1. Contraception – a no-brainer for a lot of people but traditional Catholics and some Protestants have trouble with it.

    2. Abortion – Nearly guaranteed to start a flame war if defended or attacked.

    3. IVF – Non-controversial now, but hugely controversial when it first appeared.

    4. Artificial limbs – Not as versatile as real ones but good enough that specialized can regarded as an enhancement in some athletic competition..

    5. Organ transplants – Probably will become obsolete do to lab grown organs but still controversial in several ways.

    6. Psychiatric drugs – Controversy about how well they work and some people are just uncomfortable with the idea.

    7. Dialysis – This one is a nightmare in some ways, it keeps you alive but with a declining level of function.

    8. Performance enhancing Drugs – Many work but the side effects are worrisome as are the ethics.

    There are quite a few others. I feel transhumanism is the discussion of what could happen as technologies such as the ones mentioned above improve and proliferate.

    • Only a vanishingly small portion of those who have useful and informed things to say on any of these topics are transhumanist-identified and indeed most of them — once you explained what a “transhumanist” was — would forcefully disdain the label, as you well know. The sorts of things transhumanists uniquely talk about, ie, the presumably near-term developmental timelines and resulting “policy quandaries” of genetic posthumanization and superlongevity, “mind” uploading, desktop nanofactories yielding superabundance, nonbiological superintelligence, history-ending Robot Gods, better than real immersive VRs, megascale climate-engineering wet dreams and so on bear no substantive relation to these topics, and indeed in my view such topics are altogether deranged when re-framed in terms of the real preoccupations of superlative futurology (although no doubt it provides a congenial sanewashing of the hyperbole to talk about more mainstream bioethical quandaries when one wants to sooth the nerves of academics and funders and the like from time to time).

      • richard holt

        Thank you for your last posts, Dale. Finally i feel like I’m seeing your point. Also you sneaked in another reference to male reproductive emissions and that made me giggle.

        I think we have one main area of disagreement which spills over into other areas, namely our estimates of cost/reward/benefit/probability. Again i would return to the core of my self-identification with the H+ movement, namely the case of cognitive enhancements and/or AI, developments which are already happening with accelerating pace. The cost of allocating resources to a rational analysis or these possibilities is negligible. The cost of the research itself is enormous, but, as several posts, correctly point out, they are being met regardless of the H+ movement. The risks and potential benefits are substantial. And the probability of a revolutionary historical discontinuity does not even need to be high in absolute terms to warrant the attention it is given by the H+ analysis. A 1% percent chance would be sufficient.

        • To the extent that superlative futurologists pretend to constitute a site of serious science, serious philosophy, or serious policy-making the better to attract undue attention or authority to themselves or consolidate the reality-effect of their unhealthy techno-transcendentalizing wish-fulfillment fantasies I disapprove of them as fraudulent, as harmful to their believers, and as deranging to the urgently necessary stakeholder deliberation concerning the distribution of actual risks, costs, and benefits to actually ongoing and actually emerging technodevelopmental change and struggle in the world.

          Futurological rhetoric and organization and subcultures in both their mainstream (deceptive, hyperbolic marketing forms and neoliberal developmental rationalizations) and superlative (transhumanism, singularitarianism, techno-immortalism, nano-cornucopianism, cybernetic-totalism, geo-engineering greenwashing) are all responsible and still capable of real mischief in my view and both for that and as an interesting constellation of pathological objects in its own right, futurology demands analysis and critique by others than its adherents.

  3. I object to your positive characterization of modern industrial society and the political details of your future vision, but we’re almost on the same page here. I hope transhumanism calls attention to and criticizes DARPA human enhancement research rather than blithely supporting it as way to get cool toys.

    • richard holt

      I agree. There are many fearful scenarios where enhancement technologies are monopolized by malevolent entities, or where such entities control more-than-human-level AI. The extent to which the U.S. military could be considered such an entity is a moot point.

  4. RespectfulDisagreement

    @Michelle Waters
    “There are quite a few others. I feel transhumanism is the discussion of what could happen as technologies such as the ones mentioned above improve and proliferate.”

    How is transhumanism a self-marginalized group of intellectual outcasts contributing in any material way to the discourse about any current scientific progress?

    I haven’t seen any evidence that transhumanism has gained any real ability to influence the techno-scientific discourse especially considering that most scientist and intellectual leaders will not give the movement the time of day.

  5. NerdsFTW

    Transhumanism is a sci-fi geek club and let’s keep it that way!

    • If you’re an sf fandom why call it a “movement”? If you’re an sf fandom why speak of being a “philosophy”? Why are there transhumanist and singularitarian “organizations” claiming to do science, to do policy analysis, to represent new religions even? I’m an sf fan, I’m a queergeek, I’m a big nerd — I actually teach philosophy and also science and technology studies at the university level. Nobody joins a Robot Cult to do science, to do public policy, to do serious philosophy, or even to enjoy sf. Wake up.

    • richard holt

      If you want to join a sci-fi geek club there are star trek conventions where you can dress up. Awesome i know !!!

  6. jus browzin

    Given the achievements of transhumanism – geeky discussion clubs with the occasional scientist superstar making an appearance – I don’t think there’s anything there to really attack any more than there’s anything to attack in science fiction, its fans or authors.

    This whole transhumanism thing is just a bunch of dreamers of a better world, joined by a loose memeplex that has grown over the years – as these things tend to go.

    What’s so bad or special about that?

    And doesn’t everyone else also need to make a buck to keep their club running, so what’s the problem there?

    They’re not influencing anything real, and if they are, somebody must think their reasoning is worth something.

    • I almost wish this were true. To the contrary, transhumanist and especially Singularitarian ideas suffuse the Silicon Valley elite by all accounts. See Jaron Lanier and the glowing forwards Bill Gates writes to Kurzweil’s books.

    • richard holt

      In response to

      I haven’t seen any evidence that transhumanism has gained any real ability to influence the techno-scientific discourse especially considering that most scientist and intellectual leaders will not give the movement the time of day.

      I think you might want to reconsider your position

      Bill Gates has described Ray Kurtzweil as a “visionary thinker and futurist.”, has invited him to dinner – twice – to pick his brains for insights on the future of technology.

      The co-founder of Sun Microsystems, Bill Joy, is convinced that growing advances in genetic engineering and nanotechnology risk making humanity obsolete at the very least in intellectual and social dominance, in the relatively near future.

      I would also refer you to this list

      http://www.acceleratingfuture.com/michael/blog/2008/07/transhumanist-high-achievers/

      • If the neocons have taught us anything it is that white guys who keep saying things the right rich people want to hear can do incomparably more damage than you would ever think simply from assessing critically and honestly the actual quality of their ideas or the caliber of their adherents.

        • richard holt

          ‘assessing critically and honestly the actual quality of their ideas’

          Hold on a sec. Am I hearing this right ?

          If you think that there might be reasoning going on in the transhumanist camp (albeit only when we take a break from masturbation), please engage with it.

          It would really make people more inclined to take your socio-political critique seriously.

          • If you think that there might be reasoning going on in the transhumanist camp… please engage with it. It would really make people more inclined to take your socio-political critique seriously.

            Can you seriously pretend that I have not engaged with transhumanist reasoning in the last few days here? If you dismiss all the claims and reasons I have provided in all this time as nothing but masturbation then little could be clearer than that you are altogether disinclined to take a critique the least bit seriously the moment it strays from your preferred assumptions and terms (no doubt you prefer critiques that… aren’t).

        • richard holt

          Dale, humanism is problematic but we need more specifics in order to debate this fruitfully. Nobody can deny that atrocities have been committed in the name of reason.

          Please would you clarify if you are actively opposed to humanism, holding a position similar to one described here

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-humanism

          Specifically are you opposed to the idea that ‘human nature’ can be studied scientifically?

          • Again, my position on humanist ideology is clearly delineated by my lights in the piece Posthuman Terrains. I think it matters that humanism has never lived up to its promises and in fact has oftened functioned as an alibi for terrible sins and crimes, but I also still think it is probably better to demand humanism live up to its promises than to give it up because so far it has failed.

            You ask: Specifically are you opposed to the idea that ‘human nature’ can be studied scientifically? I believe that human beings are unfinished, fragmentary, multidimensional beings, and so I cann’t provide a blanket endorsement of everybody’s notion of “a scientific study of human nature” until I am very clear that the phrase “scientific study” is not meant to denigrate the study of those aspects of human experience and condition to which the humanities, philosophy, history, literature, criticism, have always been devoted, for example, and also that the phrase “human nature” is not functioning in a perniciously reductive sense. Like most educated people. Those who assume with me the ongoing relevance of the humanities and refuse a reductive understanding of “human nature” but who also emphasize the role of more scientific disciplines to the study of human lifeways are perfectly congenial to me. Of course I do believe that psychologists, anthropologists, economists (real ones, not market fundamentalists), sociologists, geneticists, physicians, and many other experts in testable scientific fields of various kinds provide us with important insights about human capacities, problems, possibilities. Again, of course. Has anything I have said called my holding of such commonplace beliefs in question for you?

        • richard holt

          Actually the masturbation comment was playfully self-directed – ‘We’ not ‘you’.

          Nor am i dismissing your claims. Much of what you say deserves discussion. My problem is not with your socio-political analysis of tranhumanist discourse, which i happen to agree with for the most part.

          The issue i have is that you side-step the tangible evidence of incrementally advancing technologies of human enhancement, molecular nano-technology and AI. Furthermore you fail to engage with the logical and revolutionary implications of this trend. Political struggle relative to the status-quo is laudable. Shortsightedness is not.

          • I do not deny the evidence of incremental and even some quite large technodevelopmental changes. Indeed, I insist that the stakeholders to these changes must be as informed as may be about the actual costs, risks, and benefits to whom and for what, ongoing and emerging, the better to deliberate about their reasonable equitable sustainable diversifying distributions among these very stakeholders, peer to peer. What I deny is the interpretation of the significance of these advances in terms of advance toward the presumably techno-transcendentalizing super-predicated ends that preoccupy superlative futurology and the deceptively hyperbolic ends that suffuse marketing and neoliberal developmentalist discourses (what I regard as mainstream futurology) in ways that derange that deliberation, activate irrational passions, mobilize literary and mythological tropes that do not conduce in the least to sense.

  7. PariahDrake

    I can find nothing to disagree with here, except this:

    [quote]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.[/quote]

    And, I agree with this:

    [quote]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.[/quote]

    But find it severely lacking in the larger transhumanist community, particularly those associated with some kind of institution (Lifeboat, IEET, etc.) Conformity is more pernicious than most admit.

  8. GroupthinkFTW

    “Conformity is more pernicious than most admit.”

    Kneel before the meme.

    Once some ideas are discussed long enough, they become “real”, and begin to form the basis of a memeplex. After a while (a few years or decades) all the criticism that there was in the beginning, when nobody was yet attached to – or controlled by the memes, however you want to look at it – goes out the window.

    A movement is born.

  9. GK

    ” Transhumanism is really only simplified humanism.”

    Well put. I would also put it like this: Transhumanism is really only humanism combined with an understanding of science. (ie. an understanding that minds can come in all forms, and that physics allows nanotechnology, self replicating machines and AI)

    I believe that if Hume and Locke and the other figures of the Enlightenment were alive to day, and had access to present knowledge, they would all be Transhumanists. Humanism was the most modern and sophisticated philosophy of its time as Transhumanism is of our time.

    • richard holt

      “Transhumanism is really only humanism combined with an understanding of science. (ie. an understanding that minds can come in all forms, and that physics allows nanotechnology, self replicating machines and AI)”

      Absolutely right. Humanism is a commitment to progress through reason. Previously human capabilities were thought to impose hard limits on this process but we now see how technology is already shifting the goal posts. The ‘Trans’ prefix merely betokens the acknowledgement of this fact.

      • Transhumanism is really only humanism combined with an understanding of science. (ie. an understanding that minds can come in all forms, and that physics allows nanotechnology, self replicating machines and AI)

        If by “humanism” you mean to emphasize and celebrate the historical tendency of humanisms to declare their values universal while always in fact securing them only selectively, and by “combined with an understanding of science” you mean to couple this parochialism to techno-fetishistic wish-fulfillment fantasizing as a consumer capitalist religion substitute, I daresay you are not far from the truth of the thing.

        About your typically transhumanoid emphasis on “physics allow[ing] nanotechnology, self replicating machines and AI” and the rest, I will merely repeat my usual warning (to fall, no doubt, on the usual deaf ears) that logically possible worlds are not the same as actually existing worlds, actually desirable outcomes, or actually relevant concerns.

  10. Fabrizio

    Did you ever heard of Venus Project or Zeitgeist Movement?
    What do you think about them?
    Shouldn’t Transhumanism movements advocate their principles too?

  11. Whether or not transhumanism is temporary depends on how you define “human.” If it’s strictly a biological definition, then, yes, eventually the human era is going to end and we’ll all be converted into computronium. But if “human” is more about our aspirations to be happy and smarter, then trans-humanism may not ever end. In other words, if transhumanism is just simplified humanism, then transhumanism may not ever end.

  12. Panda

    The Venus Project is a theory for how resources should be allocated in the future. Transhumanism has nothing to do with how we allocate resources; transhumanism simply holds that it’s worth using science to change what it means to be human. They are very distinct ideas.

    (BTW, I do not desire to get into an argument here, but my personal views on the VP’s validity are extremely negative. This may be because I have a degree in modern economic theory.)

    • Transhumanists of all stripes advocate specific resource-allocation schemes. Even your definition requires channeling resources into research. Folks like Ray Kurzweil and Peter Thiel wave pompoms for technoscience via free-market capitalism. James Hughes advocates for democratic socialism in order to effect a more egalitarian distribution of the benefits of technology. The movement does not occupy some magical position of neutrality here.

      Modern economic theory only works within a framework of dubious assumptions.

    • richard holt

      I was also unimpressed by material on the Venus project website. All attempt to redesign societies from scratch have failed, many of them with terrible consequences. I’m convinced this is only something to be attempted by post-humans, and even then with the utmost caution.

      • I’m much less afraid of those supposed terrible consequences – are you thinking of the Khmer Rouge? – than continuing in this present nightmare. But what’s so dangerous about building a rational economy for common good?

        • richard holt

          What size and under whose jurisdiction would this designed economy operate? Being pragmatic, I can only see it happening initially as some kind of voluntary mega-commune. If it proved to be viable, prosperous, self-sustaining, and capable of trade with the ‘outside’, perhaps it would be granted sovereignty in the most optimistic scenarios. British progressive government gave independence to much of its former empire, so perhaps this isn’t impossible.

          I just think that all this has been tried before e.g. in the 1960s. We have more knowledge now, and the internet, but i’m sceptical as to whether this changes the fundamental obstacles.

  13. coredumpster

    All this critique is beside the point.

    I still take transhumanism as I did about a decade ago when I heard about it first, as a label for a bunch of of tech related and inspired ideas, like cosmism (reality-engineering), simulation arguments, and the computationalist view, that everything is computation, physics is digital, a view supported by many computer scientists, like Stephen Wolfram.
    These are undoubtedly the most advanced ideas in the history of man. I fear we have already passed idea singularity; no species or intelligence, however smart, anywhere in the universe can have more advanced ideas, ever. But transhumanism doesn’t “own them”. Transhumanism is JUST a label. It doesn’t claim to be the originator nor the developer of the ideas. As far as I’m concerned transhumanism as such doesn’t even exist. Just a label.

    • Calling transhumanism just a “label” is like calling the word informercial just a label, calling superlative futurology “advanced” is like calling premature ejaculation advanced.

      • richard holt

        Dale, you seem to be preoccupied with masturbation and ejaculation. There is help if you’re willing to seek it.

        http://ldolphin.org/mormon.html

        • I hesitate to mention someONE you rather seem to be unhealthily preoccupied with. So, I’ll just remind us all here gathered of Woody Allen’s suggestion, “Don’t knock masturbation, it’s sex with someone I love.”

          • richard holt

            Lol at the Woody Allen quote.

            I’m preoccupied with you at the moment, Dale. It could be love. I’m not sure yet.

    • richard holt

      I fear we have already passed idea singularity; no species or intelligence, however smart, anywhere in the universe can have more advanced ideas, ever.

      Please elaborate on the thought process which led you to this epic conclusion.

  14. Denacy

    Care to dispute that?

    How old is the newest most advanced idea you have heard? Not so many these days, eh?

    I know there must be a few even more advanced ideas left, but I’d say we’re close to having thought of them all because they’re so far-reaching and all-encompassing.

    Just imagine a universe where all these things are true. Is there anything more you can think of (or do)?

    I think in such a universe the engineers and scientists (primarily AI at that point) could finally choose a career in humanities without feeling guilty about the missed opportunities of making a difference in the world. ;-P

  15. Transtechnologist

    The critics are – falsely – portraying transhumanism as something that has a recipe for how to think and behave in order to be a “transhumanist”, that is has some kind of a credo and an organizational hierarchy of leaders and followers.

    No.

    It’s not that complicated.

    I’m a technologist. That means I live technology with every cell of my nervous system. I learn about, create and improve technologies day and night. I’ve done it since I was 6-8 years old (and before that it was building blocks). I understand what technology is, how it works, how it’s researched, how it’s developed, how things are built, how quality is tested, how things are debugged – both logical and physical – how very very difficult creating something new and important is. You can bet a lifetime on it but you may not succeed. But collectively we will in the end overcome any obstacles and challenges nature presents us with until we hit the ultimate limits of physics.

    The critics have their own twisted version of transhumanism for some who-knows-what-reason that has NOTHING to do with how I perceive it. The politics and human side never enters my mind; it’s all just about increasingly better technological solutions – approaching and surpassing nature – and rationality, taking the ultra-long-term view on things.

    Surely not everything (or even most of it) may get realized as we would like, in the timeframe we’d like, but one can and MUST speculate on optimal (you’d call them utopian, superlative) technologies in order for them to have a chance of existing some day. The sooner and more we do so, the sooner the technologies can arrive.

    I’m working on such things today, and the loose collection of ideas, popularly known as transhumanism, are the only ideas compatible with this work. These are “futuristic” technologies, things that can’t be done today very well or cheaply yet, but some day, relatively soon, will be common. I don’t care that the ideas are labeled “transhumanism” or who thought of them first or made them popular. I just care about the ideas as valuable guideposts to the future.

    • “The critics are — falsely — portraying transhumanism as something that has a recipe for how to think and behave in order to be a “transhumanist”, that is has some kind of a credo and an organizational hierarchy of leaders and followers.”

      You say it is “false” to portray transhumanism as making recommendations for thinking or behavior — so, does that really you are denying that such recommendations exist and are available by the score to anybody who can make recourse to the google? You scare-quote “transhumanist” as if nobody claims any kind of recognizable transhumanist identity or culture or movement? Really? You deny that there are transhumanist-identified organizations with, you know, actual officers, members, fellows, influential advocates and recurring public figures? Really?

      Quite apart from the (forgive me) obvious falsity of such claims, I have to wonder about the impulse behind this strategy of yours. While I suppose it is superficially true that declaring your own intellectual perspective and subcultural positioning altogether vacuous will insulate you from pesky criticisms you dislike, it manages this trick only at the comparatively high cost, one would think, of rendering your perspective and position a total irrelevancy. Can you really have thought all this through?

      “I’m a technologist.”

      Let me guess, you write or administer code? Have a few shares in a tech company? Read pop-sci mags and websites on breaks in the veal fattening pen on some suburban corporate campus somewhere? Hey, I teach college students and speak and write in public places about technodevelopmental politics and technocultural forms. What if that makes me easily as much a “technologist” as you? What then?

      “[O]ne can and MUST speculate on optimal (you’d call them utopian, superlative) technologies in order for them to have a chance of existing some day. The sooner and more we do so, the sooner the technologies can arrive.”

      I personally mean something very specific by the term “superlative” — I mean the activation of specifically theological and transcendental discourses in what I take to be pseudo-scientific and techno-fetishistic guises — but setting that aside for the moment, I would quibble with your claim even on what I think are your own terms.

      Your claim seems to assume that technoscientific results are never or need never be or possibly shouldn’t be incremental or cumulative. Is that right? Can you say more about this? Such an image of technodevelopmental history seems rather puzzlingly at variance with, you know, reality (of course, there are paradign-shifts and technical leaps, but it is quite controversial to declare such events commonplace let alone the norm let alone essential).

      Also, given the strength of your assertion presumably you can easily and amply provide evidence of speedier developmental outcomes arising directly and demonstrably from the fervency of belief generations prior to eventual developments that they would one day come about? I’m honestly quite curious where this odd belief of yours is coming from.

      “things that can’t be done today very well or cheaply yet, but some day, relatively soon, will be common”

      I’m just curious, how often, for how long do you have to be wrong about how many of these articles of faith before you begin to rethink them? At what point might it reasonable to wonder if the “work” done by these “predictions” isn’t actually “predictive,” but doing something else for you (for example, compensating for existential anxieties related to human finitude, compensating for traumas or perceived lacks at a personal level, symptomizing and playing out broader social and cultural contradictions, that sort of thing)?

    • richard holt

      ‘The politics and human side never enters my mind’

      Honestly that scares me.

      If transhumanism involves ignoring risks
      and blindly cheering when the next cool thing comes along, then count me out.

      Any sober analysis includes scenarios where technology leads to catastrophe or irreversible dystopia.

  16. richard holt

    At the very least you need to consider where and why technological developments occur, who gets access to them, and what they are used for.

  17. Futunerd

    Dale, do you think the organizations, which are just a tiny group of people, writing on some web sites have much or any influence on the vast majority of people who just happen to think some ideas about technology and the future are interesting and worth thinking about, and perhaps doing something about (like Intel acknowledging the plausibility of the technological singularity idea of self-improving machines) and thereby could be said to be de facto transhumanists?

    • do you think the organizations, which are just a tiny group of people, writing on some web sites have much or any influence on the vast majority of people

      Organization amplifies influence — that self-identified transhumanists are tiny does not rule out their having an impact. I think this is especially the case since they are saying things that have great appeal (which is far from saying they are either worthy or true): some to rubes eager to be told they don’t have to die because they might be uploaded or that easy wealth may come to them via nanobots and so on; some to elite-incumbent corporate-military interests eager to rationalize their privileges and be told that they are the protagonists of history; some to ignorant or sensationalist media types pleased to megaphone dramatic or simplified narratives rather than help everyday people better understand complex technoscience and fraught developmental quandaries in their actual terms. And so on. I talk about these and other points at greater length but still more fairly concisely in Ten Reasons to Take Transhumanists Seriously.

      ideas about technology and the future are interesting and worth thinking about

      I cannot stress often enough that neither “The Future” actually exists, nor does “technology” treated as a monolithic generality. These terms function as mystifications — they are smokescreens behind which far more fraught and complex and difficult issues are hidden, almost always the better to indulge in evasions, deceptions, and wish-fulfillment fantasies.

      Intel acknowledging the plausibility of the technological singularity idea of self-improving machines… could be said to be de facto transhumanists

      I personally think we should describe as “transhumanists” only those who self-describe as such — just as we should when it comes to Randian Objectivists, Scientologists, Mormons, Bene Gesserits, and the like.

      I have often noticed that advocates of transhumanism like to claim credit for scientific accomplishments they had nothing to do with or like to pretend greater prevalence by identifying themselves with broader intellectual currents that predate or subsume them. I personally take it very much amiss when I am sometimes declared a “closet transhumanist” either by bioconservative anti-transhumanists or even sometimes actual transhumanists, just because of some position I take up in defense of consensual non-normativizing medical-prosthetic-multicultural practice of championing actually warranted consensus science (neither of which are views unique to or originating in transhumanism, while many views that are in fact uniquely or originally transhumanist strike me and most other secular consensual technoscientificially literate democratic progressives as utterly outlandish).

      Also, critics of transhumanism are sometimes confronted by True Believers who want to declare criticism somehow a rejection of medicine or science or the role of logic in argument. Needless to say, medicine, science, and logic have always quite well without self-described transhumanists to bolster them up with their enthusiasms for cryonics and desktop nanofactories and all the rest.

      One of the reasons I coined and use the phrase “superlative futurology” is to delineate a field of logical, topical, tropological connections between the overlapping discourses and subcultures and fandoms and organizational archipelago in which transhumanists, singularitarians, techno-immortalists, nano-cornucopiasts, geo-engineers play out their assumptions and aspirations, but also how these discourses and formations connect to more prevailing currents in marketing discourses and neoliberal developmentalist policy discourses, and also how these connect to deeper currents still from reductionisms, to utopianisms, to theological doctrines like omni-predication and dualism, to literary tropes from folk mythology to post-WW2 science fiction. It is crucial to the study and critique of futurological discourses that one not limit oneself merely to the expressed intentions of True Believers or the self-interested declarations of membership organizations.

      That said, about your point in connection with Intel — First, I would say not that “Intel [is] acknowledging the plausibility of the technological singularity” so much as that Intel is finding the figures and frames and formulations of singularity discourse congenial to its purposes.

      I think the reasons for this congeniality are pretty obvious (rather like the pretense in so many of their television commercials that intelligent robots hobnob with coders in their employee cafeteria despite the fact that such robots neither exist nor even remotely threaten to in reality), and they certainly provide little reason to treat as more plausible the idea that human history is about to end due to the arrival of a post-biological superintelligent Robot God “who” will solve all our problems for us or reduce us all to computronium depending on how friendly we induce it to be according to the parochial prejudices of a priestly elite of self-appointed coder superheros.

      I daresay any therapist or literary critic will have more useful things to say about such utterances than any scientist or policy wonk would. But, hey, I’m a muzzy humanities type, right, what do I know? By the way, I happen to think the person you should be reading to grasp the congeniality of singularitarian and other superlative futurological tropes to folks at Intel is Lanier on “cybernetic totalism” quite as much as anything I happen to have to say on that subject (which, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is also quite a lot).

    • According to Jaron Lanier, the Singularitarian mindset dominated amongst the Silicon Valley elite at least during its glory days. Bill Gates writes glowing forwards to Ray Kurzweil’s book. Presenting the Singularity movement and transhumanism as tiny and impotent erases the mighty corporate interests involved.

      • Far from erasing them, I think I am helping to account for them and in detail. Mindsets and movements are different things. Again, while the number of explicitly transhumanist-identified people is indeed tiny, the influence of the discourse and its partial cross-pollination with other discursive forms is far wider and (again, as I have said over and over again already) the farthest thing from impotent in consequence. Transhumanism relies non-negligibly for its intuitive force on its activation of older deeper doctrines and figures (reductionisms, utopianisms, dualisms, mythologies, theologies, metaphors, narrative conceits, in various measures in various combinations) not all of which are the same or fully grasped in the same measure by each of its adherents. So, too, the play of superlative futurological discourses in the world more generally is multilateral, dynamic, complex. Right here on this blog not so many days ago you may recall I mapped out what I take to be some of the networks of organizations that buttress anti-democratic politics through the mobilization of futurological (mainstream and superlative) frames and formulations. I am hardly going to discount any of that now. Do try to keep up, Summer.

  18. PariahDrake

    -isms create schisms.

  19. regular scifi buff

    I don’t think it means anything to be a transhumanist.

    Really. It means nothing. You’re humans, you use tech, you wish for a better future. That’s all. What’s with the “transhumanism”?

    Transhumanists are like anyone else who is up to date on technology, sci-fi, and likes to imagine a future full of neat tech. The only difference is that they choose call themselves some -ists, whereas 99,999% of people don’t.

    I think if transhumanists really want to differentiate so much, without actually being any different, they should wear a transhumanist hat or an apron or something, like other proper -isms are in the habit of doing (and look where that has got them – recognition!)

    • richard holt

      Conservative, Evangelical Christians are an organised group with a shared ideology and a very effective network of influence. They use technology (selectively), and wish for their own variety of a better future. Unfortunately they almost certainly would deny transhumanists the liberty of self-enhancement.

      Using the labels ‘Conservative’, ‘Evangelical’ and ‘Christian’ increases their cohesion and effectiveness. The same goes for ‘transhumansim’ – although as the debate above demonstrates, there are plenty of divergent opinions under this broad umbrella.

      • That’s why “transhumanists” should just be Democrats fighting for secular sustainable scientifically-literate progress and nerds who enjoy sf and blue-skying and stop thinking they are members of a Special Movement that is going to get them into Tech Heaven or Sweep the World at the cost of indulging in all this pseudo-scientific flim-flammery and self-promotional pseudo-wonkery and guru wannabe-ism and New Age texhno-transcendental True Believer whizbang.

  20. regular scifi buff

    I set my amenifier on highest setting and amenify this statement.

  21. TechContinuum

    To be transhumanist to me means believing that the future is technologically better. And how else could it be? It already is, every day. How much and in what time frame, are debatable. We are already living very far in the future in somea sense: not much can be infrastructurally improved in the first world countries (people don’t die of exposure to the elements or hunger and can move around freely). Most of the new technologies will be something at the small end of the scale, information-dense things.

    • The “clap louder” school of transhumanism, ladies and gentlemen.

    • richard holt

      The future doesn’t exist. It’s only meaningful to talk of possible futures. ‘Better’ is only meaningful with respect to goals. Are we supposed to cheer if al-quaeda develops new technologies of mass-destruction?

  22. futurian

    Better means something you want to buy, own and use.
    If you believe certain things to be true, it indeed may be something destructive. What is destructive is not always clear, however. If you’re an eugenicist you want to get rid of bad (to you bad means low IQ, violent, and perhaps other more benign aberrations) genes by screening embryos and destroying them. Is that bad?

    Future is the next moment. See, it’s already here. What did you do to make it better – more transhumanistic?

    To be a transhumanist is to actually do something that advances the common goals of humanity instead of just talking about someone doing something someday.

    • richard holt

      ‘Better means something you want to buy, own and use.’

      I love my gadgets as much as the next nerd, but this has nothing to do with identifying myself as a transhumanist.

      Are people in the developed world happier now than in the 1950s? I doubt it. Many things that make people miserable are worse now. I’m thinking of relative poverty, low social status, job insecurity, fear of crime etc. Just a few examples.

      ‘To be a transhumanist is to actually do something that advances the common goals of humanity’

      Most people believe in these ideas. It doesn’t make them transhumanists.

      • futuroan

        I think the question here that needs to get clarified is:
        What is the difference between the regular sci-fi and gadget lovin’ folk and transhumanists? Are tranhumanists just more rabid?

        • Fandoms don’t confuse the substance of their enthusiasm as a political movement or quasi-religious belief system materializing “The Future” in the image of their fancies. Fanboys just want to have fun — and there is nothing wrong with that so far as it goes. But fandom formations are not doing serious movement politics, serious policy deliberation, serious science, serious philosophy (or if they ever do so it is always only occasionally and incidentally and more or less accidentally).

  23. transnoob

    How much has transhumanism evolved and progressed and in which ways?

    Could those of you who have been with it, or observed it, for a long time, decade or more, summarize what has been achieved, what has changed – how is it different to how it was in 2005, 2000, 1995, 1990 – and what, if anything, still needs to be done?

    Is transhumanism a mature movement/ideology/whatever you want to call it, that one could (or even SHOULD) become a member of, with some kinds of benefits, and what would those be? Who would I have to pay membership and what would it get me, and what would it be used for?

    Because I’m not, I guess what I’m wondering is, what good is it to be a transhumanist? I’d like to read an article “Transhumanism: What’s in it for me?”

    Can’t we all just read/watch our sci-fi and be happy dreaming about the future without -isms? Isn’t that enough? Why?

    But I sort of like what I see in transhumanism. I’m not sure I still have the whole picture though.

  24. richard holt

    Transhumanism is not a club, you don’t pay to join. If you want to donate money my personal choice would be

    http://ieet.org/

  25. tom

    i think the trans in Transhumanism , is in the radical speculation involved.

    Eliezer Yudkowsky “Future Shock Levels” explain it well , it level is low then one is not even a humanist futurist , higher a futurist or humanist and higher still a trans humanist.

    Transhumanism are often singularitarians but dont have to. (singularitarianism i understand presuppose computationalism).

    the advocacy part of Transhumanism is like any ideology , it affects our choices Attention and filters of the world.
    (suport compnes that further H+ and those that detract the anti-H+ and any indirect lifeline to them).

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