An idea that has frequently been used by science fiction is now starting to gain widespread attention by futurists, scientists, philosophers, and even the general public; the idea that the human species needs to use either artificial augmentations or gene manipulation to usher in the next stage of evolution. That idea is transhumanism.
But why would humans want to willingly accelerate or initiate the next step in evolution? The positives of transhumanism are lofty goals that mankind has sought after for years, goals such as a world without diseases, ignorance, or even death. The only question, and an extremely important one, is how much is humanity willing to modify itself to attain those goals, and could the end result still be considered human? Some sources even suggest that in order to discuss individuals who are radically different from modern-day humans, the term “posthuman” must be used. Transhumanists who alter or augment themselves would theoretically at some point become a posthuman.
There are some examples that could be considered related to transhumanism. For example, vaccinations, laser eye surgery, and hearing aids are all technological innovations used to help improve the human body in some way. However, transhumanism suggests that humans in their current stage have not reached the end of their evolution, and that transhumanism itself, the modification of our bodies, would be the culmination of our evolution. However, transhumanism emphasizes that the next stage of evolution should be directed by humans rather than left to environmental or outside factors.
A number of different organizations have arisen that espouse the principles of transhumanism, such as Humanity+ which was originally founded as the World Transhumanist Association (WTA). In 2002, Humanity+ issued the “Transhumanist Declaration” which is a series of eight points that outlines the goals of transhumanism, such as the believe that humanity has not yet realized its potential, that humans should have the freedom to choose how they advance themselves, recognizing the sentience of human, animal and artificial intelligence, etc.
A second organization would be the 2045 Initiative, which was founded by the 32-year old Russian billionaire Dimitry Itskov. Itskov’s idea for “neo-humanity” as he puts it is for humans to have their minds transferred to an artificial body or android, referred to as an “avatar,” which can then live forever instead of aging away as a biological body would. All of this will take place by the year 2045, hence the organization’s name. While this may sound a bit like science fiction, Itskov’s idea has drawn a huge amount of support from over 20,000 people, including the Dalai Lama and has even allowed Itskov to register his movement as a political party, called Evolution 2045.
A different organization is actually a political party called the Transhumanist Party, founded by journalist and philosopher Zoltan Istvan. The Transhumanist Party, which is dedicated to “putting science, health and technology at the forefront of American politics,” was founded by Istvan on October 7th, 2014 and emphasizes the need for science to take an increased role in improving people’s lives. Similar to the Transhumanist Declaration, the Transhumanist Party established the Transhumanist Bill of Rights which Istvan presented to the U.S. Capitol on December 14th, 2015. The Transhumanist Bill of Rights contains six articles which help outline civil rights for human beings, sentient artificial intelligences, cyborgs, and other advanced sapient life forms.
Similar to the Three Laws of Robotics that were devised by science fiction author Isaac Asimov, Istvan has devised what he calls the Three Laws of Transhumanism to help guide post-human development. They are as follows:
1.) A transhumanist must safeguard one’s own existence above all else.
2.) A transhumanist must strive to achieve omnipotence as expediently as possible – so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First Law.
3.) A transhumanist must safeguard value in the universe – so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First and Second Laws.
The Three Laws of Transhumanism are a part of a philosophy that Istvan has developed called Teleological Egocentric Functionism, or TEF. Basically, Istvan believes that humans by and large have a desire to reach universal omnipotence, and refers to this as a Will to Evolution. The Three Laws are, according to Istvan, an ideal way to help govern human development in this area.
As stated earlier, transhumanism has been a major aspect of science fiction for years, from video games like Fracture, Deus Ex and Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 to films like Transcendence which depict the possible ramifications of human modification. And while such media tend to focus on the negative possibilities of transhumanism, the negatives to transhumanism are important to point out.
For example, one of the main aspects of transhumanism is the potential elimination of all diseases and ailments, allowing people to live much longer lives. In fact, one researcher named Aubrey De Grey believes that he can stop biological aging, and that people are already alive who will someday be 1,000 years old. If people are no longer dying, then the human race will have to stop reproducing or learn to deal with a now increased overpopulation issue. And if humanity decided to control reproduction through some means, then humanity as a whole would achieve a level of stagnation rather than progress.
There is also the issue of how people would achieve these augmentations once they became invented and available. New technologies are always expensive upon initial discovery, which means things such as cybernetic limbs, immortality, etc. would be very difficult for middle- or lower-class people to have access to, which also begs the question would people who are wealthy, politically or scientifically enabled harbor such technology for themselves? Or would we see the opposite, where people who augment themselves are seen as second-class citizens?
Then there are the religious issues with transhumanism. Some, such as Christians, believe that God made man in his own image, so for man to significantly alter or modify God’s creation would be considered sacrilege. The Catholic Church is openly opposed to transhumanism, and transhumanism is basically opposed to religion because it takes the assumption that humans are the “gods” in that humans can take a proactive role in evolution. Some in the religious community state that the ideas of transhumanism aren’t new, and that the concept of humans being “hindered” by their mortal bodies is as old as time itself. Of course, a major issue with transhumanism for religious individuals is that it is difficult to discern where a “line” has been crossed, and even most major transhumanist organizations openly admit that there is no clear direction where transhumanism would take the human race.
To many, religious or not, certain aspects of transhumanism can seem almost scary, and to others the ideals of it can seem more like science fiction than something which could really change the human race. Today, the proponents of transhumanism range from educated experts to volunteers, although it has yet to enter mainstream politics or achieve any meaningful level of policy implementation. Perhaps someday transhumanism will have play a role in people’s lives, but hopefully some form of governance or regulation can be put in place first.