Have you ever wondered what the future of our species would be like? In the last hundred years, we have made remarkable transformations in the field of science and technology. We have reached the moon, built the large hadron collider, Hubble Space Telescope, MRI, internet, satellites, and the list goes on. If this pace of change continues, one thing is certain, that we would be a transformed species on a much-transformed planet.
Things were not always this way. If we look at history, we have come a long way from our primitive selves. Before 17th Century, most food was rotting as there were no refrigerators. No Electricity. No GPS. No United Nations. No cars, just horses that increased piles of poop on the roads. Epidemics, chicken pox, smallpox, influenza, measles, low mortality rate. Yikes. Speaking of science, you would be considered a heretic and a sinner if you claimed ‘Earth moves around the Sun.’ Worse, if somebody spread a rumour that you were a witch because you didn’t let them eat apples from your garden, you would be burned or killed in some brutal way. On account of orthodoxy, lack of scientific and technological advancement, little to no education, wars, etc life was pretty nasty, brutish and short.
Presently, we live a much better quality of life as compared to people living in previous centuries. We have eradicated some diseases and made impressive strides in treating a variety of ailments. Life expectancy in 2023 is 73.16 as compared to 28.7 in 1770. Advances in technology have made life easier, efficient and comfortable.
So, we are definitely living long. But are we all living healthy? Not everybody. Some are rich but suffer from depression. Some are paralysed. Some have multiple sclerosis. Some have Parkinson. Some have Alzheimer. And the list goes on. Such diseases make life miserable, debilitating and agonizing.
Also, death is considered inexorable. There are roughly 150,000 deaths per day and about two-thirds of them are because of ageing. Other one third, includes death due to diseases, accidents, homicide, etc.
What about our cognition? Evolution has stopped making us smarter. We aren’t getting any faster as well. Compared to an average modern microprocessor (clock speed – 2 Ghz), our biological neurons operate at a peak speed of 200 hz. The short-term memory can hold about 7 plus or minus 2 things at a time. Our electro-chemical brain, though incredibly power efficient is not good for complex calculations that involve considering a lot of parameters. Also, learning is a pretty slow and a time-consuming process.
Are we really living a better life, when our biology is flawed, sluggish, limited and prone to decay and misery? Doesn’t seem so. There is a solution – a solution that involves increased well-being, enhanced quality of life, enhanced cognition, cure for ageing and increased healthy lifespan – and that’s evolving. Not by natural selection, which is slow, cruel, random and imperfect. But, by self-directing the evolutionary process itself. And that’s what Transhumanism is about.
Third Wave thinkers must now face the fact that we are about to become designers of evolution.
– Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave
Transhumanism is a philosophical and scientific movement that advocates the use of current and emerging technologies to augment humans, improve human condition and increase longevity. It is a philosophy to break from our biological chains and greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacity. And it is not about just enhancing ourselves, but also to break the adamantine link between ageing and death. Transhumanism promotes the principles of perpetual progress, self-transformation, practical optimism, intelligent technology, open society, self-direction, and rational thinking.
The term transhumanism was popularized by the English biologist and philosopher Julian Huxley. In 1957, he wrote an essay discussing how social institutions could supersede and replace human evolution in improving the human species. He was concerned with advancing the human condition through social and cultural change, and did not state that technological intervention was a requisite. However, the term ‘transhumanism’ came to be adopted as the general notion of humans transcending themselves by the transhumanist movement and the term has been in use since the second half of 20th century.
Transhumanist are technoprogressive and would like to use technology to free themselves from nature’s subjugation. They would like to put an end to suffering from disease, aging and death. Further, augment cognition, engineer better humans and establish freedom of form.
People mischaracterize Transhumanist as seeking utopia, a perfect world. On the contrary, transhumanist seek continued evolution and perpetual advancement for a better life and a better world, and not a paradise or perfect world. In other words, they seek an extropia. An extropia doesn’t imply life in future will be completely risk-free. There would be conflicts, struggles and dangers.
Do not misconstrue that transhumanism is trying to predict specific futures. On the contrary, it is trying to shape better futures by transforming life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It would like to enhance intelligence and our form to live a more abundant, fulfilling life of a cosmic mind. The transhumanist or H+ vision is nothing less than exciting, inspiring and prodigious.
Enhancement can be corrective or augment our capabilities. Some enhancement is downright necessary due to faulty biology. For example, an eye implant in future can improve partially lost vision or return complete vision to a blind person. While with augmentation, an eye implant connected to the brain could function as a smart lens that lets you surf internet, make calls, send messages, record memories, watch video, etcetera. Also, it can help you see in the radio spectrum or infrared spectrum. So, why to stop with just improving lost vision, when you could have a lot more?
We are moving into a future, where technology can alter, improve and enhance biology. The coming advancements in a number of fields such as neurosciences, genomics, robotics, nanotechnology, computers, artificial intelligence, and bionics will lead to a new posthuman species that can free itself from its biological shackles and mould. We would be smarter and faster with augmented cognition, have more control over our emotions and be physically healthy and stronger. More than that, we would life way longer and cherish existence for centuries to come. Immortality would be within reach.
Transhumanist advocate individual discretion over what technologies they choose to enhance themselves i.e., having morphological freedom. They also advocate reproductive freedom, where parents would decide which technologies to use while having children.
Technology makes possible new forms of self-expression and with it creates a demand for the freedom to exercise them. In other words, adoption of technologies for human enhancement would require a right to have morphological freedom. Morphological freedom entails the right to self-ownership and a right to modify oneself according to one’s own desires. It asserts for self-directed changes to extend or change our body and potential through different means.
We do exercise this right, when we choose cosmetic procedures or get piercings or take muscle building supplements. Why do we do this? It is because we would like to become better versions of ourselves. Also, humans have a drive for self-definition and we like to express ourselves through what we transform ourselves into
Another good reason for exercising morphological freedom is that is hard to argue against the practical benefits that would come with choosing to modifying ourselves. These benefits include improvements in health, overall-wellbeing and life quality. Also, it would lead to enhanced skills, performance, and productivity in a number of areas. With augmented cognition, you could easily be a polymath in future.
Morphological freedom is not only a requisite to Transhumanism, but also a requisite for any democratic society. Without it, powers that be can sanction mandatory changes, and coerce people into submitting to it.
Ageing is an inescapable death sentence to life. From the time you are born, nature has set a limited time period to your existence. And while it will make sure you end up dead, it will do so in a way that your last years are painful, frail and quite dependent on others. The good news is that this can be changed. Advances in medical science, holds the promise of curing ageing.
Ageing is a medical challenge that can be solved by studying and understanding different biological processes that cause the degeneration of human body. Scientist have so far identified seven hallmarks of ageing. These are genomic instability, telomere attrition, epigenetic alterations, loss of proteostasis, deregulated nutrient-sensing, mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular senescence, stem cell exhaustion, and altered intercellular communication. Here is a link to a previous article – that talks more about the hallmarks.
Approaches to curing ageing include regenerative medicine, gene therapy and nanomedicine. Regenerative medicine is the restoration of an individual’s molecular, cellular and/or tissue structure to broadly the state it was in before it experienced damage or degeneration. Regenerative medicine uses a combination of stem cells, tissue engineering and artificial organs. Gene therapy is a technique that modifies a person’s genes to treat or cure disease and can be used to prevent age-related diseases. While nanomedicine, uses nano-sized robots to treat a number of pathologies, remove debris and fix DNA transcription errors.
The below is taken from the book The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future by Max More and Natasha Vita-More.
- Humanity stands to be profoundly affected by science and technology in the future. We envision the possibility of broadening human potential by overcoming aging, cognitive shortcomings, involuntary suffering, and our confinement to planet Earth.
- We believe that humanity’s potential is still mostly unrealized. There are possible scenarios that lead to wonderful and exceedingly worthwhile enhanced human conditions.
- We recognize that humanity faces serious risks, especially from the misuse of new technologies. There are possible realistic scenarios that lead to the loss of most, or even all, of what we hold valuable. Some of these scenarios are drastic, others are subtle. Although all progress is change, not all change is progress.
- Research effort needs to be invested into understanding these prospects. We need to carefully deliberate how best to reduce risks and expedite beneficial applications. We also need forums where people can constructively discuss what could be done and a social order where responsible decisions can be implemented.
- Reduction of risks of human extinction, and development of means for the preservation of life and health, the alleviation of grave suffering and the improvement of human foresight and wisdom, be pursued as urgent priorities and generously funded.
- Policy making ought to be guided by responsible and inclusive moral vision, taking seriously both opportunities and risks, respecting autonomy and individual rights, and showing solidarity with and concern for the interests and dignity of all people around the globe. We must also consider our moral responsibilities towards generations that will exist in the future.
- We advocate the well-being of all sentience, including humans, non-human animals, and any future artificial intellects, modified life forms, or other intelligences to which technological and scientific advance may give rise.
- We favor morphological freedom – the right to modify and enhance one’s body, cognition, and emotions. This freedom includes the right to use or not to use techniques and technologies to extend life, preserve the self through cryonics, uploading, and other means, and to choose further modifications and enhancements.
Note – The Transhumanist Declaration has been modified over the years by several organizations and individuals, although there is little record of the specific modifications and their respective authors.
Questions and Answers
When would we start seeing the future technologies that will help us enhance our state?
We live in a pretty interesting time. We are already seeing some technologies that do enhance our state. The mobile is the most common example. Along with instant communication, it gives you 24/7 access to incredible amounts of information and knowledge at your fingertips. Also, exoskeleton suits that enhance strength and can be equipped with other functionalities are in use for neurorehabilitation, military research and industrial work. Some of these exoskeleton designs can be controlled by thoughts. Further, there are nootropics available to increase mental performance.
Technology advances at an exponential rate. This is contrary to our expectations as we tend to have some sort of an inherent intuitive linear view of growth. Also, as technological progress is made in shorter timespans, the new technologies are used to fuel further innovation and create more novel ones. This positive feedback loop accelerates the rate of exponential growth itself. This, in a nutshell is termed as the law of accelerating returns.
The technological progress would accelerate in multiple fields of science and engineering, such as nanotech, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC). The convergence of NBIC would give us powerful tools to augment ourselves and become designers of human evolution.
So when does this happen? A not so overly optimistic estimate would be somewhere around 2050. A more conservative estimate would be at some point of time in this century. The world is going to be profoundly transformed and wholly different than the present.
Where do I learn more about Transhumanism and stay updated with it?
You can do the following –
- Books: The Transhumanist Reader by Max More and Natasha Vita-More, The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, Abundance by Peter H. Diamandis, Steven Kotler
- Follow relevant people and companies on Twitter
- YouTube channels & Podcast – https://hpluspedia.org/wiki/List_of_YouTube_channels_and_podcasts
- Find more resources at www.hpluspedia.org
- Subscribe to the newsletter at hplusweekly.comwhich sends a curated list of relevant news,videos and articles every week.
- Organizations to follow –
- Humanity+ (Formerly, World Transhumanist Association)
- Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET)
- Future of Humanity Institute
If everybody chooses to augment themselves won’t everybody end up being the same?
Our species values diversity. This is quite evident on Internet with plenty of subgroups and subcultures arising based on people having varied interests, beliefs, etc. Enhanced humans of future are going to increase the number of sub-groups and sub-cultures.
How much alike people are within sub-groups will all be based on individual choice. And the thing is choice will be abundant in future.
However, some people would want to be the best at everything. They would seek more and more augments and upgrades. Thus, there could be a trend emerging in future, where a group of people are very much alike.
Does modifying my body change my essence?
Human cells are replaced over a period of time. We are changing as we are growing, it is just the pattern of information that continues. Modifying oneself won’t result in losing the continuity of pattern of information or our psychological connectedness with our prior self. Rather it would enhance our essence by expanding our potential in diverse spheres.
The concept of what it means to be human would expand in the future. Technology will enrich our ability to create and appreciate all forms of knowledge. Empirically, it is evident that our values include the continuous questioning of knowledge and expanding the same. This makes us a species that is constantly changing.
Blackford, Russell, Bostrom, Nick & Dupuy, Jean-Pierre. (2011). H+/-: Transhumanism and Its Critics
More, Max & More, Natasha. (2013). The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future.