Transhumanism is the kind of word that you hear and at first it makes you wonder what crazy idea lies behind. Like all “–isms”, transhumanism is a generic term that represents a broad movement of different tendencies. In their globality they strive for an upsurge of scientific research and a broader use of industrial discoveries. Undoubtedly, the transhumanist philosophies are all tied to the fields of technology, from computer sciences to robotics, without omitting life sciences like biology.
Some are more reasonable and humble in their goals, while others are more ambitious or radical. However in their broad majority they push two noble goals forward, namely to fight diseases related to aging and to extend the limits of our biological capabilities. These take of course many various forms which are represented by their thinkers, communities and publications. Some want to eradicate death itself, while others wants to extend our lifetime. Some only want to make our lives enjoyable for as long our lifespan keeps growing. Why live until one hundred years old if it is to suffer through old age?
To do so, they advise two actions. Firstly to invest more time, manpower and efforts in research of genetics and other biotechnological fields. Secondly, to develop and use hardware technologies to exceed our physical horizon. Why only cure our biological breakdown and not expand our life experience as well? Transhumanists imagine various uses of nanotechnologies, information technologies or robotics. Each of these variations offers us at the extension of these evolutions a theoretical new humankind. Some advocate the rise of a hyper-connected human or a physically enhanced one with for example bionic eyes. Some even predict a wide-spread use of pills suppressing sleep or the need to eat.
Between themselves, transhumanists do not tend to agree on what will happen and even less on what should happen. These are the two aspects of transhumanism, a predictive one and a conscious achievable one. One tend to predict what will happen, the other to support one specific alternative to be realized. By examining how technology is evolving, they try to understand the impact of the different processes on us and our societies. Some outcomes seem welcome, while others for the least scary. Technology appears to be a sword with two cutting edges.
This is where we think transhumanism is relevant. To our opinion, we are supportive to transhumanist movements because they set up a framework for discussing the consequences of the contemporary discoveries and those to come. Bioethics is a pillar of transhumanism where important questions are asked, such as “how much technology can we use before corrupting ourselves” or “what kind of experiments are we allowed to proceed with in the name of scientific research”. We believe that to discuss and examine such matters helps to prevent the worst. Automation offers for example an incredible set free of the chains of labor. However, if we do not prepare the society of tomorrow, machines could create poverty by taking away the jobs and thus the current social utility of many people. Taking this into consideration, perhaps there should be a master plan to embrace the future in order to prepare a transition on an individual and social level. This is how a framework for discussion matters.
Secondly, we do believe that science can be emancipating and beneficial. It all depends on its use. We could use nuclear energy to supply our homes or to concoct bombs of formidable destructive power. Though we have to be careful and to be informed, we think that transhumanists movements can help orient our society towards more research and development that lead to helpful discoveries. Especially with the support of the state in fields of fundamental research in which companies are less keen to invest. From the moment those discoveries help the collectivity, such as providing better healthcare, cures, the use of GPS, mass communications or internet, research and innovation should be a central part of our democracies.
The pertinent thought is how to have an effective influence on the administrations that govern our societies. Transhumanists and other special interest advocates do well to hold academic conferences, seminaries and publish books, but we have to assess the limited interest and influence to the general public and the governments. We can easily understand that more urgent matters gather bigger attention such as unemployment. However long term planning is what could have avoided current urgent matters and future urgent matters. Thus it is both a moral and a reasonable action to be spending some time and efforts on the future through studies and plans. If we could by focusing on fundamental research, find cures to deadly and costly diseases, we have the moral obligation to invest in it. If we do not organize ourselves regarding further automatization, we would have sinned when contemplating and searching panicked for solutions when unemployment would be generalized. This prevails as well for many other fields related to technology, of which environmental issues are probably on the top of the list because of the unique chance that is offered to us to save or destroy the planet.
We are not only facing huge challenges regarding the issues themselves, but the path to tackle them is extremely difficult and problematic as well. Democracies and their elective systems lead politicians to search for an immediate approval and praise of their electoral base. Such long term policies require a real vision which implies an understanding of current structural problems and future tendencies and they might request a present sacrifice. Thus, the implementation of long term policies faces a systemic disdain of the democratic government. As virtuous as is this system, its essence requires a sustained effort to spread transhumanist ideas, or any other long term concern, to the public debate. Leaving the question on how those elitist and sharp debates can spread out of their restricted initiated circles.