Transhumanism is the pioneering, ultra highly technological dream of philosophers, computer scientists, neurological-scientists and numerous other laymen and supporters. Genetics, robotics, bionics and artificial intelligence will inexorably guide us to a new era which will transcend human limits leaving ideology and global humankind as we recognise it as a fossil in history. Its goal is to consciously design and improve the human body and brain by using radical advances in technology so that the whole human experience as we know it would be completely augmented. According to transhumanists the human race will be able to do everything better than nature has done over the years. We will be faster, fitter and stronger. Cognition will be vastly improved. We will have tougher skin. Our eyes will have far superior vision and we will have acquired echolocation. We will become the object of conscious design, be able to rewrite our DNA and the implications for this are astronomical.
Transhumanism advocates the idea that humankind should steer the course of its own evolution and it is undoubtedly the case that it will. Natural evolution has been very slow. What we now regard as very basic inventions such as stone tools and the wheel took tens of thousands of years to perfect. Sewage networks and flushable toilets took centuries.The printing press took two centuries. The telephone took half a century to reach only one quarter of the population. Transhumanism means that we will no longer have to wait for the daunting pace of natural evolution. We can see how the pace of change is becoming much faster even now. We did not use wiki, facebook, blogs, tweets or search engines less than a decade ago; now it is commonplace to do so. Science with its many branches, computer technology and the everyday activities of social networking and people using mobile phones to film footage of world events is bringing people closer together providing a more panoramic perspective of what is really going on in the world instead of what the established media wants us to ‘know’ and see.
At the time of writing the speed and power of computers doubles approximately every eighteen months. There will probably be even more innovations and computers will be even quicker by the time I have written this article. Computers are perpetually speeding up due to the density of circuits etched on their microchips which also double approximately every eighteen months. Miniaturisation is not even beginning to reach its theoretical limit because each circuit element etched on a silicon chip contains billions of atoms, when in principle, only a handful is actually necessary. The circuit elements are measured in microns – that is, millionths of a metre. The aim is to make them a thousand times smaller so that they are measured in nanometres which are billionths of a metre. The diameter of an atom is around one tenth of a nanometre. To put this in a clearer perspective, there are approximately 200,000,000,000,000,000 atoms in the full-stop at the end of this sentence.
Tentatively, scientists involved in the process of miniaturisation are looking at the possibility of building nanostructures by assembling them atom by atom in a similar way to how living organisms grow. Using super innovative technology it is possible to build tiny machines called nanobots that would take over the manufacturing process. In manufacturing, nanobots would be able to make materials lighter and stronger than anything we now have. They would also be able to assemble the finished products not just from ready made parts, but from the raw materials which they would be able to mine straight from the ground. They would refine them in the process without any kind of human intervention. It would be difficult to process the first generation of working nanobots using conventional, human-sized technology. But when a handful of actual working nanobots are made it would be possible to get them to build other nanobots which in turn could then build more. They would replicate and multiply just like human beings.
Nanotechnology is a pivotal area concerning transhumanists. Theoretically, nanotechnology could create machines that are the size of molecules. By virtue of the fact that they will be able to making densely packed silicon chips an atom at a time, these miniscule robots would be extraordinarily useful. Such machines could create organic tissue for medical use. For example, they would be tiny enough to travel round the inside of the human body looking for problems such as cancer and making repairs. In order to do this they would need a method of propulsion like cilia. They would be powered by molecule-sized solar panels or chemical reactions performed at the atomic level. Nanotech assembly machines will be able to replicate any chemically permitted form of matter. Using this kind of technology could dramatically prolong life span. Some experts say that it will soon be possible to live forever.
Cyborgs are an interesting feature. “Cyborg” is short for “cybernetic organism.” The general idea is that in the very near future, we may have more and more artificial body parts – eyes, hearts, legs, arms as well as digital and communication supplements such as the aforementioned computer chips attached to the brain. Machine parts will be added to human bodies to create superior strength. We are already familiar with Elegs and militar robotic exoskeletons which give the user super-strength and protection from virtually anything damaging to soft human flesh. The logical conclusion is that one might become a brain in a wholly artificial body. The step after that is to replace our organic brain by a computer brain.
By far the most interesting potential futuristic endeavour is the belief that humanity will merge with digital technology by uploading individual consciousness to a virtual reality. Upon being downloaded one could live forever within a computer-generated reality leaving the physical body behind. In this machine the individual can merge their intelligence with the collective intelligence of all others in the digital reality – effectively becoming one super-intelligent being - a sort of collective cyber-mind. This concept is sometimes referred to as The Hive Mind .
Transhumanists support everything which will lead to the intellectual, emotional and physical enhancement of the human race. They wish to become what they call posthuman. A posthuman is someone who has been so modified in body and brain performance that they can no longer be called human; they have mutated into a completely new being. To most people this seems like something from a science fiction film. Only a few people are aware of the constant breakthroughs in technology which make transhumanism a very real possibility for the near future.
Neurochip interfaces – computer chips connected directly to the brain, are being developed right now. The ultimate goal of the brain chip would be to increase intelligence thousands of times over, basically turning the human brain into a super computer. Lifelong emotional wellbeing is a key concept within transhumansim. This can be achieved by recalibration of the pleasure centres in the brain and would eradicate the problem of emotional illness or of brains falling into organic mental decay as is the case with Alzeimers. This would be much more sophisticated and safer than the mind-altering drugs of today. The goal is to replace all aversive experience with positive and happy mindsets so that there are no ‘personality disorders’, ‘maladjustments’ or other socially induced and then socially evaluated mindsets. Even if there were, they could be corrected by the microchip implanted in the brain.
Transhumanists envisage super-brains of the highest intellectual and emotional intelligence putting an end to ideologies that oppress and create appalling social structures that cause wars. Many argue that there isn’t any point to it. Others reply that it could equally be argued that destroying our planet with obsessive preoccupation with trade, the unequal distribution of wealth, exploitation of others by our own kind, and the squashing of hordes of people onto trains in Japan is even more pointless. Some ask where is transhumanism going with all this? Others ask, but where are we going with what we have now?
Many opponents of transhumanism point out that technological advances have not always been positive for the human race. Advocators of posthmanism agree that this is true but point out that neither have they all been bad either. We only have to consider the positive innovations in agriculture, medicine, transportation, communications and technology to admit that this is true. Everything has the potential to be used for good or ill and indeed it has been. Transhumanism advocates an end to any kind of suffering, not the invention of a new kind. Futuristic innovations cannot come to a halt just because they might have the potential to cause ill. We would never have attempted anything if we had only listened to negative possibilities. Transhumanists state that they endeavour to ensure that ethical considerations are respected and truly believe that posthumanism offers much better existences than humankind has presently.
Another criticism is the concept of immortality. This particularly seems to upset the religious who feel that death gives meaning to life. Many argue that this is a peculiar angle to take since most people know that they will die but never think about the meaning of their lives. Moreover, that religion has been used as a social implement to fool people into thinking that when their body dies their soul goes to heaven. This in effect, caused, and continues to cause, people to tolerate the most appalling oppression, poverty and exploitation in the mistaken belief that they may be rewarded in heaven. Transhumanism resides totally outside of any religious concepts.
Socrates said that the body is the prison of the soul. Perhaps futuristic technology will set it free. People are always fearful of what they don’t understand and cannot envisage. At one time, nobody thought that people would have mobile phones, that we would have computers or the internet. Nobody thought that enormous jets would fly hundreds of passengers through the air. Nobody thought that a rocket would go to the moon or that satellites would be sent up into space. We should not perceive posthumanism negatively. Whatever we think of transhumanism, it is undoubtedly on the agenda for future generations and there is little anybody can do about it except to embrace it for all the positivity it may bring.