This deep dive is part of the Foresight towards the 2nd Strategic Plan of Horizon Europe project.
Mass media from around the world is constantly heralding new scientific and technological breakthroughs that bring upon the promise of healthier, longer, more fulfilling lives: partially restoring the sight of blind people with the aid of artificial retinas, restoring partial movement of previously non-responsive limbs by linking a paralyzed person’s brain to a computer chip, artificial bones, skin, blood, along with more controversial endeavours: editing the human genome through gene-splitting techniques, stem cells primed to promote regeneration, cryogenics and many, many others. The transhumanist movement regards breakthroughs like these as springboards not only to healing people but to changing and improving humanity. Thanks to scientific developments in converging technologies such as biotechnology, neurotechnology, information technology and nanotechnology, humanity may be on the cusp of an enhancement revolution. The transhumanist movement considers this revolution - allowing people to control and fundamentally change their bodies and minds towards ‘humanity plus’ - as both inevitable and desirable. Some proponents of the movement go even further into envisioning a (more future distant) stage of civilization freed from bodily and even earthly constraints – a posthumanism marked by, for e.g., linking human intelligence to the AI, whole brain emulation (‘mind uploading’), or a superintelligence (technological singularity).
The transhumanist debate is expansive both in regard to the enhancements and the values and beliefs, ethics and the role of the government. An open-minded exploration of this topic would shy away from taking sides, a priori, with either the transhumanist movement (who speak of ‘transcendence’) or the conservative positions (who speak of ‘transgressions’), but explore the spectrum of positions with generosity and curiosity. Moreover, such exploration should pierce through (and go beyond) the rhetorical strategies of either movement, and try to investigate with an open, critical mind, the substantive points of the debate.
About this topic
The deep dive on transhumanist revolutions opens an investigation of the human condition, around questions such as the ones listed below. In brief, C. Wright Mills’ questions will be asked of the enhanced: ‘‘In what ways are they selected and formed, liberated and repressed, made sensitive and blunted?’’
Should the right to control one’s body include the right to augment one’s body?
What would more radical human-tech ensembles mean for our lived experience? (1)
If the ‘trans’ revolutions run their course towards ‘humanity-plus’, will we still be human &humane?
How will various enhancements (e.g. bodily or cognitive) affect the embodied selves - our lived bodies - and their engagement with the world? (2)
Will we still define ourselves (including) through our limitations and overcoming adversity or we will lose that one constituting factor?
Is transhumanism about progressing or blunting the self? (3)
To what extent it will affect our ability for inwardness if all the mending of the self is done outwardly (i.e. transforming humans to better fit the external world)?
Would it be possible to also enhance morality, kindness, compassion, and other cardinal virtues or ‘pro-social’ feelings?
Can a child have true autonomy if parents genetically design his or her capacities and proclivities?
The debate also explores new social orders, issues of justice or (in)equity, political and economic power:
Will society’s repugnance/resistance to controversial/’suspect’ technologies water down, just as it did in the past with other technologies (e.g., oral contraceptives, IVF)? (4)
Who decides what is a “limitation” and what is an “enhancement”? Will enhancements truly be optional?
Will enhancements be afforded only by the rich, or some will progressively be considered essential services to be provided by the state in the spirit of social welfare? (negative vs. positive rights).
Who is responsible for the enhancements, e.g. who guarantees the “spare parts” or is liable for damages? (5)
What kind of regulation is needed, e.g., limiting the enhancement or surveillance?
How can public health systems be redesigned/reconfigured to deliver in this context?
Could enhancements displace the sense of common humanity that has undergirded the democratic social contract for centuries?
If liberal democracies go down the transhumanist path, will this mean diminishing free will and increased power of exploitation on the part of the government or, on the contrary, regulating, controlling, or banning enhancement technologies amount to a loss of personal autonomy and increased state power?
(1) Sociotechnical ensembles (See Bijker and Pinch, 1984) posit that technologies are social through and through (their design and implementation are affected by social, cultural, economic and political context), just as society is technological through and through (technological artifacts are crucial to social order). Socio-technical ensembles constitute themselves through this interaction. See also Bijker, 1995, Latour on actor-network approach, 1992, Ihde on the role of tech in the interrelation of human beings and world when technological artifacts are involved, 1990.
(2) See for e.g. the phenomenology of perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, where the body is central to our understanding of our relationships with others (through a space of ‘intercorporeality’) and to the wider ecological context we’re immersed within.
(3) Even services now deemed banal, like google, that allows us to access any information at any time, have affected our memory, inclination towards mental effort; or google maps perfectly orienting us while robbing our sense of orientation.
(4) Note that IVF’s role extended, from a medical procedure for otherwise infertile couples, to identifying embryos free of devastating genetic diseases. But it also extended to sex selection
(5) See Fred Hirsch, 1977 on ‘positional goods’ – goods whose value to those who have them depends on others not having them.