transhumanism

Tech Exploration: What is Transhumanism?

Transhumanism is an interesting philosophical movement you should know about. Transhumanists suggest that humanity will overcome biological and intellectual limits through the use of technology to achieve a post-human state.

What this essentially means is that we could be using future technology to “upgrade” ourselves. Humanity itself could not only grow but potentially evolve thanks to groundbreaking future technology.

While all of this may sound it like belongs firmly within a science fiction novel, theorists have been considering its implications for decades. The founder of transhumanism, Julian Huxley, first wrote about the concept in 1957.

Since then the field has grown to include varying schools of thought and opinions on a variety of topics. For example transhumanism is not just one unified concept but includes areas with much debate such as life extension and environmentalism. These topics will be explored in further detail later on.

Depictions of Transhumanism

transhumanism

Media – books, films, TV and video games – have not shied away from presenting depictions of transhumanist thought across all kinds of fictional universes.

Science fiction novelists have been particularly keen to explore the ramifications of a post-human or augmented society, and rightly so. While many of these novels explore a dystopian setting, some interestingly do paint a picture of utopian society.

Transhumanism is often a central point in the cyberpunk genre. Authors often deploy a cybernetic society where augmentations are used to show the divide between classes or are used to highlight the gritty reality of the genre.

The ethical implications regarding transhumanism are often a hot topic for exploration. While transhumanism could potentially offer a host of benefits for society, thinkers are quick to point out major ethical considerations.

An ethical sticking point regarding transhumanism is the potential for unfairness. The most privileged in society would likely be able to afford cybernetic augmentations to secure their status, perhaps even becoming superior, post-human beings. Some argue that this could open up a gateway for decreased social mobility.

Those in favour of transhumanism may point to the accelerated development of artificial intelligence and suggest that humanity needs a way to “keep up” to not lose relevance in the future.

Concepts in Transhumanism

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Technological singularity is a huge topic within futurism. It refers to the point of uncontrollable technological growth, resulting in extremely powerful supercomputers.

In 2017, Stephen Hawking warned of the possibility that superintelligent artificial intelligence could replace humanity due to stark differences in competency and goal alignment.

Singularitarian transhumanists advocate for technological singularity to happen, as long as it were managed carefully. They believe it would in fact be beneficial for the evolution of humanity.

Another impact facet of transhumanist thought is Immortalism. Transhumanists who advocate for immortalism wish to see lifespans extended through technology as post-humans.

Those who agree with this consider it beneficial for individuals to “live forever” or at least for much longer than our modern lifestyles accommodate for. Of course, not all transhumanists agree on this point. Prominent futurist Ray Kurzweil suggests that biotechnology and nanotechnology will act as two pillars integral to the advancement of extended lifespans.

Debates within transhumanism go even further. Postgenderism refers to the consolidation of post-humanity to one gender due to technology.

Postgenderist transhumanists suggest that by eradicating gender differences, humanity would also eliminate gender discrimination. Some transhumanists envision this happening through the uploading of conciousness to virtual reality. Others consider the possibility of artificial wombs – a la Brave New World.

A facet of thought within transhumanism is concerned with environmentalism. Dubbed Technogaianism, such transhhumanists think that advancements in technology could benefit the health of our planet.

For example, the use of biotechnology to eliminate hazardous waste. This is a refreshing thought, as technology and environmentalism hasn’t always gone hand in hand. Climate change is and will continue to be a major issue for all of us on this planet, so technogaiaism is more relevant than ever.

Biohacking in the present day

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The term “biohacking” refers to the process of manipulating the body to become more efficient through experimentation. It is a broad term.

Specifically “grinders” are individuals who seek to upgrade their bodies through body modification with cybernetic implants. Naturally, this form of biohacking aligns well with transhumanist thinking and principles.

Biohackers and grinders are compelled to push their bodies to its limits via experimentation. One Vox article interviewed various biohackers and inquired about their reasons for their involvement in the field. The reasons for biohacking seemed to stem from control over uncertainties, the challenge and frustration over biological limits or disfunction.

A number of individuals have furthered the field through self-experimentation. If transhumanism represents the future, then biohackers are the present of human technological augmentation.

Kevin Warwick, a prominent scientist, has particularly lent much to the field. His “Project Cyborg” research involved an RFID transmitter placed under his skin to interact with computer-controlled devices. Later an electrode array was inserted into the scientist’s nervous system, which he used to control a robotic arm.

Innovations in biohacking haven’t stopped there. Of course, biohacking via cybernetic means is of great interest to transhumanists. For example, Neuralink, a company founded by Elon Musk in 2016,  is currently developing implantable brain machine interfaces.

To hear more about the motivations of transhumanists and grinders from the people themselves, check out this informative video from the BBC News website. Interestingly, the video also raises numerous ethical and safety risks in regard to biohacking. For instance, the lack of regulation.

The do-it-yourself culture of grinders also means that untrained individuals have been putting their health at risk using tools bought off the internet, without regard to their safety. One of the individuals questioned, a grinder, did in fact explain that they considered the data from a self-experiment more important than their wellbeing.

Chipping parties and employee productivity

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In parts of the world, people are already microchipping themselves to make their lives more efficient. Now this isn’t like the microchips you are probably thinking of – these don’t just display information but are instead used to perform tasks in a more inuitive manner.

An excellent article written for a technology publication called Weapons of Reason explores the recent trend of chipping parties in Scandinavia. They reported that employees at Epicentre were choosing to get microchipped at their own cost. Epicentre reportedly run a smart office that is able to interact with these chips, which operate in a similar manner to contactless cards.

Chipped employees are able to carry out mundane, everyday functions such as booking rooms and using a printer at a touch. The capacity of improved efficiency is interesting, however, it is unlikely that everyone in the wider sphere would be potentially onboard with such a drastic measure.

However, it doesn’t stop there. Away from biohacking, companies are increasingly looking to utilize more invasive technology to improve employee efficiency. For example, Humanyze have developed smart ID badges to compile data on employee performance. This even included tone of voice and talk time in conversations with others.

The all-consuming corporate trend for productivity could mean that in the future, the use of more invasive technologies could potentially be considered “part of the job” or expected of employees. It seems that transhumanist ethical debates are already becoming more relevant to the present.

As a recap, transhumanism itself is concerned with technological implants to overcome biological limitations and upgrade humanity to a superior, post-human state. The concept itself is not new, and has been explored by scientists, thinkers and authors for several decades.

Much thought has been given to a number of areas of transhumanist thinking – from immortalism to technogaiaism. Especially to its potential ethical implications. Advancements in the area of cybernetics do much to please those in favour of transhumanism. Individuals and companies who are currently looking to streamline daily processes through chipping and implants represent a path that society may walk down in the future.

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