Transhumanism, according to britannica.com, is a philosophical and scientific movement that advocates the use of current and emerging technologies to augment human capabilities and improve the human condition. One of the recent leaders in the movement is Elon Musk with his development of a computer/brain interface he hopes to merge our brains directly with the internet, giving us the ability to access the wealth of information without sitting down at a computer, or asking our smartphone.
Transhumanism sounds like something new, but it was actually first made popular by the English biologist and philosopher Julian Huxley in 1957 in an essay he composed of the same name. Huxley stated that it was now possible for social institutions to supplant human evolution in refining and improving the human species. Huxley was focused on a change of the society and culture, but in the 1980s, the transhumanist movement adopted his term and focused more on the scientific advancements of the day. The particular advancements were computer technology, space travel, and the successful preservation of human eggs and embryos through cryogenics.
The main ideas behind the movement were to accomplish three things. First was to improve the quality of human life through performance enhancement technologies. The second was to improve the intelligence of man through the integration of technology. The third was to prolong life of both the individual and the race through the use of cryonics, space colonization and futurism.
In the 1990s the movement adopted a libertarian doctrine that advocated overcoming human limitations through technology. Several contributors to the efforts moved under the leadership of Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom and British philosopher David Pearce in their newly founded World Transhumanist Association (WTA).
In 2008 WTA re-branded itself as Humanity+ and expanded the definition of transhumanism to include branches of thought from both the Extropy Institute, which closed in 2006, and the WTA. The newly branded group pushed for the safe and ethical use of technology to expand human capabilities. Transhumanism found its latest support from entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley including Larry Page, co-founder of Google; Jeff Bezos, Amazon and Elon Musk, Tesla. Page launched Calico Life Sciences LLC (Calico Labs) dedicated to the extending of human life span through technology. In 2013, Jeff Bezos contributed $3 billion to Altos Labs, a company seeking to reverse aging and disease. Elon Musk was involved in two major transhumanism projects.
Musk founded SpaceX in 2002, hoping to found human colonies in space, extending the reach of the human race. He went on to found Neuralink in 2016, developing implantable brain chips. In July 2022 Synchron beat Musk to the punch and performed the first successful brain chip implant in the brain of an ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) patient in hopes that the patient would be able to operate digital communication equipment with their thoughts.
There have been several good things that have come from the transhumanism movement, but it raises a big question of where to draw the line? How much should we enhance the human life with technology? Should we attempt to create a race of “superhumans” through a combination of breeding and enhancements? We know from agriculture that we can manipulate genetics to improve the production level of plants, and modify animals to produce more milk, larger eggs and more meat. It is largely accepted in the industry, but should it be accepted in the medical fields? At what point are we “playing God?” For the next few weeks I will be writing about various advancements that have come, or are coming from transhumanism and let you make your choice.
Until next week, stay safe and learn something new.
Scott Hamilton is an Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at https://www.techshepherd.org.