Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Monday, March 1, 2010

“Transhumanists Have a Problem”

In a post that went up on his blog over the weekend, Michael Anissimov sketched out what he considers a potentially serious problem in transhumanist thinking, and he credits this blog, and particularly an important essay by Professor Rubin, with spurring his thinking.

There is much in Mr. Anissimov’s post that we disagree with. There is also a heap of, shall we say, odd reasoning. (To pick just one example, he finds it “unacceptable” that the human body cannot withstand “rifle bullets without severe tissue damage.” But of course bullets hurt us; that is what they are designed to do.) But all in all, we’re happy to help set Mr. Anissimov on the right path, and it is encouraging to see him concede that there are valid criticisms of transhumanism and that there are problems in transhumanist thinking. Here’s hoping that more of his ideological comrades follow his lead.


  1. Diseases are also designed to hurt us. Does it means we shouldn't cure them? :|

  2. The only problem I see with transhumanism is that its advocates are software/IT people who know little about biology.

    I just read Rubin's paper. To be honest, I do not see the problem. I think Rubin's paper is a critique of transhumanism as a monolithic mass movement and we all know from 20th century history the dangers that come from such things. I understand and agree with his uneasiness. I have no desire to make transhumanism into a mass movement and I don't think most others do either (at least not the people I know personally). In any case, I don't see transhumanism turning into this kind of mass movement.

    First, AI and uploading are a fantasy for the simple reason that even if the hardware is capable of this by 2040, the software will takes centuries more to be developed. I know one of the developers of the Mathematica scientific programming language (not Stephen Wolfram). He told me that the hardware would be there in about 50 years (this was 20 years ago) but that the software would take a thousand years. We won't see rogue AI's making people obsolete in the foreseeable future. The future is clearly biological. The main benefits we will see will be biological life extension (SENS and the like) and modest increases in cognitive ability (IQ's around 300) and physical strength (myostatin inhibitors). That's it. I don't expect to see anything other than this for the next century.

    Secondly, different people have different values and goals. People will be attracted to and will associate with others who share their values and goals. This suggests that various kinds of transhumanism will be embraced by different people in different groups. With the increase in global mobility, more people will be free to seek out and form communities with others who share their values and aspirations. The future world will be a hodge-podge mixture of various kinds of transhumanist and non-transhumanist communities, really not much different than the world of today. The city-state will come back into vogue as continental nation-states break apart. This is what one of my business school professors called the "Thousand-state sovereignty model" of the future Earth. He was not transhumanist at all and had never even heard of it. However, it is easy to see how various flavors of trasnhumanism and traditionalism can work out well in such a diversified world. There will be transhumanist city-states and countries and one that are more traditional. I see no reason why they cannot peacefully co-exist and trade with each other and allow people to immigrate between them as they seek out whatever communities that are suited for their personal needs.

    The more radical trasnhumanists can always go out into space. If the AI/uploading stuff does become possible (which will most certainly not be before the 22nd century), those who want this can go out into space a do it. Its not like they would need a breathable atmosphere or the tropical climate of Costa Rica to live this kind of existence.

    If you take space into account, there is more than enough "room" for everyone and every different group to go out and do their own thing. There is no need for a single common standard of anything to be applied to all humans and post-humans (or whatever else they are called).


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