By Felipe Flores
“The merge of humans and machines is fast approaching” Time Magazine.
Based on the webinar “Transhumanism, Aging and End of Life” held on Thursday 11/12.
Transhumanism is a worldview which is somewhat evolutionist in its approach that supports the enhancement and extension of human life by the application and use of technology to alter normal functions of the body or the natural course of life as we know it. In the website humanityplus, they state their support for “longevity and mitigating the disease of aging”. Interestingly, none of these are diseases in medical terms. Anecdotally, Mr. Zoltan Istvan ran a failed presidential campaign in 2016 with Transhumanism as his flagship platform.
Transhumanists claim that technology, in the form of chips, genetic manipulation or AI, just to name a few, are to be used for the betterment (better over well, they claim) and evolution of the human race, which would then justify the means to achieve a -some sort of- painless material or disease-free existence in exchange for a longer life span (think about living 150 or 200 years, for instance) and supposedly achieving happiness that way. To be clear, it is important to distinguish between the use of technology in therapeutic interventions to cure medical diseases -restoring natural functions that are not working well or simply lacking- and transhumanism which seeks to distort natural life by advocating for an “ageless life”. Similarly, death is part of our natural human condition and should not be neglected precisely to boost transcendent happiness. For transhumanists, there does not seem to be room for empathy and compassion, only for physical betterment.
The transhumanist worldview has its pros and cons, but in the end this philosophy would impact society in a harmful and disproportionate way. First, only the wealthy and powerful have access to explore these possibilities and to invest in these “artificial products” that will only increase the size of their pockets. Second, there is no indication that transhumanists might seek to democratize any potential therapeutic benefits they achieve so as to be a means of aiding the sick, most deserving people in the world or to cure widespread diseases in development countries, for instance. Third, transhumanism appears to have created another business industry driven by profits without being socially responsible nor do they seem to have ethical commitment to consider the wellbeing of society or the dignity of the human person when expanding their developments. Fourth, ethically, transhumanist projects are shady, to say the least. Lastly, artificially extending the lifespan of individuals (curing aging and preventing death, in their own words) has huge implications for public policy, governments and their budgets, in terms of healthcare, social security, retirement funds, pollution, workforce size which would create significant impact to the already constrained public resources and policies while undermining the social contract as we know it.
It is absolutely important to support medical innovations and promote healthy lifestyles that would increase the conditions for people to live a meaningful life and to reach their full potential by addressing therapeutic treatments to lethal diseases such as cancer. It is great to use technology to help a quadriplegic person walk again. However, genetic manipulation (like the famous CRISPR project) to achieve a physically “flawless person” and an ageless existence, which is the ultimate goal of transhumanism, is an endeavor that taints natural life while creating big problems for society in the long run. The harms outnumber the benefits by far.
Another way to acknowledge the goals of transhumanism in our daily lives is to think about superheroes or science fiction novels. Transhumanists are pushing for a wide acceptance that “normal humans” should get those enhanced physical capacities (to become stronger, smarter, faster) -just like said superheroes- and to channel attention, resources and justification of means to that end. Paraphrasing Dr. Driver on her fantastic presentation: “what make superheroes’ stories so inspiring and uplifting are their virtues and personal learning shown throughout their journey, not the acquisition of those superpowers per se”.
Meanwhile, all of this is happening with a lack of regulation or even public interest from the government as well as lack of awareness in society. Transhumanists are taking advantage from the inconsistencies that Medicine has shown when trying to self-regulate, and related technology companies are far from reaching a desirable ethical behavior at all, generally speaking. We need to spread awareness of the issue, to request accountability, ethical performance and transparency by these developers of transhumanist projects and to demand the government to catch up with adequate regulatory oversight.