It wasn’t that long ago that listing transhumanism, human enhancement, the Singularity, technology-driven evolution, existential risks, and so on, as academic interests on one’s CV might result in a bit of embarrassment.
“In a world torn with strife and warfare, perhaps no problem is more important [than that of understanding and developing wisdom], as wisdom may be the only hope out of the bloodshed.” - Robert Sternberg
Given the complexity of the world today, plus the risks associated with current and emerging technologies, it behooves everyone on all sides of the biopolitical spectrum to be open to opposing points of view.
As the historian Robert Nisbet writes, “No single idea has been more important than, perhaps as important as, the idea of progress in Western civilization for nearly three thousand years.” But let’s understand what we mean by progress.
What is the relation between technology and human biological evolution? Most people, in my experience, have a quick retort, which they take to be obvious: “Artifacts evolve just like organisms do,” or “Technology is an extended phenotype of humans.” But it’s not clear to me that the answer to this question is so obvious.
Understanding human-technology relations is a project of significant import, both for transhumanists aiming to overcome our limitations through technological means and for ethicists interested in questions concerning technology’s influence on the human condition.
The history of our belief in progress is a complicated one. This belief first arose during the eighteenth century Enlightenment and became a central feature of the Western worldview until circa the mid-twentieth century, when the first anthropogenic “existential risk” was introduced. Although progressionism suffered a serious blow with the inauguration of the Atomic Age, a renewed belief in the goodness and historical reality of techno-progress has reemerged within the transhumanist movement.
The express aim of enhancement technologies is to overcome our biological limitations: cognitive, emotional and healthspan-related. But what is almost always tacit in discussions of human enhancement is the issue of what exactly constitutes a biological limitation.