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IEET > Security > Rights > Life > Vision > Contributors > Dustin Ashley

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Transhumanism and its Impact on Society


Dustin Ashley
By Dustin Ashley
Ethical Technology

Posted: Aug 23, 2013

A few mornings ago, I woke up at about 6:00 AM to head for class. I put on my clothes, prepared my bag, and sat down for breakfast. At around 6:30, I was looking on the television to see what was on. I searched around and a title caught my eye: LEF on the TV Guide Channel. I thought to myself, “is this what I think it is?” and patiently waited for it to come on. My curiosity was primarily lead on by assumption of what it could be. When it finally came on, it was exactly what I assumed: an infomercial for the Life Extension Foundation.

​Transhumanism finally made it to basic cable, a huge achievement because this is the perfect way to reach the public.

Transhumanism has been the topic in many industries. Musicians use it as lyrical content in their songs, writers have written books about, and now movies are being made about it. As of the past few years, transhumanism has come out of the underground futurist world and has become a major component in society’s circuitry. As people are becoming more aware about it, will people contribute to the cause? Perhaps, will this positive trend lead to society fully adopting the transhuman way of life?

Impact on Science and Technology

As many proponents of transhumanism are often scientists or engineers, they have spliced their ideology into their work. One such individual is Aubrey de Grey, a gerontologist by trade and the founder of the SENS Research Institute. His work has been featured in many different places of high popularity, including Popular Science, The New York Times, and even The Colbert Report. His work has primarily dealt with the mechanism of aging and how this can be reversed. His theory, called Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), is aimed towards preventing physical and cognitive decline in a person’s later years. His work has even appeared in MIT’s Technology Review, where a group of individuals challenged SENS and stated their case to a group of judges. None of the judges were convinced by their case but, on the other hand, the proponents to SENS were unable to convince them either.

On the more mechanical side, a group called the 2045 Initiative has had its own spot in the lime light as well. Appearing on Glenn Beck’s show and on Joe Rogan Questions Everything, their plight to upload human consciousness into machinery has been subject to much controversy and debate. Issues stemming from legal, ethical, and economical concerns have made points that show this technology as being more harmful than helpful. One such concern is over whether the uploaded mind retains the same memories or if it is a copy of the person’s sentience. Another concern is the Bekenstein bound, where there is a limit to the amount of information that can be stored in a finite region in space with a finite amount of energy. This issue can be addressed with the emergence of many emerging technologies, including quantum computing and memristors. Nevertheless, this new technology has shown the possibility of cheating death with technology.

In Video Games and Movies

As with many television shows and periodicals, transhumanism has been featured in many popular movies and video games. One such movie is Elysium, a science fiction movie starring Matt Damon and directed by Neill Blomkamp. This movie slyly hints at the possibility that transhumanism may only be available to a select few who are wealthy or powerful enough for it. This class issue is inspired by the events that are happening now, as Blomkamp states the movie as a comment on the contemporary human condition. Unfortunately, this is one negative aspect of tranhumanism that may emerge; the wealthy may enjoy it, while the poor suffer from it.

In the video game world, one such game that never gained much attention was Too Human. This game was in development hell for several years prior to being released in 2008. This game puts the player in a world that is drenched in snow and Nordic mythology where they play Baldur, a god from the Nordic tales. The player must go through a storyline, set a role playing fashion, whether they are given the option to keep Baldur as human or to make him cybernetic. The major conflict with this design is that for each augmentation that is applied, Baldur loses some of his humanity. Another transhuman title would be Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This 2011 title tells the tale of Adam Jensen, a man that was augmented due to an accident that nearly killed him. His employment at Sarif Industries, a biotech firm, allowed him to be fully augmented and ready to begin work again. Throughout the game, the player is given the opportunity to explore a world filled people who advocate augmentation and those who abhor it. This game shows one side of how transhumanism may have a negative impact on society and the views people will have for it.

Conclusion

Within society, transhumanism is slowly transitioning from being an underground science movement to becoming a pop culture phenomenon. As many focus on the negative consequences to transhumanism, they are missing the major positive points to it. Within the broad scope within the movement, many great things have come from it. Right now, we are close to being able to 3D print viable organs for people needing transplants. This biotechnology was envisioned years ago and is close to becoming a reality. Cryonics, something once viewed as impossible to successfully do, is now becoming a popular trend to those who can afford it. Many of the technologies that are under the transhumanist umbrella have the capability of doing great harm but it is the responsibility to those who work with these great technologies that they produce only good results. 


Dustin Ashley is majoring in Engineering and working towards a PhD in physics and a PhD in both electrical and mechanical engineering. He spends most of his free time writing for different transhumanist groups, writing programs in C and Java, and reading William Gibson.
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