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IEET > Security > SciTech > Rights > Economic > Life > Access > Enablement > Vision > Technoprogressivism > Staff > Mike Treder

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Technoprogressives and Transhumanists: What’s the difference?


Mike Treder
By Mike Treder
Ethical Technology

Posted: Jun 25, 2009

Nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science—the so-called “NBIC” technologies—have the potential, especially as they converge, to radically transform both human beings and human societies.

Let’s consider a couple of questions raised by the powerful possibilities that loom in the near future.

  • How quickly should these transformative new technologies be developed and implemented?
  • How many people should be able to benefit from such transformative new technologies?

These are key issues for transhumanists and technoprogressives to ponder and discuss. The answers we give can help clarify where each of us fits within a range of possible attitudes, and may indeed define whether we really are—or are not—transhumanists and/or technoprogressives.

Take the first question:

How quickly should transformative new technologies be developed and implemented?

Various answers might be summarized as:

1. Don’t pursue at all
2. Move ahead, slowly
3. Cautiously, but aggressively
4. Full speed ahead

If your answer is #1, you can scarcely be defined as a transhumanist nor as a technoprogressive. Rather, that’s the position of a hard-line bioconservative. Nearly all transhumanists would give either answer #3 or #4, and most technoprogressives would agree with #3.

If your attitude is that transformative new technologies should be developed and implemented, but only slowly (#2), then you’d be outside the norm of most transhumanists. You might still be a bioconservative, or you might be a technoprogressive. To know where you actually fall, we have to turn to the second question:

How many people should be able to benefit from transformative new technologies?

The phrase “able to benefit” refers to control of access. What should be the gating factors in deciding which people or how many people are allowed to implement and gain the benefits of new technologies that have the potential to radically transform human beings and human societies?

It seems the most likely gating factors to be invoked are: a) money; or b) status; and c) equity. Money and status (power, influence, etc.) can be seen as largely interchangeable, so it comes down to a question of whether access to the benefits of these technologies should be based on such external qualifications, or whether they should be made available equally to all, without regard to money or status.

We can summarize the answers as:

1. All (everyone, without qualification)
2. Most (as many as feasible)
3. Some (those who can afford a reasonable cost)
4. Few (only the elite)
5. None (nada, zip, zilch)

Technoprogressives are likely to give answer #1 or #2. Transhumanists will have a broader range of answers, from #1 all the way down to #4. This is a major distinguishing factor between libertarian (anarcho-capitalist) transhumanists and technoprogressives. As shown on the chart below, there are more grades of transhumanists than there are technoprogressives.

Again, hard-line bioconservatives would say that no one should have access to transformative technologies, because they should not be developed at all. Someone slightly more moderate but still defined as bioconservative might see room to allow implementation in special circumstances, albeit with strict limitations.

So, where do you fall on this matrix?

I consider myself both a technoprogressive and a transhumanist, although my views place me at a fairly radical end of each set. I’m strongly in favor of making access to the benefits of NBIC technologies available to all who want them—but I also tend toward reasonable caution in developing and implementing them. My attitude has always been that we should make this happen as fast as it can be done safely and responsibly. (Blue star is my position.)

The kind of transhumanist that I have the most difficulty understanding and relating to is one who argues strongly in favor of rapid development with little concern for potential negative consequences, and who believes that the benefits should be made available only to those who can afford them, even if they are highly expensive. (Red circle designates that position.)

Based on the chart, there is plenty of room for various views within both the transhumanist and technoprogressive communities, and that’s a good thing. Healthy, respectful, open-minded debate can help all of us better understand our own positions and those of others. I’ll admit it’s not always easy, though, for me to appreciate bioconservative arguments—nor, for that matter, some of the extreme Ayn Randian dogma that makes up a small segment of transhumanist viewpoints.


Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.
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COMMENTS


“How quickly should transformative new technologies be developed and implemented?

How many people should be able to benefit from transformative new technologies?

Hard-line bioconservatives would say that no one should have access to transformative technologies, because they should not be developed at all.”

I’d be able to figure out where I land on your chart if I had a good working definition of “transformative.” Perhaps there’s another article on IEEE that goes into detail? (For instance, is a prosthetic limb for an amputee an example of a transformative technology? If so, I don’t think anyone opposes R&D into that. How about drugs that are very promising as far as treating problems with concentration? Again, I imagine even bioconservatives would be pretty excited about that.)





From the Wikipedia article on Techno-progressivism:

‘‘Although techno-progressivism is the stance which contrasts with bioconservatism in the biopolitical spectrum, both techno-progressivisms and bioconservatisms, in their more moderate expressions, share an opposition to unsafe, unfair, undemocratic forms of technological development, and both recognize that such developmental modes can facilitate unacceptable recklessness and exploitation, exacerbate injustice and incubate dangerous social discontent.’‘

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Techno-progressivism#Contrasting_stance





Thanks, cyber-communist. With the following statement: “my views place me at a fairly radical end of each set. I’m strongly in favor of making access to the benefits of NBIC technologies available to all who want them:but I also tend toward reasonable caution in developing and implementing them,”
Mr. Treder seems to want to fit in both the radical AND the moderate expressions of techno-progressivism. (An observation, not a criticism.)





OK, I’m sorry if I didn’t understand this:
“my views place me at a fairly radical end of each set. “
to mean this:
“I characterize myself as “fairly radical” on the vertical axis, but more moderate on the horizontal axis”





My position on the charts:

How many people should be able to benefit from transformative new technologies?

First thought, 1. All (everyone, without qualification)

I think all people should be able to benefit from transformative new technologies. At the same time I recognize that transformative new technologies may be initially deployed as very experimental and expensive options which only a few can afford. Note that in this case the early adopters also assume must of the risks associated with not yet fully understood medical procedures.

So, my answer is 2. Most (as many as feasible)

How quickly should transformative new technologies be developed and implemented?

4. Full speed ahead

In my opinion this is also the best way to manage risks. If there are restrictions, you can bet the bad guys will develop transformative new technologies underground and deploy them on black markets, with important risks for us all.





I don’t have any strong disagreements with how Mr. Treder defines the positions of bioconservativism, libertarian-transhumanism, progressive-transhumanism, etc. However, I fail to see how the line of reasoning he presents above in any way differentiates ‘transhumanism’ from ‘technoprogressivism’. 

My own thoughts on this issue are that individuals who self identify as technoprogressive tend to be more pragmatic. They like to focus more on present day techno-political issues and less so on overly abstract thoughts about some hypothetical posthuman future.

Basically, technoprogressivism should be seen as a strictly political affiliation, while transhumanism should be seen as more broadly cultural.





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