Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future
by James J. Hughes
In the next fifty years, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and other technologies will allow human beings to transcend the limitations of the body. Life spans will extend well beyond a century. Our senses and cognition will be enhanced. We will have greater control over our emotions and memory. Our bodies and brains will be surrounded by and merged with computer power. We will use these technologies to redesign ourselves and our children into varieties of “posthumanity.”
In Citizen Cyborg James Hughes argues that “transhuman” technologies that push the boundaries of humanness can radically improve our quality of life if they are safe and made equally available in a liberal society. In this groundbreaking work of social commentary, Hughes argues that the biopolitical challenges of the coming transhuman century require a return to the root principles of democracy -- the liberty, equality and solidarity of persons.
The prospect that we ordinary humans will have to coexist with enhanced humans or posthumans understandably terrifies many people. Now a loose coalition of groups has emerged to oppose the use of genetics to enhance human beings. This coalition is politically diverse, including religious conservatives, disability rights and environmental activists, and leftist critics of biotechnology. Bioethicists have often fed those fears, generating many fanciful scenarios relying heavily on old horror movies.
Technophobe ascendance reached its apogee with the appointment of the conservative philosopher Leon Kass, an opponent of in-vitro fertilization, stem cell research and life extension, to head the President’s Council on Bioethics. In 2002 Francis Fukuyama, a conservative intellectual and a Kass appointee to the Bioethics Commission, published Our Posthuman Future, which argued for banning enhancement technologies. In 2003 the President's Council on Bioethics published its critique of human enhancement, Beyond Therapy, and Bill McKibben published Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, a leftish critique of human enhancement.
In the opposite corner a loose "transhumanist" coalition is mobilizing in defense of human enhancement. Transhumanists argue that human beings should be guaranteed a right to “morphological freedom,” the freedom to control their own bodies and brains, and to use technology to transcend human limitations. For instance Gregory Stock argued in 2002 in Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future that there are no serious concerns with human genetic enhancement, and that the transhuman future is destined to be bright. Many transhumanists are free-market libertarians, skeptical of regulation and public provision.
Rejecting the two extremes of bioLuddism and libertarian transhumanism, Citizen Cyborg argues for a third way, democratic transhumanism. The democratic transhumanist approach argues that we achieve the best possible posthuman future when we ensure technologies are safe, make them available to everyone, and respect the right of individuals to control their own bodies.
Written for a general audience, Citizen Cyborg takes apart the anxieties of the technophobes and shows that they are inconsistent with democratic values. For instance, while Fukuyama argues that human rights depend on an unchanging “human nature,” Dr. Hughes discusses animals, embryos, the brain-dead, artificial intelligence and posthumans to argue that democratic rights are based on our capacities for thought and feeling. While religious and secular conservatives insist that all human bodies should have rights, whether they have minds or not, Dr. Hughes argues that only persons have rights, not humans.
The democratic transhumanist perspective of Citizen Cyborg provides answers for many pressing “biopolitical” issues, including genetic patents, human genetic engineering, cloning, sex selection, drugs, and assisted suicide.
Citizen Cyborg concludes with a concrete agenda to make sure these technologies make life better for everyone, including expanding and deepening human rights, reforming genetic patent law, and providing everyone with healthcare and a basic guaranteed income.
James Hughes Ph.D. teaches Health Policy at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut, and serves as Trinity's Associate Director of Institutional Research and Planning. Dr. Hughes serves as the Executive Director of the World Transhumanist Association and its affiliated Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Dr. Hughes produces the weekly syndicated public affairs talk show Changesurfer Radio, writes the Change Surfing column for Betterhumans.com, and contributes to the democratic transhumanist Cyborg Democracy blog. Dr. Hughes lives in rural eastern Connecticut with his wife, the artist Monica Bock, and their two children. Dr. Hughes is a Fellow of the World Academy of Art an Science and a member of the Working Group on Ethics and Technology at Yale University.