I propose seven changes as indicators that transhumanism has been attained.
The future is impossible to predict. But that’s not going to stop people from trying. We can at least pretend to know where it is we want humanity to go. We hope that the laws we craft, the technologies we invent, our social habits and our ways of thinking are small forces that, when combined over time, move our species towards a better existence.
The question is, How will we know if we are making progress?
As a movement philosophy, transhumanism and its proponents argue for a future of ageless bodies, transcendent experiences, and extraordinary minds. Not everyone supports every aspect of transhumanism, but you’d be amazed at how neatly current political struggles and technological progress point toward a transhuman future.
Transhumanism isn’t just about cybernetics and robot bodies. Social and political progress must accompany the technological and biological advances for transhumanism to become a reality.
But how will we able to tell when the pieces finally do fall into place? I’ve been trying to answer that question ever since Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution was asked a while back by his readers: What are the exact conditions for counting “transhumanism” as having been attained?
In an attempt to answer, I responded with what I saw as the three key indicators:
1. Medical modifications that permanently alter or replace a function of the human body become prolific.
2. Our social understanding of aging loses the “virtue of necessity” aspect and society begins to treat aging as a disease.
3. Rights discourse would shift from who we include among humans (i.e. should homosexual have marriage rights?) to a system flexible enough to easily bring in sentient non-humans.
As I groped through the intellectual dark for these three points, it became clear that the precise technology and how it worked was unimportant. Instead, we need to figure out how technology may change our lives and our ways of living.
Unlike the infamous jetpack, which defined the failed futurama of the 20th century, the 21st needs broader progress markers. So, I’ve come up with seven things to look for in the coming centuries that will let us know if transhumanism is here.
When we think of the future, we think of technology. But too often, we think of really pointless technology – flying cars or self-tying sneakers or ray guns. Those things won’t change the way life happens. Not the way the washing machine or the cell phone changed the way life happens. Those are real inventions.
It is in that spirit that I considered indicators of transhumanism. What matters is how a technology changes our definition of a “normal” human. Think of it this way: any one of these indicators has been fulfilled when at least a few of the people you interact with on any given day utilize the technology. With that mindset, I propose the following seven changes as indicators that transhumanism has been attained…