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Closing the Mainstream > < H+ Gap
Mike Treder   Mar 23, 2010   Ethical Technology  

A major objective of the technoprogressive agenda is to close the gap between popular presentations of transhumanism and the mainstream of social/political thought.

In order to effect a significant influence on public policies related to human enhancement technologies and other major transhumanist interests, it is necessary to push hard on two fronts: 1) to increase mainstream acceptance of the transformative value of emerging technologies; and 2) to improve the perception of H+ by reducing emphasis on fringe ideas.

Today there is very little overlap between general conceptions of what may be possible and desirable (Mainstream) and the loudest rhetoric promoting the transhumanist agenda (H+). That has to change.

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Here at the IEET, and in the wider technoprogressive movement, we are working on both fronts. We want to move the mainstream closer to H+ goals, and we also want to move H+ closer to the mainstream. That is the only way we can ever achieve meaningful policy influence.

We have to close the gap and create an overlap.

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Transhumanist leaders should think carefully about how they present their ideas:

  • Emphasize not just human enhancement, but also human health.
  • Emphasize not just deep innovation, but also broad access.
  • Emphasize not just transcendent experiences, but also a restored environment.
  • Emphasize not just feasibility but also safety.
  • Emphasize not just freedom but also fairness.

This does not necessarily mean surrendering the most ambitious goals of transhumanism or abandoning the loftiest H+ dreams. But it does mean that concepts such as Jupiter brains, immortality, uploading, and cryonics should receive far less public emphasis.

If we want to get a good start on achieving our aims, we must be willing to adopt a realistic approach. Practical politics—pragmatism—is how things get done.

Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.



COMMENTS

@ Mike

I understand your goals at the IEET, (because you have explained them previously). Yet you approach this focus with the same rhetoric which merely stimulates the same responses. May I make a suggestion? Why don’t you just take a democratic vote with all your IEET members, (not a poll), and get a real picture of what the focus of your group should be. You need not share the results publicly, although it would be interesting to see the results if you do have a vote.

Also, you always use the terms “Jupiter brains” and “mind-uploading” from such a negative viewpoint. I am not sure what a “Jupiter brain” refers to? Yet only a short time ago I thought the notions and goals of mind-uploading where “pie in the sky sci-fi” : Now I do not! And the reason I take it a lot more seriously now is precisely from reading the articles and views here at IEET.

I do not even class myself as transhumanist, (because there is so much confusion as to what this actually is and who actually agrees and values it here at the IEET). The term Transhumanism is vague and undefined, outrageously broad, and you are correct, can be misunderstood and scorned and not taken seriously. However, the term techno-progressive is also a misnomer, and does not serve to define any particular viewpoints or groups : why? Because all of us on planet Earth already are “techno-progressive”, even the Amish!

So my point really isit’s not about names and terms, it’s about content and integrity, (the belief in your article content : or not in the case of a critique), and quality, and the pursuit of equality and freedoms and most importantly the debate concerning ethics. Areas that may be most attractive to government interest and may therefore have the greatest influence : How do you influence government policy? Well you and I alone cannot, but mass opinion can, so open up the debate and get folks telling you what they think and feel, about H+.

You have a golden opportunity at this very present time to influence and spread your ideals concerning US Healthcare, for all those parties that are unsure or unconvinced about these goals, an area where even President Obama still has much convincing left to do. You have an opportunity to encourage public debate and overcome ignorance and misconceptions.

The reasons “I” read your articles and even take time to respond with comments is because I respect your integrity here and hope to make a positive contribution to your ethical goals. If I wanted to read all about science and new innovations, well, I already read ScienceDaily, therefore the reason I visit here is specifically because this site is not ScienceDaily. The interests and articles here are wide and varied, from speculations over future techno-policies, to mind-uploading, this is what keeps me coming back, (although you may not appreciate it). This does not scare folks away, on the contrary, it is precisely why folks do come here.

This is the only varied site I know where you can read an ethical discussion regarding CEV or mind-uploading, and then skip to visions of liberal politics vs totalitarian dystopia. And notice if you will how even now apparently dissimilar articles appear to connect and overlap. I see this as a positive influence, not a negative. Whatever your future goals are here, your integrity is what is crucial for your readers. For heaven sake, please do not start writing about techno-bumpf that you do not believe in, merely because it is respectable or worse, deemed as being more rational.

I agree with the four “emphasize not just… but also…” bullet points. These points express clearly the IEET technoprogressive approach.

But I am not sure how to interpret “concepts such as Jupiter brains, immortality, uploading, and cryonics should receive far less public emphasis.

These concepts represent the core of the transhumanist spirit.

The IEET is NOT a transhumanist organization (even if many of us are transhumanists) but a technoprogressive organization.

To make a long story short:

A) Some technoprogressives are not transhumanists
B) Some technoprogressives are transhumanists
C) Some transhumanists are technoprogressives
D) Some transhumanists are not technoprogressives

Note that I am making a distinction between:

- transhumanists who are also technoprogressives (C), and
- technoprogressives who are also transhumanists (B).

The difference is in their primary motivations and emphasis. I am a C, and you often sound like a B. However, the first three groups are welcome in the IEET. Only D) is incompatible with the IEET.

I agree that concepts such as Jupiter brains, immortality, uploading, and cryonics should receive far less public emphasis in technoprogressive discussion spaces and in particular in the IEET. We are not here to discuss mind uploading and, when we do, we acknowledge that it is not the primary focus of this particular discussion space.

But in other discussion spaces, we transhumanists do and should feel free to focus on “concepts such as Jupiter brains, immortality, uploading, and cryonics should receive far less public emphasis.” Too bad if this jeopardizes plausible deniability. Those in the C group, and many of those in the B group, are just not going to give up their ideas to provide plausible deniability to the A group.

I have expressed my own position on the never ending conflict between the technoprogressive and transhumanist spirit in the article Advocating Visionary Futurism and Practical Technoprogressivism.

I am taking the liberty to report here a very relevant and very acute comment from another mailing list. I am not attributing it, but the author has been notified and should feel free to claim and discuss it here.

countercultures and radical movements always have difficulties to coexist. Ken Goffman (a.k.a R.U Sirius) shows this very well in his book “counterculture through the ages”. This is imho the same love/hate relationship that occurred between Surrealism and Communism, the Beats and American Left (Herbert Marcuse, etc) or between the Hippies and the Weathermen. It seems to me that, at heart, transhumanism is a counterculture; a Promethean counterculture and not an Abrahamic one, to use again Goffman’s terms, but a counterculture nevertheless: it is something individual, hedonistic, mythological, and its best ways of expression are through science, technology, art, philosophy and -why not- metaphysics,mysticism or religion, NOT politics… transhumanism as a form of political position is a nuisance. It is as devoid of efficacy as Allen Ginsberg trying to levitate the Pentagon with Tibetan chants. Interesting surrealistic act, but nevertheless without any practical consequences. Of course, this doesn’t mean that a transhumanist cannot involve himself in political activism (and BTW we discover that in this case transhumanists may choose a wide variety of camps, from socialist Bakouninian anarchism to anarcho-capitalist libertarianism, and all the flavors between them, for or against War in Iraq, etc. and this shows that transhumanism cannot be articulated as a coherent political position), and of course his transhumanist leanings may influence his or her political choices, but the two domains should remain separated imho.
Now of course, the cultural changes brought by transhumanism in the cultural sphere, may, one day or an other influence the political sphere, but it will take some time, and will probably not be brought by the same persons or the same groups.

I think there might be some mixup between policy-relevant (that is, not eschatological) positions and… their politics.

For instance:
“Emphasize not just deep innovation, but also broad access.”

Now, I have very little interest in innovation taking place in a galaxy far, far away or under the control of something else. In fact, at the Associazione Italiana Transumanisti we put Access to or even Re-appropriation of technology at the top of our agenda (see http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/campa20080722/).

Nevertheless, “broadening the access to technology” may currently sound to the mainstream as more of a pie-in-sky or utopian stance, or in any event a more “radical” program, than simply the adoption of small steps aimed at fostering innovation and research at a public and corporate level.

Similarly, Jupiter brains can be a rather remote concept, but cryonics might well be considered as a kind of lowest-hanging fruit from a transhumanist point of view, if anything in terms of visibility and ability to induce relatively widespread social behaviours. Certainly much more than affecting global behaviours with respect to environmental issues, including, eg, at a geo-engineering level. And yet the second issue, more ambitious as it may be, would appear to many of us as much more crucial.

What am I aiming with all that? That “speaking to the mainstream” and compromising with its biases is not really the issue at hand. On the contrary, this is likely to make us invisibile, or insignificant, to our natural public, without making any kind of dent in the mainstream itself, whose current ideas are already very well represented by a large menu of well-established ideologies, parties, religions and grass-root movements. If anything, transhumanists should take a *more*, not less, radical position, and aim instead at gradually expanding a counterculture able to exert a growing influence on the society at large. 

The real issue, IMHO, would be stopping using the very speculative and long-term scenarios, and above all their supposed “inevitability” (curve extrapolations often taking the place of providential design in guaranteeing such outcome) as an escapism from the fact that a *political* mobilisation for the here and now is the only way by which something is ever going to happen, including perhaps Jupiter brains.

@Stefano: as you say, science and innovation policy choices for the here-and-now, based on the concrete ethics of those who want to improve the actual quality of life of actual human beings instead of the abstract pseudo-ethics of mainstream bioluddites, will result in better therapies and (moderate) human enhancement options in the short term.

This path will also lead, someday, to immortality, uploading and Jupiter brains. Probably, nobody of our generation will live long enough to see these things. But this should not prevent us from contemplating, with awe and happiness, the wonderful options which will be open to future generation, and doing our best to stay on the path to limitless progress.

Is Transhumanism a dirty word?

Well perhaps it is time for a roll call here at the IEET hands up who’s who? who, apart from Giulio is transhumanist and values transhumanist and posthumanist ideals here at IEET? Who actually stands by ideals concerning “uploading” and other radical “sky pies” here, or have I been wasting my time reading all this stuff?

Seems to me, if Transhumanism were to be more clearly defined here, (which I attempted to rationalise myself at Giulio’s link above), then more folks could align themselves to it : including myself. What is the difference between a techno-progressive and a transhumanist? And how can you be transhumanist without being techno-progressive? Do techno-progressives stop short of aligning themselves with the label “Transhumanist”?

Quote : “In the next fifty years, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and cognitive science will allow human beings to transcend the limitations of the human body. Healthy lifespans 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 in ways that push the boundaries of “humanness.”

Quote : “Personal enhancement:potentially transforming some humans into posthumans:is an obvious and necessary area of study for the IEET. But the recognition that all individuals exist within societies, and that personal choices may overlap the rights of others within those societies, makes the work of IEET scholars more complex and also more urgent.”


!! Apologies Russell for taking liberties with quotes from your article below, although I believe I have not quoted you out of context, (please correct me if I’m wrong, or if you have changed your position regarding transhumanism).

Transhumanism at the CrossroadsRussell Blackford
>> http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/print/119/

Quote : “My viewpoint has generally been sympathetic to transhumanist approaches and at least one commentator has labeled me a “transhumanist technophile,” which is fair enough.

Even so, I have not identified strongly with the organized transhumanist movement. After a brief period of enthusiasm, I declined to apply the label “transhumanist” to myself, and still feel some residual discomfort with it. But I am now more actively associated with transhumanism, especially through this site, and my main project at the moment involves research on the social implications of enhancement technologies. With my working life centering around transhumanist issues, the time has come to take stock of where I stand, and of how I view transhumanism. One thing I know for sure is that transhumanism must become a far more inclusive, broadly based and mainstream social movement if it is to flourish.”

Quote : “What else can we do? The main thing is simply to stand up and be counted. Transhumanist ideas cannot be suppressed forever, since they appeal to deep-seated urges to improve our own capabilities and those of the people we love or identify with. But the movement can be frustrated for years or decades. The only answer I see is that transhumanism must develop rapidly into a movement of committed people in large numbers, including many articulate, prominent people who are prepared to identify with transhumanism in public.”

Quote : “If transhumanism became a more inclusive movement, it might actually alienate some of its current support base - people whose ideas are in many ways of great value. I hope this can be avoided, but we must become an inclusive, mainstream movement even if it leads to more fragmentation between “Left” and “Right” transhumanists. The forging of a humane and socially aware transhumanism is not only intellectually justified, it is necessary for transhumanism to survive and flourish.

Count me in.”

*end*

Nice discussion!
DO love such dialogs!
Good post in whole!
Thanks for sharing!

“Emphasize not just freedom but also fairness.”  And not merely fairness but also decency—what used to be called virtue. In a possible near-future malignant dystopia, freedom might not possess much value without some sort of decency. The far future? who the hell knows what life will be like?: no one today has the foggiest notion of what anything will mean in the distant future; what value, or decency, or fairness, or even freedom will mean. What will ‘meaning’ itself mean in the 22nd century? in the 23rd?

I don’t know about the mainstream, but one way to make technoprogressive transhumanism less of a joke among the left netroots and others sure to be influential in the coming decades is to specifically and publicly refute tripe like this as such.

What does the public know? you try to explain h+ to them, when they don’t want to know how an aspirin works.

Ultratechnologies will be the last ones to hit the shelves. Any future ultratechnology will remain in the hands of the wealthy, intelligent, and influential few (tens to thousands of people), for a long time, 1-2 decades at least, some perhaps 5-10 decades, some indefinitely (weapons, extreme life extension), because any ultratechnology requires perfection and complexity that cannot be initially produced in large numbers. But the main reason for ultraexclusivity is because, by definition, any ultratechnology has some capability that is ultra in terms of the power it affords its user - but (mostly) only when others don’t have it. Money and nukes are examples of this; if everyone has them, nobody is rich or militarily powerful. Shared ultrapower is no longer ultra - it is no longer power at all. The computer chip was an ultratechnology, only to be found in the hands of governments and the largest corporations for decades until it went mainstream. In the days of WW2 code breaking, that (by today’s standards miniscule) power was indeed ultra; the ultra in ultra is not only absolute it is very much relative; guns against swords, very ultra. Now computing power is practically free, though its power and ultratechnology status (at least in the eyes of the geek) hasn’t diminished one bit. And neither has that of guns, unless you live in a place where everyone carries one.

Discussing far-future ultratechnologies with anyone else but a hardcore transhumanist, like Mr. Prisco, and other Cosmic Engineers & wannabes seeks just rather pointless and a waste of time.

Well you got the above right. H+ limited five to ten decades to, say, the “sovereign individual”? Not terribly unlikely. I’ll never listen to another chirpy ‘60s techno-guru again; no more Leary, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Ram Dass, etc. They are 95 percent hype; 4 percent agents & connections.

To better connect with the mainstream, the trancehumanoid community should talk about actual, concrete solutions and abstain from using vague, ill-defined catch-all terms like ‘technology’. If the reader doesn’t know what you’re talking about, you’re not going to keep her interested. This tendency to be vague afflicts futurism in general. It’s hard to be specific when you’re talking about something that hasn’t been invented.

Could someone explain (with sufficient specificity) what I have to think and believe to be deemed a transhumanist?  And I mean a serious, dedicated card-carrying transhumanist. Perhaps someone like Mr. Giulio Prisco could enlighten me and others here. I think I might really like to be one, if I only knew what being one means!

Well.. whaddayaknow

Well done normalhumanist for asking a straight question and succeeding in getting a straight answer!

@ Mike does humanity+ have a permanlink here at IEET? If it does, why can’t I find it?

Are You a Transhumanist? Ten questions
>> http://www.humanityplus.org/learn/philosophy/10qtest


Now this is interesting, and how did I miss this?

Humanity+ Board Elections
>> http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/2802/

Posted: Jan 12, 2009

Some of you are members of our sister organization Humanity+ (formerly World Transhumanist Association), so I wanted to just drop a quick note about this week’s elections for the Humanity+ Board of Directors. (If you aren’t a voting member you have until Thursday to join and vote).  All the candidate statements are here.  There are four IEET folks in the running that I thought you should be aware of including IEET Board members Michael LaTorra and George Dvorsky, and IEET Fellows Mike Treder and Ben Goertzel.

@normalhumanist - I think the most compact definition of transhumanism is:

Most transhumanists think using technology to modify human beings, from moderate modifications to very radical ones like mind uploading, is both doable and good.

I do, for instance.

And I think that we could do something *here* and *now* to get closer to even very radical transhumanist goals (think of the fight against prohibitionist legislation on human enhancement and reprogenetic techs, for instance, campaigns for a radical increase in public investment in fundamental research, space, geoengineering studies, etc.).

This has little to do with contenting ourselves with bland, non-controversial, politically correct. short-termist technophilia, but also with limiting ourselves to extrapolating curves or contemplating possibile Omega points at the end of the universe and take that as transhumanist or technoprogressive activism.

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