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As we approach an increasingly technological future, the reality and plausibility of concepts such
as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and eternal life become more apparent. ‘Throughout our history as a species, the desire to expand the boundaries of our existence has always been present, be it socially, geographically, or mentally.’ (Bostrom 2005) One needs to just consider the progress we have made regarding the quality of life in the modern era compared to just a century ago to see that the options that technology provides to us are increasing and there is no reason to suggest that this will slow down, let alone stop. The idea that we may be able to transcend our natural limits using technology is the core of the Transhumanist movement. 

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Transhumanism is an international intellectual movement with the aim to elevate the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellect and physiology. Transhumanism is a broad term with a number of hypotheses, but perhaps the common thesis is that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into different beings with abilities so greatly expanded from the natural condition as to merit the label of posthuman beings. 

Since its conception in the utopian, optimistic 1950s and 60s, discussion around the movement has developed into a somewhat more controversial debate. It is a debate that spans many academic fields, from traditional sciences, philosophy and ethics, and religion. The influence that early works of science fiction had in attracting supporters cannot be understated; the genre has always had a strong connection to philosophy and many works operate on a ‘thought experiment’ nature. However the same can also be said for the host of dystopian fiction novels that highlight the possible risks. Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, or Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do androids dream of electric sheep?’ are just two examples of classic novels that have had lasting effects on how we as a society perceive futurist ideas. However to take fictitious criticism too seriously could be misleading, resulting in concern in the wrong areas, but it is clear that there is a discussion to be had. Perhaps the most important debate regarding technology we can have. One that only will grow in importance as time – and our technological abilities, progress.

I will also be responding to a number of criticisms of transhumanism from bioconservative writers Francis Fukuyama, Leon Kass and George Annas. I am not a technological utopian, these are ideas that I believe humanity should be extremely skeptical about, but as we move forward into an age of artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and potential nuclear destruction I wish to explain why transhumanism is not only inevitable, but likely our best bet at survival.

Whilst many transhumanist hypotheses may sound far fetched to most individuals – it is not unreasonable to assume that technological advancement will continue to progress at an exponential rate; as it has done so far throughout human history. A core thesis of transhumanism is that we can and should use technology to improve and alter our biology; that may be through genetic engineering through gene splicing, use of hormonal drugs or even the combination of technological elements within our physiology. For the sake of discussion we will assume that these technologies will become available to that extent at some point in the future. We already alter our biological forms in minor ways; cosmetic surgery, artificial pacemakers, robotic limbs, etc… Likely targets for the remodelling of human nature include making ourselves more intelligent, happier, healthier and with an increased lifespan. Possibly even making us more virtuous and better moral agents. ‘Notice that transhumanism encompasses a moral thesis. Transhumanism does not say that we will create posthumans; rather, it makes a moral claim: we ought to create posthumans.’ (Bostrom 2005) By changing biology, transhumanists propose to enhance the human condition to the point of creating an entirely new genus: posthumans.

Perhaps the easiest way to sufficiently conceptualize the impact this can have is in terms of an analogy: it is likely that posthumans will stand to us in intellectual and moral virtues as we stand to apes. Nick Bostrom is one of transhumanism main proponents, in a paper titled transhumanists values he states:

There is no reason to think that the human mode of being is any more free of limitations imposed by our biological nature than are those of other animals. (Bostrom 2003, 29)

 Reinforcing the importance biology has in making humans what we are: the reason chimps cannot integrate into and understand our society is not because of cultural differences or animosity towards chimps, but merely that fact that differences in biology make that incapable. Bostrom goes on to say: 

In much the same way as Chimpanzees lack the cognitive wherewithal to understand what it is like to be human – the ambitions we humans have, our philosophies, the complexities of human society, or the subtleties of our relationships with one another, so we humans may lack the capacity to form a realistic intuitive understanding of what it would be like to be a radically enhanced human. (Bostrom 2003, 30-33)

Implying that the cognitive disparity between us is what prevents chimps from understanding many concepts humans appreciate. Even if you gave a chimp the best private schooling in the world, it would still never be able to succeed academically much better than a human toddler. Philosophy, art, science, literature and possibly even music are thought to be too abstract for chimps to comprehend, these are whole worlds that are forever closed to them. (Honing 2014) Unless we presume that humans in our current form are the crowning development of intellect, it seems likely that there are entire universes of value from which we are congenitally cut off from. (Bostrom 2005)