The future has always been scary. Science fiction has shown us this for years, but we can also think about our daily anxieties related to what we don’t know yet, the way in which life will evolve, to discover the fears of the unknown to come. Yet, alongside those who see the future with fear, there are many other individuals who look to the world to come with optimism, as an evolution where we can only get better. And in which we will be able to overcome the difficulties and limitations of the present.
What is transhumanism?
Transhumanism is probably one of the most futuristic and courageous visions of how life could evolve. It is a series of ideas, philosophies, analyzes and technological researches aimed at evolving human beings to the point of being able to overcome the very limits of our human condition: the possibility of defeating death and living forever, for example, or having superior intellectual or physical abilities. The idea behind this philosophy is that fairly soon progresses in technology will allow us to evolve into a new humanity: an intermediate stage between the mortal human being we are now and the next evolutionary stage, which overcomes the human condition and comes to be “post-human”. This is seen as a natural continuation of our evolution, which has already led us to be more than animals millions of years ago, and which at some point could move on to the next phase.
It is a large and complex philosophical network that touches many aspects. Transhumanism was originally formed at the beginning of the 90s and over the years the ideological structure has been presented and elaborated within the Humanity + portal. The main idea put forward by the transhumanists is that at some point we will have the opportunity to live forever, thanks to the use of future nanotechnologies that will prevent us from aging. Alongside this very powerful change of perspective, there are various others, always linked to the progress of technologies.
Living forever: what then?
Once the way has been opened to the use of state-of-the-art technologies to overcome the limits of the human being, there are many possibilities. For example:
- The use of biotechnologies to acquire superior physical abilities, which, for example, will prevent us from feeling tired, or will allow us to be faster, stronger, more resistant than today
- The possibility of becoming super-intelligent beings, thanks to new technologies that can be implanted in our brains
- Independence from certain emotions that can block us, such as sadness, frustration or anger
- The possibility of reproducing in a different way, so as to give life to higher beings who cannot get sick
- The digitization of our brain by transporting it to a computer (the so-called uploading), with all our memories, our character, our thoughts and basically our identity, in order to mentally exist forever, outside our earthly body
Obviously we are talking about technologies that do not yet exist, but which may soon begin to be available. The most optimistic speak about 20 or 30 years needed for the first steps in this direction to arrive, while others think it may still take a century.
Moral issues and contemporary studies
There are obviously important moral, social and ethical issues that need to be addressed, and the transhumanist community itself is aware of this. Living forever implies the need to solve an upcoming planetary overpopulation problem, for example. Furthermore, the technologies we are talking about can be very risky and basically carry with them the risk of extinction, a risk that should be carefully evaluated before proceeding in this direction. Ethics obviously prompts us to ask ourselves how far we can push to overcome the laws of nature, which has made us mortal, limited and capable of feeling emotions. For transhumanists, “natural” does not necessarily coincide with “right” or “correct”, therefore behind this philosophy there is still a strong push not to consider today’s human limits as something that is right to exist.
The long and detailed Humanity+ FAQ addresses all these aspects by offering an answer shared by the intellectuals of the community in an updated way. And it also explains what can be done right now, for those who already want to project themselves into the possibility of becoming transhuman. What is now possible to do in a practical way, suggested as a possibility by convinced transhumanists, is not to give up on the idea that these technologies could be out of our reach because they will arrive after we are dead. To overcome this problem, one possibility is cryonics: “freezing” (or rather, cryopreserving) our body in liquid hydrogen, at -196°C, and wait patiently for the technology to be mature enough to be able to bring us back to life. All this assuming that cryopreservation does not irreversibly alter our vital functions, that our brain functions restart normally after exiting hibernation and that technologies will be able to take us to the new transhuman stage without side effects. All assumptions that have not yet been proven, of course. But those who see the future with optimism imagine that at some point every question will be resolved.
Cryonics as the possibility of “extending one’s life beyond death” is already possible, for example through Alcor, the foundation active since the 70s that allows the cryopreservation of bodies after death has been declared (because doing it before is not – yet – legal). Access to this possibility is already within everyone’s reach, for a minimum cost of $200,000 if you want to preserve the entire body, or $80,000 if you limit yourself to the option of neurosuspension, i.e. freezing only the head (hence the brain), out of the body.
For many it’s a series of ideas so advanced and aggressive towards the natural order of things that they represent a real danger to the human race, and should be stopped as soon as possible. This eventuality is also discussed within the community of transhumanists, as a possibility of interrupting the search for what presents concrete risks of extinction of our species. Nonetheless, the optimism towards the future pushes the leaders of the sector to continue to believe (and invest) in transhumanism as a possibility of future evolution, not so far away. By maintaining the possibility of the free choice of each individual and trusting that there should be no social conflict between normal human beings and any post-human beings to come.
Dystopian writers of the past such as Aldous Huxley, Philip K. Dick or Isaac Asimov would obviously be horrified at the idea that even one of these things will come to life, and their writings were intended to warn us in every possible way. On the other hand, important figures of the present such as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos or Google co-founder Larry Page have already invested enormous amounts in researches related to transhumanism. What will happen, we will find out in a few decades.