transhumanism

How transhumanism would like to manufacture the elite of the future...

The rapid development of the so-called NBIC technologies - nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science - is giving rise to possibilities that have long been in the realm of science fiction. Disease, aging, and even death are all human realities that these technologies seek to end.
 
EThey can allow us to enjoy greater "morphological freedom" - we could take on new forms through prosthetics or genetic engineering. Or improve our cognitive abilities. We could use brain-computer interfaces to connect to advanced artificial intelligence.
 
Nanobots could travel through our bloodstream to monitor our health and improve our emotional propensities for joy, love or other emotions. Advances in one area often open up new possibilities in other areas, and this "convergence" may lead to radical changes in our world in the near future.
 
Transhumanism" is the idea that humans should transcend their current natural state and limitations through the use of technology - that is, we should adopt self-directed human evolution. If the history of technological progress can be seen as humanity's attempt to tame nature to better meet its needs, transhumanism is the logical next step: the revision of humanity's nature to better serve its fantasies.
 
As David Pearce, one of the main proponents of transhumanism and co-founder of Humanity+ says:
If we want to live in a paradise, we'll have to invent it ourselves. If we want eternal life, we will have to rewrite our buggy genetic code and become like a god. Only high-tech solutions can eradicate suffering from the world. Compassion alone is not enough.
 
But there is a darker side to the naive faith that Pearce and other supporters have in transhumanism - a decidedly dystopian faith.
 
There is unlikely to be a clear moment when we emerge as transhumans. Rather, technologies will become more intrusive and integrate seamlessly into the human body. Technology has long been seen as an extension of oneself. Many aspects of our social world, especially our financial systems, are already largely machine-based. There is much to learn from these evolving man-machine hybrid systems.
 
Yet the often utopian language and expectations that surround and shape our understanding of these developments have not been thoroughly analyzed. The profound changes that lie ahead are often discussed in the abstract, as evolutionary "advances" are seen as so radical that they ignore the reality of current social conditions.
 
In doing so, transhumanism becomes a kind of "techno-anthropocentrism", in which transhumanists often underestimate the complexity of our relationship with technology. They see it as a controllable and malleable tool which, with the right logic and scientific rigour, can be transformed for any purpose. In fact, just as technological developments depend on and reflect the environment in which they occur, they in turn affect culture and create new - often imperceptible - dynamics.
 
It is therefore essential to situate transhumanism within the broader social, cultural, political and economic contexts in which it emerges in order to understand the extent to which it has an ethical significance.
 

Competitive environments

 
Max More and Natasha Vita-More, in their book The Transhumanist Readerclaim the need for transhumanism for " the inclusion, plurality and perpetual questioning of our knowledge"
 
Yet these three principles are incompatible with the development of transformative technologies in the dominant system from which they are currently emerging: advanced capitalism.
 
Perpetually doped or evolutionary dead?
 
One of the problems is that a highly competitive social environment does not lend itself to different ways of being. Instead, it requires increasingly effective behaviours. Take the example of students. If some have access to pills that allow them to perform better, can other students afford not to do the same? This is a real dilemma. An increasing number of students are already taking pills to boost their performance. And if the pills become more powerful, or if the improvements involve genetic engineering or intrusive nanotechnologies that offer even stronger competitive advantages, what then? Rejecting an advanced technological orthodoxy could make someone socially and economically moribund (perhaps evolutionarily), when all those who have access to the pills are effectively forced to follow it to keep pace .
 
Breaking daily boundaries suggests a kind of liberation. But here, it's a kind of imprisoning compulsion we're talking about. We literally have to transcend ourselves in order to conform (and survive). The more extreme the transcendence, the deeper the decision to conform and the more imperative it is to do so.
 
The systemic forces that cajole the individual to be "modernized" in order to remain competitive also manifest themselves at the geopolitical level. Defence is one of the areas where technological R&D has the greatest transhumanist potential. DARPA (the US Department of Defense, responsible for the development of military technologies), which is trying to create "metabolically dominant soldiers", is a clear example of how the vested interests of a particular social system could determine the development of radically powerful transformative technologies that have destructive rather than utopian applications.
 
The rush to develop super-intelligent AI by globally competitive and suspicious nation states could also result in an arms race. In Radical Evolutionthe novelist Verner Vinge describes a scenario in which superhuman intelligence is the "..."ultimate weapon« . Ideally, humanity would proceed with the utmost care in developing such a powerful and transformative innovation.
 
The creation of super-intelligence and the emergence of "singularity" rightly raises a great deal of concern - the idea that once artificial intelligence reaches a certain level, it will quickly reshape itself, leading to an explosion of intelligence that will quickly outstrip that of humans (which is a major concern for the future). will occur by 2029 according to the futuristic Ray Kurzweil).
 
It is also difficult to conceive of any aspect of humanity that could not be "improved" by being made more efficient in meeting the requirements of a competitive system. It is therefore the system that determines the evolution of humanity - without pronouncing on what humans are or what they should be. One of the ways in which advanced capitalism is extremely dynamic is in its ideology of moral and metaphysical neutrality. As the philosopher Michael Sandel states: "... the only way to be neutral is to be neutral in the world. markets make no distinction between right and wrong "(Michael J. Sandel, What money can't buy. The moral limits of the market(Paris: Seuil, 2014). In advanced capitalism, maximizing one's purchasing power means maximizing one's ability to flourish, which is tantamount to saying that shopping is a primary moral imperative of the individual.
 
The philosopher Bob Doede rightly suggests that it is this banal logic of the market that will dominate:
Biotechnology has made human nature entirely revisable, but it cannot in any way direct or constrain the form we give it. So what form will posthuman artifacts take? I have no doubt that our great consumer society, our media-saturated capitalist economy and our commercial forces will come to an end. Then the commercial imperative would become the true architect of the human future.
Whether the evolutionary process is determined by super-intelligent AI or advanced capitalism, we may be forced to conform to a perpetual transcendence that will only make us more efficient in the activities necessary for the most powerful system. The end point would undoubtedly be an entirely non-human technological entity - albeit a highly efficient one - derived from humanity, which does not necessarily serve a purpose that a modern human being would value in any way. The ability to effectively serve the system would be the driving force. The same is true of natural evolution, since technology is not a simple tool for solving this enigma. But transhumanism could amplify the speed and less desirable aspects of the process.
 

Authoritarianism of information

 
For bioethicist Julian Savulescu, the main reason why humans must be improved is the survival of our species. He argues that we are facing a Bermuda Triangle of Extinction radical technological power, liberal democracy and our moral nature. As a transhumanist, Savulescu advocates technological progress, which he considers as inevitable as it is unstoppable. It is liberal democracy - and in particular our moral nature - that should change.
 
Humanity's inability to solve global problems is becoming increasingly evident. But Savulescu neglects to place our moral weaknesses in their general cultural, political and economic context, believing instead that the solutions lie in our biological make-up.
 
Yet how could Savulescu's morality enhancing technologies be disseminated, prescribed and potentially applied to address the moral failures they seek to "cure"? The answer probably lies in the power structures that may be largely responsible for these failures. It also quickly reveals how relative and contestable the concept of 'morality' is:
We will need to relax our commitment to maximum privacy protection. We are seeing an increase in the surveillance of individuals, and it will be necessary if we are to avoid the threats posed by people with anti-social personality disorders, fanaticism, because of their access to radically improved technology.
Such monitoring allows businesses and governments to access and use extremely valuable information. In Who Owns the FutureInternet pioneer Jaron Lanier explains:
Crowds of files on the private and intimate lives of ordinary people, collected on digital networks, are packaged into a new private form of currency reserved for an elite. It is a new form of security negotiated by the wealthy, whose value naturally increases. It becomes a huge leverage, inaccessible to ordinary people.
It is crucial to say that this lever is invisible to most people. It not only shifts the economic system towards the elites, but it also significantly changes the very concept of freedom, because the authority of power is both radically more effective and dispersed.
 
Foucault's idea that we are living in a panoptic society - a society in which a sense of perpetual surveillance instills discipline - is now stretched to the point where it has been dubbed the "superpanopticon", today's incessant machinery. The knowledge and information that transhumanist technologies will tend to create could reinforce existing power structures that consolidate the inherent logic of the system from which knowledge emanates.
 
This is partly evident in the tendency of algorithms to discriminate on the basis of race and gender, which already reflect our existing social failures. Information technology tends to interpret the world in well-defined ways, favouring easily measurable information, such as GDP, at the expense of non-quantifiable information, such as happiness or human well-being. As pervasive technologies provide increasingly granular data about us, this data can, in a very real sense, come to define the world - and intangible information may not retain its rightful place in human affairs.
 

Systemic dehumanization

 
Existing inequities will certainly be amplified with the introduction of highly effective psychopharmaceuticals, genetic modification, super intelligence, brain-computer interfaces, nanotechnology, robotic prosthetics and the possible expansion of life. They are all fundamentally unequal and are based on a notion of non-limitation rather than the standard level of physical and mental well-being that we accept in health care. It is difficult to conceive of a way in which all can enjoy these opportunities .
 
Sociologist Saskia Sassen speaks new logics of exclusion", which reflect "... the new logic of exclusion". the pathologies of today's global capitalism« . These exclusions include both the more than 60,000 migrants who have lost their lives in the last 20 years on deadly journeys and the victims of prison overcrowding.
 
In Britain, they include the 30,000 people whose deaths in 2015 were linked to cuts in health care and social benefits and the many people who died in the Grenfell Tower fire. Their deaths can be said to be the result of systematic marginalisation.
 
Parallel to these "exclusions", an unprecedented concentration of wealth is occurring. Advanced economic and technical achievements allow this wealth and the expulsion of surplus groups. At the same time, wrote In Sassen, they create a kind of nebulous context without a similar center of power:
The oppressed have often risen up against their masters. But today, the oppressed have mostly been expelled and survive at a great distance from their oppressors. The "oppressor" is increasingly a complex system that combines people, networks and machines whose centre is undefined.
 
Surplus populations, removed from the productive aspects of the social world, could increase rapidly in the near future, as improved AI and robotics could lead to significant unemployment related to automation. Large segments of society may become productive and economically redundant. According to historian Yuval Noah Harari, "[t]he fact that the use of AI and robotics may become a major cause of unemployment in the near future is a major concern. the most important question in the economy of the 21st century may well be: what should we do with all the superfluous people? »
 
We would have no other scenario than that of a small elite possessing almost all the wealth and access to the most powerful transformative technology in human history and a mass of peripheral people, unable to keep up with the evolutionary context in which they find themselves and entirely dependent on the benevolence of this elite. The dehumanizing treatment accorded to today's excluded groups demonstrates that the liberal values of developed countries do not always extend to those who do not share the same privileges and the same race, culture or religion.
 
In an era of radical technological power, the masses may even pose a significant threat to the security of the elite, which could justify aggressive and authoritarian actions (perhaps made possible by a culture of surveillance).
 
In their treatise on transhumanism, The Proactionary ImperativeSteve Fuller and Veronika Lipinska assert that we are obliged to pursue techno-scientific progress relentlessly until we reach our destiny as God or our infinite power - to serve God effectively by becoming God. They unhesitatingly reveal the incipient violence and destruction that such Promethean goals would require: "... the only way to achieve these goals is through the use of the power of God...". Replacing the natural with the artificial is so essential to a pro-stakeholder strategy... At least it is seriously possible, if not probable, that this will lead to long-term environmental degradation of the Earth.".
 
The extent of all the suffering they would be willing to put into play in their cruel casino can only be fully understood when we analyse what their project means for human beings:
A pro-shareholder world would not only tolerate risk-taking, but would encourage it, as people would be provided with legal incentives to speculate on their bio-economic assets. Living dangerously would become a business in itself... pro-shareholders seeking significant long-term benefits from the survivors of a revolutionary regime that would encourage many harms in order to do so.
 
Divine elites
 
The economic fragility that humans may soon face as a result of unemployment due to automation would probably prove extremely useful to pro-shareholder goals. In a society where a vast majority of the population will depend on handouts to survive, market forces will ensure that the lack of social security will push people to take more risks for little benefit, so "pro-shareholders would reinvent the welfare system as a vehicle for risk-taking as a market instrument" while "the pro-shareholder state would be exploited as a huge venture capitalist".
 
At the heart of this state is the replacement of the fundamental rights of "Humanity 1.0", Fuller's term for modern non-augmented human beings, with obligations to future augmented Humanity 2.0. Thus, our codes of values can and should even be monetized:
" personal autonomy should be seen as a franchise granted by the government where individuals view their bodies as a parcel of land in what can be called a "common gene pool"; and ".
The neo-liberal preoccupation with privatization would then extend to human beings. Indeed, lifetime debt, which is part of the reality of most citizens of capitalist developed nations, would take on a completely different meaning when a person is born in debt: to be alive would be equivalent to "... being alive". invest in capital where results are expected ".
 
The socially moribund masses could be forced to serve the techno-scientific super-project of Humanity 2.0, which uses the ideology of commercial fundamentalism in its quest for perpetual progress and maximum productivity. The only significant difference is that the declared purpose of the divine capacities of Humanity 2.0 is obvious, as opposed to the indefinite end determined by the infinite "progress" of an even more efficient commercial logic than the one we have today.
 

A new policy

 
Some transhumanists are beginning to understand that the most serious limits to what humans can achieve are social and cultural, not technical. Too often, however, their reframing of politics falls into the same trap as their technocentric worldview. They generally argue that the new political poles are neither left-wing nor right-wing, but techno-conservative or techno-progressive (and even techno-libertarian and techno-skeptic). Meanwhile, Fuller and Lipinska argue that the new political poles will be top-down instead of left-wing and right-wing: those who want to dominate the sky and have become all-powerful, and those who want to preserve the Earth and its species-rich diversity. This is a false dichotomy. Preserving the latter is undoubtedly necessary to hope to achieve the former.
 
Transhumanism and advanced capitalism are two processes that value above all "progress" and "efficiency". The first as a means of power and the second as a means of profit. Humans become vehicles at the service of these values. Transhuman possibilities urgently call for a policy with more clearly delineated and explicit human values to provide a safer environment in which to foster these profound changes. Our position on issues of social justice and environmental sustainability has never been more important. Technology does not allow us to escape these issues - it does not allow for political neutrality. The opposite is true. It determines that politics has never been more important. Savulescu is right when he says that radical technology is coming. He is wrong to think that they will correct our moral values - they will reflect them.
 
Alexander ThomasPhD, University of East London
 
Source: Daily Mail / The Conversation
Photos: Shutterstock

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