Transhumanism: should we be afraid of the future? by Béatrice Jousset-Couturier- Preface by Luc Ferry
EYROLLES Edition, 2016
Ahe word "Transhumanism" first appeared in 1957 in the pen of Julian Huxley, brother of the author "The Best of Worlds", to describe a man who wanted to go beyond his limits. In its 2017 edition, the Larousse introduces this word and defines it as: "A current of thought which aims to improve the intellectual, physical and psychic capacities of the human being through the use of scientific and technical processes (genetic manipulation, nanotechnologies, artificial intelligence, etc.)".
In transhumanist language, this can be translated as: less suffering, less aging, less dying. Or: live longer and healthier!
The transhumanist current really developed in the 1980s in the United States, on the Californian coast. Initiated by the American community of geeks, the movement took root in Silicon Valley and was made up of engineers, scientists, technicians and computer scientists, but also of an elite literary group, philosophers, writers and futurists.
The World Transhumanist Association (WAT) was founded in 1998 by Nick Bostrom and David Pearce and in 2008 became Humanity+, currently directed by Natasha Vita-More. In France, the transhumanist association "Technoprog", chaired by Marc Roux, was created in 2009.
Man has always sought to fight death, disease or suffering and it is now well established that our evolution is the result of interactions between our DNA, our technologies and our environment. So what has changed to make us so disturbed by this movement and what surrounds it?
In the first place, we no longer tackle only the transformation of matter, of the external elements that surround us, but directly the transformation of our body. Secondly, the third industrial revolution, which saw the birth of information technology and its multiple applications, opened up a field of possibilities for new technologies that had previously been unimaginable. Finally, the acceleration of these means, thanks to the Internet, brings us into the era of globalization, abolishing all borders at the same time.
These upheavals, which have come far too quickly for us to have time to assimilate, are not without consequences on our daily lives and affect all areas of society: economic, social, scientific, ethical, literary, philosophical, industrial, religious, financial, etc. Only one, unfortunately, remains little shaken for the moment: politics.
And yet! In this unprecedented technological ascent, a country as bioconservative as ours risks, if it does not catch up with other developing countries very quickly, to drop out. Do we want to be the vassals of the United States, South Korea or China? The latter now even intends to compete with the United States on their own turf: GAFA versus BATX. But unlike us, the Chinese have no qualms when it comes to human trafficking. Proof of this is that they are working on sequencing the genes of individuals with very high IQs. What will they do with their findings? Human rights, ethics? Don't know!
The NBICs, for their part, will perhaps give rise to a combination of metal, plastic, mixed with flesh and bone, all linked to a central artificial intelligence (AI), a so-called "strong" artificial intelligence; so there again, beware, danger! Such prospects are very frightening, even for those who are the providers. In July 2015, PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and Microsoft creator Bill Gates, worried about the possibility of autonomous killer robots spreading, signed a petition to warn against the possible drifts linked to AI.
However, the transhumanist movement is only a reflection of our century, our modernity, our societies, our evolution, and can, if it is well directed, be a response to our evolution. Most often misinterpreted, misunderstood, misexplained, and therefore caricatured, it generates legitimate fears, largely amplified by science fiction films and series. New technologies understood as a means towards the improvement of our humanity are not to be condemned. We just need to be educated and understand what they generate, because we cannot go backwards, nor unlearn knowledge.
Does this mean that if everything becomes possible, everything is desirable?
In addition to this fundamental question, serious economic, political and societal issues will arise in the years to come. If we do not want to sink into general depression, totalitarianism, nationalism or religious fundamentalism, we will have to think about them and find solutions.
So let us try to keep our heads, to prepare ourselves for change, while preserving our creativity and interiority, the two fundamental pillars of our humanity.
Béatrice Jousset-Couturier is a scientist by training, Doctor of Pharmacy, with degrees in health law and bioethics. She worked for several pharmaceutical laboratories before defending a thesis on transhumanism in 2014.