Transhumanist thoughts are not as grand and abstract as they might sound. As a species of Sapiens, we continuously wonder and envisage the future to which humanity is heading. To understand the transhumanist thoughts, it is essential to define “human” first. What makes us human, and what are the parts of being human do we want to enhance? Is longevity is an inherent human desire?
Political scientist Francis Fukuyama thinks transhumanists focus too much on the intelligence and rationality part of humanity. But human beings do not merely consist of cognitive abilities and memories. Similar to Thomas Homer-Dixon, Fukuyama believes that one of the three constituent parts of Plato’s tripartite theory of soul: thumos (in Greek), which means spiritedness, the part of the human personality refers to the recognition of one’s dignity or worth, is closer to make us unique as humans than intelligence.
Fukuyama expressed his view on transhumanism in his book Our Posthuman Future. Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution. He believes transhumanism is a dangerous thought because, from the human health perspective, the danger and uncertainty of specific techniques such as genetic engineering are subtle, and the complications are often wrapped up in the positive benefits which are hard to distinguish. Besides, from the ethical choice perspective, biotechnology can prolong life significantly, which will interfere with the average generational turnover, the key for societies to readjust and progress.
Distinguished biologist Edward Wilson also does not accredit the technological approach. As written in his book The Future of Life (2002), Wilson believes the future of humans is not about enhancing its physical functions, but rather, maintaining the connection to nature, to wilderness particular. The future of all living beings lies in the conservation of biodiversity based on ethical thinking and human empathy for our future generation.
“The good, the bad and the ugly” of technological enhancers such as smartphones were explored in a class lectured by Professor Olivia Bina. There is a wide range of “good” about the smartphone, from communication to information to time and tasks management, services — GPS, weather and entertainment, etc. The smartphone is an extension of the human brain in terms of memories. In this way, smartphones can free the human brain from small task management so that people can focus on more complex and intriguing problems. The smartphone also allows people to have greater freedom in terms of mobility. It also makes people more independent and more confident (“if I don’t know, I will just search my phone”). A more significant aspect yet is that smartphone is changing the way we relate ourselves as the knowledge agent, and interestingly, through sets of passwords and orders, we entrust the phone as a friendly tool, rather than alerting the sensitive issue of information privacy and identity integrity.
“The bad” of smartphones can be that it fragments people’s time and could become a distraction when people need to focus on specific tasks. The fragmentation of information and therefore, the change of reading habits is another negative impact. Over time, people could become less willing to read contents of greater length and depth. The smartphone makes people more independent as to other people. However, it makes people dependent on the smartphone itself.
Finally “the ugly” side of the smartphone: our usage of the mobile phones, including public and private, input and output information, the preference over different apps and even our typing habits, have become lucrative data for information technology companies. The “information/data mining” reflects the dark side of humans as a social animal and our social interests on others.
In a 6-minute video: Technology, jobs, and the future of work that were shown to a PhD class on climate change and sustainable development policies by Professor Olivia Bina, it showed that robots are substituting human labour, not just in physical categories but also in intellectual ones. Today, we are witnessing the transition of science fictions turning into scientific facts, and further turning into business facts. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help businesses improve customer service, marketing and optimise product supply chains.
To conclude, today we already use enhancers, e.g., biological enhancers in the form of quality food, social enhancers in the form of supportive social networks or good teachers or mentors, technological enhancers, such as computers, smartphones for information access. The design of these enhancers allow us to gain better physical and psychological condition so that we could have greater longevity, and in theory, produce more significant social connections and more knowledge.
But in reality, some designs do not work as well as others. Today we still have 800 million hungry people to feed and to provide fundamental human rights and other necessary living conditions. The education systems we designed, is not good enough as an excellent social network enhancer, we need to reform our education systems. The idea to achieve a posthuman state with cognitive enhancers (e.g., medical measures) and genetic engineering, will not be sufficient. Certainly, to be able to see the ultraviolet light with our own eyes is a very tempting idea. But blurring the ethical boundary is a long-standing human right and human health concern, for instance, cloning as a genetic engineering technique is a very familiar case which can be quoted in this debate. For reaching posthuman condition involves a lot of risk-taking and blurring of ethical and human right principles. George Annas, professor of health law, ethics & human rights, calls for an international treaty to be established to prohibiting cloning and inheritable alterations.