Author: Jennifer Lahl
Category: Science and Bioethics
Danielle Egan over at the New Scientist writes about Transvision 2007 in her piece, ‘ Death Special: The plan for eternal life‘. Many of the transhumanist ‘regulars’ showed up for Transvision 2007, the ninth annual meeting of the World Transhumanist Association (WTA) which took place in Chicago, Illinois, this past summer. Ray Kurzweil, Nick Bostrom Ph.D. (co-founder of WTA), Aubrey de Grey of the Methuselah Foundation, were some of the usuals, but in the WTA’s attempts to go more mainstream, they’ve added Hollywood celebrities to their line-up. American Hollywood stars, William Shatner and Ed Begley Jr. were both invited to give keynote presentations.
The three-pronged program,’Transhumanity Saving Humanity’, was structured as:
This platform supports the WTA agenda to develop and integrate technology into our humanness, which will improve on humanity by giving us better minds, better bodies and better lives. The ultimate goal of the transhumanist movement is living better than well: transhumanists are by and large averse to suffering – they seek to avoid suffering at all costs, by any means necessary.
You might wonder, ‘What’s wrong with an agenda to avoid suffering?’ Well, not much and a whole lot. The answer depends on your anthropology. Transhumanists take as foundational the view that ‘the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase’. To that end, eternal life and immortality are driving forces behind their technological imperative for progress and advancement. Within thetranshumanist community, the views on ethical limits and restrictions, and governmental regulation vary, which makes conversations with transhumanists lively and diverse, not to mention full of disagreement among their membership.
Staunch libertarian, Marvin Minsky, co-founder of the Artificial Intelligence lab at MIT, and speaker at Transvision 2007, is quoted as saying, ‘Ordinary citizens wouldn’t know what to do with eternal life (emphasis added),’ and ‘the masses don’t have any clear-cut goals or purpose.’ And he offers his wisdom on the pursuit of scientific inquiry: ‘Scientists shouldn’t have ethical responsibility for their inventions; they should be able to do what they want…you shouldn’t ask them to have the same values as other people.’
Some from within this movement argue for ethical standards and administration that would distribute justly access to technology for all, regardless of their economic or social status; the same argue for the rights of all people to enhance or not enhance without fear of discrimination. However, it’s clear that the most important debates are taking place within a small, elite (and predominately white, upper-middle class, educated men) group who will be setting policy. As Kurzweil states, ‘I don’t recall when we voted there would be an internet.
The technological pursuit to alleviate human suffering and the quest for immortality are not new to the human condition. Transhumanism falls short on many counts.
Within a framework of techno-realism, the CBC invites you to engage in these debates!
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