Monday, November 26, 2012

Is Progress Worth the Retrogress?

Transhumanism is a movement which offers progress for all, but inevitable will leave a significant number of people in the dust. The abbreviation of H+ is enough to show that in a transhumanist society where some individuals have something extra, there will be those who have something less. A fundamental focus of the transhumanist movement should be how those who will be disadvantaged either by choice (luddites) or by circumstance (marginalized people) should be “handled”. A society where some need to be handled or given extra attention does not have equality and a shift to such a society would set the world’s attempt at equality back significantly. The question then is whether it is worth it for the good of society and individuals benefiting to make the switch anyway given the possible health of individuals and the environment. In addition the intellectual and technological gratification society would receive as a result of the profound progress and change would be profound.
            There is hardly any question that there are amazing benefits to adopting certain transhumanist ideals into society in the form of gene modification and robotics. Robots can be programmed to perform difficult or dangerous jobs that currently human error or incapability limits from occurring or proves fatal. If robotic technology was more advanced the gushing wellhead during the BP oil spill may have been able to be fixed more quickly. As it was the remotely operated underwater vehicles failed and the oil gushed for three months, allowing 4.9 million barrels of crude oil to spill into the gulf, killing countless creatures and causing  millions of dollars in damage and loss of profit. Already robotic technology is being used to supplement human action in risky and precise brain and other surgeries, where the unreliability of physical human movement can have terrible consequences. Similarly, the possibilities avoiding illness and chronic disease through genetic modification could do wonders for individuals who no longer need to suffer personally or through a sick family member while also developing the entire human genome to be free of such biological limitations. These possibilities are somewhat unbelievable, what would a society benefiting so much from non-human workers and free from the terrible burden of unexplainable or incurable disease mean for the humans living in it. With the elimination of chronic disease and the potential genetic modification methods, it is possible that humans would approach the elimination of death altogether. This is especially possible when robotic or computer technology became such that a person’s personality, intelligence, and genome could be uploaded onto a storage container allowing it to truly last forever.
The question becomes would this be a human life? If one cannot die, does one’s life lose value or meaning? Or once the restriction of death has been lifted, are countless opportunities for further development and discovery simply opened up? It seems improbable that an individual living a life with no end in sight is likely to spend every day and moment productively working for the future. It seems more likely that an individual would look at the vast empty space of time ahead of them and put off work until the next day, metaphorically sleep a little longer (assuming the necessity of sleep has been eliminated). In the area of transhumanist society wherein some are superior to others it is assumed that lazy humans not taking advantage of the opportunities given to them because of the hard work of generations before them would be scorned and inferior. What can a transhumanist society do with those who do not have energy to work and develop if the threat of starvation and death is taken away? Another type of inferior individual in such a society would be those unwilling to change their genetics to be superior whether for religious, moral, or fear-based reasons. The progressive ideal of the importance of civil liberty often goes with other progressive ideals shared by transhumanists such as the elevating of the human race as a whole by raising individuals beyond their potential. Therefore the preserving of civil liberties is often a priority, or at least is portrayed as important. In reality it is likely eventually those in charge will not even pretend to make civil liberties universal. By that time perhaps the division between those who have embraced and/or are fully experiencing transhumanist society and those who are not will be so vast that there will be a separate set of rules, expectations, and responsibilities for each. The undeveloped souls may need extra help and the developed may have extra responsibilities. The unanswered question remains is the good of all humanity worth the inequality that society will be? And beyond that, how long will it take for people to forget about the importance of equality all together?


  1. I really enjoyed your entry, especially your second paragraph. It made me think of my little sister, who at 11 was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Scientists are currently working on a cure. Transplants are not very common ( I believe it has only been done to diabetics with severe hypoglycemia or renal disease), but with advancements in technology diabetics are able to live long, fulfilling lives. I think we are far from preventing death, but I definitely believe (and hope) that we will able to free ourselves from some chronic diseases such as diabetes very soon.

  2. This is a thorough entry and there is little to add, I agree that morals and our idea of what is the "right" thing to do might inevitably clash with our progress and development. There is really no way to ensure that humans will not leave the concept of equality in the dust in favor of progress; we can only hope that when that time comes, humanity moves in the right direction and makes the right choices.

  3. "This is especially possible when robotic or computer technology became such that a person’s personality, intelligence, and genome could be uploaded onto a storage container allowing it to truly last forever" this is such an interesting idea/theory. i'm not sure how feasible it is at this point or even in the near future however because although maybe intelligence can be transferred, I don't believe someone's personality can be replicated or transferred. Personality is based on particular, random wirings in the brain and experiences in life. I don't think there is anything that can replace someone's personality or even change it. i agree with both you and X-O Liu that it may become difficult for us to resist progress even when it means compromising our morals. However, we must put faith in humanity to do the right thing otherwise this fear will forever hold us back from advancements.