02 Aug 2017 15 Sep 2017
This report will consider the ways transhumanism will revolutionize society whether that be via cyborg integration, life extension, or the singularity, and how ethics dictates a lot of what happens in scientific fields of research. Technology such as prosthetic limbs, telomerase expression and CRISPR-Cas9 will be explored and discussed, as well as the morality behind the advancements of biotechnology and what it could mean in terms of classism.
This research was supported by Dekkel Simmons and Andre Mostert, Centre for Innovation Management and Enterprise, University of East London.
Society is constantly changing with the inventions of new technologies that impact the way humans interact with each other and communicate, as well as how they go about their daily lives. Transhumanist theory dictates that the only way for the human race to evolve and move on from our current societal state is by transforming the human condition so much so as to create an era of post-humans; beings whose basic vital capacities exceed those of present humans by so much that they can no longer be classified as humans by current standards. [DS1]This report is going to delve into future of transhumanism (H+) such as its effects on biotechnology, life extension, and the introduction of the singularity.
This report is based off of only secondary data; methods of obtaining this data includes critiquing texts, piecing through events/incidents, using documents such as online journals and articles, and analysing official data in order to draw conclusions. This means that there is no need for a research budget as no primary data needs to be collected.[DS2]
The first known use of the term 'Singularity' in this context was by John von Neumann in 1958; when speaking with Stanislaw Ulam they made note of how the progress of technology was accelerating, constantly changing human life (Dvorsky, 2010). Now, nearly 60 years later, this is even more apparent and relevant in day-to-day life; the majority of people carry smartphones in their pockets all day, thinking it impossible to leave the house without them. However, the concept of the singularity itself is heavily disputed between technological luminaries and is considered controversial when it comes to its plausibility. Professor of Psychology at Harvard, Steven Pinker, does not believe the singularity will ever occur, stating that there is no reason to even believe such an event should take place (Pinker, 2008), whereas Vernor Vinge, Professor of Mathematics at San Diego State University, believes that the singularity will occur soon, before the year 2030, and that once it does, it'll be the rise of humankind (Vinge, 1993).
Whilst it is interesting to read discussions on others' views on the singularity, it is important to approach it from an unbiased frame of reference; its practicality must be considered as well as the current advances that are being made in that area of study and the directions they're going. Current evidence in favour of the singularity includes a woman, unable to use her arms and legs, who is able to control a prosthetic arm with just her mind via two chips being implanted directly onto the neurons in her brain (Stibel, 2015). This shows how if a woman who is unable to move herself can move another object, surely someday humans themselves will be able to merge with technology and AI in order to become post humans, triggering the start of what is currently known as the singularity.
The process of developing the idea that humans will one day be able to merge with computers is already underway. Although the ability to implant chips into ones brain is a risky and arduous one, as it does involve intricate brain surgery, there are currently many brainwave sensors being developed that can be used outside of the skull; helmets that allow you to interact with and manipulate virtual reality in video games, sleep monitoring headbands, and caps that measure the alertness of a driver. These inventions could lead to things like implantable nanochips that would give humans access to centuries worth of data. At the moment, however, the human beings are perhaps slowly edging towards becoming cyborgs what with about 59,000 people having received some type of neurological prosthetics since 2002 such as eye glasses, cochlear implants, pace makers, heart valves, and artificial limbs (University of Adelaide, 2016).
Alongside the medical benefits of humans slowly turning into cyborgs comes the possible consequences of such technology. The divide between the rich and the poor could substantially increase as those with more money would easily enhance their personal attributes to their hearts desires as a more advanced form of plastic surgery whilst those without money continue to suffer from plague and hunger. Another consequence would be the inevitable use within the military in order to engineer "super-soldiers" with faster reflexes, better accuracy, and improved resistance to fatigue and hunger. Although this type of soldier seems ideal, there's nothing stopping these soldiers from turning on their creators who have, in turn, become their inferiors. (Mizrach, 2001)
The main argument against cyborg technology is the potential risk towards human health and safety in regards to the actual merging of human and machine. For example, although there are high hopes when it comes to implanting nanochips into the brain, many people doubt that this will be possible due to the human nervous system's inability to regenerate so will most likely not be able to accept the chip within its system (Mizrach, 2001). It is also plausible to question whether the human body will even accept the chip and whether it'll have any adverse reactions to it. There have been many times when this has been the case such as during the 1960's when pregnant mothers were given thalidomide in order to treat morning sickness. This resulted in the babies being born with multiple limb deformities (Cullen, 1964). Although this is an extreme case of the human body reacting with technology, it still calls into question the safety of modern technology.
One of the main goals of the transhumanist movement is the ability to acquire superlongevity. There are currently many different theories regarding the means in which this is to be achieved however well-known theories include anti-aging drugs, stem cell research, and gene therapy. An example of life extension through anti-aging drugs is the possibility of human endothelial cell life extension by using telomerase expression. Expression of the catalytic component of human telomerase, human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT), extends the life span of human fibroblasts and retinal pigment epithelial cells beyond senescence (loss of a cell's power of division and growth) without causing neoplastic transformation (Yang, et al., 1999).
Stem cells aid in the quest for immortality as they can either replicate or differentiate into many cell types. This is useful to replace dead cells, repair damaged organs/cells, regenerate and renew biological functions, and to rejuvenate cells by making them healthier and younger (Cell Malaysia, 2012). However, the use of stem cells has been met with controversy as the main source of stem cells is via human embryos. Many people disagree with the use of embryonic stem cells as it forces them into an ethical dilemma: whether to value the person who is using the stems in comparison to the belief that the embryo itself is also a human; that the embryos life must also be respected (EuroStemCell, 2015).
Gene therapy is the delivery of nucleic acid polymers into a patient's cells in the form of a drug to treat disease. A renowned type of gene therapy known as CRISPR-Cas9 has been considered when it comes to life extension as the Cas9 component of the CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is a protein that is able to modify DNA. Once CRISPR has been perfected, old cells may never age again as the CRISPR technology allows for scientists to reprogram cellular DNA in order to get rid of unfavourable genetic changes (Faloon, et al., 2016).
This report has considered the ways transhumanism will revolutionize society whether that be via cyborg integration, life extension, or the singularity, and how ethics does dictate a lot of what happens in scientific fields of research. Technology such as prosthetic limbs, telomerase expression and CRISPR-Cas9 have all been explored and mentioned and discussed, as well as the morality behind the advancements of biotechnology and what it could mean in terms of classism.
Transhumanism (H+): an intellectual movement that aims to transform humanity by developing and using sophisticated technology that will be widely available in order to enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capabilities.
The Singularity: the hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence will trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in drastic changes to human civilization.
Biotechnology: technology that is developed according to cellular and biomolecular processes that helps to improve the health of the planet and peoples' lives.
Cyborg: a hypothetical person whose physical abilities are advanced beyond normal human capabilities by mechanical elements built into the body.
Life Extension: the study of slowing down/reversing the processes of aging to extend the average and maximum lifespan.
Cell Malaysia, 2012. How adult stem cell therapy do the reverse/anti aging ?, s.l.: Youtube.
Cullen, J. F., 1964. OCULAR DEFECTS IN THALIDOMIDE BABIES. British Journal of Ophthalmology, March, 48(3), pp. 151-153.
Dvorsky, G. P., 2010. There's More to Singularity Studies Than Kurzweil. [Online]
Available at: http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/print/4168
[Accessed 03 September 2016].
EuroStemCell, 2015. Embryonic stem cell research: an ethical dilemma. [Online]
Available at: http://www.eurostemcell.org/factsheet/embyronic-stem-cell-research-ethical-dilemma
[Accessed 7 September 2016].
Faloon, W., Fahy, G. M. & Church, G., 2016. Age-Reversal Research at Harvard Medical School. [Online]
Available at: http://www.lifeextension.com/Magazine/2016/7/Age-Reversal-Research-at-Harvard-Medical-School/Page-01
[Accessed 7 September 2016].
Mizrach, S., 2001. Should there be a limit placed on the integration of humans and computers and electronic technology?, s.l.: s.n.
Pinker, S., 2008. Tech Luminaries Address Singularity [Interview] (1 June 2008).
Stibel, J., 2015. The Coming Merge of Human and Machine Intelligence, s.l.: s.n.
University of Adelaide, 2016. Cyborgs closer to becoming a reality of human evolution, s.l.: s.n.
Vinge, V., 1993. The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era, s.l.: s.n.
Yang, J. et al., 1999. Human Endothelial Cell Life Extension by Telomerase Expression. The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 10 September, 274(37), p. 26141-26148.
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