On BioScience and Life and Such

Diving into Transhumanism II

In Transhumanism on May 14, 2008 at 3:23 pm

Endpoint: Become a Transhumanist or not.

In the previous posts Epiphany: Transhumanism, not ? and Diving into Transhumanism I, I have introduced the Transhumanist philosophy as presented on the World Transhumanist Association (WTA) website. This post will look at some examples on how transhumanism translates into real life in the foreseeable future (the quotes are still from the WTA website).

Drugs

Life-events have little long-term impact; the crests and troughs of fortune push us up and bring us down, but there is little long-term effect on self-reported well-being. Lasting joy remains elusive except for those of us who are lucky enough to have been born with a temperament that plays in a major key.

Drawing from the (depressing and hopefully untrue) quote above and other potentially drug-promoting statements on the WTA-web, one would assume that the safe use of mood-changing drugs (and cognitive enhancing drugs) must not only be accepted beyond recreational use, but also recommended to everyone to achieve lasting happiness and increased mental capacity. The pitfalls here are more than obvious however, and the lack of a solution on how to avoid detrimental drug abuse is a major drawback. Drugs are meant to treat disease and the dangers of pushing for extended use in the general population are evident to everyone. If being a Transhumanist means pushing drugs to otherwise healthy people, I need to pass.

Artificial intelligence

Transhumanism promotes accepting artificial intelligence (AI) and supporting it’s widespread use. This I guess, could be a good thing. But, as I will come back to in a later post, many Sci-Fi scenarios are situated in a machine-run future where humans have lost control. The Transhumanist values seems to reject the possibility of such a development since one of the Transhumanist values is to give equal rights to future sentient AI machines.

Should future forms of artificial intelligence
become sentient, they would be entitled to
moral consideration. Nobody should be discriminated
against on the basis of their morphology or
the substrate of their implementation.

Like in the case of drug use, this is naive in my opinion. Is it plausible to believe that we in the foreseeable future can design sentient AI that display the compassion, care and love it has taken biology millions of years to develop. Such an advanced morality must be a prerequisite for equal rights. Reassuringly though, there is a section on the dangers of AI which shows that Transhumanists see the dangers of their own philosophy.

As the prospect of general machine intelligence draws closer, more thought needs to be devoted to working out the legal, ethi-cal, social, and security implications, e.g. to deter-mine under what conditions artificial intellects or copies of existing persons should be given property rights or voting rights, and whether new public poli-cies will be needed to ameliorate structural unem-ployment.

Infertility and Cloning

Any procedure to create healthy offspring is supported by Transhumanists. That means that widespread use of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and other assisted reproduction technologies (ART) is encouraged. On a positive note, I have already changed my attitude towards IVF based on my ongoing Transhumanism studies. But, to revert to the more questionable Transhumanism values, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) must also be supported (since the endpoint is a better, healthier human being) and worryingly for a lot of us, reproductive cloning is equally supported and encouraged. I have posted on the slippery slope of PGD previously, and it is no secret that I have have serious problems accepting extended use of PGD. On reproductive cloning It is argued that opposition to human reproductive cloning (HRC) can be described like this:

….objections to HRC are based on the “yuck factor” — it just “feels wrong” to some. But our right to control our own reproduc-tion, not to be told by the government what kind of children we should and shouldn’t have, is far too important to be determined by other people’s vague anxieties. We learned that from the terrible history of eugenic laws. Historically the same people who say that HRC is wrong said the same thing about IVF. Just as society got used to the idea of “test-tube babies” so we will also get used to the idea of cloning.

Now, it may be true that there is a “yuck factor”, but dismissing the rather unison opposition to HRC on account of this is not only arrogant, but also non-scientific and down right unintelligent. Of course there are plenty good arguments against reproductive cloning. From a biologist perspective I worry that genetic diversity will suffer if cloning becomes common. There are benefits to sexual reproduction. Thus, the evolutionary consequences of cloning could be devastating. In addition, there are plenty more, perfectly valid counterarguments, – here are some taken from Center for Genetics and Society:

1. Reproductive cloning would foster an understanding of children, and of people in general, as objects that can be designed and manufactured to possess specific characteristics.

2. Reproductive cloning would diminish the sense of uniqueness of an individual. It would violate deeply and widely held convictions concerning human individuality and freedom, and could lead to a devaluation of clones in comparison with non-clones.

3. Cloned children would unavoidably be raised “in the shadow” of their nuclear donor, in a way that would strongly tend to constrain individual psychological and social development.

4. Reproductive cloning is inherently unsafe. At least 95% of mammalian cloning experiments have resulted in failures in the form of miscarriages, stillbirths, and life-threatening anomalies; some experts believe no clones are fully healthy. The technique could not be developed in humans without putting the physical safety of the clones and the women who bear them at grave risk.

5. If reproductive cloning is permitted to happen and becomes accepted, it is difficult to see how any other dangerous applications of genetic engineering technology could be proscribed.

Their pro and con site has more on this issue, – worth reading. In light of these counterarguments it is very clear that WTA is on thin ice when they are dismissing the whole debate based on the “yuck factor”. This better not be symptomatic in their dealings with issues of this importance.

The disabled

I am ending this post on a positive note, since those who can benefit most from biology-enhancing/repairing technology are the disabled.

Disabled people in the wealthier industrialized countries, with their wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, novel computing interfaces and portable computing, are the most technologically dependent humans ever known, and are aggressive in their insistence on their rights to be technologically assisted in fully participating in society.

Any technology that enables interaction and inclusion in society whenever that would otherwise have been impossible, cannot possibly be opposed by anyone. But, the disabled must not end up as guinea pigs for tech-testing, and the right to refuse to adopt technologies must be central. Giving WTA extra points on this issue is this statement:

Just as we should have the choice to get rid of a disability, we should also have the right to choose not to be “fixed,” and to choose to live with bodies that aren’t “normal.”

Other cons for still considering Transhumanism includes their expressed intent to care:

about the well-being of all sentience

And most importantly, their open-debate approach to science and ethics. Not all emerging philosophies in history has had these as core values, and that may have been why so many of them brought about such devastation and human grief. If you on the other hand combine heartfelt intention to do good with open debate and a willingness learn from such a debate, you may have a winner…….even if your original views where completely off base.

More to follow.

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