Transhumanism Is Inevitable
Bailey, Ronald . Reason ; Los Angeles Vol. 48, Iss. 7, (Dec 2016): 18-19.
And that’s a good thing.
“Transhumanism is becoming more respectable, and transhumanism, with a small t, is rapidly
emerging through conventional mainstream avenues,” Eve Herold reports in her astute new book,
Beyond Human (Thomas Dunne). While Transhumanism, with a capital t, is the activist movement
that advocates the use of technology to expand human capacities, lower-case transhumanism refers to
the belief or theory that the human race will evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations,
especially by means of deliberate technological interventions. As the director of public policy research
and education at the Genetics Policy Institute, Herold knows these scientific, medical, and bioethical
Movements attract counter-movements, and Herold covers the opponents of transhuman
transformation too. These bio-conservatives range from moralizing neocons to egalitarian liberals who
fear that new technologies somehow threaten human dignity and human equality. “I began this book
committed to exploring all the arguments, both for and against human enhancement,” she writes. “In
the process I have found time and again that the bio-conservative arguments are less than persuasive.”
Herold opens with a tale of Victor Saurez, a man living a couple of centuries from now who at age 250
looks and feels like a 30-year-old. Back in the dark ages of the 21st century, Victor was ideologically
set against any newfangled technologies that would artificially extend his life. But after experiencing
early onset heart failure, he agreed to have a permanent artificial heart implanted because he wanted to
know his grandchildren. Next, in order not to be a burden to his daughter, he decided to have vision
chips installed in his eyes to correct blindness from macular degeneration. Eventually he agreed to
smart guided nanoparticle treatments that reversed the aging process by correcting the relentlessly
accumulating DNA errors that cause most physical and mental deterioration.
Science fiction? For now. “Those of us living today stand a good chance of someday being the
beneficiaries of such advances,” Herold argues.
Consider artificial hearts. The Syncardia Total Artificial Heart (TAH) now completely replaces the
natural heart and is powered by batteries carried in a backpack. As of this month, 1,625 TAHs have
been implanted; one person lived with one for 4 years before receiving a donor heart. In 2015, an
ongoing clinical trial began in which 19 patients received permanent TAHs.
Herold goes on to describe pioneering research on artificial kidneys, livers, lungs, and pancreases.
“Artificial organs will soon be designed that are more durable and perhaps more powerful than naturalones , leading them to become not only curative but enhancing,” she argues. In the future, people will
be loaded up with technologies working to keep them healthy and alive. (One troubling issue this
raises: What do we do when someone using such biomedical technologies chooses to die? Who would
actually be in charge of deactivating those technologies? Would the law treat deactivation by a third
party as tantamount to murder? In such cases, something akin to today’s legalized physician-assisted
dying may have to be sanctioned.)
Artificial organs have considerable competition too. Herold, unfortunately, does not report on the
remarkable prospects for growing transplantable human organs inside pigs and sheep. Nor does she
focus much attention on therapies using stem cells that could replace and repair damaged tissues and
organs. But such research supports her view that biotechnologies, information technologies, and
nanotechnologies are converging to yield a plethora of curative and enhancing treatments.
The killer app of human enhancement is agelessness-halting and reversing the physical and mental
debilities that befall us as we grow old. Herold focuses a great deal of attention on the development of
nanobots that would patrol the body to repair and remove the damage caused as our cellular machinery
malfunctions over time. She believes that nanomedicine will first achieve success in the treatment of
cancers and then move on to curing other diseases. “Then, if all goes well, we will enter the paradigm
of maintaining health and youth for a very long time, possibly hundreds of years,” she says.
Herold thinks these technological revolutions will be a good thing, but that doesn’t mean she’s a
Pollyanna. Throughout the book, she worries about how becoming ever more dependent on our
technologies will affect us. She foresees a world populated by robots at our beck and call for nearly
any task. Social robots will monitor our health, clean our houses, entertain us, and satisfy our sexual
desires. Isolated users of perfectly subservient robots could, Herold cautions, “lose important social
skills such as unselfishness and the respect for the rights of others.”
There is also the question of how centralized institutions, as opposed to empowered individuals, might
use the new tech. Behind a lot of the coming enhancements you’ll find the U.S. military, which funds
research to protect its warriors and make them more effective at fighting. As Herold reports, the
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is behind work on brain implants designed to
alter emotions. While that technology could help people struggling with psychological problems, it
might also be used to eliminate fear or guilt in soldiers. Manipulating soldiers’ emotions so they will
more heedlessly follow orders is ethically problematic, to say the least.
Similar issues haunt Herold’s discussion of the technologies, such as neuro-enhancing drugs and
implants, that may help us build better brains. Throughout history, the ultimate realm of privacy has
been our unspoken thoughts. But the proliferation of brain sensors and implants might open up our
thoughts to inspection by our physicians, friends, and family-not to mention government officials and
corporate marketers. Yet Herold effectively rebuts bio-conservative arguments against human enhancement. One oft-heard
concern is that longevity research will result in a nursing-home world where people live longer but
increasingly debilitated lives. That’s nonsense: The point of anti-aging research is not to make people
old longer but to make them young longer. Another argument holds that transhuman technologies will
simply let the rich get richer. Herold notes that while the rich almost always get access to new
technologies first, prices then come down quickly, making them available to nearly everyone
eventually. She is confident that the same dynamic will apply to these treatments.
Bio-conservatives often assert that enhancement technologies must be banned because people will
experience irresistible social pressure to use them just to stay competitive. Herold tartly replies, “It’s
every individual’s responsibility to make choices that he feels are good for him. It’s not society’s
responsibility to limit the freedom of other people so that one can feel good about his choices.” Bio-
conservatives, she notes, “fail to make a case for why those who oppose enhancement should be able
to exercise free choice while those who desire it should not.”
What about concerns about authenticity and dehumanization? Here Herold quotes from a story I did
for reason in 2004: “Nothing could be more natural to human beings than striving to liberate ourselves
from our biological constraints,” I wrote. Moreover, she observes, we haven’t yet managed to come up
with a good definition of human nature. Herold concludes that “we may only ever see who we are
today in the rear-view mirror, from a state far more advanced than where we find ourselves now.” Let’s
go find out who we really are.
Read this article and solve part 1 and part 2.
Answer each of the questions below in complete, coherent, and grammatically correct sentences.
1. What is difference between big ‘T’ Transhumanism, and small ‘t’ transhumanism?
2. Who is Victor Saurez? Include an APA citation and paraphrase.
3. How might economics be a factor in the availability of many of the advances mentioned in the
4. What potential legal issues could arise if technological implants become more widespread?
5. What are some of the negative effects of widespread dependence on technology mentioned in
the article? Include an APA citation and paraphrase.
6. Is there any bias in the article?
7. The article focuses on the book “Beyond Human”. Based on what you have read, would you
consider “Beyond Human” a good source if you were to write a paper on the topic of
Respond to the following writing prompt with an approximately 600-word response that includes two
(2) direct quotes or paraphrases from the text accompanied by APA style citations.
The notion of cyborgs is often interconnected with the Transhumanist movement. Considering the
definition for cyborgs as: a person whose physiological functioning is aided by or dependent upon a
mechanical or electronic device. Are we cyborgs?
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