Lately transhumanists have started appearing in the media – as the villains. But pop culture rarely tells the whole story. The idea of change can seem scary, especially changes to the very fundamentals of how we live our lives, and that makes future-focused movements like transhumanism popular as faceless bad guys. But the truth is that transhumanists such as myself only want to make life better for everyone, and see technology as a means to that end.
Put simply, transhumanism is a philosophical and social movement based on the idea that human lives can be enhanced with technology. Enhancement could include things such as greater empathy, brain-machine interfaces, or extended lifespan, for example. Transhumanists believe that humanity still has a lot of growing to do, and aims to bring about positive changes in what it means to be human.
You may be asking, “how can a movement that wants to change the core of being human possibly do anything good?” It’s a complex question, but the fact of the matter is that human nature is not all good. It has spawned wars, prejudices, and seemingly unsolvable problems like crime. Transhumanists want to keep everything that makes humanity wonderful – our compassion, our appreciation for art, our drive to improve the world – and do something to mitigate the worst parts of humanity, the parts that make you look at a horrible article in the newspaper and say “it’s human nature”.
Transhumanism is still considered pretty controversial and unusual. Much criticism against it comes from the standpoint that the futurist predictions many transhumanists believe in will never come true. This is certainly a legitimate position, but ultimately transhumanism is about what we do with technology, not any particular prediction. As long as there’s the potential to use technology to improve the human condition, transhumanists will exist and will try to enact such improvements.
Some people disagree with transhumanism because they think that it is inherently immoral. There are those who think that using technology to improve the human condition is intrinsically wrong, particularly when it changes what it means to be human. Proponents of this view think that things like overcoming death, increasing intelligence, or editing the human genome are going too far with technology – some think of it as an affront to God or the natural order of things, and others think it will simply result in losing an important part of being human.
Another topic that often comes up is whether transhumanist ideals would end up advancing inequality. After all, new and revolutionary technology is generally expensive. If such technology is used to improve some humans but not others, does this leave us with a permanent underclass of the unimproved? This is a serious question, and one that transhumanists themselves consider critically important. However, many feel that with the tendency for technology to get cheaper and more widely available, there is no such problem. Others say that while inequality might be an inevitability if we do nothing, we have a duty to ensure that such life-changing innovation is available to all; that by fighting against inequality right from the start, we can stop it from happening.
Ultimately, transhumanism is a philosophy, and as such has positives and negatives like any other philosophy. Whether you choose to embrace technological change or work against it is a personal choice. But transhumanists are people too, not cackling avatars of evil. Even if you disagree with transhumanism and think that it’s inherently wrong, please respect that there are others who genuinely believe it is the right path to take.