Browsed by
Author: Ojochogwu Abdul

James Hughes’ Problems of Transhumanism: A Review (Part 5) – Article by Ojochogwu Abdul

James Hughes’ Problems of Transhumanism: A Review (Part 5) – Article by Ojochogwu Abdul

logo_bg

Ojochogwu Abdul


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Part 5: Belief in Progress vs. Rational Uncertainty

The Enlightenment, with its confident efforts to fashion a science of man, was archetypal of the belief and quest that humankind will eventually achieve lasting peace and happiness. In what some interpret as a reformulation of Christianity’s teleological salvation history in which the People of God will be redeemed at the end of days and with the Kingdom of Heaven established on Earth, most Enlightenment thinkers believed in the inevitability of human political and technological progress, secularizing the Christian conception of history and eschatology into a conviction that humanity would, using a system of thought built on reason and science, be able to continually improve itself. As portrayed by Carl Becker in his 1933 book The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers, the philosophies “demolished the Heavenly City of St. Augustine only to rebuild it with more up-to-date materials.” Whether this Enlightenment humanist view of “progress” amounted merely to a recapitulation of the Christian teleological vision of history, or if Enlightenment beliefs in “continual, linear political, intellectual, and material improvement” reflected, as James Hughes posits, “a clear difference from the dominant Christian historical narrative in which little would change until the End Times and Christ’s return”, the notion, in any case, of a collective progress towards a definitive end-point was one that remained unsupported by the scientific worldview. The scientific worldview, as Hughes reminds us in the opening paragraph of this essay within his series, does not support historical inevitability, only uncertainty. “We may annihilate ourselves or regress,” he says, and “Even the normative judgment of what progress is, and whether we have made any, is open to empirical skepticism.”

Hereby, we are introduced to a conflict that exists, at least since after the Enlightenment, between a view of progressive optimism and that of radical uncertainty. Building on the Enlightenment’s faith in the inevitability of political and scientific progress, the idea of an end-point, salvation moment for humankind fuelled all the great Enlightenment ideologies that followed, flowing down, as Hughes traces, through Comte’s “positivism” and Marxist theories of historical determinism to neoconservative triumphalism about the “end of history” in democratic capitalism. Communists envisaged that end-point as a post-capitalist utopia that would finally resolve the class struggle which they conceived as the true engine of history. This vision also contained the 20th-century project to build the Soviet Man, one of extra-human capacities, for as Trotsky had predicted, after the Revolution, “the average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise”, whereas for 20th-century free-market liberals, this End of History had arrived with the final triumph of liberal democracy, with the entire world bound to be swept in its course. Events though, especially so far in the 21st century, appear to prove this view wrong.

This belief moreover, as Hughes would convincingly argue, in the historical inevitability of progress has also always been locked in conflict with “the rationalist, scientific observation that humanity could regress or disappear altogether.” Enlightenment pessimism, or at least realism, has, over the centuries, proven a stubborn resistance and constraint of Enlightenment optimism. Hughes, citing Henry Vyberg, reminds us that there were, after all, even French Enlightenment thinkers within that same era who rejected the belief in linear historical progress, but proposed historical cycles or even decadence instead. That aside, contemporary commentators like John Gray would even argue that the efforts themselves of the Enlightenment on the quest for progress unfortunately issued in, for example, the racist pseudo-science of Voltaire and Hume, while all endeavours to establish the rule of reason have resulted in bloody fanaticisms, from Jacobinism to Bolshevism, which equaled the worst atrocities attributable to religious believers. Horrendous acts like racism and anti-Semitism, in the verdict of Gray: “….are not incidental defects in Enlightenment thinking. They flow from some of the Enlightenment’s central beliefs.”

Even Darwinism’s theory of natural selection was, according to Hughes, “suborned by the progressive optimistic thinking of the Enlightenment and its successors to the doctrine of inevitable progress, aided in part by Darwin’s own teleological interpretation.” Problem, however, is that from the scientific worldview, there is no support for “progress” as to be found provided by the theory of natural selection, only that humanity, Hughes plainly states, “like all creatures, is on a random walk through a mine field, that human intelligence is only an accident, and that we could easily go extinct as many species have done.” Gray, for example, rebukes Darwin, who wrote: “As natural selection works solely for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress to perfection.” Natural selection, however, does not work solely for the good of each being, a fact Darwin himself elsewhere acknowledged. Nonetheless, it has continually proven rather difficult for people to resist the impulse to identify evolution with progress, with an extended downside to this attitude being equally difficult to resist the temptation to apply evolution in the rationalization of views as dangerous as Social Darwinism and acts as horrible as eugenics.

Many skeptics therefore hold, rationally, that scientific utopias and promises to transform the human condition deserve the deepest suspicion. Reason is but a frail reed, all events of moral and political progress are and will always remain subject to reversal, and civilization could as well just collapse, eventually. Historical events and experiences have therefore caused faith in the inevitability of progress to wax and wane over time. Hughes notes that among several Millenarian movements and New Age beliefs, such faith could still be found that the world is headed for a millennial age, just as it exists in techno-optimist futurism. Nevertheless, he makes us see that “since the rise and fall of fascism and communism, and the mounting evidence of the dangers and unintended consequences of technology, there are few groups that still hold fast to an Enlightenment belief in the inevitability of conjoined scientific and political progress.” Within the transhumanist community, however, the possession of such faith in progress can still be found as held by many, albeit signifying a camp in the continuation therefore of the Enlightenment-bequeathed conflict as manifested between transhumanist optimism in contradiction with views of future uncertainty.

As with several occasions in the past, humanity is, again, currently being spun yet another “End of History” narrative: one of a posthuman future. Yuval Harari, for instance, in Homo Deus argues that emerging technologies and new scientific discoveries are undermining the foundations of Enlightenment humanism, although as he proceeds with his presentation he also proves himself unable to avoid one of the defining tropes of Enlightenment humanist thinking, i.e., that deeply entrenched tendency to conceive human history in teleological terms: fundamentally as a matter of collective progress towards a definitive end-point. This time, though, our era’s “End of History” glorious “salvation moment” is to be ushered in, not by a politico-economic system, but by a nascent techno-elite with a base in Silicon Valley, USA, a cluster steeped in a predominant tech-utopianism which has at its core the idea that the new technologies emerging there can steer humanity towards a definitive break-point in our history, the Singularity. Among believers in this coming Singularity, transhumanists, as it were, having inherited the tension between Enlightenment convictions in the inevitability of progress, and, in Hughes’ words, “Enlightenment’s scientific, rational realism that human progress or even civilization may fail”, now struggle with a renewed contradiction. And here the contrast as Hughes intends to portray gains sharpness, for as such, transhumanists today are “torn between their Enlightenment faith in inevitable progress toward posthuman transcension and utopian Singularities” on the one hand, and, on the other, their “rational awareness of the possibility that each new technology may have as many risks as benefits and that humanity may not have a future.”

The risks of new technologies, even if not necessarily one that threatens the survival of humanity as a species with extinction, may yet be of an undesirable impact on the mode and trajectory of our extant civilization. Henry Kissinger, in his 2018 article “How the Enlightenment Ends”, expressed his perception that technology, which is rooted in Enlightenment thought, is now superseding the very philosophy that is its fundamental principle. The universal values proposed by the Enlightenment philosophes, as Kissinger points out, could be spread worldwide only through modern technology, but at the same time, such technology has ended or accomplished the Enlightenment and is now going its own way, creating the need for a new guiding philosophy. Kissinger argues specifically that AI may spell the end of the Enlightenment itself, and issues grave warnings about the consequences of AI and the end of Enlightenment and human reasoning, this as a consequence of an AI-led technological revolution whose “culmination may be a world relying on machines powered by data and algorithms and ungoverned by ethical or philosophical norms.” By way of analogy to how the printing press allowed the Age of Reason to supplant the Age of Religion, he buttresses his proposal that the modern counterpart of this revolutionary process is the rise of intelligent AI that will supersede human ability and put an end to the Enlightenment. Kissinger further outlines his three areas of concern regarding the trajectory of artificial intelligence research: AI may achieve unintended results; in achieving intended goals, AI may change human thought processes and human values, and AI may reach intended goals, but be unable to explain the rationale for its conclusions. Kissinger’s thesis, of course, has not gone without both support and criticisms attracted from different quarters. Reacting to Kissinger, Yuk Hui, for example, in “What Begins After the End of the Enlightenment?” maintained that “Kissinger is wrong—the Enlightenment has not ended.” Rather, “modern technology—the support structure of Enlightenment philosophy—has become its own philosophy”, with the universalizing force of technology becoming itself the political project of the Enlightenment.

Transhumanists, as mentioned already, reflect the continuity of some of those contradictions between belief in progress and uncertainty about human future. Hughes shows us nonetheless that there are some interesting historical turns suggesting further directions that this mood has taken. In the 1990s, Hughes recalls, “transhumanists were full of exuberant Enlightenment optimism about unending progress.” As an example, Hughes cites Max More’s 1998 Extropian Principles which defined “Perpetual Progress” as “the first precept of their brand of transhumanism.” Over time, however, Hughes communicates how More himself has had cause to temper this optimism, stressing rather this driving principle as one of “desirability” and more a normative goal than a faith in historical inevitability. “History”, More would say in 2002, “since the Enlightenment makes me wary of all arguments to inevitability…”

Rational uncertainty among transhumanists hence make many of them refrain from an argument for the inevitability of transhumanism as a matter of progress. Further, there are indeed several possible factors which could deter the transhumanist idea and drive for “progress” from translating to reality: A neo-Luddite revolution, a turn and rise in preference for rural life, mass disenchantment with technological addiction and increased option for digital detox, nostalgia, disillusionment with modern civilization and a “return-to-innocence” counter-cultural movement, neo-Romanticism, a pop-culture allure and longing for a Tolkien-esque world, cyclical thinking, conservatism, traditionalism, etc. The alternative, backlash, and antagonistic forces are myriad. Even within transhumanism, the anti-democratic and socially conservative Neoreactionary movement, with its rejection of the view that history shows inevitable progression towards greater liberty and enlightenment, is gradually (and rather disturbingly) growing a contingent. Hughes talks, as another point for rational uncertainty, about the three critiques: futurological, historical, and anthropological, of transhumanist and Enlightenment faith in progress that Phillipe Verdoux offers, and in which the anthropological argument holds that “pre-moderns were probably as happy or happier than we moderns.” After all, Rousseau, himself a French Enlightenment thinker, “is generally seen as having believed in the superiority of the “savage” over the civilized.” Perspectives like these could stir anti-modern, anti-progress sentiments in people’s hearts and minds.

Demonstrating still why transhumanists must not be obstinate over the idea of inevitability, Hughes refers to Greg Burch’s 2001 work “Progress, Counter-Progress, and Counter-Counter-Progress” in which the latter expounded on the Enlightenment and transhumanist commitment to progress as “to a political program, fully cognizant that there are many powerful enemies of progress and that victory was not inevitable.” Moreover, the possible failure in realizing goals of progress might not even result from the actions of “enemies” in that antagonistic sense of the word, for there is also that likely scenario, as the 2006 movie Idiocracy depicts, of a future dystopian society based on dysgenics, one in which, going by expectations and trends of the 21st century, the most intelligent humans decrease in reproduction and eventually fail to have children while the least intelligent reproduce prolifically. As such, through the process of natural selection, generations are created that collectively become increasingly dumber and more virile with each passing century, leading to a future world plagued by anti-intellectualism, bereft of intellectual curiosity, social responsibility, coherence in notions of justice and human rights, and manifesting several other traits of degeneration in culture. This is yet a possibility for our future world.

So while for many extropians and transhumanists, nonetheless, perpetual progress was an unstoppable train, responding to which “one either got on board for transcension or consigned oneself to the graveyard”, other transhumanists, however, Hughes comments, especially in response to certain historical experiences (the 2000 dot-com crash, for example), have seen reason to increasingly temper their expectations about progress. In Hughes’s appraisal, while, therefore, some transhumanists “still press for technological innovation on all fronts and oppose all regulation, others are focusing on reducing the civilization-ending potentials of asteroid strikes, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology.” Some realism hence need be in place to keep under constant check the excesses of contemporary secular technomillennialism as contained in some transhumanist strains.

Hughes presents Nick Bostrom’s 2001 essay “Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios and Related Hazards” as one influential example of this anti-millennial realism, a text in which Bostrom, following his outline of scenarios that could either end the existence of the human species or have us evolve into dead-ends, then addressed not just how we can avoid extinction and ensure that there are descendants of humanity, but also how we can ensure that we will be proud to claim them. Subsequently, Bostrom has been able to produce work on “catastrophic risk estimation” at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford. Hughes seems to favour this approach, for he ensures to indicate that this has also been adopted as a programmatic focus for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) which he directs, and as well for the transhumanist non-profit, the Lifeboat Foundation. Transhumanists who listen to Bostrom, as we could deduce from Hughes, are being urged to take a more critical approach concerning technological progress.

With the availability of this rather cautious attitude, a new tension, Hughes reports, now plays out between eschatological certainty and pessimistic risk assessment. This has taken place mainly concerning the debate over the Singularity. For the likes of Ray Kurzweil (2005), representing the camp of a rather technomillennial, eschatological certainty, his patterns of accelerating trendlines towards a utopian merger of enhanced humanity and godlike artificial intelligence is one of unstoppability, and this Kurzweil supports by referring to the steady exponential march of technological progress through (and despite) wars and depressions. Dystopian and apocalyptic predictions of how humanity might fare under superintelligent machines (extinction, inferiority, and the likes) are, in the assessment of Hughes, but minimally entertained by Kurzweil, since to the techno-prophet we are bound to eventually integrate with these machines into apotheosis.

The platform, IEET, thus has taken a responsibility of serving as a site for teasing out this tension between technoprogressive “optimism of the will and pessimism of the intellect,” as Hughes echoes Antonio Gramsci. On the one hand, Hughes explains, “we have championed the possibility of, and evidence of, human progress. By adopting the term “technoprogressivism” as our outlook, we have placed ourselves on the side of Enlightenment political and technological progress.”And yet on the other hand, he continues, “we have promoted technoprogressivism precisely in order to critique uncritical techno-libertarian and futurist ideas about the inevitability of progress. We have consistently emphasized the negative effects that unregulated, unaccountable, and inequitably distributed technological development could have on society” (one feels tempted to call out Landian accelerationism at this point). Technoprogressivism, the guiding philosophy of IEET, avails as a principle which insists that technological progress needs to be consistently conjoined with, and dependent on, political progress, whilst recognizing that neither are inevitable.

In charting the essay towards a close, Hughes mentions his and a number of IEET-led technoprogresive publications, among which we have Verdoux who, despite his futurological, historical, and anthropological critique of transhumanism, yet goes ahead to argue for transhumanism on moral grounds (free from the language of “Marxism’s historical inevitabilism or utopianism, and cautious of the tragic history of communism”), and “as a less dangerous course than any attempt at “relinquishing” technological development, but only after the naive faith in progress has been set aside.” Unfortunately, however, the “rational capitulationism” to the transhumanist future that Verdoux offers, according to Hughes, is “not something that stirs men’s souls.” Hughes hence, while admitting to our need “to embrace these critical, pessimistic voices and perspectives”, yet calls on us to likewise heed to the need to “also re-discover our capacity for vision and hope.” This need for optimism that humans “can” collectively exercise foresight and invention, and peacefully deliberate our way to a better future, rather than yielding to narratives that would lead us into the traps of utopian and apocalyptic fatalism, has been one of the motivations behind the creation of the “technoprogressive” brand. The brand, Hughes presents, has been of help in distinguishing necessarily “Enlightenment optimism about the “possibility” of human political, technological and moral progress from millennialist techno-utopian inevitabilism.”

Presumably, upon this technoprogressive philosophy, the new version of the Transhumanist Declaration, adopted by Humanity+ in 2009, indicated a shift from some of the language of the 1998 version, and conveyed a more reflective, critical, realistic, utilitarian, “proceed with caution” and “act with wisdom” tone with respect to the transhumanist vision for humanity’s progress. This version of the declaration, though relatively sobered, remains equally inspiring nonetheless. Hughes closes the essay with a reminder on our need to stay aware of the diverse ways by which our indifferent universe threatens our existence, how our growing powers come with unintended consequences, and why applying mindfulness on our part in all actions remains the best approach for navigating our way towards progress in our radically uncertain future.

Conclusively, following Hughes’ objectives in this series, it can be suggested that more studies on the Enlightenment (European and global) are desirable especially for its potential to furnish us with richer understanding into a number of problems within contemporary transhumanism as sprouting from its roots deep in the Enlightenment. Interest and scholarship in Enlightenment studies, fortunately, seems to be experiencing some current revival, and even so with increasing diversity in perspective, thereby presenting transhumanism with a variety of paths through which to explore and gain context for connected issues. Seeking insight thence into some foundations of transhumanism’s problems could take the path, among others: of an examination of internal contradictions within the Enlightenment, of the approach of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s “Dialectic of Enlightenment”; of assessing opponents of the Enlightenment as found, for example, in Isaiah Berlin’s notion of “Counter Enlightenment”; of investigating a rather radical strain of the Enlightenment as presented in Jonathan Israel’s “Radical Enlightenment”, and as well in grappling with the nature of the relationships between transhumanism and other heirs both of the Enlightenment and the Counter-Enlightenment today. Again, and significantly, serious attention need be paid now and going forwards in jealously guarding transhumanism against ultimately falling into the hands of the Dark Enlightenment.


Ojochogwu Abdul is the founder of the Transhumanist Enlightenment Café (TEC), is the co-founder of the Enlightenment Transhumanist Forum of Nigeria (H+ Nigeria), and currently serves as a Foreign Ambassador for the U.S. Transhumanist Party in Nigeria. 

James Hughes’ Problems of Transhumanism: A Review (Part 4) – Article by Ojochogwu Abdul

James Hughes’ Problems of Transhumanism: A Review (Part 4) – Article by Ojochogwu Abdul

logo_bg

Ojochogwu Abdul


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Part 4: Moral Universalism vs. Relativism

James Hughes’ essays on the problems of transhumanism continue with a discussion on conflicts, borrowed from the Enlightenment, between universalism and relativism within transhumanism. The Enlightenment event (European and global), in addition to its attack and severance of the roots of traditional European culture in the sacred, magic, kingship, and hierarchy, thereby secularizing all institutions and ideas, also (intellectually and to some extent in practice) effectively set on course the demolition of all legitimizing basis of monarchy, aristocracy, woman’s subordination to man, ecclesiastical authority, and slavery. These were replaced with the principles of universality, equality, and democracy. Included in this was also an argument for moral universalism, a position that ethics and law should apply equally to all humans.

Now, despite profound differences of outlook among the Enlightenment thinkers, there was a wide area of agreement about some fundamental points, i.e., the reality of natural law (in a formulation that signaled a departure from the language of orthodox Catholic or Protestant doctrine), of eternal principles the adherence to which alone could make humans enjoy wisdom, happiness, virtue, and freedom. For theists, deists and atheists, for optimists and pessimists, and for puritans, primitivists, as well as believers in progress and the finest fruits of science and culture, only and just one set of universal and unalterable principles governed the world. These laws were the principles that governed inanimate and animate nature, facts and events, means and ends, private and public life, as well as all societies, epochs and civilizations. Humans degenerate into crime, vice and misery only by failing to follow them. There may have been differences and disagreements among the Enlightenment thinkers about the nature of these laws, the process of their discovery, or who even possessed the qualification to expound them; but that these laws were real, and could be known, be it with certainty or probability, was the widely accepted and central “dogma” of the entire Enlightenment.

Enlightenment thinkers proposed that all humans should be accorded the Rights of Man, though the legitimacy itself of universal, equal rights was advanced by several varieties of argument within the Enlightenment. John Locke, for example, as Hughes explains, argued for universal rights on the grounds that in the human state of nature, as created by God before civilization, we were given possession of our bodies. All humans, therefore, possess these natural rights equally, and interference with individual rights violates natural and divine law. Thomas Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” rested upon this logic.

Read More Read More

James Hughes’ Problems of Transhumanism: A Review (Part 3) – Article by Ojochogwu Abdul

James Hughes’ Problems of Transhumanism: A Review (Part 3) – Article by Ojochogwu Abdul

logo_bg

Ojochogwu Abdul


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Part 3: Liberal Democracy Versus Technocratic Absolutism

“Transhumanists, like Enlightenment partisans in general, believe that human nature can be improved but are conflicted about whether liberal democracy is the best path to betterment. The liberal tradition within the Enlightenment has argued that individuals are best at finding their own interests and should be left to improve themselves in self-determined ways. But many people are mistaken about their own best interests, and more rational elites may have a better understanding of the general good. Enlightenment partisans have often made a case for modernizing monarchs and scientific dictatorships. Transhumanists need to confront this tendency to disparage liberal democracy in favor of the rule by dei ex machina and technocratic elites.” (James Hughes, 2010)

Hughes’ series of essays exploring problems of transhumanism continues with a discussion on the tensions between a choice either for liberal democracy or technocratic absolutism as existing or prospective within the transhumanist movement. As Hughes would demonstrate, this problem in socio-political preference between liberalism and despotism turns out as just one more among the other transhumanist contradictions inherited from its roots in the Enlightenment. Liberalism, an idea which received much life during the Enlightenment, developed as an argument for human progress. Cogently articulated in J.S. Mill’s On Liberty, Hughes re-presents the central thesis: “if individuals are given liberty they will generally know how to pursue their interests and potentials better than will anyone else. So, society generally will become richer and more intelligent if individuals are free to choose their own life ends rather than if they are forced towards betterment by the powers that be.” This, essentially, was the Enlightenment’s ground for promoting liberalism.

Read More Read More

James Hughes’ Problems of Transhumanism: A Review (Part 2) – Article by Ojochogwu Abdul

James Hughes’ Problems of Transhumanism: A Review (Part 2) – Article by Ojochogwu Abdul

logo_bg

Ojochogwu Abdul


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Part 2: Deism, Atheism and Natural Theology

“The dominant trajectory of Enlightenment thought over the last three hundred years has been towards atheism. Most transhumanists are atheists. But some transhumanists, like many of the original Enlightenment thinkers, are attempting to reconcile naturalism and their religious traditions. Some transhumanists even believe that the transcendent potentials of intelligence argue for a new form of scientific theology.” (James Hughes, 2010)

The Enlightenment was the age of the triumph of science (Newton, Leibniz, Bacon) and of philosophy (Descartes, Locke, Spinoza, Kant, Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu). Unlike the Renaissance philosophers, the Enlightenment thinkers ceased the search for validation in the texts of the Greco-Roman philosophers, but were predicated more solidly on rationalism and empiricism. Religious tolerance and skepticism about superstition and Biblical literalism was also a central theme of the Enlightenment. Most of the Enlightenment philosophers of the 17th century through the 19th century, however, were theists of some sort who, in general, were attempting to reconcile belief in God with rational skepticism and naturalism. There were, of course, atheists among them as well as devout Christians, but if there was a common theological stance and belief about the divine among Enlightenment philosophers, it was probably Deism, a worldview consisting in the rejection of blind faith and organized religion, an advocacy for the discovery of religious truth through reason and direct empirical observation, and a belief that divine intervention in human affairs stopped with the creation of the world.

Deism, as James Hughes accounts, declined in the nineteenth century, gradually replaced by atheist materialism. Nonetheless, the engagement with Enlightenment values continued in liberal strains of Christianity such as Unitarianism and Universalism, united today among some communities as Unitarian Universalism (UU), and hosting congregations with individuals of varying beliefs that range widely to include atheism, agnosticism, pantheism, deism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Neopaganism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Humanism, and many more.

Read More Read More

James Hughes’ Problems of Transhumanism: A Review (Intro + Part 1) – Article by Ojochogwu Abdul

James Hughes’ Problems of Transhumanism: A Review (Intro + Part 1) – Article by Ojochogwu Abdul

logo_bg

Ojochogwu Abdul


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Introduction

In 2010, James Hughes, Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), having then just stepped down from the Board of Directors of the World Transhumanist Association (presently known as Humanity+), took up an interesting challenge during the Spring of that year to reflect on the current state of transhumanist thought and determine what the questions were that the transhumanist movement needed to answer in order to move forward. Introducing a series of articles with which he hoped to navigate through a number of heady ideas and issues concerning transhumanism, Hughes opens by posing: “What are the current unresolved issues in transhumanist thought? Which of these issues are peculiar to transhumanist philosophy and the transhumanist movement, and which are more actually general problems of Enlightenment thought?” Further, he queried, “Which of these are simply inevitable differences of opinion among the more or less like-minded, and which need a decisive resolution to avoid tragic errors of the past?”

Some clarification is made by Hughes on the “Enlightenment” as referring to a wide variety of thinkers and movements beginning in the seventeenth century, continuing through the early nineteenth century, and centered in Britain, France, Germany, and as increasingly demonstrated by recent scholarship, manifesting on a global dimension with significant contributions from thinkers and movements across Europe, North America, and the Caribbean. Hughes points out further the relevance of these thinkers and movements in terms of their endeavour in broadly emphasizing the capacity of individuals for achieving social and technological progress through application of critical reason to investigate nature, establish new forms and institutions of governance, and transcend such stagnating (or even retrogressive) forces as superstition and authoritarianism.

The engagement Hughes then sets for himself as he proceeded forward were a set of reflections which he was to structure around two general questions:

  1. An attempt to parse out which unresolved problems transhumanism has inherited from the Enlightenment; and
  2. How transhumanist technological utopianism has both inspired and delayed scientific and political progress over the last 300 years.

By addressing these questions, Hughes proposed to challenge a prevailing anti-utopian sentiment and hopefully furnish awareness of the way that dynamic optimism about transcendent possibilities motivated scientific innovation and democratic reform through the work of such thinkers and proto-transhumanists like the Marquis de Condorcet, Joseph Priestley, and J.B.S. Haldane. Indeed, for Hughes, transhumanism and techno-utopianism are part of the family of Enlightenment philosophies, both of which could be traced back to the original Enlightenment thinkers 300 years ago. The ideological conflicts within transhumanism today are, therefore, as Hughes would argue, to be understood by transhumanists as but the product of some 300-year-old conflicts within the Enlightenment itself.

The outcome of this effort, thankfully undertaken by Hughes, was a series of six essays grappling with diverse transhumanism-related issues ranging from problems surrounding the unsustainable autonomy of reason/rationality, and the belief in progress in contrast with rational uncertainty, to matters of deism, atheism and naturalist theology, from liberal democracy and technological absolutism to moral universalism and relativism, and from ideas concerning liberal individualism to the (threat of) erosion of personal identity.

Hughes titled this series of essays “Problems of Transhumanism”, each with its distinctive sub-title. And if one thing at least is to be appreciated from reading these articles, it is, in my modest opinion, the success with which they present the modern transhumanist project as bearing within its character and objective “the unfinished internal contradictions of the Enlightenment tradition.” The author, of course, emphasizes from the onset a yet important motive to his attempt which was to make clear which criticisms of transhumanism are internal contradictions, and which proceed from “external, non-Enlightenment predicates.”

Over the next week or so, I’ll be doing a review of these articles serially, starting with Part 1 below, while also incorporating some relevant views from a number of other thinkers as may be necessary, to aid commentary or analysis of Hughes’ arguments. This exercise, on my part, is essentially intended and hopefully geared to serve as an expository approach towards highlighting the contemporary philosophy and cultural movement of transhumanism whilst encouraging further discourse on the subject.

I invite and would be glad to have as many that may be interested in working through these ideas and issues with me, even as I endeavour, with these series of articles, to open conversations about them.

Read More Read More

BGRF and SILS Scientists Analyze Viability of shRNA Therapy for Huntington’s Disease – Press Release by Biogerontology Research Foundation

BGRF and SILS Scientists Analyze Viability of shRNA Therapy for Huntington’s Disease – Press Release by Biogerontology Research Foundation

Biogerontology Research Foundation


Friday, December 1, 2017, London, UK: Researchers from the Biogerontology Research FoundationDepartment of Molecular Neuroscience at the Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, and the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society at the Karolinska Institute announce the publication of a paper in Translational Neurodegeneration, a BioMedCentral journal, titled RNAi mechanisms in Huntington’s disease therapy: siRNA versus shRNA.

After many years of development, RNAi therapeutics are nearing the clinic. There are several variants on RNAi therapeutics, such as antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs), short-hairpin RNA (shRNA), small interfering RNA (siRNA), et cetera. The researchers’ paper aimed to answer the question of why RNAi therapeutics for nucleotide repeat disorders (specifically Huntington’s, a devastating genetic neurodegenerative disease), have lost favor in recent years. After a phenomenal amount of excitement, these therapies were hindered by problems like molecular stability, dosing, and transcriptional control of the gene therapeutic construct.

“We compared various RNAi-based therapeutic modalities available for the treatment of Huntington’s Disease and offered mechanistic proposals on how to break through current barriers to clinical development. One key problem has proven to be modulating the expression level of shRNA constructs, which would otherwise be the clear frontrunner among ASOs, siRNAs, and other methods due to duration of expression, dramatically reduced off-target effects, and ease of delivery by adeno-associated viruses that are already approved by the EMA and FDA. We also put forward novel methods of modulating construct expression and avoiding off-target effects” said Franco Cortese, co-author of the paper and Deputy Director of the Biogerontology Research Foundation.

The researchers analyzed available data on the levels of off-target effects associated with siRNA vs shRNA, surveyed emerging strategies to reduce off-target effects in shRNA therapies (such as tough decoy RNAs, or TuDs), and proposed novel methods of controlling shRNA expression, in particular through the use of negative feedback-driven oscillating promoters.

Mechanism of TFEB at the PGC1-a promoter. The PGC1a promoter contains a CLEAR-box that is known to be bound by TFEB, a transcription factor induced during autophagy and lysosomal biogenesis. A construct being the PGC1a promoter CLEAR-box would be induced by TFEB under conditions of intracellular proteotoxicity due to HTT aggregation. By this mechanism, on-demand suppression of HTT could be achieved | Credit: Translational Neuroscience

 

“We proposed two novel feedback mechanisms that 1) activate construct expression stoichiometrically with mutant Huntingtin expression, or 2) only during aggregate-induced autophagy and lysosomal biogenesis. That way, the problem of excessive construct expression may be mitigated. These ideas were inspired by feedback systems used in synthetic biology, and in ‘nonsynthetic,’ naturally occurring biological systems” said Sebastian Aguiar, lead author of the paper.

Readers can read the open-access paper here: https://translationalneurodegeneration.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40035-017-0101-9.

###

About the Biogerontology Research Foundation

The Biogerontology Research Foundation is a UK non-profit research foundation and public policy center seeking to fill a gap within the research community, whereby the current scientific understanding of the ageing process is not yet being sufficiently exploited to produce effective medical interventions. The BGRF funds and conducts research which, building on the body of knowledge about how ageing happens, aims to develop biotechnological interventions to remediate the molecular and cellular deficits which accumulate with age and which underlie the ill-health of old age. Addressing ageing damage at this most fundamental level will provide an important opportunity to produce the effective, lasting treatments for the diseases and disabilities of ageing, required to improve quality of life in the elderly. The BGRF seeks to use the entire scope of modern biotechnology to attack the changes that take place in the course of ageing, and to address not just the symptoms of age-related diseases but also the mechanisms of those diseases.

About the Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences

The Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences (SILS) is the largest institute of the Faculty of Science at the University of Amsterdam. The institute comprises biological disciplines including molecular and cell biology, microbiology, plant science, physiology and neurobiology, supported by modern enabling technologies for the life sciences. The research groups of SILS also develop methods in genomics (micro-array, next-gen sequencing, proteomics), bioinformatics and advanced light microscopy technologies. Knowledge from adjacent fields of science, in particular biochemistry, biophysics, medicine, bioinformatics, statistics and information technology make SILS a multidisciplinary research institute with a systems biology approach to the life sciences. SILS’ research objective is to understand the functioning of living organisms, from the most basic aspects up to complex physiological function(s). Biological processes are studied at the level of molecules, cells, cellular networks and organisms. SILS research topics have in common that similar cellular processes and interactions are studied, likewise using similar methodologies and technologies. Therefore SILS scientists often study the same concepts in different biological systems. Within the institute, this leads to exchange of information and extension of research over the borders of different disciplines. Part of SILS research activities are directed to application-oriented research in close collaboration with industry.

Shibuya Mirai, The First AI Bot Granted Official Residency – Article by B.J. Murphy

Shibuya Mirai, The First AI Bot Granted Official Residency – Article by B.J. Murphy

B.J. Murphy


A few days ago, an artificial intelligence (AI) bot was granted official residency in Shibuya, a Tokyo ward with a population of around 224,000 people. The AI bot’s name is “Shibuya Mirai,” which takes the form of a seven-year-old boy, and serves as a chatbot on the popular Line messaging app.

According to Japan Today:

“Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, an area popular with fashion-conscious young people, has given the character his own special residence certificate. This makes him Japan’s first, and maybe the world’s first, artificial intelligence bot to be granted a place on a real-life local registry.”

Mirai, whose name translates to “future,” is part of a project aimed at making the local government more familiar and accessible to locals, according to the ward, and is designed to listen to the opinions of Shibuya residents.

Image source: Shibuya City

Nearly two weeks ago, Sophia, a humanoid robot designed by Hong Kong company Hanson Robotics, was granted citizenship by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, becoming the world’s first humanoid robot to ever be granted such an honor. And just as the U.S. Transhumanist Party supported Sophia’s citizenship recognition, we also would like to congratulate Mirai as well, along with the Shibuya Ward and Microsoft in their joint-development of the AI bot.

In accordance with the U.S. Transhumanist Party Constitution Article III, Section IX [Adopted by a vote of the members during February 16-22, 2017]:

“The United States Transhumanist Party supports all emerging technologies that have the potential to improve the human condition – including but not limited to autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, economical solar power, safe nuclear power, hydroelectricity, geothermal power, applications for the sharing of durable goods, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, rapid transit, 3D printing, vertical farming, electronic devices to detect and respond to trauma, and beneficial genetic modification of plants, animals, and human beings.”

While we recognize, to the best of our ability, that Mirai is still nowhere close to being deemed sentient – rather operates as a narrow AI – we equally recognize the significance of granting an AI real-life residency during a time when artificial general intelligence (AGI) research is at an all-time high.

It has been predicted that an AGI could possibly emerge within the next decade or so. Preparing the framework for both AI and robot rights in our near future is absolutely crucial. We are hopeful that, with Mirai being granted official residency, we are moving in a positive direction where all sentient lifeforms of the future (whether they be human, robot, AI, or otherwise) will be able to live and strive together peacefully.

B.J. Murphy is Director of Social Media for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.

Statement on the Catalonia Independence Referendum Vote and Spanish Government’s Response

Statement on the Catalonia Independence Referendum Vote and Spanish Government’s Response

logo_bg

B.J. Murphy


On October 1, the autonomous community of Catalonia came together to vote for the future of its independence from that of the Kingdom of Spain. While the referendum was initially peaceful, chaos began to ensue once the Constitutional Court of Spain gave the order for police to raid Catalan government buildings and spots known where the referendum would be held, after having determined that the referendum is illegal.

In response, the Catalan people began protesting the police raids, demanding for recognition of their votes and for Catalan independence. Even the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, took to Twitter to condemn the raids, stating, “A cowardly president has filled our city with police. Barcelona, city of peace, is not afraid.”

Despite heavy crackdown and reported police brutality of the protesters, 42% of the autonomous community was able to successfully cast their vote, including Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont. The results: 90% voted in favor of independence.

And while King Felipe VI has since made a rare televised statement on the matter, accusing Catalan leaders of “unacceptable disloyalty,” Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, has officially determined that his government would unilaterally declare independence by “the end of this week or the beginning of next,” according to BBC.

While United States Transhumanist Party has no official declaration of support for other foreign general regions to secede from their respective countries, according to Article III, Section XXXI of our Constitution, it states:

“The United States Transhumanist Party supports the right of any jurisdiction to secede from the United States specifically in opposition to policies that institutionalize racism, xenophobia, criminalization of dissent, and persecution of peaceful persons. The United States Transhumanist Party does not, however, condone any secession for the purposes of oppressing others. Therefore, the secession of the Confederate States in 1860 was illegitimate, but a future secession of a State may be justified in reaction to violent crackdowns by the federal government against individuals based on individuals’ national origin or ancestry.”

As such, we firmly believe that a similar moral principle should be extended to the people of Catalonia who peacefully voted for independence from the Kingdom of Spain. We condemn the actions of King Felipe and the Spanish government for attempting to violently suppress the Catalan people’s right to democracy and to peacefully protest when the former is withheld.

Given our own country’s history of fighting for independence from the United Kingdom, we know all too well the lengths of which the powerful will try to demean, belittle, and oppress those who stand up to them. The events which led up to the American Revolution, too, were deemed illegal in accordance with then-British law. This gave our Founding Fathers a lot to think about as they began building this country – in particular, it was Thomas Jefferson who once declared, “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”

And so, unlike the Kingdom of Spain, we, the United States Transhumanist Party, recognize and stand in solidarity with the Catalan peoples’ quest for freedom by breaking away from the country and to become an independent nation themselves.

Ed. Note: Originally, the article had erroneously specified that King Felipe VI had given the orders for the police raids of Catalan government buildings. After further inspection, we’ve realized that, while King Felipe did appoint the magistrates of the Constitutional Court of Spain, all decisions – including that of the police raids – were given independently by the Court itself. Our statement has been refined to accommodate this change of information.

B.J. Murphy is the Director of Social Media for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.

MouseAge: Using Artificial Intelligence to Determine Age and Assess Therapies Against Aging – Project by Lifespan.io

MouseAge: Using Artificial Intelligence to Determine Age and Assess Therapies Against Aging – Project by Lifespan.io

logo_bg

United States Transhumanist Party


According to Article 3, Section V of the Constitution of the United States Transhumanist Party:

“The United States Transhumanist Party supports concerted research in effort to eradicate disease and illness that wreak havoc upon and cause death of sapient beings. We strongly advocate the increase and redirection of research funds to conduct research and experiments and to explore life, science, technology, medicine, and extraterrestrial realms to improve all sentient entities.”

Which is why the U.S. Transhumanist Party is pleased to announce the official launch of the fundraising campaign for the MouseAge project. MouseAge is a longevity-based project started by one of our Allied Organizations, Lifespan.io, of which we’ll provide relevant information below:

Read More Read More

Will Today’s Disabled Become Tomorrow’s First Post-Human? – Article by B.J. Murphy

Will Today’s Disabled Become Tomorrow’s First Post-Human? – Article by B.J. Murphy

logo_bg

B.J. Murphy


Needs will almost always come before wants. When it comes to Transhumanism, the ability to differentiate the two tends to blur, because a need could also be a want depending on the various methods of achieving a need. There’s the “getting by” need and then there’s the “thriving” need.

For the disabled, this dichotomy determines how well they’ll get by in life. If someone loses a leg, then simply getting by could be achieved with a cane, a walker, or even a low-tech prosthetic. However, if this person wishes to thrive in life, then a high-tech prosthetic would be much more preferable, though could also be considered a want rather than a need.

For Transhumanism to work, however, I’d argue that the ability to thrive should be considered an absolute necessity. Thus when it comes to the disabled, I believe they deserve the ability to reach post-humanity before anyone else. In all actuality, this is already happening.

Read More Read More