Human beings have had an interesting relationship with technology. On the one hand, nearly everyone rightfully applauds and appreciates technology’s ability to make life more convenient, help us save time, and generally improve the quality of life and standard of living on Earth, among many other benefits. On the other hand, there are some people out there who believe that technology somehow threatens to rob us of our humanity.
However, I shall not attempt to argue with those who feel that technology is inherently detrimental to the human condition. Indeed, no matter how many benefits technology brings us, and no matter how much it improves our lives, there are no doubt people out there who will lament the time when technology was less ubiquitous.
While I fully recognize that runaway technology left in the wrong hands poses a danger to humanity, debating the pros and cons of an increasing technological future is not the focus of this article, though it is a very worthy (and necessary) discussion in its own right.
Rather, today I shall present an entirely different argument: that technology, and, in a narrower sense, Transhumanism, can accentuate the aspects and characteristics that make us human, and indeed, allow us to better enjoy the experience of being human.
At first glance, this may appear to be a controversial argument. After all, as some critics ask, aren’t developments like robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence at odds with being human? And, according to some detractors, isn’t Transhumanism a movement that will lead to people becoming less human and more machine-like?
Of course, both statements above are absurd, and complete red herrings. If we accept the fact that Transhumanism is a movement and philosophy focused on improving the human condition, then we must also accept the premise that Transhumanism strives to use technology to improve the human condition.
What makes we humans special is not just our ability to communicate deeply using language, but also, traits such as empathy, reason, and logic, as well as the ability to love. I would argue that we will be able to leverage future improvements in technology to improve all these areas.
While one could come up with a near-endless list of ways technology could help improve the human condition, I will offer just a few here, to spur discussion.
One way that comes to mind immediately is using technology to help the countless millions of people who are suffering from physical disabilities, and as a result, are unable to live a productive, normal life. The robotic limbs and exoskeletons you have heard and read about would go a long way toward allowing people to be mobile again, and would emancipate people from being bound to a bed or a wheelchair. Imagine the happiness on the face of a child who is able to walk for the first time thanks to a robotic limb. One of the most heart-wrenching things for us to see is children who are suffering from physical disabilities. In reality, being disabled is an undignified way to go through life, no matter what one’s age. But not only would such technologies drastically improve the quality of life for people suffering from physical disabilities, they would also benefit humanity on an economic level, allowing people to be more productive members of society. It is for this reason that Transhumanists support unequivocally technologies that help people make full use of their physical, mental, and emotional faculties.
But if that example was too obvious, let’s take conditions such as autism and social anxiety disorder, for instance. While current treatments include behavioral therapy and medication, neither one of those has been very effective, and at best, neither is a cure. On the other hand, a technological solution would likely be much more efficacious. One such example of a potential solution that does not currently exist, but might be developed in the future, is the Computer-Assisted Social Interaction Enhancer, or CASIE, as introduced in the video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution. A real-life use case for such an enhancement could be to allow people who suffer from autism to have improved social interactions, not to mention vastly improved communication skills. The implications of having good social and communication skills are enormous, not just in one’s career, but in one’s social life in particular. Part of what makes us human is the ability to connect with and relate to others. When we are robbed of this most human quality, this threatens to impact our quality of life quite negatively. What is most interesting is that it was a Transhumanist video game that proposed a potential technological solution to such social disorders.
And how about curing diseases through gene therapy? While some people are frightened of the prospect of gene modification, I imagine very few people would reject a cure for dementia, cystic fibrosis, and leukemia, especially if they and/or their loved ones were suffering from any one of these horrible conditions. To go further, I would venture to say that nearly no one in their right mind would argue that we should not cure devastating conditions such as dementia, cystic fibrosis, and leukemia, never mind the biggest killers, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Transhumanists have been campaigning for improving the human condition and curing disease through gene therapy and similar technologies. I would argue that there are few endeavors in life that are more humane than working on curing disease.
However, despite the fact that Transhumanist causes such as curing disease and improving the human condition are among the most noble causes we as humans can work on, detractors may respond with the objection that the requisite technologies do not currently exist, and that even if they did, they would be used for harm rather than good.
My response to this is quite simple: electricity did not exist, until it did. Vaccines did not exist, until they did. Many things we take for granted now did not exist until someone or some people worked together to create them. There is no reason why we cannot leverage science and technology to provide a cure for many of the conditions that afflict us today. At the very least, we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to try.
And although a technology such as CASIE does not yet exist, imagine the implications if such technologies did exist. While these technologies could no doubt be used for nefarious means, we cannot simply deny billions of people the possibility of having improved relationships, better health, and a better quality of life, just because the possibility exists of a few unscrupulous people using technology to hurt others.
Equally important, technologies such as life extension, gene therapy and anti-aging medicines will allow people to spend more time with loved ones by granting them healthier, longer lives. I would imagine that living more years of a healthy life is an outcome nearly everyone would want.
As computer scientist Dr. Kai Fu Lee says in his monumental book AI Superpowers, “we must forge a new synergy between artificial intelligence and the human heart, and look for ways to use the forthcoming material abundance generated by artificial intelligence to foster love and compassion in our societies.” One could replace the term “artificial intelligence” with “technology”, and it would be just as true.
Technology can and must be used as a force for good. Similarly, Transhumanism, which promises to improve the human condition, can help make us be even more human by accentuating our human qualities, thus elevating us to be even greater than we are right now.
Arin Vahanian is Director of Marketing for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.