The Transhuman Vision

by Anders Sandberg

For aeons natural selection has slowly produced new species. From time to time breakthroughs have occurred: photosynthesis, sexual reproduction, multicellularity and the nervous system have increased the tempo of evolution and the diversity of life in sudden jumps. A few million years back parents began to pass on their experiences to their young, and knowledge began to accumulate from generation to generation not just in the genes. A few hundred thousand years ago our ancestors developed language, and knowledge could spread fast and efficiently between all members of a tribe. Memes, the knowledge that is transmitted from individual to individual, began to control humans rather than the genes. A few thousand years ago writing was invented, and knowledge could be stored and recalled millennia after the death of its author. And evolution is still accelerating.

The goal of transhumanism is to make humanity grow to its full potential. We are no longer bound by biological evolution, we can choose our own path: the era of autoevolution has begun. The responsibility of our development is now ours alone, we can choose what we want to become and how we want to become it.

Using our knowledge and skills we have done things that no other species has ever done in the history of Earth: not only do we adapt to new ecological niches, we also change our environment to our purposes and create new ways of living. Through modern medicine we have largely overcome the illnesses that plague other species. We have increased our life expectancy so far that we are approaching the maximal possible human lifespan. Using our technology we can for good and ill change our planet noticeably, and all signs suggest that technology will continue to develop ever faster. We are especially accumulating knowledge about how we and our environment works, which increases our consciousness of our responsibility for our development.

So far we have freed ourselves from some of the basic limitations for all animal species on Earth, but we are now beginning to understand how we can free ourselves from some human limitations. The coming years we will see how more and more illnesses, limits and weaknesses can be cured or circumvented through different means. There already exist promising research that suggests that with some support we could live to the maximal lifespan of around 120 years, and even this lifespan isn't set in stone. Immense progress occurs today in psychology, neurology and information processing: slowly these fields are merging. Much research is directed towards systems amplifying our intelligence in various ways; computer programs that collect or process information, tools for decision-making and analysis, drugs that influence memory and concentration, mental techniques to make our thinking more efficient and harmonious. This exists today.

In a few years we will see how some humans will begin to move beyond the current human limitations. Ever more radical changes become possible: genetic engineering gives us control over our bodies, bionics erases the border between man and machine, intelligence amplification will make anyone into what in the old days would have been called a genius. This transhuman stage is also the beginning of the end of the species homo sapiens: like all other species it must sooner or later branch into new species or go extinct.

As humans redesign themselves after their values, new forms of humanity will develop. Many of these posthumans will diverge radically from us. Some humans will likely develop themselves into something quite like Greek gods: long lived, possibly immortal, physically and mentally almost perfect humans (at least perfect from their own point of view). Others may develop far more radically, perhaps into digital lifeforms swimming through the information networks or transcendental superminds among the moons of Jupiter. And some will, for various reasons, choose to remain unchanged.

Instead of being the "crown of creation" as man often likes to see itself, she will become the "foliage of creation" - a growing tree of new species and entities, united by a common origin but now quickly diverging in new directions.

Threats and Promises

This is the transhuman vision. It is not a prophecy of how it must be, but a vision of how it could be, how we can develop. There is a risk that we will fail. There is a risk we won't even try.

There will be many humans who can't or won't develop in a transhuman direction. Growth is after all an individual choice and it is neither desirable or possible to force it from the outside. But ideally all humans should be given the chance to make this choice, regardless of what they will choose. That is why we must act to make the necessary technologies and methods accessible for all.

A larger problem than the people who will not develop themselves are the people who will not allow anybody else to develop, for ideological reasons, fear or even misguided concern. They seek to protect everyone else from the dangers of choosing wrongly by preventing them from choosing at all. They put themselves as the guides of humanity and cannot accept other visions than their own - which has so far caused more pain and destruction than anything else in history. As transhumanists we should listen to the warnings of the critics, but we must choose our path for ourselves.

To implement the transhuman vision five things are needed:

Labour - we can not just lazily wait for "progress" to solve our problems and open our possibilities. It won't happen unless somebody does it.

Tolerance - we must be able to accept other visions, other paths. If some people will not walk along our path it is their choice and nothing we should worry about as long as they do not seek to hinder us.

Optimism - our culture has the last decades become ever more pessimistic, careful and apathetic. To be able to develop one must dare to enjoy oneself. Pessimism breeds apathy, optimism action.

Freedom - we need freedom, not just political and social freedom, but also freedom from material limitations. Today we have technology that used in the right way can remove many of these limitations; we can develop it further and hence free ourselves.

Reason - we need to let ourselves be guided by reason, by critically testing old and new ideas in order to avoid being blinded by our optimism or the pessimism of the Cassandras. Without reason we will wreck ourselves, without our visions we will lack direction.

If we can combine these five elements the transhuman vision becomes feasible - and the foliage of creation will spread its branches among the stars.