Who Gets to Be Transhuman?


Transhumanism comes up frequently in futurist discussions of science and technology. It's even coming up in presidential politics.

But what does transhumanism really entail? As we discover in the above video and the embedded Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast episode "Biohacking and the Road to Transhumanism," the answer varies. A lot.

Broadly, all transhumanists envision and even anticipate a time when science and technology enable humanity to evolve to an improved state of being. But your idea of Homo sapiens 2.0 doesn't necessarily match up with mine, so you see a great deal of variety in the expression of this technological transcendence.

You have the more politically minded schools in the form of democratic transhumanists, libertarian transhumanists and anarcho-transhumanists. Some branches pursue a more hedonistic vision of upgraded humanity (hold the pain, double helpings of the e-pleasure, please). You'll even find religious transhumanist movements, such as the Mormon Transhumanist Association and the Christian Transhumanist Association.

So yeah, transhumanism is a big tent, and one of the big questions that arises from all of this is, "Who gets to be transhuman?" It's a common quandary in science fiction, where technological haves and have-nots often squabble over high-tech medical access, digitized consciousness and other existence-altering advancements.

Certainly, we can dream up scenarios in which our robot overlords simply gift transhumanism to us, and we all willingly accept our advanced medical technologies, longevity treatments and virtual reality goggles. But doesn't that sound a bit like cyborg Santa is coming to town?

Perhaps the more realistic example can be found in the availability of modern health care. While our abilities to treat illness and injury fall short of transhuman ideals — in which, for instance, replacement organs or limbs exceed the quality of the originals — they certainly provide an improved human experience that remains far from universally available, even in developed nations.

This has led many transhumanist commentators to insist that for transhumanism to be achieved, it has to be achieved by and for everyone, though even this raises problematic questions. Does the transhumanist vision for humanity become a tyrannical imposition by powerful nations or a ruling technocracy?

History, sadly, doesn't provide us with a lot of smooth transitional examples. But then again, transhumanism is as much about the optimism of what could be, you know, provided some inner evolution takes place as well.