Debating Extreme Human Enhancement Over at Slate Magazine


Back off bub.

Just want to tab the beginning of what will likely be a fascinating discussion of Transhumanism and the prospects of radical life extension over at the online magazine Slate. The first entry is by Kyle MunKittrick, the proprietor of the always interesting PopBioethics blog. MunKittrick asks:

But the big question is: Do humans want to be transhuman? That is, presuming that genetic engineering, cybernetic augmentation, cognitive enhancement, and the cure for aging are all technologically possible in the next 50, 100, or 200 years, are they something people will want to use? And is enhancement something people should want?

The he gives the right answer: 

Short answer: Yes, absolutely. I think humans do want to transcend biological limitations and become better than our bodies and genetics currently allow.

His fellow discussants are Brad Allenby who is co-author with Daniel Sarewtiz of The Techno-Human Condition; and Nick Agar, author of Humanity's End: Why We Should Reject Radical Life Enhancement

With characteristic immodesty, I will also suggest that H&R readers might want to take a look at the December, 2007 Cato Unbound where theoretical biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey, bioethicist Daniel Callahan, political scientist Diana Schaub and I debated the question: Do We Need Death? Spoiler alert: The right answer is no

Kudos to Ted Weinstein. 

NEXT: Florida State Trooper Teamed With TSA to Ship and Sell Oxycodone

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  1. “Transhumanism”


    1. Social Security’s really gonna need a bailout.

      1. I really meant it. It’s like the South Park episode where Mr. Garrison gets a sex change. Eventually he realizes he’s still a 100% male, minus the cock.

        1. It’s a kind of magic.

        2. I *could* have tried to answer you calmly and rationally about your anti-transhumanism bias, but then you revealed yourself as transphobic too which makes you unworthy of discussion.

      2. Yeah, if you retire at 62 and live to be 65,000 it’s really going to mess up the actuarial tables.

        1. Both funny and true.

  2. my great aunt passed at 105 after refusing treatment for a viral infection. before she lost conciousness, she said she was tired of living since her husband, kids, & friends were all dead & she wanted to go be w them.

    1. So she liked them better than she liked you. Makes sense.

    2. The one problem with that line of thought is that there is no going “to be with them”. All there is is the here and now. That’s why I’m always taken aback when someone argues against radical life extension. Why would any rational person not want to increase their longevity?

      1. Because they’re not narcissistic?

        1. Okay, well they can CHOOSE to be humble in their coffins then. Me, I enjoy the whole not disappearing into oblivion thing too much to dismiss radical life extension.

          1. Give it 500 years. By then, you’ll probably be looking for a suicide booth. That being said, prolonging human longevity is a worthy pursuit.

            1. Try some really extreme sports before you going looking for suicide booth. That way you get a temporary thrill every time you don’t die.

              ObCulture: Lava rafting: hate it or despise it, you won’t forget it.

              1. Hmmm…white-lava rafting sounds pretty fun.

        2. Why wait?

        3. Not to commit suicide is not to be narcissistic.

      2. And you know this how?

        Most are sane enough to admit that we don’t know what, if anything, there is after death, but you’re sure there’s nothing. Why?

  3. I’m not optimistic about future increases in life expectancy. We may be able to repeat the progress of the 20th Century with life expectancy rising 30 something years during the 21st Century, but I highly doubt we’ll improve life expectancy any more quickly than that. The current biology curricula replace too much physiology, cellular, and molecular biology with tree hugging.

  4. You or me can live a thousand years, no problemo, but what about Stalin or Mao?

    1. May all tyrants die a horrible painful death.

    2. Tim: As I wrote over at Cato Unbound:
      Schaub conjures the possibility of near immortal tyrants?Stalin and Hitler forever. Frankly, I am not persuaded by the implied argument that everyone must continue to die before age 100 in order to avoid the possibility of millennial tyrants. Must we really surrender to the tyranny of aging and death in order to prevent human despotism? Wouldn’t a better strategy be to focus on preventing the emergence of tyrants, either of the short- or long-lived variety?

      1. I agree but still, even the spectre of an immortal Robert F. Byrd gives me pause.

      2. The Robert Byrd comment is spot-on. Given our penchant to re-electing people until they literally drop dead, imagine Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy still sitting there 40 years from now *shudder*.

    3. Worse, what about Leto II??

      1. Or Apocalypse in his Lazarus chambers beneath the Great Pyramids, awaiting the next time humanity is crushed beneath the hooves of his horsemen.

  5. It’s possible life really is too short, if one contemplates what a life sentence would be to Madoff if life were extended by 1000 years.

    Not to mention the increase in brain trust when Einstien can talk directly to Newton (I know….. it’s not a time machine…. but future geniuses).

    Lastly, something Aubrey de Grey has talked about elsewhere, in solving the ‘aging problem, he would save, in today’s numbers, a couple hundred thousand people a year.

    In his words, no one to date has effectively argued against the morality.

  6. “solving the ‘aging problem”

    Eldorado is just over that hill. I can feel it!

    1. Flying machines? Space travel? Enough of your flapdoodle! If we were meant to fly through the luminferous ether, we’d have feathers!

      1. Oh, THAT’S what these are for! Cool!

  7. If you think Grandma has problems with her DVD-player now, give it a thousand years.

    1. You’ve blindly stumbled on the problem with life extension. How many times will a person be forced to replace his movie collection through his lifetime due to changes in technology? It’s not worth it.

      1. Videodrome on Blu-ray is way too expensive, but I am sick of watching Debbie Harry burn her tit with a cigarette on VHS.

        1. Wait till you haven’t called your Mom for sixty years. Imagine that.

          1. I’m up to 26, but not by choice.

            1. I LOLed.

              1. She’s dead, dude.

                1. I was LOLing and FoE, but that is pretty grim, man.

  8. Does this mean they could build a literal Kochtopus?

  9. I’m less interested in the extension of life-span than I am the extension of health-span.

    People like to point out how much longer we live now, but we actually start breaking down only a few years later than we used to (i.e. late 60s instead of early 60s).

    So while our health-span has only been extended by say 5-7 years, our life-span has been extended by 20, giving us another 15 blessed years of painful chemo, arthritis, and unpredictable stools (given the comedic potential of this last one, I’m not sure if it’s a feature or a bug. I’d love to be in Golden Corral and all of a sudden everyone within 50 ft. begins to wonder what the hell that smell is.).

    I really don’t want to live to be 150 if I’m spending 35 of those years drooling on myself watching “People’s Court” and being turned occasionally to prevent sores.

    1. Gojira: The point of anti-aging research is not be older longer, but to be younger longer.

      1. I understand Ron, but what I mean is, that research has born remarkably little fruit in the “youth” department, and much more so in the “living a lot longer while old” department up until now. I’d need to see that trend reversing to be optimistic about it.

        1. That is not entirely true. The lifetime improvement of the 20th century has come in large part as an extension of middle age.

          Now, that’s not exactly an extended youth, but neither is it just extended old age. Even the earliest boomers are mostly still well enough to real enjoy they wealth (those that haven’t been wiped out anyway).

          And frankly, I’d settle for fifty years of middle age if that’s what is on offer.

  10. I think it’s impossible to predict in what direction the politics of all this will move.

    We have a society that simultaneously holds as an article of faith that no expense is too great or treatment too invasive to prolong the lives of centegenarians another ten minutes – and as a separate article of faith that it’s a horrific crime if someone wants to take steroids to make themselves stronger or Ritalin to make themselves smarter.

    Who knows how that society reacts to dramatically new treatments or life options? Maybe it embraces them, maybe it criminalizes them. Who can tell with these assholes?

    1. I’m holding on to some hope for a big pushback against drug prohibition.

      Maybe that makes me an optimist, but I’m happy that way.

  11. IIRC, reminds me of how Nathan Fillion as Castle responded to a question about what sudden wealth does to a person, ‘it amplifies who you are’. It seems like these people who object to living long, healthy lives just can’t stand the idea of living with their families/friends/themselves for that long. After your kids are adults, why stay married? Think of how many times and ways you could reinvent yourself.

    1. “Think of how many times and ways you could reinvent yourself.”

      You’re okay with The Thousand-Year Cher?

      1. Sure, since she could always look she did in the video, “If I Could Turn Back Time”:

      2. Note Cher’s son/daughter. There are many ways to reinvent yourself.

        1. Hey, do I have to call her a he? I keep seeing that pronoun used in connection with her. I’m sorry, but until you’ve changed the chromosomes, you don’t get “he.”

  12. The poverty rate was falling, until the war on poverty began:…..y-Rate.jpg

    1. But someone had to do something! If they did nothing, then we’d all be poor peasants! Remember, the government doing SOMETHING is always better than it doing nothing!

  13. Death is preferable to a thousand years of statists, life-insurance salesmen and yet another Woody Allen movie.

    1. wouldn’t immortality put an end to life insurance salesmen?

      1. No, because people would have Highlander-like swordfights in parking garages all the time.

          1. Aye, now I have. ‘Tis a grand pic.

      2. No, because you could still die accidentally, and it would be an even bigger tragedy.

  14. If humans live longer then everything will slow down so it’s all relative. People are in general pretty frenetic because we know we only have a limited time to get things done. If you suddenly give everyone an extra 1000 years to accomplish things the rush to do such things won’t be as great. Also, think of the population problems you would run into if everyone stays around for 1000 years. Birth rates would have to drop unless enough people figured out how to move off this rock.

    1. I generally agree with this view. People organize tasks based on how much time they have to do them and not on how fast they can do them.

      Which means of course if people live to 200 there will be people living with their parents into their 50’s.

      What I’m curious about is if given more years will the time needed to be considered an adult can continue to grow. There was a time when a 13 year old was considered a man. That’s been basically extended to 18 (with a kind of probationary period until 21). Are we going to have 30 year old minors?

      1. If you define adulthood as the age when you stop hitting mom and dad up for cash, there are already many minors in there 30s.

        1. And there will be more 30-somethings hitting their families up for cash when Grandpa is 516 and has several trillion dollars worth of CDs.

    2. perhaps, but not necessarily. It might delay some people from moving out from their parents. It would certainly change society. However, if slowing progression in children happened with the adult population, then you would easily see delaying the age of majority. Some parents may appreciate it, but looking at a many parents I encounter every day, they cannot wait until their children are legally adults so they can kick them out of the house and enjoy what they think will be peace and quiet.

    3. Extending life expectancy to 480 would increase the global population 6 fold. The global population increased about 6 fold in the 20th Century without a major environmental catastrophe. Most settlements are not as dense as Houston, TX. Jersey City, NJ has 5 times the population density of Houston, TX, and we consider it a suburb. We can easily fit another 35 billion people on the planet if we make the world like New Jersey. Granted, some consider that a fate worse than death.

      1. I calculated a few years ago that if you put everyone on Earth in Texas, they could all have a 700 square foot apartment, and the rest of the world would be empty.

        Please don’t do it, though.

  15. Who wants to live forever? I do! I really do want to see how the future unfolds… will we travel the galaxy? And if we do travel the galaxy, then FTL travel would not be an absolute necessity, especially if we develop suspended animation. I could imagine multi-centennial trips would be unbearable without it.

    1. I dunno about the implications of forever, but much longer than three score and ten sounds great to me and my family. Where do we sign up?

    2. Even with slower than light travel, those trips won’t seem very long — as you approach the speed of light, time in your frame of reference slows down and the trip seems much shorter to you.

  16. We’ve been extending human life long before these trans conferences.

    Better medical care, cleaner food and water, better sewer systems . . . these are all forms of longer lives thanks to technology.

  17. I’ve been hearing a lot of good stuff about anatabine citrade (from Star Scientific as Anatabloc) for reducing the inflamation that ages us faster than we should.

  18. Be careful what you wish for. The God Apollo offered the Cumaean Sybil a wish in exchange for sex. She said she wished to live as many years as there were grains of sand in the sea. Apollo granted her this wish.

    But she forgot to ask for eternal youth. As she aged she grew smaller and more decrepit, finally shrinking to no bigger than a grashopper. She was placed in basket in a marketplace.

    Mean boys would go to her and ask her what she wanted.

    She would say “I want to die.”

  19. The best part about living forever is proving out the compound interest calculations for yourself in your bank account.

  20. I think Bailey is looking at this from a total nerd perspective without any consideration for the social political or economic considerations. Economically, longer lives mean more people chasing after those ever scarce resources, meaning either the young will be the debt slaves to the old or the young will start ending lives, life extension be damned. Politically, the number of people opposed to changes or amendments to our laws to accommodating a more free society, they say conservatism is the politics of speaking for the past, imagine if the past can speak for itself. Socially, to the extent cultural norms do change, a person will feel more and more alienated from society and may come to scorn it and long for death.

    Then again, I am all for choice, but just don’t be surprised when you look in a mirror wonder what happened to the world, long for an older time, and are sterotyped by many a parasite.

  21. Despite my regular, vicious attacks on Ronald, his book and long-term advocacy of transhumanism forced me to re-evaluate the opinions I held on the subject. He’s probably the most talented writer Reason has on staff.

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