Transhumanism Is Inevitable

And that's a very good thing.


Royal Society

Beyond Human: How Cutting-Edge Science Is Extending Our Lives, by Eve Herold, St. Martin's Press, 291 pages, $26.99

"Transhumanism is becoming more respectable, and transhumanism, with a small t, is rapidly emerging through conventional mainstream avenues," Eve Herold reports in her astute new book, Beyond Human. While big-T Transhumanism is the activist movement that advocates the use of technology to expand human capacities, small-t transhumanism is the belief or theory that the human race will evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of deliberate technological interventions. As the director of public policy research and education at the Genetics Policy Institute, Herold knows these scientific, medical, and bioethical territories well.

Movements attract countermovements, and Herold covers the opponents of transhuman transformation too. These bioconservatives range from moralizing neocons to egalitarian liberals who fear the new technologies somehow threaten human dignity and human equality. "I began this book committed to exploring all the arguments, both for and against human enhancement," she writes. "In the process I have found time and again that the bioconservative arguments are less than persuasive." (Herold cites some of my own critiques of bioconservatism in her book.)

Herold opens with a tale of Victor Saurez, a man living a couple of centuries from now who at age 250 looks and feels like a 30-year-old. Back in dark ages of the 21st century, Victor was ideologically set against any newfangled technologies that would artificially extend his life. But after experiencing early onset heart failure, he agreed have a permanent artificial heart implanted because he wanted to know his grandchildren. Next, in order not to be a burden to his daughter, he decided to have vision chips installed in his eyes to correct blindness from macular degeneration. Eventually he agreed to smart guided nanoparticle treatments that reversed the aging process by correcting the relentlessly accumulating DNA errors that cause most physical and mental deterioration.

St. Martin's Press

Science fiction? For now. "Those of us living today stand a good chance of someday being the beneficiaries of such advances," Herold argues

Consider artificial hearts. In 2012 Stacie Sumandig, a 40-year-old mother of four, was told that she would be dead within days due to heart failure caused by a viral infection. Since no donor heart was available, so she opted to have the Syncardia Total Artificial Heart (TAH) installed instead. The TAH completely replaces the natural heart and is powered by batteries carried in backpack. It enabled Sumandig to live, work, and take care of her kids for 196 days before a donor heart became available. As of this month, 1,625 TAHs have been implanted; one person lived with one for 4 years before receiving a donor heart. In 2015, an ongoing clinical trial began in which 19 patients received permanent TAHs.

Herold goes on to describe pioneering research on artificial kidneys, livers, lungs, and pancreases. "Artificial organs will soon be designed that are more durable and perhaps more powerful than natural ones, leading them to become not only curative but enhancing," she argues. In the future, people will be loaded up with technologies working to keep them healthy and alive. (One troubling issue this raises: What do we do when someone using such biomedical technologies chooses to die? Who would be actually be in charge of deactivating those technologies? Would the law treat deactivation by a third party as tantamount to murder? In such cases, something akin to today's legalized physician-assisted dying may have to be sanctioned.)

Artificial organs have considerable competition too. Herold, unfortunately, does not report on the remarkable prospects for growing transplantable human organs inside pigs and sheep. Nor does she focus much attention on therapies using stem cells that could replace and repair damaged tissues and organs. But such research supports her view that biotechnologies, information technologies, and nanotechnologies are converging to yield a plethora of curative and enhancing treatments.

The killer app of human enhancement is agelessness—halting and reversing the physical and mental debilities that befall us as we grow old. Herold focuses a great deal of attention on the development of nanobots that would patrol the body to repair and remove the damage caused as cellular machinery malfunctions over time. She believes that nanomedicine will first achieve success in the treatment of cancers and then move on to curing other diseases. "Then, if all goes well, we will enter the paradigm of maintaining health and youth for a very long time, possibly hundreds of years," she claims. Perhaps because research is moving so fast, Herold does not discuss how CRISPR genome-editing will enable future gerontologists to reprogram old cells into youthful ones.

Herold thinks these technological revolutions will be a good thing, but that doesn't mean she's a Pollyanna. Throughout the book, she worries about how becoming ever more dependent on our technologies will affect us. She foresees a world populated by robots at our beck and call for nearly any task. Social robots will monitor our health, clean our houses, entertain us, and satisfy our sexual desires. Isolated users of perfectly subservient robots could, Herold cautions, "lose important social skills such as unselfishness and the respect for the rights of others." She further asks, "Will we still need each other when robots become our nannies, friends, servants, and lovers?"

There is also the question of how centralized institutions, as opposed to empowered individuals, might use the new tech. Behind a lot of the coming enhancements you'll find the U.S. military, which funds research to protect its warriors and make them more effective at fighting. As Herold reports, the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding research on a drug that would keep people awake and alert for a week. DARPA is also behind work on brain implants designed to alter emotions. While that technology could help people struggling with psychological problems, it might also be used to eliminate fear or guilt in soldiers. Manipulating soldiers' emotions so they will more heedlessly follow orders is ethically problematic, to say the least.

Similar issues haunt Herold's discussion of the technologies, such as neuro-enhancing drugs and implants, that may help us build better brains. Throughout history, the ultimate realm of privacy has been our unspoken thoughts. The proliferation of brain sensors and implants might open up our thoughts to inspection by our physicians, friends, and family—and also government officials and corporate marketers.

Yet Herold effectively rebuts bioconservative arguments against the pursuit and adoption of human enhancement. One oft-heard concern is that longevity research will result in a nursing-home world where people live longer but increasingly debilitated lives. That's nonsense: The point of anti-aging research is not to let people be old longer, but to let them be young longer. Another argument holds that transhuman technologies will simply let the rich get richer. Herold notes that while the rich almost always get access to new technologies first, prices then come down quickly, making them available to nearly everyone eventually. She is confident that the same dynamic will apply to these therapies.

Bioconservatives often assert that enhancement technologies must be banned because that they and theirs will experience irresistible social pressure to use them just to stay competitive. Herold tartly replies, "It's every individual's responsibility to make choices that he feels are good for him. It's not society's responsibility to limit the freedom of other people so that one can feel good about his choices." Bioconservaties, she notes, "fail to make a case for why those who oppose enhancement should be able to exercise free choice while those who desire it should not."

What about concerns about authenticity and dehumanization? Here Herold quotes me: "Nothing could be natural to human beings than striving to liberate ourselves from our biological constraints." Herold observes that no one has ever really come up with a good definition of human nature. As we embark on the inevitable transhumanist journey, she correctly concludes that "we may only ever see who we are today in the rearview mirror, from a state far more advanced than where we find ourselves now." Let's go find out who we really are.

NEXT: Opioid Maker Donates to Help Halt Marijuana Legalization in Arizona

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Someday we will all be Agile Cyborg.

    1. MeThinks that the zillion-dollar question is? In a future time, when Government-Almighty-USA prohibits “monster babies”, if I go off-shore and have an augmented human implanted in my womb? Will all returning females be inspected-neglected-detected, for “monster babies”? If I have an inherited horrible disease in my germ line, and baby has been “fixed” overseas, in a Government-Almighty-prohibited way, will Bible-Bangers and assorted busy-bodies clamor to get my “monster baby” aborted? When that time comes, can I shoot the bastards, in the name of defending my baby? If so, what percentage “natural human” does my baby need to be, while still allowing my freedom to shoot bastards that want to kill my baby?

      I see a bright future for more lawyers!!!

      1. Also this: I live to 1,000 in perpetual youth? Forever able to responsibly bring young babies into this world? And I just LOVE having and raising young offspring? Can I have 500 babies, or will there be a limit? And does my Social Security check forever recede as I get additional rejuvenation treatments?

  2. Transhumanism is so yesterday.

    In New York, Trans… transism is what’s in. Here are the newly released 31 genders officially sanctioned by the state:

    Drag King
    Drag Queen
    Femme Queen
    Gender Bender
    Trans Person
    Third Sex
    Gender Fluid
    Non-Binary Transgender
    Gender Gifted
    Gender Blender
    Person of Transgender Experience

    Now, ask me, who is MOST OBSESSED with what’s in your pants?

    Sorry, trying to find the NYC link, but every story I read that points to the NYC.gov link fails. I suspect NYC has taken it down. Why? Who knows.

    1. If you hover over the link, it’s http://www.nyc.gov/html/cchr/d…..d2015.pdf.

      Get that? GenderID card.

      1. “This Page is Not Available

        “You have reached an outdated page on NYC.gov, the Official New York City website.”

        1. Interesting, that’s a Connecticut government Web site.

          I guess it’s for the benefit of Connecticut citizens who work in NYC?

    2. “Gender Gifted”

      Well, I don’t want to brag, but…

      1. You’ve got multiple sets of genitalia, huh? Hey Crusty, get over here!

        1. Wait, gender is not supposed to refer to your wedding tackle but what I’d going in in your head. It might mean that he has a split personality covering all gender permutations.

          1. What is it Warty says – Omnisexual?

    3. That looks to me like a list of words you’d be tempted to slap a person for saying honestly.

    4. There’s lots more to transhumanism than just getting to pick your new gender. 🙂

      1. But Ron, with Transumanism, you can actually BECOME whatever gender you want. Think of the awesome implications.

        1. Can I finally pound my own snooch?

        2. DR(P): Yes, I know. Awesome.

    5. I want this to be true so much. Eight? I’d get annoyed. 31? That’s trolling.

      Hopefully this will be made official so hundreds of complaints can be launched and the list can be extended into four digits.

      I mean, Female-to-Male is a gender. Female and Male are not. That has to be on purpose!

      1. There’s disagreement on them thar internets about whether or not you can get fined $250,000 for not using the correct pronouns. I believe Eugene Volokh’s analysis suggests you can, SNOPES says you can’t, but the SNOPES ‘debunk’ is highly nuanced.

        Basically, it’s classic vauge-law interpretation. It doesn’t feel like you can get fined if a shopkeep “accidentally” calls you ‘sir’ when you’re a 2-spirit. But the law says that you CAN be fined if you continuously and/or purposely keep calling the 2 spirit “sir”. So as usual, what’s the bright line? Who decides?

      2. Hopefully this will be made official so hundreds of complaints can be launched and the list can be extended into four digits.

        We should all start adding our own genders and vocally complain when not respected. There are so many things I need to be able do to adequately express my splurglest-octo-faced-cyan-gender experience, and if you stand in my way you are discriminating – you monster!

        Let’s resurrect individualism on their terms.

    6. Gender Blender


      1. I’m not even clicking on that to assume you’ve posted a picture of a 25 (or 9 pin) rs-232 female-to-male converter.

        1. Well shit, I couldn’t stand it. I clicked. Boy was I wrong.

  3. Why fight it? Resistance’ll be futile…

  4. I, personally, plan to spend the greater part of the next thousand years hanging out inside a hollowed-out comet in the Oort Cloud.

    1. So…renting space from Pro L, eh?

      1. He can get his own comet.

        1. I thought he had title to most of the Oort Cloud already?

          1. It’s cute that he thinks that.

          2. 50 year old treaty and every major gov’t on the planet begs to differ.

            1. Treaties? Governments? I don’t think you understand how bright the future will be.

              1. so bright, I gotta wear shades?

    2. As a Pak Protector?

      1. One of our resident trolls’ made me think of the Thrintun today.

  5. Well, I know that the population in many places is already taller and healthier than it used to be under certain metrics.

    And hand transplants are a hot new area of medicine – soon, Captain Hook will be able to get a regular hand and will have to get a new name.

    So the question isn’t whether humanity will improve over time, barring war, famine, or other catastrophe (which is a big if), the question is what happens when researchers try to cross ethical boundaries in making Better Humans.

    What about genetically engineering super-obedient soldiers, or agricultural workers for that matter?

    1. And where will that hand come from?

      1. Axolotl tank, duh.

      2. I don’t know where the hand will come from, $park?, but it will be…
        wait for it…
        …a hand up, not a hand out.

        1. This is why I’m always shocked when you manage to be funny.

          1. It’s not funny without an element of surprise.

            1. You’re half right.

    2. Yeah, getting soldiers to do horrible things is pretty rare.

      1. Is this some kind of go-to response?

        That was a picture of people impaled on stakes when ordered by Vlad Tepes…if this sort of mass staking were so normal, how come Vlad became literally legendary for his cruelty?

        (assuming the stories told about him in contemporaneous German pamphlets and Romanian folk tradition are actually true)

        1. (I think there may be confirmation in contemporaneous correspondence as well)

          1. I’m inclined to think that in times of social breakdown and/or the collapse of civilized norms, there will always be an element ready to rush in and commit horrid atrocities.

            But there will be those who choose the right path and refuse to do evil.

            The U.S. military has traditionally tried to teach the doctrine refusing illegal orders. I don’t know if it’s always 100% effective, but the kind of stuff which is routine in some militaries is the exception, not the rule, with ours.

            But what if the fear that immoral orders will be disobeyed…is removed? How far will the leaders be willing to go?

          2. I chose a neutral topic/pic instead of burned babies or raped women. Truly, I’m worse than Hitler.

            1. With transhumanism, you can literally become Hitler!

              1. Finally, something to look forward to.

              2. I can figuratively become Hitler now

    3. What about genetically engineering super-obedient soldiers, or agricultural workers for that matter?

      It’s all about chimeras. Combine the best features of humans, animals, and self-replicating machines. Disturbing ethical implications? Psh, our wolfBorgMan has no such concerns.

  6. Hooray, humanity is evolving!!!! Just imagine what we’ll be able to do in 10,000 years!

    1. Warty? *looks around nervously*

  7. Feh. Get back to me when they can produce a working Doomcock of Doom (other than Warty’s prototype).

    1. You’ll have to wait for the next Snowden/Wikileaks. Doomcock is basically Manhattan Project of transhumanism and thus you won’t know about it until it’s deployed. And then you’ll know. Oh boy, are going to know…

  8. Hey, look, I read the article and it’s like they’ve been reading my comments:

    “DARPA is also behind work on brain implants designed to alter emotions. While that technology could help people struggling with psychological problems, it might also be used to eliminate fear or guilt in soldiers.”

  9. Nanobots again. The 21st century scifi equivalent of 20th century cloning. “What do you mean he doesn’t ahve all the memories and knowledge of the original?”

    1. *stops tinkering with molecular 3D printer*

      Quit harshing their buzz man!

      *sets quantum teleporter to regular and vanishes*

  10. I recommend Aldous Huxley’s After Many a Summer Dies the Swan to my wanna-live-forever acquaintances. Here or in real life.

    1. H: I am sure I will get around to reading sometime in the next couple of centuries.

      1. “You should live so long.”

      2. Bailey continues to dream big. The longer you live, the more likely you are to die in an accident.

      3. The computer that learned to be you may read it sometime after you are scraped out of your brainpan and discarded with the medical waste.

    2. Even before Huxley; Sisyphus is immortal.

  11. And then there’s a once in a millennium solar flare that kills all the humans. The End.

    1. FS: If it’s a “once in a millennium” flare, wouldn’t we already all be dead?

      1. I think he means the EMP will fry our implants.

      2. Unfortunately Sol doesn’t take it’s cues from the Gregorian calendar. Maybe there was a massive flare over 1,000 years ago but without all the handy dandy gizmos to destroy, we’d hardly notice. Once we actually are the gizmos, it might be slightly more noticeable.

      3. A millennium isn’t what it used to be, Ron.

  12. I know this thread is dead now, but humans have tried to achieve immortality for as long as we’ve existed. This isn’t something new. It’s just been given a fancy name and a technological foundation. It doesn’t make it any less of a dream. Death and taxes, folks. Death and taxes. Just like a libertarian dreams in vain of a world without taxes, so too does the transhumanist dream of a world where he can live forever.

  13. Hey look, Bailey continues to pimp his religion and leave copies of his version of Watchtower in my mailbox.

    I’m actually from a (potential) future, and let me tell you, it’s less Cyberpunk 2020 and more Blindsight.

  14. Like it or not, it’s all coming, and I will embrace it. SIGN ME UP!

  15. General AI and mechanically enhanced transhumanism are the only things that REALLY freak me out about the second half of the 21st century.

    If it were all dumb robots and going towards a Star Trekish future I’d be pretty ok with things. But shit could get pretty crazy and unpredictable with those two things. I wouldn’t even worry much about genetic/biological transhumanism much, as it’s pretty manageable. No more cancer. Great! People live forever. Ok, no biggie. Everyone is pretty. Sweet!!! People all have 180 IQs, no problem… Crazy laser eyed, winged, processing power of what Google presently has in his head transhuman… That shit is crazy.

  16. The computational capacity of a nanoteched grain of sand is a quintillion times that of the
    human brain, making the distinction between a cyborg and a pure artilect pointless. Any
    human being wishing to convert himself into a cyborg will effectively be killing himself,
    unless he dramatically impairs and restricts the capability of his cyborg portion. He will
    no longer be “he” but an “artilect in human disguise.” This argument has implications for
    the species dominance debate.

  17. Everyone can have implants. Can’t pay for them? (Repo Men)
    Everyone can have implants. Can’t pay for the antirejection meds (Deus Ex)
    Everyone can be perfect who wants to be. Don’t want to be? (Gattica)

    Yes, it would be great to have all the benefits that technology can offer in surpassing the limits of our human bodies. (I’m still waiting for the neural interface from Neuromancer). However the road there is going to be bumpy and care must be taken to avoid these conclusions.
    Oh, and to the well-meaning person fearful of the ‘Bible-thumpers’ wanting to abort her baby. That was the Eugenics crowd led by Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood, not the Christian church.

  18. just as Patrick answered I am inspired that you can earn $5103 in 1 month on the internet . see this website

    ?????? http://www.businessbay4.com/

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.