Tag: transhumanism

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X-Men: fine in the movies but not in real life

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Don’t say we didn’t warn you: the latest instalment has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 48% 

Despite the popularity of superhumans in the X-Men series and growing interest in transhumanism, the American public is wary of even mild forms of human enhancement, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center. 

In the survey people were asked about three scenarios: gene editing to protect babies from disease, chips in the brain to improve people’s ability to think, and synthetic blood which would enhance performance by increasing speed, strength and endurance.

None of these are currently possible. Even so, people were “cautious and often resistant”. Most would be “very” or “somewhat” worried about gene editing (68%), brain chips (69%) and synthetic blood (63%). By a margin of 2 to 1, people would not want to be enhanced themselves and only half would want it for their children.

As an index of how much the public trusts scientists, “At least seven-in-ten adults predict each of these new technologies will become available before they have been fully tested or understood.” Most believe that enhancement technology will increase social differences because only the rich will be able to afford it. A majority also believes that enhanced humans will feel superior to those who do not have them. People with a deep religious commitment and women tend to be more skeptical of enhancement.

The survey also detected skepticism about cosmetic surgery, which is the closest legal enhancement available at the moment.

For example, 61% of Americans say people are too quick to undergo cosmetic procedures to change their appearance in ways that are not really important.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Could We Upload a Brain to a Computer — And Should We Even Try?

July 6, 2016

(The Conversation) – But transhumanism’s mixing of essentially religious ideas with scientific language matters because it distorts the way we think about technology. Transhumanism tends to see technology as a way to grant all our wishes. And this is often justified by the argument that technology will inevitably drive human development in a positive direction. Yet this distorts our scientific priorities and gets in the way of us making sensible choices about developing the technologies we need to solve our very real current problems. Brain uploading is a great premise for speculative fiction, but it’s not a good basis for talking about the future.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Hateful politics infiltrate human genome editing debate in France

A recent campaign calling for a ban on “transgenic” human embryos was launched by one of France’s most prominent organizations fighting for “science”-backed “one-man-one-woman” families, and the exclusion of all other forms.

“Stop GMO Baby: Yes to therapeutic progress, no to transgenic embryos” (image via Alliance VITA).

Since March 24, more than 15,500 people in France have signed a Change.org petition started by Alliance VITA declaring (translated from French*):

“I ask my country to engage with all urgency to obtain an international moratorium – that is to say an immediate stop – on the genetic modification of human embryos, especially via the technique CRISPR-cas9.”

*all French materials and quotations presented in English in this post have been translated using Google and my college-level French. Suggested revisions to translations are welcome and will be noted. Alliance VITA offers some materials on its website in English.

In that time, volunteers have canvassed cities around France, handing out brochures explaining the breakthrough CRISPR genome editing technology, and tweeting pictures of their advocacy using Flickr and the hashtags: #StopBébéOGM, #ProtectHumanity, and #CRISPR-Cas9.

Alliance VITA’s opposition to using human gene editing for reproduction is widely shared, including by my organization, the Center for Genetics and Society. But a closer look at the Stop GMO Baby campaign in France reveals a troubling and at times explicitly hateful politics infiltrating the human genome editing debate. A polarization of the conversation about heritable human genetic modification along “right to life” and “natural family” fault lines threatens to derail public conversations about responsible regulation of science and medicine that serves the public interest.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Interview: Dissecting the age of ‘do harm’ medicine

Wesley J. Smith is one of America’s leading commentators on bioethical issues, especially assisted suicide and euthanasia. His columns are published in the National Review and he is the author of 14 books. BioEdge interviewed him about his latest, Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine.

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BioEdge: This is a thoroughly revised edition of a book you published 16 years ago. In your view, is there less respect for life in American medical culture now? Are there any bright spots?

Wesley J. Smith: There is less respect for human equality and the sanctity of life in healthcare generally, I fear, and not only in the U.S. Indeed, I changed the subtitle of the book to “The Age of ‘Do Harm’ Medicine” because it now grapples with developments outside the United States as well as in my own country. We are all connected, so that what happens in Canada impacts Australia, what happens in the USA can have a pull on South Africa.

I have observed in the 15 years since the first edition of Culture of Death, that throughout the developed world and the West we see a terrible and increasing disrespect for the intrinsic value of the most weak and vulnerable among us. Euthanasia has spread like a stain and grown increasingly toxic. For example, in Belgium medicalized killing is now coupled with organ harvesting—including of the mentally ill. Health care rationing, which is blatant and invidious medical discrimination, is a growing threat. Advocacy continues to discard the dead donor rule in organ transplant medicine, even proposals for the live-harvesting of patients with profound cognitive disabilities.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Can We Make Ourselves More Moral? Designer Babies, Hormone Therapy, and the New Eugenics of Transhumanism

June 8, 2016

(Public Discourse) – Indeed, Savulescu thinks cognitive enhancement might make us humans even more dangerous to each other, given our technological prowess at building weapons of mass destruction and our propensity to pollute our environment. He regularly invokes the fear of humans destroying themselves; one talk he gave was entitled “Unfit for Life: Genetically Enhance Humanity or Face Extinction.” The solution that Savulescu proposes to keep us humans from killing each other off is what he calls moral enhancement, which comes in two forms: genetic engineering and hormone therapy, both designed to make us more cooperative and altruistic.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Modesty, Humility, and Book Reviewing

I am not ungrateful to Issues in Science and Technology for presenting, in its spring 2016 issue, a review (not yet available online) of my book Eclipse of Man: Human Extinction and the Meaning of Progress. I wish it were not such a negative review. But as negative reviews go, this one is easy on the ego, even if unsatisfying to the intellect, because so little of it speaks to the book I wrote.

The reviewer gets some things right. He correctly points out, for some reason or other, that I teach at a Catholic university, and also notes that the book does not conform to the narrow dogma of diversity that says that in intellectual endeavors one must always include discussion of people other than dead or living white males. All true.

On the other hand, the reviewer also claims that “a good third of the book is devoted to lovingly detailed but digressive plot summaries.” He also speaks of my “synopses” of Engines of Creation and The Diamond Age. This is a very telling error. Actually, about 4 percent of the book (9 of 215 pages, by a generous count) is devoted to plot summaries of the fictional works that play a large role in my argument. How do we get from 4 percent to 33 percent? The reviewer apparently cannot discern the difference between a plot summary and an analysis of a work of literature or film. These analyses are indeed “lovingly detailed” because they involve a close reading of the texts, and a careful effort to understand and respond to the issues raised by the authors of the works in question.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Washington Post features symposium on transhumanism

As a sign of growing interest in transhumanism, the Washington Post recently featured a symposium with several distinguished writers. It may indicate a growing interest in its aspirations, in an election year when a transhumanist, Zoltan Istvan, is seriously running for President.

At the moment, transhumanism is a ill-defined and fractured movement with many different strands, ranging from more-or-less mainstream to whacky. On the mainstream side, there is the National Intelligence Council’s 2012 long-term strategic analysis document  which devotes a section to “human augmentation”. It envisages technology which will help the elderly to cope with disability and soldiers to perform superhuman feats of strength, agility and alertness. On the whacky side, there are visions of a new species of humanity and uploading consciousness to the internet.

Here are a few predictions and evaluations from the WaPo’s contributors. Most of them were solidly in favour and relatively conservative on the transhumanist spectrum.

Ronald Bailey, the science correspondent for Reason magazine and author of “Liberation Biology” and “The End of Doom.”

“The highest expression of human nature and dignity is to strive to overcome the limitations imposed on us by our genes, our evolution and our environment. Future generations will look back at the beginning of the 21st century and be astonished that some well-meaning and intelligent people actually wanted to stop bio-nano-infotech research and deployment just to protect their cramped and limited vision of human nature. If transhumanism is allowed to progress, I predict that our descendants will look back and thank us for making their world of longer, healthier and abler lives possible.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Is transhumanism going mainstream?

Twelve years ago, political scientist Francis Fukuyama described transhumanism as “the world’s most dangerous idea”. In 2004, that sounded a bit daft — almost no one had ever heard of the idea. For many people it still does, but now transhumanism is going mainstream.

Movies are being made about transhumanist themes; newspapers like the Washington Post are running feature articles on it; and a transhumanist is running for US President. It is indeed dangerous. As Fukuyama said:

The seeming reasonableness of the project, particularly when considered in small increments, is part of its danger. Society is unlikely to fall suddenly under the spell of the transhumanist worldview. But it is very possible that we will nibble at biotechnology’s tempting offerings without realizing that they come at a frightful moral cost.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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Transhumanists are searching for a dystopian future

As part of a Washington Post series this week about transhumanism, our own Charles T. Rubin offers some thoughts on why transhumanists are so optimistic when the pop-culture depictions of transhumanism nearly always seem to be dark and gloomy:

What accounts for this gap between how transhumanists see themselves — as rational proponents of a cause, who seek little more than to speed humanity along a path it already follows — and how they are seen in popular culture — as dangerous conspirators against human welfare? Movies and TV need drama and conflict, and it is possible that transhumanists just make trendy villains. And yet the transhumanists and the show writers are alike operating in the realm of imagination, of possible futures. In this case, I believe the TV writers have the richer and more nuanced imaginations that more closely resemble reality.

You can read the entire article here.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

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The gods of transhumanism

Although it has been called the world’s most dangerous idea, transhumanism probably provokes more ridicule than fear. Uploading one’s brain onto the internet or talk of thousand-year life spans seems to defy common sense. 

Nonetheless, my theory is that transhumanism is the logical outcome of a lot of contemporary bioethical theory. So developments in transhumanism are worth paying attention to.

The biggest story at the moment is the quixotic campaign of the head of the Transhumanist Party, Zoltan Istvan, for president of the United States. He is a philosophy and religious studies graduate of Columbia University and has worked as a journalist for the National Geographic Channel.

Mr Istvan has been running a blog on the Huffington Post for a while about his campaign which aims to make the platform of his party more plausible. In the latest post he defines transhumanism as “the radical field of science that aims to turn humans into, for lack of a better word, gods”. So while transhumanism is resolutely atheistic, it has religious aspirations.

And unlike Richard Dawkins and other militant atheists, Istvan argues that our responsibility is to transcend evolution. He writes: “the human body is a mediocre vessel for our actual possibilities in this material universe. Our biology severely limits us. As a species we are far from finished and therefore unacceptable… Biology is for beasts, not future transhumanists.”

It’s a curious development. While many prominent scientific thinkers want to abolish God and treat man as one beast amongst many, transhumanists want to abolish evolution and recreate God (or gods). 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.