Inclusive prosperity builds on a positive and benevolent idea of man. But do we really uphold such a good-natured way of thinking about mankind if transhumanism paves its way into the elites?
In June the Swiss Daily “Neue Züricher Zeitung” (NZZ) published the Anti-Transhumanist Manifesto that I completed together with a number of colleagues holding professorships in such diverse academic disciplines as psychology, business informatics, philosophy, architecture and theology. My stance has been supported from around the world for bringing the topic to the fore: that a select group of positivistic scientists are promoting an idea of man that is not only false, but also incredibly dangerous in times of accelerating technological advance.
What is Transhumanism?
As the term suggests Transhumanism is a way of thinking about ourselves; a thinking that is marked by the aspiration to go beyond the nature we are born with and “trans”cend our species. At first sight this sounds encouraging. Transcending something is often necessary to develop and flourish. Unfortunately, by our very nature, this transcending is not always easy. We are born unique; gifted and cursed with a given mix of talents and shortcomings, which our life asks us to develop and work on. Transcending ourselves means “Know thyself”!; a message that puts great hope into understanding and developing our individual humanity.
Transhumanistsdon’t have this benevolent faith and patience with humanity. For Transhumanists, normal human beings are just “resources”, “preference bundles”, “DAUs” (Dumbest Assumabe User) “wetware”; a kind of unpredictable, suboptimal, irrational and mortal , loquid mass that draws its justification and existence from its brain. This suboptimal species must now be enhanced with technology and drugs or what Ray Kurzweil calls the “GNR Revolution” (Genetics, Nanotechnology and Robotics).
In the Manifesto we describe Transhumanists’ bizarre idea of man as follows: “Transhumanism is a negative perspective on human nature coupled with a techno-scientific vision of how we should improve. This perspective is best recognized by a superstitious belief in science as saviour and a distanced contempt for our human nature: our fragility, our mortality, our sentience, our self-awareness, and our embodied sense of ‘who’ we are (as distinct from a ‘what’).”
Left to Transhumanists, inclusive prosperty could end up nudging suboptimal humanity into techno-dependency; similar to what Aldous Huxley described in his ‘Brave New World’, a dystopia where a nicely ordered society of genetically categorized humans suffer a controlled life.
Why we should care about Transhumanists and their idea of man??
I used to allow some people to get away with their personal madness. Free speech appeared a higher value. And if transhumanists lack what Heidegger would have called “being in the world”, so be it. But unfortunately, Transhumanism has turned into a kind of ideology that benefits from huge economic backing, unpredictably dangerous power and infiltrates academic institutions, funding bodies, politics and media to an extent where they threaten to marginalize other views. Due to major donations, transhumanists are associated with highly respected universities; a placement that allows them to promote their crazy ideas of ‘super-intelligence’, ‘singularity’, ‘cyborgs’, ‘rational calculability of life’, ‘transcendence of humanity’, etc. as “scientific” or even “ethical”.
If they don’t get into the ivy-leagues directly, they simply build their own university and think-tanks: such as the Singularity University in Silicon Valley that churns out a class of well-funded brainwashed entrepreneurs each year to build the technologies needed for the Transhumanistic vision. And from there governments and institutions (such as the United Nations) are influenced to embrace this technology-driven vision of our future. Increasingly the media abounds as well with transhumanistic messages: Films embed explanations on how we humans are information processing machines (Westworld, Ex Machina), how we could enhance ourselves (Luci) and advertisers promote crippled humans (called “cyborgs”) as something to strive for.
Such public attention of course comes with money. And for an outsider these money sources are easy to spot by just asking what industries are benefiting from transhumanistic visions. Naturally, this are the IT and the pharma industries. For the money makers it would be so cool to have chips in every single human body, to sell implants and sensor infrastructure, surveying all of these chipped humans, robots to look after them (keep them in check) and Artificial Intelligence to suggest to them on how to behave. Just imagine the data processing capacity one could sell – databases, networked infrastructure, and Internet technology that would need to be installed everywhere! Not to mention the energy-drugs, anti-depressives, gene-tests, gene-manipulation, etc. A gigantic money-making machine is in the starting blocks with Transhumanism.
It is this vicious mix of money, interests and power coupled with a graceless ideology that worries me most. And for this reason I think society must have a debate on the phenomenon of Transhumanism. Politicians and university heads must become aware of transhumanism and learn to discern scientists from ideologists. We should ask whether all this money we channel into transhumanistic ideologies of cyborg-humans would not better serve humanity if it was invested in the quest for social, economic and spiritual wellbeing of the people as they are: beautiful and strong beings with many potentials currently stultified, waiting to be realised.
Transhumanism stands at the split of humanity
Being an economist, I still hope for the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith. That is, I expect that all the exaggerated tech-promises of Transhumanists will be soon discredited. There is no more security with a chip and no true protection against death or illness. Already the number of people who Transhumanists contemptuously call “bio-conservatives” are rising. The number of people who bring some spirituality and mindfulness into their lives is increasing and they will be the ones who are hopefully capable of distinguishing false promises.
Transhumanists base their understanding of nature on a positivist and simplistic, model-driven, conceptual and analytic perspective of reality. As a scientist I know that such models – despite their usefulness, elegance and rigor – lack one crucial essence: a truly holistic, and hence realistic grasp of our complex reality. From an academic perspective, I am very hopeful that disillusionment with this agenda will set in soon.
I only have one fear: that many people are starting to unlearn how to consciously control their attention. Many are constantly distracted by their IT devices and are being lulled into postmodern and virtual micro-world clusters.. For many of them this kind of tech-dependent – indeed transhumanistic – life-style is comforting, convenient and easy. It gives them positive feedback. Alexa and Siri will soon tell them what is right and wrong and where to get the next implant. No matter how limited these AIs really might be from a technological perspective; they will be good enough to draw many humans into their sphere of influence. Humanity might split into the few that are able to control their attention and ‘be in the world’ unfolding their potential and driving growth and the many that are dependent on something digital We may end up wth a world about as far from inclusive prosperity and growth that we could get, all of our own making.
About the author:
Sarah Spiekermann is Professor for business informatics and chairs the Institute for Management Information Systems at Vienna University of Economics and Business. She is author of the book “Ethical IT Innovation: A Value-based System Design Approach”.