Banner
    The Problems With Transhumanism
    By Massimo Pigliucci | July 7th 2009 12:54 PM | 73 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Massimo

    Massimo Pigliucci is Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York.

    His research focuses on the structure of evolutionary

    ...

    View Massimo's Profile
    I have pondered writing about the transhumanism movement for a while, and the opportunity has finally landed on my desktop when I read a brief article by Kyle Munkittrick of the Institute for Emerging Ethics&Technologies. The article is in the form of a FAQ expressly addressing the question of whether aging is a moral good, and in it Munkittrick briefly explains and (thinks that he) refutes some of the standard arguments against transhumanism. Let’s take a look.

    To begin with, what is transhumanism? It is a type of futurist philosophy aimed at transforming the human species by means of biotechnologies. Transhumanists think of disease, aging and even death as both undesirable and unnecessary, and think that technology will eventually overcome them all. I must confess that — despite being a scientist always fascinated by new technologies (hey, I am writing this on a MacBook Pro, I carry an iPhone with me at all times, and I read books on the Kindle!) — I have always been skeptical of utopias of any kind, not excluding the technological variety. Which is why I am using Munkittrick’s short essay as a way to clarify my own thoughts about transhumanism.

    Munkittrick begins his own response to critics of transhumanism by stating that if anyone has a problem with technology addressing the issues of disease, aging and death then “by this logic no medical intervention or care should be allowed after the age of 30.” This, of course, is a classic logical fallacy known as a false dichotomy. Munkittrick would like his readers to take one of two stands: either no technological improvement of our lives at all, or accept whatever technology can do for you. But this is rather silly, as there are plenty of other, more reasonable, intermediate positions.


    It is perfectly legitimate to pick and choose which technologies we want (I vote against the atomic bomb, for instance, but in favor of nuclear energy, if it can be pursued in an environmentally sound way). Moreover, it is perfectly acceptable — indeed necessary — for individuals and society to have a thorough discussion about what limits are or are not acceptable when it comes to the ethical issues raised by the use of technologies (for instance, I do not wish to be kept artificially alive at all costs in case of irreparable damage to my brain, even if it is technologically feasible; moreover, I think it immoral that people are too often forced to spend huge amounts of money for “health care” during the last few weeks or months of their lives).

    Munkittrick continues: “Transhumanists are trying to escape aging — and its inevitable symptom, death — because we actually acknowledge it for what it is: a horror.” Well, I personally agree with the general sentiment. As Woody Allen famously put it, I don’t want to be immortal through my work, I want to be immortal through not dying. But to construe death as a “symptom” to the disease of aging is far fetched, and biologically absurd. Aging and death are natural end results of the lives of multicellular organisms, and in a deep sense they are the inevitable outcome of the principles of thermodynamics (which means that we can tinker and delay them, but not avoid them).

    There are several problems with the pursuit of immortality, one of which is particularly obvious. If we all live (much, much) longer, we all consume more resources and have more children, leading to even more overpopulation and environmental degradation. Of course, techno-optimists the world over have a ready answer for this: more technology. To quote Munkittrick again: “Malthus didn’t understand that technology improves at an exponential rate, so even though unaided food production is arithmetic, the second Agricultural Revolution allowed us to feed more people by an order of magnitude.”


    Yes, and how do we explain that more people than ever are starving across the world? Technology does not indefinitelyimprove exponentially, and it must at some point or another crash against the limits imposed by a finite world. We simply don’t have space, water and other prime materials to feed a forever exponentially increasing population. Arguably, it is precisely technology that created the problem of overpopulation, as the original agricultural revolution (the one that happened a few thousand years ago) lead to cycles of boom and bust and to the rapid spread of disease in crowded cities.

    This may be an acceptable tradeoff (I certainly don’t wish to go back to a hunter-gatherer society), but it does show that technology is not an unqualified good.

    Yet, the transhumanist optimist can’t be stopped. Here is more from Munkittrick: “One of the key goals of transhumanism is to get the most advanced and useful technology to developing countries, allowing them to skip industrialization (and the pollution/waste associated) and go straight into late capitalist, post-industrial society, where population growth is negative and mortality rates extremely low.” Besides the fact that with the current global economic meltdown a late capitalist society doesn’t really sound that appealing, do we have any evidence that this is happening, or even possible?


    The current examples of such transition come from countries like India, China, and Brazil, and those don’t look at all encouraging, as the result seems to be increasing economic disparity and massive amounts of additional pollution. How exactly are transhumanists planning on skipping industrialization?

    As for post-industrial societies having negative population growth, this is true of only a very few countries, and certainly not of one of the most massively polluting of them all, the United States. It is true that birth rates are dramatically lower in post-industrial countries in general, but this is the result of education not technology per se. It happens when women realize that they can spend their lives doing something other than being perennial baby factories.


    Despite this, the world population is still going up, and environmental quality is still dropping dramatically. Technology can surely help us, but it is also (perhaps mostly) a matter of ethical choices: the problem will be seriously addressed only when people abandon the naive and rather dangerous idea that technology can solve all our problems, so that we can continue to indulge in whatever excesses we like.

    One last point: Munkittrick depicts what he thinks is an idyllic scenario of people living to 150 (this may not be possible without significant alterations of the human genome, which of course raises additional questions of both feasibility and ethics). He says that “any technology that would extend life beyond the current average of 70-100 would do so by retarding aging as a whole, that is, the degradation that begins to occur after about age 27.


    Maturation would occur at the same rate, peaking between 22 and 26 depending on the person, but after that preventative medicine and repair techniques would slow aging, resulting in a much longer “prime” age, say extending youthful adulthood (what we think of now as 20’s and 30’s) well into the 50’s and perhaps 60’s. Because these techniques will be far from perfect, aging will still occur to some degree. Like youthful adulthood, middle-age would presumably begin much later and last much longer. So lets say a person reaches genuine old age at 100, with all the problems that reduce one from ‘thriving’ to surviving, leaving them 50 years of old age instead of 20 or 10.”

    Hmm, I like the first part (extending my prime through my ‘60s), but the latter one seems ghastly. Both from a personal and a societal perspective, fifty years of old age are a hefty price to pay, and one that would be psychologically devastating and further bankrupt our resources. Now if we could consider euthanasia for the really old, non-functional and suffering people... but that’s another discussion.

    I do not wish to leave the reader with the impression that I am a Luddite, far from it. But I do think that techno-optimists the world over really ought to fantasize less and pay much more attention to the complexities not just of the logistics, but particularly of the ethics implied by their dreams. Better and longer lives are certainly a worthy goal (though I personally would put the emphasis on quality rather than quantity), but this doesn’t license a mad pursuit for immortality. Besides, true immortality (the ultimate goal if you think of death as a “symptom”) must be unbearable for any sentient being: imagine having so much time on your hands that eventually there will be nothing new for you to do.


    You would be forced to play the same games, or watch the same movies, or take the same vacation, over and over and over and over. Or you might kill time by reading articles like the one by Munkittrick literally an infinite number of times.

    Hell may be other people, as Sartre said, but at least at the moment we don’t have to live in Hell forever.

    Comments

    Gerhard Adam
    It seems that the one problem no one ever mentions regarding human immortality (or increased old age), is that it is death that creates the value we associate with life.  Without it, where is the motivation and the energy to act and commit?  Does anyone really believe that the average individual relishes an additional 30 or 40 years of work?

    However, this begs an even bigger question, which is the role of making such technologies available to EVERYONE.  This is rarely discussed, because we already know that such a technology would be exploited by the wealthy, and (I suspect) there are plenty of bio-tech scientists that are fantasizing about becoming filthy rich at the prospect.  However, what is the ethics of having the technology to do such a thing, and yet making it contingent on one's ability to pay?  If there is a technology that can save someone's life, do we have a moral obligation to make it available, or does it hinge solely on one's ability to pay?

    In addition, we need to consider how much resource should be committed to any individual by society.  Is it reasonable to demand that society exploit EVERY option to prolong someone's life, or is there a diminishing returns scenario that can work?

    These questions need to be answered when we look at new technology because while it may be helpful, it cannot be used for good when it can be selectively applied by whoever holds the power.  Once we know how to do something, I believe we have a moral obligation to help others.  If we don't know how to do it, then it becomes the "course of nature".  It is this distinction that we don't explore before we commit ourselves down an irrevocable path that may create far more problems than it can ever solve. 

    This has traditionally been the role of the gods or good/bad luck.  Whatever happened to an individual was outside of human control.  However, when humans know how to control it, how does it become anything other than tyranny of one person over another?
    Mundus vult decipi
    @Gerhard Adam:

    It seems that the one problem no one ever mentions regarding human immortality (or increased old age), is that it is death that creates the value we associate with life.

    Are you sure than no one mentions it? I'm fairly convinced of the opposite: almost everyone mentions it. It's a cached thought, an idea that people repeat without having thought it through for themselves. You would truly choose to drop dead at an arbitrary age, rather than continue to pursue your life's goals?

    “Such is human nature, that if we were all hit on the head with a baseball bat once a week, philosophers would soon discover many amazing benefits of being hit on the head with a baseball bat: It toughens us, renders us less fearful of lesser pains, makes bat-free days all the sweeter. But if people are not currently being hit with baseball bats, they will not volunteer for it.” — Eliezer Yudkowsky, "The Meaning That Immortality Gives to Life"

    Gerhard Adam
    Are you sure than no one mentions it?
    You're right.  I should've qualified that by saying that the advocates of immortality seem to perpetually overlook it.
    You would truly choose to drop dead at an arbitrary age, rather than continue to pursue your life's goals?
    Your point here is irrelevant since there is no technology, nor will there be any technology that will solve that problem.  You might as well wish to be Superman, as all the difference the point regarding immortality holds.

    As for pursuing my life's goals ... what do you think I'm doing?  I can tell you that the ability and desire to pursue one's goals has little to do with human lifespan. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Your point here is irrelevant since there is no technology, nor will there be any technology that will solve that problem. You might as well wish to be Superman, as all the difference the point regarding immortality holds.

    Doesn't it seem arrogant to you, to say "I personally can't see a way to do it, therefore no human being will ever figure it out"? Are you really, truly saying that no amount of medical advancement, no degree of genetic engineering, could possibly permit people to live for 500 years of able-bodied adulthood instead of 50 years? That seems rather similar to the pronouncement of Lord Kelvin that "[h]eavier than air flying machines [were] impossible", written a mere 8 years before the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, especially in light of the current mouse research on the genetic implications of calorie restriction.

    And if you admit that 500 year delay of old age is possible, but not an unbounded one, you still admit the need to discuss the implications of immortality in society: a tenfold increase in adult lifespan would throw our society into chaos just as much as immortality would, because it would break the assumptions our society is built on. (Just imagine the healthy, able-bodied adults living on social security checks!)

    Gerhard Adam
    Doesn't it seem arrogant to you, to say "I personally can't see a way to do it, therefore no human being will ever figure it out"?
    No it doesn't seem arrogant, any more than saying that you will never fly by flapping your arms.  Your comparison to flight has no relationship to something like this.  A little common sense by Lord Kelvin would've recognized that "heavier than air" birds were already flying, so it wasn't some phenomenon for which there weren't already common examples.
    Just imagine the healthy, able-bodied adults living on social security checks!
    I'm assuming that you don't mean this in some positive way, but rather as an indication of just how disruptive such an event would be. 

    However, I can say quite comfortably that there won't be a 10-fold increase in human life-span.  Part of the fantasy comes from the erroneous belief that modern technology has already increased human life spans (which it hasn't).   So, despite the enthusiasm of those looking for increased longevity, I am quite confident that there will be no major changes in the foreseeable future.  While I certainly can't know what the future holds, I am still quite confident in making the prediction that such a 10-fold increase will never occur (regardless of how much some will try).
    Mundus vult decipi
    Great piece, but your weren't being extremely optimistic so of course your a luddite from a transhumanist point of view ;)

    There is many points that need to be publicly debated all over the transhumanist movement, and I hope write ups like this will encourage more questions. It is unclear, at least to me how the entire event will unravel, but without our active participation I believe we have less of a chance to bring about a positive singularity.

    Much to be explored.

    (particleion)

    Massimo Pigliucci as usual you and Gerhard Adam make me think. The long life idea is very similar to what David Webber describes in his Honor Harrington space opera Science Fiction novels. If lives are extended to 150 years, social ideas and economic conditions would be turned upside down. The accumulation of wealth would be longer and possibly in fewer hands. Think about politics in America, would we want Senators Lugar and Byrd in congress for over 100 years? Would "progressive" ideas wane because of a multitude of octogenarians as the power stucture?

    Presently the conditions on Earth would not warrant such expansion of human life. The Earth may be able to sustain 6.5 billion people, but could it sustain 10billion without the complete collapse of ecosystems?

    All Massimo is doing is repeating what he learned as a good liberal. We all must die so the Earth can flourish without pollution, etc. Saying technology cannot indefinnitely improve exponentially is another of those false dichotomies he warned us against; certainly nothing can improve exponentially indefinitely, but there's plenty of improving still to be done. Likewise, the entropy argument might be effective in 5 billion years when all the stars are cooling, but until then we can provide for ourselves. And even the United Nations admits that population will continue increasing - until 2050 at 9 billion, when it will then decrease to 6 billion by 2100. Should we kill the last billion or so in 2050 just so we can feel better?
    The truth about increased longevity is that anyone can at any time take themselves out of the game; it's just the thought that somebody else somewhere may be having fun that drives them crazy.

    Hank
    Massimo isn't just a good liberal, he's a great one.   He is an arrogant, New York, godless, card-carrying progressive in academia, which is a perfect storm of caricatures for opponents.   But so what?  This comment smacks of an insult waiting for a target, i.e., it feels vaguely out of place.

    Massimo is no Luddite, as he says.  He is, after all, writing about transhumanism.  On the Internet.   What he is saying is what this good conservative agrees with; relying on future magic bullet science (the same science too many Republicans say isn't worth a darn) to cure problems we can lessen today is not practical.  It's the kind of head-in-the-sand approach my fellow conservatives say we cannot take toward militant dictators so it is odd when they say we can take it about anything in the environment.
    Gerhard Adam
    ...until 2050 at 9 billion, when it will then decrease to 6 billion by 2100. Should we kill the last billion or so in 2050 just so we can feel better?
    I'm not sure when I've heard anything sillier, as if reducing the world's population by 50% is just something one does over a lazy afternoon.
    Mundus vult decipi
    LauraHult
    I get bored very easily, so an extended lifespan would probably not be in my best interest.
    You are over simplificating what is transhumanism. It is not only immortalism. How about changing humanity to end violence and war? Ofcourse you can find lot of practical problems because these technicks are only emerging they do not exist allready.

    Gerhard Adam
    How about changing humanity to end violence and war?
    How about it?  You don't really think that is in the realm of possibility, do you?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Yes I do. Psychopathology is very much genetick. Ending wars is "never ending" dream but fighting crime with genetics is possible. Technics are not available but violence is more easy to influence than length of human life.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090605123237.htm
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090121093343.htm

    The real problem is how to implement genetick control in population scale. Old fashioned eugenics used to deny right to reproduce or by killing "lesser" people in the Nazi death camps. These are inhumane ways to try achieve something humane. Virus vector could be technically possible. What kind of gene therapy it would be suitable is another problem. Legistlation that reguires certain genetick imprint if people want to have genetically prooved children.

    Biotech revolution is coming anyway. We need open discussion what threats and possibilities there are. This is the main concept of transhumanism. Not the super optimism of immortality, but try to open a conversation how these technicks could really improve individuals, societies and humanity in general. Propably the first application to these technics is genetick therapy to cancer and then mental ilnesses. We know more about genetics of mental ilnesses than genetics of violence (I think. I´m not scientist). It is obvious that the rich will get most of the benefits of these technics in the first. It was the same with cars. They were luxury at first but now poor people sleep in the car if they got nothing else.

    Obviously Adolf Hitler allready tried something like this. His view in genetics were only wrong. He thought that schizophreny and depression are caused by few alleles. But because schizophreny is caused by myriad of genetick changes it's bossible that he would have never succeed to make mental problems disappear. Fortunately he lost the war, because his ways were horrible anyway!

    BTW.
    Most transhumanist today are politically humanist or libertarian, not fascist, socialist or conservative.

    LauraHult
    Psychopathology is very much genetick.
    Question:  If an individual is born with genes predisposing him or her to alcoholism yet never once takes a drink of alcohol, is that person an alcoholic?

    BTW, talk to Justice Ginsberg about controlling undesirable populations.
    Hank
    The telling thing about her comments was not that she believed what she said, but she believed that the people behind the abortion argument believed it.  She's as much a partisan politico as anyone and kookier than most.  Let's hope the new justice is not likewise as socially agenda biased as her detractors are painting her.
    abortion argument?

    Sorry I fell of. Can you try to say it other words. I didnt understand the point.

    Sorry n' thanks!

    Hank
    Ginsburg's NY Times interview:   "Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion."

    Yes, a Supreme Court justice linked abortion and eugenics.  Fortunately, the NY Times is so partisan they didn't even realize they had a story in that quote and most of American media don't think it's a story until the Times tells them it is.
    LauraHult
    Hank has done a very good job answering your question about Ginsberg.  But you did not answer my original question.  Since you feel that psychopathology is mostly genetic in origin, I will re-word it.

    If an individual is genetically predisposed to say schizophrenia, but never develops the disorder, is that person nevertheless a schizophrenic?

    This is an extremely important question, because with future genotyping, not only will insurance companies be able to exclude individuals from coverage, but we will be pigeon-holed, classified, categorized by our genes.  We will not be able to rise above them, so to speak.
    Winston Smith
    If an individual is genetically predisposed to say schizophrenia, but never develops the disorder, is that person nevertheless a schizophrenic? No. I didn't say so. If there's a gene that every schizophrenic has and it increases risk lets say about 9 times. Assume that in the near future we can supress it with gene therapy. Lets say that risk to schizophreny would be after the therapy 1,5. Is it worth the risk to you? What risks do you see in that? Is there really some kind of ethical guestion in this example? Another guestion. If you would have a choice would you have children with MAOA gene 'low-activity 3-repeat allele,' known as a Warrior Gene. Or with 'high-activity 3-repeat allele'. If I had a choice I would go for high activity allele without guestion. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090605123237.htm Third. I did answer to you guestion. Unfortunately I didn't use the reply form. I answered in a new comment form. Now I'm Registered.
    LauraHult

    Nice to meet you, Winston.  :)

    Your original statement was, "Psychopathology is very much genetick".  My position is that that psychopathology is both a product of genetics and circumstances.  By asking if someone with a gene for schizophrenia could be classified as a schizophrenic even though the individual never displayed any symptomology, I was attempting to demonstrate that phenotype is most important - not the genotype.

    As far as ethical considerations of genetic treatments, there have been and will continue to be individuals who get tired of fighting the disorder and commit suicide.  I'm sure those individuals would welcome an opportunity to be free from schizophrenia.  The choice must be left to the individual.

    If you would have a choice would you have children with MAOA gene 'low-activity 3-repeat allele,' known as a Warrior Gene. Or with 'high-activity 3-repeat allele'. If I had a choice I would go for high activity allele without guestion.

    Again, I do not believe the issue to be purely genetic.  Nature + nurture are involved in the creation of an individual with conduct disorder, as referenced in the following paper:  http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/163/6/1019

    As far as genetically manipulating our children to avoid the developmental disorder, no - I am not in favor of it.  The allele exists for a reason.  Perhaps individuals with a greater interest in self-preservation have the low-activity allele.  Until we know more, I think it risky to engage in such manipulation.

    Winston Smith
    Hello Laura! "Again, I do not believe the issue to be purely genetic." I don't believe either. But we have different kind of psychotherapies. Why don't we have genetherapies when they are mature technology. "Until we know more, I think it risky to engage in such manipulation." Same here. Not until we know more. What kind of conditions we would like to make to genetherapies that could be used to mental illnesses? I'm pretty open minded about this, but obviously it they should alter human personality as little as possible. The way they work should be well known so there's no possibility to try to manipulate or to gain control over the patient by these treatments. Allso they should affect the cause of the illnes itself not the symptoms.
    LauraHult
    What kind of conditions we would like to make to genetherapies that could be used to mental illnesses?
    Probably something to do with quality of life &/or degree of disability.  However, the individual (or parents/guardians) must be allowed to make the decision.  It must not be forced on anyone. 

    Are you familiar with the Ritalin fiasco and children being diagnosed as ADHD by their school teachers?  Teachers would then get someone to prescribe Ritalin - and then inform the parents.  Some parents complained that their children were behaving like zombies.  I haven't kept up on the issue, so don't know the end result.
    Winston Smith
    "Are you familiar with the Ritalin fiasco" No I'm not. Can you give me links or something? When did this happen? Thanks!
    LauraHult
    Here are 2 quick references for you, Winston:

    Medicine Goes to School: Teachers as Sickness Brokers for ADHD
    http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030182

    Who First Suggests the Diagnosis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder?
    http://www.annfammed.org/cgi/content/abstract/1/3/171
    "Most transhumanist today are politically humanist or libertarian, not fascist, socialist or conservative."

    How long will the Transhumanist goals remain humanistic/libertarian once the gene manipulations become a commodity or a government/institutional dispensation?

    I do think Kyle Munkittrick is kind of dork and extrermist. Here's better view of common transhumanist for you:
    http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/print/119/

    Okay, how about this from the UN:
    "Thus, whereas the number of persons aged 60 or over is expected to
    triple, that of persons aged 80 or over (the oldest-old) is projected to increase nearly five-fold,
    from 88 million in 2005 to 402 million in 2050."
    Now, do you want those people sitting in nursing homes drooling while younger people have to look after them, or would you like them out, healthy and working?
    What people miss in dismissing the life-extension movement is the tremendous loss of knowledge that occurs every time someone dies. Humans have advanced because ways were developed to preserve the knowledge of previous generations - first storytelling and then writing. But only a tiny part of what each person knows is ever written down, and only a few people write books. Think of how quickly we would advance if that knowledge stayed around in people's heads because they didn't die.

    LauraHult
    Now, do you want those people sitting in nursing homes drooling while
    younger people have to look after them, or would you like them out,
    healthy and working?

    There is a third choice you forgot - withholding all but palliative care for the elderly.  It's in the works and appears to be the current favorite, which makes this discussion academic.
    I find the loss of knowledge an odd argument for Transhumanism. A loss of knowledge with a death is not going to be changed by extending a lifespan.

    Presently Transhumanism is a naive futuristic philosophy and goal, which will move out of the Sci-Fi writing into reality. Extended lifespan is just one of the goals. Do we want gene manipulation to be developed to create Homo Sapiens Sapiens Supersapiens? I don't think it could hurt anyone to read F. Fukuyama and his criticisms of Transhumanism.

    "Presently Transhumanism is a naive futuristic philosophy and goal..."

    No. These technicks to manipualte human genome and society that way are koming anyway. When they are ready theres always markets to them. If they are illegal in US rich will go somewhere where it's not. That's true about abortions today.

    Transhumanism is not something transhumanist are driving to. Transhumanism is something our science, technology and business is heading anyway. You missed the point. Transhumanist want to open discussion about ethics of these new technologies before they ememrge.

    Good example is nuclear power. When it was "young" people didn't really think about the risks. Nuclear power is now one of the safest energy forms but it has negative image due the reclessnes in the pioneering days and because the Chernobyl accident.

    Are these ethics going to be humanistick and liberal WHEN these technicks to manipulate humans and humanity? We are going to face thi one day or another. It doesnt matter are we transhumanist or not. Sooner we start to think etchicks for these applications the better. Armies of the world are interrested of super soldiers anyway. Rich are going to spend their money to loger their lives anyway. Fascistick and authoritarian movements are going to use these technock when they are available to them.

    The REAL guestion is how much individual and humanity itself is going to gain from these technicks?

    If we don't start political campaign (transhumanism) to use these technicks for mankinds sake were are going to end up Rosswellian 1984 society.

    Listen it's not transhumanist idealists or mad scientist who are going to make these things happen. It's your MIT students, Nobelists, top scientist, economy and businesses. Get serious!

    I am serious, I stand by my previous statements.

    But I am curious, are you using the pop-babble language of the transhumanist movement?

    Winston Smith
    I've been transhumanist almost 20 years. I found out that there's a term transhumanism about 5 -7 years ago. So I have innoculation against average transhumanist jargon. Doesn't mean that I'm right. I just rather talk about GM and information technology than immortalism and singularity. Former are very real today and the latter are human imagination. When I was a kid we used to play games on the C64. Now my sellphone has more CPU power than C64. Futurism is inherently property of our time. For me transhumanism isn't futurism. It's about living this day and trying to understand the world we are allready living.
    When I graduated High School punch card computers were the high technology. It was surprising that books I read as a teenager (and earlier) are considered transhumanist. Van Voght's "Slan", with main character Jommy Cross and the tendrils for esp communication. Smith's "Highways in Hiding" didn't make the list but still fits the bill. Might as well toss in Capek's "War With The Newts". Novels of future hopes and fears. I digress

    I come from a period in our world history that lived in the aftermath of Nazi Germany and Stalinistic Russia. Social engineering has taught us lessons that should not be ignored in the realm of genetic engineering. I have my doubts that private firms and foundations will be benign and equitable on who these new technologies will be bestowed upon. Futurism is an aspiration of all dreamers, but how well are we in protecting the present with the endangered list for animals which is growing?

    Winston Smith glad to meet you. Has 1984 come and gone?

    Winston Smith
    I have to admit to my shame that I've read 1984 only halfway. As a kid I didn't read scifi, but I read science magazines. I like Stanislaw Lem and Isaac Asimov the most but I'm not that literate in scifi. NIce to meet all of you. I've never had a really serious talk about transhumanism.
    Winston Smith
    "Social engineering has taught us lessons that should not be ignored in the realm of genetic engineering. I have my doubts that private firms and foundations will be benign and equitable on who these new technologies will be bestowed upon." Because private sector don't have intrest to preserve environment, we have environmentel laws. When they have these technologies to sell they will sell to best bidder. So without legistlation and somekind fo government intervention these technologies will escape public. What kind of legistlation these technologies reguire and what kind of society is ready to this? I believe that we need democratick society where legistlation or legistlators are ready to ethical guestions of human enhancements or GM. If these technics just emerge out of nothing they will easily fall in the hands of the few.
    Legislation is only part of the answer. How do you get all governments and corporations to agree to the same ethics and policies for these new technologies? look at North Korea would they maintain high standards and adherence to said rules, especially when they have shown new tech is more important than the feeding of their own people? Transhumanism may develop into the new arms race, that is why I stated there is presently a naivete that guides the community presently.

    Winston Smith
    "How do you get all governments and corporations to agree to the same ethics and policies for these new technologies?" This is hard guestion. You are right about that transhumanist are babling about singularity, immortalism and all the rest techno utopian topics instead of thinking what we really want from technology anyway. There's lot of social, political and practical problems that transhumanist should try to solve first. In the end we are not politically coherent movement.
    Gerhard Adam
    The problem is that these problems can't be solved (and likely won't ever be).  Humans are social animals whose identity is tied up with the social groups they associate with.  They will consider themselves based on nationality, race, religion, sex, etc. and are distrustful of those that are not part of the groups they identify with.

    While they can learn to live peacefully between these groups, they will never bridge the "trust" gap that exists until humans can identify with some sort of overriding "global social group" which I don't believe is possible.
    Mundus vult decipi
    LauraHult
    I come from a period in our world history that lived in the aftermath of Nazi Germany and Stalinistic Russia.
    And I grew up with The Bomb.  Remember air-raid drills at school?  Bomb shelters?  No wonder my generation is nuts.
    Social engineering has taught us lessons that should not be ignored in the realm of genetic engineering. I have my doubts that private firms and foundations will be benign and equitable on who these new technologies will be bestowed upon. Futurism is an aspiration of all dreamers, but how well are we in protecting the present with the endangered list for animals which is growing?
    Very well said, but we will only have two very lousy choices in the matter:  1.  Leave it to corporations and capitalism or, 2.  Let our super-efficient and agenda-driven government handle it.  We are progressing much too quickly, and without even defining as basic a concept as what constitutes LIFE. 

    How will we treat AIs?  How about augmented humans?  Will we relegate them to servitude, or accept them as equals?  Given human nature, I'll bet on the former.
    Winston Smith
    "1. Leave it to corporations and capitalism or, 2. Let our super-efficient and agenda-driven government handle it." I have hard time to think wich of these choises I'm promoting as transhumanist. I think that first choice have to include the latter also. "How will we treat AIs? How about augmented humans? Will we relegate them to servitude, or accept them as equals?" These are important "transhumanist topics" that public should also made aware of. My oppinion is that AI's and enhanced humans etc. need human rights kind of right of their own. If they are feeling and thinking beings we must take them serious. Their psychology and reactions to environment can be remarkably different from human. So we can't just say that AI has right to education, work and to reproduce...
    Gerhard Adam
    At the risk of sounding trite, fictional stories like Stephen King's Pet Sematary are specifically intended to show the kinds of problems that occur when people have the power and then act solely on their emotions.  It is not simply a quaint saying that "absolute power corrupts absolutely". 

    Ironically we all know this and it seems that much of the discussions seems to be unconvincingly optimistic, or sort of a "whistling by the graveyard" kind of approach that suggests no one wants to say that such knowledge is simply wrong.
    Mundus vult decipi
    LauraHult
    These are important "transhumanist topics" that public should also made aware of. My oppinion is that AI's and enhanced humans etc. need human rights kind of right of their own. If they are feeling and thinking beings we must take them serious. Their psychology and reactions to environment can be remarkably different from human. So we can't just say that AI has right to education, work and to reproduce...

    But wait, if we are going to play god (nod to Gerhard), we need to act like a god.  The choices are malevolence, benevolence, or indifference.

    If the collective "we" would behave as we've thus comported ourselves - greedy, egocentric, warlike, and uncompassionate - we will build for ourselves a slave race.

    If we would behave indifferently, demonstrated by not providing education, jobs and training, or conveying human-like rights, etc., again we would have another subclass of repressed individuals.  Only this time they would develop a direction on their own without any guidance.  Possibly quite disastrously.

    However, if we would behave compassionately and treat these individuals as good parents should, things might work out favorably.  There are too many variables to consider at the moment, and we as homo sapiens haven't even evolved out of our juvenile delinquency.  How can we possibly take on a god-like role? 

    "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should."
    Gerhard Adam
    Without invoking religion, let me just say that we cannot play with "god-like" powers and then shy away from "god-like" decisions.  There are some things that we simply shouldn't know because we can't handle them.
    Mundus vult decipi
    "Question: If an individual is born with genes predisposing him or her to alcoholism yet never once takes a drink of alcohol, is that person an alcoholic?"

    No. I didn't say so....
    Im not about killing people or aborting fetuses. Abortion is old technology and hardly anykind biotechnology. Transhumanism is about these new technics that are on their way.

    Question: If we know what genes make people pedophile and we have safe technick to remove these genes from the population, is it worth it?

    Yes. I say...

    Gerhard Adam

    I'm sorry but I do not and will never believe in utopian dreams.  Humanity for good or ill has evolved to become the organism that it has, and it will have to live and/or adapt to the choices that it makes.

    To suggest that science can somehow manipulate and/or modify human beings to become "better", is one of the most horrific things I can think of.  There is no individual on the entire planet that I would trust sufficiently to believe that they know what's best for me or anyone else.  The mere notion of trying to stifle violence genetically would be the doom of humanity.  It would lead to the worst type of totalitarianism that one could imagine.

    I, for one, do not live my life in fear, and it annoys me when people think they can overcome their own fears by manipulating others (especially with the aid of science and the law).

    Also, the notion of 80 year olds in the workplace is simply ridiculous.  The fact that it could happen shows how poorly this has been thought out.  We have a society that is seeking to reduce the number of people it takes to produce goods while increasing its population out of control.  This is the epitome of foolishness and the problem being described shows just how badly we manage old-age.  Turning them into 80-year smiling McDonald's workers isn't going to be a solution.

    The only thing that doesn't make me hopelessly pessimissitic about this, is that humans have generally failed miserably in such attempts and I am confident that they will do so again.  There is no ethics when it comes to being able to manipulate and control others. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    LauraHult
    Turning them into 80-year smiling McDonald's workers isn't going to be a solution.
    Oh, I don't know, Gerhard.  If they can do the job - why not?  My 77 year-old father was just made curator of an aviation museum, and I'm thrilled for him.
    Winston Smith
    "I'm sorry but I do not and will never believe in utopian dreams. " For me transhumanism isn't utopianism. I dont believe it fixes everything. Democrazy didn't fix everything. Human right's don't fix everything. Capitalism isn't perfect it's just best economic model we have. To me transhumanism is the next best thing to try make world better for us all. "Humanity for good or ill has evolved to become the organism that it has, and it will have to live and/or adapt to the choices that it makes." If that was true it could be used in any murder case in the court. And I think trasnhumanism is adaptation to the modern world. Humanity was adated to the hunter gatherer world. Evolution works slowly. "To suggest that science can somehow manipulate and/or modify human beings to become "better", is one of the most horrific things I can think of. There is no individual on the entire planet that I would trust sufficiently to believe that they know what's best for me or anyone else. " How about yourself? Transhumanist want human enhancements to be available to everyone. If human enhancements are made to illegall they are available only to rich and military... "The mere notion of trying to stifle violence genetically would be the doom of humanity. It would lead to the worst type of totalitarianism that one could imagine." I can see the risks allso. It's just that modern society has done everything it can to stop violence. Giving 100 or 200 years more time in the prison from murder isn't just going to make difference anymore. I don't agree with you in this thing, but I can't say anything really good right now. So I try come back to this guestion later. "I, for one, do not live my life in fear, and it annoys me when people think they can overcome their own fears by manipulating others (especially with the aid of science and the law)." So there should be no speed limits in the highway? Because you are not affraid and you don't want someone to use laws to impose his fears upon you. This is't a good argument. You could use it against anything like US FDA, nuclear weapons proliferation treatment, war against terrorism, SALT II etc. BTW I don't live in fear allso. You said that modifying human genome would lead to worstkind of totalitarianism possible. How's that not fear? I live in hope. Hope that someday there's something better than what we have today. "Also, the notion of 80 year olds in the workplace is simply ridiculous. " I don't want to reply to this. Its not my dream I'm not immortalist. I'm not singularist either. Tranhumanism isn't homogenous politically left or right straight forward movement. Its myriad of rediculous, practical or allready achieved dreams of better world because of science. "Turning them into 80-year smiling McDonald's workers isn't going to be a solution." You are right. But can you say the same about Steven Hawking? A lot of his career has been hard only because he can't move. Prolonging human life is a matter of medical science not transhumanist movement. Where common sense ends and utopianism starts is the real guestion. There's more common sense in transhumanism than you are aware of. "The only thing that doesn't make me hopelessly pessimissitic about this, is that humans have generally failed miserably in such attempts and I am confident that they will do so again. " Yes we have failed attempts to fly and Air France went crashing to sea last month. But we have been to moon and we are going to go to mars anyway. If you dont want to see human enhancement coming stop making science. Go to MIT campus and rally: no more labs coats! Listen someday human enhancements of somekind are here like it or not. It's just do you wanna leave them to rich and the military only? "There is no ethics when it comes to being able to manipulate and control others. " Human rights, democrazy, Geneva convention, international laws, what are these? Yes we can make law and enforce it. Internationally, nationally or by state. Ok. Once again. As a transhumanist I wan't to star open converstion about ethics of these emerging tehcnlogies. Because I can't stop them neither can you. We got three basic options: 1. Human enhancements and GM is forbidden in the publick. They are made classified by similar law to nuclear weapons, they are "born secrets". How ever the top of the richest have acces to these. They are available secrectly if you have enough money for example in Russia, China or India. Military and intelligenses of the world powers use these secrectly. Fascist, violent movements and weird religious cults try constantly to get their hands to these technics. 2. Children who have difficulties to learn have special treatment. Somekind of brain boosters are available to publick but they are inspected ny FDA like all the rest medicines. There's pills that reduce violence of repaeted offenders. If you wan't test tube children you can check that their not only overall healthy but intelligent and talneted the way you want. Coverment reguires that genes that increase risk to violence are supressed, removed or manipulated. Artificiall prosthesis can be operated by thought. There are some dorks that remove their healthy limbs to have artificial prothesis. Chips can be put to brain and used as interface to computer, compute mathematics, increase photographick memory and to operate differen machines like sellphone, military airplane or sports car. Everything that has to be done fast, without hands or that reguires lot of small things to account. Brain chips are available to public who can pay. Their quality is going up and price coming down. Militaries have some technology that is not available to public because of national security. 3. Unwanted parts of society are monitored by chips that are implanted unvoluntary to people. Technology allows early responce to individuals that cause trouble or oppose status quo. Most of the masses live their life more comfortably than ever because their needs are anticipated and regulated. They are manipulated to really feel that everything is ok, but thtey don't have anything in their life that we wouldn't have allready. Army is groving reserv of super soldiers that are highly violent, helthy, fast, endurable, reliable, have high strategick intelligence but don't feel fear or compassion I claim that only scenario 2 is transhumanism. Scenario 3 is something we allready know as fascism. I believe that scenario 1 would lead over time directly to scenario 3. I see that you don't really make difference about scenario 2 and 3. Allso you think that we can live scenario 1 forever. One more time. These technologies are becoming mature not because transhumanist zealots but because of people like Massimo Pigliucci. Not because what they say and believe but because they are allready into bio-, information-, space- and cocnitive science revolution. If you don't want these things, then stop making science. Otherwise you should start to think what kind of legistlation these technologies reguire. What good we can get out of these technologies. What you want your covernment to do with these technologies when it has them. Thanks, comment please.
    LauraHult
    But can you say the same about Steven Hawking? A lot of his career has been hard only because he can't move.

    Winston, Hawking has himself stated that without having acquired ALS, he would never have thrown himself into Cosmology.   For him (and ultimately us), the disease has been a boon.  A quick genetic fix for him would have stolen from us one of the greatest modern minds.
    Winston Smith
    At present Hawkings condition is so severe that he hs troubles in writing him self. I don't believe that he would have been less intelloigent without the disease but I understand that his graphical - mathematical aproach to black holes wouldn't been so well developed. Or maby he would have chosen different subject to his life work.
    Gerhard Adam
    To me transhumanism is the next best thing to try make world better for us all.
    I'm sorry, but I feel that transhumanism ranks right up there with nuclear war.  It will be the greatest disaster to befall humanity if it should ever come to happen.
    Transhumanist want human enhancements to be available to everyone. If human enhancements are made to illegall they are available only to rich and military...
    Once again, this is simply a horror and I don't trust ANYONE with it.  We've already seen the gross abuses that occur with in-vitro fertilization (which is no where close to the technology you're talking about).  Human mothers having litters of children, people being able to artifically have children after the original adult is dead (grandparents having children from using a dead son or daughter's sperm/egg). 

    This breeds a sense of entitlement that will only get worse.  When genetics can manipulate talent or brain potential, then people will rush to do that.  People are fundamentally fickle and irrational when presented with such options.  We already have parents that are pushing kids far too hard simply because of their own perceptions of the "competitive" world they live in.  What a horror if those parents suddenly had the means for genetic manipulation.
    It's just that modern society has done everything it can to stop violence.
    Violence is easy to stop.  People just have to avoid committing violence.  If they won't stop voluntarily, then stopping it genetically is doing it against their will.  It doesn't get much easier than this, and we have failed miserably to get a handle on it.
    Human rights, democrazy, Geneva convention, international laws, what are these? Yes we can make law and enforce it. Internationally, nationally or by state.

    No we can't.  Such laws are determined by those with the power of enforcement.  If the U.S. says that the Geneva convention doesn't apply, then who's going to challenge it?   If other countries torture or violate human rights, but their allies still support them, who's going to change things?  The world is still at a standstill over Darfur, so I'm a bit skeptical about any action being proposed to legislate something like transhumanism.

    Whether we like it or not every technology can be exploited for good or evil, however science is getting closer and closer to having to take moral positions than it ever has before.  If they simply walk away and act as if they have no responsibility, then it will truly become disastrous.  This literally has the potential to be a real Pandora's Box.  If we simply proceed because it's "inevitable" then we can't be shocked once the demons are released.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Winston Smith
    "Whether we like it or not every technology can be exploited for good or evil, however science is getting closer and closer to having to take moral positions than it ever has before. If they simply walk away and act as if they have no responsibility, then it will truly become disastrous. This literally has the potential to be a real Pandora's Box. If we simply proceed because it's "inevitable" then we can't be shocked once the demons are released." Ok. Now you are hitting the nail hard. Only I think that public or the moral majority has responsibility to understand finally what the science is, how it's madeand what we are capable. In the end we are going to shape our future hard. Having these technologies and somehow keeping them in the box is big decision also and involves many institutes and laws.
    Gerhard Adam
    We cannot venture into science and act like children.  We discovered with nuclear energy, that the theories can extend into real, serious destructive powers.  The ability for complete annihilation is the level of science we're capable of tapping into now, so we can't simply assume that science is benign and leave it up to some politicians or leaders to decide what's best.

    For people that think that we'll develop the technology to do it properly, consider whether you see any nuclear fusion plants providing power?  Consider we didn't have any problem using nuclear fusion to blow something up 55 years ago, but the beneficial uses are a tad more difficult to bring under control.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Winston Smith
    "We cannot venture into science and act like children." We need tranhumanist and people that oppose transhumanism, but we don't need people that are ignorant about science or think that human enhancements are irrelevant guestions in our life. Though at first they will be irrelevant. I dont see big ethical guestion conserning enhancements that improve human vision above our biological limits. But as you said decisions involving human genome in the population scale are perilous.
    Gerhard Adam
    I would be too.  But I would be concerned if the future of humanity was being planned by people thinking that having a workforce in their 80's and 90's was an ideal they should strive for.
    Mundus vult decipi
    ugh... this article comes off as slightly misinformed, poorly drawn conclusions.. and not fully thought through. You really don't see to understand what you're talking about, or at least, you're not giving it complete thought.
    Maybe it's because I guess I'm somewhat of a Transhumanist, myself. But every point I came across in this article could be easily countered. Future technologies will find a way, and from what we know right now, NONE of your conclusions are set in stone, there is simply no possible way you could know those things, as if they are fact.

    Transhumanists know that natural evolution by itself, is not going to progress any further. Survival of the Fittest doesn't apply to us anymore. If we are to better ourselves, which is necessary if we are to advance as a species, overcome our problems, and move out into space.
    And it's not about becoming immortal or living forever... It's about ending accidental/unintentional death and aging. No one wants to take away your choice to die, we just want to MAKE it your choice, which it's not right now.
    (And you never should have brought up the law of thermodynamics, against living longer, it doesn't apply here, unless you are referring to the point trillions of years in the future where all matter in the universe breaks down. lol)

    Gerhard Adam
    Talk about not thinking things through.

    Transhumanists KNOW that natural evolution is not going to progress further?

    Transhumanists KNOW that "Survival of the Fittest" no longer applies to humans?

    Transhumanists KNOW what "bettering oneself" even means?

    You want to make death a choice, by eliminating accidental and unintentional death and aging?

    Ambitious are we?  Transhumanists can't even figure out how to feed a billion starving people when the resources are already there. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    LauraHult
    Transhumanists KNOW that "Survival of the Fittest" no longer applies to humans?
    Ha!  Just look at politicians and Wall Street.  The power and money grabs are gross obscenities, and they don't even try to hide their objectives or couch things in more socially palatable terms. 
    You want to make death a choice, by eliminating accidental and unintentional death and aging?  Ambitious are we?  Transhumanists can't even figure out how to feed a billion starving people when the resources are already there.
    Excellent point, Gerhard! 
    "Transhumanists can't even figure out how to feed a billion starving people when the resources are already there."

    That makes no more sense than saying you're not allowed to go to college until every other human on Earth has finished high school, and even worse, it's your responsibility to put them all through high school. And why would it be the duty of transhumanists to feed people as opposed to everyone else? Can I seize your personal computer to help feed them, because a personal computer is not essential to survival?

    Look - some people live to be 110 years old, some die in their teens, and most die in their 70s and 80s in developed countries. Can I not survive until 111 until every human lives to that age everywhere? Should we decide that "average" is the limit and shoot every American male over 78 and every female over 84? Is the fact that I survived longer than a classmate killed in his own car accident 40 years ago my fault? Would killing me somehow make him feel better?

    Of course, there is a way that the hunger of a billion people can be blamed on people who want to live longer. If we hadn't figured out how to live as long as we do today, there wouldn't be a billion people on Earth at all!

    Gerhard Adam
    There's a big difference though.  You don't have to figure any of this stuff out if you let things progress as they are.  However, transhumanists are insisting that research be devoted to their "vision" of immortality and intelligence augmentation, despite the fact that there is absolutely no science that makes it possible.

    Also, what is it with you guys and wanting to shoot everyone over a certain age.  Letting biology run its course isn't the same as euthanasia.  Why is it that just because no one is as hyped up about immortality, it automatically means that we want executions?

    What you are being "blamed" for and questioned about, is the unbridled enthusiasm with which you want to advance a new technology that threatens to be more divisive and ethically challenging than anything the human race has ever faced.  Yet, you haven't contributed one thought towards solving the problems that exist now to advance to that philosophical position.

    That's what you're being called to task for.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Winston Smith
    "However, transhumanists are insisting that research be devoted to their "vision" of immortality and intelligence augmentation, despite the fact that there is absolutely no science that makes it possible." Where you have been last 40 years? Science that stydies these things is called biotechnology. The applications are not ready and their maturing will take decades. But there absolutely IS science to make these things possible. "Also, what is it with you guys and wanting to shoot everyone over a certain age." Duh? You guys? I'm transhumanist, not fascist or communist, I don't want to shoot anybody. Where did you get this? "Letting biology run its course isn't the same as euthanasia." Is for those who medicall science could help. "Why is it that just because no one is as hyped up about immortality, it automatically means that we want executions?" 1. I'm transhumanist and I'm not immortalist. Do you get it? 2. If medical science could help people live 50 years more than today, what ethical reason you think you (personally) could have to deny it from those want to live longer life? It's not yours to chose who get to live and who has to die, because "nature" says so... "What you are being "blamed" for and questioned about, is the unbridled enthusiasm" I don't have such enthusiasm. Thank you! Ad Hominen in the BIG scale. Stay in the issue. "Yet, you haven't contributed one thought towards solving the problems that exist now to advance to that philosophical position." The original article was on the site of Institute for Emerging Ethics&Technologies. And you think WE are the ones that don't think through the ethics of technology? Gerhard you are really uninformed about transhumanism. "That's what you're being called to task for." No buddy, that's what we are calling you lot into!
    Gerhard Adam
    Why are you responding to a post to a previous poster?  If you read the whole thread then perhaps I won't need to explain the reference to "shooting", etc.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Winston Smith
    If you use plural like "transhumanists" or "you guys" I think you do. And this have been problem in this discussion all the time. You really think that transhumanists are one single minded group devoted to one and only truth and that theres only one correct transhumanism. And I didn't really want explanations anyway. Rather correct you. Ok, I admit my "Duh? You guys? I'm transhumanist, not fascist or communist, I don't want to shoot anybody. Where did you get this?" wasn't in the right place. Anyway the previous poster wasn't going to shoot anybody no more than me. It was just example or thought experience. So were did you get that "we guys" want to kill? Because that's how I understod your sentence.
    Gerhard Adam
    When someone clearly equates biological death with a desire to arbitrarily shoot people when they reach the average old age, it is either representing a desire to kill or simply stupid.  I gave him the benefit of the doubt and didn't call him stupid.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Winston Smith
    There isn't biological death. There's natural death, death by disease, violent death and accidental death. We can cure diseases and avoid accidents. Why shouldn't we also do the same to natural death? Reason? Death is death. There's no reason why one way of dying is unlegal to avoid and another should be avoided at all costs. Hence the shooting example. Yeah maeby he was dumb, because he couldn't explain himself more accurate and correct the example.
    Gerhard Adam
    We can cure diseases and avoid accidents. Why shouldn't we also do the same to natural death? Reason?
    See, that's where I have the problem.  When did we figure out how to cure all diseases and avoid accidents, so that our only point of focus now is old-age?  In too many cases, the transhumanist argument wants to jump over the clear obstacles that represent our current state of knowledge, and engage in discussions that ignore the reality of the world and the present state of science.

    In effect, even the name "transhumanist" suggests a specific agenda, instead of simply accepting the natural evolution (including technological) of human society.  Everyone knows that knowledge will progress and that humans will continue to change over time, however the specific point raised in the transhumanist discussions is that of conquering old age (immortality), eliminating biological constraints and augmented intelligence.  Whether such objectives can ever be attained is certainly open for debate, but if one follows the transhumanist argument (especially that espoused by Kurzweil), this is supposedly going to occur within the next few decades. 

    The annoying part is that such radical changes present unparalleled difficulties ranging from sociological, psychological, to technical.  However, instead of presenting a reasonable argument as to how these issues should be addressed, there are nothing but platitudes about how wonderful life will be when we have all of eternity to learn all the subjects we can't be bothered to learn right now.  No need to work, no accidents, no death, no disease, no sickness, no competition, no evil, no violence, etc. etc. ad nauseum. 

    That is the unbridled optimism that I was referring to, because if such technology were truly available and within the grasp of humanity, then it's something that needs to be seriously pondered and thought about, because the problems this would create could be far worse than any they solve.  Instead when the issues are raised the typical response sounds like it's coming from one of the Smurfs.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Winston Smith
    "See, that's where I have the problem. When did we figure out how to cure all diseases and avoid accidents..." Never heard, you tell me. "...so that our only point of focus now is old-age?" Only? Science is dynamic process. No basic research and you have no practical /technological science. If we don't study diseases we won't have knowledge to end agening. I don't think we can point our focus only to diseases, only to cancer or only to old-age. A lot of study of agening is done in the alzhaimer / dementia research. "In too many cases, the transhumanist argument wants to jump over the clear obstacles that represent our current state of knowledge..." That's what it looks like to those who are not transhumanists. It doesn't mean that you have to be ignorant about the state of science to be transhumanist. I think it is opposite. I don't believe in singularity. Computers and processors are made by many people. Singularity can't rise when machine intelligence is creater than intelligence of one person. It has to be greater than intelligence of hundreds of persons, it has to be capable to make science, it has to own and control industry and cpu production lines and it's speed of intelligence increase is proportional to speed of these production lines. Also it's not a single coputer or program. It's myriad of different AI's. It's not Matrix... "...and engage in discussions that ignore the reality of the world and the present state of science." Well becouse state of the science is what it is, trashumanist today are forced to concntrate on philosophy of technology. By definition it ignores current state of science, but it tries to catch ongoing trends and realistic possibilities of tomorrows technology. No time machines, perpetual motion machines or zero point energy. "In effect, even the name "transhumanist" suggests a specific agenda..." That is correct! Only there are tens of transhumanist agendas. I'm not singuritarian nor immortalist. Doesn't make me any less transhumanist. "...however the specific point raised in the transhumanist discussions is that of conquering old age (immortality), eliminating biological constraints and augmented intelligence... ...but if one follows the transhumanist argument (especially that espoused by Kurzweil), this is supposedly going to occur within the next few decades." And there's a lot more like him, I know. I admit that there's problems with the movement and over optimism is one. I don't accept that these are the problems of transhumanist philosophy. I think it's more like attitude problems of many of the people. "The annoying part is that such radical changes present unparalleled difficulties ranging from sociological, psychological, to technical. " Once again true. Hence the need for insitutes for ethics of technology and actual public debate on these issues. "However, instead of presenting a reasonable argument as to how these issues should be addressed..." Yes that is real problem of the movement. On the other hand we are opening the discussion to how these possibilities and risks should be managed. "That is the unbridled optimism that I was referring to, because if such technology were truly available and within the grasp of humanity, then it's something that needs to be seriously pondered and thought about, because the problems this would create could be far worse than any they solve." Again I think you are right. But that doesn't change the fact that I'm transhumanist and I can't see that this argumet against the transhumanist philosophy. I think that these are going to be real issues in the future and that they are taken seriously only when the problems are very real. It's the same with climate change or DDT. I don't think transhumanist is synonymous to problem denier. I don't have faith, I have hope. I hope that we are able to improve our condition and our technology can halp us solve some of our social problems. It.s optimism, but not blind faith. I think you gave pretty good answer. I had to think over and over before answering. Thanks.
    (1) Even a complete removal of aging would not remove death from accidents, illness and violence. Our current life expectancy hovers around 80. Not quite a doubling of the "natural" 45 years. This is not the cause of over population. Indeed the populations with the lowest life expectancy have the highest birthrates. Further elongation of life spans will either have to also lengthen womens fertile period, or it will be physically impossible to increase the number of children each woman bears. Delaying menopause is more likely to delay the start of families than it is to increase the final total number of kids.

    (2) Starvation is occurring mainly in countries with toxic governments. It is often the result the deliberate starvation of out-groups, the restriction of access to trade or aid, or the insane removal of farmland from the people who know how to farm. It is rarely a matter of simple numbers. Reducing tech would not help. Less fertilizer, less pesticide, less trade would cause more starvation. Increasing tech, at this point the spread of what we have now to more primitive areas may not, because of local conditions, produce more food. But it is hard to see that it shouldn't even be tried.

    (3) India is a poor example to use, as it began industrialization before many options were available. Probably one of the more obvious examples of a future leap would be the use of widely distributed photovoltaic electrical generation. A country, or, say, half of Africa, which does not have money sunk in an electrical grid, may find that photovoltaics on every roof is a cost savings in rural areas.

    (4) "Environmental quality is still dropping dramatically" Where? When? In China where they are building cheap and dirty power plants rather then the best clean tech available? Here in my home in Texas, where NAFTA allows polluting diesels from Mexico to dirty the air? This is not caused by the use of new tech, but a failure to do so – as you seem to approve of. Or is it that you think the Chinese should remain at pre-industrial levels, and the internal combustion engine be outlawed?

    (5) "You would be forced to play the same games, or watch the same movies, or take the same vacation, over and over and over and over." Dude? I'm not doing that now, so why do you think longer lives will destroy all creativity in the future?

    Gerhard Adam
    Our current life expectancy hovers around 80. Not quite a doubling of the "natural" 45 years.
    That is not true.  This is the typical confusion over life span versus life expectancy.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Increases in life expectancy are strongly affected by the previous high infant mortality rate. As such it has little to do with increasing the theoretical maximum lifespan.

    But it is the best known equivalent in impact to the Transhumanist goal. Antibiotics created another leap in survival to older ages. Today we have a higher percentage of the population in their older years than is usual for any human society. The Transhumanist goals would both increase their expected further life, and improve their health. If you care to look at ongoing research, you'll find that genetics can not just extend life, but extends the youthful activity levels. Now, they've got a way to go, from genes in worms, yeast and mice, but what they've got looks useful.

    Retirement is a new concept. Those fortunate enough to live to decrepitude generally lived with their families. No one planned on twenty years of golfing and cruises after they'd quit work forever.

    What will people do, reaching independent financial security with an even longer span of healthy life ahead of them? Go back to college? Start that business they always wanted? Or just keep on in the career they enjoy? Mind you, many people don't or can't save up that sort of money.

    But rather than worry about the plight of the 110 year old still doing (and able to do) rough carpentry, consider the horror of politicians who never get voted out. Social stagnation is my main concern.

    Gerhard Adam
    ...consider the horror of politicians who never get voted out...
    Politicians are the least of it.  Consider how many job opportunities will cease to exist because people don't retire or get promoted.  While everyone seems focused on extending life, it seems few are concerned with the problem this presents to those just entering it.  I can imagine nothing more disturbing than entering a world where all the niches are already filled by those that no longer feel compelled to vacate them to make room.

    That is the doom of the transhumanist viewpoint.  It is based on supporting those that "had their turn" and don't want to allow newcomers in.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Since the sole unit of decision making is the individual and reproductive success the only "good" recognized by nature...
    That statement is simply gibberish. 
    When our basic brain and nervous system was developed, the average life span was 15 yrs max.  "Long-term" has no place in the mammal and human brain.
    That statement is simply nonsense.
    Bleak?  Realistic?  Effectively all species go extinct.  We are just another sub-sub-species.  Nothing special.   Humility might help, but likely not.  Evolution doesn't "reward" humility anyway.  Nature doesn't really "care."   The universe is inconcerivably vast.  Othe universes likely exist.   Experiments like earth, likely abound.  Ho hum.
    "Bleak? Realistic?"  No, just exceedingly irrelevant.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Aging and death are natural end results of the lives of multicellular organisms, and in a deep sense they are the inevitable outcome of the principles of thermodynamics (which means that we can tinker and delay them, but not avoid them).

    Thermodynamics is irrelevant: we obtain energy through food, our bodies are not closed systems. This is also refuted by the existence of long lived cell cultures (cancers, obviously, but also stem cell cultures).

    Besides, true immortality (the ultimate goal if you think of death as a “symptom”) must be unbearable for any sentient being: imagine having so much time on your hands that eventually there will be nothing new for you to do.

    Any given Utopia scenario is, of course, artificial — precisely because human values are much more complicated than the author of the Utopia scenario imagines. But that doesn't mean a transhumanist world wouldn't be a much, much better place to live than our current world, as measured by our current values. I think you should read Eliezer Yudkowsky's Fun Theory sequence, even if only to digest it and criticize it. In fact, I highly suggest reading much of Yudkowsky's work if you want to get a fair sample of serious transhumanist thought (as opposed to daydreamers and wild speculators).