Analysing the Transhumanist DeclarationSpeculative Design
I have gone through the individual paragraphs of the Transhumanist Declaration (last updated 2012) in an attempt to explore how they relate to the project.
1. Humanity stands to be profoundly affected by science and technology in the future. We envision the possibility of broadening human potential by overcoming aging, cognitive shortcomings, involuntary suffering, and our confinement to planet Earth.
Of course these goals are long term and very idealistic. The end goal of eliminating all human shortcomings through technology is all nice and well but the more interesting part is the getting there. What are the stepping stones between where we are now and the end goal? What of the other goals? It is interesting that transhumanism does not limit itself to bodily enhancement but has a scope broad enough to include space travel and ideas like ditching the body altogether.
2. We believe that humanity’s potential is still mostly unrealized. There are possible scenarios that lead to wonderful and exceedingly worthwhile enhanced human conditions.
So what exactly are these scenarios? This is interesting as it implies that humans are incomplete without a technological intervention. It also implies a ‘greater cause’ element to the transhumanist ideology and sets up an interesting conflict between the wish to ‘improve the human condition’ and individual personal interest, potentially touching on the issues of commercialisation and monetisation of such solutions.
3. We recognize that humanity faces serious risks, especially from the misuse of new technologies. There are possible realistic scenarios that lead to the loss of most, or even all, of what we hold valuable. Some of these scenarios are drastic, others are subtle. Although all progress is change, not all change is progress.
I like this paragraph because it ads an element of self-awareness and responsibility to the movement. All good ideas can be brought down by people mishandling them and technology carries inherent risks within it. This does help me frame the project in an interesting way though. By treating technology as a good thing with inherent risks within it that have to be accounted for and actively tackled, I can create a sense of normality within the setting of the design fiction.
4. Research effort needs to be invested into understanding these prospects. We need to carefully deliberate how best to reduce risks and expedite beneficial applications. We also need forums where people can constructively discuss what could be done and a social order where responsible decisions can be implemented.
This ties into the previous paragraph and how the issues inherent in technology are being dealt with. So what are these issues? To me this means things like misuse of the tech for harmful purposes not originally intended. This could mean weaponisation of transhuman technology, it could mean opening up security risks by creating a space where human bodies can be compromised by means previously only effective when applied to inanimate objects and technological artifacts. Hacking, for instance.
5. Reduction of risks of human extinction, and development of means for the preservation of life and health, the alleviation of grave suffering and the improvement of human foresight and wisdom, be pursued as urgent priorities and generously funded.
Straightforward, self-explanatory and idealistic. Of course this isn’t going to happen. It is far more likely that any human enhancement will be driven by commerce and market forces. I can see human augmentations taking the place of a new iPhone more vividly than existing to give people a better chance of survival. That said, in order for enhancements to not be consigned into the ‘dangerous fad’ bin the moment they are available, they need to prove a tangible and transformative force which makes life without them difficult.
6. Policy making ought to be guided by responsible and inclusive moral vision, taking seriously both opportunities and risks, respecting autonomy and individual rights, and showing solidarity with and concern for the interests and dignity of all people around the globe. We must also consider our moral responsibilities towards generations that will exist in the future.
A far more likely scenario is that these technologies (at least in the early stages) will suffer from a lack of legislative oversight and a delayed parliamentary response cause by either a lack of understanding of the technology or underlying corporate interest. A current day example is the internet and the way legislators have been consistently failing to protect the rights of its users and adapt existing laws to the new environment this has created (what I’m saying is that the Digital Millennium Act is a disgrace). The internet has been around for 30 years and yet Intellectual Property law has failed to adapt. Criminal law has failed to adapt. Surveillance and control of information are issues that are being discussed but not tackled while the use of the internet itself is increasingly irresponsible and has created vast opportunities for misuse – all the way to the point where the lack of understanding and regulation is starting to interfere with the democratic process.
7. We advocate the well-being of all sentience, including humans, non-human animals, and any future artificial intellects, modified life forms, or other intelligences to which technological and scientific advance may give rise.
This is an interesting thought, that transhumanism stands for giving rights to artificial intelligence means it is trying to expand the definitions for when questions of what constitutes humanity inevitably arise. Considering AI, humans and any post-human state that humans may eventually arrive to be on an equal level sounds absurd now but may prove a vital element in that ‘responsible use of technology’ mantra that they advocate.
8. We favor morphological freedom – the right to modify and enhance one’s body, cognition, and emotions. This freedom includes the right to use or not to use techniques and technologies to extend life, preserve the self through cryonics, uploading, and other means, and to choose further modifications and enhancements.
This one aligns with liberal ideologies more so than anything. This is important because it means that for the transhumanist movement to move forward, a liberal world order is absolutely crucial. This goes all the way down to the clash between liberal and conservative politics, as morphological freedom is something likely to be frowned upon by the more right-wing, reactionary political movements.