AL: What is the meaning of transhumanism?
DP: Transhumanists (cf. transhumanism.com) hope to create a “triple S” civilisation of (1) superlongevity, (2) superintelligence and (3) superhappiness.
Each of the three transhumanist “supers” needs unpacking.
For instance, some radical life-extensionists like Aubrey de Grey research radical anti-aging technologies, whereas other transhumanists focus on offering cryonics (or even cryothanasia) to today’s oldsters - ageing humans who will otherwise miss out on posthuman paradise.
Some transhumanists like Eliezer Yudkowsky and Nick Bostrom focus on machine superintelligence; other transhumanists like Ray Kurzweil anticipate a complete fusion of humans and our intelligent machines; and other transhumanists focus on augmenting and genetically enhancing biological humans: what I call full-spectrum superintelligence.
My own focus has been on technologies to fix the problem of suffering. The key to a (super)happy biosphere is genome reform. Biotech is a game-changer. The entire biosphere is now programmable. Blueprints exist for replacing biology of pain and suffering with a new architecture of mind: life based entirely on information-sensitive gradients of bliss. Biotech promises to extend the abolitionist project beyond humans to the rest of the animal kingdom. The biohappiness revolution will mark a major evolutionary transition in the development of life.
In short, transhumanism at its best is universalist. As enshrined in the Transhumanist Declaration (1998, 2009), transhumanists are committed to the well-being of all sentience.
AL: How people become transhumans?
DP: Humans will edit our genetic source code and upgrade our reward circuitry. Implanted neuochips will confer all the benefits of articial intelligence harnessed to genetically enhanced sentience to create full-spectrum superintelligence.
AL: Will transhumanism not lead to even greater social stratification? Not only in specific countries because poor part of society wouldn't be able to buy new technologies, but also between Global North and Global South. The case of what authors of such things like Cyberpunk or Altered Carbon are trying to warn us?
DP: Digital technology is inherently egalitarian. All the world’s cultural and educational resources will soon be accessible even to the poorest people on the planet. Dirt-cheap smartphones will be soon supplanted by ubiquitous immersive VR - immense virtual universes where you can enjoy unlimited material abundance, unlimited excitement, status and attention, and where all your dreams can come true.
I should add this digital utopia will truly be a transhuman paradise only if we recalibrate the hedonic treadmill. Natural selection didn’t design Darwinian minds to be happy. Discontent has been adaptive. “Unnatural” selection can create gradients of lifelong happiness for all sentience.
AL: What about environment? To create new technologies, we need to have resources. The mining of it often takes place in categorical ecological and labor law conditions. The same case with power energy supply. That's why, for example, the ideologists of degrowth try to convince us to reorganize the whole economy. Isn't chasing of transhumanism would just worsen the problem of our influence on the planet and societies?
DP: Ever-increasing micro-miniaturisation means that the size of supply of raw materials needed for digital technologies will progressively shrink. And the ever-increasing time people spend on social media and (soon) in immersive VR means that the adverse human effect on the physical environment should diminish too.
Yes, for sure. Where does one start?
But digital resources are effectively limitless.
AL: As a negative utilitarian, you want to end the suffering of the whole living beings on the planet. You want to end the suffering by technology - for animals, too. But isn't it dangerous? Our impact on the environment wasn't really good at all. The statistics are saying it. For example, species extinctions. Why this time would be different? Isn't we should let environment just be the environment instead of trying to beat it?
DP: First, allow me to stress one point. You needn’t be any kind of negative utilitarian to support the abolitionist project: Abolitionist.com. The impending biohappiness revolution might equally be called Buddhism (or Bentham) plus biotech. Indeed, the abolitionist project is implicit in the World Health Organisation’s strikingly transhumanist definition of health: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being” (WHO constitution, 1948). Note the “complete” - not even an allusion to information-sensitive dips.
All nations worldwide are signed up to the constitution of WHO.
Our successors will probably view pain-free life as no less natural than we (now) regard pain-free surgery.
That said, animal species and animal populations worldwide are today under threat from uncontrolled habitat destruction. By mid-century, large nonhuman terrestrial vertebrates won’t exist in the wild outside our Nature reserves.
So the bioethical question arises: what kinds of life-form do we want to exist long-term?
The level of suffering in the living world is now an adjustable parameter.
My own (minority) view is that all Darwinian life is sentient malware.
But critically, any solution to the problem of suffering must not merely be technically feasible, but also sociologically credible. So some form of compassionate conservation in the guise of a pan-species welfare state is more politically saleable - potentially, at any rate.
A pan-species welfare state might sound madly utopian. But compare the “peaceable kingdom” of Isaiah. The transhumanist vision of a civilised biosphere has ancient Biblical roots - a point worth stressing when addressing a conservative religious audience:
Paradise Engineering (pdf)
AL: Is transhumanism would make us 24/7 working machines, which a goal would be only... just working? No entertainment, art, socializing, love, etc., just being productive and effective?
DP: Automation, robotics and artificial intelligence promise unlimited leisure, not drudgery!
Naively, limitless leisure is the recipe for boredom. What will we do all day?
In practice, biotech we can replace the biology of boredom with gradients of superhuman fascination, exhilaration and wonderment.
Future life can feel profoundly significant by its very nature.
AL: Is there are any startups or scientists which are working on transhumanism at all?
DP: Scientists and start-ups working on transhumanist technologies don’t - for the most part - fly under the banner of “transhumanism”, any more than pioneering humans called themselves trans-Neanderthal. At the risk of sounding like a crude technological determinist, transhumanism is just the next stage in the evolution of life.
To end on a personal note, I’m temperamentally a pessimist. But for technical reasons, I suspect the future of life is glorious beyond human imagination:
more interviews 1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 : 8 : 9 : 10 : 11 : 12 : 13 : 14 : 15 : 16 : 17 : 18 : 19 : 20 : 21
The Wired Society
Social Media (2023)
The Good Drug Guide
Quora Answers (2023)
The Abolitionist Project
The Hedonistic Imperative
The Reproductive Revolution
The Philosophy Forum (2021)
MDMA : Utopian Pharmacology
The End of Suffering? (H+, 2010)
Critique of Huxley's Brave New World
El Bodhisattva Genómico (en español)
Humanity Plus / World Transhumanist Association
Top Five Reasons Transhumanism Can Abolish Suffering