Source: Playground Magazine
Date: 2014 (forthcoming)

1. What is transhumanism?

Transhumanists believe we should use technology to overcome our biological limitations. Used wisely, technology can deliver a "triple S" civilisation - a future of superintelligence, superlongevity and superhappiness. Yet pitfalls abound. Transhumanists take the risk of dystopian outcomes extremely seriously.

2. What progress has been made recently?

Smart software can already outperform humans at everything from chess-playing ("Deep Blue") to medical diagnosis (IBM's "Watson"). Lifespan can be extended in "animal models" by inducing mutations that inhibit critical molecules involved in insulin signaling (IIS) and the nutrient signaling pathway Target of Rapamycin (TOR). And in biotechnology, the CRISPR gene-editing revolution heralds an era when rapid self-editing of your own genome can become the norm. Rapid genome self-editing promises radical enhancement options not just for our children and grandchildren but our future selves.

3. With all the scientific advances (in medicine, nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics...), is not science embarking on the path of transhumanism, even without using that word?

Some kinds of technological determinism are plausible. If the transhumanist agenda involved swimming against the tide of history, then our prospects of success would be bleak. But just because a technology is theoretically feasible, this doesn't mean it will be used - or used wisely. For example, consider lab-grown in vitro meat. Tissue scientists will soon be able to replicate the taste and texture and flesh from butchered animals in the laboratory. But only if we recognise the moral urgency of getting rid of the horrors of factory farming will we promote its commercialisation and the global adoption of cruelty-free diet. Transhumanists support the use of technical solutions to ethical problems.

4. Some people say scientific progress could bring destruction to humanity. What do you think about this possibility?

Transhumanists study many kinds of existential and global catastrophic risk. Thus Nick Bostrom has helped turn the study of existential risk from populist doom-mongering into a rigorous academic discipline. Some of the risks studied are quite exotic. For example, the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI) focus on the risk of an uncontrolled nonbiological "intelligence explosion" leading to an ultra-intelligent artificial general intelligence (AGI). MIRI speculate that the behaviour of this AGI may well be inimical to human interests.

For what it's worth, I think humanity will disappear over the course of the next few centuries for a more benign reason. Decoding the genome allows us to change human nature. Humans can recursively self-edit our own genetic source code and bootstrap our way to full-spectrum superintelligence. On this scenario, mankind's successors will also be our AI-augmented biological descendants.

5. Many people are against genetic manipulation. What is your response?

Understandably, most people are wary of genetic engineering, especially germ-line interventions. Not least, the spectre of coercive eugenics hangs over the whole debate, especially in Europe. But recall the World Health Organisation's definition of health: "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Complete physical, mental and social well-being is literally impossible so long as humans create children "naturally" via today's genetic crapshoot rather than use preimplantation genetic screening. If we are to phase out the miseries of depression, the ravages of ageing, and more generally the biology of involuntary suffering of any kind, then systematic genetic remediation is unavoidable. The roots of suffering lie deep in our genetic code. Evolution did not design humans to be happy.

6. What will humans look like in the future?

Transhumanists believe in "morphological freedom", i.e. the right of anyone to the gender, body form and body image they desire. Some extraordinarily exotic body-choices may be anticipated - in virtual reality and the traditional "meat world" alike. For the foreseeable future, however, I suspect most of us will pick body-designs expressive of the cultural norms of ideal beauty adaptive for our ancestors on the African savannah.

7. What is the Hedonistic Imperative?

The Hedonistic Imperative (1995) outlines how to use biotechnology to abolish suffering throughout the living world. Within the next few centuries, experience below "hedonic zero" can be abolished in humans and nonhuman animals alike. It's not a new idea. "May all that hath life be delivered from suffering" said Gautama Buddha. What's different is the way twenty-first century biotechnology can turn utopian dreaming into practical reality. In principle, we can recalibrate the hedonic treadmill and enjoy gradients of lifelong bliss orders of magnitude richer than the "peak experiences" of archaic humans. Genetic engineering can allow intelligent agents to choose their own hedonic range - its upper and lower bounds, and normal hedonic set-point. In addition, genetic enhancement can enrich our motivation, our compassion and empathetic understanding, and widen our range of cognitive and perceptual capacities. More radically, biotechnology can phase out the savageries of "Nature, red in tooth and claw". We can engineer compassionate ecosystems in their place. In principle, advanced technology can underwrite the well-being of all sentient life in our forward light-cone.

8. What is BTLC Research?

BLTC was founded in 1995 to promote what we christened "paradise engineering": life based on gradients of intelligent bliss. Radical reward pathway enhancements promise to deliver lifelong happiness beyond the bounds of normal human experience. One of the beauties of hedonic recalibration is that an exalted hedonic set-point doesn't entail giving up cherished values and preferences in favour of anyone else's - or conforming to someone else's conception of the ideal society. Nor is Use of hedonic enrichment technology a plea for getting indiscriminately "blissed out" or "drugged up". Rather hedonic recalibration guarantees that whatever your conception of the good life, the reality will be indescribably better.

David Pearce
March 2014
more interviews 1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 5 : 6 : 7 : 8 : 9 : 10 : 11 : 12 : 13

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