How to become the engineers of our own evolution

March 20, 2012 | Source: Smithsonian Magazine

Fringe TV show intro (Credit: Warner Bros)

Adherents of “transhumanism” — a movement that seeks to transform Homo sapiens through tools like gene manipulation, “smart drugs” and nanomedicine — hail developments such as prototype bionic eyes and printed tracheas as evidence that we are becoming the engineers of our own evolution.

Transhumanists say we are morally obligated to help the human race transcend its biological limits; those who disagree are sometimes called Bio-Luddites. “The human quest has always been to ward off death and do everything in our power to keep living,” says Natasha Vita-More, chairwoman of Humanity+, the world’s largest trans­humanist organization, with nearly 6,000 members.

While some transhumanists believe that technological change will be gradually incorporated into ordinary life, others anticipate the arrival of the Singularity, when exponentially smarter machines transform our world in unknowable ways. Some transhumanists believe that the only humans able to adapt will be those who have become cyborgs and merged their minds with intelligent machines.

Some worry about the implications of transcendent technologies. Political scientist Francis Fukuyama, author of  The End of History? and a former member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, warns that efforts to rid ourselves of negative emotions could have unforeseen side effects, making us less human. “If we weren’t violent and aggressive, we wouldn’t be able to defend ourselves,” he wrote in Foreign Policy. “If we never felt jealousy, we would also never feel love.”

More on Transhumanism:

Humanity+ Magazine
Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET)