Will Superintelligent Modified Humans Cease to Be Human?

Friday, 29 August 2014 - 4:15PM
Technology
Genetic Engineering
Friday, 29 August 2014 - 4:15PM
Will Superintelligent Modified Humans Cease to Be Human?

Should transhumanism be replaced with posthumanism? Transhumanism is a broad term for the belief that humans will someday evolve beyond our current Homo sapien state, either through genetic engineering or other biological modifications that render us superintelligent and generally more advanced, or through the technological singularity (or a combination of the two, i.e. creating part-human, part-robot humanoids or downloading human consciousness into machines). In the realm of transhumanism, there has been a great deal of speculation and debate about the implications of such advances, particularly whether these beings will retain/achieve personhood, and whether they will ascribe to our current notions of ethics, particularly the notion of human life being intrinsically valuable. But in his new book, Posthuman Life, philosopher David Roden argues that transhumanism should be replaced with posthumanism, which doesn't make any assumptions about these future beings' similarity to today's humans.

 

In his summary of the book, he asserts that debate surrounding enhanced humans and the singularity assume that future superhumans will have a fundamental similarity to us: "We imagine posthumans as humans made superhumanly intelligent or resilient by future advances in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science. Many argue that these enhanced people might live better lives; others fear that tinkering with our nature will undermine our sense of our own humanity. Whoever is right, it is assumed that our technological successor will be an upgraded or degraded version of us: Human 2.0."

 

He disagrees with this assumption, as he believes that "the enhancement debate projects a human face onto an empty screen. We do not know what will happen and, not being posthuman, cannot anticipate how posthumans will assess the world."

 

As a result of this view, he claims that we cannot speak to whether posthumans will be sympathetic towards human endeavors, or whether they will be bound by conventional notions of good and evil. So he proposes that we can only discuss the issue from the perspective of a "truly speculative posthumanism." He expounds on the concept of speculative posthumanism in a 2010 paper, in which he defines it as the "claim that descendants of current humans could cease to be human by virtue of a history of technical alteration." 

 

If posthumans did cease to be humans, this would have an enormous impact on our ability to gauge whether they would be "good" or "evil," according to Roden. He writes that they may operate within a framework that is "too different to fit into the classical frame of good and evil. Our public ethical frameworks arguably presuppose that candidates for our moral regard have phenomenologies similar to humans, if only in the sentient capacities for pain, fear, or enjoyment." As a result, we would need to reevaluate all of our current ethical standards, depending on how these posthumans experienced their own subjectivity. 

Science
Artificial Intelligence
Technology
Genetic Engineering

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