2009 July 19
Barry Graham Ritchie: "Our Impending Cyborg Future: A Pause for Reflection"
Part of a session on "Transhumanism: Perils and Promises"
Any given definition of the term “transhumanism” is prone to be debatable, and the span of topics and technologies argued at one time or another to be covered by that umbrella term is quite broad. Nonetheless, much of the intense popular attention garnered by the modern transhumanism movement revolves around the most expansive hopes that have been expressed for the technological enhancement and extension of human life in hopes of moving beyond the limitations imposed by our biological makeup.
Up to (and even including) immortality, these “grand hopes” themselves long predate the transhumanist movement, of course; indeed, those hopes arguably may be fundamental manifestations of part of what it means to be human. So, perhaps only a few might choose to take issue directly with the content of those innate desires.
However, I wish to suggest, as others have, that reflections on the many hurdles to any technological realization of those grand hopes cannot help but sober the sweeping contemporary confidence espoused by some of the more optimistic proponents of transhumanism. A brief reiteration of some of the potential physical, biological, technological, and sociological obstacles to the realization of these grand hopes can lead to a less optimistic assessment of how soon that technologically-produced nirvana might arrive, if at all. Thus, while the grand hopes remain worth pondering and pursuing, the path to attaining them ultimately may not lie with technology.