Transhumanism: Towards Borgification

April 12, 2010 • Posted in Emerging Technologies

Melanie Unruh, R.N., B.S.N.
Intern, The Tennessee Center for Bioethics and Culture
July 2007

“I was born human. But this was an accident of fate…” Such a quote sounds like a great opening to a science-fiction movie, but it is in fact the statement of Kevin Warwick, a professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading, England. Warwick belongs to a growing group of scientists and philosophers who consider themselves to be transhumanists. But what exactly is a transhumanist? 

The word transhuman is an abbreviation of the words “transitional human.” The concept implies that we humans are simply a transitional form along the evolutionary pathway. We are becoming something else; we are becoming posthuman. What this posthuman will look like, we don’t know. But we must now direct our evolution towards that goal. Transhumanists believe that we can enhance the human species through stem-cell research, cloning, longevity research, and computer-brain interfaces (cybernetics). They hope to cure all diseases, change human reproduction, slow or stop aging, and form a collective computer-based consciousness. If this sounds familiar, think of Star Trek’s Borg. But the transhumanist goals are also familiar because they speak to common concerns. 

The transhumanists acknowledge what we all silently believe. Humanity as we are is not ideal. We are ravaged by disease, famine, war, and selfish concerns. We desire something better. The twentieth century was the century of new philosophies for better cultures and a greater humanity. We tried to change humanity for the better, but it was also the bloodiest century of all time. So we ask “Can the transhumanist movement point humanity in a more humane direction?”

Ultimately, the transhumanist movement means the loss of the physical human body as we know it, or its total destruction as we seek immortality inside a computer. It would also mean to some degree a loss of autonomy as our mind and very being are openly connected to the rest of the world. Will this world be more human, or will we have lost the very core of what makes us human? Perhaps we ought to pause before taking that step towards borgification.