By James Spencer for THE CHRISTIAN POST
Before Keanu Reeves was Neo, he was Johnny. The film “The Matrix” (1999) focused on humanity’s subjugation by artificial intelligence (AI). The movie Johnny Mnemonic (1995) portrays a society in which humans voluntarily opt in to “biotech” enhancements. While AI is far from approximating the sort of embodied sentience necessary to enslave humanity, we are currently adopting “biotech” enhancements “to improve the human condition” by “overcoming human vulnerabilities and injustices.”
Transhumanism is not simply about humans integrating devices into our bodies, though there is a growing subculture experimenting with biohacking by embedding magnets, RFID chips, or LED lights underneath their skin. According to “The Transhumanist Manifesto,” “the transhuman is a continuous human evolution” which involves “a confluence of organic human, technological advances in AI, nanomedicine, and gene therapies that mitigate disease, the devices and prosthetics and enhance biology that appends biology, and an awareness of personal identity, as a transformative, telematic, and expanded agency that expand through new tech-communication systems.”
Philosopher Nick Bostrom notes that transhumanism is “more than just an abstract belief that we are about to transcend our biological limitations by means of technology; it is also an attempt to re-evaluate the entire human predicament as traditionally conceived.” Bostrom goes on to note, “We must emphasize that what we should strive for is not technology instead of humanity, but technology for humanity.” While I appreciate Bostrom’s sentiment that technology be “for” rather than “instead of” humanity, it does raise questions about the human ends these means are intended to achieve. Without a clear vision of what it means to be human in the first place, it is difficult to believe we will arrive at a desirable end no matter what means we employ.
The question of ends was implicit in a debate on transhumanism held earlier this year. During the debate, columnist Mary Harrington suggests that “trying to re-engineer our physiology — our nature, if you will — in the interest of freedom, progress, or whatever” may result in a utopia that “arrives asymmetrically, depending on where you sit in the socioeconomic hierarchy.” If the end is some ambiguous utopia, it will be more utopian for some than for others. To some degree, the gap in experience, according to Harrington, will involve the commoditization of human beings because “you can’t have transhumanism without throwing out humanism.”
The asymmetrical utopian end won’t change simply because we have new technology. There will still be a drive to use one’s God-given gifts to one’s own advantage in a transhumanist utopia. Yet, it is unfair to judge transhumanism by postulating the ongoing presence of problems and bad actors.
So, how should Christians think about transhumanism? Setting aside speculation about some technological mark of the beast or about the various ways integrating technological devices with our bodies could be detrimental, it seems to me that the more basic concern is related to the tenets of the philosophy itself. For instance, in The Philosophy of Transhumanism, philosopher and transhumanist Max More…