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What is Transhumanism?

Updated on May 14, 2015
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The Definition of Transhumanism

Transhumanism is defined as the belief that people can and will be enhanced and made better through science, and that eventually we will be so changed as to be considered transhuman or posthuman. Transhumanists believe that through science, we will take evolution into our own hands. Science will enable us to become enhanced physically, mentally and emotionally, and allow us to evolve far beyond the limitations of our biological nature. Technology will transform us into something superior to humans – a human plus, or H+ - the symbol of transhumanism.

Man evolves past humanity
Man evolves past humanity | Source

Artificial Intelligence and The Singularity

Transhumanism is a term first used by biologist Julian Huxley (brother of author Aldous Huxley) in 1957. He defined it as “man remaining man, but transcending himself by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature”. Interest in this concept grew as artificial intelligence was explored in the 1960s. In 1965, the statistician I. J. Good predicted that machines would one day learn how to make themselves smarter. Once this happened, their knowledge would increase at such a rapid rate that an “intelligence explosion” would occur, and machine intelligence would leave human intelligence far behind. Vernor Vinge was the first one to expand on this and to coin the phrase “The Singularity”. In 1993 at a NASA sponsored symposium, he presented a paper “The Coming Technological Singularity” in which he stated that perhaps as soon as 2030 we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. In this frightening prediction, he said that shortly after this event occurs, the human era will be ended. He projected that “From the human point of view, this change will be a throwing away of all the previous rules, perhaps in the blink of an eye, an exponential runaway beyond any hope of control. Developments that before were thought might only happen in "a million years" (if ever) will likely happen in the next century”. Vinge warns of the dangers of this happening if mankind doesn't control it, stating that it could cause the extinction of human beings. However, he also envisions a way of escaping mankind's extinction, and sees a world where instead of machines surpassing mankind, humanity merges with technology, thereby becoming super-humans.

This concept was built upon by Ray Kurzweil, the author of “The Age of Spiritual Machines” - a book which discussed the enormous possibilities of Artificial Intelligence. In March of 2001 he explored The Singularity in an important paper “The Law Of Accellerating Returns”. Kurweil stated that technology advances exponentially rather than linearly. Therefore, in the next 100 years we will see advances equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today's rate. Such advances in computers would mean that machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence. Once that happens computers themselves would be in charge of advancing technology, and profound technological changes would happen so rapidly that there would be a “rupture in the fabric of human history” - The Singularity Event. Rather than allowing computers to take charge of advancing technology, Kurzweil speaks of man merging with machine, and eventually being able to download his entire consciousness into a machine, thus making him immortal.

The Singularity
The Singularity

The Transhumanist Movement Forms

As these concepts emerged, a movement was formed around this possibility that science could enhance us by giving us better bodies and minds and longer, maybe even immortal lives. The philosopher and futurist Fereidoun M. Esfandiary (known as FM-2030) wrote the book “Are You a Transhuman?: Monitoring and Stimulating Your Personal Rate of Growth in a Rapidly Changing World” in 1989. In 1990 the British philosopher Max More began to refine and clarify the concepts behind transhumanism, and he formed the first transhumanist group in California. This has since spread and become a worldwide movement. A transhumanist believes that disability, disease, and death are undesirable human conditions that could and should be alleviated by science. While supportive of science enhancing the human condition, transhumanists are also concerned with the dangers involved and with the ethical considerations.

Humanity+ , the largest transhumanist organization with over 6,000 members, states its philosopy in a quote by Max More:

“Transhumanism is a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.”

Issues Surrounding Transhumanism

Transhumanism does seem tempting. Computer science, genetics, nanotechnology, cybernetics and biotechnology all offer the possibility of greatly enhancing our human existence. Genes could be altered so that all of our children would be more intelligent, stronger, more beautiful. Physical deformities would be a thing of the past. A computer chip could be implanted directly into our brains, allowing us to tap into great resources of knowledge at any time. Nanotechnology could produce tiny robots that would target cancer cells and destroy them. Cybernetics could produce limbs that would be stronger and more capable, eyes that could not only see better but that see across great distances by zooming in like a camera. Biotechnology could produce body parts for transplant organs, and we could easily replace any diseased organs. These technologies could expand our lifetimes, perhaps keeping us young forever. But what are the dangers inherent in such a world? Would these enhancements be available only to an elite class, or would everyone be able to get them. Would those who declined getting enhancements be looked down on and become a sub-class of humans – less intelligent, weaker, uglier? If our lives were extended, perhaps indefinitely, would we become bored? Would life lose much of its value if there were no end to it? How about over-population?

Age-old philosophical and religious questions surround this issue as well. Are we merely a mass of biological tissue, or do we have souls that will survive after our bodies perish as many religions believe. What defines our humanity? How is spirituality dealt with? Perhaps we should strive to perfect ourselves as humans rather than attempting to become transhuman.

Transhumanism Video

What Do You Think?

Is Transhumanism a beneficial or dangerous movement?

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© 2012 Margaret Perrottet

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    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 2 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      I find the whole subject fascinating, although it frightens me as well. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Randy Horizon profile image

      Randy Hirneisen 2 years ago from Philadelphia

      Great article. Man merging with machines to become transhuman is a bit strange and frightening. Very interesting article.

    • samowhamo profile image

      samowhamo 3 years ago

      Mind uploading is an idea of transhumanism that I am rather skeptical about. How can we be sure that it would even work and if it did work how can we be sure that it wouldn't just be a copy of you. Some people say that just because it's a copy of you that doesn't mean that it isn't you. Well in a sense they are both right yes it is you but its not the original you. I have even heard one transhumanist say that she is a digital person seeking independence from her human and she even asks how will digital people exploring post-human worlds effect you humans. Personally I think that this whole mind uploading thing is nothing more than the nonsensical fantasy of people who are WAY to over-dependent on technology.

    • samowhamo profile image

      samowhamo 3 years ago

      Kurzweil even says that the singularity is inevitable (I don't think that's true if it were than it wouldn't be a prediction it would be a fact and yet singularity is only a theory and a guess which is exactly what a prediction is) and he even offers ways for people to prepare for it and suggests that people live his lifestyle. I think Kurzweil is to optimistic about this and not taking the possible consequences of this seriously enough or the possibility that people could panic if this actually happened (he would probably say that I am bring pessimistic well I don't think I am I think I am being smart in criticizing his ideas on this).

    • samowhamo profile image

      samowhamo 3 years ago

      In one of my previous comments I said that there are organizations that protect nature and animal life and plant life an example of this would be the UN. So realistically I don't think they would allow the Earth to be turned into a giant computer as Kurzweil says might happen. Kurzweil even says that once you understand the singularity you will agree with it (I kind of doubt that because I think most people would be put off by some of the things he talk about no matter what it might offer them).

      Also in the video it said something about a hive mind of people living in a computer. That I feel pretty sure is not going to happen because as far as I know most people don't want to live as a hive mind no matter what it may offer most people prefer individuality.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 3 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      samowhamo - I'm with you - as much as I like science and technology, I think that pushing things as far as Kurzweil and the transhumanists want is wrong and pretty frightening.

    • samowhamo profile image

      samowhamo 3 years ago

      Kurzweil believes that we will integrate with machines slowly without even knowing it with things like nanotechnology such as nanobots (which he believe will be infinitely more durable and intelligent than any microorganism) and possible nanomedicine, artificial organs, brain augmentation, cybernetics and mind uploading and that by the time singularity supposedly does happen humans will become indistinguishable from the AI's. He even predicts that sometime within this decade designer babies will be available and that humans will be able to alter their biochemistry or something like that. People who agree with him even say that the line between what is human and what is not quite human is becoming more blurred and him and his son even say that a lot of what he has talked about is real now. I hope they are wrong as much as I like science I still think these ideas are wrong.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 3 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      As I mentioned in the "Issues Surrounding Transhumanism" section of the article, if man were to merge with machines and become superior in intelligence and physical capabilities, the people who didn't choose to become transhuman would be looked down upon, and be an "inferior" species (as in the movie Gattaca). In the webisode "H+" the possibility of a computer virus wiping out those who had computer chips implanted in their brains was explored. If we lived forever, overpopulation would be a problem. I think that Kurzweil is brilliant, but I don't think that everyone shares his enthusiasm for transhumanism, so much of what he envisions may never happen. I personally think that people are better off remaining truly human and using technology only when necessary (such as the remarkable advances they are making in artificial limbs).

    • samowhamo profile image

      samowhamo 3 years ago

      If you wouldn't mind could you please name the things that could go wrong or at least some of them. And also what is your opinion on Kurzweil.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 3 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      samowhamo - That's an interesting and good point that you make concerning people actually going insane from merging with machines. There are so many things that could go wrong actually. I think that there really needs to be an ethics committee set up to carefully monitor these events.

    • samowhamo profile image

      samowhamo 3 years ago

      Thank you mperrottet. Aside from the idea of machines taking over the world and destroying humanity (which some people think is an irrational fear) I can think of a variety of other reasons why singularity is wrong. For example what if humans some how eventually go insane from this (Kurzweil said this would make us immune to physical disease but he didn't say anything about mental disease) because people miss there old live as normal humans or are repulsed by the idea of becoming part machine. I know people want to live forever and stop aging and never get sick but they are going to have to find some other way to do all of that (thankfully transhumanist's are looking into other ways of accomplishing that besides singularity). Kurzweil and his son say that they are confident that the critics have not look over this fully well I think there confidence is misplaced I think Kurzweil and his son are overly optimistic about this.

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      Margaret Perrottet 3 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      samowhamo - All of the things you mentioned are pretty scary things for most of us, so maybe they'll never come about because most of humanity will choose to remain truly human and not integrate with machines. Thanks for stopping by.

    • samowhamo profile image

      samowhamo 3 years ago

      I have never read Kurzweil's book (The Singularity Is Near) but I have read about it on Wikipedia and the predictions he makes in it. I will admit that I do find some of the things he has predicted possible and interesting but there are other things about it that scare me. Not so much the idea of machines taking over the world and exterminating humanity (even though that could be possible and even Kurzweil himself admits its possible but not likely) but the idea of the Earth and eventually pretty much everything in the universe into a giant highly efficient supercomputer. How would that effect nature or animal life or plant life I don't want a world without those things. And humans that have chosen to remain in their natural form. And how could artificial intelligence be real intelligence and how could virtual reality be real reality (Kurzweil says that artificial intelligence is real intelligence and virtual reality is a form of real reality and that we will be spending quite a bit of time in virtual reality). These ideas scare and confuse me and when I get scared I get paranoid and don't think straight.

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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      fivesenses - I was surprised how many people are actually pushing for transhumanism to happen. I think it's scary also, and although I can see the benefits of technology, I think this is pushing too far and hope that the merger with machines never happens. In my mind, there's just too much that could go wrong. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting - I appreciate it!

    • fivesenses profile image

      Leena 4 years ago from new delhi

      I thought this transhuman stuff was for movies but it might become real...scary but fascinating...great hub.

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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Brett - Didn't realize that Google glasses worked that way - sure is an example of the trend to blend technology into our bodies. You're right - the advances during the last 25 years have been astounding. Thanks so much for sharing this - I really appreciate it.

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      Brett Caulton 4 years ago from Thailand

      This was an interesting hub. With the arrival of Google glasses, connectivity has jumped another level, especially considering the sound is transmitted straight through our skulls (no speakers). If is possible this could be a reality sooner than we think, just look at the last 25 years!!

      Shared, pinned, tweeted, up and interesting.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      I didn't think about that, but you're right. Probably the only births that would be allowed would be if someone chose to die. Thanks for reading and for your insightful comment.

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      Rachael Lefler 4 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

      There would be a point that if humans could live forever, we'd also have to stop breeding.

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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      rajan jolly - Glad you found this interesting. For many transhumanists, immortality is the goal. It's odd, but as much as we fight to extend our lives now, I think that if we had the chance to live forever, that many people would tire of living and "opt out". Thanks so much for reading, voting and sharing - always appreciated.

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      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      This is extremely interesting. I just wonder with humans being literally made to order will human immortality be far off? And of course the fall out effects of humans becoming powerful and living longer on the human race in general. It seems frightening to me.

      Very interesting topic to write about. Voted up & interesting and shared.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Kalmiya - Glad you found the article interesting. What a fascinating theory about the archons, and one I'll have to look into. Thanks so much for leaving such an interesting comment. It certainly is food for thought (not for the archons, I hope).

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      Kalmiya 4 years ago from North America

      Thanks for this fascinating discussion! Am slogging through Kurzweil's 'The Singularity is Near' and also reading about/the Nag Hammadi texts (texts found in Egypt 1945) and John Lash's 'Not in His Image' (2006).

      The latter two works, though separated by 61 years, refer to the presence of 'beings' called archons, a so-called alien race that has inhabited our neck of the woods since before us. They are supposedly non-organic (hence my mental connect to transhuman-humans becoming more robotic) beings who have managed the earth/humans since we began.

      On the etheric level (and not visible to us), they supposedly feed off human negative energies. They also supposedly manage/mentally influence the powers-that-be in order to keep humans in misery to keep that food supply going.

      Recent info I've read around the web, talks about the archon species and their minions (creatures that resemble neonates, or greys) trying to find ways to control/merge with humans (we have a soul/imagination, etc. that they lack) and so the transhumanist agenda to me seems like a major step in that direction.

      However, I have never seen/felt these creatures though am only in a research phase. On the other hand, it is also pretty clear that humans are labouring under a yoke that perhaps keeps us from understanding what we really are. Personally, I think humans merging with nanotech a very dangerous course in any event. Thanks for the thought-provoking article !

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      aida-garcia - Thanks so much for the very kind feedback, and I'm glad you found the article interesting. You're right, there's not a whole lot of awareness of how fast science is actually advancing. I think that this is an issue that society will have to deal with.

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      Aida Garcia 4 years ago from Anaheim, CA 92801

      I was very intrigued by your article and was not far behind in recognizing some very positive technological advances that are not very well known among the general population. I read about it in the course of my studies at the University and those who have not reached higher education are not taught this in high schools yet. Wonderful article!

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Brandon Tart - Thanks for your very thought provoking comment. That's a very interesting concept about the collective mind actually not having an other to bounce its consciousness off of. That sounds very similar to the void that is referred to in philosophical and religious literature. To be in such a state would be a nightmare indeed. I really appreciate the thought that you've put into this, and for the votes.

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      Brandon Heath Tart 4 years ago from North Carolina Sculptor

      This Hub is on point! Love it! Voted up and useful!

      For you Netflix fans, there is a documentary named "Technocalypse" that is compelling. Kurzweil is one of the scientists who make a contribution by explaining the technology which is an evolutionary leap forward, derivative of where we currently are as a race, bound by tech growth, but still only at the bridge between the direct interface of its directives parallel to humanity and its understanding of their similarities to us. Foe one, I am fascinated by it, yet skeptical!!! VERY SKEPTICAL. My thought is that if we interface, a completely conscious collective would trap the human spirit in time. The soul, as it were, could not depart, and the true evolutionary leap would be destroyed. I believe death is to be embraced as our evolutionary high-mark, whereby we transcend time. If a human body dies attached to the collective, the mind would join the unified body, thereby leading to an eventual, if not inevitable "last man standing" that is comprised of all minds left unto its "self". It would know no "Other", and it would create no Other. I think this would be a nightmare, if not a good take on what hell must be like conceptually. A black hole, for instance, is also known as a singularity... don't know if anyone would want to go into such an absence of light, space, time and therefore -- UN-consciousness.

      Furthermore, we take it as a fact that computers, while "intelligent", are not "Self" conscious. If indeed, humans were to become bound to one, as an artificial singularity, derivative of tech that seeks to self sustain, it would see no reason to have other life forms to contribute to its effective "realness". We ARE, in so far as we experience the proverbial Other. How can we be sure then, that to interface would not bring about a cold, dark and sinister unconsciousness?

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Au fait - every day I run across more scientific discoveries that make me think that science may be advancing faster than we are able to deal with it. I just read that Intel predicted that people will get chips implanted in their heads so that they can connect to the Internet more easily. That's a bit scary. Anyhow, thanks so much for reading, commenting and voting - and sharing - always so appreciated!

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      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      An article packed full of food for thought. Science has definitely made some useful discoveries, but I think it has a very long way still to go. That isn't to say it won't it's desired destination one day or that the journey isn't worthwhile. It is. Voted up, interesting, and will share!

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      vinayak1000 - I thought the same thing when I ran across this. I was totally unaware that there was such a movement, even though I am usually up on this type of thing, and love science fiction. Thanks so much for reading and voting - I really appreciate it!

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      vinayak1000 4 years ago from Minneapolis

      Wow. This stuff is really next generation. It's the first time I am hearing about this and I thought I was such a futurist.

      Voting up and useful!

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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      sgbrown - Immortality is a little scary, and maybe not all that desirable from a religious point of view. Thanks so much for reading and voting - it's greatly appreciated.

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      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Wow! This has gone way beyond anything I have ever thought of before. It would be wonderful to have to more birth defects and cure diseases such as cancer and aids. It's a little scary to think of going beyond that to immortality. I wonder what God would think of us altering his creations to such an extent. This is very interesting and gives us a lot to think about! Voted up and more. :)

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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Peggy - I also believe in a soul, and so you wonder what would happen to it if they ever find a way to transport your mind into another body, or if they discover how to make our own bodies immortal. Thanks so much for reading and sharing!

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      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      This sounds like Dr. Spock on the Star Trec series. Some science fiction does become reality. The ethical considerations are the main questions remaining. Personally I believe that we have souls that continue on beyond this life. Who would want to live forever in this life? Interesting subject. Up, interesting and will share.

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      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      travel man1971, thanks so much for reading, commenting and especially for sharing. It's greatly appreciated. Yes, it's interesting to see so much that science fiction dealt with become reality, and we'll see much more in the years to come.

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      Ireno Alcala 4 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      I'm fond of reading fiction books when I was in high school. Most authors delved on this subject. And now, it is becoming a reality.

      A first-rate hub, voted up and shared!

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      Margaret Perrottet 5 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      chefsref - that's exactly right. It's frightening to think of what may happen if technological advances aren't closely watched. On one hand, there is so much that science has to offer, but we do need wise and thoughtful decision making to oversee these advances. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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      Lee Raynor 5 years ago from Citra Florida

      Trans-humanism is a little too close to Eugenics for my taste. Humanity has a long history of developing technology before we know how to use it. We already live in a country pervaded with genetically modified foods, all developed to increase profits. People end up being guineas pigs for businesses and hoping there are no bad results. Will we build a race of genetically modified people or stop at building cyborgs? All of our technology comes with hidden and unforeseen side effects and the future is ours to choose and develop. Lets hope wise people make good decisions because there will be no turning back

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      Margaret Perrottet 5 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Funny you should mention Oryx and Crake - that's next on my reading list. You must be a sci-fi fan as well. I just read Robop0calypse - great read where machines become smarter than man, and (of course) try to wipe mankind out. Thanks so much for commenting!

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      literatelibran 5 years ago from Williamsburg, Virginia

      Ah, the basis of most post-apocalyptic sci-fi lit finally sees fruition? This sounds like Oryx and Crake waiting to happen. Very thought-provoking.

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      Margaret Perrottet 5 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      @CyberShelley - That's one of the greatest fears - that an elite would be the only ones to get the technology. The other side of that coin is portrayed in the new web series H+, where those that have computer chips implanted in their brains get wiped out by a computer virus. In that scenario, getting enhanced actually kills you. Thanks so much for your insightful comment and your vote. I really appreciate it.

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      Shelley Watson 5 years ago

      You have such an interesting mind that delves into the most thought provoking areas. I think there will be an elite, and those of us who are not chosen will be drones. History tells us there was always an elite, but a neurochip in the brain could perhaps genuinely make us superhuman, in that we respect, care and cherish one another, revel in all our differences and view them with fascination rather than fear or disgust. However, transhumanism will win over idealism and reduce us to sameness, which is easier to manage and although we won't be living longer, as drones, it will feel as though we are, as we are all bored stiff! Wonderful hub, voted up and across.

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      Margaret Perrottet 5 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      @tilsontitan - As always, science can offer amazing possibilities, but can also create dangers and ethical problems for society. This is probably something that more of us should be thinking about since the advancements will be happening at an increasingly rapid rate as the years go by. Thanks so much for reading and voting - much appreciated.

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      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      Very interesting. Having just read Crichton's "Prey" though, it makes me a little nervous ;)

      You've done great research and put together some facts that will make us think and wonder.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 5 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Gamerelated, that's really interesting about the brain changing structure. I agree with you that it's much more feasible that humans may use computer technology to enhance their own intelligence rather than computers taking over. This issue of singularity is a really interesting concept, though. There are even organizations devoted to keeping an eye on technology and dealing with the issues surrounding new technologies - http://singularity.org/. Thanks for reading and leaving such an interesting and thought provoking comment.

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      Gamerelated 5 years ago from California

      This is a fascinating article on transhumanism. I have always been fascinated by technology and artificial intelligence. I don't ever think machines will achieve sentience and take over the world.

      I think it will be transhumans that rule the world. Computers still aren't able to process text to speech properly or even translate webpages properly. Computers can't understand things like grammar which seem completely intertwined with brain development.

      In college I took a multidisciplinary class on linguistics and the brain. You find out that as you age your brain loses the ability to learn foreign grammar rules. The research shows that the changing physical structure of the brain itself prevents it or inhibits it, but as the brain changes structures it gains other abilities. I think this is what makes the brain different from computers. As the brain receives information it begins to alter its own physical makeup.

      This would be akin to a computer that starts changing it hardware on its own and on the fly as you add software to it or as it receives new information. If a computer is to alter itself on the fly then we need to re-envision what the parts are going to made out of. It would need to be parts made out of biological or chemical materials. Machines will have to become more like humans or humans would need to merge into machines before we ever have anything approaching artificial intelligence. Just my thoughts. Your article is fantastic.

    • mperrottet profile image
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      Margaret Perrottet 5 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      I wasn't aware of this movement either, although I was aware of many of the implications of science enhancing humans. One of the best films about the impact of transhumanism on society is Gattica. Thanks for reading, Kelley.

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      kelleyward 5 years ago

      Never heard of this. I'm a little perplexed; however, after reading this. Thanks for sharing this one! Kelley