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Transhumanism becomes a significant force

002Transhumanism becomes a significant force

Blue sky Policy Alert 002

FP7 themes health agro ict nano energy environment transport ssh space security
ERA goals mobility infrastucture rtd institutions knowledge sharing  joint programming  cooperation 
Author(s)Ian Miles, Joe Ravetz, Rafael Popper, Thordis Sveinsdottir, Yanuar Nugroho
Contributor(s)Julia De-Clerk, Dalina Dumitrescu, Gabriele Griffin, Dirk Johann, Javier Medina, Konrad Miciukiewicz
ManifestationGradual development
Potential impacts in Europe
people's lives
legislation & regulation
economy & business
defence & security
government & politics
environment & ecosystems
science & technology
Importance for EUMajor
Strategic attentionby 2030 Moderate  by 2050 Major
Type of impactExtremely positive
Inspired byBrainstorming session and group discussions in the iKNOW Workshop in Manchester (February 2010)
Related to
Keywords, , , , , ,


Wild card

Human enhancement techniques are developing rapidly. This wildcard explores the notion that Transhumanism (promotion of such humans enhancement with technology) becomes a significant force in society rather than a fringe phenomenon. The wildcard assumes that relevant technologies will be widely available and welcomed.


Surprises ("wild" scenario features)

The wild factor here is that commonplace assumptions about boundaries that have been drawn between humans and technology are substantially undermined. This means a process of redefining human identity, i.e. what makes us distinctively human, what we value about this, and rethinking expectations about human capabilities. The possibility of human enhancement here gives rise to large strident social movements who welcome increased efforts to augment human minds and bodies. Some relevant technologies may be cheap – “smart drugs” and the like. Some may be relatively expensive – prosthetics (and human-computer interfaces), gene therapy, etc. There may be new divides opened up, with new elites who live longer, are healthier, more intelligent and “beautiful”, and who (having selected the most promising foetuses) have their children further enhanced to ensure they have the best start in life. People who cannot afford or do not accept biological and transhuman manipulation will ‘lose out’ on jobs, partners and income. Ideologies that justify or challenge these new social gaps may take bizarre forms, since traditional Darwinist and racist arguments do not fit the new scenario. Furthermore, transhumanists now tend to be libertarians. Finally, there could be distinct subcultures stressing specific aspects of enhancement – cosmetic appearance, sporting prowess, intellectual abilities, even emotional features of personality. There are historical experiences of people hoping that their child would be the “chosen one”: now they may have a chance to design such a child! Blue Sky Policy Brief 002 – Transhumanism becomes a significant force Disclaimer: The wild card presented in this brief may not happen at all or in the near future. iKNOW is a new EU funded research project aimed to explore surprising events (wild cards) and emerging issues (weak signals) potentially shaping or shaking the future of Europe and the world. Further information at www.iknowfutures.org



Possible interpretations

Some possible interpretations of this wild card focus on how people will no longer accept the inherent limitations of being “just human”. The human body is as open to technological manipulation as anything else: valued features can be enhanced, deficiencies reduced or even eliminated. Why not use modern knowledge to become the best you can be (however that is defined)? Population ageing may be a driver here: people no longer want to become old but want to remain capable as long as possible. More general shifts in values towards self actualisation and social recognition may also shape the degree and direction of interest in enhancement.


Key actors

Key actors related to this wild card, include:
  • Scanners or "early warners" such as educators, scientists, health professionals, governments and regulators, as well as defence and security actors (including private security contractors) are monitoring potential opportunities and threats of transhumanism.
  • Shapers (i.e. enablers/inhibitors) such as the World Transhumanist Association, Humanity+, the Mormon Transhumanist Association and similar groups are among the promoters of the development of the “transhuman movement”. Among the inhibitors we can find the Catholic Church and bio-ethical committees and regulators, for example.
  • Stakeholders positively or negatively impacted include such as private medical, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies, entertainment and sporting organisations. Religious bodies would have varying views on specific instances of enhancement, and would in general be likely to strongly oppose full-blown Transhumanist ideologies.


Potential impacts

Potential impacts of Transhumanism becoming a significant force would be varied, but could include changes in most areas of society. Ethical dimensions would have to be redefined and new boundaries drawn. New and different social inequalities might become rigid sources of social fragmentation and conflict. At the workplace, demands to work longer hours (and even to undertake some enhancements) might be likely. One potential positive impact of this would be cuts in healthcare spending, for example as some sorts of disability are eliminated (though other costs might rise). The implications of extended longevity and active old age are profound and poorly understood: we might expect significant changes in values and social norms.


Potential actions

Were Transhumanism to become a significant force in Europe it is clear that there would be a need to negotiate new rules and compromises. Education would have to be adjusted to teach ethics and respect for transhumans. Regulation of all transhuman projects would have to be strictly adhered to and common rules agreed across the EU states.

  • Policy actions

    Early actions: Policy makers should regulate, examine appropriateness and agree on common rules and standards across EU for areas such as gene therapy, embryo selection, smart drugs and microelectronic implants. The rules would need to encompass consumer protection, Blue Sky Policy Brief 002 – Transhumanism becomes a significant force Disclaimer: The wild card presented in this brief may not happen at all or in the near future. iKNOW is a new EU funded research project aimed to explore surprising events (wild cards) and emerging issues (weak signals) potentially shaping or shaking the future of Europe and the world. Further information at www.iknowfutures.org business liability, quality of life and human rights. Policy should aim to protect workers’ rights (e.g. to ensure that transhumans are not given preferential treatment). Education and sports organisations need to be proactive in developing policies – and to be more open-minded in their attitudes to performance enhancement.

    Early reactions: Policy makers would need to respond swiftly to technological developments and to possible changes in our understanding of Human Rights. There may be a need to make sure that Transhuman Rights are respected. Policy makers should regulate the workplace in order to make sure they are still humane places to work in, e.g. trends in working hours and mental and physical effort.

  • Business actions

    Early actions: Transhumanism would present many opportunities for business ventures. Businesses would have to agree on quality control and to discourage cheap and unreliable imports (or transhuman tourism growing in the way that cosmetic and medical tourism have in recent years). IPR would need to be protected and legal liabilities would need to be clarified. Lawyers may see many opportunities here.

    Early reactions: Businesses would have to increase their concerns for social responsibility and make sure that “non-enhanced” workers are not discriminated against in the workplace. An important question would be whether (or when) businesses can insist on transhuman workers for specific jobs?

  • Research actions

    Early actions: Mass media and political discourse analysis, together with more conventional social research, to assess people’s views on Transhumanist ideas and practices. Research would have to explore social and ethical implications of transhumanism, especially in terms of implications for human identity, and might extend into action research (consensus conferences, etc.). Research would also need to focus on the social control of converging technologies. Finally, it would be important to explore “vanguard groups” and practices, and identify how some activities have moved into the mainstream, with what effect.

    Early reactions: Again, social and cultural dimensions would need to be explored in research. Educational research would need to be carried out to determine what effect enhancement would have on educational results and qualifications. Research would need to go back to tackling fundamental questions concerning human identity: What are the key elements of being human? What needs to be preserved, and what could be changed?


Weak signals

There are several signals or observables warning us about the probability of occurrence of such a wild card: Increasing pressures from workplaces to work longer, faster and with more productivity. This has led to for example, growing popularity of stimulants, relaxants and lifestyle drugs. There are large markets for “energy drinks” that promise heightened performance and relaxing drinks to soothe anxiety and aid sleep. Universities are considering how to stop students using smart drugs to boost examination performance. Plastic surgery has fast become a normal everyday activity, rather than an extreme and unusual one. This indicates that we are slowly becoming accustomed to the human body being enhanced: the ideological jump towards more significant enhancements should not be too large. Microchips have been implanted into people (a commercial example of this is the nightclub in London that offers to implant an RFID chip into members’ arms to ensure they can skip the queue, and some parents have expressed the wish to have their children implanted with microchips so that parents can know where they are at all times). There is much effort to develop technologies to help people suffering from blindness, hearing loss, cognitive impairment, etc.; these may well be applied to much wider populations.

Disclaimer: The wild card presented in this brief may not happen at all or in the near future. iKNOW is a new EU funded research project aimed to explore surprising events (wild cards) and emerging issues (weak signals) potentially shaping or shaking the future of Europe and the world.