Transhumanism is betting on the fact that man is perfectible

The philosopher Luc Ferry distinguishes a transhumanism who wants to fight against unfair genetic lottery and posthumanism to a disturbing hybridization of man and machine.

Luc Ferry philosophy professor, Minister of Education, Universities and Research, Luc Ferry has just published “The transhumanist revolution“. How technomedicine and uberisation of the world will change our lives?

What is transhumanism, which inspired your revolution?

Transhumanism, which comes from the United States, is still poorly known in Europe. Largely funded by Google, he took overseas considerable importance, attracted thousands of publications and symposia, generated heated debates with thinkers of the first rank as Francis Fukuyama, Michael Sandel or Jürgen Habermas. This new for transhumanists to move from a classic therapeutic medicine – whose purpose was for thousands of years to heal, to “fix” the injured or sick body – the model of “increase” of human potential .
Hence the ambition to fight aging and increase human longevity, not only in eradicating early deaths, but by using the technomedecine, bioengineering and hybridization man/machine, to live much longer. For now, nothing real evidence that this is possible for man, but Google has already invested hundreds of millions dollars in the project.
It is also to voluntarily correct the genetic lottery that unfairly distributes the natural qualities and diseases. This is what the transhumanist slogan From opportunity to choice : spend blind random informed choice in the fight against natural inequalities. We are still far away, but who can say what will resemble the technomedecine, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and Biosurgery the next century? We must, as the saying Fukuyama, Habermas and Sandel, now anticipate ethical problems that this new approach to medicine will pose.

What differences do you see between then posthumanism and transhumanism?

I will say that there are two main currents within transhumanism. The first remains in a frame “organic” and willingly claims of a humanist tradition, eventually classical enough, the theorists of the “perfectibility” of man infinite and endless progress as the philosopher Nicolas de Condorcet (1743-1794) that transhumanists readily cite. The second, “Cybernetics” project of a man hybridization/Machine mobilizing robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) even more than biology, is worrying. This would, in particular through brain implants, connecting man with AI as with Web networks. It is this project that proposes Ray Kurzweil, head of the University of the Singularity created and funded by Google in Silicon Valley since 2008. It seems that, strictly speaking, we should reserve the term “post-humanism” to this current one, because it is indeed “here to create a new species, really different from ours, thousands of times smarter and more powerful”. It would be another humanity, therefore, whose memory, emotions, intellect, in short terms, the life of the mind could be stored on physical media of a new type, much as you download files on a USB key.
While in the first transhumanism, it is in principle “only” make it more human, this second trans/posthumanism instead is based on the idea – delusional or not, the whole question – that machines with artificial intelligence called “strong”, that is to say capable of consciousness and emotions, will soon prevail on biological beings. We can then separate the intelligence and emotions of the biological body (such as information and support), and store his memory as his conscience on machines – materialist hypothesis, which seems absurdly reductionist, but do not receive least a large majority enough resonance in the world specialists in artificial intelligence.

Luc Ferry Transhumanism is betting on the fact that man is perfectible
Luc Ferry Transhumanism is betting on the fact that man is perfectible

Even more than the Environmental Apocalypse, posthumanism announce our end, albeit virtual, but real? And if the Apocalypse is also “hidden revelation of” transhumanism would it be, in this sense, unveiling of what is veiled to man’s perfectibility?

I perceive no environmental Apocalypse on the horizon and in many ways, I think the environmentalists play on a leasehold that is called fear. However, to respond by going anyway in your senses, I can do no better than to quote the definition Nick Bostrom, a philosopher and Swedish scientist who teaches at Oxford, gives himself the transhumanist project of which he is a the founding fathers:

“There will come a day when we are offered the opportunity to increase our intellectual, physical and emotional capacities and spiritual well beyond what seems possible today. Then we come out of the childhood of humanity to enter a posthuman era. “ (1)

Max More, another pillar of the movement, explains in his “transhumanist obvious” that the movement based on the belief that unlimited perfectibility of the human species is both possible and desirable. I prefer to quote, because these very significant texts are still little known among us:“As humanists, transhumanists favor reason, progress, and values centered on our well being rather than on an external religious authority. Transhumanists extend humanism by challenging human limits by means of science and technology combined with critical and creative thinking. We challenge the inevitability of aging and death, we seek to gradually improve our mental and physical capacities and to grow emotionally. We see humanity as a transitional phase in the evolutionary development of intelligence. We advocate the use of science to accelerate our transition from a human condition to a transhuman or posthuman condition. As said physicist Freeman Dyson:

“Humanity seems to be a magnificent beginning but not the final word”  … “.

In this sense, one can actually say that it is to reveal some something the man himself, something that is still hidden in him like the butterfly in the chrysalis.

Between abnormality (radical extension of longevity) and immortality (end of finitude), to what life tendons us? To those who complain that “Death of Death” is a slogan that kills life, others certify that the man who lived 1000 years has already been born …

The death of death, as Alexandre Laurent shows the exciting eponymous book [JC Lattes, 2011], is obviously pure fantasy: do not worry, we remain eternally fatal! Even if we could raise a thousand years of human life (that there is no evidence today), we always would end up dying in an accident or an attack on us suicide. The transhumanist project, embodied by the subsidiary of Google, Calico  ( Californian Life Company ), established in 2013 with an initial endowment of $ 425 million, does not go that far. It is “only”, so to speak, to “grow” human life, twenty years initially and more over time.

To be clear: the life expectancy of the West has increased throughout the twentieth century. She was in France on average 45 years in 1900, is over 80 years old. But it did that by eradicating dead more or less early. The goal of Google is to reach a human living example 130 years, then why not even more over the next century. This relates to the aspiration of Gilgamesh, eager for immortality in ancient Mesopotamia, the myth of Asclepius, struck and resurrected by Zeus, and even in part the promise of Jesus, but it is the much lower as possible from heaven to earth, to move from religion to science as reported by the Fable of the dragon tyrant Nick Bostrom.

Such is the hope that animates transhumanism, as summarized Lawrence Alexander in his essay:“In a few decades, nanotechnology will enable us to build and repair, molecule by molecule, all that is possible to imagine . Not only everyday objects, but also the living tissues and organs.With these concurrent revolutions in nanotechnology and biology, each element of our body will become serviceable, in part or in whole, as so many parts … “ And this could go faster than we thought there Until recently. Regardless, however, that “man living a thousand years” to be for the next century or the next. In principle, this does not alter the case. What counts in the transhumanist thinking is that these revolutions are started, they are financed with billions of dollars, and that the question of whether they are legitimate, whether to encourage or stop is already asked.

Le Monde, February 5, 2016 and evokes the experience made  by a team of geneticists at the University of Rochester (New York) from 2008 and especially 2011: genetically modified mice“have the distinction of producing an enzyme in senescent cells that can be activated by injection of a catalyst produced with the effect apoptosis of said cells, in other words their death. The life expectancy of genetically modified mice could be increased by 30% as well … It is not only the life that is elongated, it is also the youth. The treated mice appear healthier … At 22 months, the mice appear much healthier, their activity as their exploratory capacities are better preserved, and they suffer less from cataract. They are also less affected by heart disease, kidney or fat typical of aging. Finally the outbreak of cancer is delayed. “ While it is clear that humans are infinitely more complicated than these small mammals, so that what is good for them is far inferior necessarily for us. Still, the movement is launched …

What will be the benefits / risks to people that some accuse of trans-eugenics?

In France, as soon as you mention the word eugenics is like a Pavlovian reflex, without thinking we push the alarm: “It is the return of Hitler and the Nazis! “ . We can and must criticize many aspects of transhumanism, as I show in my book, but the first duty despite everything, is still understanding what it is. In this case, transhumanism professes indeed a eugenics, but it happens to be a new kind, who wants moral, egalitarian and no Hitler or exterminator regard. This move “random choice” ( From opportunity to choice ) as paradoxical as it may seem, it is indeed for ethical and democratic reasons that this slogan founder of transhumanism leads him to fully assume a new eugenics. This has three main differences with those of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: first, it is not state, but under the individual freedom that aims to move from very unfair and very hazardous natural lottery to free choice the human will. Then it is not discriminatory, but rather is intended equalization of conditions, since it intends to redress injustices inflicted on humans by blind and insensitive in nature. It is therefore in a democratic perspective to the economic and social equality, it intends to add genetic equality. Finally, it is the opposite of Nazi eugenics, as he wants, not eliminate weak or the supposed “freaks”, but to repair or increase the human qualities that nature distributes to both parsimonious and unequal. We can criticize the project, but expectations have nothing to do with the traditional forms of eugenics.

If we create this new hybrid species, what would then be the responsibility of robots?

Beyond the legal problem (which will be responsible for accidents autopilotée a car?) To be resolved fairly easily, the coupling between robotics and artificial intelligence poses real questions.It will be incredibly beneficial effects, such as surgery and more generally in the hospital world, but also in many industrial sectors. It does not pose less quickly considerable questions. Who would have bet a penny, early last century, a machine chess beat the best player in the world? Yet today the computer overwrites the game of Go world champion, what is more extraordinary. Even though we remain convinced that strong AI is only a utopia, the weak AI, which now exceeds, by far, the intellectual capacities of mere mortals, nevertheless already poses problems well real, as evidenced by the open letter  against the production and use by the army of famous “killer robots” signed by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates in July 2015 – a petition which eventually involved more than a thousand researchers worldwide.

As Stephen Hawking said: “Managing to create a strong artificial intelligence would be a great event in the history of man. But it could also be the last. “ Why the last? Because every being with an intelligence “Darwinian” – and in the event that Hawking is up, that would be the case of machinery – has first and main goal to survive, therefore eliminating those who threaten his life!Or intelligent machines, as in the worst scenarios of science fiction, being able to read within seconds millions of pages, can almost everything on us, starting with the fact that we humans are the only ones able unplug them, which would make us the primary and principal enemies … Controlling all computerized services, thus armed, such machines are easily capable of destroying us. “I think we should be very careful, warns Elon Musk. If I had to guess which represents the greatest threat to our existence, I would probably say artificial intelligence. I’m more inclined to think that there should be a regulation, at national or international level, just to be sure we’re not doing anything stupid. With artificial intelligence, we invoke a demon. “. It has paid $ 10 million in a fund dedicated to research on the safety of future advances in artificial intelligence, showing, if any were needed, that the ideal of control is perhaps be well become vital for us today.

So transhumanism would it be a promise of liberation or human alienation?

Transhumanism is in the deepest movement of democracies since the late eighteenth century, a groundswell which is to move constantly of what determines us from outside blindly (heteronomy) that we can freely decide (autonomy). That’s how we happened in Europe of the monarchy to the republic or of marriage imposed by parents and villages love marriage freely chosen by individuals. Transhumanism is betting on the fact that humans are perfectible, that nature is not a moral law, we can and must go as far as possible the unjust and blind natural determinism – when the disease genetic you “fall” literally above – a struggle against the voluntary not only social but also natural inequalities. A priori, there is nothing shocking here for a Democrat …

But then, what political conduct to regulate the technological tsunami dumped by GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple)?

Excellent question, and that’s the subject of my book! It will not all allow or forbid everything, so it will regulate. But techno escapes us ever closer for three reasons: it is very fast, it is very difficult to understand and it is globalized, so that national laws have greater meaning. Only an awareness of Europe and even global, may have efficacy. If I wrote this book as clearly as possible, it is precisely to help public policies and views to be aware of what is happening before our eyes and we still have open …

(1) Nick Bostrom, Human reproductive cloning from the perspective of the future, 2002.



Tommy Lambert Written by:

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