Technological Revolution, Transhumanism, and Social Deliberation: Enhancement or Welfare?

Technological Revolution, Transhumanism, and Social Deliberation: Enhancement or Welfare?

Ana Cuevas-Badallo (University of Salamanca, Spain) and Daniel Labrador-Montero (University of Salamanca, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7152-0.ch004


The aim of this chapter is to show some of the assumptions that lie behind transhumanism. The concept of enhancement is analyzed. While, from transhumanism, human welfare depends on the enhancement of human capabilities, here it shall be argued that to begin with, a social debate over what is considered welfare is needed before we can establish what we wish to improve (enhance). This reflection must emphasize the necessity to reflect, ex ante, on what kind of technological development we want, viewing technology as a means to attain the agreed-upon type of welfare, rather than a goal in itself. On the basis of a socially open debate with an anticipatory perspective, society as a whole can establish which risks it is willing to take.
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“I have always considered that the writer's mission is to foresee with comfortable anticipation what the problem will be […]” (Ortega y Gasset, 1939/1964: 319). Right at the beginning of the Meditación de la técnica, Ortega y Gasset poses such declaration. If transhumanism as a philosophical approach has some value it is because of its anticipatory character, not so common in philosophy. Transhumanism walks blindly in an unexplored territory, but at the same time offers some speculations (with more or less empirical basis) advancing future possible scenarios. Such scenarios, in case of taking place without previous analyses, could overcome any attempt of individual or collective control. In a technologically more developed future, there is a chance that most people do not keep hold of human biological nature. As Raymond Kurzweil (2007) inquires, what will happen if robots and artificial intelligence threaten future human beings? In such situation, could we reject transhumanism offerings, such as cognitive enhancement?

Transhumanism is often referred as “the greatest of dangers” (Fukuyama, 2002), and many critics to transhumanism recommend a regulation, if not a prohibition, of biotechnological developments whose goals are the irresponsible and postmodernists ramblings of an unnatural and exterminator evolutionism. However, this could be see as a simplistic view about scientific and technological development, taking into account that technoscience is complex system. To restrain an innovative pathway on the basis of the inappropriateness of the transhumanism goals could lead us to giving up on some positive outcomes of that innovative pathway as biomedical, computer, industrial and scientific-technological advances in general. Therefore, transhumanists ex ante deliberation and analysis could be necessary, but one that considers simultaneously the possibilities and purposes of the techno-scientific progress that society aims.

According to Anders Sandberg, “transhumanism is one of the few current movements that articulates a positive vision of the future” (Sandberg, 2015: 376). However, this positive standpoint of the future entails an idea about ​​what human beings consider good or valuable, something that should be achievable by technological means.

In this paper the authors aim to expose the assumptions behind the transhumanism argument, and suggest a mechanism for reaching a more general agreement about the kind of criteria that should regulate the evolution and the application of technology. The mechanism is public participation and anticipatory governance, and the criterion is the search of a consensus about welfare. Welfare is an ideal used among transhumanists thinkers. However, we will argue that the concept of welfare used by some transhumanists is interrelated, generally, with the notion of enhancement.

With those goals, we will show the huge range of challenges posed by technological progress, where the so-called fourth industrial revolution plays an essential role transforming the values ​​of society with respect to technology. It will be claim that, in some way, the industrial achievements and transhumanists’ desires legitimize each other. In order to find a common and more democratic orientation of what the citizens search for anticipatory governance will be defended, a perspective that allows to make decisions on the basis of the envision of possible futures.

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