Natasha Vita-More: Transhumanism on the Rise

March 07 2008 / by Venessa Posavec
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 10

Artificial intelligence, super-extended lifespans, colonies in outer space – the future seems like a weird (and sometimes, scary) place. Then again, it’s all about perspective. From a transhumanist point of view, the advances in technology and intelligence will give us the opportunity to be more fully human than ever before in history. To explore these views, we tracked down the authority: Natasha Vita-More, the “first female philosopher of transhumanism”, according to the New York Times.

A media artist and normative futurist, Natasha splits her time between lecturing internationally, heading up Transhumanist Arts & Culture, and serving as an advisor for several future-focused non-profit organizations. Her current research interest investigates the multiple interpretations and values concerning the human 2.0 as regenerative existence, and human 3.0 as an emerging connective intelligence. She took the time to participate in an interview with me, and explained what transhumanism is all about and why we should seek to improve the human condition.

NVM: “Transhumanism is a set of ideas which represents a worldview to improve the current situation that we as humanity are facing, which includes short lifespan, limited cognitive abilities, limited sensoral abilities, erratic emotions…starvation, lack of housing, or lack of, basically, getting any of the necessary fundamental needs met. We look ardently at how technologies, including the NBIC technologies – nanoscience, bioscience, information science, and cognitive science – can possibly be used to help solve some of the problems in the world that address humans being stuck in a state of stasis.”

Transhumanist goals can look quite lofty. They involve transcending the typical human lifespan with typical human abilities, and instead embracing technologies as a part of human evolution to transform us into something so far beyond what we are today that we’ll be considered ‘posthuman’.

NVM: “The single most complex issue and aim for transhumanism is the emotive desire and the intellectual reason to extend life past the accepted human lifespan, which is, what, 121, 122 years, or somewhere around that particular timeframe. In order to achieve the aim of extending life, the human mind, body, and identity would have to become something other than strictly biological. It will have to incorporate technological methods to construct a regenerative existence for humans.”

V: What advances are being made right now that would support those ideals?

NVM: “What we’re looking at in all these different areas of disease and paralysis and difficulty getting organs is the up and coming area of medicine, technology, and science – basically, biotechnology – which is looking at regenerative medicine. What is happening in biotechnology is regenerating the areas of the body that have become disesased so that those areas regenerate the cells and repair the cell damage and the organ.”

V: Do you think the transhumanist meme is spreading?

NVM: “Oh yes, I do. The ideas which were so visionary and radical early on now have become the fodder for political debate. And once ideas get into the arena of political arguments and academic arguments, philosophical arguments, ethical arguments, and even in the business sector, it means that there’s a maturation process that has occurred, and the ideas we talked about early on in the 80s and the early 90s are now issues to be considered practical, probable, and even preferred futures for many people.

We’re no longer just science fiction or avant-gardes, we’re people with views and vision that is alarming and frightening a heck of a lot of people, but at the same time, thank goodness, a lot of people are starting to go, “Wow. This is possible. We could do these things.” And the world sorely, desperately needs a bit of practical optimism and some problem solving.”

V: What might the world begin to look like if transhumanist goals are achieved?

NVM: “If human beings live for longer periods of time – I try not to use “immortal” or “forever”, because I don’t know what the future holds, and I don’t know what forever means. But let’s just say extreme life extension or extended or super-longevity, if that were to occur, and regenerative medicine did help people with disease and keep us in a state of health and well-being…that means that the population would not only balance out, but would probably grow, unless people, as the trend is now, had less and less children.

What would happen in all practical purposes, would be that we develop habitats, environments off the planet, and we start building habitats on the moon, and near Earth orbit, and we start expanding out into our solar system. And this is really a practical thing to do, because society has always reached out to the next island or the next continent to expand and explore and develop. So, it’s part of our innate humanness, or what it means to be human, one of the characteristics or behavioral characteristics I would include would be the essential desire and almost need to expand beyond, to go to the next place, and build and explore and develop.

So, I think that would eradicate a problem of overpopulation. But, the interesting thing there is, this whole myth that the old should die and make way for the young, may suit people in their middle ages, but there’s a lot of old people who don’t really want to die. Their life is very valuable too. So, I think we have to have a whole paradigm shift in our reasoning about life and sustainability. Life is not something just to throw away because it gets wrinkled. Life is something to nurture. And here’s the paradox of getting old: we become wiser and more knowledgeable and more compassionate as we get older, and then we are expected to die. I would like to change that, very much.”

Click here to read the full transcript of this fascinating interview.

Comment Thread (4 Responses)

  1. If humans have always had the drive to expand the species and the view then why is transhumanism considered something new and exclusively linked to the future, rather than applied retroactively to describe human evolution. Are we not already transhuman as compared to that from which we evolved?

    Posted by: FutureFly   March 07, 2008
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  2. Natasha Vita-More makes some important points on how transhumanism will impact with our future. I especially like how she described what life might be like living in a world unaffected by aging or degeneration.

    She describes a time when “We could be connected with each other 24/7, or just drop out at our whim and not communicate with anyone; where we would be able to teleport to any location at anytime.”

    She also talks about the Los Angeles cable TV show she hosted in the 1980s, and on one of the episodes of that show, she interviewed yours truly for the hour. This was a memorable time in my career.

    Posted by: futuretalk   March 07, 2008
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  3. @FutureFly Transhumanism goes beyond biological human evolution. It’s specifically about using technology to overcome human limits. Dante wrote about transhumanism in the Divine Comedy, in the sense of being something greater than human, and that was written over 700 years ago – so the notion of us wanting to be more than what we are is not new. What makes the ‘new’ transhumanism different, is it being about taking evolution into our own hands. We’re not waiting around for Nature to evolve us – we’re literally merging with the technology we create to evolve into a species that will be different.

    Posted by: Venessa Posavec   March 07, 2008
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  4. Yes, Venessa, you hit the nail on the head. We are taking evolution into our own hands.

    Mother Nature may have done a passing job over the last few millennia, at least nearly half of everyone who ever lived is still alive today, but today’s human bodies experience an unacceptable high failure rate.

    More than 50 million humans died last year, and most of them could have been saved with 2030s technologies; many with 2020s science, and several million deaths would have been prevented with biotech advances expected in the next decade.

    We are gaining control of our destiny, and this is the natural path for humanity.

    Posted by: futuretalk   March 07, 2008
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  1. Natasha Vita-More: Transhumanism on the Rise March 07 2008 / by Venessa Posavec (Future Blogger) Artificial intelligence, super-extended lifespans, colonies in outer space – the future seems like a weird (and sometimes, scary) place. Then again, it...

    Posted by: transhumanism / transhumanismus    March 09, 2008