Transhumanism Trans site

Sparrow

Journeyed there and back again
#2
... well, putting the ethical and moral dilemmas aside; Evolution isn't so easy to tinker with as many Transhumanists believe.
I've read plenty of SF wherein humans are genetically enhanced/altered to better deal with the rigors of interstellar space travel, and while it sounds plausible, it really isn't. Research they've done on lab rats, cutting out harmful genetic code or even just splicing out inert genetic information results in a much higher rate of birth defects in subsequent generations. They've found that even the inert genetic information, isn't so inert. We can live just fine without an appendix (I don't have one), but the genetic blueprint that creates an appendix is probably still required for other things. Sort of like the game of Jenga; not all the blocks are needed to keep the structure standing. But pull the wrong block out, and the structure fails.
 

Darwin

Journeyed there and back again
#3
Sparrow, you're right that we currently don't have the understanding of how to engineer complex traits in multicellular organisms without going through a lot of trial and error, mostly error. It's also true that the current state of the art in molecular biology isn't accurate enough to selectively modify sequences within the human genome without causing some amount of off-site damage.

However, that's just right now, and this is a field that is barely in its infancy. The rate at which we're getting better at this sort of thing essentially guarantees that it will become feasible, possibly within just a few decades. Technological breakthroughs in this nascent field aren't a matter of 'if', and these are the sort of breakthroughs that enable exponential progress toward new breakthroughs. Understanding the consequences of altering or replacing genes can only really be accomplished by actually doing it and seeing what happens (first at the single cell level on petri dishes, not in living organisms), then learning from those experiences, generating hypotheses from them, and testing those hypotheses by attempting to engineer other things. Until very recently, the best technologies for this sort of genome editing were zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs) or transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), which were very expensive and relatively slow. Recently, with the discovery, characterization, and now engineering of CRISPR/Cas9, these methods are much faster and practically free (reagent-wise, still need the lab, scientists, cell lines, analysis, etc.). And there's a distinct feeling that this is just the beginning.

We also have budding new technologies for forcing single cells to undergo continuous evolution toward a defined molecular goal (expression of a gene regulated by a non-natural promoter sequence was the first example). With this sort of rapid, continuous directed evolution technology, we can condense millions of years worth of mutagenesis and selection (under parameters of our choosing) into the course of a weekend, and we can track the genetic changes that occur. This is something so far beyond what is achievable by looking at genomic data, it's simply difficult to estimate what it could lead to, and how quickly.

Right now, though, the scientific community is overwhelmingly against using synthetic biology to engineer the species. I suspect eventually a compromise will be met, some 50 or 100 years from now, in order to eradicate the most burdensome health problems of our society. Once we're able to engineer human embryos efficiently and at relatively low cost, there's no reason we should have to deal with Alzheimer's, AIDS, cancer, or the incredibly vast number of rare diseases that can be fixed at the genetic level. But this isn't really 'transhumanism'; it's essentially the same outcome we'd have if we could develop perfect medicines for every major disease, but nothing that would make our species something different than what it currently is.
 

Darwin

Journeyed there and back again
#4
Here's the relevant statement from the NIH about engineering human embryos:
http://www.nih.gov/about-nih/who-we...using-gene-editing-technologies-human-embryos

The concept of altering the human germline in embryos for clinical purposes has been debated over many years from many different perspectives, and has been viewed almost universally as a line that should not be crossed. Advances in technology have given us an elegant new way of carrying out genome editing, but the strong arguments against engaging in this activity remain. These include the serious and unquantifiable safety issues, ethical issues presented by altering the germline in a way that affects the next generation without their consent, and a current lack of compelling medical applications justifying the use of CRISPR/Cas9 in embryos.
 

Darwin

Journeyed there and back again
#5
For me, transhumanism means attempting to direct and further our evolution. Whether this is via biological technology or inorganic ex vivo technology like smartphones is irrelevant. But as a movement, as an -ism, it also means escaping our current evolutionary trajectory, including the technological advancements we're currently on track for.

On the health front, I think unless we deal with aging and intelligence, we're looking at a finite space to progress in, and it looks a lot less like 'transhumanism' and a lot more like something more mundane. There are a lot of diseases, but minimal human genetic engineering, just editing out alleles we know to be bad, would stop most of them in one fell swoop. Aging and intelligence are the lines in particular that we dare not cross, but those are the ones that would truly change who we are and what we are capable of.

There's a question of "Why?". What new goals will transhumanism bring to the species? Is this just a movement toward more complete hedonism? Technology that frees us from the burdens and obligations of the world, so that we can sit around and jack off? We were told that the pre-WWII technology boom, basically replacing hundred+ year old technology with electronics, indoor plumbing, etc., would give us more time to improve ourselves, but we just turned fat instead. Are we repurposing that smartphone-liberated memory for something important, or are we just squandering it?

It's improving intellect and eliminating aging (it's just a disease) that are game changers here. A society of youthful 200 year olds more intelligent than we could imagine would be able to set an accomplish goals far beyond what we can envision even in sci-fi today.
 

Darwin

Journeyed there and back again
#6
I don't think individuals necessarily need profound goals, but in the case of devoting enormous resources and taking existential risks in order to direct the evolution of our species, I think profound goals are essential. To some people, redirecting our species biologically and technologically would itself be an admiral goal, just as traveling to other planets is an admirable goal even if we just return again immediately without colonizing, terraforming, etc. But in this case we're not necessarily talking about simply taking peoples' property to fund these goals, we're talking about making decisions that redefine our species in a profound way, decisions that will impact what it means to be human. A very large majority of people would probably see that as something to be avoided. If we have the technology to engineer the next generation so that they can live youthful lives for hundreds of years as super-intelligent beings, perhaps so that they can communicate by thought or fly or some other fanciful sci-fi thing, choosing not to accept these technologies would effectively mean being less than what would then be considered human. So in order for transhumanism to be something beyond just normal human evolution, I think it needs goals.

I'm depressed as shit over the idea that we may have evolved to the point of being able to create robots to handle all of our responsibilities just so that we can sit around flinging our feces (at a canvas; Art!) and jerking off.
 

Sparrow

Journeyed there and back again
#8
To me transhumanism is basically about transcending the limitations of humanity.

Vaccination could be thought of as a kind of transhumanism; artificially supplementing our immune systems to pre-emptively defeat otherwise life-ruining or even fatal diseases. Plastic surgery could count - extremely primitive shapeshifting, basically. We're starting to see primitive cybernetic limbs, some people have artificial voice boxes, even artificial eyes are getting there!

The sane and intelligent and not irritatingly anachronistic idiots among us (buy a fucking smartphone already Jack) have handheld devices allowing access to the sum total of human knowledge on demand, the ability to communicate with anyone else sane and intelligent and not irritatingly anachronistic almost anywhere in the world and even the ability to immediately consume almost any literature or film at will. Memory itself is being rendered obsolete!
There is no transcending the limitations of humanity.
Transhumanism, at best, amounts to kicking the can down the road. We will never colonize a world beyond our solar system, nor will we escape the fate of all living things. That is, to join the 99.99% of species that are now extinct. Talking to some idiot on a smart phone does not get you a free pass.
 

Darwin

Journeyed there and back again
#9
There is no transcending the limitations of humanity.
Transhumanism, at best, amounts to kicking the can down the road. We will never colonize a world beyond our solar system, nor will we escape the fate of all living things. That is, to join the 99.99% of species that are now extinct. Talking to some idiot on a smart phone does not get you a free pass.
We already HAVE transcended the limitations of humanity, as they previously were. Synthetic fertilizers are the only reason we can support the number of people alive today. For all of human history we were susceptible to a wide range of pathogens that we've currently held at bay. Our 'social networks' used to be defined by the people within a day or two's horseback ride from us. We understand our world in really profound ways that were previously impossible for us to know, thanks to our technology. How do you know we'll never escape our solar system? Couldn't the same argument have been made for our own atmosphere, until, you know, we did it? Also, not all living things die. There are organisms that are effectively immortal. Aging is in a very real way just another disease state. Everything about who you are is stored as chemical information, including your memories, your personality, everything. We don't understand the language its written in, and writing that language, the guided growth of a brain storing the exact same information, is well beyond our means right now. But it might not be forever.

@lyraseven Currently that's not true anywhere on earth. You would go to jail, as would whoever tried to provide you the service. Ultimately, this comes down to laws written by politicians, and in that sense those people do get a vote. The day this technology is turned free to lassez-faire capitalism would be the start of a countdown clock to the end of the species. This is a set of technologies with a greater potential for being weaponized than anything we know. Better to let individuals do what they want with private nuclear warheads. Engineering viral and bacterial pathogens is childs play compared to engineering mammals. Even the technologies openly available and affordable now will need to be extremely well regulated. With today's technology and pricing, a terrorist with the knowledge that will be taught in undergraduate universities in a couple of decades would be able to weaponize a virus that could wipe out most of humanity at shocking speed and low cost. It's unlikely that such an intensely regulated technology will be available with the personal freedoms you describe.

I worry that despite the regulations, once developed privately, the technology would remain monopolized indefinitely, and would remain available only to the progeny of billionaires or corrupt politicians. Even in the most liberal (lowercase) and just countries on Earth, the politics and justice surrounding this technology would more resemble Russia. Any competitor that came close to developing the same technology would be bought or destroyed. Opposition leaders would be arrested under false pretenses or murdered on the streets. They would have every reason to keep it private and only moral reasons (which you would reject) to make it available and affordable.
 

Sparrow

Journeyed there and back again
#10
We already HAVE transcended the limitations of humanity, as they previously were. Synthetic fertilizers are the only reason we can support the number of people alive today. For all of human history we were susceptible to a wide range of pathogens that we've currently held at bay. Our 'social networks' used to be defined by the people within a day or two's horseback ride from us. We understand our world in really profound ways that were previously impossible for us to know, thanks to our technology. How do you know we'll never escape our solar system? Couldn't the same argument have been made for our own atmosphere, until, you know, we did it? Also, not all living things die. There are organisms that are effectively immortal. Aging is in a very real way just another disease state. Everything about who you are is stored as chemical information, including your memories, your personality, everything. We don't understand the language its written in, and writing that language, the guided growth of a brain storing the exact same information, is well beyond our means right now. But it might not be forever.
Again, with all due respect on the subject; humanity is simply kicking the can down the road, we have not nor will not transcend those two most essential limitations... time and space. Homo-sapiens, like all living creatures, will become extinct. For anyone who knows the history of Life on Earth, we have thus far been amazingly lucky... luck that transcends reason. There have been two mass extinction events wherein among the survivors, only one species of our phyla (body type) survived that would later become us. Evolution is amazing, but it's a dead end. Just ask a dinosaur. We do at least have one dinosaur remnant from the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, birds. They will likely be joining us as we exit the scene.

This is an article by Charles Stross (SF/F writer), it's worth reading 'The High Frontier, redux'. It's not an impossibility that we'll one day break our Earthly chains... just incredibly unlikely.
http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2007/06/the_high_frontier_redux.html
 

Darwin

Journeyed there and back again
#11
Again, it's not me. I'm just passing on the near unanimous conclusions of the discussions around this potential technology. Personally, I'm hopeful that the amount of options people will be allowed to choose will be maximized as much as is safe.

Monsanto just has shitty PR, they're doing great work and should be admired, not demonized. Other companies doing the exact same thing aren't given the slightest bit of negative attention. Fear of the GMOs on and entering the market is not based on any reasonable science.

I'm also not talking about the government providing services, just regulating them. Monsanto works under considerable regulation, and ultimately probably not enough of it. We will need much, much more if our species is to survive this technology for long. We can cure all known diseases, prolong lifespans and extend youth, increase intelligence, etc., but just in reaching those goals we'll have established technology that makes selectively eradicating or sterilizing any species on Earth a cakewalk.
 

Sparrow

Journeyed there and back again
#12
Only in the same way your local thugs get a vote in whether or not you get to keep your TV. Morally, it's no one's business what anyone does with themselves or their genome and interfering in that is nothing but abuse.
The right to freedom supersedes whatever bizarre right to... wait, what, exactly? existential stagnation? you're imagining. Not only that, all this handbag-clutching is about people doing a thing that scares you, right? So why exactly is government doing it any less scary than Monsanto doing it? Much as with guns, all banning this tech will do is concentrate it in the hands of people no more trustworthy and far less efficient than private individuals.

How is it that when I say I live in fear of violence because I'm borderline disabled and completely unable to defend myself I'm thought of as crazy, but someone calling themselves Darwin of all things starts hiding the good silver at the thought of people privately choosing to modify their own bodies and those of any children they choose to produce - not even anyone else's! - and we aren't calling the men in white suits?

The reason you, or anyone, can't do as you please with technology, particularly genetic tinkering, is because much of the research is government funded and government regulated. We all pay for it with our taxes. Through government we come to a group decision on what crosses ethical and moral lines. That's what Evolution is all about; let the unfit die. We spend outrageous amounts of money keeping old people alive, a severely premature baby can cost upwards of a quarter million and more to keep alive... then it's usually a life of extraordinary health costs afterwards. We need to temper our humanity with some practical reasoning, balance life with resources. We need to enact a sort of Logan's Run law, you know, that SF novel from way back... when a person reaches 80 years of age; we celebrate their life and give them a good send off... then we grind their body up and make food pellets out of'em. Seems like a good idea.