Updated: Apr 28, 2022
(Click above to listen to this article. Video editing by Dinorah Delfin)
...will we be able to live forever remains an unanswered question; turning a hundred years old into the new sixty - that is significantly extending human lifespan - has changed from a question of "if" to a matter of "when" - Peter Diamandis
(The Future Is Faster Than You Think)
Health without any time limit is one of humanity's oldest dreams. We know more and more about why and how aging occurs. But we still cannot control senescence. Not all those who wish to go beyond our biological limits, beyond 100 years of life, will define themselves as transhumanists. On the other hand, almost all transhumanists will describe themselves as longevitists.
What is Longevitism?
It is the search for a much longer life, beyond what is possible today, thanks to advances in science and medicine.
Longevitism arouses both attraction and opposition. The opposition is often motivated by the fear of false hopes, the fear of living longer but in poor health, and the fear of therapies only for the rich.
Longevitists want research for a healthy life, based on serious scientific evidence and are generally attentive to broad accessibility.
Their research may be moderate, aimed at, and only a few more years of good health, or can be strong, aiming for a life of well over 120 years.
So the goal of these therapies is to strongly reduce or even eliminate the mechanisms of senescence. The most optimistic will aim at what is called "biological immortality", the absence of any aging mechanism. The term "amortality" is also used.
What is Transhumanism?
Let's take Wikipedia’s definition: it is a philosophical movement that advocates for the transformation of the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies able to greatly modify or enhance human intellect and physiology.
The word transhumanism sometimes frightens people because it evokes the appeal of dangerous, dehumanizing technologies. The vast majority of transhumanists are aware of the dangers linked to technical progress. They actively wish for technologies to reduce risks, especially the so-called "existential" ones, to increase resilience and thus the quality and duration of life.
The improvements that transhumanists aim for can be physical: higher, stronger, further, more adapted to the environment. It can be related to the sense organs: better sight, smell, new sensory capacities. Or, can be related to intellectual capacities to allow for greater intelligence, empathy, compassion, and happiness.
But the improvement most often envisaged by transhumanists is that of the improvement of life expectancy, thus the objective of longevitists. Increasing life expectancy is the necessary, but not a sufficient condition for all other increases, or for all human rights. Without sustainable life, there are no rights, and no possibilities.
What is Technoprogressism?
Technoprogressism, is a transhumanist approach for which the idea of linking technological and social progress is central.
When we look at the history of humanity, we see that technological progress has largely contributed to social progress, and vice versa. But this is not automatic. Technoprogressists will insist on accessibility to technological progress for all those who want it. This applies in particular, of course, to health and longevity therapies.
One of the main founders of transhumanism, David Pearce, summarized transhumanism by 3 S's: Superlongevity, Superintelligence and Super well-being. Technoprogressists sometimes add "Super democracy" or Supersocial.
“Biological" Longevity and “Computer" Longevity
For most contemporary longevitists, the ultimate goal is a much longer life with an "ordinary" body, not so different from the contemporary body.
This concept of "ordinary body" must be put into perspective. We already accept today many things that would have appeared totally unnatural even to the most erudite two centuries ago. We transfuse blood, we almost all have foreign bodies in our mouths. At the end of our lives, most of us will have gone through a physiological state that does not exist outside of medicine, but somewhere between sleep and death. We call it general anesthesia. Millions of humans have been conceived in a test tube. Millions of us also have pacemakers, and cochlear implants... In fact, what yesterday was unimaginable transgression, is today’s medicine. And today's transhumanism, could be tomorrow's medicine.
For some more radical transhumanists and longevitists, we could go far beyond our biological composition.
Man-machine "fusion" could develop involving increasingly large part of the body, creating a cyborg. Further still, one day, human consciousness could become independent of the body, and be transferred onto a computer medium. This vision was discussed in a letter in 2012. It remains today totally hypothetical within a reasonable timeframe.
For most longevitists, and probably also for most transhumanists, this could only become possible where computers reproduce biological processes as well as or even better than the processes themselves, where the virtual copy would be better than the original. Like a beautiful film can be more beautiful than reality, or like a game can be more enjoyable than the situation that gave birth to it.
For computers to reproduce biological processes will require nanotechnology and computer efficiency far beyond current capabilities. Above all, it implies being able to understand and replicate the neural mechanisms of what is often defined as "the most complex object in the known Universe".
Longevity, Transhumanism, and Artificial Intelligence
The IT of the near future is above all, the development of an increasingly strong artificial intelligence developed to facilitate human interests.
Longevitists, transhumanists or not, hope, and try to implement computing processes allowing better and faster research. An acceleration of discoveries for health, longevity, and resilience also requires massive data that is easily accessible and well organized. Using research capabilities primarily for these purposes, rather than for competitive, military, or consumer purposes, is likely to reduce the risks associated with artificial intelligence. Making the best "brains", both human and computational, working together for a much longer healthy life will reduce the risks of developing intelligence that is far removed from human beings.
This is important because the risks of an artificial intelligence "turning radically wrong" are considered high by many. Among those who are concerned, there are many transhumanists, including Nick Bostrom, author of a renowned book on the subject - Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
More Human Tomorrow?
Longevitists generally focus first on medical progress and everything that contributes to it. Transhumanists, especially techno-progressists, also seek to analyze why this progress is important. They will explain that a much longer life will make it possible
• to have a more peaceful life, with less violence and more caution;
• to love each other more and to stress us less, since we will have more time;
• to be more careful about the biosphere because we will know that we are here for the long term. A sustainable body is not possible without a sustainable planet;
• to have less overpopulation, and more attention to children. For it is where life is longest that children are the rarest and that we have the most time to devote to them.
For these and other reasons, the age-old quest for the Fountain of Youth is today a more desirable and reasonable goal than ever. Today, we still have to accept death from old age because we have no choice. Tomorrow we may choose.
A Question For IM Readers:
Do you consider yourself a Transhumanists, Longevitists, or Technoprogressist?
Share your thoughts below!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Didier Coeurnelle, born in 1962, is a Belgian citizen. He is co-chair of Heales (Healthy Life Extension Society) and vice-chair of the Association Française Transhumaniste Technoprog. He is a member of the board of the International Longevity Alliance, Humanity Plus, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. A lifelong member of the Immortality Institute, one of the 300 Members of Methuselah Foundation, and a donor to the SENS Foundation. Didier is one of the main organizers of the Eurosymposium on Healthy Ageing, and co-organized the Longevity Film Competition. For more than twenty years, Didier has also been an active member of Belgian environmental movements (Ecolo then Groen). He published two books (in French) about longevity and transhumanism. He has been participating and organizing many conferences and press contacts about these topics, in French, English, and Dutch.
This article was originally published on Heales.org
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