[Paleopsych] Hedgehog: Langdon Winner: Are Humans Obsolete?

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Tue Oct 26 18:38:02 UTC 2004

Langdon Winner: Are Humans Obsolete?
The Hedgehog Review - Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture
[This is the last of the articles from the Hedgehog Review.]

          Langdon Winner is Professor of Political Science in the
    Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic
    Institute. His work focuses on the social and political implications
    of modern technological change. His books include: Political
    Artifacts: Design and the Quality of Public Life (forthcoming); The
    Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High
    Technology (1986); and Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control
    as a Theme in Political Thought (1977).

          In mainstream writings on science and society from the
    seventeenth century to the end of the millennium, the beneficiary of
    the growth of knowledge was perfectly clear. Humanity as a whole,
    often referred to as "man," was bound to reap the benefits from the
    advance of scientific research and its manifold practical
    applications. Optimistic depictions of progress assumed that
    eventually the growth of science, technology, and modern institutions
    would benefit not only powerful elites, but the world's population
    more broadly with improvements evident in health, nutrition, housing,
    industrial production, transportation, education, and numerous other

          Among the first to grasp the possibilities were Francis Bacon
    and René Descartes, whose writings on the promise of the new science
    included bold projections of the godsend that would flow from the
    laboratories and workshops. Explaining why it was important to
    overcome his modesty and publish his discoveries in physics, Descartes
    comments, "I believed that I could not keep them concealed without
    sinning grievously against the law by which we are bound to
    promote...the general good of mankind." It is at last conceivable, he
    argues, that "we might...render ourselves lords and possessors of
    nature." [3]^1

          It did not take long, however, for flaws in these hopeful
    projections to gain the attention of social critics (Karl Marx most
    prominent among them), who noted that, in practice, the march onward
    and upward had benefited some groups more than others and left working
    people in the dust. In later decades, criticisms that were initially
    focused on divisions of social class were broadened to emphasize
    varieties of discrimination associated with race, gender, and
    ethnicity, ones as potent as social class in withholding the boon to
    "ourselves" that Descartes and others had promised. But even as the
    scope of criticism enlarged, most thinkers still assumed that the
    proper beneficiary of progress was humanity as a whole, including
    populations more diverse than early modernist visions had recognized.
    To this day, in venues like the Human Development Reports published
    each year by the United Nations, the dream is alive and well; it
    remains possible, the U.N. staff insists, to direct the powers of
    science and technology for the benefit of human beings everywhere,
    including those who have enjoyed little of the bounty so far. [4]^2

          In recent years the conventional understandings of progress have
    been challenged yet again, not in this instance by intellectuals
    concerned about inclusion and social justice, but by entrepreneurs who
    have discovered a fine new heir to the accumulation of useful
    knowledge. The writings of several prominent scientists, engineers,
    and businessmen brashly proclaim that, at the end of the day, the
    telos of science has nothing to do with serving human needs or
    alleviating humanity's age-old afflictions. For contemporary
    developments point to the emergence of a new beneficiary, one vastly
    modified and improved as compared to its anthropoid ancestors. Yes,
    human beings may pride themselves in thinking that their presence is
    required both to generate and enjoy the benefits of scientific
    advance, but this vain prejudice is false. According to the new
    prophets of perfectibility, the true inheritor of the legacy of
    science will be an entirely new creature, one variously named metaman,
    post-human, superhuman, robot, or cyborg.

Prophets of Post-Humanism

          Predictions that humanity will soon yield to successor species
    are especially popular among those who spend a good amount of time in
    corporate and university research laboratories where movement on the
    cutting edge is the key to success. While most scientists and
    technologists at work in biotechnology, artificial intelligence,
    robotics, man/machine symbiosis, and similar fields are content with
    modest descriptions of their work, each of these fields has recently
    spawned self-proclaimed futurist visionaries touting far more exotic
    accounts of what is at stake--vast, world-altering changes that loom
    just ahead. Colorful enough to be attractive to the mass media,
    champions of post-humanism have emerged as leading publicists for
    their scientific fields, appearing on best seller lists, as well as
    television and radio talk shows, to herald an era of astonishing

          While the claims of post-humanist futurism are always pitched as
    unprecedented, sensational forecasts, the rhetorical form of such
    messages has assumed a highly predictable pattern. The writer
    enthusiastically proclaims that the growth of knowledge in a
    cutting-edge research field is proceeding at a dizzying pace. He/she
    presents a barrage of colorful illustrations that highlight recent
    breakthroughs, hinting at even more impressive ones in the works.
    Although news from the laboratory may seem scattered and difficult to
    fathom, there are, the writer explains, discernible long-term trends
    emerging. The trajectory of development points to revolutionary
    outcomes, foremost of which will be substantial modifications of human
    beings as we know them, culminating in the fabrication of one or more
    new creatures superior to humans in important respects. The proponent
    insists that developments depicted are inevitable, foreshadowed in
    close connections between technology and human biology that have
    already made us "hybrid" or "composite" beings; any thought of
    returning to an original or "natural" condition is, therefore, simply
    unrealistic, for the crucial boundaries have already been crossed.
    Those who try to resist these earth-shaking developments are simply
    out of touch or, worse, benighted Luddites who resist technological
    change of any sort. Nevertheless, the post-humanist assures us, there
    is still need for ethical reflection upon the events unfolding. For
    although these transformations will necessarily occur, we should think
    carefully about what it all means and how we can gracefully adapt to
    these changes in the years to come.

          Typical of this way of arguing is Gregory Stock's Metaman: The
    Merging of Humans and Machines into a Global Superorganism. With a PhD
    in biophysics from Johns Hopkins and an MBA from Harvard, Stock is
    prepared to map both the scientific and commercial possibilities at
    stake in re-engineering the species:

      Both society and the natural environment have previously undergone
      tumultuous changes, but the essence of being human has remained the
      same. Metaman, however, is on the verge of significantly altering
      human form and capacity
      As the nature of human beings begins to change, so too will
      concepts of what it means to be human. One day humans will be
      composite beings: part biological, part mechanical, part electronic
      By applying biological techniques to embryos and then to the
      reproductive process itself, Metaman will take control of human
      No one can know what humans will one day become, but whether it is
      a matter of fifty years or five hundred years, humans will
      eventually undergo radical biological change. [5]^3

          As Director of the Center for the Study of Evolution and the
    Origin of Life at UCLA, Stock explores the changes he believes the
    future holds in store, including the conquest of aging. "The human
    species," he writes, "is moving out of its childhood. It is time for
    us to acknowledge our growing powers and begin to take responsibility
    for them. We have little choice in this, for we have begun to play god
    in so many of life's intimate realms that we probably could not turn
    back if we tried." [6]^4 Yet Stock believes that ethical reasoning
    must still play a role. In particular, the present generation must
    recognize its "responsibility," a positive commitment that accepts the
    "inevitability" of Metaman and actively exploits every opportunity to
    use genetic engineering to move the human organism beyond what Stock
    depicts as its present decrepit condition. While he recognizes that
    such developments will generate "stresses within society," he argues
    that moral deliberation and decisions about public policy are
    irrelevant: "But whether such changes are `wise' or `desirable' misses
    the essential point that they are largely not a matter of choice; they
    are the unavoidable product of the technological advance intrinsic to
    Metaman." [7]^5

          Similar enthusiasm for the abolition of old-fashioned human
    beings informs the writings of Lee Silver, professor of molecular
    biology at Princeton. His book Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a
    Brave New World surveys near and distant prospects for the clever
    management of human reproduction. In his view, developments already
    visible in scientific laboratories will produce a revolution in
    society, an upheaval whose results include a radical division of the
    species into superior and inferior genetic classes. Contemplating the
    situation he believes will prevail in the U.S.A. in code 2350 /code
    c.e., he writes:

      The GenRich--who account for code 10 /code percent of the American
      population--all carry synthetic genes.... The GenRich are a modern
      day hereditary class of genetic aristocrats.
      All aspects of the economy, the media, the entertainment industry,
      and the knowledge industry are controlled by members of the GenRich
      class.... In contrast, Naturals work as low-paid service providers
      or as laborers. [8]^6

          Silver speculates that by the end of the third millennium, the
    two groups will have become "entirely separate species with no ability
    to cross-breed, and with as much romantic interest in each other as a
    current human would have for a chimpanzee." [9]^7 For those who think
    his vision of the future resembles a bizarre science fiction
    screenplay, Silver answers that, in fact, his scenario "is based on
    straightforward extrapolations from our current knowledge base."
    [10]^8 It is "inevitable" that the use of reprogenetic technologies
    will change the species in fundamental ways. In Silver's view, parents
    who have the financial resources to pass on "enhanced genes" to their
    offspring will jump at the chance to do so and resist any attempts to
    restrict the practice. "Evolution--the old-fashioned way, through
    natural selection--will stop because people will choose which genes to
    add to their children." [11]^9

          The speculations of Stock and Silver, rooted in biotechnology
    and the biomedical sciences, are matched in exuberance by visionaries
    in computer science and robotics who predict the eventual replacement
    of the human being by ingenious feats of engineering. One of the more
    colorful exponents of this position is Ray Kurzweil, an information
    scientist known for several major breakthroughs--the development,
    according to his web page, of "the first print-to-speech reading
    machine for the blind, the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first
    text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of
    recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments" and other
    useful devices. [12]^10 In The Age of Spiritual Machines Kurzweil
    notes that his own gadgets and those of other information
    technologists have far outpaced earlier predictions about what
    computers would be able to do. Ongoing developments in computing will
    soon generate machines far more intelligent than human beings and with
    far brighter prospects than their biological forbears. His conviction
    hinges on a view of accelerating evolutionary change, one increasingly
    common among high tech professionals, that sees evolution moving from
    its original locus within biological systems to a new realm of
    possibilities, the self-organizing dynamism of artificial systems.
    [13]^11 In effect, he argues, time is speeding up because the time
    between salient events in the development of computing power is
    rapidly diminishing; accomplishments that recently seemed impossible
    are upon us in an instant:

      Evolution has been seen as a billion-year drama that led inexorably
      to its grandest creation: human intelligence. The emergence in the
      early twenty-first century of a new form of intelligence on Earth
      that can compete with, and ultimately significantly exceed, human
      intelligence will be a development of greater import than any of
      the events that have shaped human history. [14]^12

          Central to Kurzweil's prophecy is an experience increasingly
    familiar to those who use personal computers and other digital
    equipment, that is, the continuing replacement of computing systems by
    newer, faster, more powerful ones in ever shortening cycles. With each
    successive upgrade, people transfer valuable information from the
    older system to the newer one. In the not-too-distant future this
    sequence of replacement, download, and renewal will, acccording to
    Kurzweil, include not just Pentium chips and personal digital
    assistants, but human beings themselves. "Initially," Kurzweil opines,
    "there will be partial porting--replacing memory circuits, extending
    pattern-recognition and reasoning circuits through neural implants.
    Ultimately, and well before the twenty-first century is completed,
    people will port their entire mind file to the new thinking
    technology." [15]^13 Before long, humans and machines will totally
    merge, and the new creature's artificial features (in contrast to its
    biological ones) will be universally recognized as superior. Looking
    forward to this new era, Kurzweil condescendingly refers to humans as
    MOSHs, "Mostly Original Substrate Humans," people "still using native
    carbon-based neurons and unenhanced by neural implants." [16]^14
    Within this world even the most conservative MOSH would be forced to
    realize that the crucial, enduring entity--intelligence itself--no
    longer depends on any particular, physically and spatially defined,
    computational home. Barring unforeseen mishaps, intelligent beings of
    this sort can expect to be immortal. Alas, the poor souls who do not
    find ways to download their intelligence into the mechanism will be
    excluded from any meaningful participation in the new order of things.

          On the scale of outrageous projection, robotics engineer Hans
    Moravec outdistances even Kurzweil in imagining a future thoroughly
    sanitized of human beings and their debilities. As he proclaims in
    Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind, "Today, as our machines
    approach human competence across the board, our stone-age biology and
    information age lives grow ever more mismatched." [17]^15 The growth
    of increasingly "intelligent" computerized robotic devices, he
    believes, points to the creation of both new, superior, artificial
    beings and new worlds to house them: "Our artificial progeny will grow
    away from and beyond us, both in physical distance and structure, and
    similarity of thought and motive. In time their activities may become
    incompatible with the old Earth's continued existence." [18]^16

          Moravec sees the eventual replacement of humans as foreshadowed
    by ongoing innovations in the business world, changes propelled by the
    quest for better service at lower prices. Phone calls are handled by
    intelligent systems of voice mail; automated teller machines handle
    much of the work of banking; and automated factories increasingly
    handle the work of production as the contribution of human labor
    subsides. [19]^17 He expects developments of this variety to spread,
    absorbing all significant areas of economic activity before long. Even
    the belief that the owners of the means of production are the ones who
    will guide these changes and benefit from them is, in Moravec's view,
    woefully mistaken. Before long, he suggests, "owners will be pushed
    out of capital markets by much cheaper and better robotic decision
    makers." [20]^18

          Moravec imagines generations of robots in the distant future
    that look less and less like the clunky machines we see today, and
    more and more like artificial, self-reproducing organisms. One has the
    shape of "the basket starfish"; another model, "the Bush Robot"
    features a stem, tree-like branches, balls attached to its limbs like
    fruit, and microscopic fingers that "might be able to build a copy of
    itself in about ten hours." [21]^19 Eventually super-intelligent
    creatures of this kind, "Ex-humans" or "Exes," would grow weary of the
    limitations of Earth, seeking their fortunes elsewhere in the
    universe. The question of what will become of ordinary humans in this
    brave new world is for Moravec of little concern. It is clear that his
    sympathies lie with the smarter, more resourceful, more powerful
    successors to our pathetically weak and incompetent species. At one
    point he suggests that when robots end up producing all foods and
    manufactured goods, "humans may work to amuse other humans." [22]^20
    In the longer term, however, this pattern is likely to prove unstable.
    "Biological species," he writes, "almost never survive encounters with
    superior competitors." He speculates that generations of robots who
    leave the Earth may eventually return with aggressive intentions.

      An entity that fails to keep up with its neighbors is likely to be
      eaten, its space, materials, energy, and useful thoughts
      reorganized to serve another's goals. Such a fate may be routine
      for humans who dally too long on slow Earth before going Ex.

          There is something refreshing in the sheer candor of Moravec's
    predictions. Pushing the logic of the post-humanist dreams to their
    ultimate conclusion, he imagines that anthropoid throwbacks will be
    hunted down and shot.

          For some fascinated by notions of post-human beings, merely
    imagining these possibilities is not enough. A small but vocal
    collection of social activists has taken it upon themselves to demand
    a rapid transition to a higher form of being, seeking to play a role
    in its early stages. The Extropians, The Transhumanist Association,
    the French guru Rael and his followers, as well as publicists J.
    Hughes and the late F. M. Esfandiary, are among those who have made
    transcendence of ordinary humanity their central mission, promoting
    human cloning, genetic engineering, life extension, and human/machine
    symbiosis as key steps to a better life. [24]^22 One of the more
    visible campaigners at present is Kevin Warwick, professor of
    cybernetics at Reading University in the U.K., who has gained
    notoriety in his efforts to blur the line between scientific research
    and vigorous advocacy. "I was born human," he writes. "But this was an
    accident of fate--a condition merely of time and place. I believe it's
    something we have the power to change." [25]^23 To this end, Warwick
    has launched a series of experiments, implanting his own body with
    computer chips, hoping to enhance his nervous system with additional
    computing power and thereby contributing to his ultimate goal, the
    creation of a race of "superhumans." One of his hopes is to eliminate
    the cumbersome barriers to communication, the need to use language to
    express our thoughts and feelings. A far better method is to "send
    symbols and ideas and concepts without speaking." [26]^24 To
    demonstrate this possibility Warwick installed matching computer chips
    implanted in his own body and that of his wife, Irena, hoping to
    establish direct communication between their nervous systems including
    their most intimate sexual responses. This research, he believes,
    could dispatch one of humankind's ancient maladies, the faked orgasm.
    "The nervous system is full of electronic signals emanating from the
    brain, which have physical effects, like the way Irena jumps when she
    sees a spider," Warwick observes, "The implication could be never
    faking an orgasm again." [27]^25 Indeed, for a society in which Viagra
    has become a best selling prescription drug, Warwick's chips could
    prove highly marketable.

Perfectibility in Decline

          Because they are pitched at the level of pure fantasy or
    tongue-in-cheek provocation, the claims of the post-humanists are
    often difficult to accept at face value. Some of their conjectures and
    proposals, however, are well within the realm of plausibility, close
    enough to ongoing projects in fields of contemporary research and
    development that they deserve careful scrutiny. We know, of course,
    that cutting-edge technologies typically require large amounts of
    public funding during their early stages. For that reason, both
    citizens and elected officials should critically examine government
    support of projects within the various orbits of post-human research,
    especially since their success would have problematic policy
    implications, for example, placing homo sapiens on the endangered
    species list.

          A useful setting in which to gauge post-humanist intentions is
    the lengthy heritage of thinking about perfectibility, one that
    includes the world's great religions, several schools of classical and
    medieval philosophy, as well as much of modern social theory. From
    Pythagoras to B. F. Skinner, perfectibilists in the West have
    suggested a variety of paths for improving the species--mystical
    reflection, religious devotion, moral discipline, well-tuned
    education, psychological therapy, scientific advance, technological
    productivity, rational breeding, and the creative shaping of
    political, economic, and social institutions. [28]^26 Within this
    sprawling, eternally optimistic tradition, the post-humanists have
    selected a distinctive route, seeking to improve discrete units, the
    physical bodies of present and future individuals. This approach,
    found as early as Plato's commitment to selective breeding and pursued
    more recently by the nineteenth-and twentieth-century eugenics
    movements, gains renewed hope in potentially effective means of
    technological intervention. Today it seems possible to succeed where
    earlier attempts failed, fixing the ills and weaknesses of particular
    bodies while realizing the vast potential stored in humanity's
    decrepit physical shell. So thorough is the commitment of
    post-humanists to the single unit, single body approach that it seems
    inconceivable to them that other routes to perfectibility are open to
    us. [29]^27

          In fact, an alternative vision about how to improve humankind
    has often been favored in modern philosophy, an approach whose
    concerns and commitments provide a revealing contrast to post-humanist
    schemes. Although the many expressions of this vision are far from
    uniform in either theory or practice, its core of beliefs are fairly
    consistent. The key premise is that humans are fundamentally social
    beings whose development depends upon favorable conditions for forming
    social bonds and sentiments. From this perspective, the path to
    improvement for humanity involves changing institutions--laws,
    governments, workplaces, dwellings, schools, and the like--in ways
    that will nurture the potential of individuals and the groups of which
    they are members. Real creativity in this regard comes not so much in
    operating on particular atomistic individuals, but in shaping the
    rule-guided frameworks and material structures of community life. Such
    were the hopes of Condorcet, Rousseau, Godwin, Paine, Saint-Simon,
    Fourier, Owen, Comte, Marx, Kropotkin, Goldman, Dewey, and a host of
    others who believed that the essentially social character of men and
    women offered the most promising prospects for positive change.

          One of most beautifully crafted statements of this position in
    modern thought is Antoine-Nicolas de Condorcet's Sketch for a
    Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, published in
    1795. A nobleman by birth, mathematician and philosopher by vocation,
    Condorcet was one of the literati who organized the Encyclopaedia and
    promoted ideas linking scientific enlightenment to political reform.
    Enmeshed in partisan struggles of the French Revolution, he eventually
    found himself on the wrong side of a factional dispute and was forced
    into hiding where, just before his capture and death in prison, he
    wrote the Sketch, a much-abbreviated version of a larger work he had
    planned. The book describes nine stages in world history plus a tenth
    that lies in the future, arguing that there is a necessary,
    irreversible tendency for human faculties to seek perfection:

      In spite of the transitory successes of prejudice and the support
      that it receives from the corruption of governments or peoples,
      truth alone will obtain a lasting victory; we shall demonstrate how
      nature has joined together indissolubly the progress of knowledge
      and that of liberty, virtue and respect for the natural rights of
      man. [31]^29

          Resisting any hint of scientific elitism or technocracy,
    Condorcet insists that the growth of knowledge is a powerful force for
    equality and solidarity among the world's people. He recognizes that
    three main causes of inequality--wealth, status, and education--are
    found everywhere, but predicts their demise as improvements in the
    practical arts expand productivity, eliminate scarcity, and make it
    possible for everyone to earn a comfortable living. By the same token,
    the spread of well-planned systems of universal education will tend to
    rectify existing inequalities by informing people of the "common
    rights to which they are called by nature." [32]^30 Echoing the
    Socratic teaching that evil is rooted in ignorance, he argues that
    age-old practices of tyranny and oppression will gradually vanish as a
    scientific grasp of political affairs inspires new frameworks of law.
    Because these favorable tendencies are universal among human beings,
    not just in populations of Europe, he predicts that the achievement of
    freedom, equality, and human rights will eventually occur in all the
    nations of the world. "In short," he asks, "will not the general
    welfare that results from the progress of the useful arts once they
    are grounded on solid theory...incline mankind to humanity,
    benevolence and justice?" [33]^31

          The warm generosity of Condorcet's essay stands in stark
    contrast to the hard-edged boosterism characteristic of today's
    post-humanist manifestos. Nevertheless, the quest for improvement
    mapped by Condorcet and his successors shares some common ground with
    today's would-be visionaries: belief in the development of creative
    intelligence ("reason" as the philosophes preferred) as the underlying
    source of historical change; faith in limitless scientific advance as
    a prime expression of this faculty; hope for the apotheosis of
    humanity within a transcendent, deeply spiritual form of being. Where
    the two approaches abruptly part company is a fork in the road where
    the advocate has to decide who will continue on the journey and who
    will not. Dreams of human equality and solidarity embraced by
    liberals, utopians, socialists, and pragmatists of earlier generations
    have no standing in theories of a post-humanist future. As we have
    seen, the concerted effort to cultivate highly unequal successors to
    homo sapiens is routinely applauded in post-humanist schemes,
    celebrated as evidence that genetic and cybernetic breakthroughs are
    finally proceeding apace. Obligatory expressions of ethical concern
    about tensions between old-fashioned inferiors and newly engineered
    superior specimens are typically given short shrift. After all, bold
    pioneers busily charting our future have little patience with annoying
    quibbles of that kind. As Silver, Stock, Kurzweil, Moravec, and
    Warwick make perfectly clear, the unity of humankind is now in the
    cross hairs, a likely casualty of the grand evolution of creative
    intelligence. People who agonize about its demise are simply out of
    touch with the direction of current and future events. [34]^32

          For thinkers who claim to revere evolution so thoroughly and who
    feature themselves as agents of the next evolutionary leap, the
    post-humanists' choice of an unsocial, single unit atomism as the best
    path to perfectibility is highly problematic. Recent scientific
    accounts of evolution have stressed the inherent sociality of humans;
    the ways in which human existence, survival, and ability adapt to
    changing circumstances depend upon the inborn tendency of the species
    to form and maintain groups. In fact, humans do not live as isolated
    individuals characterized by bundles of atomistic traits. They are
    always found in social settings and treat each new situation they
    encounter as an opportunity to develop social bonds and social norms.
    This fact is evidently given in our make-up, crucial to any realistic
    understanding of who we are. [35]^33 Yet attention to the social
    dimensions of human being and human evolution is missing in
    post-humanist accounts of how we arrived here and where we are headed.
    Even the list of human features scheduled for re-engineering,
    bio-technical projects reflects the lack of awareness of humanity's
    grounding in networks of sociality. Preferred are traits of
    intelligence, physical strength, beauty, freedom from disease, and
    longevity; it is these that dynamic research will seek to amplify. But
    other qualities widely recognized as crucial to our
    well-being--empathy, cooperativeness, the capacity to love and
    nurture--are never mentioned on the agendas of post-humanist science.

          This lop-sided view of human beings is also reflected in the
    suggestions of post-humanists about how decisions on matters of policy
    should be made. Here again an atomistic, single unit view of human
    possibilities is the one praised as the best way to make choices, in
    particular the setting offered by the so-called "free" market in which
    rational individuals come together to make deals, buying and selling
    the valuable goods and services. This view accords with the pungent
    combination of market ideology and high-tech innovation that became a
    hallmark of economic and political ideology in the United States
    during the 1980s and 1990s. Notions of this kind are associated with
    the rise of Silicon Valley, the creation of the Internet,
    telecommunications reform, the vogue of venture capitalism, the stock
    market boom of the Clinton years, and ecstatic celebrations of
    cyberspace as the new locus of business and community life. Later, of
    course, the same alluring blend of market and technology fell on hard
    times, evident in the Dot-com bust, stock market collapse, and
    financial scandals of WorldCom, Enron, and other high-flying
    firms--the sad aftermath of what Federal Reserve Bank chairman Alan
    Greenspan called the era of "irrational exuberance." Many prospectuses
    in the post-humanist portfolio were penned during this New Gilded Age
    (some of them obviously in hope of attracting venture capital) and
    bear the distinctive stamp of the era's uncritical enthusiasm for
    innovation propelled by de-regulated markets.

          An illustration of how an economic philosophy of this kind
    informs post-humanist programs is found in Gregory Stock's advice on
    how to "redesign humans." He assures us that what some people find
    disturbing possibilities for future genetic enhancement are merely
    extensions of already common practices.

      Even today, fashion and market preferences determine much more than
      merely the selection of consumer products we find in the stores.
      These factors also shape the biological world, determining the
      crops we plant, the domestic animals we raise, the flowers we grow,
      the pets we lavish with attention. [36]^34

          It is a logical next step, in Stock's opinion, to regard genetic
    choice technologies (GCTs) as market commodities subject to the
    desires of individuals. Hence, the market is the best way to select
    good GCTs (the ones people actually want to buy) as compared to
    undesirable GCTs (those that fail to attract enough customers): "When
    people have a range of reproductive options, they generally try to get
    what they want in the easiest, cheapest, safest, most reversible way."

          Stock expects that the key decisions about human biology will be
    made within the framework of an emerging, capitalist, global economy,
    making good GCT market products available worldwide at bargain prices.
    His fear is that Americans will listen to those who have misgivings
    about human enhancement and designer children, missing a great
    opportunity to take the lead in this exciting growth industry. Thus,
    he urges Americans to forge boldly ahead with human genetic
    technologies and "not pull back and relinquish their development to
    braver souls in more adventurous nations of the world." [38]^36

          In view of the market-centered calamities of the early 21^st
    century and the frantic rush to re-regulate accounting and the rules
    that govern corporate management, advice of this kind seems reckless.
    Is it wise to subject fundamental, long-term choices about the
    structure and character of human beings to the caprices and
    vicissitudes of the global shopping mall? After all, who decided that
    market settings and market motives are the best means for deciding
    humanity's long-term future? In actual practice, a likely consequence
    of reliance on the unmodified market model is to favor the cultural
    preferences of small, unrepresentative groups of people--corporations
    and consumers in well-to-do countries of the North--over the desires
    and commitments of the world's populace as a whole. Unfortunately, the
    writings of post-humanists show little awareness of their deep
    cultural biases and, indeed, of the breathtaking cultural arrogance
    their proposals involve. Many of their ideas about how the future of
    humanity will unfold clearly assume that it is "Just we folks,"
    ordinary, everyday people who will decide what will happen. But the
    advocates have not looked carefully at how their notions reflect
    unstated, unexamined preconceptions rooted in their own highly
    rarified, upper-middle-class, white, professional, American and
    European lifestyles. In post-humanist writings a deeply assumed map of
    the relevant lifeworld seems to stretch from the university laboratory
    to the fertility clinic, to the BMW dealer, and on to the nearest
    Nordstroms. Somewhere within this landscape they evidently expect to
    find the new Ubermensch, maybe wearing an Abercrombie t-shirt.

          Nowhere is the obtuse arrogance of post-humanist rhetoric more
    apparent than in its incessant claim that the changes at issue are
    foreordained by history or, even better, by evolution itself. "The
    accelerating pace of change is inexorable," Kurzweil exclaims. "The
    emergence of machine intelligence that exceeds human intelligence in
    all of its broad diversity is inevitable." [39]^37 Echoing these
    sentiments, Stock subtitles his book on the redesign of humans, Our
    Inevitable Genetic Future. The underlying message in such
    proclamations is perfectly clear: faced with the powerful momentum of
    bio-technical developments, only a fool goes searching for
    alternatives or limits.

          Counsel of this kind is absurd on its face, for it denies what
    all serious studies of scientific and technological change have shown,
    namely, that technological changes of any significance involve intense
    social interaction, competition, conflict, and negotiation in which
    the eventual outcomes are highly contingent. Within the making and
    application of new technologies, there are always competing interests,
    contesting positions on basic principles, and numerous branching
    points in which people choose among several options, giving form to
    the instrumentalities finally realized, discarding others that may
    have seemed attractive. Modern history is filled with examples of
    technological developments announced as "inevitable" that never took
    root--personal helicopters, atomic airplanes, videophones, and
    extensive colonies in outer space, among others. Nuclear power, for
    example, touted in the 1950s as an ineluctable product of modern
    physics and source of all future electricity, eventually encountered
    problems of construction costs, plant safety, and waste disposal that
    undermined its social and political support, perhaps for all time.

          From this standpoint, announcements that particular outcomes are
    "inevitable" can be little more than attempts to hijack what might
    otherwise be a lively debate, excluding most people from the
    negotiations. A group of privileged actors proclaims: "Good news! The
    future has been foreclosed! Your needs, dreams, ideas, and
    contributions are no longer relevant. But thanks for listening."

          At present there are more than six billion humans living on
    Earth, most of whom have not yet heard of the grand schemes flowing
    from Westwood, Princeton, Cambridge, Santa Cruz, and other meccas of
    post-humanist speculation. If this wider populace knew what the
    intellectuals and entrepreneurs had in store for them, they might want
    to take a closer look, asking to participate in the decisions at
    stake, not just as consumers of end products of innovation, but as
    citizens who would like a voice in deciding basic principles and
    policies. After all, to alter our species significantly or to seek to
    eliminate human beings for all time would seem to be a matter that
    requires the most serious study, reflection, and debate. At the very
    least, it makes sense to discover whether or not there is consensus
    among the world's people that the sweeping changes proposed with such
    alacrity are warranted or desirable.

          I cannot predict much less prescribe what this wider set of
    groups and persuasions might decide when faced with these proposals.
    But if they examined the agendas for the so-called improvements the
    post-humanists prefer, a more inclusive population might notice some
    extremely odd judgments about what counts as superior. They might
    notice, for example, disturbing similarities to ideas of "superiority"
    that have been imposed through slavery, colonialism, and genocide,
    and, alas, occasional agendas of scientific research during the modern
    era, projects that have done little to buttress confidence that
    professionals in the North have everyone's best interests at heart.
    Asked what they would like to do, perhaps the world's populace might
    point to more urgent projects long promised but left undone, for
    example, securing adequate nutrition, sanitation, housing, health
    care, and education for the three billion among us who are still in
    desperate need. Better genes and electronic implants? Hell, how about
    potable water?

          In this light, the vision in Condorcet's last testament still
    demands attention; the real challenge lies in realizing the potential
    of all humans regardless of their prior condition of poverty and
    oppression. Until that hope is fulfilled, post-humanist ambitions will
    seem irrelevant or patently obscene.

    [40]^1 René Descartes, Discourse on Method, Book Six. ] [41]^2 See,
    for example, Human Development Report 2000, United Nations Development
    Programme (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). ] [42]^3 Gregory
    Stock, Metaman: The Merging of Humans and Machines into a Global
    Superorganism (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993) 150, 152, 164, 168. ]
    [43]^4 Gregory Stock, "Introduction," Human Germline Engineering:
    Implications for Science and Society
    [44]<http://research.mednet.ucla.edu/pmts/Germline/bhwf.htm>. ] [45]^5
    Stock, Metaman, 168. ] [46]^6 Lee M. Silver, Remaking Eden: Cloning
    and Beyond in a Brave New World (New York: Avon, 1997) 4, 6. ] [47]^7
    Silver 7. ] [48]^8 Silver 7. ] [49]^9 "Liberation Biology," an
    interview with Lee M. Silver, Reason Online (May 1999)
    [50]<http://www.reason.com/9905/fe.rb.liberation.html>. ] [51]^10 See
    "A Brief Career Summary of Ray Kurzweil,"
    [52]<http://www.kurzweiltech.com/aboutray.html>. ] [53]^11 See, for
    example, Kevin Kelly, Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines,
    Social Systems and the Economic World (Reading: Addison-Wesley, 1994).
    ] [54]^12 Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers
    Exceed Human Intelligence (New York: Viking, 1999) 5. ] [55]^13
    Kurzweil 126. ] [56]^14 Kurzweil 311. ] [57]^15 Hans Moravec, Robot:
    Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind (New York: Oxford University Press,
    1999) 7. ] [58]^16 Moravec 11. ] [59]^17 Moravec 130. ] [60]^18
    Moravec 133. ] [61]^19 Moravec 152. ] [62]^20 Moravec 132. ] [63]^21
    Moravec 146. ] [64]^22 J. Hughes' views are especially interesting
    because he situates them in the context of radical democratic
    political theory. See Hughes, "Embracing Change with All Four Arms: A
    Post-Humanist Defense of Genetic Engineering," Eubios Journal of Asian
    and International Bioethics code 6.4 /code (June 1996): 94- code 101
    /code [65]<http://www.changesurfer.com/Hlth/Genetech.html>>. ] [66]^23
    Kevin Warwick, "Cyborg 1.0," Wired code 8.02 /code
    [67]<http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.02/warwick_pr.html>. ]
    [68]^24 Warwick in
    [69]<http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.02/warwick_pr.html>. ]
    [70]^25 Kevin Warwick, quoted in "Microchip Hailed as `End of the
    Faked Orgasm,'" Annova ( code 5 /code October 2000)
    [72]<http://www.changesurfer.com/Hlth/Genetech.html>. ] [73]^26 An
    excellent overview of this tradition can be found in John Passmore,
    The Perfectibility of Man (London: Duckworth, 1970). ] [74]^27 The
    reasons why visionary technologists sometimes prefer "operating unit
    designs" are discussed in Robert Boguslaw, The New Utopians: A Study
    of System Design and Social Change (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall,
    1965) chapter code 5 /code . ] [75]^28 A classic interpretation of
    ideas of this kind is Frank E. Manuel and Fritzie P. Manuel, Utopian
    Thought in the Western World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
    1979). ] [76]^29 Antoine-Nicolas de Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical
    Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, trans. June Barraclough
    (1795; London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1955) code 10 /code . ]
    [77]^30 Condorcet 184. ] [78]^31 Condorcet 193. ] [79]^32 For a
    modestly worded critique of proposals for human bioengineering, see
    Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the
    Biotechnology Revolution (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002).
    Fukuyama worries that "the posthuman world could be one that is far
    more hierarchical and competitive than the one that currently exists,
    and full of social conflict as a result" (218). ] [80]^33 See L. R.
    Caporael, "Parts and Wholes: The Evolutionary Importance of Groups,"
    Individual Self, Relational Self, Collective Self, ed. Constantine
    Sedikides and Marilynn B. Brewer (Philadelphia: Psychology, 2000) code
    241 /code -58; and R. F. Baumeister and M. R. Leary, "The Need to
    Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human
    Motivation," Psychological Bulletin code 117 /code (1995): 497- code
    529 /code . ] [81]^34 Gregory Stock, Redesigning Humans: Our
    Inevitable Genetic Future (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002) code 34
    /code . ] [82]^35 Stock, Redesigning Humans, 60- code 1 /code . ]
    [83]^36 Stock, Redesigning Humans, code 201 /code . ] [84]^37 Kurzweil
    code 253 /code . ]

More information about the paleopsych mailing list