May 26, 2024

Training Transhumanists at Oxford University

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, ethics, mobile phones, neuroscience, transhumanism

Those who know Oxford University for its literary luminaries might be surprised to learn that some of the most important reflections on emerging technologies come from its hallowed halls. While the leading tech innovators in Silicon Valley capture imaginations with their bold visions of future singularities, mind-machine melding, and digital immortality by 2045, they rarely engage as deeply with the philosophical issues surrounding such developments as their like-minded scholars over the pond. This essay will briefly highlight some of the key contributions of Oxford University’s professors Nick Bostrom, Anders Sandberg, and Julian Savulescu to the transhumanist movement. It will also show how this movement’s focus on radical autonomy in biotechnical enhancements shapes the wider global bioethical conversation.

As the lead author of the Transhumanist FAQ, Bostrom provides the closest the movement has to an institutional catechism. He is, in a sense, the Ratzinger of Transhumanism. The first paragraph of the seminal text emphasizes the evolutionary vision of his school. Transhumanism’s incessant pursuit of radical technological transformation is “based on the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase.” Current humans are but one intriguing yet greatly improvable iteration of human existence. Think of the first iPhone and how unattractive 2007’s most cutting-edge technology is in 2024.

In particular, transhumanists encourage radical physical, cognitive, mood, moral, and lifespan enhancements. The movement seeks to defeat humanity’s perennial enemies of aging, sickness, suffering, and death. Bostrom recognizes that he is facing the same foes as Christianity and other traditional religions. Yet he is confident that Transhumanism, through science and technology, will be far more successful than outdated superstitions. Biotechnological advances are more reliable for this worldly benefit than religion’s promises of some mysterious next life. Transhumanists claim no need for “supernatural powers or divine intervention” in their avowedly “naturalistic outlook” since they rely instead on “rational thinking and empiricism” and “continued scientific, technological, economic, and human development.” Nonetheless, Bostrom and his companions recognize that not all technology is created equal.

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