FAQ: General questions

Nick Bostrom (bostrom@ndirect.co.uk)
Tue, 14 Jul 1998 14:19:31 +0000

I've just slightly modified Greg's arrrangement and added questions about transhumanist art, the singularity, uploading, and a few more suggested by Michael Nielsen (environment, dangers, superintelligence). We can still change the format later. I suggest we focus on one section at a time. (Those who have already made suggestions for suitable answers may want to repeat them since it would be convenient to have all anwers to one question on the same thread.)

Remember, both quotable one-liners and full answers are useful. (And I assume that everything posted on this thread becomes our common intellectual property that we can all cut and paste and use at will.)


What is transhumanism?

Transhumanism is the philosophy which advocates the use of technology to overcome our biological limitations and transform the human condition. The accelerating pace of technological development opens up such revolutionary prospects as superhuman artificial intelligence and molecular nanotechnology. The consequences of these developments may include: the biochemical enrichment or redesign of our pleasure-centres so we enjoy a richer diversity of emotions, life-long happiness and exhilarating peak experiences every day; the elimination of ageing; the abolition of disease; and perhaps the gradual replacement of human bodies with synthetic enhancements and computers. Or by contrast, it could mean that intelligent life will go extinct. These are extreme possibilities. Yet they are taken seriously by an increasing number of scientists and scientifically-literate philosophers.

What is a posthuman?

A posthuman is a human successor that has been transformed and augmented to such a degree as to be no longer a mere human. Posthumans could be completely synthetic or they could be the result of extending a biological human's capacities with many partial augmentations. In either case, a posthuman would be a "higher" life-form than humans, in the same sense as a human could be said to be higher than an ape. More specifically, this means that a posthuman may have a greatly expanded intellect and memory; an indefinite life-span; the ability to choose it's own mental states and emotions. Also exosomatic ("outside-the-body") improvements count, such as rapid access to databases or networks containing huge landscapes of ideas and information; high-bandwidth communication links with other posthumans (almost like telepathy); and advanced manufactuing technologies for building physical structures.

Most transhumanists think it is impossible to fully imagine what posthumans would do or what it would be like be a posthuman -- just as non-human primates cannot begin fathom the complexity of the human affairs.

Nick Bostrom
Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method London School of Economics