Re: FAQ: General questions
Sat, 18 Jul 1998 09:37:16 EDT

In a message dated 98-07-15 19:55:10 EDT, Nick Bostrom wrote:

> What is transhumanism?
> Transhumanism is the philosophy which advocates the use of technology
> to overcome our biological limitations and transform the human
> condition.

A couple of comments:

I prefer the introductory clause: "Transhumanists advocate the use..." as more direct than what is suggested. The reader will easily comprehend that "transhumanists" are the people who exemplify "transhumanism", thereby avoiding "is the philosophy which". As the Emperor said to Mozart in "Amadeus", "Too many notes!" In the same vein, I suggest using the word "limits" instead of "limitations".

I also suggest avoiding "and transform the human condition" as part of the very first sentence in the FAQ, for two reasons. First, "transforming the human condition" is a VERY big subject and one in which one can find much ambiguity. Thus, it raises more questions than it answers. Second, as a potential "recruiting" device, the FAQ should take the reader into our ideas in easy steps. While the core transhumanist vision is indeed grandiose, I find that taking things a little slowly for the uninitiated is the best rhetorical path to persuasion.

> 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.

Again, this seems a little accelerated for a first paragraph. I would suggest the following:

The accelerating pace of technological development and scientific understanding of the human animal is creating the possibility of a whole new stage in the history of the human race. In the very near future we will face the prospect of such technologies as real artificial intelligence, new kinds of cognitive tools that combine artificial intelligence with new interface technology, powerful new molecular biological engineering and non-biological molecular nanotechnology. The consequences of these developments will include the prospect of meaningful augmentation of the human being in fundamental ways. Realistic possibilities flowing from these developments include significant increases in human mental and physical power and vastly extended life spans. They also include the possibility of great harm to human life as we know it. Even though these are extreme possibilities, they are taken seriously by an increasing number of scientists and scientifically literate philosophers and social thinkers.

> 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.

Here I would avoid the use of the word "mere" as potentially off-putting. I suggest the following:

... to such a degree as to be no longer a simple "human being" in the original sense of the word.

> 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 its 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 a computing network); 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
> human affairs.

One editorial comment: The last sentence should read "begin to fathom"

	Greg Burch     <>----<>
	   Attorney  :::  Director, Extropy Institute  :::  Wilderness Guide   -or-
	           "Good ideas are not adopted automatically.  They must
	              be driven into practice with courageous impatience."