The dangers of transhumanism

A diagram showing the human body, displayed as though on a computer system.

writer icon Iegor Bakhariev     ISB   |   Tech     🕐 16. Jan. 2019

It has recently been revealed that faulty medical implants have caused injuries and health problems for millions of patients. While medical technologies undergo a number of tests and are subject to numerous regulations, transhumanism lacks such scrutiny when it comes to quality control. It thus begs a question – what are the dangers that transhuman technology brings in the future?

What is transhumanism?
The main goal of transhumanism, or as it is sometimes referred to, “human enhancement”, is to enhance human performance by combining Bio- and Nano-technology with the human body. As a result, it should improve the mental and physical state of human beings, cure diseases, disabilities and even overcome death. 

Cybersecurity in the era of transhumanism
Like every technology, transhumanism has pitfalls. A large risk from transhumanism appears in the area of cybersecurity. The experts in the field of global security are saying that the dangers are imminent.

“Now, for the first time in history, the human body itself is a subject to cyber-attacks and we are completely unprepared for that,”
says Marc Goodman, a global security futurist and the author of Future Crimes.

The biggest fear for security professionals is not that devices are faulty as such, but that they will all eventually be connected to the internet. From pacemakers to artificial implants, medical devices have wireless units and internet connectivity.

When a device can be connected to the internet vulnerability for hacking increases. Cisco and Intel have projected that by 2020 there will be from 50 to 200 billion devices connected to the internet. This means more devices to be hacked and greater danger for the public.

Marc Goodman also acknowledges in the light of the rapid changes there is “a tremendous opportunity” for entrepreneurs and security companies to protect from the hacking of transhuman devices. Some security labs tackle these issues and try to avoid past mistakes to happen again.

For example, Kaspersky Lab has created a collaborative project with the Swedish biohacking community BioNyfiken, in order to prepare for the threats of evolving technologies, and transhumanism in particular.

DNA malware
As Goodman said during his Ted Talk - “for hackers, DNA is just another operating system waiting to be hacked.” While the DNA research is growing and developing, security experts have shown that DNA is susceptible to hacking.

The scientists at Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering of the University of Washington were looking at the vulnerability of programmes that use synthetic DNA. They “were able to remotely exploit and gain full control over a computer using adversarial synthetic DNA.” 

Although the team at Paul G. Allen School tried to assure that there is “no evidence to believe that the security of DNA data is currently under attack,” bioinformatics software is susceptible to malware.

Considering such developments, the question is not how. Instead, it is a matter of when hackers will find a way to use the security weaknesses of DNA to penetrate transhuman technologies. 

Threats outside of cybersecurity
No matter how drastic the suggested enhancements are - whether they expand the human life, or it is a chip implant that can hold information, the results can be bad on a larger scale. The futuristic technologies, as emphasised by digital journliast and bioethicist Alex Pearlman during the 2018 Øredev Conference in Malmö, may lead to a dysfunction in various fields, including philosophy, religion, ethics and law.

While the scientific world has been praising transhumanism as the future of humanity, scientists in social studies, such as Francis Fukuyama and Gerald McKenny, have put the concept under criticism. Every new technology will always be assessed according to the rules of ethics and morality. When such questions come up in relation to cloning and DNA, there is no reason to believe that transhuman technologies will be given special treatment.

How ethically and morally acceptable is transhumanism?
Apart from benefits for society, transhumanism might bring even more inequality and poverty. Alex Pearlman pointed out at Øredev that “economic inequality has created massive inequality and how is this going to be compounded when people are not only wealthier than others but also are healthier?”

One can only imagine what the world would look like when some people will be able to afford enhancement technology, while others will continue living in poverty. Who will benefit from the technology? The ones who are truly in need, or the ones who possess the means?

Making a decision about when a person will be regarded as too old to perform certain tasks, or when they should retire, will become more difficult. This will create tougher conditions for the younger generation to find work, which will probably lead to mental instability.

Transhumanism might also bring a moral divide within society. There is already a public split of opinions on enhancement drugs that might cure psychological diseases.

As John Harris, a Professor of Bioethics at the University of Manchester School of Law pointed out, “the issue of the citizens of rich countries gaining further advantages over the poor will rightly disturb many.” Such a divide between the citizens will be increasingly apparent.

Human rights and privacy concerns
Francis Fukuyama asked a relevant question in his article on transhumanism. “If we start transforming ourselves into something superior, what rights will these enhanced creatures claim, and what rights will they possess when compared to those left behind?”

Legal scholars mention that transhumanism is utilitarian in nature – its aim is to achieve better results and satisfy personal needs.

The law is built on a different idea, where the rights of all people take the first place. This creates conflict between certain rights, especially human rights and right to privacy.

Inevitable discrimination

Even though enhancement technologies aim to make the life “better”, it will be hard to avoid discriminatory conditions for people who will not have access to such technology.

In his book, Enhancing Evolution, John Harris states that “the divide between high-income and low-income countries will be increased, with low-income countries effectively denied access to the technology that might make some of their citizens immortal.”

Indeed, if the average life will become 200 years for only one-third of the population, several concepts, such as the right to life and dignity, will be directly affected.

Human rights organisations are currently struggling to solve problems of access to the basic needs of people in poor regions and war zones. The new technology might not only never work for their benefits, but it might also be used for military purposes, which will only serve to escalate the existing conflicts.

Change happens quickly
Technology moves at a high speed, and very soon gadgets will allow people to read one’s thoughts or have portable x-ray glasses. Devices that could easily intrude into the privacy of others will be hard to control with legal regulations. Thus, clashes in the field of privacy law will be inevitable.

As Roger Brownsword, a Professor in Law, pointed out - in order to reject such claims, “utilitarians or dignitarians [should] come up with some arguments in support of their baseline principles.” Until such arguments are presented, implementation of the new technologies will be somewhat difficult to justify.

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