Friday November 23, 2007
Several weeks ago, I posted here about a New Scientist article written by Danielle Egan on the subject of Transhumanism. Transhumanism is a broad-based movement that sets its sights upon the enhancement of human capacities by technological means. This, of course, is something that technology has always done ever since the first of our distant ancestors started poking at things with sticks; but arguably the possibilities for extending human existence (either in terms of human capacities or in terms of longevity) by technological means are greater than they have ever been. In my original article, I echoed some of the concerns raised in the New Scientist concerning the aspirations and ideals of at least some of the Transhumanists, in particular those voiced by Marvin Minsky. The original article can be found here.
No sooner had I published this article than I received a comment on the site from Marvin Minsky, claiming that the New Scientist article had substantially misrepresented his position. It was a tricky call, but claims to misrepresentation are something that it is worth taking seriously, and so I temporarily unpublished the first article, whilst waiting to see if there was any more substantial response to the article in the letter pages of the New Scientist – surely the most obvious place for such a response. Given that I rarely unpublish anything once written, I also published a second article (see here) explaining my decision. This second article reiterated some of my concerns regarding both the nature of some of the aspirations within Transhumanism and questions ethical responsibility that the original article posed.
The story, however, did not end there. Not long afterwards, Danielle Egan, the writer of the original article, got in touch to tell me that she stood by what she had written. She also sent me an extract from the unedited transcript that seemed to support her original claims.
As no further comment has been forthcoming in the letters pages of the New Scientist, a week or two ago I contacted both Marvin Minsky and Danielle Egan to let them know that I would be republishing the earlier article, and that I would be adding a further post to the site to explain the background to some of this. I am adding a rider to the two earlier posts to suggest that they, and this present post, should be read together. This, I believe, should give a fair overview of the issues at stake as the content of these posts must, I think, be necessarily understood in the context of this on-going discussion.
I welcome considered responses to any of these three posts, although I would ask anyone who wishes to comment to read all three articles before doing so.
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