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What About Me? -- The transhumanist future that (probably) won't include me.

by Gareth John

As a technoprogressive it’s my desire to see that everyone benefits from emerging technologies with regard the rapidly approaching transhumanist future. To this end I’m trying to do what little I can to further and support technoprogressive aims and ideals. This does however beg the question: what about me?

A little snapshot of my life right now. I live with bipolar affective disorder as best I can. As a result of a worsening of my condition I recently lost my job and my psychiatrist doesn’t see me returning to work any time soon. Thus, my dream of becoming a CEO of a tech company or indeed be  reinstated in any productive activity for the foreseeable future is tenuous at least. I have worked in Social Care most of my life since leaving academia apart from a three-year stint as a lorry driver.

Bill Gates I am not.

I’m also not scientifically trained nor am I an IT specialist or biotechnologist. I am, quite simply, a regular guy with a regular job. When I had a job.

Here in the UK state benefits (at least in my case) have been quite generous and I can live quite comfortably, if not luxuriously. I am forty-eight years old and my career as an academic, ending some fifteen years ago, was in the field of Indo-Tibetan studies where I studied towards a Doctorate in Tibetan language, culture and religion. You can throw Sanskrit in there for good measure. Upon completing my thesis, I took it, and everything associated with it (even floppy disks), and burnt the lot in my back garden. Another story for another time, but the result is that I didn’t get to submit my thesis so no Dr. John for me. That’s bipolar for you and at least I had my Masters. I was pretty good behind the wheel of an eight-wheeler too.

So, what have I got? A meagre existence with likely less than a perfect future. Them’s the breaks. Having plenty of time to think I’ve been pondering my future as a technoprogressive and I guess it comes down to this: how likely is it that I am likely to benefit from current transhumanist possibilities in the pipeline? Despite the likes of Kurzweil, De Grey or Vinge et al I remain skeptical that I will have the time left to me or, more importantly, the resources to enable me to revel in the post-singularity celebrations, assuming they will be something to revel about. Kurzweil may be sixty-nine with a ‘biological age’ in his late forties, but I can pretty much mirror that going in the opposite direction. The idea that I can spend tens of thousands of pounds per annum on the ‘Immortality Diet’ is, of course, never going to happen, although I recognise that I am far from being the only transhumanist in such a position. [1]

It is this last point that leads me to the somewhat obvious conclusion that even were transhumanist technologies to conform with Kurzweil’s predictions re: exponential growth leading to the Singularity in the next couple of decades, they will, probably, remain out of reach for someone in my position. My prediction is that this will not be the case for the upper ranks of Google, Apple, or indeed any successful entrepreneur with a wad of cash and the desire to live forever. Barring a particularly generous philanthropist (positions open - cheques and credit cards accepted), it’s also unlikely that I’ll be jumping into one of Alcor’s tanks at the point where I am shuffling off this mortal coil.

Now there are those that would argue that these represent nothing more than the first world problems of a Generation X whiner. And they’re absolutely right to do so. I have a roof over my head, food and clean water, heating and a car that can go from nought to sixty in about three days. I am already transhuman in the sense that I own a computer and mobile phone, have access to the internet, medical technologies at my disposal should I require them, and I am not so disabled that I cannot function at all. I do not have to beg, borrow or steal to survive, and I have the leisure time to think and the means to communicate these thoughts to others should I choose.

So, what is my point here? It is, quite simply, that I must recognise that, although I may put all my energy into the technoprogressive community, although I may hope for a transhumanist future utopia in which I take part, I have to face up to the fact that it doesn’t seem likely that this will be the case, and, as I pointed out earlier, there will no doubt be many others in my position. Serendipitously, I was born too late, made choices early in life that ill-equip me to fully participate in the exciting times ahead, and short of dragging myself into the fridge-freezer when Death’s heavy hand descends upon me, will almost certainly never have the resources to enjoy the fruits of transhumanism, even should they occur in my lifetime.

All of this taken together has made the task of reading, writing and otherwise attempting to keep up to speed with emerging technologies - let alone try to communicate my thoughts on the matter - bittersweet.

I am studying for a future I will probably never get to experience.

It isn’t as though the likes of Aubrey de Grey provides succour in my hour of need. Following a study published in the European Molecular Biology Organization stating that de Grey's therapies have, “[never] been shown to extend the lifespan of any organism, let alone humans,” the SENS Research Foundation, of which he is co-founder, stated, “If you want to reverse the damage of ageing right now, I’m afraid the simple answer is that you can’t.” [2]

Even attempting an altogether different approach doesn’t hold out much hope. If I can’t live long enough to experience the posthuman, perhaps I can at least get to live out my dotage a damn sight happier than I feel most of the time now. Step right up David Pearce, whose Hedonistic Imperative holds out the abolition of suffering for all sentient life, which I suppose includes me. Surely paradise engineering may well be within our grasp? Pharmacology and biopsychiatry have been with us a while now, can they offer the promise of a more contented or indeed blissful experience as old age begins to take its toll? Pearce himself states that, “At the other extreme […] a significant minority of our contemporaries, diagnosable even today as (sub-) clinically depressed, will welcome the prospect of universal happiness.” [3] Surely we could, in the not too distant future, throw in a little new-found biotech or meds that work to stabilise my mood swings and send me to my happy place? I’ll sign up right now to be that guinea pig if it’ll brighten my day a little.

Sadly, it seems I’ve missed the boat even on this transhumanist compromise. Pearce concludes, “Most of the more exotic delights sketched out in this manifesto will probably never be enjoyed by the reader.” Bugger. I’m sorry I read it now.

The real point I want to make here - despite all the aforementioned moaning - is this: it is true that I may well be left behind. It is true that I may get to witness the beginning of a true technoprogressive revolution happening right before my eyes in my last days, or maybe not at all. I have no doubt it is going to happen whether I am there to witness it or not, which is why I still want to be a part of the discussion. It’s critical that we have that discussion prior to the revolution, or we may find ourselves wishing in hindsight we had.

This is why I am proud to declare myself a technoprogressive. Although the transhumanist future may not be mine to behold, I can still play a small part in (hopefully) securing a bountiful and endlessly creative future for the next generation and the generations to come.

Life isn’t a dress rehearsal and I don’t think I’m going to be invited to the ball. Nonetheless, it is still my dream that the next generation will get to revel in the dance.

1 http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9ed80e14-dd11-11e4-a772-00144feab7de.html [Paywall]

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aubrey_de_Grey - retrieved Nov 2015

3 http://www.hedweb.com/hedethic/hedon5.htm