By Hruy Tsegaye
“We are deceived by the appearance of right.” J.J Rousseau
Part One: Today’s Reality
The idea of improving humanity is not a new one. Such movements, notions, and groups have marked our past. Some of them achieved their target, and some have concluded with remarkable results; and yet, some have brought more suffering to the human condition.
Transhumanism is a movement that aims to enhance and improve humanity. As it happens with any notion and philosophy of this kind, it faces widespread criticism from many groups. Some criticism is constructive, passed on with the intention to improve on the shortcomings of the movement; then there is also criticism based on dogmatic and irrational grounds and expressed out of the fear that the movement is so radical and groundbreaking to the very idea of life itself.
In this article, I will discuss the future traits of Transhumanism with regard to the current status quo of technological inequality in the Developing world especially in the continent of Africa. From a Transhumanist stance, the perspective expressed might at first sound harsh, yet I feel the ideas given are both important and compatible with the core philosophy of Transhumanism.
When Hitler and the Nazi party introduced the idea of the “pure race” – a concept which promoted the notion of Germans being an “Aryan” race of supermen – the majority of the German population embraced it unresistingly, without thorough scrutiny. This lack of critical analysis of the claims for racial superiority resulted in complete failure with regard to predicting the tragic outcome of its acceptance. Although Transhumanism is not, by any means, a movement with the aim of creating a supreme race of tyrants, its concept might sound similar to an uninformed observer. One of my goals here is to clarify such erroneous assumptions, albeit in the context of constructive criticism on the movement.
Hitherto, Transhumanist literature has focused mostly on the technological aspects of the movement. The primary focus has been on how the new age of technology will eventually overrun nature and her unchallenged authority on our evolution. Indeed, it is dramatic to think that we may transcend nature’s tyrannical control on human biological design and on defining the imposed biological limits to our own intelligence. Nonetheless, the time is ripe to expand the discourse on other aspects of Transhumanism.
So far, the bulk of humanity’s vice has been rooted in inequality. Inequality is the underlying motive for the countless ills of our society. It is the archenemy of existence in harmony. The belief that technology is our vehicle for escaping the curse of dramatic inequality that plagues the world today is increasingly gaining wider acceptance. Scarce natural resources, the issues of food production and population growth, the globe’s oil-dependent economy, environmental degradation, racism, religious extremism and many other causes of conflict maybe viewed simply as irrationalities that are curable via the advancement of science and technology, if not today, then in the coming age when more advanced technological means are available.
In most of Africa and other regions of similar socioeconomic conditions, the simple quest for ‘grazing land’ is still one of the major causes of conflicts in which thousands of people lose their lives annually. In a continent where natural resources are abundant, for both industry and agriculture, it is a shame to see humanity suffering from lack of food and clean water. Africa horribly lacks advanced technological means for supporting the necessities of life, an obstacle the West overcome centuries ago.
How can Transhumanism promote the enhancement of humanity amidst such technological inequalities that are undermining the economy and the overall social organization of nations around the globe? If Transhumanism’s scope is limited to Europe, North America and the wealthier portions of Australasia, the new phase of human evolution will automatically be much like the old one: the Survival of the Fittest, driven not of natural selection but by the unequal distribution of technology.
Nature has at least carried out its selection unthinkingly; however, in the case of a radical Transhumanist future restricted to the ‘First World’, the ‘beau monde’ of humans will be quite knowingly ignoring a large percentage of the human race. This would be an inexcusable crime. This seems to be the Weakness of Transhumanism, and this is the point where many critics loudly cry out: “technology could easily be abused by the group that is in control of it”.
Do we want to see Africans, and the rest of humanity in the developing world be excluded from the emerging new human race known as the Transhumans? Can we even, slightly, guarantee that the developed world will not abuse technology by using it to become dominant over undeveloped or developing nations?
This is where we ask: What is Africa’s place in Transhumanism?
Part 2: Future of Transhumanism and Its Role in Today’s Africa
For over a decade, sub-Saharan Africa has been experiencing a relatively rapid economic growth. According to the latest World Bank report ‘Africa’s Pulse 2013, volume 7’, out of the top ten nations with the fastest growing economy, the top six are African countries followed by China. The Continent, despite the global economic crisis, registered an average of 6% in economic growth during the past eight years. The World Bank estimates that the growth trend will continue uninterruptedly until 2015.
The time has come for the developed world to acknowledge Africa’s economic awakening. Likewise, Transhumanism should consider the potential of the African continent and ponder upon how Transhumanist technology can boost the remarkable and rapid growth, which is finally beginning to blossom in this forsaken part of the world. The World Bank report on African’s Agribusiness (March 4, 2013) states that “Africa has more than half of the world’s fertile yet unused land. Africa uses only two percent of its renewable water resources compared to the global average of five percent”. It also forecasts the creation of a 1 trillion dollar market in the next two decades, from the food and beverage sector alone.
Even with such potential, the continent has the highest poverty rate in the world; 47.5% of the population lives on less than $1.25 per day. This is a concrete fact, but what is the cure? The World Bank and other stakeholders with game-changing power still insist on the traditional development process– advancement by dint of hard work applied in the areas of debt relief, increased aid, high commodity prices and improved macroeconomic policies.
The World Bank’s picture leaves out one essential point. Obviously, the developed world has already discovered it– I am referring to technology and the application of advanced hi-tech in the course of production.
Instead of trying to “save Africa”, with mere capital aid, we should support Africans in researching and developing advanced technology. We should invest in businesses that promote hi-tech and the modernization of local infrastructure, industry, education, health sector, agriculture, etc. This is something that is not happening now to any significant extent. This is something that Transhumanists ought to be looking at as part of their goal to enhance humanity via technology; let the world witness the curative power of technology!
If we agree with the notion that Transhumanism is a cultural and intellectual movement that aims to improve the human condition through advanced technologies, it should become more involved in Africa’s march towards technological advancement. Then, how can it get there?
Recently there has been a new approach towards technology transfer, known as the Technology Leapfrogging, which points precisely in this direction.
Technology Leapfrogging is a method of progress in which, instead of passing through the expected linear stages toward adoption of advanced technology, an undeveloped society skips toward adopting the most up-to-date technology. In this fashion, advanced technology is applied in an area where the immediate predecessors of this technology had never been applied. Mobile phone technology in Africa is the best example. Instead of working on technologies focused on landline telephones, the continent has already adopted the wireless mobile technology; now 80% of urban Africans have access to cellular phones.
Africa’s recent, rapid economic growth is largely the result of technological leapfrogging– as even the World Bank has acknowledged, to some extent. “Emblematic of this growth is the information and communications technology (ICT) revolution in Africa”– says Africa Development Indicators 2012/13, published by the World Bank.
Technology leapfrogging and the adoption of new technologies depend on two factors. “Depending on the technology in question, the adoption of new technology can either be user demand driven or infrastructure driven as a result of policies to modernize infrastructure”. (Mody, A. and R. Sherman (1990: 77-83). “Leapfrogging in Switching Systems.” Technological Forecasting and Social Changes.)
From a Transhumanist angle, the user-demand aspect of technology leapfrogging is not problematic. However, if Transhumanism seeks worldwide embracement, it is the right time for it to promote infrastructure driven leapfrogging which focuses on the creation of entirely novel industrial sectors in Africa and the rest of the developing world.
Transhumanist thoughts and technology should address the critical challenges of technological leapfrogging, not only because diminishing inequality is a good and just cause in itself, but also because technological inequality is the greatest threat to Transhumanism and its ultimate potential.
The first step in tackling global inequality is to identify which aspects of leapfrogging require Transhumanist assistance. As long as Transhumanism can demonstrate its social value, the world will realize the validity of its vision to enhance humanity in many other ways. So far, studies on technology leapfrogging have pinpointed ‘Absorptive Capacity’ as the most critical factor for the success of technology transfer.
For the existing sluggish progress of technology in the developing world, Absorptive Capacity is one of the top six challenges. The 2008 World Bank report, described it as a major barrier to technology diffusion. (R. Sauter and J. Watson (2008) “Technology Leapfrogging: A Review of the Evidence”. A report for DFID. University of Sussex.)
The Sauter and Watson study defines two types of Absorptive Capacity: that of a firm and that of a nation. The Absorptive capacity of a country is the ability to learn and implement the technologies and associated practices of already developed countries.
If the goal of Transhumanism is to create a world with better and enhanced human beings by employing technology, it should encompass and perhaps even focus on programs for enriching Africa’s technological Absorptive Capacity.
The Absorptive Capacity of African states can improve via knowledge transfer. This can be achieved by building and supporting institutions who set up a fundamental framework for leapfrogging, by enabling access to training on state-of-the-art scientific and technological means, through the establishment of hi-tech start-ups and also by providing technological and financial support to researches carried out in the health and agricultural sectors.
So far, Transhumanism has focused on the future form of human beings. However, it is time for the movement to address the more mainstream social issues. Unequal technological distribution should no longer be technology’s weakest link. This should not become an opportunity for some irrational and immoral group to sabotage the hope provided by Transhumanism. We should not allow such groups to exploit Transhumanist ideals in order to dominate and control approximately three-quarters of the world’s population (which encompasses Africa and the rest of the undeveloped and developing world).
There is no doubt that technology is central in Transhumanist thought and that technological inequality ought to be marginalized in order to create the world of enhanced humanity which Transhumanism envisions. This belief should infuse the core of Transhumanist thought.
In the sooner future, nature-driven evolution will give way to evolution driven by human authority and Transhumanist technology will be the one to allow humankind to take control of its own evolutionary phases. Undoubtedly, one way or the other, technology will play a crucial part in human evolutionary change. The question then is focused on one point, “To what extent did African’s absorptive capacity is nourished regarding the role of hi-tech in the processes”?
Genetic engineering, nano-tech, cloning, and other emerging technologies, are very often perceived as some kind of voodoo in Africa. Yes, the continent is extremely lagging behind the rest of the world.
Adopting the Transhumanist view of the future will not be easy when living and educational standards are comparable to those existing in the middle ages. Today, hi-tech is a necessity in the households of Europeans and North Americans, yet in much of Africa, mainstream technologies such as electricity and transporting vehicles are only dreams of the wildest sort.
In Europe and North America, research in numerous technologies that can boost our physical, intellectual and psychological abilities, beyond the capacity that humans are naturally capable of, are already in advanced stages and some have even materialized. Yet, in Africa and the rest of the developing world’s nations, these ideas are completely alien.
As a global movement for the future of all humanity, Transhumanism needs to contribute to Africa’s efforts for technological advancement and ensure that the continent will rise out of technological oblivion.
Part 3: The Harsh Conclusion
Humans have been using technology since the day they discovered fire and all the ‘Stone Age tools’. Now our civilization is on the edge of a new era where our biological evolution is going to be controlled by man-made technology. Yet before we talk about changing the very fabric of humanity and civilization, it is wise that we take a good look at our present condition.
It is very unfortunate that we are presently repeating some of the behaviours that have had a hideous impact on the harmony and well-being of humanity. Due to Transhumanism’s unique characteristics, a group driven by a malevolent – supremacist – agenda might benefit from technological inequality and ambush the future of Transhumanism by turning the movement into a means for establishing a master race. Hence, anyone who is not part of the movement at the present might as well be inhuman in the future, inferior and thus expendable. This is not the aim of Transhumanism, under any circumstances.
The Concept of Transhumanism is to enhance humanity. This has to start now and the movement needs to recognize the existing factors.
To hear some extremist or fanatic Transhumanist researchers claiming that their research should take precedence over funding health care aid to Africa, or some basic development program is ridiculous and poisonous. Such claims and immoderate acts in the name of Transhumanism are also the ones that stain its actual nature, which is simply to create a better and enhanced human race and thus create a better world.
Due to the existing socio-economic conditions in Africa, voluntary amputation and cybernetic limb prosthetics, improving intelligence with brain implants, synthetic wombs and genetically modified babies as well as other features of Transhumanism might seem somewhat unrealistic. Considering how to enhance our humanity in the future is noble but to consider how one can first enhance the existing conditions in Africa and the rest of the developing world along with the technological advancement of these nations is even nobler.
Being human is not disgusting. Anyone having an issue with being human is not a true Transhumanist. Destroying humanity is not the answer to our problems nor will it ever be.
First, we have to come to the understanding that our Transhumanist motive is to enhance humanity out of love, not out of hatred; out of understanding, not out of despair and most importantly due to our incessant dissatisfaction with the existing limitations of the human body. Yet, such a harmony can never work where inequality triumphs.
Inequality, the greatest ill of the world since the dawn of civilization, comes in two forms: one bestowed by nature and one created because of our social, cultural, economic, and political attitudes and the regulatory institutions subtly facilitating these attitudes in a way they breed inequalities. Obviously, from the two origins of inequality, the most intoxicating form is the one created by humans.
Transhumanism, as a relatively new social, technological and philosophical movement, is focused on creating a better humanity (and thus, it is concerned with the inequalities bestowed by nature), in a better world (and thus, it is concerned with fabricated inequalities as well). To ignore Africa and the rest of the developing world is to ignore three-quarters of the world’s population, let alone a population who has to struggle daily for things that the developed world takes for granted. Looking away from this is nothing but a mere replication of natural selection’s greatest shortcoming. Moreover, it is even unforgivable because the natural inequality of evolution is now under human control. Without proper attention, man-made inequalities, beyond doubt, will affect the progress of human evolution and render cybernetic modifications a weapon to control, destroy and even eventually annihilate the entire humankind.
Just as a house cannot stand on quicksand, nor will haphazardly envisioned plans empower humanity to progress and transcend to superhumans.
Whilst the majority of humans are not well acquainted with the simplest of technological products, such as malaria medicine and the electrical dishwasher, the Transhumanism’s alien-like and very advanced concepts of technology will always remain in the shadows for the populations of developing regions.
It is even disgraceful to hear someone claiming that the future is impossible to predict, and simultaneously claim Transhumanism will be the future of humankind and the next phase of human evolution. The future has always been with us, and it is indeed possible to predict it to a significant degree; look where the world stands today! Are we not in a world where the few abuse the rest?
We do not want a utopian sermon and empty propaganda about a world where ageing is no more a threat, a world where babies are born perfect, where humans will attain super intelligence and extraordinary strength. What we really expect to hear from a movement such as Transhumanism is how it is going to overcome the limitations of human nature and how it will enhance humanity while inequality and injustice in technological advancement are casting a gloomy shadow on the near future of the people in the developing world.
Before we start boasting about transcending humanity, with the help of technology, we ought to consider the issue of technological inequality, where it stands and in what varying degree is technology used through different regions, worldwide. Otherwise, we are not enhancing humanity; we are only creating weapons to destroy it.
Humanity is here, and we should not seek it in the mists of the future.
Many Africans suffer hunger, starvation and malnutrition because the agricultural sector in Africa is oblivious to technology and cannot afford to provide simple technology, like tractors. The introduction of basic technology is a major and persistent challenge for the African continent. Building robots that can be implemented in farming or artificial trees that can contribute to environmental restoration or label a functional track for technology transfer should be part of the short-term vision of Transhumanism. This is the harsh reality, which will – whether we like it or not – resist and most certainly overthrow Transhumanism and its typical features like voluntary amputation or genetic rearrangement as the malicious ideas of insane futurists.
Common definitions and perceptions of Transhumanism include mottoes such as ‘fundamentally improving the human condition’ and ‘widely available technologies’. Unless the Transhumanist movement is the product of some psychologically deranged group of scientists’ conception of the future, based on deep hatred towards humans, enhancing humanity in today’s Africa and the rest of the world for that matter, does not require a genetically modified sexless fetus!
Humanity needs a genetically modified immune system, genetically modified plants that can save the environment, hi-tech that can create a better water sanitation system and machines that will boost industrial production in the developing world.
If Transhumanism considers itself as the future of humanity, it has an obligation to set its foundation on stable ground and of course, this is possible without diverging from the core futuristic ideas that lie at the heart of the Transhumanist movement. Africa and the rest of the developing world will quickly embrace Transhumanism if some part of Transhumanist technology addresses any of the major issues that constitute the harsh reality of daily struggle for the majority of Africa’s population.
It seems feasible that, on the foundation of Transhumanist contributions to the current progress of the continent’s technological advancement, Africa and the rest of the developing world’s nations can build a bridge crossing the gap of technological inequality, so that the people in these nations can keep up with Transhumanism and its future. Technology transfer to the developing world has to become a fundamental aspect of the emerging Transhuman evolutionary paradigm.
The world is far from perfect and the law of nature is sick and although it has always been like this, we humans were the only species to ever stand up against the unjust, illogical and frivolous conditions of nature. Hell yes, we should do something to change this and Transhumanism should never accept nature as the undisputed judge to our condition!
So far, with the use of technology, we have been fighting it, surviving it, and it finally seems that we are about to win the war, once and all. However, establishing Transhumanism in a world where vast technological inequality prevails will be a victory over nothing.
In the “Official Transhumanist Declaration” and other official documents accepted and distributed in the mainstream of the Transhumanist movement, words and phrases like freedom, expedite beneficial applications, equality, well-being of all sentience, solidarity, alleviation of grave suffering, moral responsibilities and preservation of life are abundant. Is it not the time to act upon them? If not, what is then the meaning of “enhancing the conditions of humanity”?
Although the movement has striven to gain prestige and has fathomed itself as the saviour of humanity for the last two decades, it lacks concrete action towards grass-root suffering in today’s world and the sweet promise of Transhumanism still sounds to appear suddenly like a phantom out of thin air. Indeed, a saviour it can be. Yet for such a champion of the future, what a hypocrisy it is to ignore the existing reality of the world!
Whilst an abyss of technological inequality remains prevalent in the world, it is a tuneless song and irrational cry to claim that Transhumanism will enhance humanity when in fact it gives the impression that it is about to destroy it. However, if destruction is really its purpose, then the effort may be needless since the world often seems to be going in that direction anyhow.
Quoting from the official Transhumanist Declaration, “Although all Progress is changing not all change is Progress.”
-From the editors of iCog-Labs.com
This article was originally published on Hplusmagazine (December 9, 2013) and is republished here with the permission of Hplusmagazine’s editor Peter Rothman.