Sylvia Gallusser talks to Akanksha Kulkarni about transhumanism, the future of the mind and how to develop a futurist mindset. Watch the entire episode on peopleHum’s Leadership video series to know more.
I wouldn’t say I believe in transhumanism, but I am definitely curious about its development – how technology can improve, augment and even transform the human body, the human mind, and therefore the humankind.
- First of all, there is a very blurry boundary between human treatment and human enhancement. We have entered a field, where medical and technological achievements can both serve the persons in need and increase capacities of others. For example, we have found remedies for blind people to recover eyesight. But the same research enables to beam images from one person’s mind into another!
- Secondly, the field of the “acceptable” evolves over time. Some medical advancements which were taboos yesterday become mainstream, such as transfusion, vaccination, antibiotics, birth control, IVF, gender reassignment surgery… So what about human cloning, downloading the mind in digital formats, controlling an exoskeleton or a second body from our mind? The transhumanist effort asks questions about our sense of identity, our consciousness and the potentiality of an eternal life. Yes, it feels vertiginous, but these questions are definitely worth asking. Or so I believe.
- Finally, we need to create an ethical framework to handle these topics, and there’s active debate around what is progress and what represents a danger for humankind.
- In his book More Than Human, Ramez Naam illustrates how gene therapy (a technique based on gene alteration and reinsertion via a virus), was risky at first, and how it saved the life of a four-year-old girl. Since then gene therapy has become more popular to combat or cure diseases. Gene therapy is used for example to treat anemia and in HIV therapy. But gene therapy is also known to boost human athletic performance…
To handle these topics we need to look over large time spans, to understand past evolutions, identify long term trends, and make informed decisions.
- Unfortunately we often think in the short term and find it hard to project ourselves years from now – this is actually a characteristic of our brain. We tend to have a threshold. Over a time-window (around 5 years) our future self becomes estranged to us and we are unable to empathize with the stranger we will become. (Read our article on that topic)
- However, professional futurists are trained for stretching that horizon through foresight. They scan for signals of the future, they create scenarios, sometimes fiction and artefacts from the future, all this to instigate a concrete feeling of what the future could be like. This type of strategic foresight helps people and organizations (companies, governments, societies, decision-makers or just individuals) to think about possible futures and prepare for them.
- So in terms of how I do monitor the future of the mind, I apply this methodology which consists in activating my radar to listen to events happening today in a restrained environment (a lab, a startup, a local movement, a behavior we notice), which could be amplified in the future and become more common, extended to a more general audience.
I am also very fond of Michio Kaku’s book The Future of the Mind and Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens. They are both great sources of insights on our past evolution as humans. Michio Kaku replaces homo sapiens in the realm of conscious beings, from plant (with no brain structure and simple environment feedback loops), to reptiles (with brain stem and an additional space parameter), then mammals (with a limbic system and additional social parameters), and finally humans (with a prefrontal cortex and a more complex representation of the world including time, a sense of history and the future). When I read them, I cannot help thinking about the future of our species… Which is a fascinating question, right?