February 9, 2006

Wilsdon: Who would not want to live to be 150?

James Wilsdon, head of science at the think-tank Demos, has published an article in the Financial Times called "Who would not seize the chance to live to be 150?"

The article promotes their recent book, "Better Humans? The politics of human enhancement and life extension," but Wilsdon also explores the work of biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey.

Wilsdon describes de Grey's work and quotes the usual suspect, Jay Olshansky, for counter-opinion. Frustratingly, Olshansky is actually making a career of pooh-pooh'ing life extension simply due to the fact that he's the go-to guy for a press that is dominated by the need to produce 'balanced' journalism.

The article also describes how the life extension community has naturally intermingled with the transhumanists, of which de Grey claims to be a member. De Grey acknowledged his transhumanist proclivities at TransVision 2004 when we awarded him the WTA's Transhumanist Of The Year award.

Strangely, however, Wilsdon describes Ray Kurzweil as being more extreme than the transhumanists (probably because of his belief in a potential technological singularity and the emergence of post-biological super-intelligent creatures). I find this odd and a bit ironic because most the transhumanists I know, whether they be affiliated with the WTA or not, tend to have even more radical notions of artificial superintelligence and the potential for post-Singularity existence.

I suppose the WTA, with its sensible tone and "Better Than Well" slogan, is starting to effectively come across as a moderate voice for transhumanism, if not downright reasonable, a la the Art Caplan bioethics camp.

As an interesting aside, except for his allegiance to the Extropy Institute (he's on their council of advisors), Kurzweil has never described himself as a transhumanist (at least, not that I've ever heard or read -- please, someone correct me if I'm wrong) -- despite the fact that is exactly what he is. I suppose he wants to retain his creds and doesn't want to come across as being an ideologue or someone who's political or activistic.

Back to Wilson's article, he concludes the way most supporters of transhumanism conclude, with a warning about who will bring and control human enhancement technologies. It's a fair concern, and one that the WTA takes quite seriously -- a point on which it splits with other more libertarian-leaning transhumanist thinkers and camps. All transhumanists are to varying degrees biolibertarians, but by no means are they all social libertarians.

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