Bicentennial Transhumanism: 1976

From The Next 200 Years, by Herman Kahn

It seems very likely that many subtle and sophisticated questions will arise as mankind--increasingly relieved of the burdens of simple sustenance and richer in technological capabilities and economic resources--continues its inexorable march across new frontiers. Indeed, some such questions are already arising.

The fundamental physiological and psychological aspects of human life are being altered today, and will be changed further tomorrow. Most of the great diseases of the past have been all but eliminated (smallpox, for example, will soon be a memory almost as distant as scurvy and beriberi), and death increasingly will be mainly the result of either accident or the simple wearing out of vital organs (here, too, new opportunities for life extension are arising through the rapidly growing science of organ replacement and soon of organ regeneration). As man progresses further in genetic research, he will move closer to the time when he will be able to influence the design of his offspring, perhaps even produce them ectogenetically. Man can now alter his mental state with drugs, and over time even influence his personality. Will man, within 200 years, be able to condition his mind to increase his ability to learn, to communicate, to create, and will he he have the power to affect others similarly, perhaps without their knowing it?

How will all of these potential changes, many of which are quite likely, affect human beings for whom work--in the post-industrial era--will be an activity of relatively short duration, and of a primarily self-serving nature? It is almost impossible to imagine such an existence. But already there are available electromechanical devices that effect enormous savings of labor, and the next generation of such devices--spurred by the computer revolution--will probably free man from the need to manage them, except for the preselection of appropriate computer programs.

What kind of a life will a genetically engineered, vital-organ-replaceable, mental-state-adjustable, computer-robot-assisted human being want to live? Will he seek even more to test himself in the combat of sport, the risk of adventure or the challenge of exploration? Or will he be able and prefer to experience all of this--and more--through artificial stimulation...

The postindustrial world we foresee will be one of increased abundance, and thus hopefully of reduced competition; it will be one of greater travel and contact, and thus possibly one of diminished differences among its peoples. But it will also be one of enormous power to direct and manipulate both man and nature; and thus its great issues will still be the very questions that confront us now, though enlarged in range and magnitude: Who will direct and manipulate, and to what ends?

posted by Justin on 06.17.07 at 11:50 AM


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