For me, my introduction into one of the most dangerous ideas in history started innocently enough. It started with my own imagination, and my propensity for role-playing. I created a race for a particular game that I called the "Helios" - the Helios were a race of hyper-advanced humans whose bodies were made out of programmable matter. They resembled normal humans except for the "sinklines," which were bleed-off grooves in the skin to allow for the release of excess heat (hence their names) generated by their inbuilt power plants. Each individual Helios was a walking Swiss Army tool; their programmable matter nature meant that they had absolute control over their body. They could change their shape, their size, their sex, their color - all by thinking about it. They could generate various tools with their fingers, and they possessed an anti-gravity generator that allowed for flight. What was more, each Helios was born this way. We're used to seeing cybertech and cyborgs and think Robocop and other clunky gears, wires, and hydraulic pumps and such, but that's not the way I designed them. They were a fusion of the biological and the mechanical on a molecular level. The watch word was "synthetic biology".You were born with an antigravity generator, born as a being made of programmable matter, born from birth with the ability to control your physiology by thinking about it; immune from all diseases, all birth defects - the perfect human (ignoring the fact that the Helios earned a reputation among my group as "hurr stoopid". It wasn't entirely deserved, but given the world they came from - a near utopia - it was understandable why they were less intelligent and more naive than the average person. I built them with the Eloi in mind, so the Helios are slightly smarter than your average Eloi, despite being as technologically advanced as they were).
I never gave it much thought after that. The Helios remain one of my favorite races ever that I created; I versatility of the species, along with their ability to fly and bounce back from devastating injuries due to the programmable nature of the matter make them seem like a true race of superheroes. But I never made the connection; I never made that leap.
Fast forward to 2010. I was sifting through my old RPG PDF files and I came upon a particular RPG that I realized I hadn't looked at a whole lot. It was called Eclipse Phase. I opened it up and took a couple of peaks and realized I liked I saw, but I had to put it back until later. The more of the setting I read, the more I fell in love with the game. It so closely paralleled what I was writing at the time as a hard science fiction writer, but at the same time, it managed to be more fantastic than I could ever hope to be. Through this game I was introduce to the concept of animal uplifting, of mind uploading, of virtual immortality and body-surfing. I was introduced into a whole wide array of new ideas and philosophies - I love it when a game does this, because more than anything, it reminds me why I love RPing so much - a good game will change your outlook on life. It wasn't entirely the game's fault, but Eclipse Phase is a major reason why I consider myself a transhumanist today (best of all, it's totally legal to share and torrent the core rule book PDF. You read that right - they made it legal to share their game book. I'd love to see Wizards do something like that, because they won't).
"But Enigma... What's a Transhumanist?" /Chick Tract
Transhumanism, simply put, is the belief that humanity can use technology to take control over nature. We can become something better, we can defy death, we can surpass gender and so-called natural restraints. We can advance to the point where we are healthier, prettier, faster and smarter than the average human is today. We can become Human Plus - or H+, the symbol for transhumanity.
The term was first used in the 1960s, by a professor of futurology FM-2030 (real name Fereidoun M. Esfandiary). It caught on in Britain in the 1990s when Max More laid the ground work for the philosophy, found a home with certain circles in California, and since, it has expanded to into a world wide phenomena.
Our stated purpose is nothing short of a techno-utopia (maybe; we're a varied group). Because it has such a positive view of technology and hope for the future, and a desire for progress and understanding, it should surprise nobody that Transhumanism is squarely planted in the same philosophies as the Enlightenment is (the same school of thought that gave us universal human rights, separate of church and state, the scientific method, and democracy).
There are several "currents", or trains of thought, present in the Transhumanist movement. Some people focus on all of them, some transhumanists will only focus on a few, but speaking in broad generalizations, these are the "currents" present in the movement, with just the briefest of overviews:
Abolitionism - we are obligated to use our technology to eliminate all suffering in sapient beings; both transhumans and uplifts, one assumes.
Democratic Transhumanism - the fusion of democracy of all flavors and transhumanism; this is a political ideology.
Extropianism - Evolution is a participation sport and we've sat on the sidelines for far too long; it's time to get out there on the field and play!
Immortalism - Being immortal is not only possible but desirable; it's our duty to offer the opportunity to be immortal to anyone willing to accept it.
Libertarian Transhumanism - the political fusion of libertarian ideology and transhuman aims.
Postgenderism - Male, female, hermaphrodite, neuter - gay, straight, bi, a - it doesn't matter. We've moved beyond primitive concepts such as gender. Absolute gender equality is a necessary here.
Singularitarianism - Often dubbed "the Rapture for Nerds," this is the belief that the Singularity is possible and that steps should be taken to make it as painless as possible.
Technogaianism - Environmentalism plus transhuman aims to make the world healthier, humanity healthier, and to give humanity a chance to co-opt nature.
Think of it like a multiple intelligences test; you may score high in one and low in others, or moderate in all of them, but all transhumanists will support all of those currents to some degree (except, maybe, Libertarian Transhumanism). I spend most of my focus on Extropianism and Postgenderism, although I align myself with Technogaianism as well. I'm also strongly in favor of uplifting animals, resurrecting dead species, and looking nature in the eye and telling it point blank that it can't do something unless we say it can.
My Helios were a prime example of Technogaianism, Postgenderism, Immortalism and Abolitionism. I just didn't realize it at the time. Rather than being Democratic Transhumanists they were Anarchic Communist Transhumans, but that's beside the point. Mind-uploading for the purpose of immortality is part and parcel to some ideas of transhumanism (although I didn't use mind-uploading with the Helios; I knew about it at the time, but I couldn't fathom what it was - I was only 18 when I created this race. I could be forgiven for being ignorant about these concepts, back in 2004, when the world was going backwards and
Ah, but there's quiet a few ethical concerns that go along with transhumanism. The one that I've found more than anything is the idea of "playing God," or "Playing with things we don't understand," to which I respond "If God was truly all powerful, how can we be playing God? We aren't all powerful. If we're stepping on God's toes, it's his own damn fault for giving us the stuff to do it to begin with." As for the "playing with things we don't understand" - obviously we understand them, otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here going on at length about them. More serious objections are about the nature of the "Self" and the "I" - which gets really, really messing when you start talking things like Mind-Uploading and "Forking" - a term used in EP to describe an individual who makes copies of themselves, uploads those copies in different bodies, and then merges those copies sometime in the future. Other concerns are geared towards forced Eugenics, which is a very real possibility given the technology at hand (are we helping deaf people by making it so they aren't deaf anymore? Ask the deaf community what they'd think about that - of course, AR, or Augmented-Reality, would fix being deaf anyway. At least, until you dropped out of AR), and then there's Existential Threats, aka the Terminator Argument. It's formally called the "Gray Goo" argument until those making it realized that Thermodynamics has nothing but HAET for self-replicating nanoswarms as detailed in that particular argument.
The only two I see being any real problem or posing any real ethical issues are the Eugenics argument (what constitute 'helping' others?) and the Existential Threat argument (Oh sure, self-improving hard AI would be nice, but you better damn well make sure you've socialized it to be human, first.) I laugh at the whole 'hubris' thing, because that's what the romantics have been saying since day one, (man is too arrogant, we'll never fly! Man is too arrogant, we'll never fly in space! Man is too arrogant, we'll never create life! Man is too arrogant, we'll never have indoor plumbing!) and really, it's static that you learn to tune out. The other two, and the whole concept of self and all of the ontology and identity problems raised by mind-uploading and forking - what does happen if someone makes a copy of your back up and downloads you into a different body? Does that mean there's two of you running around? See the Ship of Theseus and it's variants, grandfather's ax and for those folks in the UK, Trigger's Broom. How much of something do you replace before it's not that something anymore?
I don't foresee any of those ethical concerns being solved anytime soon. However, technology will improve and who knows... maybe someday, in the far, distant future, my Helios will become a reality.