Understanding Transhuman Rights

By May 27, 2017 No Comments

Since transhumanism is a positive philosophy that outlines one way that human beings could conduct their lives and social systems, it also means that transhumanists have some very specific ideas about human rights. Of course, by their nature these rights are not limited to humans (in today’s sense) at all, but broadened to encompass a much wider range of intelligent beings. Transhumanism is also far, far less conservative than almost any current view of human freedom and rights.

In this article I want to highlight some of the proposed rights that have come from different corners of the transhumanist movement over the years. Many of these have been published in cohese charters or hypothetical “bill of rights” documents, but I’ve decided to only highlight some of the more impactful ones. Obviously these are not yet real, legal rights, but they put us on a path towards thinking about how we’ll treat each other in a posthuman future.

Who Do These Rights Cover?

The definition of who is posthuman or transhuman is a tricky one, but I quite like the definition from Zoltan Istvan’s bill of rights put together by the Transhumanist Party. In that version of transhumanist rights, it states that “Human beings, sentient artificial intelligences, cyborgs, and other advanced sapient life forms” are entitled to rights in a posthuman society.


Right #1: The Right To Live as Long as Possible

This is probably the most important right in terms of transhumanist philosophy. Every person who lives in a posthuman society should have the right to live as long as they wish. Where technologically possible, a person should only die at a time of their choosing and not from external causes as far as is within the power of our society to dictate.

Why is it important that this be a right and not left to individual choice or ability? One important reason is to prevent the formation of social classes based on longevity. At the outset of radical life extension it’s very likely that only the most powerful, rich, and connected people will have access to the technology. By making the right to effective immortality an obligation of the state it means that all who live in a posthuman society can remain equal in this fundamental way.

Right #2: The Right To Optimal Health

The second right, of course, links up very closely with the first one mentioned above. There’s little joy in being able to live as long as you want if you can’t be healthy at the same time. So it’s important that every posthuman has the right to restore themselves to a healthy norm, for whatever that means in each specific posthuman’s situation.

Right #3: The Right to Complete Reproductive Freedom

Right now there aren’t that many ways for humans to reproduce, but already biotechnology is enabling entirely new ways to think about how we make more humans. In the future we’ll not only have more ways to reproduce as natural humans, but there will also be posthumans who want entirely new ways of creating more people. For example, what about cloning yourself and then raising your own clone? What about raising your own clone, but you genetically modify them to be a different sex or have no sex at all? What about cyborgs or AIs? An AI might copy part of itself and meld it with another partial AI to make something new, or perhaps it will simply write its own offspring from scratch.

This also includes the right to use technologies such as external artificial wombs or to have children who have many different individuals as parents, both genetically and in the family unit. If mind-uploading becomes possible, those minds may reproduce like AIs, reproduce WITH AIs, or do something completely different altogether.

Although we don’t know what will be possible in terms of reproduction, the freedom to have reproductive choice is an important one, with the proviso that it does not cause suffering.

Right #4: The Right to Augmentation

Right now there are roadblocks in place when it comes to human augmentation. In general, medical scientists and professionals are only allowed to restore normal function as far as possible. Even if augmentation is possible, they would not be allowed to augment you electively. There are still many ethical issues and societal taboos against the idea of augmenting a person. In a posthuman society, anyone must have the right to augment themselves if they so choose. This covers both physical and mental augmentation.

Transhuman Eyeball

Right #5: The Right to Change Your Nature

Following on from the 4th right above, this right states that you can not only improve upon what you have, but may change your nature as well and evolve artificially as you see fit. On a physical level this means radically changing your body plan or what sort of physical being you are. Want to exist as a cloud of nanobots? Go for it. Want to be a quadrupedal robot? No problem. The same counts for genetic modifications or any other radical change to your fundamental humanity.

You may wonder why this is not simply included under the right to augment yourself, but augmentation simply means to improve what you have, not to change it completely. The most radical changes may be mental, where we change our mental architecture in such a way that we aren’t just very smart humans but think in completely non-human ways as well.

Right #6: The Right to Exploration

While the way the world currently exists puts limits on where people may go, in a posthuman society the right to explore new places must take center stage. This is not just exploration of the Earth or of space, but also exploration of new inner-spaces. Virtual worlds, new family and social models, and things we haven’t even thought of yet will be open to a posthuman society.

Right of Way

This is not an exhaustive list of all the rights that have been proposed as the foundation of a transhumanist society. Perhaps those future posthumans will come up with rights that we have no way to even imagine today. Hopefully this future society will be as free of suffering, prejudice, and hardship as we think, but only time will tell.