This week my interest was piqued by the unusual practice of biohacking, and how this has contributed to the transhumanism discussion. Newton Lee, in The Transhumanist Handbook defines transhumanism as anyone that is “using science and technology to enhance or alter our body chemistry in order to stay healthy and be more in control of our lives.” (Lee, 2019, 5). The YouTube clips and tweets on biohacking from this week’s lifestream were certainly representative of this view, particularly in respect to the idea of greater control, which was predominant theme throughout most of the social media on this topic. As individuals merge their bodies with technology, ranging from RFID chips inserted into hands as a replacement to contactless debit cards, to more radical cases such as Tim Cannon’s (rather crude) forearm implant that records biometric data from his body, there was consensus amongst all biohackers – these experimental modifications had given them greater agency and control of their individual lives.
There is little doubt that biohacking is a growing trend, and the discussion on the BBC Sounds podcast, as well as the interviews with Michael Laufer and Eric Matzer from this week’s YouTube clips, supports this view. However, many critics of biohacking argue that its growth will ultimately be limited to a niche subculture, and that the movement is unlikely to gain enough traction to became mainstream. Medical ethics and opposition on religious grounds will ultimately curb the movement and limit its potential to grow beyond the very curious.
Conversely, proponents of the movement claim that biohackers are extropians of human change and that by pushing these boundaries today, they are catalysing an inevitable movement towards posthumanism. However, this does raise some very important questions. If this transhumanist movement is an inevitability for the 21st century, what ethical issues must be considered as we progress down this road of human change? Should there be interventions to regulate the range of practices this encompasses and, if so, what should that regulation look like? And if this were to happen, how long will it take before we start to see the appearance of modification clinics on the high street, offering biohacker-esque body augmentations to a mainstream market? Biohackers would certainly argue that this will be sooner, rather than later.
- Lee, N. (2019) ‘Brave New World of Transhumanism’ in The Transhumanism Handbook, Springer: Switzerland, p5.
- ‘Transhumanism’ (10 February 2020) Wikipedia, available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transhumanism (Accessed: 10 February 2020)