Luke Robert Mason: You’re lis­ten­ing to the Futures Podcast with me, Luke Robert Mason.

On this episode, I speak to tran­shu­man­ists Max More, and Natasha Vita-More.

I think peo­ple are ask­ing the ques­tion, What are we going to become? What does it mean to be human?”
Natasha Vita-More, excerpt from interview

The basic idea of mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom is that we have a right to choose to mod­i­fy our­selves in whichev­er ways we choose.
Max More, excerpt from interview

Max and Natasha dis­cuss their con­tri­bu­tions to the field of tran­shu­man­ism, the philo­soph­i­cal con­cept of mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom, and how we can work to lever­age advanced tech­nol­o­gy for human enhance­ment. This episode was record­ed on loca­tion at the offices of Futurism dot com, in New York City.

Luke Robert Mason: Transhumanism is a con­test­ed  sub­ject mat­ter, but you guys real­ly and tru­ly under­stand the his­to­ry of tran­shu­man­ism, and most peo­ple want to ask you about the future. What I want to ask you about is the past. So where did this all begin?

Natasha Vita-More: I look at it as hav­ing had its roots in Alighieri Dante’s poet­ry, when he wrote about tran­shu­ma­nar, which in Italian means to trans­form. Basically you could iden­ti­fy that as a human con­di­tion. Going for­ward to T. S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party, a Pulitzer Prize play, where it dis­cuss­es tran­shu­man­ised as a rela­tion­ship sit­u­a­tion or psy­cho­log­i­cal con­flict between think­ing modalities—and then into Huxley, who wrote a chap­ter on tran­shu­man­ism in New Bottles for New Wines, I believe it was. The bot­tom line is the word tran­shu­man has a his­to­ry across time and across cul­ture, and it sim­ply means trans­for­ma­tion or tran­si­tion­al.

If you look through phi­los­o­phy it’ll have a dif­fer­ent ter­mi­nol­o­gy, and Max is the best at that as a philoso­pher and an author of the phi­los­o­phy. For myself, The Transhuman,”” when I wrote the man­i­festo in 1983, it was about over­com­ing human lim­i­ta­tions, bio­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions, dis­ease and age­ing, and intel­lec­tu­al inabil­i­ties, mem­o­ry con­flicts, cer­tain lev­els of sad­ness, and a need for a more humane soci­ety. So that’s the tran­shu­man. I’ll pass it onto Max to get into the philo­soph­i­cal history.

Mason: You wrote these works back in the mid-80s. I mean, how did you come to this top­ic of transhumanism?

Max More: It’s a real­ly tough ques­tion about the roots of tran­shu­man­ism because there’s the ones I can actu­al­ly remem­ber and cite as influ­ences on me, and then of course there’s the his­to­ry which prob­a­bly has a periph­er­al influ­ence. We can go back to the alchemists of course and look at the core dreams. They did­n’t have the tech­nol­o­gy but they had their own ideas of over­com­ing age­ing, of trans­form­ing the ele­ments of flight and so on. So there’s been this kind of dri­ve for over­com­ing lim­its through his­to­ry. As far back as I can think in my own per­son­al his­to­ry to when I was a child, I’ve always been won­der­ing, Why are we lim­it­ed? Why can’t we get off this plan­et?”. I watched the Apollo 11 land­ing when I was five years old and watched every moon land­ing since, and I thought, Yes, why are we lim­it­ed to this grav­i­ty world?”, and then by the time I was in my ear­ly teens, I’m not sure how, but I got into life exten­sion. Not just health and and vitamins—I was start­ing to take those—but actu­al life extension—before I stopped even grow­ing. So I’m not quite sure where that came from. It was­n’t from my envi­ron­ment. Then, I don’t know—I came across Robert Anton Wilson, I mean Robert Heinlein, you know Methuselah’s Children and some of his books, which had some very long lived peo­ple. A lot of the ear­ly works—Saul Kent had a book The Life Extension Revolution in 1982, and there’s [inaudi­ble] and Sandie Shaw. I’m not real­ly sure what caused it but it had the com­mon theme which led to Extropy Magazine of over­com­ing limits—the fun­da­men­tal one of course being lifes­pan, but also get­ting off the plan­et. So it’s almost like there’s a gene for it. I’ve kind of seen this in oth­er peo­ple. Some peo­ple, you can talk to them for hours and they just won’t get it at all. Other peo­ple will just say, Oh yeah! I get it now!”, and it’s almost like there’s a gene for this. A neophil­ia gene or some­thing. I seem to have that, and it’s actu­al­ly very hard to say exact­ly how this happened.

Mason: What was hap­pen­ing cul­tur­al­ly back in the 80s that made you write these works and become inter­est­ed in this field of tran­shu­man­ism? Was it some­thing very unique about the envi­ron­ments that you guys were cir­cling in?

Vita-More: Yes. Well we were in two total­ly sep­a­rate envi­ron­ments at that time. I was in Telluride, Colorado, involved in the film indus­try. I was liv­ing in Japan and per­form­ing there, and was very excit­ed about my career as a per­former, artist, nar­ra­tor etc. The rea­son why I became inter­est­ed in life exten­sion, which is the core of tran­shu­man­ism, is because I became very ill. I was hos­pi­talised. I was told I might die. I was hem­or­rhag­ing to death, and lit­er­al­ly, phys­i­cal­ly going. At that time I had­n’t thought about life extension.

I then start­ed think­ing about the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of the human body. The inflex­i­bil­i­ty of it. The shelf life of it. The dis­ease of age­ing and that the suf­fer­ing that humans have done just to stay alive and ward off any type of dis­ease. So that real­ly turned my life around. When I returned to the United States, I start­ed study­ing every­thing I could about the tech­nol­o­gy of life exten­sion. The sci­ence, evi­dence based sci­ence, and eth­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy. I want to make that clear because there’s a lot of pseu­do­science out there, and there are a lot of views that you think you can live for­ev­er and you will, and this term immor­tal­i­ty” has got­ten some band­width recent­ly. But the bot­tom line is we can­not sur­vive with­out cer­tain tech­nolo­gies. Genetic engi­neer­ing, stem cells, nano-medicine, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence to mit­i­gate the onslaught of age­ing and dis­ease. But the 1980s for me were a very fun-filled time of get­ting into elec­tron­ic arts and video and mul­ti­me­dia. I had a TV show in Los Angeles on the future. It was called Transcentury Update, and I would inter­view peo­ple about the future. So that’s my back­ground in becom­ing inter­est­ed in the future. Having first hand expe­ri­ence, hav­ing that gene that Max…whatever it is that you just go, Oh, wait a minute. Things are chang­ing.” Perhaps I was ahead of the curve, because now I look where the ideas we talked about back then are now get­ting more band­width and mainstream.

More: I can think of two oth­er kinds of impor­tant influx­es, I sup­pose. Like I said, it’s almost like I have a gene which I’m kind of being most­ly flip­pant about but maybe I don’t, maybe I do. But there’s also a very clear dri­ver in me to be very dis­sat­is­fied with human lim­its. I spent the years from about 11 years old to 14 explor­ing basi­cal­ly the para­nor­mal and the cults, part­ly because my old­er broth­er had left these books around but I found out about all of these dif­fer­ent things dous­ing to astral pro­jec­tion to Rosicrucians—you name it—the Kabbalah. Unfortunately none of it worked.

I also like super­hero comics and I thought, Well you know, why can’t we be super­hu­man? This stuff isn’t work­ing so maybe tech­nol­o­gy and sci­ence is the way to go.” At that time—it must be late 70s, ear­ly 80s—Omni mag­a­zine got going and they had an off­shoot called Future Life mag­a­zine, and it actu­al­ly had Robert Anton Wilson writ­ing about phys­i­cal immor­tal­i­ty or life exten­sion, and space colonisation—all of those kinds of things. So then I start­ed real­is­ing, Oh, there are actu­al­ly more peo­ple inter­est­ed in this”, and I think the idea start­ed to form and come togeth­er, and only lat­er on with my philo­soph­i­cal work did I sort of con­cep­tu­alise that more concretely.

Vita-More: It’s inter­est­ing because around that time too, Mondo 2000 and some of these other…the cyber­punks through sci­ence fic­tion were get­ting a lot of head­way. But it was almost con­trary to the tran­shu­man per­spec­tive because that was always based on a cyborg which is not a human evo­lu­tion or a human transformation—it’s just adding machines to the body as orig­i­nal­ly defined by Nathan Kline and Manfred Clynes. That was the rea­son for cyborgs—to go out into space, like a space suit. But the term real­ly cot­toned on with­in sci­ence fic­tion, espe­cial­ly with­in the film indus­try as well. It came out as a Terminator and some­thing dan­ger­ous and scary. It did­n’t have any humane­ness, any lev­el of human­i­ty with­in the term cyborg.

And then in aca­d­e­mics, we know the post­mod­ernists took it over. The postmodernists—really in espe­cial­ly in the philo­soph­i­cal depart­ments, the human­i­ties, fem­i­nism stud­ies, gay gen­der stud­ies, etc,—really pushed the notion of a cyborg, and fought the notion of the tran­shu­man. Because—and I final­ly fig­ured it out when I was writ­ing my dissertation—they did­n’t have the sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge, or tech­no­log­i­cal prowess to be able to under­stand what was real­ly hap­pen­ing behind the scenes as far as the evo­lu­tion of the human with technology.

More: Yeah, this con­cept of the cyborg caus­es a lot of trou­ble. But gen­er­al­ly cyborgs like the Terminator are gen­er­al­ly sub­hu­man. I mean, they can be very phys­i­cal­ly pow­er­ful, but they’re very nar­row, you know, they have a very nar­row focus. Punch and destroy, react in cer­tain ways. So that’s why we real­ly don’t like to use that term. It’s actu­al­ly noth­ing real­ly wrong with the term  inher­ent­ly, but it’s got this very bad con­no­ta­tion now of being con­trolled by the out­side and pro­grammed. That’s of course the very oppo­site of tran­shu­man­ism, which is all about mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom, psy­cho­log­i­cal free­dom, choos­ing who you want to become.

Mason: Let’s talk a lit­tle bit about mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom because that was the essay that real­ly helped to define what the tra­jec­to­ry is for how we want to change and extend our­selves. I mean, could you explain what mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom is?

More: Yeah, I think I first used the term—at least that I can remember—at the Extropy Conference, where I gave a talk on this. It’s real­ly a typ­i­cal kind of pon­der­ous philoso­pher’s term, I sup­pose. But the idea was real­ly to encap­su­late all these dif­fer­ent ideas of shap­ing our­selves, and Natasha’s writ­ten about that from her own per­spec­tive. But to cre­ate ourselves—I mean, go back to obvi­ous­ly Friedrich Nietzsche. He talks about choos­ing one­self and oth­er peo­ple have, too—but he did­n’t have the tech­nol­o­gy. So the basic idea of mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom is that we have a right or we should have a right assert­ed to choose to mod­i­fy our­selves and whichev­er ways we choose. Now I would choose to do it in ways that make me bet­ter, smarter, more intel­li­gent, kinder, more thought­ful, have bet­ter fore­sight and so on. Other peo­ple might choose oth­er things. And there could be some, you know, legit­i­mate legal argu­ments as to what you can and can­not do.

For instance, in the blind com­mu­ni­ty, this whole blind pride thing where they actu­al­ly want to make their chil­dren blind who would­n’t oth­er­wise be. That gets into some tricky areas. But as long as we’re talk­ing about increas­ing chil­dren’s capa­bil­i­ties and our own, that’s real­ly what it is—the free­dom both polit­i­cal­ly and with the tech­nol­o­gy to choose who you are phys­i­cal­ly, intel­lec­tu­al­ly, cog­ni­tive­ly, emotionally.

Mason: And you took that idea, Natasha, and you turned that into these won­der­ful art pieces with Primo-Posthuman. You real­ly explored what the pos­si­bil­i­ties of mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom could actu­al­ly look like.

Vita-More: The way I saw it—that was in 1996, so it seems like aeons ago—I don’t even do any artis­tic endeav­ours. Maybe my life has become my art, I don’t know. But with Primo Posthuman, the idea was to design a whole body pros­thet­ic as a pro­to­type for the future. Design with the emerg­ing and spec­u­la­tive tech­nolo­gies and pon­der­ings of sci­ence in revers­ing and mit­i­gat­ing age­ing, etc.

But using nanomed­i­cine before the term nanomed­i­cine was even brought up out­side of Robert Freitas wrote the book Nanomedicine. And a lot of the ideas that maybe CRISPR has now with genet­ic engi­neer­ing. But it was­n’t only that. It was about encryp­tion, because in the ear­ly 1990s we talked about on the Extrope Transhumanist email list—it was the first email list on the inter­net, on the future. That was real­ly excit­ing. Encryption was some­thing impor­tant and so Bitcoin was dis­cussed, or cryp­tocur­ren­cy. Taking a look at maybe blockchain—all these ideas orig­i­nat­ed from the pur­vey­ors of that knowl­edge who have since been the the ear­ly adopters and entre­pre­neurs. The idea of Primp Posthuman was that we could have an alter­na­tive body that could be inter­change­able with biol­o­gy. It would­n’t have to be exclu­sive­ly technological—it could be semi-technological, semi-biological.

One thing that’s very impor­tant for every­one to know—and and here’s where I think that the news cov­er­age since the 1980s and cov­er­ing tran­shu­man­ism through the 1990s has got­ten it a lit­tle bit wrong—morphological free­dom means that while you may have the right to your body and to morph as you choose, a per­son also equal­ly has a right nev­er to be forced to enhance. And that’s very impor­tant because the idea that maybe tran­shu­mans think that we should be per­fect—what­ev­er per­fec­tion is—I have no inter­est in per­fec­tion. I think it’s a wast­ed space because once you’ve reached per­fec­tion, there’s no place else to go.

The idea that they’ll be the haves and the have nots, the elit­ist, those who have mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom or the mon­ey to do it, and every­one else will be an oth­er, some­one who’ll be dis­re­gard­ed is a ridicu­lous notion. I think that’s very obvi­ous through the world we live in, the mon­e­tary eco­nom­ic sys­tem we live in. I think Max could explain—it’s not just cap­i­tal­ism but com­pe­ti­tion with­in prod­ucts and the mar­ket­place. It dri­ves the price down. So that just about every­one today has a smart­phone. But ear­ly on only the elite, the rich will have smartphones.

More: I think it is very impor­tant to stress that aspect to mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom. Basically the neg­a­tive right not to be coerced. So if the gov­ern­ment decides, Oh yeah, it’d be good if peo­ple were much more intel­li­gent, they could be more pro­duc­tive and pay more tax­es by doing so, so we’re going to require every­body to get this upgrade.” Ah, not accord­ing to mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom. That says you have the right to decide. We don’t want peo­ple decid­ing what kind of behav­iours we should have or to change our emo­tion­al responses.

Of course, you know, you’ve got the clas­sic works of SOMA—people being pas­si­fied, basi­cal­ly. We don’t want that. We want peo­ple to choose what kind of modifications.

For instance, here’s a good one. What about you know, there’s this long run­ning and kind of cliche, which I’m not sure how true it is, but that great artists are often a lit­tle bit mad. I’m not entire­ly con­vinced that that’s true, but maybe in some cas­es, there is a trade off. Maybe you have to decide, Okay, am I will­ing to put up with a lit­tle bit of schiz­o­phre­nia or men­tal pain to pro­duce this kind of work or not?” I actu­al­ly tend to think the oppo­site is prob­a­bly true more often, actu­al­ly. The bet­ter men­tal health you’re in, the more free­dom you have to cre­ate. But there might be peo­ple in that con­di­tion and they would choose—the choice should­n’t be made for them. As long as they’re not choos­ing a state where there’s a dan­ger to oth­ers obvi­ous­ly, like a homi­ci­dal rage, I think there was a nov­el fol­low up to Blade Runner, a sort of a sequel to Blade Runner in which the char­ac­ter has his amyg­dala wired kind of back­wards. So the more dan­ger he’s in, the bet­ter he feels. He’s going on killing ram­pages and endan­ger­ing him­self, and he just feels bet­ter and bet­ter. That is prob­a­bly some­thing that’s to say well maybe we should­n’t allow that par­tic­u­lar mod­i­fi­ca­tion, it’s too dangerous.

Mason: Let’s stick on the top­ic of mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom because the inter­est­ing thing about that 1989 essay is that it seems all about being stronger, bet­ter, faster, more enhanced. I won­der as we enter the 21st cen­tu­ry, whether mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom just needs to be about enhance­ment, whether it can be about dif­fer­ence. So we have these mod­ern 21st cen­tu­ry sci­ence cyborgs, folks like Neil Harbisson who is a col­or­blind artist, which makes the idea of his anten­na that allows him to hear colour a lit­tle bit more chal­leng­ing, because arguably, it is an enhance­ment. But for him, he sees it as a form of dif­fer­ence. He makes that choice him­self to have that anten­na. It does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly enhance him, or make him bet­ter. It just makes him dif­fer­ent. And I won­der in the envi­ron­ment, in the world in which we’re in right now about how we think about our own bod­ies and our iden­ti­ty, whether we need a revival of the idea of mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom. Not just to be about being bet­ter, or faster or stronger, but being allowed to be dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed in what­ev­er way you see fit.

More: I mean, the rea­son why there’s an empha­sis on aug­men­ta­tion was because nobody else was empha­sis­ing that aspect. So every­body agrees that you should have help with the colour blind­ness or some­thing like that. But it’s very inclu­sive. Certainly it obvi­ous­ly includes…we have tran­shu­man­ism, it’s fun­ny now we now have trans­gen­derism. But it includes that—if you want to change your agen­da, that’s part of mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom. You should have the free­dom to do that.

Mason: How far do we allow mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom to go? If peo­ple decide that they want­ed to become some­thing oth­er than the body, should we have some form of limitation?

Vita-More: What you’re get­ting at—and cor­rect me if I’m wrong—you’re get­ting at maybe the psy­chol­o­gy of iden­ti­ty. What it means to be a per­son or per­son­hood, or what is agency? And could agency be some­thing oth­er than bio­log­i­cal? And would that be mor­pho­log­i­cal freedom—if I want­ed to become maybe this micro­phone, would I have that right to be this microphone?

Mason: That’s an extreme case, but can I change myself bio­log­i­cal­ly to also be that? I just won­der if mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom is get­ting to be a very use­ful top­ic as we enter these new times of pol­i­tics. I won­der if we need a revival and a re-look at mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom as a very egal­i­tar­i­an, very use­ful term.

More: I think it’s impor­tant to dis­tin­guish between the idea that you can just declare your­self to be some­thing. As one of the Monty Python crew annoyed at the BBC’s polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness recent­ly said. It was the American one, what’s his name? Terry Gilliam. He said…so the BBC said, We have this new com­e­dy troupe. They would all be boys from, you know, Oxford and Cambridge University.” So John Cleese said some­thing snarky, and then the oth­er guy said, Okay, I declare myself to be a black les­bian woman in tran­si­tion, then.” So there is this kind of ridicu­lous thing that you know, there are some good crit­ics of, where you just declare your­self to be a cer­tain kind of per­son. To me, that’s just delu­sion­al. But if your goal is to become that, and to actu­al­ly make use of real tech­nolo­gies, like obvi­ous­ly, hor­mone ther­a­py treat­ments, and maybe in the future, much more sophis­ti­cat­ed changes in the brain struc­ture, that’s anoth­er mat­ter. That’s some­thing that actu­al­ly is workable.

I think there is a lev­el of delu­sion where you just declare, you’re like, I’m going to be a dol­phin.” There’s actu­al­ly a guy who, like in his 50s, who lives as an eight year old girl, and to me that’s…okay that’s his choice. If you find peo­ple that want to put up with him to do that, okay—but I don’t see that as the same kind of thing that we’re talk­ing about here.

Vita-More: You know, when you have a gen­der change you go through psy­cho­log­i­cal treat­ment. You have to pass cer­tain lev­els of under­stand­ing of what the ram­i­fi­ca­tions will be or could be. So I think that prob­a­bly there will be a new field in psy­chol­o­gy that deals with agency, and dif­fer­ent lev­els of psy­chosis, and iden­ti­ty trans­fer­ence. And also there is body dys­mor­phia, there could be psy­cho­log­i­cal dys­mor­phia. Different lev­els of lack of under­stand­ing. That’s what I think along with mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom, some­thing that is total­ly cru­cial to us right now is arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, and using nar­row AI and just about every­thing that we do today. Now AI is here. It’s all around us. But we don’t think of it as hav­ing agency or being some­thing that is real­ly chang­ing us. However, right around the cor­ner, a stronger AI or arti­fi­cial gen­er­al intel­li­gence will be used to aug­ment our cog­ni­tive process­es, to help us carve new neur­al path­ways in per­haps being more humane, being more empath­ic, being kinder peo­ple, and to actu­al­ly devel­op the essence of being humane, which is a very much miss­ing from a large sec­tion of human­i­ty. We call our­selves humans,  but where’s our lev­el of humane­ness? I think that’s some­thing that will be very impor­tant as we look at using tech­nolo­gies with­in mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom, espe­cial­ly ones that will help our cog­ni­tive prop­er­ties and help us actu­al­ly get beyond some of our maybe depres­sions or strains and stress­es and trau­mas in life.

More: The way you kind of phrased mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom a while ago was to term it like the six mil­lion dol­lar man. Yes, we have the tech­nol­o­gy. We can make you faster, bet­ter, stronger. But it is, again—apart from what we’ve just been talk­ing about—other kinds of changes. It can also mean mak­ing the best of who you are right now. Because before we make too many wild changes, we might first of all want to improve the way we func­tion as we are.

More: I was talk­ing last night about this topic—and this is the idea of the kind of meta-brain idea—that right now the way we evolved, we real­ly don’t under­stand what the heck we’re doing, what our moti­va­tions are, why we get in cer­tain moods, because we don’t have very good access from the cor­ti­cal areas down into the emo­tion­al regions. We just pro­gramme you know: Tiger run­ning at me; get fright­ened; move. We’re not very good at deal­ing with com­plex­i­ty. We don’t have many path­ways going in the oth­er direc­tion. And I men­tioned a book by Joseph LeDoux, the neu­ro­sci­en­tist, called The Emotional Brain where he talks about that. So before mak­ing rad­i­cal changes to your­self, you might first of all, want to make the best of your­self. Really learn how to under­stand your­self. And peo­ple can say, Well you can med­i­tate.” Well, yeah you can, but there’s lim­its to that because you just don’t have the neur­al path­ways that are real­ly going to give you all the infor­ma­tion you need. So it’s not either or, but you could­n’t do both.

Mason: So to think that we might have this pos­si­bil­i­ty and mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom seems to con­flate bio­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion with cul­tur­al evo­lu­tion. Cultural evo­lu­tion is hap­pen­ing at a cer­tain speed but bio­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion takes mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions. It feels like we arrived at one point in time. We’ve got a body for 60 to 120 years and there is a degree of frus­tra­tion that these tran­shu­man­ists who advo­cate these mas­sive sort of rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tions the body have, you know, they see cul­tur­al evo­lu­tion. They’ve got all these things that trav­el at the speed of light, why can’t we upgrade the brain to the speed of information?

Vita-More: I think that’s a nar­row seg­ment of the tran­shu­man­ist think­ing that per­haps are—yeah I agree, impa­tient, and want­i­ng to upload, and I think that one size does not fit all. The core of philo­soph­i­cal attrib­ut­es of tran­shu­man­ism are human and tran­si­tion to trans­form, and part of that trans­for­ma­tion is to go beyond our bio­log­i­cal limitations.

Our main bio­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tion is shelf life. We only have a cer­tain amount of time that we’re alive, and the age­ing process is caus­ing us dis­ease. It’s a pret­ty sad thing actually—that you can only live so far. But there’s some peo­ple that are impa­tient so they want to upload with­out under­stand­ing tru­ly what that would be like.

More: My response is, yes, I’m one of those impa­tient peo­ple. I don’t want to wait for bio­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion to take, you know, hun­dreds of gen­er­a­tions to make these changes, because I won’t be there that point or else, I’ll be cry­op­re­served and come back, and I’ll be way out of date. So yes, I want to ben­e­fit from those things much, much soon­er. And bio­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion actu­al­ly, it does hap­pen all the time, but in kind of small ways. To pro­duce the big changes we’re talk­ing about would take way too long. So yes, I’m one of those impa­tient peo­ple, I want to speed up the process. I don’t want to over speed it up, and we have to be care­ful in what changes we make and mod­els and exper­i­ment in small ways and inte­grate those care­ful­ly, not just sud­den­ly fly off and—

Vita-More: Let’s con­tex­tu­alise this here. We have not evolved. Humans have not evolved for over 200,000 years.

More: Well we have but not in mas­sive ways, our brain structures—

Vita-More: We are the same species, homo sapi­ens, the hominid. We have not evolved in 200,000 years. Yes, we have devel­oped new psy­cho­log­i­cal process­es, we may be able to do things slight­ly dif­fer­ent­ly, but those are those slight things. We’re talk­ing about big changes with the tran­shu­man­ist agen­da of extend­ing life well beyond 123 max­i­mum human lifes­pan, to extend agency or con­scious­ness across sub­strates from bio­log­i­cal sub­strate to com­pu­ta­tion­al sub­strate to chem­i­cal sub­strate to vir­tu­al or aug­ment­ed sub­strate, and sub­strates we haven’t even con­sid­ered yet.

So that means that we would be liv­ing as uploads or down­loads or cross loads with­in dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ments, and I think that this is evi­denced in the gam­ing indus­try, the gam­ing field where play­ers take on char­ac­ters and they’re there. They’re there. When you watch gamers play­ing, they’re real­ly in that game. That’s them as that char­ac­ter in the game. There are cer­tain issues psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly that can occur from that. We don’t need to go into that, but peo­ple can take on iden­ti­ties that are not them­selves. But yes, upload­ing is great. We just don’t have the tech­nol­o­gy now. So if you talk to some peo­ple they say I want this to hap­pen right now.” you know. Technology is advancing—exponential this, expo­nen­tial that, and I’m still human. I’m age­ing, and we don’t have any cure for it right now. What am I going to do?” Well, hold on, let’s not upload too fast. Because to do that, it’s going to take a hell of a lot more pro­cess­ing pow­er than we have right now, and bet­ter pro­gram­ming tools, bet­ter pro­gram­ming soft­ware. Until then, the best thing is cryonics.

I mean, I want to upload too, but I want to cross load and down­load and live in numer­ous envi­ron­ments with numer­ous bod­ies and iden­ti­ties and mul­ti­ple cells, etc., as long as they’re not frac­tured. But I would not want to do it too soon, if the tech­nol­o­gy is not ready yet.

More: Of course evo­lu­tion isn’t one thing. It’s hap­pen­ing to mil­lions of dif­fer­ent species at dif­fer­ent rates. And we have a big prob­lem right now in that we’re hav­ing, you know, resis­tance to antibac­te­r­i­al treat­ments, because bac­te­ria evolve much faster than we do. I mean, that is actu­al­ly one thing—I think most things peo­ple pan­ic about real­ly aren’t that big a deal. That one actu­al­ly real­ly does con­cern me unfor­tu­nate­ly, there is some work on that. So it’s not real­ly good enough to say, Oh, we’ll just wait til we evolve resis­tance.” because  we could have lost 90% of the species at that point. So learn­ing how to accel­er­ate the improve­ments to our immune sys­tem seems to be pret­ty important.

Mason: If we make a col­lec­tive deci­sion to change our­selves in a cer­tain way, shape or form, what we’re going to end up doing is homogenis­ing the human species. I won­der if there’s a mis­un­der­stand­ing of evo­lu­tion. It’s not sur­vival of the fittest—it’s sur­vival of the mutant. And if we get rid of all the mutants, then are we going to be expos­ing our­selves to one sin­gu­lar bac­te­r­i­al infec­tion that would wipe us all out? Because we all have these hyper effi­cient bod­ies and hyper effi­cient sys­tems, but it only takes one thing to knock out every­body with that same genet­ic similarity.

More: Well, it’s fun­ny because now you’re kind of tak­ing the very oppo­site of what we were just talk­ing about. We were talk­ing about how mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom, basically—you were kind of wor­ry­ing about the oth­er extreme that we might be to dri­ve rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from each oth­er, but now wor­ried about you know, peo­ple being homogenised, which is prob­a­bly the more com­mon objec­tion mech­a­ni­sa­tion, mar­gin­al­i­sa­tion. And those are valid con­cerns. But I think there’ll be cer­tain things that just are obvi­ous­ly good things to have. It’s a good thing that we have antibi­otics right now—they’re just los­ing their effec­tive­ness. It’s a good thing we have antivi­ral agents. It’s a good thing we have ways of killing bugs in hos­pi­tals. So I don’t think we wor­ry about those.

But there will be cer­tain changes that…I don’t think every­body will do the same thing any­way, because just try and get every­body to do the same thing. They’re not going to. We’re even gonna have some peo­ple who won’t make any changes, who’ll refuse to. They’ll say, No, I just want to be human.” and I came up with this amus­ing term for this. Just like we have the Amish—and there isn’t just one Amish group—but they choose a lev­el of tech­nol­o­gy they find accept­able. So some of them allow mobile phones out on the field, for instance, but not inside the house, because it takes away from the group. But they set the lim­its there. And there may be peo­ple who will set the lim­its at being human. Okay, we’ll allow these kinds of surg­eries and this kind of can­cer treat­ment, but we’re not gonna have any kind of max­i­mum life exten­sion increase or changes to my brain.” and they should be free to do that. They may form their own human­ist com­mu­ni­ties at some point. They may have a hard time com­mu­ni­cat­ing with us, but they should be free to do so.

Mason: The prob­lem is, and it’s one of the cri­tiques of tran­shu­man­ism is, is it too indi­vid­u­al­ist and indi­vid­ual cen­tric? It’s my life that I want to extend. It’s me, me, me, I want to change some­thing. I want to adapt some­thing. I want to upgrade some­thing. Rather than think­ing about human­i­ty as a col­lec­tive. When we get into those dis­cus­sions, my mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom ver­sus your mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom. The cri­tique, or one of the large cri­tiques of tran­shu­man­ism is that it’s too self focused.

Vita-More: I used to think that maybe tran­shu­man­ists are self­ish. Maybe it’s wrong to want to live longer. And when peo­ple inter­view­ing over the years, espe­cial­ly in the 1990s, say­ing, Why do you want to live longer? Why are you so impor­tant? Why is your life so valu­able that you know, that you think you should live longer, and the old­er are sup­posed to die and make way for the young?” I’ve giv­en that con­sid­er­able thought. And final­ly I had an epiphany. I nev­er knew how to answer that artic­u­late­ly. I’d always stum­ble around with it until I was fly­ing on an aero­plane one when day, and I woke up, paid atten­tion to the flight attendant—everyone’s usu­al­ly not pay­ing attention—and the flight atten­dant was going through their dance and said, If there’s a prob­lem with air, oxy­gen, down from the top will come this oxy­gen thing. Now, put it on your­self first. Make sure you put it on your­self first and then turn to the per­son sit­ting next to you—whether it’s a child or an elder­ly per­son or some­one who needs help—then help them. But put it on your­self first.” I take that as a safe­ty mea­sure, unless we help our­selves first, improve our humane­ness, our human­i­ty, our lev­el of under­stand­ing, our own per­son­al growth, our lev­el of knowl­edge, under­stand­ing, crit­i­cal think­ing, prob­lem solv­ing skills, etc., we can­not help oth­ers. So no, it is not self­ish. It’s a smart thing to do.

More: I think it can be both. I mean it’s self­ish in the kind of a neu­tral sense of being attend­ed to first. That’s a great anal­o­gy real­ly, because unless you take care of your­self first, you can’t real­ly help oth­er peo­ple. But you can do both at once. And my big con­cern is, I don’t want to build into mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom, for instance, some kind of pos­i­tive right to have these treat­ments, because then you can get the gov­ern­ment involved, decid­ing what kind of mod­i­fi­ca­tions you can make. That’s why I think it’s impor­tant to be indi­vid­u­al­is­tic, because oth­er­wise you’re gonna end up with—now that you’ve used the word eugen­ics—unfor­tu­nate­ly it has all these hor­ri­ble con­no­ta­tions, because there’s noth­ing inher­ent­ly wrong. It just means good genes. But it’s been asso­ci­at­ed with poli­cies of cen­tral con­trol who cen­tral author­i­ties decide who you should be. So I make no apol­o­gy for it being indi­vid­u­al­is­tic in that sense. But I think it’s kind of a false dichoto­my. We can have indi­vid­u­als mak­ing those choic­es, as long as we have the right kind of socio-economic sys­tems and rea­son­able bands that should ben­e­fit everybody.

I mean, it should be a cliche by now but you know, how many peo­ple had these things? You know, 30 years ago, it used to be just a few exec­u­tives car­ry­ing a big brief­case. Now peo­ple in you know, in very poor areas have cell phones. If it was­n’t for the rich peo­ple hav­ing those first, every­body else would­n’t have them. So they’re kind of first adopters, they actu­al­ly take more risks, I sup­pose. And I think we’re actu­al­ly see­ing the time between first adop­tion and wide­spread adop­tion shrink­ing, and that’s going to be even faster. So I real­ly make no apol­o­gy for that. I think first of all, it’s not that I’m more impor­tant than any­one else, it’s that I can make my own choic­es. I’m not going to make your choic­es for you. Hopefully, I can set a decent exam­ple. But I think by devel­op­ing these and talk­ing about them, mak­ing them avail­able, oth­er peo­ple are more like­ly, then, to ben­e­fit from them.

Vita-More: You know, you asked in the begin­ning about the his­to­ry of tran­shu­man­ism and how it arrived and and where the term stems from and what it was like in the ear­ly days. I’d like to focus on that, if we could, because it’s real­ly inter­est­ing from the 1980s the changes that took place. From the 1980s, before the world view was devel­oped, tru­ly. The term tran­shu­man was out there in the mar­ket­place. It had been a term used by F. M. Esfandiary, myself, let’s see—Ettinger may have used it. Of course Huxley used it. Damien Broderick used to in dif­fer­ent ways. But it was­n’t until the late 1980s that the phi­los­o­phy was writ­ten by Max, and there­fore became a worldview.

But how did it become a world­view? What was the his­to­ry of that? That’s some­thing that is so dis­card­ed in not only in jour­nal­is­tic nar­ra­tives, but in many aca­d­e­m­ic books and papers, and doc­u­men­taries on tran­shu­man­ism, and I think one thing that would be love­ly and and so impor­tant for you to do with your project is to set that straight and to get that his­to­ry clear from the two pio­neers who are still with us today. The third one is in cry­on­ics, so he isn’t here that’s F. M. Esfendiary.. But from the 1980s I remem­ber I went to F. M.‘s class­es. He was a very dear friend, and he said specif­i­cal­ly that he did not want a move­ment. He had cre­at­ed the Upwingers Movement ear­ly on in the 1970s, but F. M. was adamant about not mak­ing it a move­ment. He did­n’t want to do a move­ment. But he was a bit of a staunch indi­vid­u­al­ist guru. Someone who thought every­one should emanate his view of what the tran­shu­man was—and I had an extreme dif­fer­ence of opin­ion. I think you be your tran­shu­man, I’ll be mine—as long as we val­ue life.

More: A very impor­tant route of that: Sometimes when I try to explain tran­shu­man­ism, I some­times say you can pass that as trans-humanism, or as transhuman-ism, which stress­es two dif­fer­ent aspects. The trans-humanism one ties into the enlight­en­ment and the enlight­en­ment route—so tran­shu­man­ist think­ing which stress­es rea­son, progress, even if there is a God or not. Understanding what is up to us to improve our lives. Really, tran­shu­man­ism has grown out of that, in the sense that it has the same kind of basic goals, but more rad­i­cal. So I think that’s impor­tant to note from a philoso­pher’s point of view. But in terms of the cul­ture of the time, it’s hard to say. I think it’s because we had some suc­cess in space until—of course it was political—so we stopped for a long time. Until more recent­ly, because new bio­log­i­cal tools are being devel­oped, because computers—personal computers—started appear­ing, and peo­ple start­ed talk­ing on inter­net forums, includ­ing our very ear­ly one.

All these new ideas kind of start­ed bub­bling to the sur­face. And peo­ple start­ed con­nect­ing them in ways they nev­er real­ly had. And that was one rea­son I start­ed my Extropy magazine—because I had no one real­ly to talk to about these ideas. I’ve had peo­ple call me from the mid­dle of nowhere say­ing, Oh, thank good­ness. I just read an under­ground pub­li­ca­tion review of your mag­a­zine, and I got it. And thank good­ness oth­er peo­ple actu­al­ly think this way.” So I think it was just all these dif­fer­ent ideas of space and even like blockchain stuff ear­ly on, and robot­ics and AI and life exten­sion, and peo­ple con­nect­ing and actu­al­ly start­ing to see how those affect­ed one anoth­er, and like obvi­ous­ly this leads into a big­ger worldview.

Vita-More: And what’s so inter­est­ing there too, is that—and this was in the ear­ly 90s—and through Extropy which was the first tran­shu­man­ist organ­i­sa­tion, it was a 501 (c) (3) non-profit that Max start­ed with a col­league of his. And even­tu­al­ly I became President of it for—I guess—maybe four years. But Max ran it pret­ty much sole­ly, and put on these amaz­ing con­fer­ences in Silicon Valley. But the speak­ers at the con­fer­ences are the peo­ple that every­one wants to know about now. We had Kim Eric Drexler, father of nan­otech­nol­o­gy, who is one of our col­leagues and friends, and a mem­ber of Extropy Institute. Marvin Minsky, father of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. Marwick, Kurzweil, Greg Faye, Gregory Stock, Martine Rothblatt. The list goes on and on. The ear­ly thinkers. We did­n’t have the term entre­pre­neur” then, but it’s the orig­i­nal thought mak­ers of the sci­ences and tech­nolo­gies that are now in the mar­ket­place today, that are being used. Robotics, AI, nan­otech­nol­o­gy, blockchain, Bitcoin—all these ideas orig­i­nat­ed through those indi­vid­u­als, who hap­pened to get togeth­er. It’s kind of like hap­pen­stance, in a way. It was quite wonderful.

More: And I think the oth­er part of it was kind of the the ris­ing of dig­i­tal cul­ture, gen­er­al­ly. So Wired mag­a­zine start­ed in what­ev­er year that was. But I remem­ber in the sec­ond issue of Wired mag­a­zine, Kevin Kelly did a lit­tle review of Extropy mag­a­zine, which of course got us a flood of enquiries. Then they did a cov­er fea­ture on us not too long after that. From 1994 it would have been—the first con­fer­ence. So I think Wired mag­a­zine sort of reflect­ed a new cul­ture of the mix­ture of ele­ments of cyber cul­ture. Some very crit­i­cal, some very opti­mistic, and that was obvi­ous­ly close­ly con­nect­ed to us. So we had par­ties at Wired mag­a­zine and knew a lot of those peo­ple. So it was part of the zeit­geist, to use the term.

Vita-More: Yes, and Kevin Kelly went on to work with The Quantified Self, which was a great project, and look­ing at the TED con­fer­ences, Chris Anderson. I guess it was more like a Silicon Valley, Northern-Southern California, part­ly film indus­try where I was locat­ed. Then the aca­d­e­m­ic crowd where Max was locat­ed, with the Silicon Valley where Extropy flour­ished, and then all that was the the Nexus—that whole California, with the link to New York City of course, as well—and London.

You know it’s inter­est­ing, but it was nev­er about being self­ish. It was about hav­ing com­mu­ni­ty and com­mu­ni­cat­ing, and solv­ing prob­lems. How could we use these tech­nolo­gies to fur­ther the tran­shu­man­ist agen­da, life exten­sion, mit­i­gate dis­ease, help peo­ple any­where, any­time, live a bet­ter life? The idea of per­fec­tion, again, was nev­er in our think­ing modal­i­ty at all. It was more about going out into space, the inter­plan­e­tary future of things, and look­ing at automa­tion and robot­ics, and pros­thet­ics. In fact, an exam­ple of how far things have come since I designed Primo Posthuman—that was 1996. Think of how far robot­ics has come since then with the nar­row AI and hap­tic sys­tems and neural-interface. You can have some­one with legs that can walk, and run, and be in the Olympics. How incred­i­ble is that? Or pick up a cup and feel the heat or cool­ness of that cup. This is amazing.

Mason: But the prob­lem was at the time, the stuff that you guys were talk­ing about was con­sid­ered vaporware.

Vita-More: Oh, yes.

Mason: I mean, how did you deal with the detrac­tors who were like, Yes this is this is very nice, as a phi­los­o­phy, as an idea. Maybe some of this stuff will hap­pen, maybe not.”

Vita-More: Cried a lot. Cried a lot. Oh, man. I remem­ber when we were on the cov­er of LA Magazine, I thought, Oh, this is going to be great.” I was so excit­ed. And then the journalists—I was giv­ing a talk at MGM. The jour­nal­ist who was inter­view­ing me for it came to MGM, you know, the film stu­dio where I was giv­ing a talk on the future. And the astro­naut Buzz Aldrin was there. And we were giv­ing a talk about the future of the human and why we need­ed stronger, more durable, last­ing bod­ies, etc. Primo Posthuman orig­i­nal­ly was my naked body, and it was a point and click web­site. So you’d go to my naked body. I did­n’t show tits and ass too much, just a lit­tle bit. Enough to be sexy. But you point and click around my brain to see aug­ment­ed to my meta-brain, cog­ni­tion, mem­o­ry, the skin. So I could change the colour of my skin, the inter­nal organs; replace­ment. It was more ath­let­ic than any­thing, since I am more ath­let­ic than then try­ing to be a Playboy mate. But that jour­nal­ist lied in the mag­a­zine LA Weekly and said I was pass­ing around naked pic­tures of myself. I was hor­ri­fied by that. So some­times you don’t expect a project that you do to have legs. That real­ly makes a big difference.

Mason: I want to talk a lit­tle bit about being a female tran­shu­man­ist in the mid 80s. It is some­thing that you’ve shared with me before, but it was a dif­fi­cult envi­ron­ment to be in from what you were describ­ing. Transhumanism—the oth­er cri­tique is it’s a lot of white male guys talk­ing about poten­tial­ly what women will do with them­selves in the future.

Vita-More: Gotta love them. Gotta love you both, every­one. Yes, it was tough. Number one—I was an artist, some­thing I do not call myself today. I don’t get jobs being an artist. So I’m a strate­gic design­er, the­o­reti­cian, academic.

Working out, hav­ing a body that I could show off. Being in the film indus­try, being with­in the Telluride film crowd that I was in. Having dat­ed Warren Beatty, and hav­ing been with­in that sector—it was real­ly hard to to be accept­ed with­in this high lev­el intel­lec­tu­al domain of all these incred­i­ble, tal­ent­ed philoso­phers, sci­en­tists, tech­nol­o­gists. I was pret­ty much ignored except by Max and F. M. Esfandiary. It’s true. It was very hard—women were not at these meet­ings. Women were not there. It was­n’t the norm, and it was very dif­fi­cult, too.

Since then, of course, I’ve got­ten two mas­ters and a PhD, and now I can outtalk any­one about soft­ware pro­gram­ming and AI and nano, but back then it was hard. But I have to blame myself. I take full respon­si­bil­i­ty. I have no idea why I got an under­grad­u­ate degree in paint­ing. That’s like get­ting a degree today in…philosophy.

Mason: Philosophy, yeah. Let’s not men­tion that.

More: You know, a cou­ple of things about that. It is actu­al­ly real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing to think about the ear­ly days. I talk to peo­ple about these ideas, and they just kind of think, Well, this is just nuts. This is just pure sci­ence fic­tion.” And it’s been fas­ci­nat­ing to see how that’s changed since we have start­ed dis­trib­ut­ing stu­dents to the con­fer­ences, and then Humanity+, and now it is not like sci­ence fic­tion. It’s, Oh, my good­ness, that’s going to hap­pen. What should we do about that? Does that mean that AI’s going to take con­trol?” Now they’re tak­ing it very seri­ous­ly and they’re argu­ing about the outcome—not about whether it’s pos­si­ble. So that’s been a huge change.

Mason: The prob­lem is, these ideas only receive a cer­tain degree of trac­tion when they’re through the lens of an indi­vid­ual who has the finan­cial or busi­ness means. So Elon Musk on sim­u­la­tion theory—no one even knew about sim­u­la­tion the­o­ry and what Bostrom was writ­ing about that, until sud­den­ly Elon Musk opens the Overton Window, makes a state­ment in a pub­lic forum—and sud­den­ly the press go absolute­ly wild over it. Or with his Neuralink project. And then what Brian Johnson is doing. The indi­vid­u­als who’ve made their mon­ey from oth­er means, whether it’s entre­pre­neur­ship or it’s some form of web based com­pa­ny now have a cer­tain degree of dis­pos­able finance to -

Vita-More: Yes. Ray Kurzweil’s tech­no­log­i­cal sin­gu­lar­i­ty which came from Vernor Vinge, a math­e­mati­cian sci­ence fic­tion writer.

More: I. J. Good before that.

Vita-More: I. J. Good before that.

More: Then of course Google is doing the Calico project, kind of a life exten­sion company.

Mason: In what way are both of you, as the pio­neers of these ideas, being brought to the table with these dis­cus­sions? Because all the eth­i­cal impli­ca­tions, or the cul­tur­al and social impli­ca­tions that they’re deal­ing with right now as they’re build­ing these com­pa­nies are things that you guys have dealt with for the last 20 years.

Vita-More: And we’ve thought about it and talked about it, and writ­ten about it and debat­ed about it, and it’s been part of our con­ver­sa­tion. That tran­shu­man­ist con­ver­sa­tion, whether from The Extropy Institute to the World Transhumanist Association, and Humanity+. The tran­si­tion of the devel­op­ment out of bring­ing peo­ple togeth­er for con­fer­ences. It has been so deeply argued, debat­ed dis­cussed, but we must be included.

More: It would be nice to be called on more often to advise but there are some inter­est­ing things that do hap­pen. We were actu­al­ly in New York Cut last time but one maybe for this gam­ing con­fer­ence, which is kind of fas­ci­nat­ing because it was a very—what was it – Deus Ex?

Vita-More: Deus Ex, yes.

 More: Yes. But the inter­est­ing thing was the con­fer­ence was tak­ing this very seri­ous­ly. They had peo­ple com­ing in demon­strat­ing pros­thet­ics and talk­ing about the phi­los­o­phy, and try­ing to have rules for this world on a very seri­ous lev­el. That was interesting—that was a gam­ing company.

Vita-More: That gam­ing indus­try is look­ing at this. The gam­ing indus­try has actu­al­ly tak­en a lot of the tran­shu­man­ist writ­ing and ideas and put it with­in games, but not at the lev­el that could be very ben­e­fi­cial. I think anoth­er area is with what Peter Diamandis is doing with the X Prize. He’s look­ing at abun­dance for all, but that idea gen­er­at­ed from Eric Drexler in his book, his PhD dis­ser­ta­tion Engines of Creation from MIT.

What I’m intend­ing to do is to real­ly focus more and be more like, like you and Alex Klokus and oth­ers. As Executive Director of Humanity+, I’m real­ly going to work very hard at look­ing at mor­pho­log­i­cal free­dom, the proac­tionary prin­ci­ple, look­ing at leg­is­la­tion and gov­er­nance on an inter­na­tion­al level—not just the United States, but through­out the world.

It’s very impor­tant that peo­ple under­stand no mat­ter what par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal agen­da is in con­trol or not, or reli­gious view that’s in control—it’s hap­pen­ing. What it means to be human is on the tip of every­one’s tongue, and some­thing that we have thought about for 30 or 40 years, look­ing at what the future sce­nar­ios could pos­si­bly be. And there are so many dif­fer­ent alter­na­tive futures. Certainly no one has the answer to any one future. But many of the com­ments that you brought up and the ques­tions that you’ve asked are cer­tain­ly per­ti­nent to this larg­er discussion.

More: I per­son­al­ly don’t have a whole lot of time to go out there advis­ing peo­ple any­way, even if I’m asked, because I’m run­ning the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, which is the world’s lead­ing cry­on­ics organ­i­sa­tion, and that’s very much a full time job right now. But occa­sion­al­ly you have to get away and you know, do some oth­er things to keep perspective.

But I just want to take a lit­tle bit of a step back in the sense of when you were talk­ing about whether tran­shu­man­ist thinking—early or now—is kind of too indi­vid­u­al­is­tic, or too self­ish. Even in the ear­ly days, things we dis­cussed in Extropy mag­a­zine and on the online forums—a lot of that was­n’t just about get­ting big­ger, faster, stronger. It was about, How do we redesign soci­eties for the bet­ter?” You know, we’re only now start­ing to read about smart con­tracts. But Mark Miller and Zac [?] were writ­ing about that a long time ago in Extropy mag­a­zine. How can we actu­al­ly use tech­nol­o­gy in com­bi­na­tion with new social struc­tures to every­body’s benefit?

Vita-More: And it’s still time­ly today because those are struc­tures and blockchain is look­ing that. Where can blockchain go in so many dif­fer­ent areas, where it’s becom­ing a cliche. Those lev­els are con­duits of infor­ma­tion that help with under­stand­ing dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios and play­ing out strate­gies. Especially with encryp­tion and cod­ing, where this is so cru­cial today—how to pro­tect your­self; how to pro­tect your identity.

Mason: My chal­lenge with tran­shu­man­ism, the move­ment, is it can be a lot of indi­vid­u­als sit­ting online, sort of advo­cat­ing their futures in a very science-fiction way on blogs and mes­sag­ing boards, and it just does­n’t feel very use­ful. There’s a lot of inter­est and a lot of excite­ment around tran­shu­man­ism, but those get­ting excit­ed aren’t always nec­es­sar­i­ly the best advo­cates for transhumanism.

More: Right, sure, not always, but also a lot of those people—like in the ear­ly forums, online forums—after a while they got off the forums and they start­ed, you know. Working on robot­ics or genet­ic engi­neer­ing and so they got busy doing stuff. So there’s gonna be dif­fer­ent peo­ple who, first of all it’s new to them, so that you know—they’re get­ting excit­ed. Maybe overex­cit­ed occa­sion­al­ly, but then that dri­ves them to be inter­est­ed in, Okay, how do I get involved in bio­hack­ing or in blockchain or in life exten­sion?” So I think there’s room for every­thing and I guess I spend most of my time doing some­thing very prac­ti­cal that I actu­al­ly might allow me to live past my nat­ur­al lifes­pan. So I’m busy doing prac­ti­cal stuff. But I think it’s very impor­tant that there is actu­al­ly an aca­d­e­m­ic move­ment as well, because it’s need­ed. You know, we’ve got all this…honestly, I don’t want to go into a tirade but there is a lot of non­sense at universities.

Vita-More: Postmodernist nonsense.

More: Postmodernist. A lot of these stud­ies. I think they could do some tran­shu­man­ist stud­ies, because it would tie togeth­er a num­ber of top­ics in kind of a good way, a very help­ful way of teach­ing crit­i­cal think­ing, and ways of think­ing about the future more effec­tive­ly. That would be, I think, a valu­able thing. So it’s impor­tant to main­tain that. But that does­n’t mean peo­ple should­n’t be work­ing on projects. They def­i­nite­ly should, and more and more so so than what they are.

What I would like to see is more promi­nent peo­ple who are actu­al­ly doing stuff say, Well, yeah, of course, I’m a tran­shu­man­ist.” And for it to just be kind of like a triv­ial thing. Just like, you know, an 18th cen­tu­ry some­one say­ing, Yeah, I’m a human­ist. But let’s talk about the details of this.” So it should be like men­tioned as part of the back­ground in a sense.

Mason: But this is a prob­lem, no one real­ly knows at the turn of the 21st cen­tu­ry. What is a 21st cen­tu­ry tran­shu­man­ist? Professor Steve Fuller in the UK is very com­fort­able say­ing that he’s a tran­shu­man­ist, only inso­far as he’s not a post-humanist.

Vita-More: Right, yes, yes.

Mason: He sees it as there’s tran­shu­man­ism, there’s posthu­man­ism, you’ve got to put your cards in one camp.

Vita-More: Well Kevin Warwick would say, I’m a cybor­gist” because he’s built his career on that so he can’t real­ly say he’s a tran­shu­man­ist, but he real­ly is. Stelarc—another one. He’s very much a tran­shu­man­ist but he will call him­self a tran­shu­man­ist, but due to his career -

Mason: To under­stand tran­shu­man­ism through its rela­tion­ship with posthu­man­ism. Correct me if I’m wrong but the way I’ve always under­stood tran­shu­man­ism is that the human still exists in one form or shape—whether it’s frozen, uploaded, extend­ed through chang­ing or manip­u­lat­ing the body. Something remains about the 21st cen­tu­ry human, where­as posthumanism—they’re a lit­tle more lais­sez faire. They’re like, You know what, if we don’t sur­vive, we don’t exist—whatever.”

Vita-More: Well you have to remem­ber that tran­shu­man is a human in tran­si­tion, evolv­ing. We’re still evolv­ing, although you know, as I said, in 200,000 years not so much.

Mason: So then we’re all transhumanists?

Vita-More: Yeah, I think so.

More: Not con­scious­ly, no.

Vita-More: Not con­scious­ly. We’re all tran­shu­man. We’re all evolv­ing. But the ist’ means your belief sys­tem, how you prac­tice your life. A posthu­man? No one knows what a posthu­man is going to be. It could be any­thing, we can spec­u­late on it. But to give a cod­i­fied def­i­n­i­tion of what a posthu­man is, we’d have to say very loose­ly, with some wig­gle room, that it’s after the species. But chang­ing a species is a tall order. It gets into the germline. It gets into the you know, evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gy, it gets into all sorts of ter­mi­nol­o­gy and ram­i­fi­ca­tions that dif­fer­en­ti­ate species.

More: There’s no sharp line between tran­shu­man and posthu­man in my mind, and that’s the way I’ve always pre­sent­ed it. Transhumanism is the move­ment towards the posthu­man, what­ev­er that might be or the many forms it may take. So it’s not exclu­sive of posthuman—whatever that means. The trou­ble is posthu­man­ism, as a term. I have no bloody idea what that means because in some sens­es, it just means think­ing about being uploaded and being non bio­log­i­cal and in the sense that it’s clos­est to us, but it also means post­mod­ernism. Postmodernists use this term. To me, that’s a bunch of non­sense for the most part. So there’s very dif­fer­ent mean­ings attached to that word posthu­man­ism. So some­one says they’re posthu­man­ism, I’m gonna say, I don’t real­ly know what you mean. Can you explain? Which type of posthu­man­ist are you?”

But tran­shu­man­ism is not incom­pat­i­ble with the idea of post-human at all. It is the move­ment towards over­com­ing human lim­its, which has no par­tic­u­lar lim­it. It’s again, it’s not the end­ing of imper­fec­tion, because I don’t believe that con­cept is use­ful. It’s a stu­pid pla­ton­ic idea. It’s con­tin­u­ous improve­ment, which is going to take us to some point where we real­ly are not recog­nis­ably human, if you define that in terms of our genet­ic struc­ture and your log­i­cal capability.

Vita-More: But you men­tioned some­thing that about the 1990s, some of the lack of advo­ca­cy for tran­shu­man, and I think our biggest hin­drance was post­mod­ernist aca­d­e­mics. Because most of them were tenured, and they were in those depart­ments that were real­ly impor­tant for fem­i­nist stud­ies with N. Katherine Hayles, and Andrew Pickering and Donna Haraway, and that whole flux of American and European aca­d­e­mics. The prob­lem there is, that’s all great what post­mod­ernism did in aca­d­e­mics and the­o­ret­i­cal­ly, but where it stopped—it did­n’t under­stand tech­nol­o­gy, and evi­dence based sci­ence. It had those academics—and as skilled and refined as they were with their rhetoric—they lacked the knowl­edge and the inter­est in look­ing at AI and robot­ics and automa­tion and nan­otech­nol­o­gy, all the dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies and the expo­nen­tial­i­ty of them.

More: Even more impor­tant to me, at least as a philoso­pher, is that through the sci­en­tif­ic method and a sense of objec­tiv­i­ty, every­body just has their own world­view, which is equal­ly valid. Even though some­how they can crit­i­cise oth­er peo­ple get angry at them. And I think that’s, as I stress, the empha­sis on on the human­ist tra­di­tion. Part of that real­ly is that there is truth. It’s not like this is very easy to find or that any one per­son knows what that truth is, but there are things that are right and wrong and we can make mis­takes, and sci­en­tif­ic method is a good way to get towards that.

Mason: Against that back­drop, what’s inter­est­ing about you two as indi­vid­u­als is that the last 20 years has been about striv­ing for a degree of legit­i­ma­cy. You know, you had folks in the 80s going, Oh, look at these two talk­ing about their vapor­ware that may or may not hap­pen.” I mean, Max, you just went, You know what, I’ll become the CEO of the largest US based chron­ics Institute. I’ll actu­al­ly build that future.” and Natasha, you went back to acad­e­mia to prove the legit­i­ma­cy of the sorts of things you were saying.

Vita-More: Yes, thank you for recog­nis­ing that. I feel legit­i­mate now. Not like I’ve felt before. I do. I’ve earned it. I’ve worked hard.

Mason: If you guys called your­self sci­ence fic­tion authors in the mid 90s, and you were the equiv­a­lent of Bruce Sterling and Pet Cadigan, you would­n’t under­go any of these sorts of scrutiny.

Vita-More: None of it! Oh, and boy. You just nailed it there. So well. Bruce Sterling—are you seri­ous? Gibson. They could say any­thing they want­ed and they were val­ued so high­ly, espe­cial­ly by aca­d­e­mics and post­mod­ernists. And then us? We were like, Oh, they’re crazy nuts.” Now it’s impor­tant that this time has come around. We sat through it and strug­gled through it. It was a strug­gle. It was quite a struggle.

More: So now we large­ly have that legit­i­ma­cy. So the cri­tique has shift­ed from, you know, This is crazy, impos­si­ble stuff.” to, You’re hor­ri­ble peo­ple who just look after your­selves. You’re gonna destroy the human race.”

Mason: You can’t win, you guys can’t win.

More: No, we take it step by step.

Vita-More: I am still that same per­son. I believe in shar­ing knowl­edge and help­ing. It’s just a mat­ter of posi­tion­ing myself as the world’s most known thought leader on what is the future of human­i­ty. That is my goal. To be includ­ed at that lev­el where I do have the knowl­edge, and I’ve got the skills to think things through, and I’ve looked at numer­ous sce­nar­ios, and I’m just look­ing for the best solution—not a polit­i­cal solu­tion, not a moral solu­tion like the bioethi­cists do with their agen­da, which is always so very trans­par­ent. That’s the cred­i­bil­i­ty I need to put forth myself for my work in the future. I think Max is doing an excel­lent job as CEO of Alcor.

More: Well cry­on­ics is a kind of inter­est­ing exam­ple of how this has changed. Because 20 or 25 years ago, a typ­i­cal expe­ri­ence of going into a hos­pi­tal, they always go, You want to do what!? Not in my hos­pi­tal you don’t.” Now, typ­i­cal­ly, the response is quite dif­fer­ent. Usually they’ve seen some doc­u­men­tary on one of the sci­ence chan­nels or some­thing, or they’ve read a bit about it. And they go, Oh yeah, I know. People are cry­op­re­serv­ing organs and corneas and all these peo­ple walk­ing around who were cry­op­re­served as embryos.” and now they take it much more seri­ous­ly. They will actu­al­ly lis­ten to us and when we have

vis­i­tors come to tour Alcor, they see it as a real place. Many of them come up to me say­ing, Well, when I first came here, I was­n’t sure if you were gonna freeze my head or if you’d do some­thing real­ly weird.”, but they said, No, this actu­al­ly makes sense, you know. I’m not sure if it will work or not, but it actu­al­ly makes sense now.”

You know, we used to be way out on one end of the spec­trum, and tra­di­tion­al med­i­cine and sci­ences out there, but they’ve got­ten clos­er and clos­er togeth­er, as we’re doing low tem­per­a­ture surgery. We’re cry­op­re­serv­ing many kinds of tis­sues right now. There’s Natasha’s research—cryopreserving a worm and then show­ing that it’s main­tained it’s mem­o­ries. And the pro­fes­sion­al Cryobiology Society actu­al­ly had a clause in its bylaws that basi­cal­ly said, If you asso­ciate your­self with cry­on­ics, you’re out, you can nev­er pub­lish, you’re ruined.”. They took that out recent­ly. The lead­er­ship is now much more friend­ly. That’s a big change. So yeah, there are still peo­ple who are very antipa­thet­ic, gen­er­al­ly out of igno­rance, because they just real­ly don’t know what they’re talk­ing about. Usually, hope­ful­ly, you can edu­cate them a lit­tle bit if they’re will­ing to lis­ten, and that that may go away.

Vita-More: I think that the biggest issue that we’re fac­ing now: What does it mean to be human? I think that is on the tip of every­one’s tongue. What does it mean? What is this going to do to me? What is this? Where am I going to be? Am I going to be left behind? Am I going to be includ­ed in the ear­ly adopters? There’s so many dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios and those need to be worked out and expressed and edu­cat­ed to the pub­lic. So I think that

Academics are very impor­tant here. But it must include STEHM, not just STEM—science, tech­nol­o­gy, engi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics. The STEHM bring­ing in the human­i­ties is so cru­cial. Where in many of the schools, espe­cial­ly where I teach, the human­i­ties are left out. There’s only maybe one course on ethics. This is so impor­tant, but every­one needs to think about it. Just like peo­ple need to think about their finan­cial sta­tus. How old are you? How old do you want to live? Do you have a 401k What is your retire­ment plan? Are you going to your doc­tor year­ly to have your blood drawn to check how much Vitamin D you have? What are your hor­mones, etc.? And have you been to 23 and Me and had your genet­ics run through? These are respon­si­bil­i­ties that we have as peo­ple. Protect your own life and set an example.

More: I guess in some ways we kind of have a long term dis­ad­van­tage in that tran­shu­man­ism is all about change. People gen­er­al­ly don’t like change for the most part, espe­cial­ly when you look at very rad­i­cal fun­da­men­tal changes—It’s kind of scary. People get trau­ma­tised by too much change at once. I always think of this sto­ry I heard, you know, from way back when there was still the Soviet Union. Some Soviet sys­tems engi­neers had one of those rare visas to come vis­it the United States and had to go buy some tooth­paste. They went in there, and there were all these dif­fer­ent brands of tooth­paste, and they’re just kind of star­ing and going, Oh, my God, what, what do I do?” and were paral­ysed by buy­ing tooth­paste, which to us—we’re so used to that choice—it’s not a big deal. So we’re now adding all these new choic­es. Fundamental choic­es about chang­ing your cog­ni­tion and your body, and all these oth­er things. There are some peo­ple who clear­ly are tran­shu­man­ist, but won’t call them­selves that. And I think, you know, I think Ray Kurzweil is a great exam­ple of that. He’s actu­al­ly explic­it­ly kind of reject­ed that term. But he so obvi­ous­ly is a tran­shu­man­ist. I’ve tried to dis­cuss that with him, and he clear­ly is one, but that’s fine, not every­one wants to asso­ciate them­selves with a move­ment which might have all kinds of dif­fer­ent fac­tions, might push the wrong but­tons. If they’re focused on a par­tic­u­lar project then I can kind of under­stand that they would­n’t want to asso­ciate themselves.

Vita-More: Kurzweil signed up for cry­on­ics. That’s a very tran­shu­man­ist thing to do. I think per­son­al­ly, the rea­son why he does­n’t pub­licly call him­self a tran­shu­man­ist is because he does­n’t want to be part of some­one else’s club. Right? Kurtzweil is an inven­tor. He’s a bril­liant per­son, a gen­er­ous per­son with his cre­ativ­i­ty and his many tal­ents. And he sup­ports Max and I intel­lec­tu­al­ly and emo­tion­al­ly, and he’s some­one who we think of as extend­ed fam­i­ly. But because it’s a philo­soph­i­cal world­view, I think that some peo­ple, when they have their own agen­da or their own prod­uct to sell, may not want to be includ­ed into anoth­er prod­uct that’s being sold at this point. Later on. I don’t think it’s going to make one hell of a dif­fer­ence. But I think as he’s sell­ing his Singularity Is Near and now his Exponential Economy and the Singularity University and all that, I think it would dis­tract a bit from a mar­ket­ing per­spec­tive. Perhaps his mar­ket­ing advi­sors sug­gest­ed that he not.

More: Which is kind of iron­ic because even though Ray does­n’t use the label, peo­ple con­flate the idea of tran­shu­man­ism and the sin­gu­lar­i­ty all the time. They think if you’re a tran­shu­man­ist, you must believe there’s going to be a sin­gu­lar­i­ty, and then I’ll say, Well I don’t.” I think I know a lit­tle bit about tran­shu­man­ism. I’m not a believ­er in the sin­gu­lar­i­ty. The two are com­pat­i­ble, but they’re not the same thing. Although Ray won’t call him­self a tran­shu­man­ist,  peo­ple attach these two terms to close­ly togeth­er, unfortunately.

Mason: To what degree, how do you deal with indi­vid­u­als who come to things like tran­shu­man­ism because they feel so dis­il­lu­sioned about their cur­rent state of being in the present? That they’re look­ing to the future is some­thing that will hope­ful­ly allow them to tran­scend their real­i­ty right now?

Vita-More: I think that’s an excel­lent ques­tion. Because if you open up any mag­a­zine or any head­line it’s about genet­ic engi­neer­ing and crisper and mod­i­fy­ing the body, and new treat­ments for can­cer like you know, therapies.

Mason: And for all these peo­ple, these tech­nolo­gies feel inevitable.

Vita-More: Yes.

Mason: And yet they feel like they have no stake, and the rea­son why they’re com­ing to you is they go, Oh, you saw the inevitabil­i­ty of some of these tech­nolo­gies, and” -

Vita-More: Is it real­ly hap­pen­ing? They want to know if they’re being fed snake oil, it’s like, Okay, now it’s here and it’s all over the place. So is it real­ly here?” and I love that. It makes me feel good. I love it. So I can then dif­fer­en­ti­ate between snake oil, and there’s a lot of snake oil out there. There’s a lot of pseu­do­science out there, and there’s a lot of bull­shit­ters out there.

Mason: Well a lot of peo­ple thought you guys were ped­dling snake oil back in the day.

Vita-More: We’ve been very care­ful. We did­n’t just sit back like some peo­ple do. I think peo­ple are ask­ing the ques­tion, What are we going to become? What does it mean to be human?”. Because our biol­o­gy is being tam­pered with, and we’ve asso­ci­at­ed our biol­o­gy with a lim­it­ed lifes­pan and death. Life and death. You live, you have cer­tain cri­te­ria based on mod­ernism and nor­mal’, you know. You get mar­ried, you repro­duce, you come out of the clos­et or you don’t, you change careers or you don’t, and then you get old and you get fee­ble and you die. And that’s been the struc­ture. That’s been the sce­nario. The nar­ra­tive. No mat­ter what native or tribe in the world, there’s each one has their indi­vid­ual myth or lore or nar­ra­tive that peo­ple have abid­ed by. And that’s being re script­ed. So what is the mean­ing? I like to explain that we don’t know what it ful­ly means, just like we don’t know, What is con­scious­ness?” I mean, you know, you have Stuart Hameroff and Chalmers and so many dif­fer­ent sci­en­tists work­ing on What is con­scious­ness?” We still don’t know. So, what does it mean to be human?

Mason: People are com­ing to you with these con­cerns, because they feel dis­il­lu­sioned about the present. The obses­sion and the inter­est in the future—is this an escapism from some­thing that’s so ter­ri­bly ter­ri­ble is hap­pen­ing in their own life? Whether it’s some­thing they’ve set up as, I’m going to die even­tu­al­ly.” and that’s a ter­ri­ble thing that they obsess over. And they’re look­ing for ways to make them feel -

More: I don’t gen­er­al­ly find that. Especially in cry­on­ics, which real­ly brings that into your face, right, because you’ve got to think direct­ly about your extinc­tion. Yeah, in the occa­sion­al case, but for the most part, what I find is peo­ple who aren’t com­ing because they’re clear­ly ter­ri­fied of dying. Because it’s like, if you ask me, Am I afraid of being dead?” my answer is, No, because it won’t be like any­thing. I just know I’ll be out of exis­tence.” What they’re afraid of is that they will have no more life, and no more expe­ri­ences, and no more oppor­tu­ni­ties to learn. So I think they’re gen­er­al­ly dri­ven by more pos­i­tive aspects.

Now there are peo­ple like you say, who basi­cal­ly just want an answer, they want to treat it like any oth­er ide­ol­o­gy, whether it’s Marxism or reli­gion or some­thing like that. There are peo­ple like that. I think most of those peo­ple will just prob­a­bly bury them­selves in sci­ence fic­tion books, because then they don’t have to real­ly wor­ry about actu­al choic­es, they can just watch or read about these futures. So most of the peo­ple I come across are actu­al­ly there because they think, Hey, this stuff, some of this stuff might actu­al­ly work. I have some con­cerns about it, and what can I do with it?” So I don’t think…there are peo­ple like that, yeah. But I don’t think they’re a major­i­ty, by far.

Vita-More: I agree with Max. I think it’s more out of curios­i­ty and con­cern, and want­i­ng an affir­ma­tion about the dif­fer­ence between what is viable evidence-based sci­ence and eth­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy ver­sus non-ethical tech­nolo­gies. Who’s real­ly going to be pro­gram­ming the AI? And how is that going to inte­grate with us? And what doc­tors should I trust? What facil­i­ty should I trust? Is 23 and Me authen­tic? Or do they fake the genet­ic out­put? They want to know if the infor­ma­tion that’s being pre­sent­ed in the news and in many of the arti­cles are viable. I’m very clear, I’m very hon­est about it. I will tell them who to watch out for. I’m very clear on that. Because I think we need to know that. We’re at a point where, come on, we’re tired of peo­ple telling us stuff that’s crap. We need hon­est answers. And if I can’t give an hon­est answer, I have no prob­lem say­ing, I don’t know.”

Mason: So is that where you see your­selves with­in the tran­shu­man­ist move­ment? You’re essen­tial­ly Sherpas to help indi­vid­u­als nav­i­gate these very com­plex times both polit­i­cal­ly, social­ly, tech­no­log­i­cal­ly, sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly? I mean, what is the work that you now have to do for the next 20 years?

More: Hey I may have to steal that term. Transhumanist Sherpa—I had­n’t real­ly thought of that but yeah in that sense, that’s how I see my role. Both being a bull­shit detec­tor, because there’s a lot of bull­shit and you know, I’ve got train­ing in crit­i­cal think­ing and so on, so there’s that’s kind of the fil­ter­ing part of it, but also to open up peo­ple’s minds to the pos­si­bil­i­ties and help them to under­stand how all of these dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies can cross con­nect in new ways and fer­tilise oppor­tu­ni­ties I’ve nev­er real­ly thought of. Because almost all the objec­tions are based around very nar­row think­ing, like sin­gle trap pro­jec­tion. Like, Oh, you can’t have peo­ple live longer because the world’s over­pop­u­lat­ed.” or some­thing like that—which is immense­ly frus­trat­ing, but comes up every time because it’s track­ing a sin­gle change with­out every­thing else going on. We have these peri­ods of change in his­to­ry, some­times things stay a lot the same. Like dur­ing the Dark Ages, things did­n’t change for a long time. And then peri­ods of change, like when the steam engine came along, and things change quite rapid­ly. Then you know, 50s and 60s, ear­ly 60s—kind of bor­ing. Now all these new things are hap­pen­ing. These new technologies—we’re hear­ing about CRISPR and AI and this and that in space. And so maybe that is dri­ving peo­ple to actu­al­ly look at a set of ideas, that’s actu­al­ly thought about all this stuff and tries to make sense of it.

Vita-More: It’s quite inter­est­ing, and I think it’s real­ly impor­tant to be a BS detec­tor. But I did­n’t have the aca­d­e­m­ic high-end Oxford back­ground that Max has. So I nev­er par­took in debates. So I had to learn firsthand—the BS detect­ing and being tak­en advan­tage of many times, and being naive. So it’s kind of inter­est­ing that I think we work well on this. We don’t work on this togeth­er, but we’re both will­ing in dis­cussing it, because I can now almost see the body lan­guage and not into it. But you know, I get a sense of things and then I’ll ask a few ques­tions. And then you can find out pret­ty fast if some­one knows their stuff.

One prob­lem I have with this whole blockchain cliche is the encryp­tion aspect of it and the trans­paren­cy aspect, because if we take a look at Wikipedia, it just goes to show that Wikipedia was a great idea for open source and col­lab­o­ra­tive think­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tive projects are great. But are we mature enough as humans? Do we have enough con­sid­er­a­tion and respect for oth­ers not to remove some­one else’s cred­it and put your bull­shit there? And so I think this is very impor­tant in this time and age that we are very care­ful about who’s pro­gram­ming the AI. What’s hap­pen­ing with the nano assem­blers look­ing at genet­ic engi­neer­ing? Do doc­tors real­ly know what they’re talk­ing about? I mean, if you’re going to a den­tist to have a nose job, your doc­tor’s not being hon­est with you.

More: Along with it being an age of uncer­tain­ty, I think we have a cri­sis of exper­tise. Who do you know who is real­ly an expert? I mean, we’ve known this for a long time but there’s clear stud­ies demon­strat­ing that most sci­en­tif­ic results have not been repli­cat­ed or can­not be repli­cat­ed. Most of the stuff in these jour­nals just isn’t right. It has­n’t been backed up. And when you go from the hard sci­ences to the social sci­ences and more abstract disciplines—it’s even even less cer­tain. So you might think, Oh is the Journal of so-and-so studies,

I can believe any­thing they edit­ed.”, well no you can’t believe that because it’s cap­tured by cer­tain inter­est groups. They decide who’s going to peer review your paper, who’s going to be friend­ly to their point of view. It’s get­ting real­ly tough to know actu­al­ly, even in sci­en­tif­ic areas, what the truth is.

One great exam­ple of that is nutri­tion sci­ence, which we’ve seen over the last few decades. We’re now walk­ing around with a pop­u­la­tion of obese peo­ple with dia­betes, because the gov­ern­ment, for decades, rec­om­mend­ed the food pyra­mid that was extreme­ly heavy on carbs and bread and pas­ta. Now as peo­ple final­ly post today, maybe that’s not such a good idea. Though the gov­ern­men­t’s been push­ing this as offi­cial nutri­tion sci­ence. I could give oth­er exam­ples that would prob­a­bly be con­tro­ver­sial, but I think that’s one that peo­ple are start­ing to recog­nise. So there’s a real­ly big prob­lem of who are the experts? And how do you tell? And there aren’t any easy answers. I think we still need to find ways of using new tech­no­log­i­cal forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion 0 whether its rep­u­ta­tion sys­tems for the devel­oped or what­ev­er it is, how do we actu­al­ly track peo­ple’s suc­cess rate and hon­esty and how do we know that a jour­nal that is actu­al­ly rep­re­sent­ing the field rather than their own bias­es? It’s a tough problem.

Vita-More: Yeah, very big problem.

Mason: So I think ulti­mate­ly this is just the begin­ning of the con­ver­sa­tion on real­ly how we nav­i­gate our col­lec­tive future, our indi­vid­ual future. Natasha Vita-More and Max More, thank you for your time.

Vita-More: Thank you.

More: Thank you so much for hav­ing us.

Mason: Thank you to Max and Natasha for shar­ing their insights into the his­to­ry of tran­shu­man­ism. You can find out more by pur­chas­ing their book The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology and Philosophy of the Human Future, avail­able now.

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Further Reference

Episode page, with intro­duc­to­ry and pro­duc­tion notes. Transcript orig­i­nal­ly by Beth Colquhoun, repub­lished with per­mis­sion (mod­i­fied).

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