It is quite common to hear the term “transhumanism” thrown about in right-wing circles with limited attempt at definition.
I have a background that involves familiarity with several transhumanists, and it is often one component of a larger philosophical or political agenda, and we should keep that in mind when talking about it.
We also have two fundamental distinctions here: the difference between technical advancement that includes human augmentation, implants, or grafts (the use of technology to alter or expand human functionality) and philosophical transhumanism (the use of technology to alter human nature).
There are dangers to each, but technical advancement is relatively benign and has parallels going back forever. For instance, we could think of eyeglasses as being part of the broader technical field of transhumanism, though they are rarely used to enhance the wearers’ abilities beyond the human baseline (barring, of course, jewelers’ glasses and other professional devices).
We could also think of education itself as having had a similar effect on human capabilities, but very few people would conclude that education is bad because it changes the human condition.
We can think of technical advancements in human capability as tool-use, with the goal being the subjugation of technology to human interests.
This still has hazards, but the hazards are usually practical rather than moral.
Philosophical transhumanism is the idea that we can engineer a new humanity, changing the fundamental foundation of humanity, and is morally abhorrent and a danger to human existence.
The technical side of transhumanism is the idea that we can alter ourselves to be more effective.
This is benign but deserves some consideration.
For instance, we are developing a large range of prostheses and replacement organs. Some of these will not be ready for a few years, but there are going to be some significant effects as these roll out.
For instance, we have reached the point where prosthetic limbs can basically engage in the full range of function possible for healthy limbs. From here, it is only a matter of time before we have prosthetics with better-than-original functionality.
At some point, we reach the point where replacements may become superior to the original and healthy individuals substitute their existing limbs and organs for artificial ones, but this does not seem to apply to the current situation.
Instead, it is more likely that what we will see are value adds on replacements and prostheses, like eyes that are sharper and more acute than human standard or offer the ability to see a greater band of the electromagnetic spectrum (heat, for instance).
These technologies will probably come to healthy, unaltered individuals as external devices, both because of the relative cost and because people will hesitate to sacrifice healthy tissue. A handful of people may pursue elective integrated devices, but these have health implications and even most of what we think of as modern devices for permanent use are actually detachable and use non-intrusive technology (or a minimally intrusive implant with something like a pacemaker) to avoid any complications.
In short, people are unlikely to sacrifice any component of their body for technical advancements (at least as far as I see), and these are strictly addons to work along with natural body parts.
But let us jump fifty years into the future and presume that the medical questions surrounding implanted devices and the social stigmas of these things have eroded so that more than a fringe minority of radicals choose to have integrated systems.
Here, we are unlikely to see radical social change because the actual changes that facilitate these devices have already occurred.
We may consider Kaczynski’s Industrial Society and Its Future, which includes an observation that the system of industrial society obligates people to take part in the system. Those who do not use the industrial system to its fullest face harsh competition from those who do.
However, this seems to be relatively unlikely in the field we’re looking at, because the strictly technical advancements are entirely different from the developments of the philosophical transhumanism movement.
Strong market forces suggest people would prefer external devices, both from an employer perspective, because they can pass external devices around to employees as needed instead of requiring particular employees to both remain with the company and be in the right place at the right time, and from individual perspectives, because the health and psychological implications of body alteration may well extend beyond a contractual obligation.
And we see this with, for instance, the much-vaunted efforts of the US military to augment soldiers that date back to the Cold War. Despite putting out white papers about mind-machine interfaces and having the super-soldier as a cultural motif, it turns out that the most extreme development in this direction has been the use of virtual reality in training—far from anything that alters human nature, though we may have concerns with that technology.