The Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) was dedicated to the long-termism and effective altruism movements and was founded in 2005 by Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom.

The long-term movement argues that humanity should be primarily concerned with long-term existential threats, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and space travel. But its detractors argue that this movement applies an extremist calculus that does not take into account current problems such as climate change and poverty, and leans toward authoritarian ideas.

Effective altruism is the utilitarian belief that encourages people to focus their lives and resources on maximizing the amount of global good they can do.

The Future of Humanity Institute became famous for having the financial support of important Silicon Valley tech billionaires. Among the donations received are those made in 2018 by the Open Philanthropy Project, an organization supported by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, which donated £13.3m. Another benefactor was Elon Musk, who donated £1m in 2015. The most controversial of the movement’s backers is Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange, who has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for fraud.

Nick Bostrom is a strong advocate of transhumanism, posthumanism and human enhancement. In 2003 he published an article titled “Are we living in a computer simulation?” in which he presented the idea that humanity may be living in a simulation, indistinguishable from reality.

In 2014 he wrote a best-selling book, titled Superintelligence, which warned of the threat of AI replacing humanity in the future. Sam Altman of OpenAI, Elon Musk and Bill Gates wrote recommendations for his book.

The recent closure of the Future of Humanity Institute is due, according to Bostrom, to bureaucratic disagreements with the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Oxford, which in 2020 required the FHI to stop raising funds and hiring staff. In addition, in 2023 the Faculty of Philosophy decided not to renew the contracts of its employees.

However, there could be other reasons for the closure, as there have been major controversies with Bostrom and his colleagues in recent years, including scandals involving racism, sexual harassment and financial fraud.

Last year an email from 1996 written by Nick Bostrom, in which he made racist comments, resurfaced, prompting the University of Oxford to launch an investigation into his conduct. And although he ended up apologizing, he also made an unfortunate statement in which he seemed to defend eugenics. Bankman-Fried’s multibillion-dollar fraud did not help the reputation of the Future of Humanity Institute either.

Following the closure of the FHI, Bostrom has resigned from his position at the University of Oxford.

Bioethical assessment

Like Nick Bostrom, Anders Sandberg, Senior Research Fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute, endorses transhumanism. And he defines it as “the idea that the human condition is not immutable, that it can and should be questioned and changed, and that to do this we can make use of applied reason.”

In an interview in 2015, Sandberg stated that “transhumanism is, in many ways, the fruit of the humanist project of improving the human condition, but amplified by the understanding we have today that the body and mind are objects that can be largely understood and technologically changed. However, transhumanism is also open to the possibility that there may be posthuman modes of existence that have great value and that it is therefore desirable to explore the posthuman realm to find them. Being human is probably not the best possible state of existence.”

To this end, Sandberg advocates the use of advanced technologies to enhance longevity and cognition, as well as cryogenic preservation, or freezing the body after death with a view to future resuscitation.

The excessive belief in the possibilities of unlimited scientific progress has led transhumanists to seek to surpass human nature and its capabilities by resorting to technological progress. This includes not only the claim of immortality but also the improvement of human brains through brain-computer interfaces that would do everything the brain is capable of and much more.

Furthermore, our brains could be “reprogrammed” not only to access the information they contain but to modify it, manipulating cognitive and sensory capacity, mood, character or behavior.

The criticisms that must be made from bioethics to these claims are based on the fallacy of presupposing that these interventions would represent true “enhancements” and not authentic involutions for our species.

Human nature is complex and multidimensional. The capacity to transcend and the possibility of exercising free will are part of a moral structure that yearns for truth and goodness. Transhumanism supposes a worrying reductionism where the biological (immortality) and the psychic (enhancement) ignore what makes us authentically human: the capacity to love.

Would biological immortality be a real achievement for human beings? Or the unlimited increase of sensory or cognitive capacities?

Sandberg’s already mentioned expression: “probably, being human is not the best possible state of existence” hides the true intention of transhumanist and posthumanist theses, which is to rebel against human nature.

What is truly hidden behind the transhumanist fallacy? It could be the claim of human extinction. Faced with it, it is possible to vindicate the existential meaning that leads to the fullness of human fulfillment. A sense that is often accompanied by suffering and limitations, which makes us freer, more human.

 

Julio Tudela and Ester Bosch

Bioethics Observatory – Institute of Life Sciences

Catholic University of Valencia

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