What is Technoprogressivism?

Rejecting the two extremes of bioconservatism and libertarian transhumanism, Hughes argues for a third way, “democratic transhumanism,” a radical form of techno-progressivism which asserts that the best possible “posthuman future” is achievable only by ensuring that human enhancement technologies are safe, made available to everyone, and respect the right of individuals to control their own bodies.

James-Hughes---raysAppearing several times in Hughes’ work, the term “radical” (from Latin rādīx, rādīc-, root) is used as an adjective meaning of or pertaining to the root or going to the root. His central thesis is that emerging technologies and radical democracy can help citizens overcome some of the root causes of inequalities of power.

The following video interview defines and describes the technoprogressive stance in biopolitics. It addresses the questions: What is Technoprogressivism? b) What is the history of the idea? c) What does the word mean when broken down into it’s parts ‘Techno’ & ‘Progressive’? c) How does it relate to Transhumanism? d) What are the benefits (emancipatory uses etc)? e) Who should we trust to regulate? f) What accounts for progress according to Technoprogressives? g) What are some contrasting ideological stances (i.e. Bioconcervatism & Libertarian Transhumanism) h)

A Definition of Technoprogressivism

James Hughes

  • Technoprogressivism is an ideological stance with roots in Enlightenment thought which focuses on how human flourishing is advanced by the convergence of technological progress and democratic social change. Technoprogressives argue that technological innovations can be profoundly empowering and emancipatory when they are democratically and transparently regulated for safety and efficacy, and then made universally and equitably available.
  • Technoprogressives maintain that accounts of “progress” should focus on ethical and social as well as scientific and technical dimensions. For most technoprogressives, then, the growth of scientific knowledge or the accumulation of technological powers will not represent the achievement of proper progress unless and until it is accompanied by a just distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of these new knowledges and capacities. At the same time, for most technoprogressives the achievement of better democracy, greater fairness, less violence, and a wider rights culture are all desirable, but inadequate in themselves to confront the quandaries of contemporary technological societies unless and until they are accompanied by progress in science and technology to support and implement these values.
  • Technoprogressives support the rights of persons to either maintain or modify his or her own mind and body, on his or her own terms, through informed, consensual recourse to, or refusal of, available therapeutic or enabling biomedical technology. Technoprogressivism extends beyond cognitive liberty and morphological rights to views on safe, accountable and liberatory uses of emerging technologies such as genomic choice in reproduction, GMOs, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, surveillance and geoengineering.


Another Interview with James Hughes – Director if IEET

In this video interview, James discusses biopolitics with focus on Technoprogressivism, how we came to this political stance (among other things).

James J. Hughes Ph.D. is a sociologist and bioethicist teaching health policy at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut in the United States.
http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/bio/hughesHughes holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago, where he served as the assistant director of research for the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics. Before graduate school he was temporarily ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1984 while working as a volunteer in Sri Lanka for the development organization Sarvodaya from 1983 to 1985.
Hughes served as the executive director of the World Transhumanist Association (which has since changed its name to Humanity+) from 2004 to 2006, and currently serves as the executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, which he founded with Nick Bostrom. He also produces the syndicated weekly public affairs radio talk show program Changesurfer Radio and contributed to the Cyborg Democracy blog. Hughes’ book Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future was published by Westview Press in November 2004.

The emergence of biotechnological controversies, however, is giving rise to a new axis, not entirely orthogonal to the previous dimensions but certainly distinct and independent of them. I call this new axis biopolitics, and the ends of its spectrum are transhumanists (the progressives) and, at the other end, the bio-Luddites or bio-fundamentalists. Transhumanists welcome the new biotechnologies, and the choices and challenges they offer, believing the benefits can outweigh the costs. In particular, they believe that human beings can and should take control of their own biological destiny, individually and collectively enhancing our abilities and expanding the diversity of intelligent life. Bio-fundamentalists, however, reject genetic choice technologies and “designer babies,” “unnatural” extensions of the life span, genetically modified animals and food, and other forms of hubristic violations of the natural order. While transhumanists assert that all intelligent “persons” are deserving of rights, whether they are human or not, the biofundamentalists insist that only “humanness,” the possession of human DNA and a beating heart, is a marker of citizenship and rights.James Hughes, Democratic Transhumanism 2.0, 2002

Other Resources

An Overview of Biopolitics (inc Libertarian Transhumanists, Technoprogressives & Left-wing Bioconservatives): http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/biopolitics

james hughes - what is technoprogressivism smallWikipedia Entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Techno-progressivism “Techno-progressivism, technoprogressivism, tech-progressivism or techprogressivism (a portmanteau combining “technoscience-focused” and “progressivism”) is a stance of active support for the convergence of technological change and social change. Techno-progressives argue that technological developments can be profoundly empowering and emancipatory when they are regulated by legitimate democratic and accountable authorities to ensure that their costs, risks and benefits are all fairly shared by the actual stakeholders to those developments”

Article on ‘What is Technoprogressive?’ by Mike Treder (march 2009): http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/treder20090321
Treader says – A slightly different way to look at the word is to regard it as a portmanteau of “technology aware” and “politically progressive.” Consider these definitions:

  • Technology Aware—Follows trends in emerging technologies; often eager to acquire and master newest gadgets; knows history of technology development and cultural integration; recognizes necessity for caution and responsibility.
  • Politically Progressive—Follows trends in emerging politics, both national and global; supports better democracy, greater fairness, less violence, and wider rights; enjoys learning about and sometimes participating in political action; knows history of political development and cultural integration; recognizes necessity for caution and responsibility.

And let’s add one more definition that will help sort things out:

  • Transhumanist—Supports the use of science and technology to improve human physical and mental characteristics and capacities; regards aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death as unnecessary and undesirable; looks to biotechnologies and other emerging technologies for these purposes; may believe that humans eventually will be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label “posthuman.”

I originally posted this article on H+ Magazine in 2014.

Robin Hanson – Attitudes to the Future – Future Day Discussion 2015

Robin-Hanson-200x200Topics covered: Attitudes to the future, Prediction Markets, SciCast, Blockchain currency, Quadratic Voting, Artificial Intelligence Development etc.

Notes on interview:
People are engaged in extreme futures – heaven or hell scenarios – are people’s attraction towards, or engagement with certain futures informed by evolved biases?

Prediction Markets in contrast to narratives about the future informed by Moralising Tales – whatever is likely to happen is probably a muddled up mix, a mixture of heaven and hell, not just one or the other – Moralising Tale, ignores statistics – it will all be terrible or fantastic, nothing in between…

Could the world do with futurists in industry? Hard to tell. Sometimes firms (i.e. google) are tied to a particular image – google have the image of innovation – google gets attention for projects like calico – pie in the sky moonshot projects are a compliment to their image. Employees are more likely to want to work for google because of its sexiness…

Justin Rattner (former CTO of Intel) spoke about the singularity quite a bit.. but not many CEOs/CTOs bring it up – with the exception of a few… though this could change.

Updates blockchain currency (bitcoin, etherium) – opportunities / risks

Futurists are often eager for big change – enthusiastic – people who are itching for big change often focus on scenarios for the future where there is big change.

Robin-Hanson-Oxford-Adam-Ford-Interview-1Why is there little interest in quadratic voting compared to small iterations in gadgetry (which seems to get a lot of press)?
There is a lot of new and inventive gadgets, and ideas in physics that have huge communities of interest – but social technologies, ways we organise meetings, for instance Quadratic Voting… Many voting systems don’t do a good job at weighing different votes based on how much you care about the issue. QV pays for votes in proportion to the square of the number of votes – can produce outcomes that weigh votes based on how much the voters care about the issue. People can be given votes as a point system, and they can choose to distribute their points based on how much they care about certain issues.
QV: http://www.law.uchicago.edu/node/16996

AI Dev – what are the big improvements? Whole new trend? Or progress in existing ideas?

Omens! There was always the new thing, the omen that promised this and that, cries in the wilderness – what kinds of omens should we be listening to? well… don’t follow individual news events, listen to aggregates – for instance there was a whole data series of terrorist attacks – don’t make a decision on one terrorist event.

Prediction Markets / Strategic forecasting – SciCast https://scicast.org/

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Science, Technology & the Future

Aubrey de Grey – SENS Therapy Delivery

In this interview Aubrey discusses some of the various approaches that SENS therapy will likely be delivered. Mostly covering gene therapy. Also see this interview where Aubrey de Grey discusses using artificial organs and synthetic devices as replacement parts to aid in defeating aging.

Ex-Vivo Gene Therapy

Ex Vivo Gene Therapy

ref: yolasite.com (click for larger image)

Some things that people are already looking at, for instance introducing new blood stem cells into AIDS patients that contain an AIDS resistant gene named CCR5. A very small portion of people have a natural variant of that gene, called Delta32, which confers very strong resistance to HIV. If you could give this variant of CCR5 this could be a very powerful therapy – luckily the cells that need to have that variant are blood cells – blood cells come from stem cells – so bone marrow transplants with this appropriately modified version of this gene would be very powerful, and that is already being worked on.
There may be very many other cases of inherited diseases (especially) which could be modified and indeed perhaps cured by using genetic modification of stem cells for stem cell therapy.
Now in the case of ageing, this may also be a good way of delivering certain of the SENS therapies – the one that’s most obvious is LysoSENS – the Lyso Enhancement idea for getting rid of the molecular garbage inside of cells – because here we have to introduce new enzymes into these cells (enzymes that are not encoded into the normal human genome) and in some cases it may make sense to actually introduce the enzymes by injecting the enzymes into the circulation in the same way we already treat certain inherited diseases of Lysosomal function (called Lysosomal storage diseases). But in other cases it may be actually be preferable to make genetic modifications to stem cells so that the blood cells or the other cells that are created from those stem cells are able to have that genetic modification and thereby not to accumulate the molecular garbage that we are talking about – perhaps even to eliminate the molecular garbage that had already accumulated.

Somatic Gene Therapy


ref: yolasite.com (click for larger image)

Some of what were going to need to do in genetic modification of people so as to implement SENS will not, or almost certain not be able to be implemented using ex-vivo gene therapy – the genetic modification of cells outside the body that are then introduced into the body. Some of it is going to have to be done by genetically modifying cells in the body itself. That is what is called ‘Somatic Gene Therapy’ – the way it’s normally done is by engineering a virus contain the engineered DNA that we are interested in and not to contain the DNA that the virus naturally has that makes it bad for us*. And of course gene therapy as an idea has been around for quite a long time – and in fact the first clinical trials of gene therapy happened about 20 years ago. But it’s had a pretty rocky ride because in fact there is an awful lot of risks involved in gene therapy and it doesn’t really work very well yet.
There are certain diseases with a very low hit rate – that is getting a suitable genetic modification to a very small number of cells is enough to be able to actually cure the disease. But in most cases you have to hit quite a lot of cells and we really just don’t know how to do that yet. We at SENS foundation are very interested in helping to address that problem and there is one particular approach to improving very substantially the ability to very safely introduce new DNA into a lot of cells into the body which we are just starting a project to explore. **

* Note this interview was done shortly before CRISPR was discovered.
** This project is called?? Note I will follow up with Aubrey de Grey on this point – but my feeling is that CRISPR may have solved the problem, at least partially

Adeno-Associated Virus

Adeno-associated_virus_serotype_AAV2One of the biggest dangers in somatic gene therapy and also it’s a danger for ex-vivo gene therapy (where you genetically modify stem cells and then you introduce them) is that on occasion the engineered gene may go into the genome in the wrong place – into a place that causes damage in the form of disrupting the DNA that was already there – in a way that you don’t want.  In general that disruption is harmless, but very occasionally it may not be harmless – it may actually make the cell cancerous (and there have been genuine cases of this in clinical trials for particular gene therapies).  So, people are very interested in ways to stop that from happening.  The most obvious way to stop that from happening is to develop a gene therapy vector (a type of virus) that preferentially goes into a particular harmless place in the genome and not go into any of the potentially harmful places – now it turns out that there are some viruses that naturally do this – there is something called AAV (Adeno-Associated Virus) which preferentially go into one particular site of chromosome 19 and people have been very interested in that virus for quite a long time for exactly that reason.  However it turns out that its quite complicated to make that really work and the hit-rate is not good enough – it still has random integration at an unacceptably high level.   So people will want to find other ways to go about this – and there really are lot’s of very creative technologies out there that are being explored to do exactly that.  I’m very optimistic that quite soon we will have gene therapy that very robustly does not disrupt DNA that it would be dangerous to disrupt.

RNA Interference

I believe there are other types of manipulation of gene expression other than gene therapy are also potentially valuable in treatment of ageing and of course medicine in general.  A lot of interest these days is in RNA Interference (RNAi) which is a method for inhibiting expression of particular proteins by introducing short RNA molecules that interfere with that process.  And that’s got a lot of potential – people are looking into it in a variety of different applications – one area that people have been trying to look into it for is cancer.  So see if one can close down cells that are over -expressing when they shouldn’t be over-expressing (for example).  Personally I’m not very optimistic about this application for cancer because it’s just too easy for cancers to mutate into a form that makes the RNAi in-effective – so the short RNA does not work anymore.  But in other applications it might be useful.


So the brain is of course arguably the most essential to repair from the damage of ageing – there’s not much point in rebuilding the rest of the body if you are demented – how hard is that?  In particular is it significantly harder (to repair) than the rest of the body?  I believe it’s not significantly harder than the rest of the body – ultimately the brain is certainly vastly more complicated than any other organ, and we are vastly more ignorant about how it works than we are about any other organ – but the thing about SENS, the thing about the whole preventative maintenance approach to combating ageing is that we don’t need to understand how the organ works in order to restore its function or we need to do is understand what its made of, and more specifically how what it’s made of changes throughout life so that we can reverse these changes – repair those changes – and put structure and composition of the organ back to how it was at an earlier stage in early adulthood and thereby restore its function irrespective of our ignorance of how that function arises from that structure – that’s just as true for the brain and any other organ.  So one example of this is the fact that brain cells (neurons) don’t divide, and in most cases don’t have per-cursor cells that don’t divide either – there are a couple of areas of the brain that do exhibit the creation of new neurons throughout adulthood – the rest of the brain doesn’t luckily the rest of the brain exhibits a very very very slow rate of cell death – so it’s not really a problem – and the problems we need to fix are the problems of accumulation of garbage inside neurons for example, or outside of neurons that make those neurons not work so well even while those neurons are still alive.



Aubrey de Grey is the chief science officer of the SENS Research Foundation, which is a 501(c)(3) public charity that is transforming the way the world researches and treats age-related disease.

The research SENS funds at universities around the world and at SENS own Research Center uses regenerative medicine to repair the damage underlying the diseases of aging. The goal of SENS is to help build the industry that will cure these diseases.

Aubrey de Grey was interviewed by Adam Ford in 2012.

Here is a playlist of all the interview sections:

Philosophy of Science – What & Why?

Interview with John Wilkins:

John-Wilkins---Phil-Sci-IntroEvery so often, somebody will attack the worth, role or relevance of philosophy on the internets, as I have discussed before. Occasionally it will be a scientist, who usually conflates philosophy with theology. This is as bad as someone assuming that because I do some philosophy I must have the Meaning of Life (the answer is, variously, 12 year old Scotch, good chocolate, or dental hygiene).

But it raises an interesting question or two: what is the reason to do philosophy in relation to science? being the most obvious (and thus set up the context in which you can answer questions like: are there other ways to find truth than science?). So I thought I would briefly give my reasons for that.

When philosophy began around 500BCE, there was no distinction between science and philosophy, nor, for that matter, between religion and philosophy. Arguably, science began when the pre-Socratics started to ask what the natures of things were that made them behave as they did, and equally arguably the first actual empirical scientist was Aristotle (and, I suspect, his graduate students).

But a distinction between science and philosophy began with the separation between natural philosophy (roughly what we now call science) and moral philosophy, which dealt with things to do with human life and included what we should believe about the world, including moral, theological and metaphysical beliefs. The natural kind was involved in considering the natures or things. A lot gets packed into that simple word, nature: it literally means “in-born” (natus) and the Greek physikos means much the same. Of course, something can be in-born only if it is born that way (yes, folks, she’s playing on some old tropes here!), and most physical things aren’t born at all, but the idea was passed from living to nonliving things, and so natural philosophy was born. That way.

In the period after Francis Bacon, natural philosophy was something that depended crucially on observation, and so the Empiricists arose: Locke, Berkeley, Hobbes, and later Hume. That these names are famous in philosophy suggests something: philosophy does best when it is trying to elucidate science itself. And when William Whewell in 1833 coined the term scientist to denote those who sought scientia or knowledge, science had begun its separation from the rest of philosophy.

Or imperfectly, anyway. For a start the very best scientists of the day, including Babbage, Buckland and Whewell himself wrote philosophical tomes alongside theologians and philosophers. And the tradition continues until now, such as the recent book by Stephen Hawking in which he declares the philosophical enterprise is dead, a decidedly philosophical claim to make. Many scientists seem to find the doing of philosophy inevitable.

So why do I do philosophy of science? Simply because it is where the epistemic action is: science is where we do get knowledge, and I wish to understand how and why, and the limitations. All else flows from this for me. Others I know (and respect) do straight metaphysics and philosophy of language, but I do not. It only has a bite if it gives some clarity to science. I think this is also true of metaphysics, ethics and such matters as philosophy of religion.

Now there are those who think that science effectively exhausts our knowledge-gathering. This, too, is a philosophical position, which has to be defended, and elaborated (thus causing more philosophy to be done). I don’t object to that view, but for me, it is better to be positive (say that science gives us knowledge even if other activities may do) than to be negative (deny that anything but science gives us knowledge). It may be that we get to the latter position after considering the former; if so, that would be a philosophical result.

I am fascinated by science. It allows us to do things no ancient Greek (or West Semitic) thinker would have been even able to conceive of. It means we make fewer mistakes. Philosophy is, and ought only to be, in the service of knowledge (I’m sure somebody has said that before). Science is a good first approximation of that.

But scientists who reject philosophy, as if that very rejection is not a philosophical stance (probably taken unreflectively or on the basis of half-digested emotive appeals), them I have no time for as philosophers. They should perhaps stick to their last and not make fools of themselves.

Not, of course, that every philosopher is worth reading. Sturgeon’s Law (90% of everything is crap) applies here too. But lest any scientist get too smug, recall that 99% of all scientific papers are never cited again many scientific papers are uncited . In philosophy, that ratio is perhaps lower… probably almost down to the Sturgeon limit.

See this post by John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts: http://evolvingthoughts.net/2011/07/why-do-philosophy-of-science.

Utopia in Exile – Interview with David Brin

IEET fellow, scientist, best-selling author and tech-futurist, David Brin, sits down with Adam Ford to talk about thought experiments, the technological singularity, rationality, ethics, transhumanism, fiction / non-fiction and futurism.

His novels include Earth, The Postman (filmed in 1997) and Hugo Award winners Startide Rising and The Uplift War. A leading commentator and speaker on modern trends, his nonfiction book The Transparent Society won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association. Brin’s newest novel EXISTENCE explores the ultimate question: billions of planets are ripe for life. So where is Everybody? David’s main thread: how will we shape the days and years ahead—and how will tomorrow shape us?