Meet the transhumanists who want to transform life as we know it

Vitruvian Man

Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, there were many species of human.

Now their dusty skulls decorate museum cabinets.

We are the race that survived - but perhaps not for long.

Transhumanists think technological progress will have a dramatic effect on the future of humanity.

Some even think technology could change us so much that we won't really be humans in the same way we are now.

They look forward to humans having an extended lifespan, going cross-country skiing aged 200 and communicating telepathically.

'There's no way we will survive as we are'

Avi Roy

Avi Roy helped found Oxford University's transhumanist society and calls himself "old school". He is focused on improving human bodies, or as he calls them "wetware".

"Next generation transhumanists want us to think about wetware as past," he says.

"They think about the future as the blending of man and machine, the upgrade of humans from this wet and squishy vulnerable clothing to something far beyond that can expand and move at the speed of light.

Will our skulls be held aloft by future post-humans as an example of ancient man?
Image caption Will our skulls be held aloft by future post-humans as an example of ancient man?

He is a biologist and says he wants to "keep people healthy for as long as possible".

"I want everyone to be able to be able to dance the salsa at 150.

"There is no way that we are going to survive the way we are today for the next 10,000 years," he says.

"We are going to have use all of our brain power in order to survive and thrive."

'It transformed my life'

Richard is 25 and a transhumanist
Image caption Richard is 25 and a transhumanist. He lives in Middlesbrough

After Richard Metcalfe discovered transhumanism, he changed his outlook, his diet and, aged 25, enrolled to study prosthetics and tissue engineering at Salford University. He was inspired after hearing a TED talk by Hugh Herr, a double amputee, mountain climber and biophysicist.

"Humans are not disabled," Hugh said.

"A person can never be broken. Our built environment, our technologies are broken and disabled. We, the people, need not accept our limitations, but can transcend disability through technological innovation."

Hugh Herr's TED Talk
Image caption Hugh Herr's TED Talk inspired Richard

The talk made Richard certain about pursuing a career developing technology to help people.

"One of my closest friends has a son who's now having to have dialysis three times a week," he says.

"That's awful for an adult let alone a nine-year-old boy. Once he has a kidney transplant, he'll still need to be on anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life.

"To me that's an inelegant solution. What I'd like to do in my career is look into kidney cloning which means he will not have to take anti-rejection drugs."

Nicky: 'A lot of media interviews have missed the point'

Nicky Ashwell

After being born without a right hand, Nicky Ashwell was the first UK person to be fitted with the world's most life-like bionic hand, earlier this year.

"I wasn't used to having that extra 12 inches on the end of my arm and it feels quite heavy," she explains.

"It's easy to operate though. It's not moved by my thoughts but I flex the muscle in my right arm which is connected to sensors within the socket and the sensors either open or close the hand in different positions."

Strangers often approach Nicky and ask her about her hand.

I don't think of it as some sophisticated sci-fi thing. It's felt very natural to have it become integrated as part of me
Nicky Ashwell

"I think everybody sees it as something futuristic," she says.

"I don't think of it as some sophisticated sci-fi thing. It's felt very natural to have it become integrated as part of me, helping me do what I need to do in my life."

She says she's never really considered the idea of transhumanism.

"Having been born without a right hand I've never really imagined having two hands, let alone one that's super human.

"This hand can supposedly lift 45kg which is probably more than my left hand. If a hand is mechanical then it has the possibility to crush things and have a lot of power behind it. From people I've met within the industry of prosthetics... the goal is to make the hand as life-like as possible rather than make it super human."

For Nicky, it's the small improvements that the bionic has had that have made the difference. Things like stirring her tea, holding her boyfriend's hand and holding her purse in the other.

"A lot of media interviews have focused on the idea I couldn't do anything before I had the hand and perhaps missed the point that it's improving my life in subtle ways rather than a magnificent change.

"It's important because I would never want to be looked upon as someone like 'oh poor her she couldn't do anything'."

'Mind modifications could make us happier'

Daniel is a 20-year-old medical student
Image caption Daniel is a 20-year-old medical student

Daniel Hurt is a transhumanist and a medical student from Manchester. For him, the future could see humans experiencing different emotions.

"There's mind-enhancing technology, at the moment in its infancy, with new emotions we can't even conceive of. Mind modifications have the potential to make people much happier.

"In the next few decades there will be a lot more debate about what rights people have to modify themselves to extend their lives."

We are already so integrated with our phones... transhumanism just takes it one tiny step further
Daniel Hurt

For him transhumanism is the logical next step.

"We are already so integrated with our phones, our social media. Transhumanism just takes it one tiny step further and integrates them with our bodies."

'I had grave concerns'

Image caption Olan fears transhumanism could erode what it means to be human

Olan Harrington was so worried about some of the ethical issues surrounding transhumanism he went back to do a masters in philosophy and psychology. He's now writing his dissertation on transhumanism.

He explains: "Questions aren't being asked fast enough.

"If we enhance ourselves beyond a certain point we'll erode what it means to be human.

"People outside what we deem to be human won't be entitled to human rights and they will be subjected to social injustices."

He said he had "grave concern" about this.

"If we were to differentiate our DNA enough, at what point would you say, this is now a new subspecies?"

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