What is Transhumanism? A Network Analysis of Wikipedia Pages16 Sep 2015
Transhumanism is a topic I'm passionate about. I believe technology has great power and potential change the human condition (even given technology's inherent risks). Often times I get asked, "So, what is transhumanism?" While I'm sure not all transhumanists agree on a single definition, one of the most concise definitions I use is, "The belief that technology can not only improve the human condition but fundamentally change it."
Another way to understand transhumanism (or any topic for that matter) is to start at its Wikipedia article and just start browsing. The disadvantage to this, however, is that there's simply too much information to for someone to practically browse. What is needed is a map of sorts. While Wikipedia does have topic pages which help, sometimes a map that has done the browsing for you can provide additional navigational insights. This is exactly what network analysis can do.
For this analysis I used a web crawler I've written which can take a number of starting HTML pages, a description of how to traverse their links, and a maximum depth to traverse. I started at the transhumanism Wikipedia article and chose a max depth of 3. As my program crawled the Wikipedia articles and their links, it constructed what that network of links and pages looked like.
The result is ~23,000 pages and ~41,000 links. I filtered the network down by removing Wikipedia pages frequently linked to like help pages and pages used by administrators to identify pages which are in need of revision. I also filtered out pages only linked to once biasing the analysis towards pages which are more connected in the network. After filtering, I had ~5000 pages and ~26,000 links.
This would be a daunting task for someone to read through who just wants an informed idea of what transhumanism is. This is where network analysis comes in. Once I had this dataset, I ran a degree analysis which measures how many links (in or out) each page has. I then ran a community detection algorithm which finds groups of pages which are more interconnected with each other than the rest of the network.
Having done these analysis, we can now begin to answer questions like:
- What larger topics does transhumanism entail?
- What are key philosophies referenced?
- Who are key people and groups active in transhumanism?
Answering these questions can give someone an edge on quickly learning about transhumanism over someone just pointed at the transhumanism Wikipedia article and left to themselves.
As a note, this data was acquired in early 2015. Current Wikipedia pages may have different links.
What topics does transhumanism entail?
First off, here's the image of the network. It is colored by the communities that were detected and nodes are sized based on the number of links pointing to them.
Community detection is a bit of an art. You tune the sensitivity of the detection until it forms meaningful groups. Too sensitive and the groups loose any meaning or significance. Not sensitive enough and it becomes unaware of obvious groupings. I labeled each community by looking at the overall theme consistent with most of the vast majority of members in that community.
And taking the titles of the articles, here's a word cloud:
Finally, we can look at what pages have the most links into them:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Life Extension
- Mind Uploading
- Emerging Technologies
- Technological Singularity
So, if you want a high-level idea of transhumanism, these graphs and topics should get you off to a good start.
What are the key philosophies referenced?
The above might give you an idea of the "What?" in transhumanism. But answering this question will help you understand the "Why?" motivating transhumanism. Of course, not all transhumanists share all the same motivations as all other transhumanists. But these provide some outline to the philosophies driving transhumanism today. I break this into lists of the top most referenced "-isms" and "-ologies" pages surrounding transhumanism. I include brief definitions in these lists so readers can get a feel for the taxonomy of transhumanism:
- Singularitarianism - the belief that a technological singularity—the creation of superintelligence—will likely happen in the medium future, and that deliberate action ought to be taken to ensure that the Singularity benefits humans.
- Extropianism - Extropians believe that advances in science and technology will some day let people live indefinitely.
- Technogaianism - a stance of active support for the research, development and use of emerging and future technologies to help restore Earth's environment.
- Techno-progressivism - a belief that technological developments can be profoundly empowering and emancipatory when they are regulated by legitimate democratic and accountable authorities.
- Postgenderism - postgenderists believe that sex for reproductive purposes will either become obsolete, or that all post-gendered humans will have the ability, if they so choose, to both carry a pregnancy to term and 'father' a child.
- Abolitionism (bioethics) - a bioethical school and socio-political movement that promotes the use of biotechnology to eliminate suffering.
- Technological utopianism - a belief that advances in science and technology will eventually bring about a utopia.
- Democratic transhumanism - refers to the stance of transhumanists who espouse liberal, social and/or radical democratic political views.
- Technocriticism - treats technological transformation as historically specific changes in personal and social practices rather than as an autonomous or socially indifferent accumulation of useful inventions.
- Technorealism - is an attempt to expand the middle ground between Techno-utopianism and Neo-Luddism by continuous critical examination of how technologies might help or hinder people in the struggle to improve the quality of their lives.
(non technology) -ologies:
- Cybermethodology - focuses on the creative development and use of computational and technological research methodologies for the analysis of next-generation data sources such as the Internet.
- Arcology - a vision of architectural design principles for very densely populated habitats.
- Gerontology - the study of the social, psychological, cognitive, and biological aspects of aging.
- Ideology - a set of conscious and unconscious ideas which make up one's goals, expectations, and motivations
- Pharmacology - the study of the interactions that occur between a living organism and chemicals that affect normal or abnormal biochemical function.
- Psychology - the study of mind and behavior.
- Biology - the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy.
- Tribology - the science and engineering of interacting surfaces in relative motion.
- Futurology - the study of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures and the worldviews and myths that underlie them.
- Sociology - the academic study of social behavior, including its origins, development, organization, and institutions.
Who are key people and groups active in transhumanism?
Finally, it's important to ask the "Who?" questions. I break this into individuals and groups (again sorted by the number of times they are linked to--descending):
- Ray Kurzweil
- Aubrey de Grey
- Robert Ettinger
- Nick Bostrom
- K. Eric Drexler
- David Pearce
- Hans Moravec
- Julian Huxley
- Martine Rothblatt
- Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov
- 2045 Initiative
- Alcor Life Extension Foundation
- Immortality Institute
- World Transhumanist Association
- Applied Foresight Network
- Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
- American Cryonics Society
- Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
- Worldwide Aeros Corp
This is just an overview of some of the insights gained through a network analysis of Transhumanism and surrounding pages on Wikipedia. But overall, I feel the findings resonated with the intuition I've gained about the shape and contours of transhumanism: a melding of science, technology, medicine, biology, and informed by the philosophical, political, and religious sentiments of humanity as we look into the future. And certainly these lists of Wikipedia pages selected because of their relevance are much more manageable and fruitful to browse than the thousands we were initially faced with.
But this is only a map. You have to begin exploring it in order to discover and understand transhumanism yourself.