Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terminator 1, half man, half cyborg! From an original film poster.[Welcome to Thoughtful Tuesday! You know the format by now: I rant, I rave, I reveal thoughts that bounce around in my head that don't necessarily make sense yet, but may do with a little more thought... This week, a particularly meaty subject that pops up on the blog fairly regularly: Transhumanism.]

It’s a long word that sounds a lot more complex than it actually is but the most important part of its definition, as defined by the Transhumanism Declaration (2002), is thus:

Humanity will be radically changed by technology in the future. We [Humanity+] foresee the feasibility of redesigning the human condition, including such parameters as the inevitability of aging, limitations on human and artificial intellects, unchosen psychology, suffering, and our confinement to the planet Earth.

I know. This is serious business! But let’s not get bogged down with long, complex words and ideology. Transhumanism is, basically, the next step in human evolution; in enlightenment.

For the longest time imaginable we’ve been limited by our body. We push its boundaries, we perform feats of extraordinary endurance and power, but at the end of the day it is limited. Eventually, something snaps: a bone breaks, we grow senile — and, sooner or later, we die.

Progress in the areas of humanism and enlightenment are all about prolonging (and improving!) our mental, physical and and spiritual well-being. Thus, that’s exactly what transhumanism is all about: we’ve reached our current, imposed-by-our-physical-body limits; now it’s time to let technology do its thing. It’s time to modify our bodies to take us to the next level!

Let me just throw out some possible modifications (upgrades!) that are covered by transhumanism:

  • Biotechnological implants/replacements. Strength, speed, eyesight and endurance limits/thresholds raised way beyond current human bottlenecks.
  • Modification of our genetic makeup. This is the one that’s currently under scrutiny from the media. This area deals with the modification of ourselves (or our progeny) to make us inherently more resistant or to damage/pathology. Immunity to disease, removal of short-sight — that kind of thing (though obviously ‘designer babies’ with blue eyes and perfect, beautiful appearance would be quite popular…)
  • Prevent ageing (aging). Transhumanism covers the slowing of aging, or even prolonging life until we’re effectively immortal (Who wants to live forever?). Cryogenics also come into play here, though the real ‘philosopher’s stone’ is immortality, of course. This will probably take a biotechnological form — replacement organs, repairing cellular damage, etc.
  • A lot more that hasn’t been invented yet…! As a general rule, most things that are speculated or appear in sci-fi novels later appear in real life. We can expect to see some really crazy technologies appear in the future. Artificial intelligence (think Terminator), proper virtual reality (think holodeck in Star Trek) and my favourite — mind-uploading, ala The Matrix: ‘I know kung fu…’

Obviously, along with such awesome abilities come a seriously large number of issues, most of which are of an ethical nature:

You can’t play God!

You’ll turn… into a Frankenstein!

Perhaps it is the existential issue that is most worrisome: When do we stop being human? It’s certainly not when we replace the heart or any of the limbs. It’s the brain, right…? Or is it? How do we know until we try? Do we really trust Bible-thumpers that, let’s face it, know absolutely nothing about cybernetics? That’s why we’re afraid: we have absolutely no idea what we’re getting into. But if history has shown us anything, is it ever beneficial to shy away from, instead of facing, the oncoming torrent of technological progress?

As with any technology there are good and bad uses — as to what defines good or bad, I won’t attempt to state — using transhumanist technology is a two-edged blade. You could enhance only yourself or the genetics of your progeny — a selfish act? — or, with the same technology, you could genetically modify those living in sub-Saharan Africa so that they could live without food.

It’s not guns that kill people

The thing is, I could go into the ethical repercussions, and whether transhumanism should be allowed or not… but… really, it’s inconsequential. We’re going to do it anyway. Of course there will be devout naysayers — sociologists, psychologists, humanitarians, Christians — (the whole gamut!) — but there always is. The truth — the technology – will out. You can’t stop everyone from kite-flying in thunderstorms.

There is something about technology. It’s all there, just waiting to be discovered. As I’ve already covered, we really like turning over stones. We really like uncovering mysteries. This is the biggest of them by far. What makes us human?

This is going to happen in the next decade, by the way. If you have moral, ethical or philosophical disagreements, you probably want to settle them now, before upgrades for your bionic eyes and ears start appearing in the supermarket.

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Do androids dream of electric sheep?

Sebastian

I am a tall, hairy, British writer who blogs about technology, photography, travel, and whatever else catches my eye.

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