Transhumanism is fairly popular in science fiction; both overt and subtle. Nanobots, robotic limbs, even full cyborg bodies. In some stories it is just a simple cultural addition; In others, it is the main plot point, with ethical debates and consideration of societal impact.
Just yesterday I was sharing some knowledge regarding accessibility on the web, and made a point to discuss how we have technology being developed that allows us to map impulses in the brain to control prosthetics, or even just a simple cursor on a screen.
This isn’t science fiction: It’s the future, and we need to continue to pursue it.
I’m sure most of my readers are asking.. Why wouldn’t we?
Because science fiction, lately, has been showcasing the technology that serves as the foundation for Transhumanism as the beginning of the end. The positives are overshadowed by the ability to do evil with said technology.
Let’s discuss just a few evils portrayed in Science Fiction in regards to Transhumanism.
This one is exceedingly common. The poor, the downtrodden, the people who need to become transhuman the most in order to succeed, are unable to do so.
The irony is, that’s actually how America works overall currently in regards to healthcare, and the people so opposed to Transhumanism tend to be those who fight to keep the current system the same.
Other developed nations who provide nationalized healthcare should have no problem handling the minimum requirement, in my mind, of ensuring that those who are differently abled (such as myself, with my severe arthritis and other conditions) are able to be restored to a fully-functional – if not improved – body. The actual idea, however, is to improve, isn’t it? That’s what Transhumanism is: Going beyond our human body and becoming more.
In a capitalistic society, sure; perhaps only the rich will be able to afford the best of the best, but really, I think we overstate the dramatic nature of what a true transhuman will be able to do. Live longer? Certainly. Have enhanced strength and agility? Possibly. Hell, maybe they’ll be able to think faster, too.
Does that mean Jeff Bezos and company will rule the world? Hardly. Them living longer or having enhanced strength really doesn’t have as big of an impact as science fiction seems to think.
Even if the enhancements are simply nanobots to help prevent diseases, those will have to disseminate out to the masses. There is no question of it. The more we produce, the cheaper it is to produce, and keeping a populous healthy is a key goal to succeeding.
This one is hilarious to me. People seem to think that we’ll all become, either literally or figuratively, the Borg from Star Trek; we’ll either become a hive mind, unable to form our own ideas as an individual, or we’ll seek out the latest greatest thing that everybody has so we can be just like them.
The human brain is exceedingly complex. Even being able to handle moving a cursor with your mind is no simple feat, and it seems as though people are expecting some great trick to finally, truly, map the human mind.
Quantum computing supposedly will solve this, according to some, but I seriously doubt that. We’re a long, long way off from mapping the human mind, and even then, being able to truly understand, integrate, and control it is even further off.
This one disappoints me. People who fear artificial intelligence typically have very little grasp of it in its current state, so they try to humanize it.
For those of you who don’t know, the Singularity is the idea that, essentially, we are able to either A) craft an AI that can improve itself and grow exponentially “smarter”, or B) we craft an AI that supersedes humanity in every meaningful way, becoming a (usually) un-benevolent dictator bent on eradicating life.
AI is exceedingly limited right now. The Turing Test, designed to essentially test an AI to see if it can pose as a human, is so limited that even passing it doesn’t guarantee we’ve really created what is usually called “Hard AI” (or sentient AI); we’ve just made something that mimics humanity well in a conversation.
Going even further, and throwing my own opinion in the mix, let’s say we do create a sentient AI. Ultimately, we’ve basically created a child. We have to raise it. Teach it. It is, in essence, the next step in humanity’s evolution (or a branch of it, at least).
To summarize everything, technology isn’t inherently evil. It can’t be. All it can do is follow the directives it has been given. At its core, it is either flowing current, or not, through a series of passageways that will result in output, and nothing more.
We utilize technology for good and evil all the time; WE do. Does that make the technology inherently wrong? No. What it means is we, as a society, need to work together to bypass evil. In some cases that means placing appropriate restrictions on technology. In others, that means proper training on technology and its use.
That last one there is the most important, in my mind; Education is key to understanding. If we can educate society as a whole about the reality of technology, we can go even further.
Finally, I am a Transhumanist. I firmly believe that humanity needs to go beyond what we have now, and utilizing our creativity and intelligence to do so is a natural step in our own evolution. We do it every day; cellphones. Laptops. Cars. Healthcare. Hell, we already technically have transhumans living among us; those with artificial organs, pacemakers, birth control implants, and even insulin pumps are transhuman at a basic level.
I’m just suggesting we go further when we are able. We can make the world better for everybody if we do.
I would love to be able to walk again without a cane. To play guitar without pain. To see without glasses. To chew gum without locking up.
It can happen. It should happen. With any luck, it will happen in my lifetime.