Life in the Early Posthumanist Age
'Our technology, our machines, is part of our humanity,' said the American futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil. 'We created them to extend ourselves, and that is what is unique about human beings.'
It is also what is uniquely disquieting about the future of human beings. We are constantly reminded that we live in the greatest epoch of human history so far, thanks to technology and scientific and medicinal developments. But the suspicion remains that we're too absorbed, like hunched-over lab technicians, in capturing every experience, labelling it and sharing it on our multitude of apps and devices, to be able to savor it. From the moment we wake up to the darkness of our nights, we long to be inside our phones or computers, searching for something.
Searching for what? Intellectual stimulation. Something funny. A fragment of a better future or a half-remembered past. A partner. A home. A refuge, where our fears, our awkwardness don't exist. A place where whatever we see, hear or perceive, we can share with as many others as possible; to add it to the collective heritage of mankind - in order, perhaps to validate ourselves. If there is no record, we fear it might never have existed or not been worth existing. Not only do we fear to admit the truth that we're alone in our own minds, we believe that our experiences are without value unless they join mankind's library.
We no longer have time for daydreams or idle meditation. We are determined to search this new world, like abstracted air-conditioned vagabonds estranged from nature in a museum of reality, staggering through our day like astronauts in oxygenated helmets.
The Internet provides a new pool of consciousness for mankind. Why be trapped in your outdated mind with its limited recollections when you can navigate an infinite database of human emotions, impressions, images, ideas, offers and possibilities?
There are projects in the pipeline to revolutionize the way we search for data online. Take Brain LLC, a US company's attempt to create a personalized search engine based on a client's personal history, interests and aspirations. The programmers behind the Brain (TM) seach device - slogan; 'the most human algorithm yet' - claim it would automatically provide the most relevant contextual information on the web available for each individual, removing the need to search through a tool such as Google. Ultimately the idea is that technology and algorithms would serve as a additional compliment to a users’ own brain.
Or perhaps even replace it?
Ever heard of transhumanism? Transhumanism is the application of advanced science to human biology, resulting in the enhancement of the human race, whether by the manipulation of DNA for genetic engineering, or the use of technology to extend the possibilities of the human mind. Often it's a concept whose possibilities we digest through the medium of science fiction. Stories about technologically-enhanced, bionic humans (Robocop, D.A.R.Y.L, Iron Man). Or the flipside; intelligent but conflicted androids suffering existential crises, some of them seeking to punish their human creators (Blade Runner) or benevolent ones seeking to win their love (AI). We've seen wars between robots and humans (The Terminator), AI-controlled societies (Orson Scott Card's The Memory of Earth). Even love affairs between operating systems and their users (Her).
Science Fiction acts to distance us from the notion of transhumanism and make it seem further away, inhabiting a fictional future. Bus is it, really, so far away? Are we closer to a transhuman world than we think? Is it inevitable?
Since the late 1980s the World Transhumanist Association (WTA) has sought to promote understanding of a concept it defines as 'an intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.'
While there are critics who fear the social and political, if not biological, consequences of transhumanism (read any essay on the subject by American philosopher Francis Fukuyama or the work of the Spanish philosopher Jésus Ballesteros), disciples of the movement such as Ronald Bailey refer to it as epitomizing 'the most daring, courageous, imaginative and idealistic aspirations of humanity.'
However, the voice of innate reason - that thing which Plato sought to define as central and special to human nature - states that the most idealistic aspirations of humanity are not always its best. Idealism can be defined as a belief in the possibility of perfection. What place is there for such perfection, even an approximation of it, in a world based on the balance between opposing forces? Where apples tossed into the air must fall, decay must follow growth and life validate death?
And yet what if, by launching out from our earth, we leave concepts such as gravity behind? Might new physical laws encountered beyond the earth's atmosphere transcend the notions we respect as Gaia's subjects?'
The logical destination of transhumanism is one that scientists already refer to with a name too strange for anyone (other than the elated pioneers involved in the field of scientific innovation) to really believe possible: posthumanism.
Humanism was the dominant ideological model of the Enlightenment, emphasizing mankind's importance in the scheme of things, above nationalism or ethnicity; his being of special agency as a result of his critical and rational capacity. Later on, with Nietzsche, Freud and Heidigger would come the antihumanist backlash, continued by the French postmodern philosophers of the 60s, who removed man from his throne at the centre of the universe, calling him a fragmented, self-deceiving being, or in the words of Straw Dogs author John Grey, 'deluded animals':
'Humans think they are free, conscious beings, when in truth they are deluded animals. At the same time they never cease trying to escape from what they imagine themselves to be. Their religions are attempts to be rid of a freedom they have never possessed. In the twentieth century, the utopias of Right and Left served the same function. Today, when politics is unconvincing even as entertainment, science has taken on the role of mankind's deliverer.'
Posthumanism not only anticipates a world beyond humananism, but the idea that man can escape his worst characteristics, can eliminate them through science. This would mean a new species, not just6 a new era. This process is explained in the following guise in Albert Cortina y Miquel-Àngel Serra's Humanism or Posthumanism:
'In this phase of evolution a fusion will occur between technology and human intelligence. Finally technology will dominate biological methods up to the point of creating a new era characterized by the non-biological intelligence of the posthumans, which will expand throughout the universe.'
Such a conceit leads to infinite ethical questions. A new relationship between man, his fellow creatures and the universe. The common posthuman in a position of helplessness before a technological elite. Our genetic data superceding our personalities and our bodies as fashion accessories.
Of course, it could be argued, that this is nothing new, that all this is simply a continuation of the evolutionary journey. The fusion of animals and technological expedients is not a new concept. Nor is the evolution of intelligence or biology.
However, if man were ever able to create ultra-intelligent technology capable of generating its own technology without man's intervention, it would be, in the British cryptologist IJ Good's words, 'the last invention man ever need make.'
Thereupon we would enter another new age; one in which man's thinking ability was no longer required.
Is that an age we would aspire to?