Transhumanism: To be or not to be Human?

Want to spy on bats or whales? Cochlear implants could enhance hearing beyond the human hearing range. Did you ever want to see like Superman or Star Trek’s Lieutenant Geordi La Forge? The Fraunhofer Institute might just be able to fulfill such fantasies since they are developing an eye equivalent which can distinguish between light and dark. Once this technology runs its course, seeing in the UV range or infrared will be nothing but an upgrade to the software. But what is the main concept behind the enhancement of existing human traits? How far are we from such accomplishments?

Surrounded by disputes and widely spread controversy of what makes us human, transhumanism has as its aim the evolution of the human body and mind via technological enhancements from the mild – spare parts organs with increased functionality – to the wildly exotic – downloading one’s consciousness into a computer for future generations to interact with or store it long enough to re-download it into a newly cloned body.

In a nutshell, the main goal is to use our minds to reach for the next step of human evolution outside of what nature has created thus far: faster, stronger, more versatile functionality, longevity, etc.

The quest for the Holy Grail and the Fountain of Youth are not new concepts, however we find ourselves at the intersection of nano-sciences, biological sciences and informatics which are giving us the chance at a ‘qualitative transcendent jump’ similar to the black monolith’s influence in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel: 2001 A Space Odyssey. However, nay-sayers believe this type of ideology is nothing short of Icarus’ flight, citing eugenics movements from the past as unnatural results in the hunt for human perfection.

Ray Kurzweil, futurist and public advocate of the transhumanism movement, believes that once machines will pass the Turing test we will need to merge our minds with machines just to keep up with the exponential change of pace. In a sense, we will create our own technological version of the Red Queen Effect and we will have no choice but to adopt the transhumanism approach.

Currently, this concept is relevant only to sci-fi enthusiasts with movies such as Transcendence set to release this spring – a warning for what perils await mankind should we choose the human/machine interface. But whether you would choose to communicate telepathically with your toaster or reinterpret Nietzsche’s Übermensch, it is clear that science is pushing us towards new borders.

Where your choices lie might just bring about a new type of human!

In the meantime, Juan Enriquez takes us on a tour of some of the scientific advances that he believes will propel Homo sapiens into Homo evolutis. Here is a funny and brief introduction to the transhumanism movement. Enjoy his TED Talk.


Image credits: Royalty Free

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