There was a good debate at Slate on how far (if at all) we should go in augmenting what we have been biologically endowed with. I’d noted earlier the three tracks of speciation, and how we are already on two of the tracks. (prosthesis and cell/tissue engineering) The debate introduced me to the word ‘transhumanism’, and its proponents believe that nature has done all it can do in terms of human evolution, and we should now take the ownership of driving our evolution forward. The opposing view (that’s not religion based) is that by manipulating all this, we might lose track of ‘being human’. There is a middle path that advocates augmentation to the “species’ typical best”, so that everyone would be ‘maximum humans’.
One of the conclusions of this debate is that it will happen to us slowly. This is one of the fears I’d expressed in that earlier post – that we won’t realise when it happens to us. One of my other fears on account of increasing lifespans is the economics of it all, again something I’d written earlier. In yet another post, I’d wondered if we would speciate on the basis of whether we want to keep up with the information deluge or not. Those who choose to, would most likely need augmentation of the mind.
‘Evolution on Steroids’ is the theme of this article in BBC News (via Vedant), in which Prof. Church would now like to write/edit DNA, now that we have started reading it, with devices that will monitor internal and external environments, warn us, and then change our body accordingly. It’s probably an inevitable reality, with the only real question being ‘when’ and not ‘if’.
‘The Cyborg in us all‘ is another excellent read, this time from the NYT, in which I learned of scientists who are working on controlling computers via thoughts. In one of computer engineer Schalk’s experiments, on the effect of Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall – Part 1” on human brains, a particular brain created a model of what it expected to hear, after the music had been switched off in between. What the guys are really working towards though, are neurons and language – eg. thinking ‘cat’ and the image popping up on screen. Towards the end of the article, there is the NeuralPhone – which lets you pick a name from the phone contact list, telepathically.
That brings me back to the Slate article which mentions this argument against trashumanism -increased lifespans would cause us to be more fearful, because we have more to lose. That would cause us to opt for “safe but shallow digital experiences, leading to long, ultimately empty lives”. This debate on enhanced and extended humanity reminded me of a post by Scott Adams, in which he writes about programmable avatars, which over time, would pick up our preferences and memories so well that they could live on as us even after we die, thereby extending our mortal lives into the infinite. And in ‘Hitchhiker’ style, he wonders if this has already happened. We are avatars of those who came before us – a premise not dissimilar to one I had reached via a different path. So much for humanity, and the debate about it.
until next time, Google Human+