Monday, 26 March 2012

The Transition

When the subject of Transhumanism and the transition into machines comes up in conversation, more often than not, the conversation is directed mainly at the transition (at least it ends up there). This is understandable, the topic of what we would be like is a little more difficult to conceptualize than the topic of how we become. But of course, nobody really knows the answer this, many can predict as Kurzweil does, but the answer fundamentally relies on how technology develops, which again relies on forces outside of the control of science. The Transition will take place at the whims of consumers and companies, indirectly dictating the course of technology based on the desires and needs of the consumer.
But even with these apparent uncontrollable forces, prediction is still possible, even in the sense of the desired path of research and development, if not the path of actual product. This is what I hope to explore in this post, examining the potential technologies which will be developed in the near future in preparation for the Transition, and perhaps exploring the technology and developments I, personally, hope to develop.
So how will the Transition begin in my view? It already started.
As explained my last post, I explored the concept of what humanity is, and I argued that Transhumanism had already begun in the way we use technology, and this argument is still relevant to this exploration. But more specifically, there are technologies coming out now which are far more related to this concept. Kevin Warwick has created hybrids of living tissue and robotics, using mice brain cells. He himself, has controlled an arm on the other side of the world by linking his nerves to a computer. All around the world, man is being integrated with machine to replace damaged body parts. The technology is here, and it is only a matter of years before robotics has reached such a stage that the new limbs and organs which currently replace damaged ones will be superior. This lands us squarely in the question of who would be willing to remove their own arm to be replaced by a superior robotic one? I would wager that many would, not necessarily straight away, but within a few years of the first voluntary replacement. This sets us down the round of acceptability, suddenly people around the western world would begin to consider replacing biological limbs and potentially organs with cybernetic ones, within less than half a decade, I wager it would be come relatively normal.
Running parallel to this, would be another development, that of integrating our brains with computers. As I argued before, our gadgets are almost part of us, if not physically connected. The development of technology to replaced certain brain functions is already underway, for medical purposes. Should brain damage occur, and a brain function is damaged, the medical implications of being able to replace said brain function with a computer chip (or similar) would be astounding. Of course, like the cybernetic limb situation, particularly if such a thing would allow the protection of memory, would become desirable.
Finally, the development of augmented reality. Google is set to release a pair of glasses which appear to use augmented reality, this is the first step down the road of such integration. I postulate that the development of bionic eyes, or a film to cover the eyes would be developed. This would integrate augmented reality directly into our vision, allowing us to connect with others, search the internet and send and receive files without ever lifting our hands. The technology would be integrated with our brain signals, removing the need to touch a button, and even if the artificial memory is not directly linked into our brain, we would be able to record information on a separate hard drive and replay certain pieces of information.

Of course, most of this is speculation, I intend to delve more into this later. Until then however, thank you for reading.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Transhumanism and Me

Transhumanism and Me
I do not talk about my ideas of transhumanism with many people. This isn’t because I see others as too stupid or ignorant to be able to discuss such concepts with them, quite the contrary, I have great faith in humanities capacity for intelligence, and I consider my peers more than capable to handle such concepts. But rather, because it is not a topic or matter of knowledge or intelligence, but of ethics and morality. The ideas and principles behind transhumanism are very much against the beliefs and moral codes of many people. Even those who have no particular faith or creed, even those who may consider themselves amoral have rejected or found transhumanism distasteful. This is because, by its very nature, it is moving beyond humanity.

Personally, I dislike the term ‘transhumanism’, it implies that we would be ‘more than human’, which I believe is simply not true. This little musing is right along those lines, and is a musing of why I believe transhumanism isn’t just a desirable, or even simply a necessary step for humanity, I see it as an extension of our very nature.

The question of ‘what is human’ comes up a lot in philosophical debates, and transhumanism is no exception. The concept has been debated since debates first began, and humanity first gave itself a name. The term, of course, refers to what humans are, not in physical criteria, but in raw natural essence: What identifies us as a human if we had no form? Many would argue that humanity is nothing more than its physical form, that we are a mere collection of chemicals and reactions existing in a state of collaboration for a given time. This would be true in an objective sense, but if philosophy has taught me anything, objectivity does not exist. No, I believe they are looking at the matter too simplistically. The question of what it means to be human, like all language has more meaning than the definition of the words which make the question. The very nature of language is three dimensional, there are the specific meanings behind the words, but there is also context. Context is essential to language, and is often forgotten about when definitions of words begins to set in. A very simplistic example are the words bow and bow, or fluke and fluke. Without the context, these words mean nothing and can imply a variety of meanings. Finally, the third dimension is that of subject context, what the word means to the person reading or hearing it. Past experiences, and the physical make-up of the person perceiving the word will imply new definitions and subtle differences depending on the word given, and how it is pronounced or written.

But of course, this isn’t a musing on the philosophy of language. But I did ramble on about the three dimensional nature of words for nothing, they have a strong relevance to the question of what it means to be human. Being human is more than the specific genes which form our body, it is the essence behind what is created, it is the single thread which links us all together, and will remain to link us together after evolution separates our physicality further.

I would argue, that humanity, is our use of technology.
Many have argued that our mind, and cognitive capabilities is what makes us unique. And in many ways I agree, but it is the use of technology, of tools, which separates us from our predecessors. It is what propels humanity forward, and it is what makes our lives what they are. It is along this line of thought, that I believe that transhumanism is not transumanism at all, it is merely humanism.

Humanity has always expressed a desire to use tools as a replacement of our natural implements. It was a simple matter of a tool created by us was more efficient and more effective than what we had to begin with. As time went on, and our technological prowess became greater, we discovered new tools and mechanisms to replace our own, this was the driving force behind our advancement in culture, in society and in lifestyle, not a spiritual or religious code. The use of tools allowed us to adapt quickly to any situation, providing we had the tools necessary. Humanity could venture into the frozen the tundra, not by slowly evolving a coat of fur like the wolf, but merely by wearing said wolfs fur.

This is why I believe it is only human to integrate our technology with ourselves. Such processes were started at the very dawn of man. Since man first wore the skin of another animal, our own skin no longer became our outer body. Many times in our life, we shed our outer skin to sleep, but we spend more time wearing clothes than not, this was the first step towards transhumanism, one of humanities first inventions. In modern day, with the mobile phone, I would argue that the phone has already become part of our bodies. The mobile phone or gadget may not physically be part of us, and be separated by air, but many of us treat is as such, and I gather many would prefer not risking dropping or losing their phone. This trend can be seen throughout history, although a piece of technology is not part of our physical bodies, we treat the tool as any other appendage, and in many cases, use them more often.

Technology is the single most defining feature of humanity, and it is what I believe, makes us human. Throughout history we have always been trying to integrate technology with us more and more, and in many cases, have succeeded. But even today, just because a tool may be removed from us once it has been attached, does not mean it is not part of us. Full integration with technology isn’t just the next logical step, it’s continuing a legacy left to us by our ancestors.