Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The transhuman stomach

I still want to upload my consciousness into a robot body.  Failing that, I'll take a cybernetic stomach.  Since that is likely problematic, I'll take a transplanted stomach harvested from an inert clone of myself.
It's been one of those weeks.  You see, I suffer from gastritis.  If a certain set of circumstances align just right, I will experience a flare up and it usually knocks me out onto the couch for an entire day.  This is followed by about two days of the BRAT diet (Google it) in an attempt to get my acid-laden gut back in line.  This amaranthine stomach condiiton has gotten me to the point where I hate food.  So it either makes me fat or makes me sick?  Sure!  Sign me up for that! Geez, there's got to be something better out there.

I've been no stranger to the concept of transhumanism for the majority of my life.  Whether it's playing cyberpunk RPGs or reading the work of writers like William Gibson, the idea of cyborgs and body enhancement or replacement is nothing new to me.  But I really began to take it seriously when I started to get sick.  While having on and off bouts of gastritis for many years, I wasn't officially diagnosed until 2008 and that was after a series of especially awful flare ups and a really fun colonoscopy.  I was sick of being sick.  I never wanted to eat again.  I wanted something that would take away what I saw to be a human defect: the need for food.  At the very least, I wanted a cybernetic replacement for my digestive tract that would operate without malfunction.  A "bionic stomach" if you will.
So in the wake of this past week's sickness, I came across this article from Discover magazine: "When Will We Be Transhuman?"  In it, writer Kyle Munkittrick outlines 7 conditions that should be met before we may call ourselves "transhuman."  
The first condition is quite logical: when cybernetic prosthetics are preferable to our birth organs or appendages.  Like I said, sign me up for a cybernetic stomach, but can you imagine a future where the words "handicapped" or "disabled" are viewed as relics from the Dark Ages?  Sounds good to me.
Another condition is "artificial assistance."  This means having artificial intelligence and augmented reality become fully integrated aspects of our daily lives.  Munkittrick writes: "In the same way Google search and Wikipedia changed the way we research and remember, AI and AR could alter the way we think and interact. Daedalus in Deus Ex and Jarvis in Iron Man are great examples of Turing-quality (indistinguishable from human intelligence) AI that interact with the main character as both side kicks and secondary minds."
Then there's an end to "growing old."  Aging is no longer viewed as an inevitability but as a disease that can be treated.  
The remainder of the seven conditions is not without merit but they tend to lean more towards socio-political conditions than "real" transhumanism.   I understand why the points were included, though.  Just take a look at the lengthy comments section beneath the article.  The obligatory posts from churchy types or people who fear "eugenics" or Palin-esque "death squads" for overpopulation pop up, demonstrating that transhumanism may not be fully possible without a shift in how we view ourselves and what defines "human rights."  This shift will have to span across religion, politics, and culture itself.
In addition to those comments, there is the typical bickering back and forth that you get from any and seemingly all shared spaces on the Internet but one person, going by the name "Jody," had a very interesting point to make:
"It’s [transhumanism] inevitable, and I for one welcome it.  If you use a smart phone and don’t think transhumans aren’t coming, you’re deluding yourself.  So we can either talk about it here, or just let it happen, but whether or not we plan ahead, transhumans are coming."

I'm banking on that, Jody.  While my stomach condition may be a relatively minor thing (I'm not going to die from it), it sure isn't comfortable and modern medicine has yet to make it fully go away.  Transhumanism offers hope that human ingenuity can overcome our frail, squishy biology.  That we can correct what we're born with and keep ourselves around for longer than we ever thought we could be, effectively allowing me that "do over" I've always wanted.  
And as for the fundies?  I fail to understand a religious argument against this.  We were given brains that are capable of learning and inventing.  We can creatively do for ourselves what nature wouldn't otherwise permit us to do and thereby better our entire society.  Seems to me that the greater sin would be to waste this creative, innovative spark.

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