Friday, September 2, 2011

The ethics of transhumanism





I love video games but I am most often left without the time to play them.  Combine that fact with living on a budget and I don't exactly run out and buy state-of-the-art game consoles or gaming computers.
So while I have heard of Deus Ex I have never played it.  Apparently, it is rich in transhuman concepts.  As Kyle Munkittrick of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies describes the game: "two awesome genres, William Gibson-esque cyberpunk and Robert Anton Wilson-level conspiracy theories" jammed together.  Munkittrick posted an interview with Mary DeMarle, head writer for one of the latest incarnations of Deus Ex, on Discover.  You can read the interview in its entirety here, I'll just hit you with highlights and my thoughts.

DeMarle speaks of conducting extensive research on the subject of cybernetics before writing the text of Deus Ex.  When asked how her thoughts on the subject changed since the research, she replied: "I think the biggest change was the realization that cyborgs and human engineering are not only possible, but probable in our lifetime."  I'm glad to see that someone else gets it.  It's not science fiction anymore.  Body replacement and augmentation is already happening.  The Singularity is now and it's only going to keep progressing.  If you're a Luddite or a technophobe, your life is about to get a whole lot worse.

"I would hope that saner minds would prevail."  DeMarle made this statement in response to her being asked if the rise of Purity First, a terrorist faction in the game that is opposed to cyberization of any kind, is in her opinion a real likelihood.  I believe that we should extend DeMarle's hope to not only wishing against such dangerously ridiculous extremism but to hoping we will handle the problems and challenges of transhumanism.  Cybernetic replacement is great but anything left to run amok and unregulated on a long enough timeline is bound to lead to catastrophe.  If we can be smart about how we answer not only the safety questions (mainly preventing harm to others) that transhumanism will raise but also the philosophical and ethical ones, the better off we will be.  I personally am not afraid.  The benefits of transhuman technology are more than enough to offset any risks.

The original Deus Ex was named "Best PC Game of All Time" by PC Gamer magazine.  After doing a bit more reading on the game, I can see why.  In a similar vein as Final Fantasy, Deus Ex seems one of those originally rare games that holds attention with a cinematic storyline and engrossing characters.  Artificial intelligence, loads of literary references from books past and recent, the inclusion of Area 51 and Majestic 12, transhuman concepts...wow.  Shake and serve, you've a game that could have come out of Jon Studios.

The page with the interview has a video teaser for Deus Ex 3 embedded on it.  I find it fitting that the vid ends with a quote from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: "Who we are is but a stepping stone to what we can become."  Although it is most doubtful that he intended the pithy saying as such, I've never heard a greater credo for transhumanism.


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