Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Humans: the next step

The unintended consequences of improvement.

That seems to be, at least in part, what Chip Walter is getting at with his article in Popular Science on transhumanism.  Author of Last Ape Standing, Walter argues that our rapid advancements in technology, transhuman and otherwise, are changing our world faster than we are able to adapt.  From an evolutionary standpoint, that's not good news.

 "We are undoing ourselves because the old baggage of our evolution impels us to. We already know that every animal wants power over its environment and does its level best to gain it. Our DNA demands survival. It is just that the neoteny (youthfulness) that has made us the Swiss Army knife of creatures, and the last ape standing, has only amplified, not replaced, the primal drives of the animals we once were. Fear, rage, and appetites that cry for instant gratification are still very much with us. That combination of our powers of invention and our ancient needs will, I suspect, soon carry us off from the grand emporium of living things."

 But wait.  As Walter specifies, this does not mean "end" in that Doomsday Prepper, cataclysmic sense.  It will be more of a metamorphosis into a "cyber sapien," as Walter calls it, that has cybernetically enhanced itself.  I prefer the sound of the moniker "techno sapien" myself, but whatever.

Transhumanists have been saying this for a while.  In fact, this merger with machines is already well underway.  When was the last time you checked your smartphone?  When you hear its tone for a text or email, do you have autonomic reaction to respond to it?  Now think of this integration on the nano scale.  Nanotechnology adhered to your own blood cells for healing or to your neurons for thinking.  Why stop there?  In the future, one might trade in the human neurobiology for an enhanced cybernetic one.

Yes, Walter is correct.  "Human" as we know it is coming to an end as the term is going to have to be completely redefined.  I will be shedding no tears.  This is actually a trajectory of the human race that I am quite hopeful about.  Something wrong with the "meatware" you were given?  No problem.  Tweak the DNA.

However, this is all of course dependent upon a few factors.  If not everyone elects to have these modifications...and by the sound of it there is still is much resistance...will this result in divergent strains of humans?  Will those who choose not to become transhuman be subjugated by those who have due to the enhanced "powers" of transhumans?  Alex Jones certainly thinks so, but he's not exactly the yardstick for rational thought.  Will the availability of transhuman and cybernetic mods be based solely on one's finances?  "Want to evolve?  That will be 500 grand, please."  The future might arrive but as Gibson says, it might not be evenly distributed.  And then there are all of the silly and paranoid "terminator" scenarios.

The unintended consequences of progress.

Yeah, but I'll take my chances.

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