Thursday, May 9, 2013

Transhuman augmentation

Two bits related to transhumanism that recently came across my email/newsfeed...

New brain implants are being developed that will enhance memory.  Of course the CNN article I found this in is quick to point out the similarities between the microchip implants and Gibson's "Johnny Mnemonic," looking into the far (perhaps not too far) future where everyone might carry vast sums of information in their heads and be able to recall it with perfect lucidity.  These pieces of cybernetics will be dealing with the hippocampus, the area of the brain where short term memory becomes long term.  The developers are still in the testing phase with tests on actual humans happening in the next two years.  Right now, it sounds like the first to receive these implants once they are approved will be stroke victims and people dealing with other forms of brain injury.

In a bit of synchronicity, I had received my weekly Keeping Up with the Singularity email from Singularity Weblog.  In it was an article by Daniel Faggella that described just why the above mentioned forms of augmentation are not so "far out" as the general public might assume.  Faggella points to the fact that wearable computing is already becoming a norm.  Face it, we're nearly hardwired into our smartphones as it is.  Google Glass is the next apparent step.  Plans are already underway to embed computer technology into clothing in any number of ways.  Is it that great of an extension to believe that personal computers will become truly...well, personal?

As Faggella goes on to say, the potential next step after that is integration of cybernetics with our own bodies.  This is where people tend to get creeped out. We're a long way from cyborgs and the other whangdoodles of anti-transhumanists who warn of things such as total body prosthesis, but we're already talking about giving sight to the blind through implants.  Likewise, there are already designs on allowing the entirely handicapped to move once more via messages from their own brains.  After that, the technology will become more widely available. 

Do we put the brakes on this kind of development?  I don't see how we could even if we wanted to.  As developers of the atomic bomb will tell you, you can't get the knowledge genie back in the bottle once she's out.  Singularity technology is on the way and as Faggella points out, is already here in many many ways.  Will there be misapplications of it?  Of course.  There is with nearly any technology. 

That, however, is a weak excuse to throw out all of the obvious benefits.


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