Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Transhumanism for non-humans

"I don't wanna be no robot, man."

When discussing transhumanism, that is often the kind of ever-so-articulate, sandals-and-acoustic-guitar response that I get. I try to bring the discussion back around to the personal level. "If it were someone you love who was in need of say, an artificial pancreas, a cybernetic heart, or a retinal implant to restore their sight, you might think differently. Can you imagine that?"

I don't have to imagine it. I've been in that place. Three times. And I had no problem finding the chutzpa to put aside any (however few I had) "let's just be natural" feelings I had in order to save my kids.

As you might know, I have two dogs. One dog blew out her left hind ACL, the other blew out both of his hind ACLs (weakness of the breed). Fortunately, transhuman-styled technology was available to repair them to save them from lives of pain and impairment.

It is because of this...and many other reasons, such as fostering the growing philosophy of treating pets as living beings and members of our families as well as awareness of the benefits of transhuman technology...that I was glad to see an article from the venerable George Dvorsky on several of the ways we humans are extending our technologies to our beloved pets. Here are a few:

-Wearable tech. We're using things like Fitbit, so why can't our pets? This is about more than monitoring how much exercise our pets are getting (even though that's a benefit too), but also about keeping watch for health conditions. One of the most frustrating things about being a parent to a pet is that your furry kids don't speak in any human language. It is therefore not always easy to know when they are ill or having something wrong. Wearables can monitor vitals such as heart and breathing rates for changes.

-Biological uplift. That is a phrase being used to describing enhancing intelligence in humans. Why shouldn't we do the same for dogs and cats. One research firm is working on just that with a wearable device called Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations or FIDO (ha! See what they did there?) This is a wearable computing device for dogs who work in service to the blind or hearing impaired, search and rescue, and police officers. Sensors in the harness help interpret for humans what the dog's posture, actions, and verbalizations mean.
There's even a program called "No More Woof" that aims through the use of EEG to translate a dog's thoughts into human speech. Suffice it to say it sounds like they've got a ways to go on that project.

This is all great. But I hope it's just the beginning.

While there are obvious physical differences between humans and animals, I want the technologies we are working on for ourselves...modifications dealing with restoring eyesight and hearing, lost limbs or dysfunctional be extended to anyone we love, whether they have two legs or four. Yes, there will undoubtedly be a high cost to this. At first. As with any new developments, the price will eventually deflate. Of course if you're not already willing to pay whatever it takes to maintain a healthy quality of life for your dog or cat, I have to question your motivations in having one to begin with. But hey, that's just me.

I'm just thankful there was already sufficient technology to help my babies when they needed it. Here's to hoping there can be more for others who need it.

UPDATE: This just in, George Dvorsky has posted this story of how 3D printing has turned one dog into a cyborg.

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