Monday, October 3, 2016

"Transhumanism is inevitable"

Okay, so the date's a little off but you get the idea.

Anyone who claims "transhumanism is inevitable" has my attention.

Even if it's in, a heavily Libertarian publication. That's all right. I can let the politics slide by and concentrate on the transhuman concepts being explored. In this case, it is a review of a book called Beyond Human: How Cutting-Edge Science is Extending Our Lives. The book is by Eve Herold, director of public policy research and education at the Genetics Policy Institute. Obviously, that means she knows what she's talking about. Here are a few points listed in the review that I found to be particularly salient:

-In 2012, a 40 year-old mother of four had a Syncardia Total Artificial Heart installed. This kept her alive for 196 days until a donor heart could be located for a transplant. There is an ongoing clinical trial for a permanent version of this heart. Cybernetic replacement organs are only becoming heartier and more reliable. This is already happening, people. It isn't science fiction.

-The reviewer says that Herold does not discuss the work being done to grow transplantable human organs inside pigs and sheep. Eschewing this topic doesn't bother me, not only because I'm not exactly in favor of the further exploitation of animals but also I don't get this attitude of "meat is always better than metal." My own hope is that we will somehow overcome our trepidation with cybernetics. Maybe market forces will actually be a benefit in that regard. If people are overcoming health issues with these devices or are even healthy people simply increasing the quality of their lives, then this may influence others to seek implants.

-Nanobots. No discussion of emerging technologies would be complete without examining this development. You've read me harp about it before so let's all say it together: "Swarms of nanobots in your bloodstream, stopping cancer before it fully develops, repairing or removing damaged cells, and delivering medicines to an exact location with precision." This may be one of the biggest advancements in terms of halting aging and dramatically expanding our lifespan.

-Brain implants to alter human emotion. DARPA is working on it. Please oh please somebody make this happen. Of course, the review reports that Herold is suspicious of government involvement in research such as this for after all, DARPA is by definition connected to national defense. A brain implant like the one in question could remove fear or guilt from soldiers. I see that point, but if those of us who suffer from depression and anxiety had our druthers, we might want to take the risk. I will speak for myself anyway and say I'm willing to kick the consequences down the road and get relief now that medications don't offer (that's a BIG topic for another time, can't really get into it here.) Such implants might also enhance our intelligence and accelerate our thinking. As I age, I'm wanting that more and more.

Like most sensible people who keep aware of these technologies, Herold isn't looking at the advancements with rose colored glasses. There exists the potential for problems as I have always maintained. I know how completely reliant I am on technology at this very time, so what happens when my life functions are truly dependent upon it? We're already losing the ability to interact personally thanks to Internet and social media. What happens when we interact with robots more than each other? Will artificial entities have rights? All the usual stuff I've wondered but I'm left uncertain as to whether or not Herold addresses the rich/poor divide and what transhuman advancements might mean in that context.

Maybe I'm not so far from Libertarians as I once thought. At least a component of their philosophy seems to be the idea of choice. I want choices in how I live and that includes biology. We should all have the opportunity to overcome the defects with which a human being is sentenced. Not only that, we should have the opportunity to do so efficiently, thus giving us more time to pursue that which gives greater meaning and enrichment to our lives...whatever that might be or however we might define that. Why can't we put effort and research towards such endeavors?

Well, good news. Quote Herold: "Those of us living today stand a good chance of someday being beneficiaries of such advances."

I could go for that.

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