The Transhuman Gap

[Cross-posted from Signtific Lab.]

While most would support using technology to allow parapalegics to walk again, to help the blind to see and the deaf to hear, how will society view those who electively enhance themselves through prosthetics & implants?

Consider the not-so-subtle marginalization of transhumanists who believe that technology should be readily integrated into human biology, experimenting with their own crude body modifications. Or the implications around personal security and privacy (not to mention religious fear) raised by those intrepid folks who are self-implanting RFIDs into their forearms to activate lighting & appliances when they enter their homes. Even the international debates over performance-enhancing drug use by athletes reinforces the cultural belief that a “natural” baseline range exists for human abilities and any “synthetic” modification beyond the accepted range is considered unfair.

From issues of fairness to those of security and trust, integrating more machinery into a programmable nervous system challenges many of the fundamental notions we have of what it means to be human. When a Marine returns from a warzone patched up with a cochlear implant, how will they be regarded when it’s revealed that they can hear you speaking from 3 blocks away? Imagine if that person then enters the Police force, what issues of civil liberty and privacy might be confronted? How might we regard an employer that suggests each employee be programmed with software to bring them into the corporate Thinkmesh?

How does society’s regard for a technology change when that technology becomes part of our bodies? How does our relationship to people change if we know they are different? What competitive advantages are conferred by these technologies and how will they be reinforced by socioeconomic drivers? What gaps might arise between those able to afford augmentations and those who cannot?

And what becomes of the Platonic sense of one fundamental Reality when more & more people are seeing personalized variations of the world mediated by connected devices? Will the merging of technology & flesh enable a more cohesive & effective society or a more fragmented and divisive one?

Thus far humans have worked from a standard body map that allows us to understand ourselves and project that understanding onto all other classes of our species. We will likely bring both our sense of membership as well as our fear of otherness with us as we begin to internalize machines unevenly across cultures.

[See also 5 Dark Scenarios For Trans-humanity.]

4 comments

  1. Jason

    I think the potential for humanity is great, but right now we are stagnant. It is not so much the addition of technology to physiology but it is taking on a mindset of improving ourselves. Yes there is a large potential for abuse when it comes to implants, and a black market will surely arise for those less scrupulous. Personally I believe our minds need to evolve first, then we can work more on our bodies. Right now the median of society isn’t responsible enough for implants that would either drastically or marginally give them an edge. The nature of people isn’t inherently altruistic, and it pains me to say that as I am just as guilty as the next man of selfishness and greed. I just hope our society can adapt quick enough because whether we are ready for it or not the changes are happening, because most scientists are so preoccupied with whether or not they can achieve a cohesion between flesh and tech that they don’t stop to think if they should.

  2. chris arkenberg

    Jason, there are a lot of interesting trends looking at how design and gameplay can be used to encourage healthy & altruistic behavior… So we may yet evolve our nature in time to build a positive future.

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