I very recently watched the documentary film “Transcendent Man”, which is loosely covers the life and beliefs of famous inventor, author and technologist Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil has been on numerous talk shows and news programs to discuss his vision of the future and where technology is headed. The film is a mix of interviews with Kurzweil, where he gives his thoughts about how technological advances in the next 7-10 years will change how we think, how we learn, how we live, even how we die. In the near future, according to Kurzweil, human will be able to upgrade their ability to learn and remember things as simple as upgrading a computer. Physical illness will be overcome through microscopic robots who will flow in our bloodstreams, fixing our bodies from the inside out. When (or if?) our physical bodies wear out, our consciousness will simply be uploaded to a waiting synthetic host form. We will literally be able to live forever. The film also includes interviews with people who both agree and disagree with Kurzweil’s vision of the future. One of his proponents, Peter Diamandis, TED presenter, noted visionary, and founder of the X Prize Foundation, goes a step further. Diamandis says, “We will become god-like – I know people don’t like to hear that…”. Kurzweil even hints at a similar belief at the end of the film. After describing the exponential expansion of mankind’s knowledge that will occur after the Singularity, Kurzweil ends the film by saying, “So does God exist? No, not yet…”. Kind of makes you look at Genesis 11 in a new light, doesn’t it?
Kurzweil’s statements are in line with transhumanism, which is the belief that humans can/should be augmented with technology to the point where we eventually supersede our organic bodies. While that may seem like far-off crazy talk to some, the questions transhumanism tries to answer are real. And we will need answers for them faster than we think. Brain-controlled robotic limbs, data recording implants, and drug-delivering robots that live in your eye are already a reality. I also think its fair to say that within the past 5-7 years, the trajectory of technology development has been increasingly the direction of integrating technology closer and closer to our physical bodies. Google Glasses is a prime example of that. Wearable computing is considered by many to be the next major step in technology after the smartphone. It’s not that big a step from wearable computers to computer implants.
There is no question that technology will eventually give us the ability to greatly augment our human bodies beyond their original design. This movement however, raises several important questions. While technology may eventually be able to increase our ability to think, learn, and remember, it won’t be able to change our irrational elements, like jealousy, insecurity, and pride. These are key parts of what makes us human (and less that God). If we are given God-like abilities in one aspect, but still have human fallibility in another, we may be setting ourselves up for trouble. I liken it to a six-year old boy with a chainsaw. While he may be strong enough to pick it up and start it, and smart enough to see how cool it is, it’s likely that either he or someone around him is going to get hurt if he starts using it.
I once read an article in a car magazine about a car enthusiast (polite speak for car nut), who put the huge V8 engine from a Mustang GT into a tiny Mazda Miata. To give you an idea of how tough this is, the engine from the Mustang is more than twice the size of the standard Miata engine. This is a modification of epic proportions. Once the retrofit was done, the reviewers of this car magazine drove the car and gave their thoughts. Each reviewer loved the straight-line speed of the jacked-up Miata. It blew everything off the road. Smiles were wide on everyone who sat in the driver’s seat. But the reviewers also made some other observations. In order to make the large engine fit, the mechanics had to remove much of the firewall insulation separating the engine from the passenger compartment. That meant the floorboards on the inside of the car stayed extremely hot. The heavier engine in the front of the car also meant that the Miata was wildly out of balance. This made handling the car through turns nearly impossible. While the Miata with the powerful Mustang engine was incredibly fast, the rest of it’s design was not capable of handling what came along with so much power. Miatas are designed to be sprightly and quick. Miatas are meant to fun to drive on twisty roads. Mustangs are high output track stars, whose virtues are proven in 0-60 sprints and ¼ mile times. The two vehicles are designed to with two different purposes in mind. By stuffing a Mustang V8 into it, the Miata could no longer fulfill the purpose it was originally designed for. In a similar fashion, augmenting human capabilities with computerized implants (to the level suggested by transhumanists) may result in the same problem. New beings that are too powerful to be human, but not capable of being the “gods” envisioned by the inventors of these technologies.
Regardless of our level preparedness for their arrival, these implant technologies are being developed right now. How do you think we should use these new products? Are you a transhumanist?
Share your thoughts in the comments!