Technology puts in our hands the possibility of “immortality” thanks to a conglomeration of advances that, although messy and incomplete, already promise physical, emotional and mental improvements
Hollywood has been warning us for years. “Terminator”, “I, Robot”, “Inspector Gadget”, “Bicentennial Man”… these films have been recounting that strange union between man and machine that both fascinates and frightens us. Are we ready to take another step in evolution? It is the million dollar question, although there are already those who think that we are at a point of no return: the integration of our body with technology is a reality and everything seems to indicate that it will continue to advance much much more. That is the main idea that surrounds transhumanism, a current of thought that yearns for the death of Homo sapiens to make way for a more intelligent and better prepared model.
“Most consider the end of our race as a catastrophe, but there are people who are not only happy about it, but also want it to happen as soon as possible,” said Julian Baggini, philosopher and author of twenty books on this field, in an interview for the BBC. The aim of this group is to leave behind the fragility of our body and opt for an “infrastructure” that makes us better physically, emotionally, mentally or morally. Even immortals. In fact, there are those who maintain that it will be possible to upload our brains to a computer and live forever in a virtual world.
Something like what director Charlie Brooker proposed in one of the episodes of the controversial series «Black Mirror»: in «San Junípero», the deceased have the opportunity to continue their lives in a digital universe as real as the mind imagines. All of this is especially important if we keep in mind the role that artificial intelligence is playing today. Scientist Ray Kurzweil, for example, argues that 21st-century devices are getting smarter and more sophisticated. So it would not be difficult to fantasize about a future in which they learn on their own and join adults to facilitate their routines. For many, this possibility of being replaced by a new entity is unsettling. However, in a broad sense, we have been sharing customs with transhuman beings for decades: anyone who takes medications to boost their physical appearance, stimulate their memory or enhance their sexual vigor is already part of this select community. As well as those who have pacemakers or consume antidepressants.
However, this way of understanding this issue is excessively open and ignores some of the key issues raised by this trend. What is essential is full confidence in biotechnology, informatics and nanotechnology. And from
from there, the body will say. Thus, if these variables are analyzed, it seems appropriate to differentiate up to three clear applications of this movement. First of all, the creation of super individuals with a set of characteristics that could be inherited from parents to children. This is only possible through the application of genetic modification techniques such as CRISPR, which has already been used by the Chinese scientist He Jiankui: in 2018, he announced that he had edited the DNA of two twins to immunize them against HIV. The project, which was not published by any specialized journal or authorized by the University of Shenzhen, ended up being rejected by the entire scientific community. And, of course, with the government sentence to three years in prison.
The second boast of this doctrine is the concept of “cyborg.” Or, put another way, the development of hybrids between people and robots. It is true that they exist today, but perhaps in a somewhat superficial way. It is not just about implanting prostheses or smart sensors. The goal is much more ambitious: for example, neuroscientist Ted Huffman inserted a compass into his index finger that, although it allowed him to control magnetic fields, caused a serious infection. However, the great task is to pour our memories, knowledge and experiences into an artifact.
And after that? Nobody knows. At the moment, it is unfeasible to know if the patient would have a subjective and real sense of continuity. In any case, the third option is the one that has the most points (at least, in the medium term) to bear its first fruits: the design of a super intelligence that would have the same characteristics as a brain and that could increase the well-being of the planet. . We’ll see.
NEITHER RIGHTS NOR LEFTS
For or against, what is evident is that this topic is generating numerous ethical dilemmas. In 2002, political scientist Francis Fukuyama took a stand against genetic engineering in his book “Our Posthuman Future.” An argument that, five years ago, the philosopher Michael Sandel recovered in his “Against perfection.” In both cases, the counterpoint was the same: these developments could increase social inequalities. Well, if it occurs later, it would only be available to very few. The richest, surely. And that, even if it varied in an even more distant tomorrow, would provoke a tremendous dissonance. Instead, Professor Nick Brostrom bets on an imminent regulation, before this speech is framed in a certain political position and dies entrenched. And what about people? “Human experimentation that may pose risks or discomfort to the subjects should only be carried out when there are no alternative procedures of comparable efficacy,” says a report from the University of Seville’s Experimentation Ethics Committee. However, it is not clear what happens if one wants to try it on oneself. That was the case for Zoltan Istvan, a well-known journalist who tried to lead the US Transhumanist party. As he described in a column in The New York Times, for him, having implants is both convenient and fun. In his house, for example, the front door has a chip scanner, allowing him to open it with his own torso. In Spain, there is Neil Harbisson, an avant-garde artist who has an antenna embedded in his crown that allows him to see and perceive invisible colors, as well as receive images, videos, music or phone calls in his head. The next step will be to democratize everything.
Transhumanism finds its roots in classical and modern thought. It is something like the constant desire to acquire new abilities for man thanks to the use of science and technology. Nick Bostrom, a professor at the University of Oxford (United Kingdom) and president of the World Transhumanist Association, has defined it in this ambitious way. For him, the fundamental pillars of this intellectual current are found in the full confidence of advances and in the material conception of man. That is: people are machines and, as such, they can improve little by little. This idea is not new: Darwin’s “The Order of Species” already included this option. Which, added to the tremendous progress of artificial intelligence in our days, proposes the possibility of speaking of a new individual: Homo digitalis? Time will tell.