Technology is part of our everyday lives; cell phones, computers, Ipods, pacemakers, the litany of technological devices we integrate into our lives is extensive. Whether it’s for entertainment, convenience, transportation or to save lives, it seems we have developed – or are in the process of developing – technology (whether it is mechanical, biological or a hybrid of the two) to solve any problem or tackle any task we can dream up.
Now, what if the next major step in technological advancement is not creating machines to improve our lives but altering ourselves for the same gain? It sounds like science fiction, but using science to surpass humanity may soon be science fact. We already use technology to improve our lives. Using it to alter not our lives, but ourselves, is the next logical step (we already see it more superficially in cosmetic surgery and body augmentation).
There is a movement out there known as the Singularity. In essence, the Singularity is a push toward a moment in human evolution when we and technology become one. At that point, depending on the camp you are in, the human race transcends itself, giving birth to a posthumanist society.
The New York Times recently wrote an article regarding an institution known as the Singularity University. Summing up the article in a few lines won’t do it justice, so I suggest reading it. If you’d rather my watered-down synopsis: the university endeavours to recruit some of the top minds in the world all with the same guiding light – to advance technology exponentially in an effort to tackle all humanity’s challenges.
Like all movements there are different camps. The description above represents one camp which essentially aims to achieve what the rest of us more common folk are, but at a faster pace. And, of course, with some monetary gain.
Then, there is this guy, Raymond Kurzweil. Kurzweil, by some, would be described as a visionary; by others, a heretic; and then, there are those who will probably write him off as loon. He represents the radical side of posthumanism; the belief that we, with the help of advanced technology, can not only become more than what we are, but so much better that being called human would be derogatory. What makes Kurzweil’s ideas so fascinating/terrifying is: in his vision of the world we’re not just using advanced technology; Kurzweil envisions a period of such extreme, exponential technological growth that the next evolution of humanity will be virtually indistinguishable from the technology it uses.
Kurzweil’s vision for the next stage of our species is the ultimate in computer/biological integration; nano-sized machines that can do everything from repair cellular damage and rewrite DNA to exponentially increasing the power of the human brain (merging the ultimate in Artificial Intelligence with the sophistication of our organic mind). In this new age (whether utopian or dystopian, the jury is still out) we have conquered disease, the universe, even death itself. Really, the concepts aren’t as radical as the means.
Is it possible? If it is, should we be embracing such an idea? Are we even ready for such a step? As a species, all our graces aside, we remain violent, petty, greedy and selfish. In fact, we are childlike in our behaviour. Would what Kurzweil proposes launch us into metamorphosis as it were; our evolution ushering also our maturity? Or, would we just become invincible children? More importantly, would this supremacy be open to us all? Or, would it be the privilege of the elite? If the answer to the latter is yes then we would become a sub-species, inferior, slaves, or useless and in the way.
Altruism, for now, remains out of our reach, but it is a vital component in this equation. Without out it posthuman will mean one thing – monster. Unfortunately, selflessness does not come at the flip of a switch.