By Ian Barry
Medical science has come a long way in the past 20 years. Diseases that were once thought unassailable have become treatable and manageable. Gene therapy has recovered from its setbacks and is showing promise in curing a number of diseases. Prosthetics have developed from what was essentially a shoe on a stick to fully articulated robotic limbs, controlled through neural interfaces and capable of sensory feedback. The price: performance ratio of gene sequencing is falling at an exponential rate. More and more sophisticated neural implants are being developed, allowing the human brain to interface directly with a computer.
All of these developments began as treatments to cure and repair. However, there’s no reason we have to stop at the limits imposed by our natural biology. Ocular replacements might be upgraded to see into the infrared and ultraviolet spectrum. Robotic limbs can of course be much stronger and faster than biological ones, and never grow tired. And gene therapy could very easily be used to alter genetics not associated with disease. Neuroprosthetics will allow us to connect and merge our minds with machines. With a sufficient understanding of human biology, greatly enhanced longevity and even immortality could be possible.
I am a transhumanist, which means that I believe that it is both possible and desirable to use these technologies to enhance human capabilities, to transcend our natural limits, and to become something better than human. Yet, when I explain these ideas to others who are unfamiliar with them, I am often met with resistance and revulsion. Mostly I’m told that it’s unnatural or that it’s just plain weird.
I’m afraid I can’t do anything about your visceral reaction of disgust. That’s your problem, should probably get that looked at. I espouse the idea of morphological freedom, or the freedom to own and alter your own body as you desire. You can imagine that this is part of being a transhumanist. But I believe this freedom is essential for any democratic nation that also purports to support the right to freedom and the right to life – being guaranteed freedom and life but not the right to alter your own body rings rather hollow, no? If I had the option to replace my perfectly good human arms with superior cybernetic parts, I would. And you can’t stop me.
Unnatural? As if something is good because it’s natural. That’s argumentum ad naturam, and it’s a logical fallacy. You know what the natural state of things is? Starvation, fear, predation, and death. The whole concept of “natural” breaks down when you start to examine it. Apes use tools. Is that unnatural? We are products of nature, of evolution, so by extension, everything we do is natural. Our intelligence is unique but not unnatural. Regardless, we should strive to be better than nature. Consigning ourselves mortality just because it’s the natural state of things makes about as much sense as trying to survive without technology because that’s “natural.” Natural it may be, but sensible it is not.
The way I see it, humanity is on the cusp of developing a large number of synergistic technologies with the potential to change our society beyond recognition. If used properly, they could improve the human condition immeasurably. Bioengineering or mind uploading could make aging and death irrelevant. Intelligence enhancement could lead to accelerating change.
Synthetic body parts, or even whole bodies, could expand human’s capabilities like no discovery before. Starvation, disease, and mortality could all be things of the past with the aid of these technologies – but only if we plan for them, strive for them, and put forth the effort to improve our species. Because it’s the right thing to do.