What’s in a Name?

Posted: October 14, 2010 in Medicine, Philosophy, Science
Tags: ,

Wouldn’t a rose by any other name smell as sweet? That’s what they tell me. However, to me, there is something genuinely liberating when I find that there is a name for something. When I was a kid, I bugged the hell out of my parents, running around asking “What’s that?” Some people don’t like the concept of labels (for good reason, they can be used to ostracize and denigrate) but they have always made me feel better. I find comfort in group identification.

Moral of story: I learned a new label today, which I think fits me quite well, and I’m going to embrace it: I’m a transhumanist. I was sparked to embrace this label by this article where Michael Austin questions whether or not we should be seeking a post-human existence.

I believe that science and technology can be used to improve humanity as a species. That includes a whole gamut of technology such as cybernetic limbs, life extension and artificial organs. There is an interesting talk by Aimee Mullins given at TED where she envisions a world in which “disabled” people can design their bodies from a position of empowerment, becoming super-abled.

It’s certainly true that the motivation behind cybernetics is to restore function to people who have lost limbs, internal organs, etc. This talk, by  Dean Kamen, discusses the inspiration he got from our wounded soldiers as he worked on building the best cybernetic arms in the world.

Anthony Atala discusses growing organs and Alan Russell discusses regenerative medicine. We’re getting really interesting stuff. When we can merge this type of thing with robotics and cybernetics, we’re going to have a really interesting future. But I guess my point is that the future is now. Juan Enriquez thinks that the future is now, and sees the appearance of Homo evolutis – hominids that take direct and deliberate control over the evolution of their species.

When we combine this with the ability to hold off aging, I see a bright future for what comes after Homo sapiens. There is another talk by Aubrey de Grey, who envisions a world where we can avoid aging. Personally, I can’t wait for the results of his work. I’ve got about 5000 years worth of projects on my to-do list. There’s so much to learn, so many things to do.

People tell me that it’s a terrible thing to say, but I genuinely believe it’s true: eventually, there won’t be anymore “humans” as we know them today. I don’t think it’s terrible; I think it’s liberating. Evolution works. Species become extinct. The question is what comes next, and I think that humanity has finally reached the point where we can start to actively direct and influence how we are evolving as a species. The question is whether or not we’re going to actually have a conversation about what direction we should be going, or are we going to bury our heads in the sand.

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Comments
  1. Ellie says:

    As long as we keep things like power and control in check. We have a huge discrepancy in living standards today, that could very well increase as we start seeing transhumanism take off.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to see all of these things beginning to take off (and have been working on my own bits and pieces of personal cyborgdom), but now more than ever we need to seriously equalize things a bit. Perhaps this will help, but I’m inclined to see those in power getting more power quicker through things like this. Exponential times and all. What happens to those who are slightly behind on the exponential curve once it takes off? The difference between haves and haves not would would grow and grow and grow until a possible diversion of humans similar to that mentioned in the Time Machine might take place.

    Let’s not let that happen. Peace, love, and equality for all. Let’s not leave the least among us behind.

    • Ellie says:

      Also, related to your post but not my previous comment, there are robots being controlled by mouse brain cells out there. http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2008/08/robot_with_a_rats_brain.html

      There was a recent TED talk by Stefano Mancuso (http://www.ted.com/talks/stefano_mancuso_the_roots_of_plant_intelligence.html) about the intelligence of plant roots. How sweet would it be if we could make a plant cyborg that uses its roots to control the same robot the rat brain is controlling. Hell, if we could tap into their solar-gathering biotech, maybe we should be looking into tree cars. Hrmmm…

      And, I’m sorry I utterly failed at calling you this past weekend. 😦

      • Jason Ellis says:

        No worries on the phone call. My life has been uber crazy with writing a grant renewal.

        I saw the TED talk on plant intelligence, and it got me thinking quite a bit about some future research topics. I’m going to spend a bit of time in the literature looking at this guy’s work.

    • Jason Ellis says:

      When it comes to “dividing” humanity, I can’t say I’m entirely opposed to it. Evolutionarily, we separated from other primates many years ago. Should we be advocating for the bonobos to have iPhones?

      However, you are correct in one regard: this is a speciation event which will be predicated on access to the technology, and that access is certainly a function of wealth.

      Personally, I don’t feel sorry for the luddites who shun the technology; they are going to be left in the dust, much like the apes of yesteryear. However, I do think that those who want to be able to evolve should have access to the tools and technology to make that happen.

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