Raise your hand if you’re not a cyborg.
Anyone? That’s what we thought. We’re all so thoroughly intertwined with our machines and devices by now, that one can scarcely imagine a human being (even in the remotest places on Earth) who isn’t technologically dependent in some manner. From how we eat, transact, and transport to how we relate, emote, and aspire, the pervasiveness of technology’s web has found its way into the large and small spaces of our lives.
Not convinced? Try living for a day without any “high technology” (not just your personal devices, but those that keep the world around you running). Not possible. Want cold air? Hot coffee? Warm food? You get the gist, as this is obvious by now. But you may not think of yourself as fully cyborgian yet (even though you’ve already enhanced and transformed your appearance, your senses, your memory, and more with technology), since so far most of this tech exists around you, or sometimes on you — but you’re still human inside, after all. For now…
As the arc of external technologies advances exponentially, the remapping of our interior terrains escalates as well, sometimes in more subtle ways that don’t jump off the page like the “next big thing” on the store shelves does. And it isn’t just our human “software” of ideas and relationships that are being altered, but our physiology and biology too. The rewiring of our malleable brains through digital exposure, biotechnology, advancements in food science and nutrition, behavioral modification, and medical monitoring are all precursors of what will soon become deeper entanglements with the tech in our midst.
Much of this paradigm is embraced for its ostensibly beneficent potential. There’s even a clever name for the progressive thrust of beneficial technology as it intersects our personhood: transhumanism. In essence, it’s the belief that we can evolve beyond present limits (biologically speaking) primarily through the advances of science and technology as they impact our physical and mental capacities. Emerging tech like CRISPR would be a dramatic example of this, potentially using “gene editing” techniques as a means to cure diseases, alter physical traits, or prolong life. As the site What Is Transhumanism? describes it:
Just as we use rational means to improve the human condition and the external world, we can also use such means to improve ourselves, the human organism. In doing so, we are not limited to traditional humanistic methods, such as education and cultural development. We can also use technological means that will eventually enable us to move beyond what some would think of as “human.”
So we don’t have to become fully robotic to experience transhumanism and its many purported benefits. (We can revisit the other side of the coin later, since benefits always include costs that need to be unpacked further.) The progression of high technology is going to continue impacting our lives, including (in short order) in ways that were merely in the realm of speculative sci-fi not that long ago. The frontiers of matter, space, and time will continue moving from the metaphysical realm into the biophysical one, influencing our humanity in myriad ways that merit closer investigation apart from the obvious titillation.
More to the point, we will likely be called upon to redefine what it means to be “human” in this brave new world that is emerging around/within us. Central humanistic questions of justice, ethics, and morality will be crucial to determining whether the advances at hand are truly beneficial, including how the benefits and burdens associated with them are distributed and accessed. At the end of the day, the challenge and opportunity before us — as the generations on the cusp of becoming “Humans 2.0” — will be to look beyond the excitement of the sales pitch, in order to ensure that our “progress” is actually progressive.