Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Towards a Post-Human World?

by Michael Akerib, InnovaX

Post-humanity has been defined as a future society in which at least part of those living have capabilities substantially higher than those of the present variety of Homo sapiens, to the extent that they can no longer really be called humans. The capabilities can be physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual.

A post-human state can be reached by several means such as by medical treatment, through the use of biotechnology or by a symbiotic link to machines. Thus post-humanity will have been reached either by an augmentation of present capabilities or by a total redesign of the genetic basis.

The technologies used for enhancement could include a variety of anti-aging treatments, memory enhancing techniques relying mostly on synthetic or natural compounds possessing pharmacological properties and vastly increased knowledge through linking to information management tools.

The belief that these changes would create post-humans, and thus a post-human society, is that our evolution is not yet complete and that we can mold it with the use of technology. Adepts of a post-human society, trans-humanists, believe that the will of humans is determinant in deciding which direction the species should take, rather than allowing nature to decide on our future evolution.

Thus, if we decide that aging and death are diseases, and the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry seem to have decided that, we should eradicate them. This is obviously altering the course of nature, but supporters of the post-human idea make the point that one of the characteristics of humans is that they have always modified nature to their advantage – at least on a short system. The definite victory over certain diseases is an example put forward. Further, not everything that is natural is good for humanity.

Since trans-humanism insists on individual freedom, it recognizes the right of everyone to accept or refuse to become a post-human thus, incidentally, allowing for humans and post-humans to co-habit on the planet.

Writing about post-humanity is a little bit like writing about an extra-terrestrial society and we must make a distinction between speculation on future directions of science and science fiction. The main difference is that speculative science is a projetion into the future of possible developments of existing knoweldge and technology.

We can use our imagination but little else as we do not know what would be the feelings of a post-human or of a normal human being living in an essentially post-human society. For instance, what would it be like to live in a society in which all knowledge is immediately accessible just by thinking about an issue – a sort of implanted Wikepedia which would transmit to the mind information about any topic that the ‘person’ (would it still be a person?) would like to have access to. Super-powerful computers would be able to think, not just store and retrieve information. Minds of post-humans would be connected through an immense and efficient network. Similarities have been suggested with beehives or other animal colonies, the difference being that the behavior of the animals is driven by instinct and chemical signals rather than by a shared intelligence and knowledge.

In a post-human society, life would take place in cyberspace and one can speculate that either cyberspace will continue, as today, to exist in parallel with real space, or that it will replace it entirely. It will be a comfortable place to live in compared with the harsh realities of an increasingly hostile environment, or at lest one perceived as such.

In cyberspace post-humans will be able to choose the informational and knowledge niche they want to live in while having the possibility of moving from one space to another as they wish. Presumably they will also be able to select the gender in which they want to live unless, sexuality having become obsolete, post-humans will not be required to make such changes since they will be living in a post-biological world.

Post-humans could access an enormous wealth of knowledge; attain new realms of pleasure, live eternally without the threat of degenerative diseases. Eventually some post-humans might get rid of their bodily limitations altogether and become pure intellects. It has even been suggested that at an advanced stage, post-humans may decide to dispose of their bodies and transform themselves into information patterns. This translates into a denial of individuality and presupposes an equal mental power between the various members of the post-human grid. Groupthink would be pervasive and some form of censorship may well be implemented. Spoken language would have become obsolete. Possibly the same would happen to misunderstandings.

One can wonder if post-humans would ever be able to enjoy the pleasures of being alone with themselves …. In a world in which the network has replaced real space, it is most unlikely to allow solitary pleasures.

In an era of fears of pervasive insecurity and terrorist threats, the existence of such a network appears an invitation for destructive interference.

The concept of post-humanity arose from a 1993 seminal paper by Vernor Vinge in which he exposed his theory of singularity. A singularity is the point near a black hole after which it is impossible to predict the fate of an object reaching it.

In the same way, Vinge hypothesized that technological development will accelerate and reach such a speed that most probably by 2030 the technologies available will create a change as radical as that which took place when man evolved. The main reason for singularity to occur, always according to Vinge, would be a phenomenal step forward in human-computer integration, leading to an exponentially increased intelligence.

Issues of control also arise. Who would control the information? A centralized power system, or could anyone input data with or without a moderator? Would such a society move us away from the societal structure we have lived in until now and make us behave more like a colony of ants or bees or will we maintain our ability to think critically?

Presumably accession to post-humanism would be restricted to a chosen few and we would have a society in which humans and post-humans would live side by side. We might even have a scale of post-humanism with some individuals having chosen a larger number of post-human traits than others. The ultimate hybrid might be a totally abstract entity.

The ability for such diverse individuals to live peacefully together has been put into question and doubts have been cast on the ability to construct a legal system that would refrain from discrimination and violence. While examples of successful territorial sharing by very diverse individuals abound, so do contrary examples of discrimination and even genocide. Will post-humans resort to violence to occupy virtual space somewhat in the same manner that their ancestors fought to occupy physical space?

Certainly the concept of the family, at least as we have known it until now, including in the context of recomposed families, would be obsolete.

One would imagine that, at least initially, discrimination would come from the traditional humans against the post-humans. It is to be feared, however, that gradually post-humans would exploit others and perhaps even exterminate them.

Homo sapiens is the only species with no close relatives as no other human species has survived. Even our closest relatives, monkeys, are on the verge of becoming extinct.

Humans seem essentially driven by a single concept – destroying anything they may view as competition. Technology has assited them in reaching this objective. Will the ultimate success ironically be technology’s that will absorb humanity’s mind and consciousness in an apocalypse radically different from the one that the religions of the Book have been preaching? For them, indeed, death and resurrection and a Final Judgement are central to theology with death being the beginning of a new, richer, life.

Is post-humanity a dream threatening to transform itself into a nightmare or is it truly the final achievement of a humanity that was told it had fallen out of favor by an original sin?

Frank Tipler hypothesized that as the universe will come to its end, computational capacity will accelerate exponentially faster than time. He called that scenario the Omega Point. Is post-humanity the Omega Point of our species?

Humans have long imagined utopian societies, but these have often transformed themselves into inhuman hells. What of the heterotopia of post-humanity – is it a dream, the ultimate step of the evolution process or the final destruction of society as we know it?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I like about this article is the objectivity and openness of your thoughts and questions. It has got me thinking...

July 30, 2007 10:15 AM  
Blogger chris thomson said...

While I fully accept that technology has made a difference to our lives, I think that it is getting out hand. It has, or threatens to, outrun our ability to use it wisely. As Martin Luther King said: "We have guide missiles, but misguided men." Personally, I think human evolution has a long way to go and that this will have very little to do with technology. I believe that the really important evolution yet to come is the evolution of human consciousness. We cannot even begin to imagine what that will be. So far from a post-human world, I think we are heading for an even more human world

July 30, 2007 6:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speculations about a post-human world are interesting, they might be entertaining, and they could even be instructive, if…

If the physical conditions for man’s survival in his modern configuration continued to be favorable, if they, moreover, were conducive to further development into a post-modern state, and if the post-modern variety of man did not depend on how his modern variety acquires independence of certain trivial necessities. Empirical observations indicate that none of this is the case. Just the contrary: before reaching up to a higher degree of development, man will first have to resolve some very basic problems of survival.

The factors having the greatest influence on man’s survival actually are rudimentary matters related to human biology: air, water, and food. Without them, man can survive from a few minutes in the case of air, to several days in the case of food, but no longer. To cope with these factors will require a redefinition of hi-tech and a redirection of the human scientific effort. I will highlight just one of these factors: water, of which one person in the developed world needs about 200 liters every day.

Water, constituting about 70% of the human body, is distributed very unevenly on the surface of the earth. Only an insignificant fraction of all fresh water is used for human consumption and survival. The rest is used in agriculture, and in an array of hygiene, cleaning and transport related applications.

The largest quantity of the water used by humans goes to flushing biological waste. That would not be a problem in itself. Pure water can be extracted relatively easily from the waste. Problem is that the sewage system, apart from taking care of biological waste, also accommodates industrial and chemical waste, which turns the biological waste from a valuable raw material into a poisonous mess.

Could this problem be handled somehow? Certainly. The core solution is reducing the wastage of water, a problem that seems trivial but is, in fact, monumental. Its solution will re-define what hi-tech is, because it will require the deployment of a very high dose of IQ, along with advanced technology.

Currently, each use of the toilet costs about 5 liters of water in Europe, and about 2 gallons in the USA. It is pure, potable water, obtained from a complex purification process. The loss of 5 liters of water at one time probably is not an alarming figure. It is only that each person flushes this quantity away several times a day. In a city of a million inhabitants the quantity of water used is a million times that much – a river, indeed. Moreover, a high water pressure must be maintained in skyscrapers to safeguard water delivery to the top floors.

What is necessary to fix the high consumption of water for waste transport is an entirely new type of toilet. It should not require any water, and it should not destroy the biological quality of the waste. The toilet should have a capacity to serve many persons for some time, be easy to empty and keep clean, be adapted to the present structure of buildings, and release no odor. Anyone is welcome to think about how to do it.

The “river” of water currently wasted in every city of the world could then serve a better purpose. Like most other rivers, this one, too, affects many people in the world. It also shows the interaction between innovation and foresight. For instance, more than 20 years ago it became clear that India had set out on a journey of no return to modernize itself. Much of the modernization implies imitating the lifestyle of the nations considered “modern” at a given point of time. This imitation includes more audacious buildings and more water toilets, among others. The absence of the water-saving toilet of the new type puts a strain on a country in which fresh water could be used many times better. In spite of the scarcity of fresh water, its wastage thus goes on unabated. This example demonstrates how foresight failed to stimulate innovation, worldwide.

Igor Gazdík

August 22, 2007 10:18 AM  
Blogger divinemauler said...

Most futurists think a post human world will present advantages. I disagree. Currently working on a novel that portrays an absurd post-human world populated by seven distinct types created by germline geneticists. In short, the world's become absurd with little regard or memory of a previous human world.

June 09, 2009 8:37 PM  
Anonymous Sara said...

Great article which The technologies used for enhancement could include a variety of anti-aging treatments, memory enhancing techniques relying mostly on synthetic or natural compounds possessing pharmacological properties and vastly increased knowledge through linking to information management tools.
The belief that these changes would create post-humans, and thus a post-human society, is that our evolution is not yet complete and that we can mold it with the use of technology. Thanks a lot for posting.

July 24, 2012 6:05 PM  

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