Transhumanism – the current state of affairs

Science fiction and knowledge of new technology paved the way for transhumanism to occur –  a movement that presents an idealistic point of view on human development with technology. Transhumanists believe that next step in human evolution is merging with machines and technologically enhanced bodies.

 Protagonist Jethro Knights from the book The Transhumanist Wager 

Augmentation of human body with technology is really nothing new. People wear glasses to enhance their vision, hearing aids to help them hear, they change broken teeth with false ones and wear artificial limbs to compensate the lack of their own. Transhumanists want to go step beyond, believing that we shouldn’t only offer augmentations and medications for fixing problems our biology has, but to enhance it too.

What is real?

Our view of reality is limited by our senses. Humans can only see a tiny part of electromagnetic spectrum, called visible light. We are utterly blind for all other wavelengths – radiowaves, UV light, X-rays, etc. There are probably a few cellphone conversations passing through you right now and you can’t see those waves. We are trichromatic, which means that we have three photoreceptors within the eye, each for a basic color – red, blue and green. Amount and combination of those wavelengths determines the colors we see. Bees for example are trichromatic too, but see different part of the spectrum.

They don’t have a photoreceptor for the red color, although they can see some reddish hues, like yellow and orange. In return, bees can see UV light, which makes their perception of reality a lot different from ours. There is a great variety of senses throughout the animal kingdom, each species having its unique perception of the world.

Left – human sight, right – bee sight.

A flower through the eyes of a bee

Advances in science left us with thirst to perceive more and get the full picture of what’s going on. But the problem is, our biology isn’t so quick to evolve as technology and our knowledge. Limitations that we were born with started to feel like a setback in our development at some point. It is natural that we started searching for the means to exceed our grasp of reality. As a result we have multiple projects, already available enhancements and a growing community of transhumanists.

Cyborgs and enhancements

Professor Kevin Warwick is a British engineer, his field of research including artificial intelligence, robotics, control systems and biomedical engineering. He launched project “Cyborg” in 1998, which included series of experiments with Warwick himself as a subject.
The project had two phases. First stage of the research began by implanting RFID (radio-frequency identification) transmitter beneath his skin, used for interacting with computer controlled devices like heaters, doors, lights, etc. For the second stage, Dr. Mark Gasson and his team at University of Reading made a brain implant, an electrode array containing 100 electrodes. Warwick’s nervous system was connected onto the internet in New York and he was able to control a robotic arm in London, even getting feedback from sensors on fingertips.
Warwick’s aim is to create a form of telepathy through the means of internet. His experiment from 2002 included his wife having an array implanted in her arm, with goal to make direct, electronic communication between nervous systems of two humans. All experiments were successful.

Kevin Warwick with a robot he developed at the University of Reading

In 2016 Cyborg Nest created The North Sense, an implant that is typically attached to the upper chest and vibrates when it’s facing magnetic North, thus allowing the user to feel the electromagnetic field of the planet.

The Sainsbury Gallery in Norwich, England is currently hosting “The Future Starts Here” exhibition, which presents more than 100 projects for future possibilities. One of the objects includes “Electric muscles for the elderly” by Seismic – powered bodysuits that can stimulate muscles weakened with age by mimicking the biomechanics of a healthy human body. The same device can be also used by young people and athletes for improved performance.
Some research even suggests that carbon fiber prosthetic legs can outperform biological legs, but there wasn’t an extensive research to back that up.

The future

All these projects and numerous others are just steps towards the ultimate goal of transhumanism – immortality. Many biophysicists, biochemical engineers and geneticists are working on extending the human lifespan, erasing disease from DNA and adding other genes into the code.
Bearing all aforesaid in mind, we can conclude that our perception of the world and lifestyle will probably be drastically changed soon. It is not a question if it will happen, question is when. We are dabbling in ethics now – how far will we go? Will a human being someday be just a brain in a robotic body? This idea is quite attractive for many transhumanists, as it allows space travel without all the problems that go with a biological body.

If augmentations become widespread, new rules of sport will be written and new sports will emerge. Arts will change, as our senses get wider scopes; imagine watching a song like a movie, or paintings you can only see with UV light in your spectrum. Life as we know it would change. If we get immortal…it would change from the root.

Prolonging our lifespans significantly or becoming immortal would be a catastrophe with our current consumerist way of living. Overpopulation is a problem and adding immortality to that equation would lead to a disaster. It takes a big change of our lifestyle for ideas of transhumanism to take form in reality. Current state of affairs doesn’t allow that kind of shift. Changes in way of farming, energy efficiency, dealing with waste, etc. would have to occur to support more life on this planet.

Our technology and knowledge are still developing, big researches in fields of genetics, medicine and technology are yet to be done and concluded. Transhumanists are working hard to make their ideas come to life, and their community is growing all the time. Will those ideas be adopted by a wide audience is yet to be seen, but we can say that it’s very likely, knowing the ancient yearning for superhuman powers.
Although the technology is yet to be developed, predictions are already made.  Here is a glimpse of what is expected.