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Thursday, April 29, 2010

I'm OK, You're OK...but We Could be a Lot Better: Transhumanism and Posthumanism in Art and Society

After researching the previous post about BioArt and seeing all the weird and wonderful things artists are doing with transgenic manipulation of organic tissue, I thought to myself, "Hey, if we can make a fluorescent bunny, what's stopping us from making a glow-in-the-dark human?"  Although it is tempting to look at these biomodified creatures in a darker light, I couldn't help buy wonder how the burgeoning technology in the biotech field could help the collective human race advance--hopefully to a good end and not to an apocalyptic Terminator-style throwdown.  And, like most of my ideas, somebody else had thought of it first.

The transhumanism/posthumanism movement is in full swing in some circles.  Commonly called H+ by those in the know, these thinkers and scientists are working in myriad fashion to enhance, upgrade, and, in short, make people better not only in terms of genetics but also in terms of access to quality health care, improved social well-being, and the creation of technology that will enhance the overall human experience.

Bad genetics bringing you down? No problem, pretty soon someone (for a nominal fee) can engineer a concoction to ensure you and your progeny achieve that coveted ubermensch--which may or may not usher in a bleak and world-wide dystopia.

Miss your dearly beloved, Fluffy?    BioArts International can help by cloning you a Fluffy II.  Well, at least they could before they had some unresolved issues.

Can't lift your inconsiderate neighbor's car who blocked you in yet again?  No problem. Japanese scientists gotcha covered:

Have trouble hearing? No worries.  This guy can help:

Artist Stelios Arcadiou has had the ear created in a lab from cells and implanted into his skin Read more:

So, what is Transhumanism exactly?  Well, there isn't a standard definition but according to h+ magazine there are a few ways to look at it:
Critical Posthumans: This is what we all are. Critical posthumanism is simply the idea that our concept of “human” as a natural, non-technological thing was wrong from the beginning. Humans are most human when using technology, modifying ourselves and our surroundings.

Transcendent Posthumans: This is what we (most of us) wish we were. Flawless, immortal, godlike. Abilities so above and beyond humans that they are almost unimaginable.

Transhumans: This is what we are becoming [...] Nanotech, organ transplants, genetic engineering, prosthetics, cognitive- and mood-enhancing drugs, cloning, morphological freedom, and anti-aging medicine are a small sampling of the tech helping us overcome our biological limits.
There you go.  Nothing to worry about, right?  Before long, we will engineer our way to that longed-for utopia artists and thinkers have dreamed about for centuries--nay, it shall be an uberutopia of unparalleled magnitude.  Yes. I am being snarky.  Despite my initial concerns, I feel that there is great potential here for creating technology that will benefit humanity.  However, the intent is good but, as in many cases, the unintended consequences of endeavors begun with good intent can have complicated and unforeseeable negative outcomes.

There are certainly critics of the Transhumanist movement and since there are too many counterpoints to list and explain adequately, you can check them out here.

Stelarc, Amplified Body, Lazer Eyes, and Third Hand

We are on the verge of a breakthrough within humanity that will allow us access to power beyond belief. Within this generation or the next, there will be technology available that will allow us to forever alter the course of not only individual humans, but force us to redefine what it means to be human. Too many people are excluded from the conversation necessary to work through what will inevitably come to pass. It is easy to dismiss developments within genomics and the biotech fields as something that will not touch the average person; however, willful ignorance will not work. To turn a blind eye to this dialogue is dangerous.

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