Transhumanism is a way of thinking about the future that is based on the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase.
- World Transhumanist Association
Western medicine has already taken the first steps toward a radical transformation of the human body. Vaccinations, medications, and calming/stimulating substances already represent a form of body alteration. However, this approach is far too transitory for the transhumanists. Much closer to their ideals are plastic surgery and the field of robotic prosthetics and orthotics. Indeed, the transformation of human to cyborg has already begun its course. Already today surgeons are able to apply brain implants that connect to the neural network and can partially compensate for hearing or visual impairment. Other machines in the same basic category, such as cardiac pacemakers, save thousands of human lives on a daily basis.
Transhumanists place most of their hopes on nanotechnology. They envision the creation of swarms of microscopic robots that can replicate themselves and penetrate the innermost depths of human body by means of blood circulation. With the help of nanobots we might be able to influence our bodily processes on a cellular level and wouldn’t be left to rely on our immunity systems. Nanobots might be able to discover severe illnesses in their early stages and communicate this information to physicians – they even might be able to immediately repair the organs themselves. The greatest current advances in nanotechnology are artificial neural networks, systems of tiny machines made to resemble the human neural system and able to learn by means of neuro-evolution. Transhumanists hope that in the future we will be able to implant these artificial neurons in our bodies and replace – partially or wholly – original biological tissues. That would mean, essentially, that we would be able to change our bodies at will.
On the one hand we have the melding of machines with the human body; on the other hand we have a parallel process of creating technologies that resemble human beings and teaching them to think, speak, associate, and create. Already today there are machines that paint and compose poetry. The most famous example of this type of technology would probably be Deep Blue, computer that in 1997 won a match against world chess champion Gary Kasparov. Currently we are witnesses to experiments such as BINA48, an advanced robot modeled after a real woman that speaks, hears, sees, recognizes faces, and is capable of more or less meaningful interactions. A goal of specialists in this field is to create a computer that would successfully pass the Turing Test envisioned by world-famous computer scientist Alan Turing. By means of a computer interface, a human judge simultaneously communicates with one human and one machine, not knowing which is which. If the computer’s communication is so meaningful that the judge is unable to tell the human from the machine, the Turing Test has been successfully passed.
According to top robotics specialists, computers today are very far from passing a Turing Test. And even if we reach this point, it would not necessarily mean that we have succeeded in creating a thinking machine. Philosopher John Searle in his famous “Chinese room argument” points out that event though a computer might be perfectly able to solve conversational problems, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that it actually understands the conversation itself. In fact it may only be blindly executing a series of orders built into its program. It is a very long road from advanced artificial intelligence to truly conscious machines – and our ability to make this journey will depend on our ability to answer one crucial question: What is human consciousness? Such is the paradox of current science: we are able to create incredibly complex machines and manipulate human DNA, but when it comes to this central question, we are still at a total loss. Only when we can answer it will we be able to create a truly conscious machine.