Friday, 22 February 2013

Humans 2.0

One of the first things I'd like to talk about in this blog isn't actually related to video games or anything I usually post about. At least not directly. I think one falls more in to the geek category. I'd like to share some thoughts... or more accurately... I'd like to open up some conversation about what it means to be human. I've been thinking for a while now, and asking people at random, about what they think about things like robotic augmentation. I've been reading things about 3D printed hands, limbs, etc. There was an article posted recently about an implant that will let blind people see shapes and light, which I'm sure will rapidly evolve one it gets approval and more funding. These kinds of breakthroughs are absolutely amazing! However, as a gamer and avid sci-fi fan, after the awe of scientific achievement sinks in, my mind immediately goes to fantasy. Games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution show a future where cybernetic body parts are readily available. It's not just for people who need it. Robotic parts can make these characters stronger and faster, so why not get rid of the messy fleshy bits and go with something new and shiny?

Right now, there's really no issue like this. If someone gets an artificial limb or organ, they're still human. They need that to live, or at least increase their quality of life. However, as we saw in the last summer Olympics, for the first time a runner with two artificial legs was able to compete, but only after great debate on whether it was fair or not. I think it's only a short matter of time before this kind of thing becomes a bigger issue.

If an athlete could have more powerful legs, or an artificial heart or lungs that didn't tire, obviously that could give them a giant competitive edge over "normal" people. There are a lot of avenues of discussion I could take this. For now, I want to focus on a specific scenario I have in mind.

Say there is an athlete that upgrades his legs. Following that, his heart, maybe lungs. At which point, if any, does the athlete cease being a human? This kind of question has been a topic of interest for the character Cyborg in DC's new Justice League series. For anyone not familiar with the character, he was a former athlete who's body was gravely injured in an attack, and his scientist father, not able to watch his son die, augmented his body with robotic parts to keep him alive. The big issue in the comic, and something that plagues the character, is the issue of his humanity. Is he still technically alive? If most of his body is robotic, is he still human? In a recent issue he willingly swapped out his one remaining lung, replacing it with a robotic breathing system that would allow him to go underwater to rescue the other heroes. He struggled with this choice, wondering how much further he could change himself and still remain human. As long as he still had his brain intact, he figures that still counts... for now.

Do you think he's right? Is "human" more about our consciousness and our ability to think and communicate and is the essence of that in our minds? As long as we have our minds intact, does the rest of our physical being matter that much? Would you call a war amp any less of a person? At what point does that change if people are changing themselves on purpose? I don't pretend to know the answers to these questions, but I like thinking about it.

I think the ramifications to these kinds of issues will be a major debate in the coming decades. The way technology is progressing, I think it's closer than we may think. I'd like to know your thoughts on this. Leave comments here, or go to the Facebook page and let me know what you think. Would you change or upgrade anything about yourself?

One final thought I'd like to leave you with is this. I can think of a lot of situations where changing out body parts for manufactured ones can save lives. It could be a great breakthrough in extending the life of someone that, given current technology, might not make it. Thinking along these lines though, I have to wonder, if there was ever a time when we hit a level of technology where a human consciousness could be effectively transmitted in to a computer, what would that mean? You would have the same memories, the same feelings, the same thoughts. It would essentially be you. You could even download your mind in to a robotic body that would never grow old, and if it was made to look like you, nobody might know the difference. In that situation, are you still a human? Do you still have rights? Do you have, if you believe in that sort of thing, a soul? Again, I have no idea if there is a clear way to answer this, but I believe in the future these issues will have to be addressed. WIll it happen in my lifetime, who knows, but eventually, I'm sure. This is the kind of weird shit that keeps me awake at night. Sorry if it now causes you to lose some sleep thinking about the possibilities. Again, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Even if you just want to tell me I'm crazy and need more sleep.

1 comment:

  1. If augmentation became a thing, I would imagine that sporting events would have to have separate leagues for both types of humans (if you wanted completely even grounds).

    As far as whether or not you're still human after augmenting, I think so long as you still have a brain you'd be called human to some extent. There would probably be a name for 100% human, in the middle, and then you're just a robot if you don't have a real fleshy brain.