The Transhuman Age

Beyond the computer software-based opportunities for mind-enhancement promoted by Judith Hooper and Dick Teresi and the enlargement of human potential posited by The Aquarian Age, and the opportunities for ubiquitous telecommunications promoted by The Telespheral Age, the central theme of The Transhuman Age grapples with considerations of what it means to be human.

According to FM-2030, The Transhuman Age will witness the evolution of human beings who will have high tech bodies (implants, smart limbs, electronic monitors); will undergo major body reconstruction; will have their body moods telemonitored and regulated (see Michael Crichton's The Terminal Man); will be teleconnected to other people and services via onbody telecommunications devices; will contribute to reproduction only through collaborative asexual methods; will be androgynous; will be products of asexual insemination or anovulation; will be free of kinship ties, legislated nationality, ethnicity, racism, sexism, aggression, patriarchy, religion, competition, finite time and space, and thoughts and feelings that who they are and what they do are exclusively human; will travel and live beyond this planet; and will expect and accept multiple options and accelerating change (202-215).

Rather than the high-tech augmented evolution of Homo sapiens posited by FM-2030, Osborne Hardison, Jr. sees the possibility of an evolution from carbon-based life as we know it to life forms based in the silicon chips of computers with human intellectual abilities, imagination, and creativity modeled in, and less desirable traits filtered out (347). Silicon-based life, says Hardison, will be immortal and able to travel easily to the farthest reaches of space. Time will cease to regulate life.
They will be telepathic since they will hear with antennas. They will communicate in the universal language of 0 and 1, into which they will translate the languages of the five senses and a rainbow of other senses unknown to carbon man. They will not need to hear music or light to see beauty. . . . They will be invisible, but we can try to imagine them, even as fish might try to imagine the fisherman on the other side of the mirror that is the water's surface. (348)
Hardison says we may already be on our way to such an intertwining as new developments in science, history, language, and art produce broad ranging reverberations. For example, our notions of language and general educated opinion may be changing as the idea of artificial or machine intelligence is becoming more generally accepted. Simply stated, humankind is in the process of disappearing into the machines it has created.

The Transhuman Age may be, as Ed Regis calls it, "fin-de-siecle hubristic mania" (7), a desire for complete control over matter. Regis walks the fine line between scientific fact and science fiction, and enjoys showing how they often cross and blur beyond recognition, while exploring the cutting edge technologies associated with cryogenics (the freezing of humans immediately after death for the purpose of preserving them for later resurrection), nanotechnology (the direct manipulation of matter at the atomic level), artificial life (life made by man rather than nature), and other forms of the postbiological engineering of mankind.

Concerning the latter, we have known since the 1930s that electrical activity occurs in the human brain. This led to the thought that human memory, perhaps even human personality, existed in the form of electrical impulses. Precedence for this idea comes from Claude Shannon, who theorizes that information of any type can be encoded and transmitted as electronic signals, and Arthur C. Clarke (1956), who proposes a future world where humans learn to analyze and store the information that defines a specific human being.

Since then there have been other interesting considerations. Frederik Pohl says the essence of a human being is memory, personality, or mind which can be saved as a collection of magnetic impulses in a computer. Dick Fredrickson discusses implanting human beings in alternative hardware. Hans Moravec devotes an entire book to detailed descriptions of how people can become robots by downloading their neural selves into a cyborgian entity, or perhaps into a sentient, collective artificial intelligence. Ed Regis examines the notion of copying human sentience into some future iteration of computer technology and faxing it about the universe. Paul Davies argues that the distinctions between "organic" and "machine" are already blurred and may soon disappear altogether.
We can confidently predict the use of micro-chip implants in the human brain or nervous system to extend its capabilities. Conversely, computer scientists are currently exploring the idea of using organic material in computers. It may soon be possible literally to grow computer parts organically or to graft brain tissue into solid-state automata. (53)
Finally, Alvin Toffler predicts the ultimate cyborg will be a direct link between a human brain, shorn of its connections to the physical human body, and a computer. "Indeed, it may be that the biological component of the supercomputer of the future may be massed human brains" (213).

Regarding this direct link between humans and computers, philosopher Robert Jastrow poetically envisions a time when a scientist will be able
to tap the contents of his mind and transfer them into the metallic lattices of a computer. Because mind is the essence of being, it can be said that this scientist has entered the computer, and that he now dwells in it. At last the human brain, ensconced in a computer, has been liberated from the weakness of the mortal flesh. . .. It is in control of its own destiny. The machine is its body; it is the machine's mind. (166-167)
How should these new symbiotic computer-human brains work? Psychologist Philip Johnson-Laird says a computer program might be a model, but he is disturbed by the implications of this idea.
There is a remote possibility that the computations of a human mind might be captured within a medium other than a brain. A facsimile of a human personality could be preserved within a computer program. . . . The concept of interacting with a dynamic representation of an individual's intellect and personality is sufficiently novel to be disturbing. It raises mental, metaphysical and scientific issues of its own. (391-392)
On the other hand, Paul Churchland, a professor of philosophy and member of the cognitive science faculty at the University of California, San Diego, has long championed the development of neural networks and the implantation of computers in human brains to augment our thinking capabilities.

"The Seven Ages of Computer Connectivity" (The Transhuman Age)
by John F. Barber