Saturday, November 20, 2010


It's becoming more and more important, as we globalize and dive deeper into the web community, to improve our capacity to see things from multiple vantage points. It's not so simple as it once was to have a single tradition that is not influenced or altered by another, as we have exponentially increasing interactions with other cultures and countries. 

I think it's really beneficial for people to feel encouraged to experiment with the possibilities of assimilating other perspectives/morals with their own. That's not to say that we need to become one hive mind or global community, but since we have access to one another in ways we never have before, consideration of alternate values should be prioritized.  It would be just as acceptable to me for someone to consider all of the other options and still decide they want to go the way of their ancestoral traditions, as it would for someone to decide that they want to incorporate different cultural elements into their lives, creating something of a 'hybrid culture'. The thought process of consideration in and of itself opens the mind to a way of thinking that enhances human development. And, of course, it increases tolerance. 

It would be better to take the reins and have a say in how our lives fit into this expanding community and consequently smaller and smaller planet, rather than resist and lose faith in a stubborn refusal to see other possibilities.

I've been speaking culturally, so far. But now I want to shift the conversation completely and go the sci-fi angle (I've been reading a lot of sci-fi lately). One of the major science fiction considerations has always been - what makes a human, human? Is it our empathy and complex mental processes? Is it our physical bodies? Our cultural diversity? Our technological intelligence? A question that is becoming more and more important to answer.

It's clear that on average, our society (and I'm talking about the Human Society at this point, not just one country) is willing to accept technological advances. The Internet and cell phones are the two major indicators of this. On the Internet, we are exposing ourselves to the rest of the world - learning everything we can about everyone else, and allowing our information to be available to whoever wants to search for it. Cell phones connect us instantly face-to-face with whoever we desire, and they now contain all the information we previously could only get from computers. If we are willing to embrace these sorts of technological advances that are ever-increasingly controlling our day to day functioning, we are opening the door for the soon-to-come technologies that will not only be a part of our lives technically, but literally. 

When we start to introduce chips and implants that can connect us to other people or the world in different ways, this is where the question of humanity will begin to really take shape. Instead of these machines being able to respond to our word and do our necessary tasks for us, what if those machines were inside of us and we could control them internally? 

Or even more simply, what about people with robotic limbs? Those that have lost limbs and have a machine in place of what used to be flesh and bone? Are they still human? What if there was a chip that could be placed in the brain that could cause functionality in a person with disabilities? Are they still human? What about clones? Are they human? Are the the same human? And the toughest question yet - if a person could somehow put their personality or DNA into a chip that was then placed in another body (perhaps robotic)- are they still human? Are they the person in the chip, the combination of person and body, or no longer human at all? 

I love thinking about this issue, and it can be fun since it's mostly theoretical right now. I still have a lot of reading to do, of Kurzweil and others regarding the Singularity, so I will continue this discussion as I go deeper and deeper. But when this all becomes reality, the weight and seriousness will increase significantly. 

As our western culture tries to stay the same and live as long as possible, while doing as little as possible (for example- not needing to know where anything is because the GPS will take me where I need to be) we are asking technology to take the reigns for us. Not only does this seem like a dangerous step towards making ourselves dispensable in the universe, but when we succeed in AI technology and really begin to question what is a 'human-like' being, I see slavery becoming a tough issue once more as well. We keep fighting the same battles to define our humanity, just in different forms. Are we coming any closer to a conclusion, or are we meant to repeat the same histories and eventually be succeeded by our creations rather than our offspring?  

I just finished a book series by Dan Simmons - Endymion and the Rise of Endymion - and they are just incredible. One of the things it discusses is that in order for the human species to survive, we must evolve the nature of our evolution. The human species, as it has been defined for so long, must change completely. In fact, we need to adapt and become different species, not just different cultures and different races. 

It’s pretty great to think of many human species instead of just our current one.  Of course, active space exploration would really be the starting point for this, since that's when we would have many different atmospheres and lifestyles to adapt to. Right now we can only evolve so much - but hybridizing ourselves by placing computers in our bodies is a start, on our single planet. 

Since we aren’t looking at a long enough timeline it’s easy to pretend that we are suited for survival and we don't need to consider other species or forms of the human, and don't need to worry about defining what makes us human. In reality, denying this need is making it less and less likely that our species can survive on its own. 

For now, we’ll keep musing, talking, inventing, and calibrating our moral compasses. Hopefully, after enough consideration and open discussion, we will be able to extend our timeline out to where we can boldly stand up and face the survival of our humanity.

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Please feel free to comment, discuss, challenge, or expand on anything I have written. In fact, I encourage it.