As the years go by, our society is continuously introduced to new technology that helps make our lives a lot easier. Thanks to simple inventions such as the GPS, most of us have never known the struggle of traveling using only a paper map. But, now we are faced with something that we believed we would only see in a movie – man and technology merging together to become one. In this article, we will explore some of the anthropological aspects of this shift towards transhumanism.
What Is Transhumanism?
Transhumanism, in essence, is the concept that our current human form is not all that it can be and not all that it will be. The word itself was coined by the English biologist and philosopher, Julian Huxley. In 1957, he wrote an essay explaining how changes in the way we view social and cultural issues could help improve the human experience. Huxley did not once state that technological intervention was necessary – but he believed that humans were granted the role of cosmic evolution, and that it is our responsibility to figure out how to achieve the “impossible”. “Impossible” is in quotations because what humans considered outrageously out of reach hundreds of years ago is a part of our daily lives today. The invention of airplanes, the internet, and smartphones are just a few examples of what we considered science fiction just 100 years ago. Here we are in 2022 – while some may believe that humans have reached their peak evolution stage, others will argue that we still have so much further to go. And we owe it all to technological intervention.
1. The Rise of Anti-Aging Technologies
Transhumanism goes far beyond just “putting a chip in your brain” and “uploading your consciousness into the cloud” – it is also something as simple as anti-aging creams and botox. Anything that can improve the human experience using technology or technological intervention is considered Transhuman.
Anti-aging is a huge part of the Transhumanist ideology, believe it or not. Transhumanists believe that aging and death are both diseases that have plagued our human existence. Instead of viewing it as a natural process, they think of aging as something we were meant to find a cure for. Is this solely an issue in Western society? In most Eastern societies, old age is viewed as a blessing and a physical embodiment of wisdom. Here in our half of the world, most of the general population view old age as an annoyance. Nowadays, young adults are even encouraged to start their anti-aging process in their mid-twenties to avoid getting wrinkles somewhere down the line. This is fascinating because it is as if we are being told to reject the natural order of life– the natural order according to our current understanding, that is. Thanks to science, technology, and the discovery of medicine, we have raised our life expectancy by nearly 50% since the 1700s. Who is to say we cannot raise it by another 50%?
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2. Social Media’s Overwhelming Influence
As an Anthropologist, you cannot help but notice the severity of the rise of Transhumanism. What exactly is the human experience? Were we truly meant to go down the road of altering our minds and bodies in order to evolve into something that is not fully human?
If we take a close look at the current world around us, we can see a rise in media involvement. Social media and entertainment news did not become prominent in our society until the last 35 years. Now more than ever we start to witness a direct insight into the world of others– specifically the rich and famous. Over time we began to compare our daily lives, appearances, and material items to those we marvel about on our TVs. Celebrities who are 60 years old with no wrinkles, Elon Musk nonchalantly discussing brain chip implants, and 20-year-olds suddenly popping up with brand new body shapes. It is literally as if we are subconsciously digesting this information to subtly push us toward the world of Transhumanism.
Was it us, the everyday citizens of this world who wanted a Transhumanist society, or is it the people on our smartphones and social media who have convinced us that is the key to a long, happy life?
It can be viewed either way. We as humans are faced with the inevitable consequences of being alive. Aging, death, a potential decline in intelligence, broken bones… The list goes on. Transhumanists have come forth to say that these “consequences” we face could be fixed using technology. Arguably, who says that aging is a negative consequence? Has the media truly influenced us in a way where we deny the natural process of getting wrinkles? Then again, who actually enjoys getting wrinkles? Perhaps Transhumanists just want us all to live an enjoyable life, wrinkle-free!
3. Bionic Devices: The Good in Transhumanism
On one hand, the creation of certain Transhumanist tools has been very beneficial for human beings. For example, companies have been doing scientific research to help create wearable devices to augment human potential. Their mission is to not only present wearable technology to all humans, but also to strive to help those who suffer from loss of mobility due to strokes, brain injuries, and spinal cord injuries. Their incredible invention will allow those who cannot move on their own, regain their sense of independence– it makes their difficult daily life a lot easier. There is no denying that this Transhumanist invention is doing more good than it is bad.
4. The Potential Impact of Neuralink on Transhumanism
Then we have Neuralink, Elon Musk’s neural interface technology company. This can be seen as the biggest leap toward a Transhumanist society thus far. Musk has assisted in creating a computer-like chip that would be inserted into your brain. Right off the bat, I know how this sounds: who in the world would want a chip in their brain? Is this the “mark of the beast”? The start of a sci-fi horror movie? We can only hope that it’s none of those things, so let’s break down what we know before we let fear outweigh scientific discovery.
With this chip, Musk wants to accomplish a few things:
- To give paraplegics the ability to operate their technology using a hands-free, brain-powered control system
- To help those with mental disorders rewire their neurological makeup and perhaps alter the way their mind works
- To eventually outsmart Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Musk has stated previously that AI is one of the biggest existential threats to mankind at this very moment. Having worked alongside AI for many years, he has seen firsthand how intelligent these machines are and how easy it would be for them to decide they have had enough human intervention.
An increase in the usage of AI could lead to a loss of human jobs as well. In the last 10 years, we have already watched jobs that were once led by humans, be given to a robot of some kind. We have seen this in factories, grocery stores, computer programming, and delivery services – to just name a few. The frightening thing is that these AI machines actually save the company money, as they do not have to pay them an hourly wage. In the eyes of a money-hungry CEO, why not save money by firing an entire staff of humans and replacing them with AI-powered robots? Not to mention, AI works faster and more efficiently than your average human. As unsettling as this sounds, it is our unfortunate reality.
The brain chip comes into play here because it could help our human brain work in ways we are not used to. It would drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to gather and process information – thus, making us smarter. This would eliminate the need for studying and reading or anything that we currently rely on to gain knowledge. The Neuralink chip would ultimately narrow the intelligence gap between humans and AI, putting us on the same level as each other. If we are already faced with the impending doom of AI eventually outsmarting us, do we have no choice but to get the chip?
5. The New Sociological Divide: Us vs. Them
In the midst of this discovery, Musk has noted that nobody will be forced to get the chip. Forced, no– but perhaps slowly coerced. We already bear witness to the tragic divide in our society as the gap between the working class and the 1% grows larger every single day. Imagine the divide in our society once half of us decide to become “the ones with AI” and get the brain chip, all while the other half decides they would like to remain a normal human being. From a sociological perspective, this is almost guaranteed to create trouble. Unless, of course, the brain chip is made to be inexpensive and available for everyone. Although that may not be enough to convince people to get the chip installed, as the prospect of getting such a thing done has been described as “the mark of the beast” in religious circles.
Science and religion have gone head to head since the beginning of time. From evolution versus divine intelligence to the story of genesis versus the big bang theory– there does not appear to be an end to this inevitable debate anytime soon. Now with brain chips on the rise, the theories and debates behind the true purpose of Transhumanism will soon skyrocket. In the midst of all the potential misinformation and fear-fueled propaganda, it is important to keep an open mind. We fear the things that we do not understand, so it is best to do research using credible sources and keep yourself informed as much as possible.
The Transhumanist Future Appears Inevitable
Transhumanism is no longer a theoretical subject. Soon we will live in a society where brain chips, AI workers, and anti-aging technology are all considered normal. It might sound scary at first, but imagine how terrified everyone was to ride on an airplane when they were first invented. Fast forward to today and there are millions of people traveling by airplanes on a day-to-day basis. Before we know it, we will be just as nonchalant about Transhumanist ideas as we are about airplanes.
As “anti-human” as it may all seem, perhaps Transhumanism will become the discovery that saves us all. As companies that manufacture bionic devices have proved, not all ideologies behind Transhumanism are scary. People who thought they would never be able to walk again are being given a newfound opportunity to regain their freedom.
For anyone who has dreamt of finding the fountain of youth, there is some excitement to be felt with the research behind anti-aging and life longevity. It is wondrous for those who want to take part in these discoveries, but it should never be forced upon those who are happy the way they are– and that goes for all of the Transhumanist inventions. As long as we are all given the choice to make our own decisions pertaining to our bodies, there should not be any hostility toward Transhumanism as of yet. So much has changed in just 100 years, and so much more will change within the next 100 years. Buckle up, we have quite an interesting journey ahead!