Imagine if I told you that a few years down the line humans will have the ability to merge themselves with computers. Well, soon you won’t have to imagine it anymore. Recent studies show that we are closer to a transhumanist era than we thought. But what exactly is transhumanism?
Transhumanism is a philosophical belief that human evolution must come to a natural end and from there on continue with human intervention by essentially merging biology with technology. In the past two decades, we’ve seen technology transform and improve radically—even I, despite being born in 1998 remember a time pre-WiFi and 4G, when we couldn’t even use the landline if the internet was switched on. Fast forward to today, we have people replacing human partners for sex robots, self-driving cars in development, and employee-less stores. Transhumanism is the next step.
A recent study conducted by scientists at Harvard and Surrey University suggests that we are on the verge of entering the transhumanist era, as these scientists manufacture nanoscale probes used to read intracellular electrical activity from neurons. Nanoscale probes could potentially measure the electric current that runs within our cells and push progress on human-machine interfaces. In other words, in the near future, science will have the ability to turn us into literal machines.
And this should come as no surprise, especially with Elon Musk’s recent developments with Neuralink. The company recently unveiled some of the technology it has been working on, which includes a device implanted in paralysed people allowing them to control phones and computers via electromagnetic waves from their brains. This would mean that people who previously weren’t able to or struggled to communicate to could now do so through technology—as a computer would quite literally be able to read our thoughts.
Similarly, Facebook also recently released an update on its developments with brain-reading computer interfaces. The company funded research at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where it published the results of an experiment decoding people’s speech, using implanted electrodes linked to a computer to read words and phrases from the brain.
Such topics inspire heated debates, and it’s understandable why. While Neuralink and Facebook’s developments may be able to improve the lives of many for the better, the merging of humans with technology is controversial. Many argue that we are already transhuman due to the growing crisis of our screen addiction and reliance on technology. This is where the increased discussion on transhumanism comes from.
Elon Musk himself believes in the need for merging people with AI in order to avoid losing control of superintelligent technology and prevent technological unemployment. Humanity+ is a non-profit organisation that advocates for transhumanism through the use of AI to expand human capacities and “increase human performance”, as it puts it, “outside the realms of what is considered to be normal for humans”. The organisation already has over 6,000 members. There are threads on Quora where people discuss their desire to become transhuman, and one of HBO’s most recent shows, Years and Years presents us with a transhuman teenager depicted in the realms of our foreseeable future. The point is, there is a growing demand for transhumanism and we need to talk about it.
While it is evident that merging biology with technology can make major improvements for healthcare and medicine, it is still uncertain what other features we will be able to implement in ourselves with transhumanism. It could develop to anything from having a Google search engine inside our brains to taking photographs with our eyes. PhD student Anqi Zhang, who was part of the research team at Harvard, says that, “the area of brain-machine interfaces will see significant advancement in the next 10 to 15 years”, meaning we will see various implementations very soon. Of course, this all sounds far-fetched and bizarre, and rightfully so.
There are a number of things that could go wrong, one being the fact that implanting devices into our brains would slowly take over the function of different specific parts of it. If we ever reach this ‘perfection’ that transhumanism depicts, it would be pretty difficult to know where to draw the line and finally stop. Nevertheless, we are certainly shifting toward a transhuman era, and all we can do is sit back and try to stay hopeful that it will probably improve the lives of many, if adequately moderated.