Bio-Luddites & the Secularist Rapture

November 2003

Coming soon to a theater near you: cyborgs. Not on the screen, but sitting next to you in the audience.

This is "the coming reality" in our technological world, or so say a group calling themselves "transhumanists." According to transhumanists, man has, since time immemorial, depended on technology for his survival in this hostile world: From the first primitive tool to walking sticks to eyeglasses to emergency alert bracelets to artificial intelligence -- man's dependence on machines increases with each new development. Soon one may be indistinguishable from the other. No surprise, say the transhumanists, because we have long been on our way to becoming cyborgs. Some would contend that we are already cyborgs. That cyborg at the movie theater? That cyborg could be you.

A perusal of recent news clippings could easily lead one to believe that the prototypical elements of the transhumanists' "coming reality" are more science nonfiction than science fiction. To wit: A robot governed by neurons from a rat's brain (a "hybrot" -- a machine with living cells) is now reportedly drawing pictures; a lab monkey, via a chip implanted in its brain, is now able to move a cursor on a computer screen by thought alone; a rat was made to climb over fences and up trees, and walk through pipes and across rubble by signals sent from a remote computer to a chip implanted in its brain. Even more to the point, a British cybernetics professor became the first human to have a chip implanted into his central nervous system. This chip records and transmits his sensations (such as movement and pleasure) to a remote computer, which later plays back those sensations, causing the professor to experience them again. Since then about 20 people across the U.S. been "chipped" by the Applied Digital Solution's VeriChip Corporation, which for $200 up front and $10 a month will chip and track anyone from its traveling ChipMobile.

Giddy from the possibilities stories like these present, the World Transhumanist Association (WTA) held a conference at Yale University this past June, as reported in The Village Voice (Jul. 30-Aug. 5), "to lay the groundwork for a society that would admit as citizens and companions intelligent robots, cyborgs made from a free mixing of human and machine parts, and fully organic, genetically engineered people who aren't necessarily human at all." The first order of business is to expand the definition of what we now call human rights to include "post-humans" -- robots, hybrots, cyborgs, and other such "people" who may, or may not, be human.

According to Natasha Vita-More, founder of the transhumanist movement, we must begin the process of redefining today. Why? "To relinquish the rights of a future being merely because he, she, or it has a higher percentage of machine parts than biological cell structure would be racist toward all humans who have prosthetic parts." Racist? Really? We weren't aware that amputees constitute a "race" of humans.


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New Oxford Notes: November 2003

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