Can you picture yourself as a cyborg? Do you yearn to transcend the limitations of feeble flesh? Then you might want to join the transhumanist movement. In his award-winning book To Be a Machine, Mark O’Connell describes the core transhumanist beliefs: “that we can and should eradicate ageing as a cause of death; that we can and should use technology to augment our bodies and our minds; that we can and should merge with machines, remaking ourselves, finally, in the image of our own higher ideals.”
Of course, we do already in some sense “augment” our natural bodies with the use of such things as contact lenses and hearing aids. As technology progresses, more and more people are being fitted with bionic limbs. But so far, these are used as a plan B—an attempt at a replacement for the loss of a natural limb, and certainly not preferable to it. Those who advocate for transhumanism, on the other hand, dream of a deliberate merging of man and machine, and see these artificial body parts as superior. By embracing technology and applying it to our own bodies, they hope to create humans with increased senses, intelligence, strength, and life expectancy.
If this all strikes you as rather dystopian, you’re not alone; many scientists have raised ethical concerns. Blay Whitby, artificial intelligence expert at Sussex University, uses the example of athletes without legs who run on carbon-fibre blades. It is not unlikely, he says, that such athletes will be able to outperform able-bodied runners; would it then be ethical for athletes to deliberately have their legs removed and replace them with such artificial legs in order to beat world records? For Whitby, the idea is repulsive. But others do not see the issue. Cybernetics expert Kevin Warwick protests, “what is wrong with replacing imperfect bits of your body with artificial parts that will allow you to perform better?” Warwick himself has already put his money where his mouth is and implanted electronic devises into his own body. It doesn’t take an expert to jump on the trend, however; several people have had the chip from their contactless card inserted under the skin of their hand in order to go about their day unburdened by a wallet.
Others still are putting their hopes on the future by handing over their bodies to be cryogenically preserved in liquid nitrogen after death, in the hopes of being thawed and awakened at some point in the future when technology has advanced enough to resurrect and enhance them.
Applicants for Philosophy or Theology might like to consider the ethics of this movement; what would be the implications of this new race of superhumans? Is it right to tamper with the natural world (or ‘creation’) in this way? Medics may also want to think about it from the standpoint of medical ethics. Does the natural body have an inherent value, such that it is always wrong to remove a healthy body part?