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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Genre - Upgrading Humans : Discovery News : Discovery News

Upgrading Humans : Discovery News : Discovery News:

This is a weirdly-formatted but really interesting article that makes me think of a whole lot of near-future scifi stuff. Let's work this out:

- Right now, people are building cyborg parts for people who have been hurt, or who were born without something--an arm or leg or whatever--and that's a wonderful and amazing thing. And the point is made here, toward the end, that the next step, once that's as normal as having a cellphone, is to augment people who aren't missing anything. My first thought goes to people like my mom--her bones and muscles have been having issues for years. She's still functional, but it's harder and harder, and she's had a half-dozen surgeries to repair stuff, with more planned in the near future. What if we could just elect to have those parts replaced by a equal-or-better robotic / cyborg part that acts and feels and interfaces with the brain just like the original part, but that wouldn't be subject to whatever genetic predisposition makes my mom's tendons fray and give out?

- And what if we could elect to just replace stuff with whatever we want--longer, stronger legs, more dexterous arms, eyes that record video, whatever? If it's fully elective and cosmetic, and it's available, isn't it a person's right to choose whether to do it or not, like getting a boob job or a nose job? We get into arguments of personhood and humanity of course--how much can you change before you aren't who you are, that old Ship of Thesius argument, and all--but personally, I think that's a personal issue. You need to make your own choices and draw your own lines. My dad refuses to have a smart phone; I signed on to the smart phone plan as soon as I could afford one, and I'd happily upgrade it to one that literally fuses with me and I can just talk to, or something that hovers next to my head or whatever. As I see it, there's very little difference between carrying one around everywhere and using it to replace planners, cameras, laptops and whatever, and going a few steps further and freeing up your hands. Dad doesn't agree; that replacing is what bothers him about them to begin with.

- Also, there's the issue that we're getting to the point where we're messing up the world enough that we might wind up needing to go offworld to keep the species going, and wouldn't cyborgs be more able to handle that transition? Wouldn't the risk and danger in open space or on asteroids or other worlds make more cyborgs anyway? And the very simple fact that if a technology exists, people will use it. Eventually, it will sneak in and be normal anyway, so isn't it better to figure out where we stand and to make peace with it now? Cyborgs are still people. Robots, if AI ever happens, wouldn't be that different from people who had been repaired or who replaced or who augmented themselves with robot parts.

- And, you know, whenever I think about things like this, I wind up out there, in the future, in space, thinking about what that means. So far, we're the only life we've found in the universe. If we have control of our own development--dare I say, our own evolution--there's absolutely no reason why we can't diversify as a species to fill all the new niches out there in the solar system outside our world. Given enough time, it'll happen anyway, but we don't really have the luxury of waiting on it--and why should we when we could, conceivably, make ourselves suit the worlds we choose? If we're the only life in the universe, we have the obligation to keep going, to adapt and change and spread life around. I see no reason why this can't be a first step on that Bigger Picture.

- And that's a whole lot of ground to cover in scifi. People already have forever, and it's not going to stop soon. Because there's the thing: scifi isn't really about predicting the future, and I think if you're reading a spec-fic writer's blog, you know that. It's really about commenting on the now, and giving new options for the future--showing people how it could be, good as well as bad, showing some neat ideas and some scary ones, and planting seeds that people who come along later can work out or disprove or whatever. It looks forward, but it doesn't see how things will actually be--just how they might be. It gives us a chance to deal with the Big Issues before they actually happen, and so go into them with a little more thought--things like cyborgizing people as a matter of course, things like genetic manipulation of our own species, things like what we're going to do when pushed against the wall by whatever the Next Big Thing is.

So think about these things now. Where are your lines? Start with those new prosthetics that can connect with human nerves and return sensory input like a real hand does; think further. Make your connections. Write it out in stories. How do you think it goes and what meaning does it have?

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