Stupid Windows went and updated and restarted my machine halfway through my original post. Here's hoping I can recall what it was I churned out before...
Anyways, I was sitting in the KL traffic jam, as I do, and thinking about this year's Edge question:
What are you optimistic about? Why?
I'd thought about this several times before, and generally came to the same conclusion: I have no doubt at all that nanotechnology and robotics will become sufficiently advanced that the entire human body can be replaced.
And that's the upper limit of what I'm optimistic about, really. I can't rightly say this will serve the betterment of Humanity as a whole, because as things are now, social Darwinism is still in effect. Throw advances in technology into the mix, and the upper limits of one's standard of living in society climbs ever higher whereas the lower limits remain pretty much the same, and the gap between haves and have nots grows ever wider. In any case, that's not what this post is about.
What had me thinking werethe implications of a totally synthetic body:
If a human body can be completely replaced, down to the last atom, by cybernetic parts, what meaning does the word "human" hold?
With reference to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis mentioned earlier, every word we use is a vessel into which our minds pour meaning. Ever and always, we have questioned the meaning of human. As yet, it seems the only meaning associated which almost everyone can agree upon is "multicellular living thing that is not a plant". So what would it mean for humanity when post-human becomes a reality?
I've no doubt that there will be resentment. The religious right, like the unfortunate disease that they are, will raise their childish objections, putting forth arguments on moral grounds that were outdated since the invention of the wheel.
There will be objections from other quarters, no doubt. Just think about it: Among us will be entities who were born human and turned into immortal machines. Who or what decides who gets this immortality? What kind of conflict will arise before truly post-human entities become an accepted part of society?
It is an unfortunate feature of human history that ideological battles tend to be paid for with the blood of those too ignorant to even understand the nature of the battle in the first place. Worse still when the nature of the battle becomes obfuscated by small-minded political agendas, leaving the true battle unresolved, lost in history, and waiting to resurface anew.
Truthfully, I think the greatest quantum leap in human history will be an ideological one: For humanity as a whole to rise above social Darwinism and function as a harmonious whole, as opposed to the scattered tribes that inhabit this world today. I don't see that happening anytime soon.