While researching our forthcoming book, Dr. Scott D. de Hart and I spent some time looking at various projects that the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, have been conducting, projects that might be called "transhumanist." Readers here also know of my fascination with the agency and some of the projects it is known to be engaged in. Indeed, I often like to visit its website, for it is a window into the type of future that its scientists and researchers not only envision, but in some respects, are attempting to anticipate, develop, or in some cases, counter. The website has as its public motto "Creating and Preventing Strategic Surprise", and that says it all.
Not everything, however, is on the "dark side", and I found this very interesting small article about DARPA's interest in developing a new kind of prosthetic:
We all remember the scenes from the Star Wars movie saga where Luke Skywalker loses his lower right arm, and has a prosthetic fitted that outwardly resembles for all intentions and purposes, a human arm, with its interior working a nework of electronically moved levers and so on to simulate human muscle movement, all interfaced with the brain. At the time that the movie came out, such technologies - still in a relatively primitive stage of development - were already being used in a limited way by the military. According to the above post on DARPA's website, the movie of yesterday is now a significant step closer to reality, for patients fitted with a new set of generation 2 prosthetic arms were, when implanted with electrode arrays, able to perform three dimensional movements and grasping tasks, a signal as well that the neurophysiology of the human brain is being mapped with great accuracy. With this, we are witnessing yet another step in what Dr. de Hart and I call the alchemical transformation of man, this time, man and machine.
Like all human technologies, all this, of course, has a "dark side" - to employ the Star Wars analogy once again - as well as this more positive side. We may envision what may be a hidden goal here, namely, the creation of "robotic projections" of the individual human soldier, who then manipulates his battlefield "robosurrogate" or avatar via such interfaces. It would be much like our current "drone" program, on steroids. Additionally one may envision not just interfaces with one machine, but several, say, for example, one's car, television set, computer, and so on.We are familiar by now with cochlear implants, allowing some deaf to hear, and soon, no doubt, we shall see similar technologies developed for the eye, allowing the blind to see.
Whether we like it or not, we are living in the greatest cultural transformation in human history, whether it be from the current economic crisis, to the geopolitical realignments taking place in the world, to the internet revolution, to the advances in technology that scientists, corporations, and government agencies world wide are inventing and developing. We may welcome or excoriate this "transhumanist" culture we see unfolding before us, but the fact remains it is happening, both in dark ways or, as here exampled, in brighter ones. It remains to be seen if we will keep our humanity - our ability to show compassion, love, empathy, to laugh and to cry - in the process.
See you on the flip side.