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tigtog now posts at the new and improved Hoyden About Town. She also blogs at Larvatus Prodeo and Finally A Feminism 101 Blog. If the new Hoydenspace is down you should find updates below.

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2006-06-09

A Transhumanist Future?

The whole 666 Number/Mark of the Beast thing and the fact that I'm reading Peter F. Hamilton at the moment has got me thinking about biochips and the future of other technological augmentations of the human body, and how those technological advances will be received in society at large.

Hamilton's futurist novels revolve around the idea of transhumanism, which is the use of genetic engineering and artifical implants (augmenting memory, strength, endurance etc or enabling electronic interfaces to datanets) to enhance chosen human capabilities. He speculates about artificial intelligences (AI), longevity/rejuvenation treatments, interplanetary travel methods, human/AI symbiosis, megascale engineering, terraforming, contact with alien spacefarers and threats of human extinction.

Into this fairly standard science fiction (almost space opera) mix Hamilton throws deeper themes like life after death, genocide and the question of the borders between humanity, transhumanity and possible posthumanity. Definitely epic and more complicated than most, but an excellent read.

Here's some transhumanism references:
World Transhumanist Association and their FAQ
Wikipedia's article on Transhumanism
Introductory Texts about Transhumanism

As one might imagine considering the huge level of individual and societal change that would be involved, there are a lot of critics of the transhumanist ethos, both on practical and ethical grounds.

So, I've got two questions:

A) If someone invents a biochip implant that can interface with external ethernet wireless systems to do at least everything your PDA/mobile phone does, with the capacity for upgraded functionality typical of the electronics industry we see today, that runs off your own body's nerve impulse energy and is proven medically safe over a lifetime, how many here would go for it?

B) Hamilton managed to pull together the wandering strands of his sprawling epic yet again in the conclusion to Judas: Unchained, in a satisfying fashion, but for me it didn't have the "wow, how the hell did he pull that off" factor that the conclusion of the Night's Dawn trilogy did. Was it just that I was expecting him to pull it all together again, so I was a bit jaded, or did he genuinely struggle this time so that the warp and weft was more obvious? (Obligatory spoiler alert: plot details may be revealed in the comments thread)

Crossposted at Larvatus Prodeo

6 comments:

morgan said...

I really enjoyed Judas Unchained, but I still prefer The Naked God. I think it's partly anticipation - you know he's going to be able to make it hang together well.

This time, with JU, I just felt the, um, nature of the beast to be just a little anticlimactic. That's a criticism sometimes made of the Naked God ("deus ex machina" - well done for the spoiler alert :) but it was handled perfectly in my view.

On your implant question, wouldn't you just hate to have a Windows "blue screen of death" moment... depends who makes it, and how upgradeable/replaceable it is.

btw, not sure about your position, but I've no in-principle objection to genetic engineering, just issues to do with weighing up the limited liability+commercial benefit against possible social/environmental cost. Hmmm, might post about that at some point.

morgan said...

And the PFH home page that you link to mentions a new project. Excitement! He's hopefully almost a year into it already... although I'd prefer something in the Confederation Universe to the Commonwealth one, personally.

tigtog said...

It would be interesting to find someone who read the Commonwealth books before the Confederation series and see whsat they thought about the comparative conclusions.

I agree about the implant quality issues - PFH actually addresses the difference between cheap/premium nanonics/OCtattoos in the books - I'd definitely want premium. It's one of the things I really appreciate about how he structures his universes - there's an awareness of the socioeconomics that the next great invention will accrete as it is implemented, and he addresses the issues of class and social mobility in a high-tech future in a way that most American authors don't.

I'm in about the same area re genetic engineering, and I'd love to read that post when you get it done.

tigtog said...

Re the new project for PFH - it will be interesting to see what the Barsoomians have made of themselves in a thousand years.

Vicki said...

If someone invents a biochip implant that can interface with external ethernet wireless systems to do at least everything your PDA/mobile phone does, with the capacity for upgraded functionality typical of the electronics industry we see today, that runs off your own body's nerve impulse energy and is proven medically safe over a lifetime, how many here would go for it?

Given your qualifications about lifetime safety, I might. Oh, but not if it's running any variant of Windoze; OS XIV maybe.

And how conditioned am I, when my very first impulse was to say "How much current would it draw, and how many calories would that burn?" If I could download a movie and burn off 2000 calories all at the same time, well, hell... Sign me up!

tigtog said...

I'm sure some sort of weight control implant would be the very first artificial organ that got commercially marketed, Vicki.