|The TL/DR Synopsis||Synopsis: A look at the real-life side of the SF trope of uploading, in this case serious, organized concern from British academicians about human enhancement.Includes links to (a) the report Human Enhancement and the Future of Work, and (b) news items.|
In my novella Los Angeles Honey, one of the characters refers to people who’ve had their consciousness uploaded into an artificial body (but who are otherwise unchanged) as specimens of homo artificialis–artificial or synthetic humanity.
Previous Fallen World books have included the uploading element without really exploring it. In Los Angeles Honey, I try to at least begin a process of opening up the trope to see what can be found inside.
Meanwhile, though, back in the real world, the precursors to homo artificialis are disturbing the peace.
For people with a special interest in this area, I write about the science and culture of synthetic humanity on my topical blog HomoArtificialis.com, but I will cross-post here, or adapt a post for this blog, when it’s particularly important or interesting.
If we ever develop fully artificial human bodies like the ones in fiction, it will be an incremental process that begins with repairing and augmenting our natural bodies.
Now, four British professional and scientific bodies–the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Society–have gone public with their alarm over the potential pitfalls of augmented humanity in a joint report entitled Human Enhancement and the Future of Work. (BBC news item, Telegraph news item)
Whether you see the report as a blow for authentic humanity, an alarmist obstruction to scientific progress, or something in between, it does underscore a genuine issue: technologies that enhance natural human beings and create artificial ones are advancing far more rapidly than the practical framework that most of us have for thinking about them.
I don’t mean technological thought, I mean social, political, and philosophical thought. We need–very quickly–to create a far more developed outlook on how these technical advances will affect other aspects of our lives.
Even if we look solely at the issue of longevity, just to take an example, the issues proliferate quickly:
- What will happen to actuarial science and the insurance industry when human lifespan advances far more dramatically than it’s done in the past, and over a relatively short period of time?
- What happens to the time scales of other social instituations, such a prison sentences, when human lifespan is significantly increased? Does five years in prison have the same meaning if I live twice as long? Does doubling it to ten years actually achieve anything or is that just excessive literalism?
- What happens to human attitudes toward risk-taking–in recreation, in exploration, in the conduct of daily life–in a world of drastically extended lives? Will I be less willing to engage in risky activity if I know that what I stand to lose isn’t another twenty years of life but another hundred, or five hundred?
- How will increased lifespan affect our patterns of work, training, and retirement over the span of our lives? What kind of career path can a radically long-lived person expect?
- How might it change the shape of the family when grandparents–and even great-grandparents and beyond–are youthful, healthy, and capable of working or caring for children? Will our ability to conceive and bear children also be extended, and if so, how will that affect the structure of the family? What happens to the thinking of our children if, say, my ten-year-old has a mother under thirty and your ten-year-old has a mother over a century old?
- And how will increased lifespan interact with changes arising from other quarters? The traditional family structure may change as lifespan and vitality are extended, but it’s already changing for other reasons, for instance as attitudes toward gay and lesbian marriage and parenthood evolve. Changes in longevity might well blend with changes that spring from other sources in ways that are difficult to predict until both changes are in effect and have a chance to affect one another.
If you want to see exactly what the academicians have to say, I’ve made the report available in the Homo Artificialis Library (HAL) under the subheading Homo Artificialis at Work.