Sunday, May 6, 2018

Machines, prostheses, implants and transhumanism

Today at 4.35 pm, BBC World Service Radio had a good programme on Transhumanism -- a theory that the human body could evolve, not biologically, but with the use of science and technology -- a field of research that has been increasingly in focus over the last two decades or so.

As you can imagine, it is quite a controversial subject. But there are supporters of that theory, who believe that human race is still in the process of evolution, and probably, the next phase could be when we can digitally or technologically enhance our capabilities.

There is considerable research going on this area. There are people who are doing surgery on themselves to embed chips and other electronic devices into their body. (They are doing it themselves because doctors aren't allowed to do such bizarre stuff which are not scientifically or medically approved.)

Six years ago, I had an opportunity to meet Prof Kevin Warwick, who is widely recognised as the first cyborg (a person who has artificial parts within his body), who got a chip implanted in his arm and has been conducting experiments on himself.

These are a bit extreme. But if you think of it, our dependence on machines has significantly gone up and the human element is reducing. Take for example, this simple act I am right now doing -- keying in this text on my laptop. Earlier, I would have done it on a paper in my own handwriting. There are many more examples in our daily lives.

Medically, many people go in for implants that set right a physical problem and help us perform in a normal manner. For example, prosthesis, especially limbs. Then there are dental implants and stents in the heart. If a person is not able to swallow and eat in the normal manner, a pipe is inserted through the nose right up to the stomach (Ryle's Tube) and he is fed liquid diet. Tracheostomy is a medical procedure that involves creating an opening in the neck to allow air to enter the lungs directly. Dialysis is another example, wherein the function of the kidney is performed by a machine.

So, we are already making use of machines and implants to enhance our lifespan.

Now the question is: even if there is nothing wrong with our normal body, should we take the aid of implants to further our human capabilities. Like how about having another pair of limbs so that we can work more efficiently? Can we have eyes in the back, so that we can see what is behind as well? Or a chip in our body so that we can directly detect infrared and ultraviolet radiations?

Already, we are into an era where automation is being more and more intelligently done, and machines are intelligently assisting us in our daily chores. When you give a search for Katrina, Google knows whether you are referring to the hurricane or the Bollywood actress. The autocorrect in word processors is able to make alterations correctly depending upon the context.

I think our dependence on machines, automation and implants will only increase further. Just like I have a choice to write with the pen or type on a laptop, we will soon many many more such options. Of course, the choice will be ours.

Will human race evolve in that direction? I will not be surprised if it does.


  1. I think transhumanism is a movement we believe we can improve the human condition through the use of advanced technologies. For example, if someone needs a kidney transplant, he/she has to wait for somebody to donate a kidney or wait in line for a cadaver organ donation. Scientists are working toward lab grown kidneys from the culture taken from the patient’s own kidney. That lab grown kidney can be successfully transplanted for the patient.

    I asked that professor when this will be commercially available for humans. He said your great grand kids will be benefitted by this.

    1. Thanks, SG for your insights into this. The future generations will definitely be living different world.

  2. This is a very popular topic in science fiction. I guess if we can do it, some people want to try.

    1. You are right, Liz. A lot of it what we have read in science fiction many years ago, are a reality today. And there is nothing which prevents many more of such science fiction stuff becoming a reality in the years to come.
      Thank you, Liz for your comments.

  3. Have you read the Harry Potter series ? Dumbledore stores memories in some magical thing...imagine we are able to store memories as images on some computer that others can see ? Neuroscience computer science mix ? :D

  4. Hi Jaish, Yes, indeed, ability to store memory in the form of images will indeed be a giant leap.