The Posthuman Future

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Natasha Vita-More's <em>Life Expansion</em>
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Everything we’re able to do today to enhance humans — from genetic engineering to artificial limbs — simply improves on the base model we were born with. But for some people, that doesn’t go far enough. They think we shouldn’t be stuck with the factory-installed settings in our DNA. And they're not satisfied with a lifespan that tops out at 100 years.

Natasha Vita-More is an artist who imagines a future in which humans are freed from the constructs dictated by nature — a transhumanist. “It seems rather ridiculous that we back up our computers but as far as our minds are concerned, we just leave it up to whatever happens,” she says.

Among her early transhumanist-themed artworks is Primo Posthuman, a prototype human incorporating imagined — but potentially feasible — technological enhancement. The high concept computer-generated image looks a little like the instruction manual to The Bionic Woman, with replaceable genes, enhanced intelligence, and a lifespan listed as “ageless.” A label that points to the kneecap says, “Solar protected skin with tone-texture changeability.”

But not everyone is on board. William Hurlbut is a medical doctor who once sat on the President’s Council on Bioethics and a prominent skeptic of bio-engineered enhancement. “If we go and intervene in these things in a frivolous sort of way,” Hurlbut argues, “then we could very easily disrupt the setting in which human life has its greatest meaning.”

“We should seek the moral and spiritual meaning of our lives in the midst of our suffering,” Hulrbut adds, rather than “try to escape them through biotechnology.”

 

Slideshow: Transhumanist Art

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Primo Posthuman (1997) by Natasha Vita-More. This conceptual piece presents the prototype for a full-body prosthetic. The prosthetic would work with human biology and incorporate computer systems that would augment the body and brain. Scientist Marvin Minsky (who specializes in AI) and researchers Robert Freitas (nanomedicine) and Anders Sandberg (uploading) contributed to the project.

( Courtesy of Natasha Vita-More )

Transhuman (1999) by Natasha Vita-More. This image shows a "transhuman" body (rather than a prosthetic body as in Primo Posthuman) and the aspects available for upgrade. The transhuman is enhanced with nanorobots, stem cells, and more.

( Courtesy of Natasha Vita-More )

Detail from Transhuman (1999).  Vita-More lists the enhancements she imagines for this transhuman body.

( Courtesy of Natasha Vita-More )

Life Expansion (2011) by Natasha Vita-More. Vita-More’s latest work uses her own body as a template for emerging and speculative technologies to develop longer lifespan. Vita-More explains, “We do not know what a posthuman will be, but we know that we are altering our body and merging more and more with technology and that there is great potential in our copying or transferring our brain onto non-biological systems.”

( Courtesy of Natasha Vita-More )
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