Between anticipation for the new Deus Ex installment, reading the superb Eclipse Phase game and a couple of books like Soft Apocalypse and Altered Carbon, the future’s been on my mind lately. A couple years back, I was introduced to the concept of transhumanism, which can be briefly described as a philosophy that seeks to anticipate and sometimes even precipitate what’s going to happen to humanity in the next 10, 20 or 100 years. One of the big things about a lot of transhumanist writing that sets it apart from more traditional views of the future is that it tends to take a close look at the changes that will happen within us, both as individuals and as a species, as opposed to external changes and technologies.

To put it another way, for traditional science fiction, think of Star Trek. In that vision of the future, almost all the technological advancement is external. Human beings are basically unchanged physiologically (though that might have had more to do with the makeup budget in some cases). Sure, they have awesome medical advances, and occasionally you find out that someone like Picard is actually a super cyborg with a crazy artificial heart, but otherwise they deal in external technologies: holodecks, starships, phasers, three level chess sets, Mr. Data. When he looked forward, Rodenberry saw a future like our present, only with better toys.

By contrast, for a more transhumanist view of the future, read the graphic novel series Transmetropolitan, Warren Ellis’ gonzo, foul-mouthed, hardboiled and venomously optimistic opus. In this future, there’s plenty of external technology – most of it weapons, predictably enough – but it pales in comparison to the stuff that people have done to themselves. Genetic engineering, cybernetic augmentation, neural enhancements, cryogenic statis, even migration of consciousness into clouds of nanotechnology. In other words, Ellis looked at the future and figured that we’d use all of our wonderful advances to get high, score more often and otherwise enjoy ourselves. When we weren’t killing each other in new and interesting ways, that is. Transhumanism isn’t necessarily that gonzo and decadent, but the heart was there.

Personally, I look into the future, and I see the next decade or so bringing big changes. I think we’re going to see a few big leaps – restoring sight, restoring hearing, improved prosthetics, etc. – and I think I may be a little bit too conservative, on the whole. I think of the future and I keep hearing “This Is the Moment” from Jekyll & Hyde, though if you know your musicals, that’s not necessarily the best omen. But I think we’ll manage. I hope we do, because I’m an optimist at heart, and I think we have it in us to go more Star Trek than Transmet.

Though I would love a bucket of caribou eyes.

So here’s my question for you out there in reader land:
What do you think we’ll see in the next 10 years?

2 responses

  1. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/12/transcending-the-human-diy-style/


    Anyway, with technology getting smaller and people integrating the internet with their everyday life more and more, I can’t help but think we are heading for cyberpunk-land.

    August 22, 2011 at 5:11 pm

  2. Matt

    Sure, sure. Ten short years. Stronger, better, faster. We can rebuild you. A few months back a woman blinded by cataracts or something had her sight partly restored by a tiny camera jammed into one of her teeth, and then that was jammed into her cornea. Soon, it’ll be prettier, easier, possibly less expensive. Cancer survival rates will increase, so will the price tags on the drugs. Titanium and plastic bones and joints will become more common and last longer. Scientists are starting to work out the finer points of implanting wires into the spines and brains of amputees, so their increasingly nimble robofingers can do what they want.

    But what’s really going on here? What’s the choice about, really, between Star Trek and Transmetropolitan? Transhumanism is about how humans change themselves, and are changed by their technology. Free of evolution through environmental pressure, humans begin to evolve through technology along a chosen path. The red nano-clouds and the people with the I-spores in Transmet are what we’re talking about here. The self-mutated, those who alter their genetic codes for fun and may or may not reset them for special occasions. Spider sees them all over. They’re a part of society, loved or hated, blending into the background, they’re there, people talk to them, interact with them. They hang out in bars and pick up hookers, just like the un-modded.

    Let’s consider how the Enterprise crew reacts to the very few examples of humans modified by technology. They try to kill Barclay that time he becomes the computer. Remember how Worf says he would rather die than wear those things to remotely control his paralyzed body? But then he miraculously regrows his spine or some nonsense, because they cloned him one from his own cells, and it’s totally okay because it was natural? Geordi could see the entire EM spectrum with the banana-clip on his face, but all he ever wanted was “normal” eyes. And then there’s the Borg. Star Trek is afraid of modified humans. Sure, you can use technology to become “normal” but that’s as far as it goes, buddy. “Normal” and “natural” humanity is the best of everything in this world, and if you want to download your brain into a robot body, well the senior officers are standing by ready to beam down and fire phasers. Roll Credits.

    As for us, of course there’ll be new drugs and weapons. New (illegal) drugs hit the streets every few months. (Cara knows!) Of course medical tech will let people live longer and better, but with rare exceptions, technological “enhancement” is still much further out than just 10 years. Humans will still be easily recognizable as “humans” for a lot longer than 10 years from now. But how about a thousand? A million maybe? Could it ever happen that “humans” would look back on our wet, meaty existence and think, gosh, what must it have been like, living as one of those sloppy barbarians?

    August 23, 2011 at 3:47 am

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