A-to-Z Challenge Day Twenty: Transcendence and Transhumanism
Lately I’ve found science fiction movies and television to be largely disappointing. Star Trek Into Darkness was a letdown (and I’ll get into that at some later time). Almost Human was a HUGE disappointment and has left me feeling empty inside for all of the hope I had it wouldn’t be another vacuous JJ Abrams project (it was–I’ll get into that in another post, perhaps, someday when I talk more about artificial intelligence and whatnot).
So I put a little bit of faith in the movie Transcendence to not, well, completely disappoint. I haven’t actually seen the movie yet, but I have read some reviews that have given me pause.
As with most technothrillers, Transcendence dares to ask Important Questions — What is the nature of the human? What happens when the quest for knowledge becomes a quest for power? — but, as with most technothrillers, very quickly devolves into a series of chases, forgetting its loftier aims.
It raises important questions! But…it doesn’t really offer any introspection to lead us to answers, it sounds. This is exactly what I was hoping wouldn’t happen. So, let me issue a preemptive sigh and move on to what I hoped the movie would be about.
Well, I can say that I hoped that it would raise those questions. But I want to list some of the questions that I had hoped would be addressed.
- What is the nature of humanity?
- What is the nature of consciousness?
- Is identity static or plastic?
- If a human mind is uploaded into a machine, will it maintain its humanity?
This is a movie that is, obviously, steeped in transhumanism. Mind-uploading is a very interesting idea on the frontiers of science and philosophy, and one that I find endlessly fascinating. Can a human being whose mind has been transferred to a computer or a machine maintain his perspective and identity as a human, or is it something fundamentally different? I don’t know the answer to that, but I had hoped that Transcendence would give an honest look at it without reducing itself to the standard technothriller formula.
So what is transhumanism anyway? This is how Wikipedia defines it:
Transhumanism (abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an international cultural and intellectual movement with an eventual goal of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.
The movement itself raises the question about what makes a human. For instance, is there a line between a real, natural human and something that was once a human but is no longer? If we upload a mind to a computer and we give it a synthetic, but realistic earth-like living condition will it maintain its humanity? And if we let it control its existence within the digital environment how will it change?
How can we handle the ethical debates of transhumanism and its many tenets? I would first argue that we’d need to have a lot more transhumanist innovations before we could actually really begin to talk about the ethics. Cybernetics are a good step, and we have a lot of modern examples of those. So will there be a point where a human being can replace their internal organs and limbs with fully-functional and realistic prosthetics that we have a hard time defining them as human?
So, I suppose that I shall have to watch it, take some notes, and then give a review about what happened in the movie. Will it fall victim to the kind of technophobia that tends to run through a lot of technothrillers and make artificial life or new ideas seem terrible? Or will it instead give it a dispassionate view of the subject matter that will leave the audience with a new appreciation of the topics of transhumanism and mind-uploading?
Based on Derek’s review I’m not hopeful for a positive outcome.