Google Glass, advanced prosthetics, and the bundle of ethical questions that can follow are all a part of the increasingly non-fictional world of becoming more (or less?) human.
As a heads-up, readers, there are a lot of annotative links in this one to help frame the discussion. As a bonus, only TWO of them are Wikipedia entries! So, if any aspect of this topic interests you please follow the links or start a discussion below.
Transhumanism (h+, or >h) is an international cultural movement that seeks, through the use of technology, to enhance physical and mental abilities. All while overcoming what it believes to be undesirable aspects of the human condition such as suffering, disease, disability, and involuntary death. While these concepts seem more feasible in today's tech-filled world, the aspiration to be something greater than ourselves has existed since the dawn of our existence.
Modern examples of us participating in this movement are enshrined in science-fiction. Thinking computers such as HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, androids such as Data from Star Trek: the Next Generation, and golems such as the Monster of Dr. Frankenstein are all attempts at creating (or recreating) human life...just "better". In Greek mythology we see the tales of Icarus or the mingling of gods' blood in humans to create demigods such as Heracles. In comics we have the technological Iron Man, the naturally-born mutants of the X-Men, and others super/natural or otherwise.
But, shelves on non-fiction are laced with this kind of thinking. Looking back we have been replacing parts of ourselves throughout history. The invention of the train allowed a small crew to haul hundreds of tons of metal and flesh across the country. A loom turned one weaver into several. Even the famed "wooden teeth" of George Washington or peg-legs on pirates allowed them to continue to function in society.
If you were born 1,000 years ago, you could live your whole life without seeing an advancement in technology that would better you or your community. If you were born 100 years ago you have seen trains sprawl across the country, carriages turn to cars that sprawled across the country, Wright-style fixed wing aircraft turn to jets then spacecraft. You have seen electricity become standard and produced through nuclear fission and not a coal furnace and boiler. You have seen the first pocket calculator, PC, dawn of the Internet, and smartphones.
Medicines cure disease and the human life expectancy has doubled as we work to become the paragons we read about, if only in fiction. But despite the noble goals transhumanism wishes to reach...is it right? Before that can be answered we have to ask ourselves the big question: What is human?
Artists have used the body to portray humans. But, for those that are missing limbs...are they less than human? Geneticists could say that anything with Homo Sapien DNA is human. What of those who have genetic conditions such as Down syndrome...are they less human? Or, what is it in the magic ~5% difference chimpanzees share with us that makes US humans? Are the dead human? After all we have laws that dictate what you can and cannot do with a corpse, including resuscitation efforts. Let's not forget the agreements some people have with cryonic companies that will attempt to reanimate the corpse when it becomes feasible.
If the beginning of these thoughts on transhumanism weren't complex enough, ask yourself where will it end?
Whether cosmetic or practical, how far can we remove or augment ourselves before we aren't human anymore? There is a large gap between a nose job and uploading your consciousness into a computer. Or, is there? You have changed yourself in each example and arguably you are "more you" in computer form between the two. What if we stopped aging or dying natural deaths through cybernetics or telomere research? Is the ability to replicate organs, limbs, and blood on demand "good"?
Ironically the progress could very well stagnate!
Just imagine if everyone in Congress (or some third-world warlord) right now would never grow old and feeble/senile, never get sick, never die, and never have term limits. What would we do with a person who gets a rejuv treatment and murders someone else getting 200 years without parole and feasibly being able to carry out that sentence? Is it ethical to wipe the memories of a criminal and replace them with "good people thoughts" before returning them to society? Would mind-uploading and bodily suspended animation be offered to the poor, or are only those with money and/or power entitled to be demigods among us?
How would you like to be able to prenatally determine what your child will look like, or, go on a vacation in Europe by simply putting your mind in a robotic or organically grown shell and occupying it with your consciousness? Beyond cosmetics, what if former San Diego mayor Bob Filner could be "punished" by being uploaded into a young woman's body to see just what sexual harassment is like?
Transhumanism is here and it will never stop being here. It is on our Nintendo 3DS with augmented reality, it is an obvious feature of Google Glass, and it may soon create super soldiers/laborers through the use of exoskeletons by Raytheon or assisted living devices for public welfare such as Cyberdyne's HAL. We should all take a moment to reflect on what makes us - us - and how best we can be who we are; human or otherwise.