In science fiction, when humanity is faced with existential crises, we turn to great minds attached to great hearts. While we aren’t under alien attack or facing sentient machines, our world has its own share of problems. Human cognitive enhancement might just be the solution from which all other solutions are born; or maybe it brings too many risks of its own.
There have been monsters in fiction ever since there was any fiction at all. They are — always — scary, and sometimes attractive. But during the last years they have also began to be something else, something never seen before: they are our colleagues.
This week saw the return of Caprica. In its world with technology not too far beyond our own, Caprica jumped right back into action with a premiere remarkably relevant to transhumanism. While Sister Clarice seeks to attract followers to her religion with an artificial heaven, Daniel Graystone wants to win back his company with software to remove the pain of a loved one’s death.
With the US facing a possible double dip recession, and a resurgent far right political movement poised to sweep into Congress in the Fall elections, I found myself reading two strangely complementary dystopian novels about economic collapse. The first, Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse by Survivalblog writer James Rawles, is a manual for right-wing survivalist gun-nuts dressed up like a novel. The second, Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, is an example of contemporary literature at its finest. Although from nearly opposite ends of the social universe both novels see the spiraling economic and political crisis in the United States ending in the complete collapse of the Republic as we know it.
Last year, JET published Kristi Scott’s fascinating article Cheating Darwin: The Genetic and Ethical Implications of Vanity and Cosmetic Plastic Surgery, which analyzed the implications of cosmetic plastic surgery (CPS) for relationships and genetics. It suggested that since “what one sees is not necessarily what one will get in regards to DNA” that “there is a responsibility on the part of the individual to disclose any previous CPS.” However, there are many other instances where we misrepresent our genetics or interfere with evolution. These range from other cosmetic enhancements, to medicines that allow the unhealthy to survive and the infertile to reproduce. But if we want a better future, we need to become comfortable with bending the principles of evolution to our will, and understand the risks and rewards of doing so.
True Blood seems to continuously illustrate all the things that could go wrong with human enhancement. Whether it’s non-humans being taken advantage of by humans, or non-humans being unable to control their powers, it all looks pretty bleak.
If you could live in a world that was just the way you wanted it to be, with specifications you’d chosen, customized and personalized to meet your every need and fulfill your fondest desires, would you spend all your time there? Or would you prefer to stay here, in the real world?
This summer True Blood, now in its third season, continues to explore the issues that it has in the past, such as personhood and the coexistence of humans with a species that has many advantages over humans. However, with the introduction of werewolves and the greater focus on shapeshifters, this year there are even better opportunities to relate True Blood to morphological freedom.
In its first season, Caprica has done an excellent job of exploring the ethical issues relating to V-World (the virtual world created by the ultra-rich Daniel Graystone), looking at the dangers of becoming overly immersed in V-World, and whether an avatar constitutes a real person. Also in the past year, we’ve seen Gamer and Surrogates, two movies that explore some common themes with interesting parallels to those in Caprica.
Last week, Kyle Vandercamp, an atmospheric scientist, blew the whistle on a rogue geoengineering project funded by billionaire Harrison Wyld. Vandercamp was a senior scientist at the Bluebird Lab, and managed to get hold of some pretty damning documents laying out the extent of what the Bluebird project intends to do.
In some other places, the topic of legendary science fiction author Robert Anson Heinlein has repeatedly come up, along with shouting matches — “He was a libertarian!” “No, a socialist!” “No, a fascist!” — I’ve finally had enough and will weigh in.