The Techno-Human Shell – A Jump in the Evolutionary Gap

(Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay)

Excerpted from The Techno-Human Shell: A Jump in the Evolutionary Gap, by Joseph R. Carvalko Jr. (Sunbury Press, 2013). Reprinted with permission from the author.

Preface

“Now I’ve argued this is not genesis; this is building on three and a half billion years of evolution. And I’ve argued that we’re about to perhaps create a new version of the Cambrian explosion, where there’s massive new speciation based on this digital design.”—Craig Venter[1]

If we study the great works of art, sculpture, and literature, we learn that our ancestors looked like us physically, thought like us, and perhaps felt much as we do. After all, we largely inherited their design: two arms, two legs, a body, and a head filled with matter adept at abstract thinking and feeling: a design which allows adaptation to the environment and survival into the next generation. However, as the human body tumbles headlong into the future, the fact that it and its ancestors may look familiar may be as far as resemblance goes.

On the horizon of those now being born, their maturation, their death, and their children’s natural cycles of birth, will be driven as much by technology as driven by the genes cast in the DNA backbone over 3.5 billion years ago.[2] Respected futurists have concluded that we have gone beyond our ability to retard this technological fate as we inescapably move toward a singularity—that event after which nothing looks like what came before. But is it really too late to change course? Must we resign ourselves to a future that will include successors that may look like us, but at their core will not represent the current model, nor represent what has heretofore passed as human? And if so, what steps should we take to push against devolving into a civilization of post-post-moderns that will look back upon their ancestors as Neanderthal cousins?

When the planet formed 4.6 billion years ago, oceans, mountains, and flat lands were created. Approximately 2.5 million years ago—relatively recently on the cosmic scale—Homo genus appeared, followed 2.3 million years later, Homo sapiens—those upright creatures we see in the mirror every day.[3] We have come to know ourselves not through mirrored reflections, but through conscious observation, thoughts, emotions, and self-awareness manifesting in a developed persona that exhibits a combination of openness, extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.[4] Combined, this persona learned to adapt to ever-changing circumstances to appreciate cause and effect, to invent tools, weapons, and skills and, over time, language that passed on the non-genetic essentials needed for its persistence in a sometimes hostile world. In the span of six to ten thousand years, language paved the way for philosophy, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, computation, and the proliferation of know-how called technology. Over the course of the last five hundred years accumulated knowledge changed not only our understanding of the world outside ourselves, but changed our understanding of the world inside ourselves.[5]

The curves of scientific knowledge and technological progress bend increasingly skyward, every year more steeply as we reach for the stars from which we originated. Is our current track yet another indication of non-genetic essentials serving as tools, and language once did—this time transcending existential biological limitations, finally eschewing the Homo sapiens within the borders of our epidermis, to be reborn as altered creatures—as post biological Homo sapiens?

A central thesis of this book is: As computers with ever increasing computational power of the famous Watson IBM computer spiral downward in size, the wholesale incorporation of these devices into the anatomy will become as common as a pill ingested, a vaccine injected or a body pierced. In the first phase, these will be installed first for medicinal therapy, then for diagnostics, followed by physical and mental enhancements. In the second phase they will be installed to more efficiently interface with a digital evolution.

It is in this second phase when Darwinian evolutionary rivers will merge with the rivers of intelligent designers, represented by scientists, programmers and engineers, who will fuse organic natural biology, synthetic biology, and digital technology into a unified whole that future generations will deem their anatomy. The merger will serve to afford greater intelligence and, longer, healthier lives. In exchange, we will relinquish actual autonomy for apparent autonomy, where what was once considered “free will” will be supplanted by the deterministic logic of machinery somewhere in the mainstream of our unconscious.

Although in-the-body technology will have an explosive effect on commerce, entertainment, and employment, in the near term the concentration will be on medical devices, such as the innocuous pacemaker (essentially a working silicon-based computer, with sensors, memories, and a stimulation device with telecommunications to the outer world). In a second epoch, these devices will be gradually down-sized by advances in synthetic DNA, molecular- and nano-sized processors, each deployed alongside and within cells and organs as permanent non-organic, internal adjuncts to our anatomy for use as: nano-prosthetics, nano-stimulators/suppressors, artificial organ processors, metabolic and cognitive enhancers, and permanent diagnostic tools to ensure our physical and psychological well-being as we head toward a practically interminable lifetime.[6]

Will a wide-spread practice of installing technology into the body fundamentally change human essence? Our sense of self-sufficiency, authenticity, or individual identity? Will it change that numerical identity, the one “I” as some static aspect of ourselves (as self-consciousness as idealized by Locke)? Or will it change our narrative identity, our unseen internal human form, to eventually redefine what it means to be human?[7]

The digital revolution altered our social reality (just compare the habits of someone born a generation ago to someone born four generations ago). But today, most computers are at our fingertips. Darwin insisted “natura non facit saltum”—nature does not make leaps—but what happens when computers are moved inside our core, internalized, and become ubiquitous subterranean assistants functioning within our anatomical structure?[8] Will a new exterior reality emerge? Or will it go unnoticed, like the daily 80 milligram aspirin, acting undetected on our physiology? Social philosopher Francis Fukuyama suggests what Darwin might have concluded had he been alive today:

. . . while Aristotle believed in the eternity of the species (i.e., that what we have been labeling ‘species-typical behavior’ is somewhat unchanging), Darwin’s theory maintains that this behavior changes in response to the organism’s interaction with its environment. What is typical for a species at one particular moment of evolutionary time; what came before and what comes after will be different.[9]

Will the course of accelerating technological advance cause a subtle revolution in the human form—one that shifts the foundations of Homo sapiens, forming post-Homo sapiens who will have failed to record the journey, and thus making it impossible to return to a time, when humans roamed the Earth?

[1] Craig Venter, On the verge of creating synthetic life, Filmed Feb 2008 • Posted Mar 2008 • TED2008, ted.com/talks…synthetic_life.

[2] “…most scientists hold that the first organisms on Earth were much like bacteria of today… actionbioscience.org…jeffares_poole.html.

[3] “All people today are classified as Homo sapiens. Our species of humans first began to evolve nearly 200,000 years ago in association with technologies not unlike those of the early Neandertals. It is now clear that early Homo sapiens, or modern humans, did not come after the Neandertals but were their contemporaries. However, it is likely that both modern humans and Neandertals descended from Homo heidelbergensis.” palomar.edu/…mod_homo_4.htm.

[4] Robert R. McCrae and Paul T. Costa, Jr. Validation of the Five-Factor Model of Personality Across Instruments and Observers, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1987, Vol. 52, No. 1,81-90.

[5] E.g., global warming, vast metropolises, breakthrough advances in travel, terrestrial, air and interplanetary space.

[6] The word prosthetic is derived from the Greek word prósthesis meaning addition, application, or attachment which in modern times refers body part that.

[7] John Locke considered personal identity to be founded on consciousness, and not on the substance of either the soul or the body. Book II Chapter XXVII entitled “On Identity and Diversity” in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689).

[8] C.R. Darwin. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, Penguin, Baltimore, 1968 [1859].

[9] Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002). P.152.

The Techno-Human Shell: A Jump in the Evolutionary Gap, by Joseph R. Carvalko Jr. Copyright © Joseph R. Carvalko Jr, 2013. All rights reserved.

Joseph Carvalko is an American technologist, academic, patent lawyer, and writer. As an inventor and engineer, he has been awarded 18 patents in various fields. He has authored academic books, articles, and fiction throughout his career. Currently he is an Adjunct Professor of Law at Quinnipiac University, School of Law, teaching Law, Science and Technology; Chairman, Technology and Ethics Working Research Group, Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, Yale University; member, IEEE, Society on Social Implications of Technology; summer faculty member, Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, Yale University.

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