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Transgressive technologies: Does a posthuman dystopia await us? (Part Three)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted November 12, 2007

The fifth main crisis is that of environmental degradation. Overpopulation, industrial pollution, drastic changes in weather patterns, and the reduction of biodiversity (sometimes through the introduction of certain non-native animal and plant species) are often interrelated phenomena. Various parts of the world are now increasingly threatened with extreme weather (such as floods and fires) as well as insect and plant plagues and pestilence. The arrival of the West Nile virus in North America has been well-documented. The planet’s biosphere is a complicated system, and late modern human actions may be putting inordinate stresses on it. By the time humanity realizes it has seriously damaged Earth’s climatological system, it may have passed the point of being fully reparable. The weather may well continue to become ever more extreme and unbalanced. Extreme weather, crop failure, and pestilence, may cause vast increases in the number of people facing starvation. However, as conditions worsened, humanity could presumably still take the steps that would avoid truly disastrous outcomes – such as the so-called “planet Venus scenario” – where global warming would become open-ended and irreversible.

Another possible danger is nanotechnology, which, although today in its infancy, is now taken as standard in many science fiction futures. Nanotech is the notion of micromachines, which take the role of keeping human beings, and possibly animals, plants, and the entire environment in good health and shape. One way this might work is that when a baby is born, he "gets introduced" to his own batch of "nanotech warders" -- i.e., these micromachines that will help him avoid disease, and grow up stronger, healthier, and perhaps more intelligent than he would otherwise be. The possibilities of misuse of nanotech are obvious -- nanotech programmed to torture or kill, or to massively alter one’s mental perceptions, or the possibility of a widespread nanotech "virus" or "plague," that could possibly extinguish humankind and even all natural life – the so-called “gray goo” scenario. This was one of the main concerns – along with the emergence of AI that would replace mankind, and the perils of genetic manipulation -- raised in Bill Joy’s important article in the April 2000 issue of Wired. As Chief Software Architect of Sun Microsystems and co-inventor of both Unix and Java Script, he cannot be so easily dismissed as a neo-Luddite. In November 2001, it was announced by an Israeli laboratory that it had created a “DNA-based computer” – a convergence of biotechnology and nanotechnology.

Moving beyond nanotech, one comes to the possible ultimate extension of the Internet -- the ability for persons to upload their "consciousness" into an electronic virtual reality realm. This is perhaps similar to what the radical theologian Teilhard de Chardin called the noosphere. There have been a number of science fiction books written which suggested that only religious-minded people would resist the prospect of such an unprovidential quasi-immortality. However, it does appear that the very complexity of the human brain (with its hundreds of billions of synapses or "links") will prevent the possibility of the meaningful, physical "uploading" of consciousness into a mechanical construct.             

To be continued next week. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.






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