In translating The Morgenstern Project, the third installment of the Consortium series by David Khara, I discovered the concept of transhumanism—a philosophical movement (abbreviated as h+) that advocates for enhancing the human condition through technological advancements, which better our physical, intellectual, and psychological abilities. At first glance, the idea sounds harmless—I mean, who wouldn’t want to be stronger, smarter, and more self-aware? Transhumanists also hope to drastically extend the human health-span, eradicate disease, and rid society of unnecessary suffering—all features to be placed in the win column.
On the other hand, juxtaposed against the horrific upbringing of our story’s hero, Eytan Morg, who was tortured as a child by SS soldiers in Hitler’s quest to create his ideal human race (the “ubermensch”), the transhumanist desire to change our species’ capacities sounds scary and disturbing. It also raises several pressing questions, most notably over the moral and ethical ramifications of such ambitions. In fact, the most extreme transhumanists envision immortality as the end goal—a goosebump-inducing thought, to say the least.
While dreaming up worlds in which humans possess superpowers seems like a task reserved for comic book writers, small-scale manifestations of transhumanist practices are actually already creeping into our modern day lives. Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel explore one example—wearable computers—in an episode of their NPR program Invisibilia (my new go-to podcast now that Serial is between seasons). In the episode entitled “Our Computers, Ourselves,” the two radio hosts interview Thad Starner, the Technical Lead of Google Glass. Starner invented his own wearable computer that he named Lizzy, and he has been wearing some continuously evolving version of it on his body for the past two decades. Starner believes the device has profoundly enhanced his life by allowing him to record memories and information, and instantaneously access them whenever he wants. He even describes his experience as feeling superhuman. Lizzy gives him power, control, and confidence. And while Jason Jones mocked this kind of technology in a hilarious segment of The Daily Show, Starner predicts that in the near future, we’ll all be just as intimately linked to computers as he is—and he personally sees no drawbacks or any reason to fear it.
The use of Google Glass, along with smartphones and smartwatches are just a few ways in which we are gradually merging ourselves more closely with technology, but The Morgenstern Project delves further into many other relevant and timely examples—and after reading the book, you may see more “minuses” than “pluses” to being h+.