Baccalauréat – oral presentation

Article « Elon Musk  unveils plan to build mind-reading implants » The Guardian, 6th May 2018

Notion : The Idea of Progress, Myths and Heroes, Spaces and Exchanges, Places and Forms of Power

Is transhumanism the future ? Guidance for the Baccalaureat

1. As progressing and improving ourselves is a human obsession one may wonder whether transhumanism would be the « natural » continuum of mankind.

2. Make sure that you can define transhumanism. We gave a definition in class. It should be in your notes.

3. What might indicate that transhumanism is our future?

  • We already have a symbiotic relationship with our devices. We can hardly spend a day without them. We talk to them and even address them with names (Alexa, Siri), which humanizes the communication and helps form a relationship with machines.
  • Transhumanism is an extreme form of self-improvement. It may seem far-fetched (tiré par les cheveux) and belonging to the realm of science- fiction. Nonetheless some experts allege that the new generation will not grasp the reluctance (réticence) that the older generations have because they are used to interacting with machines as if these were part of themselves.

 Jason Sosa « The Coming Transhuman Era » Ted Talk, 2014.

We are the species that transcends and transforms. It is what we are. It is how we extend our reach. But our biology has not changed in 2000 years. We´re still the same aggressive hunters that we once were. Perhaps we now have reached the pinnacle of human potential. Now I realise that this may seem far-fetched and that some of these ideas may be a bit spooky. […] But that will change with the generation of today. Some call them the digital natives. To them the smart phone is already an extension of their brain. Transhumanism will seem just as natural as evolution and anyone who does not follow suit will seem inhuman.

What new things could we accomplish if we did not thave the limitations of biology ? What if we could explain our thoughts and feelings without the limiting power of words ? Maybe we could explore the stars, save the planet, enhance life for the people here on earth. There´s a lot to be hopeful for. […]

3. An important point made by Jason Sosa here is that there will be a gap between the people who reject transhumanism and those who embrace it. History is full of such examples of part of humanity believing that they are superior to others. This time however, it will indeed be the case. So people might be urged to merge with machines.

4. Elon Musk has also perceived the urgency of merging humans with machines. He believes that if transhumanism did not take place then a growing gap would appear between our AI machines and us, the creators. Even the more benign creations might backfire on us. AI poses an « existential threat ».

a) This reminds one of the Promethean myth and of Frankenstein. We will later examine how you can link the theme of transhumanism and AI to Myths and Heroes.

b) therefore in order to follow suit (suivre le mouvement) humankind would need to upgrade onself and merge with its machines.

6. Before we all become robocops however, an attempt to unite people and machines has already been made in the field of medicine.  Parallel to Neuralink´s achievement, there is a brain-controlled machine, called Exoskeleton that enables the people who have lost the capacity to move their limbs to find their mobility again. Merging humans and machines might then be a way to control, improve or correct nature. This is fascinating and paves the way to new opportunities for the impaired (= the handicapped). Technology can give them a second chance.

7. Of course, such advancement also raises ethical issues.

Should we try to control, improve or correct nature ? What might be the consequences ? Myths can guide us on our way. (Lesson to come)

8. We need to approach biotechnology with foresight. We need to « address the monkey in the room » (Elon Musk). It is essential that a social debate and an experts´debate take place for humanity to foresee the possible consequences and take precautions.



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