WIRED UK Transhuman Week

In what certainly will become a landmark in the history of transhumanism and writing about transhumanism, the United Kingdom version of technology magazine WIRED recently ran a full week focus on the subject of transhumanism dubbed Transhuman Week. Inspired at least in part by the occasion of the 2012 Paralympics Games, the series includes roughly 20 quite interesting articles on a variety of transhumanist topics.

“The line between therapy and enhancement is a blurry one. There seems to be no clear distinction between existing accepted practices such as cosmetic surgery, the prescription of anti-depressants and ADHD medication and emerging ones such as genetic modification, nanotechnology and nootropics.” writes WIRED UK’s Olivia Solon to launch the series. This group of articles is I think notable for its emphasis on actual transhumanist technologies being developed and ideas that are being put into practice rather than some of the more speculative aspects of transhumanist thinking which often seem to get more attention.

Humanity Plus’ Chairman Natasha Vita-More is interviewed in an excellent article on biohacking and the Grindhouse biohackersMagnet-implanting DIY biohackers pave the way for mainstream adoption. Natasha points out that there is a difference between artistic body modification, body hacking and the deeper transformation of the human form envisioned in transhumanism. While putting thought into action is important, repeating previously performed “hacks” does little to advance the state of the art of redesigning the body. Especially given the risks in some of these DIY surgical procedures, the reasoning behind doing them needs to be carefully examined.

“[Real] Transhumanism is being done but people aren’t bragging about it. Anyone can hack into the body, but what are you doing it for is the question. To damage the body because of psychological issues or to find some kind of resolve and curiosity, to make the body perform better — then it’s called human enhancement. But hackers can do very interesting and sophisticated things, so it has an important part in the transhumanist scope. [Hacking really means] to learn about a system and create additional functions and performance, and that is the transhumanist approach.”

Perhaps the best of the articles are the ones focusing around the Olympics and Paralympics  Like many transhumanists, author Prajwal Ciryam sees the rather strange and arcane rules about allowable and unallowable performance enhancement associated with the conventional Olympic games as hypocrisy, “prosthetics might also seem unfair. A runner could buy prosthetic legs that make him dramatically faster. But you don’t need prosthetics to buy better running. Money buys coaches, facilities, and the time needed to train. …The [Olympic] meritocracy is broken, and not just on the playing field. Deep inequalities in health, education, technology, and opportunity secure power and privilege for the few. We only pretend to [hold] contests that fairly judge our natural talents.”

Designing games for fair competition between individuals with very different abilities is challenging and a relatively new idea.

Which brings me to the wonderful article, Strategy and tactics: the best game design of the Paralympics Some of these sports are as exciting as more conventional competitions and would work well on television. We have already wheelchair rugby also known as “murderball” and a game for the vision impaired called goalball. These games are structured such that they enable fair competition between people with different physical or sensory abilities.  Games of this sort point the way towards competition between people with various sorts of physical augmentations where the design of the augmentation itself is part of the sport. I look forward to the future of this sort of competition.

Also worth reviewing here, the trio of articles on enhancement of vision, augmented reality contact lenses, and “bionic” eyes. The most interesting one here is Australian firm aims to outdo US bionic eye after prototype restores some vision covering the amazing story of  Dianne Ashworth, who received an Argus II retinal implant from Bionic Vision Australia. Wow!

In addition to Natasha Vita-More, a number of Humanity+ members make appearances in WIRED UK’S Transhuman Week.  Aubrey de Grey, Luke Robert Mason (who delivers the famous Tired and Wired section), and Max More also all appear.

“Imagine a world where London is the world capital of transhumanism.” writes cyberpunk author and futurist Bruce Sterling.

For me that’s the only real thing missing from this otherwise great collection; I don’t get to see any unique transhumanist work or community with a London flavor.

Sadly missing is the color (ahem “colour”) of Britian’s own cyborg Neil Harbisson who’s work in sonification has influenced my software for visualization and sonificaiton of online texts. Harbisson was born with achromatopsia, a condition that only allows him to see in black and white. Harbisson wears the Eyeborg a wearable system that allows him to turn colors into sounds and music. Instead of seeing color, Harbisson hears it. Perhaps most famously Harbisson successfully campaigned to be allowed to wear this device in his U.K. Passport photograph after initially being denied.

And what’s a visit to London without a stop at an appropriate pub?

The Robot Pub Group’s Thirsty Bear seems the perfect spot for U.K. transhumanists to gather for a pint or two.



1 Response

  1. Schwann says:

    Orbit the planet with Terence Mckenna in our spacestation.. http://cognitionfactor.net/forum/index.php

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