Changing Relations Between Humans and Technology

The debate over the ethics of human enhancement is superimposed by another discourse that is frequently not distinguished from it: about disappearing boundaries between humans and technology and about expectations and anxieties concerning the technicalization of humans.

The idea of an ultimate triumph of Homo faber, who, equipped by converging technologies, sets out to manipulate the world atom by atom (NNI, 1999), was born in the nanotechnology debate. This new Homo faber believes, as some say, to have everything under control, including the realms of life and society, thereby developing into a Homo Creator (Poser, 2016):

The aim of this metaphysical program is to turn man into a demiurge or, scarcely more modestly, the "engineer of evolutionary processes." [...] This puts him in the position of being the divine maker of the world [...] (Dupuy, 2005).

An unbroken optimistic belief in progress based on science and technology stands at the core of these visions. Many stories which entered the field also told of human enhancement paradiselike futures. Today, these stories mainly are part of the debates on digitalization and artificial intelligence (Chap. 8).

However, positive visions were quickly converted into their opposite. The presumably ultimate triumph of Homo faber was reinterpreted as a final Pyrrhic victory. As a result of the renowned contribution by Bill Joy (2000), an apocalyptic dimension was added to the numerous positive expectations for the future. Instead of serving ends set by human beings, the enhanced technologies could make themselves autonomous and take over control of planet Earth, thus leading to the end of humankind.

While many people are concerned about these stories, transhumanists welcome them in an eschatological sense. In their eyes, it is humanity's responsibility to overcome its own deficiencies (Sec. 7.1.3) by creating a technical civilization that, in the final analysis, makes human beings, with their sufficiently well-known deficits, superfluous. A human-made and then independently further evolving civilization should take the place of human civilization (Savulescu and Bostrom, 2009). This postulate would self-evidently be a move to include human beings into technology in the sense of a self-abolition of human civilization.

Many concerns about human enhancement do not directly address ethical issues but rather are centered around the possible technicalization of human nature (Sec. 7.3.2) and the future of humankind. They converge in fears of subsuming humans or even humanity under the realm of technology to an increasing extent. This word collocation contains generalizations in two respects simultaneously (cp. Grunwald and Julliard, 2007, 79):

A generalized view toward increasing technological stakes inhumanity, in which it is no longer a question of individual, particular technologies, which could be reflected and shaped one by one, but of technology as an overwhelming and quickly developing power in general.

A generalized view of humanity and not of individual human beings and, with it, a generalizing view of the genus Homo, or in (philosophical) anthropological respect, of human nature in general.

These perspectives can imply various semantic connotations, especially regarding the distinction between the individual and social sides of human beings. Accordingly, subsuming humanity under technology can result in greater regulation of human beings, both individually and collectively, as is currently discussed in the area of self-driving cars (Maurer et al., 2016). People's apprehensions concerning a possible technicalization are similar: loss of human autonomy and control, possibilities for external manipulation, and instrumentalization of human beings. These concerns might express themselves quite differently, depending on the technology and context under consideration. The following semantic aspects of a possible technicalization of humans can be distinguished (cp. Sec.

  • 2.2 for the understanding of "technology"):
    • • Implantation of technical artefacts into the human body (e.g., pills, artificial replacement parts, prostheses, monitoring devices) at the individual level. Technicalized humans would simply be human beings with more technology internalized. In this context, ethical aspects such as informed consent or the right to informational self-determination are the focus of the debate (Sec. 7.3.3), and the consequences that this form of technicalization could have on a massive scale would be of less concern.
    • • Technical organization of society with corresponding effects on the individual (bureaucratization, militarization, monitoring, etc.) would be a technicalization at the level of collective entities. This could lead to a transformation of human society into a technical society regulating everything due to technological efficiency. The endpoint could be a totalitarian society with humans becoming servants of a (socio)technical machinery.
    • • Technical acquisition of knowledge about the human body and the mind, for example, about genetic dispositions or about physiological processes in the brain. This could lead to the technicalization of the human self-image: if the human body and mind increasingly become the object of technical interpretation and are regarded as a kind of machine, then it will only be a small step to considering humans in general as machines (which is similarly an issue in the debate on digitalization, cp. Chap. 8). Progress in neurophysiology, biotechnology, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology have, in many circles, allowed the idea of a technical human to come much closer, i.e., the description or even re-creation of human beings as machines (Chap. 9).

It is understandable that humans care about the future of humanity. However, this future is neither completely in our hands, nor is reliable knowledge of it achievable. Taking care and reflecting prospectively about possible futures of humankind, ranging between humans taking full control over everything in freedom and autonomy or becoming subject to techno-totalitarianism, must therefore not be undertaken with a prognostic attitude but with regard to developments in contemporary times. In this way, the consequentialist scheme (Fig. 3.1) becomes sensible even in the absence of reliable future knowledge: The reflections can contribute to gaining orientation today on how to proceed with human enhancement.

This prospective reflection can, for example, be directed to the interpretation of humans as, ultimately, a technical system, e.g., a machine (cp. Chap. 2) as a follow-up to their complete naturalization. Enhancement then would be quite consequent, as it is for every technical system. Interpreting humans generally as machines is semantically completely different from the implantation of technical artefacts into the human body. Enriching humans with technical artefacts does not prevent us speaking of human beings as trans-technical entities, i.e., as beings who may profit from the technology in their bodies, but it does not allow us to speak of them as technical beings. The relation of technology to humans is a crucial issue in contemporary human self-understanding (cp. Chap. 9).

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