Living in the Artificial World

We were born in a world that was already designed. The humans in their aim to improve their quality of life had been modifying their bodies and how they relate with the environment in which they inhabit. Transforming and reworking the world and their existence in response to their needs, desires and expectations, creating a more artificial than natural atmosphere. That with property we can call “artificial world”. Herbert A. Simon, in his book ‘The Sciences of the Artificial’ wrote: “The world we live in today is much more a man-made or artificial world, than it is a natural world. Almost every element in our environment shows evidence of human artifice as using “artificial” in as neutral a sense as possible, as meaning man-made as opposed to natural 1“. Gary Krug wrote that “within the technological system people exist in spaces already constructed, and they have adapted themselves to this world as simply the way things are 2.” In the actual world, if we talk about ​​progress we immediately associate it with technology, because as we currently conceive it is linked to the all the qualities that life has. It is almost impossible to think about this aspects if we separate them from technology 3.

Each human being lives in a constantly changing reality and adaptation to technological advancements. Taking into account that although the relationship: humanity-nature is a subject that has deserved and deserves our attention, now we must start to worry about the relationship: humanity-artificial world 4. This implies that we should study the interactions humanity-artificial world and artificial-world, natural-world; and study the generation, evolution and control of the technological aspects of the environment.

The Artificial World: Technology can be found or exists everywhere. We can affirm this just by simply look of what surrounds us and put on evidence that everything has been a creation of the man; how do we behave, how did societies developed and as a consequence our culture that bears the indelible stamp of technology 5. The artificial world is everything that surrounds us that is made by a human. On every present moment technological action leaves as a consequence the artificial world we live in. Now, we must understand it as a global unit and the elements that surrounds it, have an opinion and take actions based on this understanding. In the last decades the speed of growth of this artificial world and the innovative rhythm that its development has taken.

This artificial world, which is not a fictitious world, it actually helps mankind to improve life’s obstacles, and it is a substantial part of the cultural and social frameworks. The artificial world conditions our everyday life; and to avoid problems we should examine, know, understand and control which are the conditions it applies to humanity. The artificial world in several occasions behaves as a true interface between man and the natural world, making the relationship between both more indirect and complex. The complexity, density and amplitude that it has acquired poses the risk of isolating and completely enclosing the human, blocking his perception of the natural world. To avoid this, a clarification effort is required that makes it comprehensible and controllable; in other words, to make it transparent 6.

Fig. 1: NASA Satellite image of the Flevopolder in the Netherlands, 2005.

The Dutch Polders are an illustration of engineered nature and the mankind’s desire to alterate the landscape. The biggest Dutch polder is in the Flevoland province, where the largest artificial island of the world, the ‘Flevopolder‘ (Fig. 1) is located 7. An encounter with water reclaiming land. The Province is newest created province for the Netherlands and it’s conformed by the Flevopolder and the Noordoostpolder. This example displays how the power and usage of technology has grown overtime.

Heyward C. Sander, in his book ‘Creator, Creation and Betrayal’, said that “the artificial world is a creation that will work on our behalf. It will destroy the way their communities think and make their bodies react real different from the way they are supposed to function. It will also create mood swings so that they will not understand what is happening to them. [...] Nature is the last of the resisters [...] we’ve been creating the master plan of how to take the natural world out from controlling everything, and in the future the artificial world is king of the land” 8.

Transhumanism emerged as a cultural construct that considers the relations between humanness and social and technological change. Especially by developing technologies to eliminate ageing and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities 9. Many people are excited talking and writing about the prospects for the technological enhancement of human brains and bodies and a transition to new versions of humanness. The most avid and optimistic of these people call themselves transhumanists. The meaning of Transhumanism sounds obvious - between states of humanness- yet is remarkably difficult to specify the variables. A significant part of the ambiguity arises from the notion of what it means to be human.

Transhumanism: “Julian Huxley, the first director of the UNESCO , used for the first time the term transhumanism saying: “I believe in transhumanism: once there are enough people who can truly say that, the human species will be on the a of a new kind of existence, as different from ours as ours is from that of Peking man. It will at last be consciously fulfilling its real destiny.” With his vision the man is still a man, but transcending himself, becoming aware of the new possibilities of and for human nature.” 10

The transhumanist technologies that intervene with human physiology to cure diseases and repair injuries have accelerated to a point in which they also can increase human performance outside the realms of what is considered to be normal for humans. These technologies are referred to as emerging and speculative and include, for example, vaccination, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, nanomedicine, biotechnology, genetic engineering, stem cell cloning, and transgenesis, etc. Other technologies that could extend and expand human capabilities outside physiology include virtual reality, artificial intelligence, robotics, and brain–computer interface, which form the domain of bionics. Because these technologies, and their respective sciences and strategic models would take the human beyond the normal state of existence, society (including bioethicists and others who advocate the safe use of technology) have shown concern and uncertainty about the downside of these technologies and the possible outcomes for our species 11.

Fig. 2: Chips implanted in the Swedish company Epicenter, 2018.
Fig. 3: Chips implanted in the Swedish company Epicenter, 2018.

Biohacking: “Synthetic biology is a rapidly emerging field, drawing both on the advances in biotechnology and the engineering approach to creating controllable, modular systems. It also often draws on the open-source ethic, seeking to give more people access to modifying biology.” 12

Biohacking without fear of technology, in Sweden 3.000 citizens (Fig. 2 &3) have implanted an electronic data chip under their skin 13. This chip’s technology allows people to do their daily tasks such as opening doors, travelling on public transport and having their identification number on it. It is replacing the usage of tickets, cards and keys 14. But what would happen if things go wrong? We can take as an example the case of the of the scientist Mark Gasson, who claims that he has become the first human with a hacked chip infected by a computer virus 15. The researcher introduced an electronic chip in one hand as part of an investigation to evaluate the potential risks of implantable devices. However, the small device turned out to be contaminated by a computer virus. This virus could have been transferred to other electronic systems with which the scientist has been in contact. This event uncovers the unsettling possibility that, in the future, advanced technological devices or implants or transhumanist prostheses may be susceptible to cybernetic attacks or hacks. If in the future, perhaps not too far away from now, if we have implanted chips or other technological devices in our bodies, will the new doctors be the technologists? Will computer antivirus companies be the new pharmaceutics?

Transhumanist Politics
and Ideal World

In their most radical version, transhumanists wish to take total command of their human capabilities in ways which, at certain point, would require developing into a new specie achieved by these means: a posthuman 16. As well they promote that in a future, with the distance of thousands or millions of years, the human being as we know it now will no longer be here, and his descendants, could be biological, mechanical, technological, or a mixture of both. That, of course, if we do not finish earlier with the conditions that make the life of our species possible 17.

The idea of a speculative posthuman “eden” is inherently linked with the philosophical principles of the Accelerationism movement. The term ‘Accelerationism’ was firstly used by the science fiction writter Roger Zelazny in his 1967 book ‘Lord of Light’. In a part of the book, the author referred to an aggrupation of revulotionaries, the ones who he called “Accelerationists”, which was looking forward to a higher level of being a higher level to transform their lives through the agency of technology. The foundations of the Accelerationism theory are in favor of automation and aspire to the “fusion of the digital and the human”. Accelerationists believe that with the help of technology they must increase the speed of time and intensify it to it's maximum capacity, because this is the best way to advance for humanity “or because there is no alternative” 18.

Transhumanists tendencies perhaps could be materialized by the basis of Accelerationism, however, transhumanists believe in an colossal exponenial use of technology. They aim to reach super intelligence as distant over any current human capabilities; to have boundless youth and the illusion of eternal lives; to have immunity to illness; to exert total control over their own bodies, temperaments, and mental states; to have the capability of getting rid of feeling tired or, as well, almost all negligible things that occur on the daily life; to have an expanded capacity for joy and cherish; to achieve the mythical state of awareness that current human capacities are just limited only by the imagination and fantasy.

Fig. 4: Screenshot of the Virtual Reality game ’ Nature Trecks’, 2018.
Fig. 5: Screenshot of Harun Farocki’s, ‘Paralel I’ video, 2012.

A transhumanist technology that makes us experience the limits of imagination and awarness is Virtual Reality. We can take as an example of it the game ‘Nature Treks’ 19, which explores diverse replicates of enhanced natural landscapes (Fig. 4). The players can give shape to their desired “perfect” world by dominating the weather and “natural” resources. The game’s images are an almost hyper-realistic simulation of natural spaces. This technology allows us to transcend our physical and mental limitations, and to construct a pretended promising land of peacefulness and dreams 20. But, Virtual Reality makes us question the relationship of our bodies, our physicality, with natural spaces. What is our perception of what we can really achieve or not ruled by our conscious or unconscious fears or what makes us happy. As well, it puts the users on the fantasy role of world creators.

Another simulation of the natural world is the artwork ‘Paralel I’ from Harun Farocki, a comparative visual narrative with the artificial world. The image moving composition shows the constructivism of games from visual landscapes and computer animated worlds, displaying a parallelism between rendered artificial imagery and real photographical one questioning photo-realism (Fig. 5). The artist quotes “Computer animations are currently becoming a general model, surpassing film. In films, there is the wind that blows and the wind that is produced by a wind machine. Computer images do not have two kinds of wind. [...] Apparently today computer animation is taking the lead. Our subject is the development and creation of digital animation. If, for example, a forest has to be covered in foliage, the basic genetic growth program will be applied, so that “trees with fresh foliage” [...] “a forest in which some trees bear four-week-old foliage, others six-week-old foliage” can be created”. Pondering about the development of such hyper-realistic effects, based on the application of generative algorithms, the art piece unveils a feeling doubt about what is the significance, if there is one, of reality and till which extent will be possible to command it 21.

Eugenics: “The improvement of human hereditary traits through various forms of intervention. The means formerly proposed to achieve these objectives focused on artificial selection, while the modern ones focus on prenatal diagnosis and fetal exploration, genetic counseling, birth control, in vitro fertilization and genetic engineering.” 22

The discussions around transhumanism investigate how we associate, behave and relate with the world we live in. In a transhumanist ideal world we would we would be able to edit and control our hereditary traits. To answer the question if this philosophy advocates eugenics, the conscious manipulation of our genetic qualities, transhumanists state that they: “Uphold the principles of bodily autonomy and procreative liberty. Parents must be allowed to choose for themselves whether to reproduce, how to reproduce, and what technological methods they use in their reproduction. The use of genetic medicine or embryonic screening to increase the probability of a healthy, happy, and multiply talented child is a responsible and justifiable application of parental reproductive freedom. Beyond this, one can argue that parents have a moral responsibility to make use of these methods, assuming they are safe and effective. Just as it would be wrong for parents to fail in their duty to procure the best available medical care for their sick child, it would be wrong not to take reasonable precautions to ensure that a child-to-be will be as healthy as possible. This, however, is a moral judgment that is best left to individual conscience rather than imposed by law. Only in extreme and unusualcases might state infringement of procreative liberty be justified. If, for example, a would-be parent wished to undertake a genetic modification that would be clearly harmful to the child or would drastically curtail its options in life, then this prospective parent should be prevented by law from doing so. This case is analogous to the state taking custody of a child in situations of gross parental neglect or child abuse” 23.

Fig. 6: CBS News reporting how parents selected the gender of their baby by using CRISPR
technique with Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, 2017

Transhumanists confronts the ethical challenge with the power of the self direction of human evolution as now scientists claim that they can design a better version of our offspring and succeeding generations 24. In an almost science fiction scenario Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg uses the CRISPR technique to single out a piece of DNA to then repair it or cut it like scissors (what is called ‘Gene Editing’) to correct genetic defects 25. Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) technology it was used firstly to clear diseases and gender selection and now it allows parents to select their babies physical traits such as “eye color, hair color and more” with an 80% accuracy. The doctor enabled Kristen and Matt Landon, a couple from the United States of America, to select the gender or their daughter (Fig. 6) in his clinic based in Los Angeles city. The reasons to do such thing were plainly cosmetic. Does this baby has the quality of a “free woman”, even though she was entrusted by her parents and meticulously genetically manipulated to avoid a gender and the randomness of nature?

Using as well the CRISPR technique, Dr. He Jiankui in Shenzhen, China, claims that he helped make the world’s first two genetically modified twins 26. He modified the genetic of the babies disabling the specific gene that allows the HIV cells that infect humans. He believes this procedures in the future will benefit the patients with rare diseases. The scientist also affirms that “the world has moved on to a stage for embryo gene editing” and that if he wasn’t doing this someone else would do this. Even though what Dr. Jiankui did seems an act of good, he was not authorized by the chinese government to execute such relevant procedure. Are now prepared for such interventions as there is no regulation at all? This alterations express a possible future hyper-individuality if not regulated properly.

Transhumanist Technologies: “Technologies that intervene with human physiology for curing disease and repairing injury have accelerated to a point in which they also can increase human performance outside the realms of what is considered to be “normal” for humans. These technologies are referred to as emerging and speculative and include artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, nanomedicine, biotechnology, genetic engineering, stem cell cloning, and transgenesis, for example. Other technologies that could extend and expand human capabilities outside physiology include artificial intelligence, artificial general intelligence, virtual reality, robotics, and brain-computer integration, which form the domain of bionics, uploading, and could be used for developing whole body prosthetics.” 27
Fig. 7: ‘Alcor Life Extention’ cryogenic capsules.

The followers of transhumanism believe that at certain point we will be able to upload our consciousness to a machine, a backup of our brain 28. Some transhumanist promote a “live forever” discourse. Defeating the meanings of death, The Alcor Life Extension Foundation designed cryogenic capsules where people that have the desire to prolong their existence on this planet can do so threw an “hibernation” method (Fig. 7). The ideal of the company is to, with the help of the CRISPR technique, freeze human bodies with hope to preserve them and their minds to, in the future, be able to resurrect at one point 29.

It appears likely that the basic truth of living an uncertainty long, solid, dynamic life would take anybody to posthumanity on the off chance that they went on collecting memories, abilities, and mental and physical capabilities. But the question to all this promising life enhancements and augmentations don’t discuss how we are going to live a long-lasting happy life or, if everything goes wrong, we are going to live taking anti rejection drugs for our bodies to adapt to prosthetics for example. For now transhumanists ideals could be a dream or a nightmare. Will be feasible in the future that freedom will be mediated by technological devices and happiness will depend on the administration of chemical drugs capable of controlling humors, dreams and instincts? Would the offer and principles of transhumanism still be freedom?

The transhumanist philosophy discusses that there would be two types of characteristics of the human being to improve: those that have to do directly with the mental quality or of the conscience, and those that have to be with the hardware, which would be our body. The hardware capabilities seem to be simply instrumental. An individual of the human species could be made more human even if he ceases to be human in a biological sense. The transhumanist idea of ​​downloading all the brain information in other hardware (computers) makes the brain and the entire human body dispensable, a body with no rights.

The Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom, in his paper ‘In Defense of Posthuman Dignity’ 30, argues that the sectors that show resistance to accepting biotechnology experience two main fears. The first one is the possibility of dehumanization that people can experience, and the second one is the potential threat that posthuman beings can represent for ordinary humans. The thinker refutes these fears by asserting that respect for individual decisions must be guaranteed as well as information, public debate and education must be the means to provoke intelligent decisions-making. Regarding the second concern, Bostrom states that the creation of two different species from genetic modifications is highly questionable. Transhumanists believe that there is no moral difference between human improvement through technology and other forms of progress. The author maintains that being healthy, smarter, having a wide range of talents or possessing greater powers of self-control are blessings that tend to open more roads than it closes.

Will randomness always be left out of any technology? Complete control is impossible. Not everything always works as planned. In any circumstance there are factors that have not been taken into account and that can cause enormous effects, even catastrophic, without us being capable to do anything about it. Technology is certainly not a chaotic system, but, like every system imbricated in society, it is a subject that in many cases can provoque unforeseen circumstances and side effects impossible to measure in advance, or even to prevent them sufficiently.

Regardless of the current technical feasibility of the transhumanists technological proposals applicable to human beings, their politics are a challenge and would involve discussing in a global manner to what extent and on what basis we should or would not want a human condition different from the current one. Transhumanist politics and questionable problems should lead us to rethink the role and magnitude of their technologies, to establish criteria to regulate and monitor scientific investigations and research and clarify when and how they should be oriented for the mankind’s improvement. It should encourage us to define if the human body is only an evolved being, or if also has a function and meaning 31. We should ask ourselves what is the duty of our history, socialization and biography in the constitution of human nature, which gives it an unconditional intrinsic value, what we call human dignity.

In order to respond to transhumanist challenges we must understand their codes and take an approach to the normative foundation of human nature, definitions about man, science and ethics, as well as the notion of the word freedom 32. If this is to be understood preferentially as creativity opposed to the necessity of the natural, or if freedom is the resource to oppose the incomplete and diminished character of ourselves, or if freedom is the last feature of our survival and we should make it limitless. Ultimately, if freedom is a reality open to the infinite possibilities or a deception that makes us believe that the more technological progress is made, the less progress is made in human personal perfection.

Fig. 8: ‘SpotMini’ the robot dog from Boston Dynamics, 2018.

Shifting our view on a new class of pet, the company Boston Dynamics (Fig. 8) will make SpotMini 33, the robot dog with an astonishing mobility, available to buy on the market. We will be able to choose the functions you want our “dog” to perform as they come in packages. Its customization depends on the role the owner of this “robotic animal” wants to give to it. For example, if the dog want purchased for security reason, it will be equipped with extra cameras. But, are we by this losing the natural order of randomness if we are able to have total control the identity of our pets not threw education?

This should lead us to consider and evaluate the interdisciplinary function of transhumanists technologies, their relationship with the laws and the dynamics of society. We should be encouraged to address what does the meaning of “human” specifically consists of and call for a redefinition of technologies related to our biology with man as the sole end: the real man, not the fantasy one; the possible man, from what he is; not only from how we imagine it. This imposes on us the challenge of proposing the definition and scope of our mortal condition, the basis of what we know as our finite identity. Although biographical material remains, the adjective mortal belongs to every human being. From the transhumanist point of view, the meaning of mankind’s improvements, progress and growth comes from what we must become. For them what we are as a specie already is not enough, our nature will never be enough.

THESIS by SOPHIA DE JONG - Graphic Design - Royal Academy of Arts, The Hague - 2019