To some extent, Homo Hybridus and Homo Machinus are just different degrees of the same evolutionary principle, in which human physiology may be repaired, replaced or upgraded. While we have naturally become accustomed to our human shape and form, it is in some respects just the vehicle by which our brains and sensory equipment are transported from one place to another. This statement is not ignoring the aesthetics of beauty, but simply implying that the same goals could possibly be achieved in other forms, which are better suited to different environments. Prosthetics, which act to repair the human anatomy have been accepted for centuries in the form of glasses, false teeth, hearing-aids and artificial limbs etc.
However, the ability to link prosthetics to brain via an implant has the potential to revolutionise our entire concept of physiology. So while prosthetics were initially only used to carry out fairly crude repairs to our existing anatomy, the long-term development of prosthetic implants could give us the ability to re-design our physical shape and form. By this stage, it is probable that prosthetic and neural implants will have evolved due to advances in nano-technology and neuro-physiology. This technology could also be incorporated into robotic physiology along with new portable and renewable power sources that allow artificial muscles to be controlled and powered. As such, a prosthetic anatomy could offer the possibility to operate in a much broader spectrum of environments.
How does a prosthetic anatomy differ from exoskeletons and telepresence?
In part, the answer relates to the degree of physical integration acceptable. Exoskeleton and telepresence could be viewed as the same concept with the exception that the human operator is collocated within the exoskeleton, while remotely located in the case of telepresence. However, both essentially allow normal human body movements to be amplified onto a robotic framework for the duration of a specific task. In contrast, a prosthetic anatomy would replace the original human anatomy on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.
The Ultimate Self-Made Man?
We typically consider the expression 'a self-made man' as inferring a person who, possibly born into poverty, gains wealth through their own efforts and ability. However, even today, people are becoming 'self-made' in the sense that they are recreating themselves physically in new ways, such as plastic surgery, and so the concept of taking on a new form is not without some precedent.
But what sections of society would accept a prosthetic anatomy?
Again, we could speculate that any initial acceptance may be based on special circumstances where a person's quality of life or physical survival was at risk, e.g.
- Medical Condition
Clearly, a person with a severe physical disability or injury that is beyond the normal bounds of help, even with the best medical treatment in the world, could face a life of physical confinement. It is clear that many people would forego some aspect of their physical appearance, and even personal identity, in order to regain their independence. However, it is again stressed that a prosthetic anatomy could evolve, in the timeframe under discussion, to be both functionally superior and aesthetically beautiful. In fact, it may be entirely possible, in a case of this type, that the original appearance of the person could be replicated.
- Extreme Professions
Today, it might seem too extreme for somebody to change their physiology just to meet the demands of their profession. However, it is possible that the psychology of society beyond the 23rd century is driven by different needs. It has been suggested that people may have started to question whether they have a role in society. As such, people may be more willing to 're-invent' themselves both physically and mentally in order to find some role in society beginning to be dominated by the advances in AI systems and robotics. Again, if the prosthetic anatomy was physically superior in some aspects and aesthetically acceptable, this may not be such a hard choice.
- Extreme Environments
For some, life is not about their own physical form or beauty, but the beauty of exploring the universe and experiencing new wonders. However, the universe is a diverse and hostile environment and the human physiology has only evolved to meet the limited demands of a very small biosphere called Earth. To such people, the apparent sacrifice of giving up some or all of their original physical form for one that allows them to personally go out and experience the depths of space or the depths of the oceans may not be such a major issue.
The classifications we have described as Homo Hybridus and Homo Machinus are again fictitious names and simply representative of a process in which human physiology could start to evolve beyond its original form. To some extent, it could be argued that this process has already started, but the impact of current prosthetics is minimal in comparison to what technology might allow by this stage of development. Given the nature of this change, it is probable that initial developments would be exclusively contained within the type of special cases outlined, although there will undoubtedly be others attracted by the potential benefits of improving both mind and body, if and when, the technology can deliver. However, unlike earlier evolutionary stages, adaptation of the human physical form may never be really accepted by society, at least as we understand it, and as a consequence could trigger the start of a major schism in human society and evolution.
From our current perspective, it is probable that most people may reject the view of the future being outlined or, at least, hope it never happens in their lifetime. However, the historical review of the major paradigm shifts that shaped our current society seems to suggest that contemporary society is never ready to openly embrace such radical change. So, at this point, it might be simply worth reflecting on our own present-day attitudes to the various communities that totally reject the imposition of any modern technology, e.g. electricity, cars, blood transfusions etc. Of course, it is understood that the staged AI developments under discussion have the potential to cause a more profound effect on humanity than earlier paradigm shifts. Clearly, like some present-day communities, sections of future society will reject the imposition of AI technology, as summarised below, on their lives. As a consequence, the future evolution of humanity may not necessarily be taken as a democratic, majority decision.
- Stage-1: AI experts systems
- Stage-2: Neural Implants
- Stage-3: Prosthetic Anatomy
So which path leads to the future of sentient intelligence on Earth?