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Transhumanism in the Real World.
August 26, 2008 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Real-life examples of "transhumanism" / the fusion of body and "machine".

Dear Meta Hive,

I'm giving a seminar for my class on the psychology of transhumanism. I'm looking for articles, books, and news about the real-world application of transhumanist principles and methods. My primary interest is in the clinical application of such methods (i.e. for therapy or relief of mental illnesses), but some of my seminar talk will also cover enhancement technologies and even some novelties / "techs seeking a purpose".

I have some things in mind which will serve as good examples:

I know for one, that brain pace-makers have been used to treat Alzheimer's and more recently depression. There are also bio-optic implants and cochlear implants which serve to restore sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf - these are fascinating to consider for persons who were born deaf or born blind. (Is there an analogue for the tactile sense or for smell??)

Some other things to mention are: brain chips, neurofeedback, various cyborg-prostheses, and some other cyber-punk-esque themes like nootropics, brain-computer interfaces and memory implants.

Of course, as I said I am greatly interested in other examples anyone can give besides the ones I mentioned (since I'm undoubtedly missing many) and even for the ones I do have, I'd like to have multiple sources citing uses of these things and etc. I've linked all Wikipedia articles, but I cannot use Wikipedia as a source for obvious reasons, and I would prefer reputable sources (BBC, SciAM, Newscientist) since I can follow up on these to find the scholars behind them most easily (this IS, afterall, a formal psychology seminar - I can only use so much that is bizarro futurism), scholarly articles are excellent, and even papers discussing the ethos of these things are welcome too.

Have at it!
posted by tybeet to Science & Nature (23 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
lo-tech interface, but apparently after a week or so of wearing this belt, your brain is integrating it as another sense.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:04 AM on August 26, 2008


Also, I realize I might be treading a fine line of disctinction for what constitutes a "transhumanist" technology - but let's leave that discussion out of the thread since it will be my job to make the argument in my seminar.
posted by tybeet at 11:04 AM on August 26, 2008


Human exoskeleton suit helps paralyzed people walk
posted by scody at 11:12 AM on August 26, 2008


This might be a bit pedestrian (pun forthcoming) to be considered "transhuman", but a friend of mine just got himself a titanium knee.
posted by LordSludge at 11:15 AM on August 26, 2008


I trust you'll be considering the work of 'Captain Cyborg' (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Warwick) . . .
posted by davemack at 11:19 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


There are other (and better) stories about this product, but this was the link I happened to save. Anyway, it's about a new video game device that uses brain wave reading technology; it is a much better realization of virtual reality, from what I have read. I know this isn't exactly transhumanism, but for some it could be revolutionary (if it works as well as all the reviews of its prototypes say it does). It could vastly improve the lives of people confined to wheelchairs or beds. The wiki page is pretty informative, and it says that a medical doctor is also working with some of this.
posted by metalheart at 11:22 AM on August 26, 2008


They're not implanted yet, but I have a cyborg friend: Her diabetes doesn't kill her because she has a gadget hooked into her body (eg, as part of it, if not permanently) that pumps in insulin.

And in all seriousness: Prescription eyeglasses. Again, not permanent and old, but certainly my functional "self" includes these lenses that make it possible for me to see.

Sprinting-prosthesis, anyone? Sure, he didn't quite qualify for the Olympics, but it got us into a good set of arguments over enhancement.

I would seriously argue that a lot of "Transhumanizing" technology is really just a logical evolution of simple human tool-use. After all, what's the real difference between bio-optic implants and frames that correct my astigmatism? It's just that one's new, and the other's been around a while.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:23 AM on August 26, 2008


Simulated sight for blind people via electrical impulses delivered to the tongue.
posted by Flunkie at 11:29 AM on August 26, 2008


While not in humans, it's close: Monkeys control robot arm with thoughts.
posted by Nelsormensch at 11:32 AM on August 26, 2008


Oooh, Nelsormensch's link reminded me of another one that's "not human, but...":

Disembodied rat brain neurons in a petri dish fly an F-22 flight simulator.
posted by Flunkie at 11:37 AM on August 26, 2008


Magnetic finger implants. And I don't know if it's what you have in mind, but there's a lot more body-modification stuff that's 'functional' in a sexual sense.
posted by box at 11:43 AM on August 26, 2008


I would seriously argue that a lot of "Transhumanizing" technology is really just a logical evolution of simple human tool-use.

I agree completely. Much of it would be nothing more than technology applied towards the functioning of an individual, but if that's not transcending the nature of the human conditition or capability, then what is?

Should the line be drawn between something like a cane and something like an exoskeleton based on "permanency" as you suggested? Should it be drawn based on when it was developed - i.e. in the age of the computer? Should it be based on whether or not it has "processing power" (i.e. a kind of intelligence) such as brain chips? I haven't yet decided what kind of logic is appropriate to apply to this decision, but it's interesting to consider, since it's a relatively new term.
posted by tybeet at 11:46 AM on August 26, 2008


Subvocal recognition for wheelchair guidance
posted by bkdelong at 11:50 AM on August 26, 2008


I looked for more, but - since the story is several years old at this point - was unable to find much. I was hoping for something with pictures. But this guy has a pretty boss set of sunglasses that run to a laptop and then jack into his temples, ala something from Neuromancer.
posted by kaseijin at 11:52 AM on August 26, 2008


Magnetic finger implants. And I don't know if it's what you have in mind, but there's a lot more body-modification stuff that's 'functional' in a sexual sense.

Absolutely! The "transhumanizing" of sexuality should not be left out.

Keep them coming (these are all great).
posted by tybeet at 11:54 AM on August 26, 2008


There was an amazing article in Harper's magazine a few years back about elective plastic surgery: about a doctor who wants to do things like put tails on people, and questioning why that's illegal. Sorry I can't come up with title or author's name.

I also recommend the book "Better Than Well," by Carl Elliot. It's a great book, and all about 'enhancement technologies,' some of them pharmaceutical, some going beyond that.

Also I always think that it's interesting that simply wearing glasses or contacts, and getting fillings in our teeth can be considered to make us cyborgs -- as Tomorrowful pointed out.

Good luck!
posted by toomuchkatherine at 11:56 AM on August 26, 2008


This is a different interpretation of what is human and trans-human, but Marshall McLuhan sopke of automobiles, computers, and tools as extensions of the body.
posted by goethean at 12:15 PM on August 26, 2008


Nobody's mentioned Aimee Mullins' sprinting legs, those russian Rocket boots or Powerbocking yet?
posted by Orb2069 at 12:26 PM on August 26, 2008


Brainwave Communication Device

The Brainwave Communication Device is one of UVATT’s long-term research projects. Its goal is to enable people with severe physical disabilities to communicate via brainwaves. UVATT has had considerable success with this and the system is now at a point where users, with little or no training, can use brainwaves to operate a simple on/off switch.
posted by Rumple at 1:03 PM on August 26, 2008


There are other (and better) stories about this product, but this was the link I happened to save. Anyway, it's about a new video game device that uses brain wave reading technology; it is a much better realization of virtual reality, from what I have read. I know this isn't exactly transhumanism, but for some it could be revolutionary (if it works as well as all the reviews of its prototypes say it does). It could vastly improve the lives of people confined to wheelchairs or beds. The wiki page is pretty informative, and it says that a medical doctor is also working with some of this.
posted by metalheart at 11:22 AM on August 26 [+] [!]


Eponysterical.

My Mom has a titanium aortic valve, plus a pacemaker. Boring compared to the stuff others have posted, but I like to call her the Bionic Woman anyway.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 2:17 PM on August 26, 2008


don't forget about military technology. the DOD has a strong interest in enhancing a soldier's performance and capabilities. DARPA would be the first place to try.

also, contacts were already mentioned, but these are enhanced.
posted by buka at 3:37 PM on August 26, 2008


To followup on some of these comments, I thought I would add what my independent research has turned up. I have been greatly assisted by all your ideas, so I wanted to address some of them specifically here.

"lo-tech interface, but apparently after a week or so of wearing this belt, your brain is integrating it as another sense."
and
"Simulated sight for blind people via electrical impulses delivered to the tongue."

I've discovered that this is officially termed "sensory substitution" and I've since found some articles that explore echolocation substitution for visually deprived cats, and substituting auditiory for vision in blind people, as well as more on the tactile-for-deaf persons approach.

"I trust you'll be considering the work of 'Captain Cyborg' (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Warwick) . . ."

Thanks, this will certainly help fill out the broad ethical implications of these things I will discuss.

"Human exoskeleton suit helps paralyzed people walk"
and
"While not in humans, it's close: Monkeys control robot arm with thoughts."
and
"This might be a bit pedestrian (pun forthcoming) to be considered "transhuman", but a friend of mine just got himself a titanium knee."

I've considered these all, and I probably won't discuss the age-old prosthetics. I've decided to concentrate on the more modern versions which incorporate some form or other of brain-signal interpretation such as myoelectric signal processing which goes along the lines of this comment and article, "While not in humans, it's close: Monkeys control robot arm with thoughts." and is more true to the theme of transhumanism since a "machine" essentially modulates the functioning of a prosthesis. There are some pretty neat myoelectric devices for all kinds of limbs out there! This will form my kinesthetic side of the seminar.

"Brainwave Communication Device"

I've found a great deal on this subject, especially in the clinical field where neurofeedback and biofeedback is used to operant condition away such disorders as ADHD and some emotional disturbances.

"This is a different interpretation of what is human and trans-human, but Marshall McLuhan sopke of automobiles, computers, and tools as extensions of the body."

This should be an interesting perspective to think about when I write my introduction, and discuss what constitutes machine-intervention in the transhuman sense.

"also, contacts were already mentioned, but these are enhanced."

And of course these are really cool - unfortunately there isn't much I have yet found on purely-enhancing devices like these.

"My Mom has a titanium aortic valve, plus a pacemaker. Boring compared to the stuff others have posted, but I like to call her the Bionic Woman anyway."

I'll use this as one example of the human organic-synthetic synthesis.

It will be a whole lot of fun putting this together - thanks for the help Oh, Meta-Mind!
posted by tybeet at 12:00 PM on August 27, 2008


Sorry if I missed anyone - every comment has definitely helped!
posted by tybeet at 12:01 PM on August 27, 2008


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