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The Techno-Human Condition

The Techno-Human Condition

Braden Allenby
Daniel Sarewitz
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Techno-Human Condition
    Book Description:

    In The Techno-Human Condition, Braden Allenby and Daniel Sarewitz explore what it means to be human in an era of incomprehensible technological complexity and change. They argue that if we are to have any prospect of managing that complexity, we will need to escape the shackles of current assumptions about rationality, progress, and certainty, even as we maintain a commitment to fundamental human values.Humans have been co-evolving with their technologies since the dawn of prehistory. What is different now is that we have moved beyond external technological interventions to transform ourselves from the inside out -- even as we also remake the Earth system itself. Coping with this new reality, say Allenby and Sarewitz, means liberating ourselves from such categories as "human," "technological," and "natural" to embrace a new techno-human relationship.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29566-6
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 What a Long, Transhuman Trip It Has Already Been
    (pp. 1-14)

    Congratulations. You are the proud owner of the latest, new-and-improved-model human brain and body, a version that has only recently become available and that renders all previous models obsolete. Do you think your brain is the same as that of a hunter-gatherer of your species who lived 10,000 years ago? What does it mean that in ancient, oral societies human memory was a principal indicator of intelligence, but we now have search engines that give anyone with a computer access to the world’s accumulated memory? Put somewhat differently: Are you as smart as Homer? How do you think you compare...

  5. 2 In the Cause-and-Effect Zone
    (pp. 15-30)

    Here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is obvious to all that science and technology are continually expanding their reach into the intricacies of human physical and cognitive function. But are we at the brink of something new and different, or are we just pushing further, and perhaps faster, into domains that have already been invaded, and have always been problematic? Certainly the idea that human enhancement is somehow a separate or new or different branch of the larger human technological program is arguable. In what way is a spear, or a bicycle, or a book, or a...

  6. 3 Level I and Level II Technology: Effectiveness, Progress, and Complexity
    (pp. 31-62)

    Could there be any better mirror into a person’s soul than the person’s views on progress? Which litany best supportsyourworldview: the eradication of smallpox; the lifting out of poverty of hundreds of millions of people in South and East Asia; the economic and political integration of dozens of European nations that for centuries were at one another’s throats; the defeat of Nazism, Stalinism, and Maoism; the creation of an amazingly egalitarian global information network via the Internet? Or are you more comfortable with The Bomb, AIDS, climate change, continuous concentration of global wealth, a billion malnourished people with...

  7. 4 Level III Technology: Radical Contingency in Earth Systems
    (pp. 63-86)

    We have explored two levels of technology. At the shop-floor level, we can see much of the cause-and-effect chain necessary to meet specific and well-defined social goals: a vaccine prevents a particular disease, or a well-designed manufacturing process eliminates the use of toxic chemicals (and thus workers’ potential exposure to them). At the second level, technology is a networked social and cultural phenomenon; any particular technology functions in a broader context that can be complicated, messy, and far less predictable or understandable than what happens at the shop-floor level. Still, we are generally familiar with this second level; we talk...

  8. 5 Individuality and Incomprehensibility
    (pp. 87-106)

    Those who favor transhumanism speak the language of individual choice and freedom from institutional authoritarianism; those who challenge it speak the language of human dignity and human nature as embodied in the individual. And so the transhuman dialogs center, almost obsessively, on the individual and on personal traits, as if that is the scale at which the implications of transhumanism will emerge. The hold of the Cartesian myth of the individual on our imaginations remains all-powerful: Individuals decide, individuals act, individuals make ethical choices.

    We beg to differ. Consider a key assumption of the transhumanist approach: that enhanced human intelligence...

  9. 6 Complexity, Coherence, Contingency
    (pp. 107-126)

    Not everything is complex. In particular, when one is dealing with a shop-floor, Level I technology, one is dealing with a simple system.¹ By that, we mean that most of the necessary relationships among goals, means, and causality have all already been captured in a physical system that can be used with confidence that a given input will produce a desired output. If you are vaccinated against measles or tetanus, it is highly probable you will be protected from the disease for the specified time; if you get into a car, it is highly probable that you can then drive...

  10. 7 Killer Apps
    (pp. 127-158)

    In order to further clarify our approach, as well as to explore a system deeply implicated in transhumanist technologies, we now want to bring our analysis to bear on a specific area of technological application. In particular, we want to make clear that human enhancement and technological complexity are not just boutique playgrounds for the techno-elite and its observers, but in fact lie at the very heart of the most powerful driver of innovation and social transformation: the rapidly evolving interplay among emerging technologies, military operations, and national security. The intimate relation between technological evolution and military activity appears to...

  11. 8 In Front of Our Nose
    (pp. 159-190)

    Let’s recap briefly. We started out hoping to make some sense of the debate over the virtues and pitfalls of technological enhancement of human capabilities, and quickly came to see that both sides were talking about worlds that no longer existed and probably never did—worlds of individual agency, of discernible cause-and-effect chains, of simple, unambiguous, fixed categories, of stable moral and metaphysical platforms. We explored the multiple levels on which technology makes itself felt in human affairs, and the contingency-generating, boundary-dissolving, yet often imperceptible ways in which human-technical systems continually reorder existence and are in turn reordered. After pursuing...

  12. Epilogue: The Museum of Human Frailty
    (pp. 191-196)

    Recently we trooped off together to the Museum of Human Frailty. Housed in a restored factory building in a depressed mid-size Rust Belt city in upstate New York, the MHF’s promotional brochure describes the museum’s mission as helping “children of all ages understand their own emotional and rational contradictions and limitations.”

    After paying the modest entry fee, we entered a crowded exhibit room called the Hall of Memory. We were looking at maps of the brain projected onto the walls—standard science-museum fare—when someone yelled “pickpocket!” and a scruffy fellow ran for the exit. Chaos ensued. Afterwards, we sat...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 197-210)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-216)
  15. Index
    (pp. 217-222)