"We don't need AI's to destroy us, we have our own arrogance." Jay, Ex Machina film (2015)
"While perhaps a straight cure for death- which even some believe possible- might kill death, one could otherwise say death itself is displaying 'successful aging'." Daniel Callahan, The Hastings Center, "Is Death in Trouble?" (2015)
"What is the code for the recursiveness of being fallibly human?"- Michele Battle-Fisher (2016)
THE TECHNOLOGICAL FUTURE OF WELLNESS (IF WE ARE EVEN HUMAN ANYMORE)
Health is a personal narrative. We see ourselves like a history of our life events stored in our bodies. Can Ex Machina, beyond the surface scraping Fitbit savory tidbits, truly grasp what it means to be a historical, autonomous body? The complexity of health is the coexistence of physical and social emergence in health. How might society balance the “autonomous” decision making capabilities of machine learning to the public agents? It is time to have that heart to heart about the implications of prioritization of risk in systemically harnessing the power of AI. Above all, does AI need to learn to be human or maintain emotive distance in order to maximize social benefit?
There has been much discussion of the future of health care as one that is rooted in “technological singularity.” This is a theoretical event when machines autonomously and recursively redesign and self-improve for humanity’s sake. It is not a question of if this technological enlightenment is coming. When and to what extent society will permit the merging of man and machine for social welfare (not the machines) is the more salient issue.
While the AI may become “smarter” to preserve health, the dynamic of clinical care is that the patient is “less smart” to such clinical matters. The patients’ decisions may be less informed (or less smart if that suits your fancy) by doing things contrary to clinical directives. The job of AI is shaping human regulated preferences to optimize the effectiveness of the health care system by being smart for the patient.
Machine learning must find a way to cope with the changing values and actions as personal patients. Machine learning must account for changing values which I call “ethical malleability”. Health care relies on the ability for patients to change ethical positions which in turn are connected to more probable patient’s behaviors and decisions. We make up and change our minds as social animals. How does Machine learning not make miscalculations due in part with irrationality of human activity? In addition, how can Machine learning make choices not for its own body but as the anointed proxy for the bodies of the collective?
The logical uncertainty of ethical malleability and value loading would need to be leveraged with Machine learning. As a society, we are working with and against each other in a social space. There is a pull and release among people. Now, how do we clinically and politically account for the pull and push of machines into this system? As Donella Meadows, a pioneer in systems thinking, said, we cannot control a system but we can dance with it. That dance will be actualizing Machine learning to the collective benefit of society without decentralizing humanness into an cold, redesigning algorithm. What is the code for the recursiveness of being fallibly human?
One collective reaction to soften the mandible crack is the advent of transhumanism. As a society built on morals and ethics, society must respond to social movements that seek to deal with unknowns. Where there is chaos, humans seek order. Transhumanism is associated with superwellness, superintelligence and superlongevity which are all activities which usurp our present capabilities. Transhumanism is one response gaining resilience with the inherent requirement to accept uncomfortable risk tolerance to gain huge societal rewards. Therefore, transhumanism, whether right or misguided, cannot be ignored.
The Transhumanism movement seeks to combat society’s procrastination to innovate into the unknown. Transhumanism at its core must envision, or some may say prognosticate, the future. Our world will evolve no matter how much we fight or ignore its changes. Today’s reality comes in conflict with how far some believe we can go. Watching the advent of transhumanism is a story that will continue with evolve with innovation.
MEDICINE, ARE YOU LISTENING?
Humanness is in flux as human bodies are being hacked (altered) by transhumanists and others in their quest for super wellness, super intelligence and super longevity.
Bodyhacking refers to changing the human body in appearance and function using a “device, technique or procedure that an individual CHOOSES to utilize, augment, modify or improve their body.” Examples of bodyhacking include implanting magnets under one’s skin to be able to open a garage door, and implanting an engineered human ear on one’s arm to gain hypersensory abilities. Typically, such ‘hacks’ are not approved by governmental agencies or traditional medical insurance. According to Body Hacking Con, while bodyhacking is typically considered fringe, bodyhackers are “simply people who hack (alter) their bodies.”
Bodyhacking is part of a counterculture movement that is often called transhumanism. Transhumanists believe that the body is obsolete and that death is a cruel end to be avoided. In their view, the time is ripe for taking advantage of fast-paced technologies to improve our imperfect bodies and eventually cheat death.
Recent revolutionary innovations such as CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology are helping to further push the boundaries of bodyhacking by fighting the genetic causes of death. While the medical community has accepted the idea of somatic cell gene editing, germline gene editing remains controversial. There is much excitement in the transhumanist community that biohacks such as CRISPR will move from the purvue of controlled medical settings to the at-home, do-it-yourself labs. With do-it-yourself CRISPR kits, bodyhackers could further push the biological limits of humaness.
With transhumanists’ access to revolutionary technologies, such as CRISPR, there are several ethical questions worth exploring: Will bodyhacking of germline cells harm future generations? Will new hacked genomes be susceptible to troublesome mutations? Should persons who choose to be hacked outside of the conventional medical context, be allowed to assume the unknown risks? Radical human modifications are no longer science fiction and we need to seriously reflect on available choices.
Moreover, we should be mindful of the fact that the transhumanist movement is becoming politically organized. For example, in 2016, Zoltan Istvan became the first Transhumanist Party candidate to run for the President of the United States. And, in Canada, there is a Transhumanist Party which is peripherally associated with the global Transhumanist party.
Conventional medicine should pay attention to the transhumanist movement. Why? Because in the not so distant future, as patients’ bodies are increasingly being hacked outside of the realm of conventional medical care, patients will soon present with bodies not yet diagrammed in Gray’s Anatomy.
Now is the time for the medical community to discuss how best to think about acts of healing when dealing with bodies that have been hacked to exceed natural physical limits (sometimes described in terms of species typical functioning). Presently medicine is in the business of health spanning – attempting to cheat the time boundary of life while providing the best quality of life until death. According to transhumanists, however, death is unnecessary and undermines the possibilities to evolve humans.
Furthermore, there are important questions for bioethics to consider as we hurtle towards the post human era that is promised by transhumanism. Can or should medicine accept radical technologies born outside of conventional medicine? How will conventional medicine define humanness? Must that definition change? How will conventional medicine deal with technology aimed at altering humanness and blasting away any limitations on human physiology?
In the face of transhumanism and the development of revolutionary technologies, such as CRISPR, we must be more than passive creatures waiting to be hacked. We must actively engage with the physical, medical, and social possibilities as well as the limits of bodyhacking. I, for one, am anxious to observe how conventional medicine and radical modifications will play together or move apart into their respective social and scientific corners.
Disclaimer: I am a "complex futurist" & technoprogressive. I am not a transhumanist.
NOTE: This narrative is taken from my Impact Ethics commentary and Hippo Reads articles:
"Radical Technology, Bodyhacking and Medicine"- https://impactethics.ca/2017/05/26/radical-technology-bodyhacking-medicine/
"Transhumanism: Tech, Entropy, and Fighting for a Future"- http://hipporeads.com/transhumanism-tech-entropy-and-fighting-for-a-future/
"Here is Ex Machina to your Health".-http://hipporeads.com/here-is-ex-machina-to-your-health/