Commentary: Can Technology Make Us Even More Human?
Humans are on the verge of transcending their relationship with the world around them. This emergence, though, is not due to philosophical revelations or spiritual enlightenment. Instead, it’s being driven by technological advances that create a new and richer reality, expanding our perceptions and introducing new sensory and computational skills to our physiology.
Without technological augmentation, we live in a world where we only experience a small part of the broader reality. Consider vision and smell, for example. These two senses reflect just small subsets of the vast reality in which we live.
We see just a very small part of the electromagnetic spectrum. This vast energy field—from X-rays to radio waves—engulfs our reality, yet we are only passive participants in this other visual world. And our sense of smell, fine-tuned for our individual needs, is certainly constrained by our biology. From mystics to physicists, the notion that we live in an illusion appears to be true.
So, then, what is the role of technology in augmenting and enhancing our human experience? Can technology facilitate a “new normal” for our broader perception of reality?
The truth is that technology is already reshaping our reality, though in subtle ways that most people don’t realize. The examples are numerous. Prescription eyeglasses, contact lenses, or laser eye surgery can give us better than 20/20 vision. Hearing aids and cochlear implants now offer programmable features to allow users to modify their soundscapes and create unique aural experiences. Prosthetics now compete with limbs, in both form and function. And genomics can help rewrite our DNA source code with techniques like CRISPR.
Cognition also rests at the forefront of human enhancement. From neural implants to nootropics (drugs that can increase brain function), we are at the precipice of advances that will fundamentally expand our ability to process information and comprehend both simple and abstract ideas.
This all leads me to feel a bit sorry for our human self as it exists today, and even to question the notion that the human construct is definitive. Our human form and functionality is certainly not!
Technology allows us to expand the richness of life to experience more—more sights, sounds, thoughts, and perhaps other senses that we haven’t even discovered. These experiences challenge the fundamental aspects of our being. They allow us—no, demand us—to charge forth, as in the 19th century doctrine of manifest destiny. Only this time, the unchartered territory to conquest is humanity itself.
What emerges will be something more. Dare I say, it’ll be something even more human.
John Nosta is the president of NostaLab.