Vitalic - Poison Lips (Captain Flash Remix)
Two years on from the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the new Egyptian president is from the Muslim Brotherhood; on the streets of Cairo, the same kind of people who died in droves in 2011 are still getting killed. On the streets of Athens, the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn is staging anti-migrant pogroms. In Russia, Pussy Riot are in jail and the leaders of the democracy movement facing criminal indictments. The war in Syria is killing 200 people a day. It’s an easy step from all this to the conclusion that 2011, the year it all kicked off, was a flash in the pan. But wrong. Something real and important was unleashed in 2011, and it has not yet gone away. I am confident enough now to call it a revolution. Some of its processes conform to the templates laid down in the revolutionary wave that swept Europe in 1848, but many do not: above all, the relationship between the physical and the mental, the political and the cultural, seem inverted.
There is a change in consciousness, the intuition that something big is possible; that a great change in the world’s priorities is within people’s grasp. The impervious nature of official politics – its inability to swerve even slightly towards the critique of capitalism intuitively felt by millions of people – has deepened the sense of alienation and mistrust.
But the changes in ideas, behaviour and expectations are running far ahead of changes in the physical world. There is greater space for democratic movements in the Arab world, but they are constantly menaced. “The Protester” may have made it on to the cover of Time – but not a single protest has yet achieved its aim.
If we take 1848–51 as a template, the crucial moments of reaction lie ahead: coups, crackdowns, intelligence-led disruption of the activists and hackers. But there is still one powerful factor militating against a return to stability of the kind achieved after 1848: the economy. Even if the Eurozone remains stabilised, and America avoids a political crisis over its budget, the developed world faces years of Japan-style stagnation.
In February 2011, in a blog titled Twenty Reasons Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere, I argued that there was a “new sociological type” at the heart of the global protests: “the graduate with no future”. Since then indignados have flooded into Madrid’s Puerta del Sol; Occupy camps have sprung up in hundreds of cities across the globe; and student protests in Chile and Quebec have completely changed the political atmosphere there. The anger is undimmed. But the limits of what young protesters are prepared to do have become more obvious.
Free-market capitalism offered the generation born after 1985 the moon and stars. Now, in the west, it can offer very little. Even for those with jobs, there is a dramatic scaling back of opportunity that makes no version of the future seem palatable. In Athens, I interviewed a female anti-fascist, who alleged she had been strip-searched and abused in the police HQ: what was her job? “I wait tables,” she said, adding with an embarrassed laugh, “but I am a qualified civil engineer.”
To survive, the young have become a generation of drifters, reliving the plotlines of movies from the 1930s. Without some massive and cathartic turnaround, the generation in their 20s, in the west, will never accumulate pay, conditions or savings at the level their parents did. What they are accumulating is resentment.
In February 2011 I pointed to the use of social networks to organise protest, and argued that this had made “all propaganda flammable”. Two years on there’s a clearer pattern: the interaction of social mediawith a mainstream media that is, itself, undergoing rapid change. On protests you have started to see geeky men wandering around with a GoPro camera on a bike helmet, linked to a computer and a makeshift aerial, effectively live-streaming the action to niche blogs. But you also now have mainstream news networks live-streaming the protests, albeit sometimes from the safety of a rooftop or helicopter. Wherever the traditional media has the guts to do it, they can show the unedited truth about protests: who starts them, who escalates them, who behaves stupidly, who not.
On top of this, social media have grown more complex. Slowly, quietly, the mainstream media have become, for many involved in activism, politics and journalism itself, a secondary source of information, while social networks have become the primary source. This, in turn, speaks to the emergence of an undeclared dual power between the world of ideas and the world of official politics.
When the revolutions of 2011 began, horizontalism was the most obvious feature. But disengagement from ideology and structure was to play a major role in the defeat or failure of the progressive movements in 2012. In Egypt, once politics was reduced to a battle between the Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament and the remnants of the Scaf (the Supreme Council of Armed Forces), the weakness of Egyptian democratic and secular politics was exposed. Even after two years of riots, crises, scandals and crackdowns, Egypt has produced no large liberal or leftist party that is simultaneously against Islamism, and in favour of a rapid completion of the revolution. In the process of creating the National Salvation Front the opposition has had to re-order itself, with the traditional leadership types at the top, the youth at the bottom.
Egypt, in short, is the clearest example of the revenge of the hierarchy: the revenge of the 20th-century ideologies that globalist, secularist netizens had convinced themselves would expire of their own accord. And while there are many specifics to the Egyptian situation, 2012 closed with a foreboding that maybe the old forces – religion, fascism, Stalinist communism, militarism – could revive and conquer elsewhere.
Two years into the upheaval, the massive involvement of young, educated women in the protests remains one of its most salient features. There’s been an obvious and predictable backlash: rapes and sexual assaults in Tahrir Square and in various Occupy camps. In India the gang rape of a female student sparked the launch a mass movement mobilising the educated youth.
Within the protest movements in the west there has also been the consistent problem of men assuming leadership, and dominating the discussion, even in forums where “consensus” and the various speaker “stacking” systems were supposed to prevent it.
In general, women have been able to organise to counteract such outright sexism. But the wider problem remains: if a movement has no demands, then how does it articulate what women’s liberation consists of? How does it fit the issues raised by women’s long-term and strategic oppression into the immediate social issues of the day? In the horizontalist movements, this problem has hardly begun to be addressed. At root – as, for example, the radical journalist Laurie Penny has observed – it is because feminism has achieved social mobility for some women, and even a symbolically liberated lifestyle, but at the price of a truce over the economic and social subjugation of all women.
If you take a wide-angle view of this dilemma – personal liberation replacing a struggle for general economic and social liberation – it’s simply a subset of the overarching problem with the movements of 2011–12. Being a counter-culture – or even a “counter-power” – is a viable strategy only as long as the dominant cultures and powers are benign and stable.
With hindsight, late 2011 was the moment the sheen on horizontalism faded. In Spain, the leading voices within the indignado movement became frustrated by the obsession with “process”. The tyranny of consensus and hostility to political demands sucked away their momentum. Some have now organised a party – Partido X – whose debut political broadcast on YouTube featured a man in a tie.
With Occupy Wall Street, critics point to an emergent self-obsession. “There is a danger. Don’t fall in love with yourselves,” Slavoj Zizek told the protesters in Zuccotti park. “What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives. Will there be any changes then?”
The journalist Thomas Frank excoriated Occupy for its self-obsession, its refusal to express demands, comparing its minimal achievements with those of the Tea Party. Frank called for a movement “whose core values arise not … from the need for protesters to find their voice, but rather from the everyday lives of working people.”
However, both in the US and Spain, the occupiers did – once their ability to capture physical space was suppressed – attempt to move towards everyday life. By mid 2012, wherever you went in Spain, you could find movements of the working class and poor that had become infused with a 5% dose of horizontalist activism. In the US, when Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of New York and New Jersey in November 2012, overwhelming the federal emergency response services, Occupy activists surged into the breach, organising food kitchens, emergency power supplies, informal car ferry schemes and emergency shelters. Soon the hashtag #OccupySandy was trending.
When the history of this crisis is written, one of the most fascinating tasks will be to document the memes that flowed throughout it. It will not be easy: the digital human consciousness is playful. Thousands of jokes are made each day on Twitter consisting, for example, of fake book titles on some iconoclastic theme. It will not be enough to document what they were, but who made them; the speed at which the irony flowed; were people at work when they retweeted? Did the meme stay local, or did it go global?
From Tahrir to Puerta del Sol, the most important thing about the slogans, images and gestures is not what they said in isolation but what they expressed cumulatively: the woman who walked naked through the riot outside the Spanish parliament, holding a sign saying “peace”; the video of Loukanikos, the Greek riot dog, which went globally viral in the summer of 2011; the “No Pasaran” T-shirt worn by Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova in the dock.
These were first of all signifiers of rejection: scorn not just for the elite world of yachts, diamond watches and bodyguards, but for the everyday world of corporate conformity. Through these signs and symbols, large parts of humanity were signalling their solidarity to one another; their belief that a kinder, more human system is possible; and that it would be born out of the chaotic, ironic, playful qualities of human life – not by pitting one cruel hierarchy against another.
And this is why all exhortations to “formulate demands”, embrace structure, or turn to “everyday life” miss the point: the activists’ unwillingness to engage is precisely what has allowed them, up to now, to disrupt the timetable of official politics.
Two years ago I identified the defining character of this protest generation as follows: “People have a better understanding of power. The activists have read their Chomsky and their Hardt-Negri, but the ideas therein have become mimetic. Young people believe the issues are no longer class and economics, but simply power: they are clever to the point of expertise in knowing how to mess up hierarchies and see the various ‘revolutions’ in their own lives as part of an ‘exodus’ from oppression, not – as previous generations did – as a ‘diversion into the personal’.”
If I could list only one and not 20 reasons why it is still kicking off, it would be the rise of the networked individual colliding with the economic crisis. Something fundamental has happened – a shift in human consciousness and behaviour as momentous as that triggered by the arrival of mass consumption and mass culture in the 1900s.
I am drawn to Virginia Woolf’s comment: “On or about December 1910 human character changed.” She was referring to a revolution in social life and art, which made the literary tools and conventions of the Edwardian era “dead for us”. The protesters have made the 20th century seem as alien and remote as the 19th century was to Woolf and her circle.
The change, as sociologist Manuel Castells argues, is one-off and irreversible, like electrification, and it will condition all politics going forward. So the challenge for traditional politics, right and left, religious and secular, is, as Castells argues, that the networked social movements actually reflect the reality of “everyday” or “normal” life better than the old hierarchical forms. Exhorting them to “turn to the masses” misses the point: economic crisis is forcing large numbers of people to adopt behaviours that were once deemed “lifestyle choices” (squatting, bartering, sofa-surfing, the grey economy). If Castells is correct, we can expect horizontalism to survive its first winter of discontent, and to resist simple absorption into the trade unions or the liberal and social-democratic parties.
Now the movements are at a turning point. Their “revolution” remains trapped at the phase of ideology, culture, political debate. The real changes desired by those who protest are still only achievable by those prepared to wield hierarchical power: be it Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, President Obama or Greek leftist leader Alexis Tsipras, waiting nervously in the wings.
The radical youth do not disdain “ordinary” or “everyday” life, or the unwashed, uneducated masses; nor do they fear to go up against batons and even bullets: the Indian anti-rape protests are just the latest proof of this. What they disdain and fear are the politics of traditional power. In the process of overcoming this, they will probably be forced to engage with the things they despise: compromise, parliamentary politics, the art of the possible, political Islam, organised labour. The question then is: on whose terms, and with what politics?
Here, there is a parallel with the 1930s that is worth exploring. The first four years of the crisis, from 1929 to 1933, were not marked by effective mass resistance. That happened later. The early 1930s saw social disorientation, catastrophic policy choices, dysfunctional and autocratic governments and the rapid rise of the fascist right.
It was Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 that focused minds, amid the fear that something similar could happen in France, Austria and Spain. At the same time, Roosevelt’s New Deal signalled the possibility of a progressive government after all. The events of 1933-34 forced movements that had been socially weak, divided, heavy on rhetoric and self-obsessed, to, basically, get real. Fear was the key.
Although you can – as the anarchist slogan says – “live despite capitalism”, you can’t live “despite” fascism, genocidal racism, extreme sexual counter-revolution and war. As the gears of mainstream politics and economic crisis clash and grind above their heads, I would expect this realisation to be the guiding factor in where the movements that began in 2011 turn next.
3-D printed organs. Brain chips providing superhuman abilities. Megacities, built from scratch. The U.S. intelligence community is taking a look at the world of 2030. And it is very, very sci-fi.
Every four or five years, the futurists at the National Intelligence Council take a stab at forecasting what the globe will be like two decades hence; the idea is to give some long-term, strategic guidance to the folks shaping America’s security and economic policies. (Full disclosure: I was once brought in as a consultant to evaluate one of the NIC’s interim reports.) On Monday, the Council released its newest findings, Global Trends 2030. Many of the prognostications are rather unsurprising: rising tides, a bigger data cloud, an aging population, and, of course, more drones. But tucked into the predictable predictions are some rather eye-opening assertions. Especially in the medical realm.
We’ve seen experimental prosthetics in recent years that are connected to the human neurological system. The Council says the link between man and machine is about to get way more cyborg-like. “As replacement limb technology advances, people may choose to enhance their physical selves as they do with cosmetic surgery today. Future retinal eye implants could enable night vision, and neuro-enhancements could provide superior memory recall or speed of thought,” the Council writes. “Brain-machine interfaces could provide ‘superhuman’ abilities, enhancing strength and speed, as well as providing functions not previously available.”
And if the machines can’t be embedded into the person, the person may embed himself in the robot. “Augmented reality systems can provide enhanced experiences of real-world situations. Combined with advances in robotics, avatars could provide feedback in the form of sensors providing touch and smell as well as aural and visual information to the operator,” the report adds. There’s no word about whether you’ll have to paint yourself blue to enjoy the benefits of this tech.
The Council’s futurists are less definitive about 3-D printing and other direct digital manufacturing processes. On one hand, they say that any changes brought about by these new ways of making things could be “relatively slow.” On the other, they rip a page out of Wired, comparing the emerging era of digital manufacturing to the “early days of personal computers and the internet.” Today, the machines may only be able to make simple objects. Tomorrow, that won’t be the case. And that shift will change not only manufacturing and electronics — but people, as well.
“By 2030, manufacturers may be able to combine some electrical components (such as electrical circuits, antennae, batteries, and memory) with structural components in one build, but integration with printed electronics manufacturing equipment will be necessary,” the Council writes. “Though printing of arteries or simple organs may be possible by 2030, bioprinting of complex organs will require significant technological breakthroughs.”
But not all of these biological developments will be good things, the Council notes. “Advances insynthetic biology also have the potential to be a double-edged sword and become a source of lethal weaponry accessible to do-it-yourself biologists or biohackers,” according to the report. Biology is becoming more and more like the open source software community, with “open-access repository of standardized and interchangeable building block or ‘biobrick’ biological parts that researchers can use” — for good or for bad. ”This will be particularly true as technology becomes more accessible on a global basis and, as a result, makes it harder to track, regulate, or mitigate bioterror if not ‘bioerror.’”
Some of the Council’s predictions may give a few of Washington’s more sensitive politicians a rash. Although the Council does allow for the possibility of a “decisive re-assertion of U.S. power,” the futurists seem pretty well convinced that America is, relatively speaking, on the decline and that China is on the ascent. In fact, the Council believes nation-states in general are losing their oomph, in favor of “megacities [that will] flourish and take the lead in confronting global challenges.” And we’re not necessarily talking New York or Beijing here; some of these megacities could be somehow “built from scratch.”
Unlike some Congressmen, the Council takes climate change as a given. Unlike many in the environmental movement, the futurists believe that the discovery of cheap ways to harvest natural gas are going to relegate renewables to bit-player status in the energy game.
But most of the findings are apolitical bets on which tech will leap out the furthest over the next 17 years. People can check back in 2030 to see if the intelligence agencies are right — that is, if you still call the biomodded cyborgs roaming the planet people.
Two years ago, Rich Terrile appeared on Through the Wormhole, the Science Channel’s show about the mysteries of life and the universe. He was invited onto the program to discuss the theory that the human experience can be boiled down to something like an incredibly advanced, metaphysical version of The Sims.
It’s an idea that every college student with a gravity bong and The Matrix on DVD has thought of before, but Rich is a well-regarded scientist, the director of the Center for Evolutionary Computation and Automated Design at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and is currently writing an as-yet-untitled book about the subject, so we’re going to go ahead and take him seriously.
The essence of Rich’s theory is that a “programmer” from the future designed our reality to simulate the course of what the programmer considers to be ancient history—for whatever reason, maybe because he’s bored.
According to Moore’s Law, which states that computing power doubles roughly every two years, all of this will be theoretically possible in the future. Sooner or later, we’ll get to a place where simulating a few billion people—and making them believe they are sentient beings with the ability to control their own destinies—will be as easy as sending a stranger a picture of your genitals on your phone.
This hypothesis—versions of which have been kicked around for centuries—is becoming the trippy notion of the moment for philosophers, with people like Nick Bostrom, the director of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, seriously considering the premise.
Until recently, the simulation argument hadn’t really attracted traditional researchers. That’s not to say he is the first scientist to predict our ability to run realistic simulations (among others, Ray Kurzweil did that in his 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machines), but he is one of the first to argue we might already be living inside one. Rich has even gone one step further by attempting to prove his theories through physics, citing things like the observable pixelation of the tiniest matter and the eerie similarities between quantum mechanics, the mathematical rules that govern our universe, and the creation of video game environments.
Just think: Whenever you fuck up there could be the intergalactic version of an overweight 13-year-old Korean boy controlling you and screaming “Shit!” into an Xbox headset. It sort of takes the edge off things.
There’s how many PlayStations worldwide? More than 100 million, certainly. So think of 100 million consoles, each one containing 10,000 humans. That means, by that time, conceptually, you could have more humans living in PlayStations than you have humans living on Earth today.
The other interesting thing is that the natural world behaves exactly the same way as the environment ofGrand Theft Auto IV. In the game, you can explore Liberty City seamlessly in phenomenal detail. I made a calculation of how big that city is, and it turns out it’s a million times larger than my PlayStation 3. You see exactly what you need to see of Liberty City when you need to see it, abbreviating the entire game universe into the console. The universe behaves in the exact same way. In quantum mechanics, particles do not have a definite state unless they’re being observed. Many theorists have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how you explain this. One explanation is that we’re living within a simulation, seeing what we need to see when we need to see it.
Which would explain why there have been reports of scientists observing pixels in the tiniest of microscopic images.
They’re small but mighty. The tiny artificial muscles created by an international team of researchers are 200 times stronger than human muscle fibers of comparable size. In the future, improved versions of the muscles could go into the next generation of movers and doers.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” said Richard Vaia, who studies high-tech materials at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Vaia was not involved in the making of the new muscle.
The moving parts in robots, airplanes and other mechanical things are generally powered by motors. Researchers around the world have been trying to createartificial muscles that work more the way natural muscles do, to allow for more- delicate movements than mechanisms can achieve.
Ray Baughman, a nanotechnology researcher at the University of Texas at Dallas, led the team that made the new muscle, which he sometimes calls a yarn because of the way it’s woven. The muscles would work well in small medical devices, he said. His lab in Texas has thought of another creative use for them, too: “We’ve been playing with yarns to open and close blinds depending on the temperature of the room,” he told TechNewsDaily.
In the farther future, artificial muscles could give robots more natural-looking facial expressions, Baughman said.
The lab wants to try to manufacture longer ropes of the muscle, so it can weave a protective fabric for firefighters’ uniforms. The fabric would automatically seal its poreswhen faced with a sudden flash, Baughman said.
Baughman’s new muscles are made of ropes of carbon nanotubes, a super-tiny, high-tech material that researchers are adding to everything from water filters to experimental airplane parts. Baughman said he and his team twisted the nanotubes — “quite similarly to the way people insert twists into common wool or cotton fibers” — into thicker yarns. They then filled the hollow space in the nanotubes with different materials, including paraffin, the wax that goes in candles.
To get the muscles to contract, researchers heated them briefly. When heated, the paraffin wax expanded, pushing against the nanotube walls and making them fatter and shorter. As the wax cooled again, it shrank, and the nanotubes became narrower and longer. The muscles were able to shorten and then lengthen again every 25 milliseconds, or 25 thousandths of a second, Baughman said. Such fast contractions mean the muscles are able to perform a lot of work, he said.
The combination of carbon nanotubes and wax impresses Vaia. “The novel thing was how they utilized the properties of the two, came up with the correct processing to put them together,” he said.
Fabrics for the Future
Right now, Baughman’s lab knows how to make a muscle fiber that’s one kilometer (0.62 miles) long, but Baughman hopes one day to weave fabrics that require miles of fiber.
He also is looking to make the muscles react to chemicals instead of heat. Heat-driven motors are energy-inefficient, so chemical-driven muscles might be more practical.
During an epoch of dramatic climate change 200,000 years ago, Homo sapiens (modern humans) evolved in Africa. Several leading scientists are asking: Is the human species entering a new evolutionary, post-biological inflection point?
Paul Davies, a British-born theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science and Co-Director of the Cosmology Initiative at Arizona State University, says in his new book The Eerie Silence that any aliens exploring the universe will be AI-empowered machines. Not only are machines better able to endure extended exposure to the conditions of space, but they have the potential to develop intelligence far beyond the capacity of the human brain.
“I think it very likely – in fact inevitable – that biological intelligence is only a transitory phenomenon, a fleeting phase in the evolution of the universe,” Davies writes. “If we ever encounter extraterrestrial intelligence, I believe it is overwhelmingly likely to be post-biological in nature.”
In the current search for advanced extraterrestrial life SETI experts say the odds favor detecting alien AI rather than biological life because the time between aliens developing radio technology and artificial intelligence would be brief.
“If we build a machine with the intellectual capability of one human, then within 5 years, its successor is more intelligent than all humanity combined,” says Seth Shostak, SETI chief astronomer. “Once any society invents the technology that could put them in touch with the cosmos, they are at most only a few hundred years away from changing their own paradigm of sentience to artificial intelligence,” he says.
ET machines would be infinitely more intelligent and durable than the biological intelligence that created them. Intelligent machines would be immortal, and would not need to exist in the carbon-friendly “Goldilocks Zones” current SETI searches focus on. An AI could self-direct its own evolution, each “upgrade” would be created with the sum total of its predecessor’s knowledge preloaded.
“I think we could spend at least a few percent of our time… looking in the directions that are maybe not the most attractive in terms of biological intelligence but maybe where sentient machines are hanging out.” Shostak thinks SETI ought to consider expanding its search to the energy- and matter-rich neighborhoods of hot stars, black holes and neutron stars.
Before the year 2020, scientists are expected to launch intelligent space robots that will venture out to explore the universe for us.
“Robotic exploration probably will always be the trail blazer for human exploration of far space,” says Wolfgang Fink, physicist and researcher at Caltech. “We haven’t yet landed a human being on Mars but we have a robot there now. In that sense, it’s much easier to send a robotic explorer. When you can take the human out of the loop, that is becoming very exciting.”
As the growing global population continues to increase the burden on the Earth’s natural resources, senior curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Roger Launius, thinks that we’ll have to alter human biology to prepare to colonize space.
Launius looks at the historical debate surrounding human colonization of the solar system. Experiments have shown that certain life forms can survive in space. Recently, British scientists found that bacteria living on rocks taken from Britain’s Beer village were able to survive 553 days in space, on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS). The microbes returned to Earth alive, proving they could withstand the harsh environment.
Humans, on the other hand, are unable to survive beyond about a minute and a half in space without significant technological assistance. Other than some quick trips to the moon and the ISS, astronauts haven’t spent too much time too far away from Earth. Scientists don’t know enough yet about the dangers of long-distance space travel on human biological systems. A one-way trip to Mars, for example, would take approximately six months. That means astronauts will be in deep space for more than a year with potentially life-threatening consequences.
Launius, who calls himself a cyborg for using medical equipment to enhance his own life, says the difficult question is knowing where to draw the line in transforming human biological systems to adapt to space.
“If it’s about exploration, we’re doing that very effectively with robots,” Launius said. “If it’s about humans going somewhere, then I think the only purpose for it is to get off this planet and become a multi-planetary species.”
Stephen Hawking agrees: “I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space,” Hawking told the Big Think website in August. “It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet.”
If humans are to colonize other planets, Launius said it could well require the “next state of human evolution” to create a separate human presence where families will live and die on that planet. In other words, it wouldn’t really be Homo sapien sapiens that would be living in the colonies, it could be cyborgs—a living organism with a mixture of organic and electromechanical parts—or in simpler terms, part human, part machine.
“There are cyborgs walking about us,” Launius said. “There are individuals who have been technologically enhanced with things such as pacemakers and cochlea ear implants that allow those people to have fuller lives. I would not be alive without technological advances.”
The possibility of using cyborgs for space travel has been the subject of research for at least half a century. A seminal article published in 1960 by Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline titled “Cyborgs and Space” changed the debate, saying that there was a better alternative to recreating the Earth’s environment in space, the predominant thinking during that time. The two scientists compared that approach to “a fish taking a small quantity of water along with him to live on land.” They felt that humans should be willing to partially adapt to the environment to which they would be traveling.
“Altering man’s bodily functions to meet the requirements of extraterrestrial environments would be more logical than providing an earthly environment for him in space,” Clynes and Kline wrote.
“It does raise profound ethical, moral and perhaps even religious questions that haven’t been seriously addressed,” Launius said. “We have a ways to go before that happens.”
Some experts such as medical ethicist Grant Gillett believe that the danger is that we might end up producing a psychopath because we don’t quite understand the nature of cyborgs.
NASA, writes Lauris, still isn’t focusing much research on how to improve human biological systems for space exploration. Instead, its Human Research Program is focused on risk reduction: risks of fatigue, inadequate nutrition, health problems and radiation. While financial and ethical concerns may have held back cyborg research, Launius believes that society may have to engage in the cyborg debate again when space programs get closer to launching long-term deep space exploration missions.
“If our objective is to become space-faring people, it’s probably going to force you to reconsider how to reengineer humans,’ Launius said.