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We Will Be Our Own Robot Overlords

The other great episode of Note to Self was about transhumanism.  If you’re not familiar with transhumanism, it’s a movement for using technology to live a better, longer life.  I bet you’re thinking, “Oh, I use apps on my phone to lead a better life.  I guess I’m a transhumanist.”  But slow down, cowgirl.  There’s a little more to the story.

It’s really about using technology to extend your life or capabilities.  It’s about better living, through science, but like really really really through science.  Think about every human limitation: Our need for food and sleep, how quickly we can move, how far we can see.  And then think about addressing that need with science, such as removing our normal, healthy eyes and replacing them with robot eyes that can see miles into the distance.  Or, probably more accessible in the here and now, attempting to extend a person’s life span or cheat death indefinitely.

I’ll admit that while I don’t even cover up my grey to visually extend my youth in an easy, cost-effective way, I am intrigued by the idea of using technology to extend life.  Would I actually participate if it became possible?  I don’t know.  But it’s really interesting to think about.

I guess what it comes down to is this: If a loved one becomes ill, and there is a treatment for their illness, we expect them to do that treatment in order to extend their life — both for their own gain and for our gain, too.  If I became ill, I would accept the treatment not just for myself but because I feel I owe that to Josh and the kids (as well as my parents and siblings).

Would it follow that we would feel we owed ourselves and our loved ones the acceptance of these practices if they became mainstream?  If it was common to replace your heart with a robotic heart at 60, would you do it for yourself or your loved ones, or would you allow yourself to be one of the throwbacks who gracefully ages and dies at what would be — at that time — young?

I can’t say never because I wear glasses that enhance my vision, and if my doctor told me tomorrow that I would die without a mechanical heart, I would take that mechanical heart.  Moreover, I would still feel human even with that mechanical heart.

But I can see from that statement that it’s a field of grey; how much could I replace before I stop feeling like myself, and what if it was just to live better and not live longer?  As in, what if there was nothing medically wrong: Would I take the robot eyes just to see farther?  And since we clearly do things now to live longer, what is the age where we would be okay with death vs. feeling like we need to keep taking these steps to extend life and extend life and extend life.

Your thoughts?


1 Brid { 11.16.16 at 10:23 am }

Interesting… I don’t know if there’s a time when I’d stop feeling like myself. There have been a lot of changes to my appearance over the last many years, and while I don’t look like myself (when I look in the mirror, sometimes it’s hard to admit that’s me), I still feel like myself. My guess is that as long as the brain stays intact, I would feel like myself. I imagine it would be much like receiving a prosthetic limb; hopefully the foundations of self are strong enough to overcome the physical… ?

2 a { 11.16.16 at 1:32 pm }

I’m on the que sera sera plan now – my husband is always pestering me to go get a physical, eat better, exercise more, and I’m like “Why? That will interfere with my ultimate plan of dropping dead one day, instead of sinking slowly and painfully into decrepitude like half of my family. Pass.” I…just don’t believe that life is meant to go on forever, so while I did have my hernia fixed, and I would have broken bones repaired, etc., I can’t see any real reason to fight what is ultimately always a losing battle.

3 Valery { 11.16.16 at 2:29 pm }

mhm. Right now we are dealing with my father in law who fell down the stairs. 81. He is confused and disoriented in the recovery home, showing both (alarming) signs of delirium and dementia. It is such a hard question when a person stops being himself, or feeling like himself.
He still curses like himself, that is for sure.

Like “a” said above, this is not what the ultimate plan looks like.

4 Lori Lavender Luz { 11.16.16 at 9:04 pm }

Maybe one of the dividing lines for me is appearance vs function. If it’s necessary for better functioning, like replacing a failing heart or failing eyes, that seems like something I’d be more willing to do than just prettying me up or youngifying me. That’s when I’d feel I’m less like me.

5 Caryn { 11.20.16 at 2:20 pm }

I’ve been thinking about this episode since it aired too. My daughter received a liver transplant when she was a year old. She’s almost 13 now and is back on the waiting list for a lover/bowel/pancreas/partial colon transplant. We are waiting for another family to go through the hell of losing s child, so that my child can love. While that accident would happen whether or not my daughter needs organs doesn’t make it feel any better. Then we face all the complications associated with potential rejection. It’s really hard to imagine how they oils replicate a bowel, since next to the brain it is the most complex organ. But, if the technology was truly there and I knew it was safe, I would go for the artificial organs for her. If we wouldn’t have to face the lifetime of rejection issues, I think I would go for it. To give my kid a chance at a normal life, I would say yes.

I have a friend, a single mom of two in her 30’s, who’s been on dialysis for six years. Artificial kidney? Absolutely. Especially if they can replace before the long-term secondary health effects of kidney failure and dialysis occur.

When it comes to myself and replacing at end of life, I’m not so sure. I agree with everyone else, it depends on my cognitive function. I think the point he was making was that we would use the technologies before we experienced the deterioration of aging, so maybe that will make a difference for future generations.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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