Techno Humanism is the idea that humans should seek to ‘upgrade’ themselves with technology. Now, when we think about ‘upgrading’ humans, it can all seem a little Robocop or Darth Vader. We take someone who is near death and upgrade him or her to fight crime or be the evil overlord of the galaxy.
These pop culture stereotypes make concepts like Techno Humanism seem like a thing for the far future, which in the case of Robocop might be right; but actual Techno Humanism is happening right now.
Of course there are the bio hackers, people who are purposely implanting microchips and other things directly into themselves. While the practicality of such moves is questionable, more tangible Techno Humanist examples do exist.
From artificial joints and cartilage, to automate insulin implants for diabetics, Techno Humanism is now very much a part of every day life.
I first came across the concept in Yuval Noah Harari second novel, ‘Homo Deus’. The argument that I just made above is very similar to the Harari makes in the book. It is a good read and you should check it out.
However, when I read Harari’s commentary on the subject, I had a different perspective on Techno Humanism. I naturally applied it to disability, which I would argue is it’s more universal application.
From prosthetic limbs, to limb and organ transplants, these are all cases of ‘upgrading’ the human state.
I know, I know, this is all pretty obvious stuff so have I got anything new to offer?
Well, what we have previously discussed up till now is internal ‘modifications’. But in the sphere of disability, there are large sways of technology that enhance the human experience that are external. Things such as eye gaze technology and communication aids can all be classed as external ‘upgrades’ to the human condition. In that they allow people to better interact with their world.
In many cases, the conversation around Techno Humanism is around the creation of super humans. Internally enhancing a baseline human to be stronger, faster and able to live for longer. They don’t necessarily discuss ‘improving’ the abilities of the average disabled person. However, this is where Techno Humanism finds it heart.
There is however, a underlying perception problem with many aspects of Techno Humanism in relation to disabled people. In the classical sense, the problem of Techno Humanism is the old more machine than man. For various different reasons, many people can view the idea of ‘upgrading’ the human body as unnatural. There are various ethical arguments that are against drastic internal changes to the human body but you would have to say that the medical argument is winning out. If for example, you can replace a leg, an arm or pancreas, why would you not?
If though, your enhancements are external to yourself such as a communication aid or say a wheelchair, is that still a Techno Humanist ‘upgrade’?
The question is the same question that you get in the classical Techno Humanist argument, it is all about a sense of self. In this case though, it is about whether something external to yourself can still be a part of you.
Harari touches on this when he rubbishes the idea of a soul. He suggests if you take the idea of a soul out of the equation, the idea of upgrading and maintaining one’s self is only natural. The idea though that something external to you can be part of you is a difficult concept for most, and understandably so.
To me though, my identity, my being and image are inextricably linked to my wheelchair. It ‘upgrades’ me in that it allows me to travel freely (mostly), wherever I wish. It is also though a little more than a simple tool to aid in my mobility, I purposely decided its shape, size and appearance. It is in that way just as reflective of my personality as my hair colour or my tattoo.
Furthermore, I cannot imagine any ACC user not seeing their aid as vital to their sense of self.
There is though I feel a little more to it than that. My sense of self is tethered to something external to me. I don’t hate my chair, I don’t see it as some sort of means to an end, and I don’t feel trapped by it.
The reason why I make this point is, many people do. Many people, especially young people see a wheelchair as confining thing. Changing these stereotypes, challenging these negative perceptions means a change in language.
So is it time for many disabled people to think of themselves as Techno Humanists?