Indigenous people were certainly stressed by the uncertainties of hunting, gathering, and tribal clashes (humans have always been violent), but is the very success of our technological development stressing us in new ways? When far removed from directly experiencing nature or other humans, do we become psychologically empty?
Critics of technology like Tristan Harris, the ethics monitor of Silicon Valley, opine that smart phones have hijacked the minds of many of us. For example, teen-age suicides, especially of girls, is rising rapidly, and this trend is seemingly related to the loneliness of being connected only in cyberspace.
Technophiles like Ray Kurzweil and transhumanists ignore technology’s effects on us. They contend that within a couple of decades, human economies will be so complex that artificial intelligence will take over from ordinary, incompetent humans. Robots and elite, software-enhanced “superhumans” will run the show. But then what happens to ordinary humans? One antidote to excess technical optimism is Posthumanism, a philosophical and technical exchange arena that provokes a very fundamental question:
What does it mean to be human?
Humans are full of quirks, frailties, blind spots, and physical and mental aberrations. We are complex, full of contradictions. Our emotions – love, hate, fear, nostalgia – frequently override our logic. We conflict with each other, sometimes violently. We are not adaptively learning robots, nor merely pre-programmed ones. Scientists and philosophers debate what free will and human consciousness are, and despite rapidly advancing technology, whether we can ever escape our primordial DNA.
To all of our environmental risks, add the wild card of human violence: nuclear accidents, war in general, massive releases of toxins, killer robots, on down to plain vanilla street robbery, and cyber attacks – including false news attacks to confuse and enflame us psychologically. None of these improve the environment, but of all our looming dangers, the vulnerability of our own “human nature” has to rate very high.
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