Hedgehog Review: How technology is changing being a human

From: Academe Today, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Friday, December 20, 2002

The concept of "human" is being radically challenged by such biotechnologies as the Human Genome Project, stem-cell research, and cloning, as well as such computer technologies as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and robotics, say the editors of a special issue, "Technology and the Human Person." They write: "Whether utopian or apocalyptic, these visions boil down to differing degrees of admiration and fear, awe and uncertainty."

Modern technologies, they suggest, are making it more difficult to determine "what is unique to the human person and deserving of protection and what is negotiable." In one article, Langdon Winner, a professor of political science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, analyzes what he calls "the obtuse arrogance of posthumanist rhetoric"—the claims of self-proclaimed "prophets of perfectibility" who assert that the outcome of technological changes will be an "entirely new creature, one variously named metaman, posthuman, superhuman, robot, or cyborg." Such advocates, says Mr. Winner, blithely posit a future "thoroughly sanitized of human beings and their debilities," claiming that new technologies will be able to forge such changes as the downloading of humans' minds to "new thinking technology." They even presume to claim that such developments were "foreordained" by evolution itself.

Among other essays in the issue is an interview with Francis Fukuyama, author of "Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution" (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002); an essay by Gilbert Meilaender, a professor of Christian ethics at Valparaiso University, who argues that thinking of genes as building blocks to be combined and manipulated at will distorts the higher-order meaning of being human; and an essay by Lori B. Andrews, a distinguished professor of law at the Illinois Institute of Technology, who discusses legal and ethical issues raised by new reproductive technologies—such as how notions of family are changing. She concludes: "The genetic choices are unlike other parental choices because they impact us all. Consequently, no individual couple, clinic, company, or nation should be able to decide to proceed without a full, informed, societywide debate on these issues."

Read the fall 2002 issue of the Hedgehog Review online at www.iasc-culture.org/THR/hedgehog_review_2002-Fall.php.