Approaching the Technoself Course
In Spring 2016, professor Jamie Skye Bianco and I developed the curriculum for a 2-credit seminar entitled Approaching the Technoself, which investigates the cyborg, cyborganization, and the iterative redefinition of what it means to be human in society today. 5 students enrolled in this course.
From Google Glass to cloud storage, the everyday human physical and mental faculties have extended far beyond the confines of the material human body. Transhumanism has emerged as an intellectual and ideological movement that pivots on the changing nature of relationships between human identity and technology, aiming to ultimately grant full agency to humans over their physical and cognitive condition, and even evolution.
WhiIe Transhumanists encourage human enhancement technologies that replace natural evolution with deliberate change in a process known as extropy, this possibility prompts many practical and ethical challenges. In reaction to technological advancement and the pressure to exceed ourselves, many people, from the Transcendentalists to Thomas Thwaites, who recently developed technology to live life as a goat, consider transhumanism false progress and now attempt to rediscover humanity through a process of technological trans-evolution.
What sacrifices are made when the self and society is crafted from technology? How does the technological simulation of humanity capture intangible qualities, such as the human soul? How do concepts such as technological singularity and emotional machine learning infringe upon traits once considered uniquely human? We will discuss the simulation of life witnessed in tools such as Siri and Aibo, the emotional Japanese electronic pets, and read books about the soul of technology by the authors such as Ray Kurzweil.
We will also explore the bioethical concerns of these transhumanist movements such a cyronics, or the preservation of the legally dead to potentially be resuscitated later, and how technology is redefining biological life cycles. As technology allows us to overcome the boundaries of our natural identities, does this abundance of choice devalue our individuality? We will approach the rise of the technoself through a feminist and ableist critical lenses, deconstructing the technoself apart from normative structures of power and proliferation of knowledge. We will also explore the sociopolitical impact that such technological and human advancement presents, weighing whether such technologies would exacerbate socioeconomic divides or mitigate them.