Posthuman – Connected


“Posthuman” as a term is used quite widely and in flowery prose for a range of aggregations of human and other external entities… machinery as in the cyborg, with bionic devices, sensitivity to the environment, connections with others, remote sensing capability beyond normal human sensing, etc.

A person “connected the Internet” by whatever means seems to me to transcend simple improvements to technology which allow us communicate to other separate individuals. The Internet becomes an extension of their capabilities. They can have agents which act within that space in a conceptual sense, and, via connectors, outside that space and back into the real environment. This does not require biological/machine connectivity. The amalgam of a person, their mean of connection to the Internet, and the embodiment of a surrogate on-line agent are sufficient to take us to this “posthuman” state.

We can endow our “avatars” or on-line agents with semi-autonomous capabilities and knowledge via sets of FAQs and answers as we would choose to answer, with sets of processes and procedures, with tutorial capabilities (e.g. MyCybertwin).

But this is a symbiosis of human and AI agent for that person. Not a separately created entity. That raises other issues.

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner film explores issues of personal identity when autonomous cyborgs are created. Blade Runner is based on the sci-fi story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”. One aspects covers the nature of our memories and how “real” they might seem even if implanted, adopted or transferred. A discussion of some of these issues is at http://www.philfilms.utm.edu/1/blade.htm.

I personally like the interesting depiction of two types of autonomous AI in Steven Spielberg’s “Artificial Intelligence” movie. This is based on the short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long”. “David” is the child-like robot who implants on his adopted parents and seeks love from them – for thousands of years. “Teddy” is the wise guardian embedded in a toy and there to support David (AI supporting AI).

I think we will see “Teddy” style robots in our life times especially for the young and the old. Imagine a time when the robotic companion or aid along with the Internet is a part of your wider self, and can supplement the biological self as memory fades and capabilities are lost, and keep you in touch with others.

Comments
  • Austin Tate says:

    See Donna Haraway’s Companion Species Manifesto
    http://www.spurse.org/wiki/images/1/14/Haraway,_Companion_Species_Manifesto.pdf

    and compare to LIREC Future Robot Companions Project
    http://lirec.eu/project

  • Grace Elliott says:

    Hi Austin,

    I found this a really interesting read. You have helped make some of the readings more clear. I had reached the same conclusion re the Internet but then had doubts, until now. So succinct, “The Internet becomes an extension of their capabilities.”

    I like the sound of your future world; having a companion, the ability to remember and being able to keep in touch. What a nice place to live. :)

  • Austin Tate says:

    Thanks Grace.

    I have a very strong recollection of visiting an elderly relative in a care home long after she had lost her sight. But she coped very well in a nice area in the Lake District and I am sure had many memories of her earlier time in that very lovely area.

    But what struck me as we spoke and had a cup of tea with her was when her talking clock spoke out the hours of the time. She perked up and clearly related to this device.

    I have thought of that a number of times since, especially related to discussions of companion robots for the elderly.

    But now I think about it I see my our aunty and her speaking clock as one of my first experiences of posthumanism.

  • David R says:

    Hi Austin,

    I’ve read a few papers relating to your #ededc course and found them very interesting. I’m not sure I buy into the ‘post-human’ term however, as in almost all of the real-world cases relate strongly to human goals and incentives.

    At the core, ultimately all technology is designed to aid humans at some point along the chain. Whether it is helping the visually impaired tell the time, or enabling people to schedule their diaries better, or to act as a companion – to me it appears to be very human-centric.

    D

    • Austin Tate says:

      I take that point David. And I think a lot of these authors do like their cute slogans.

      One of the readings tries to make posthuman be a relationship between humans and the environment. I was thinking about many native societies which have a much better symbiosis between themselves and their environment than we have.

      I wonder if the bronze age people might have thought of themselves as posthuman compared to the stone ages folks :-)

  • Jeremy Keith Knox says:

    Excellent points raised here, which I think highlight some of the inconsistencies in the way that the term ‘posthuman’ is used. I think the posthumanist literature can be categorised into three (loose!) areas, which I would say differ quite radically in their underlying philosophical implications, and of course their use of the term.

    The ‘cyborg/transhuman’ strand, in which we might include Haraway’s cyborg manifesto, but in which we could certainly include the work of Nick Bostrum and Andy Miah. I would definitely agree with some of the comments here that the transhuman use of the term ‘posthuman’ can be very human-centric, emphasising technology use and prosthetics in particular.

    However, there is also a strand which could be called ‘critical posthumanism’, in which we might include the Edwards reading, and also the work of Neil Badmington. This area deals primarily with a philosophical approach, such as the deconstruction of ‘humanism’ – the rethinking of traits such as rationality, autonomy and essentialism. In this sense, critical posthumanism is certainly attempting to rethink human-centricism, but is also not really about technology at all. Critical posthumanism is more about rethinking subjectivity by looking again at the ways in which humanistic ideals still permeate much of our ‘common sense’ thinking.

    Thirdly, we might define ‘Animal Studies’ as another area of posthumanism. Pedersen’s paper might be categorised here, but certainly Cary Wolfe has done a lot of work in this area, and he is behind the posthumanities series. Donna Haraway’s later work on Companion Species might also be included. This ‘field’ is precisely about rethinking human-centricism and subjectivity in relation to the environment, and non-human animals. Again, this posthumanism is not really about technology use per se, but technology might be included in the ‘non-human’.

    Some suggested readings if of interest:

    Badmington, N. (2000). Posthumanism (Basingstoke, Palgrave)

    Badmington, N. (2004). Alien Chic: Posthumanism and the Other Within. (Abingdon,
    Routledge).

    Bostrom, N. (2005). A History of Transhumanist Thought. Journal of Evolution and
    Technology. 14 (1).

    Haraway, D. (2003) The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and
    Significant Otherness. (Chicago, Prickly Paradigm Press).

    Miah, A. (2007). Posthumanism: A Critical History. In Medical Enhancements &
    Posthumanity Gordijn, B. & Chadwick, R. (Eds.) (New York: Routledge)

    Wolfe, C. (2010a). What is Posthumanism? (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota
    Press).

    Wolfe, C. (2010b). Posthumanities. Retrieved: 15 July 2011.
    http://www.carywolfe.com/post_about.html

  • Geraldine says:

    Hi Austin,

    Thanks for pulling out and distinguishing between the individual focussed cyborg reading of posthumanism and the community oriented interconnected web of human and non human as intertwinned and codependent reading of posthumanism. I have only just begun wading my way through the posthuman readings and found a new term today that perhaps encompasses the later – the cognisphere.

    Thanks also Jeremy for revealing that there is yet another reading of posthumanism – I now have some hooks on which to hang my wanderings through the literature :)

  • Austin Tate says:

    Geraldine, Jeremy’s readings will certainly give us all plenty to do to while away those idle hours.

  • Great post Austin,
    Your comments about the Teddy bot remind me about allot of the current robotics work in assistive / nursing aids. Its an especially hot topic in Japan where there is a large aging population with less and less humans choosing to work in nursing. I did some searching and found this video but I know there are many other projects in the works, from robotic / intelligent houses right the way through to robots that can carry people to bed:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJonPMa4Lic