Daily Archives: May 5, 2008

More Human Than Human (contcult)

Dreams of exceeding the limits of the human, whether in terms of lifespan or physical/intellectual abilities, have animated the imagination for millennia. Think back to Daedalus, who broke the shackles of gravity by building wings of wax and feathers. Though his son Icarus’s maiden voyage across the sky ended in death when he came too close to the sun, the desire to enhance or supersede human hardwiring continues to tantalize us. Notions of uploading the human mind onto a computer, for instance, have provoked ethicists, neuroscientists and fiction writers to speculate on the possibility of maintaining an integrated personal identity across the leap from the physical body to software. There are practical questions as well: do we freeze the brain, slice it, then scan those slices with high-resolution equipment? Or do we inject the subject with nanomachines which monitor each neuron in order to “learn” its input/output activity and then kill and replace all 100 billion of them? Gamma-ray holography? Biphoton intererometry? On the positive side, the uploaded individual would never grow old, sicken, and die. But what if there is more than one ‘copy’ of the upload? Which one owns your house or is married to your spouse?

Jeremy Rifkin has called our age the biotech century, an era when the human genome has been mapped and transgenic organisms are proliferating. Applications of genetic engineering include the creation of a geep, a goat-sheep chimera. In Shanghai, scientists have completed the fusion of human cells and rabbit eggs. In Minnesota, there are pigs with human blood. At Stanford University, researchers have created mice with human brain cells. All of this might sound like something from the Island of Dr. Moreau but the research is real enough, and it will inevitably open the door to more complicated applications on humans. How can we be so sure? Money:

“Over the last 15 years, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted more than 400 U.S. patents on higher animals, including pigs, cows and sheep, many genetically modified with human genes. Human-cow embryos have been patented, and in 2001, the University of Missouri was granted a patent on a cloning technique that does not rule out the creation of human embryos. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) now allows genes to be patented. Over 20,000 genes, 7,810 of them human genes, have been patented in the U.S.”