The desire to become augmented is an appealing one. The issue arises when we examine the socio-economic conditions under which human augmentation would occur, which brings us back to our quote at the beginning of this essay. Under the current world economic system wealth is distributed extremely unevenly, with a small fraction of the world’s population controlling a vast majority of wealth and resources. It is important as artists and designers that we begin addressing these issues now, before it is too late for the digital future.
The extremely wealthy already exploit the world’s poor and middle class for labor and production of services, off which they profit immensely. It is this class of people that will be able to afford the best and most advanced augmentations to their beings (the robotic hand for Pierpaolo Petruzziello cost 3 million dollars), under a stilted system, allowing them to become hyper-intelligent and live to near immortality.
It becomes easy to imagine a Boschian future in which these grotesquely super-augmented beings may not even consider themselves human any longer. In Jaron Lanier’s manifesto “You are not a gadget.”, a new reign of digital feudalism is in effect, with most of the worlds labor force replaced by robots controlled by the ruling elite, middle and lower class humans will become digital peasants, working for free just to be allowed to exist (Lanier).
These possible outcomes are frightening. We seem very interested in increasing the power of our bodies, or the intellect of our minds, or the length of our lives, all through technological means. Surprisingly, I see little interest or research in augmenting the things that make us most human; it is our ability to recognize the universality of our condition ,within one another, that makes life most rich.
It is empathy that I am most interested in augmenting. I believe that we can invent technological means to enhance the empathetic response in each other, allowing the world to see that we are all reflections of each other. This would foster greater understanding and cooperation among humankind, allowing us to achieve the level of unison that will be necessary in conquering global problems such as climate change, environmental degradation, world hunger, and eventually interstellar travel, and the next phases of our evolution.