At least since Aristotle, Western cultures have defined the people that comprise them by drawing a line between humans and machines on the one hand, and humans and other living things, such as plants and animals, on the other. “It needs twenty years to lead man from the plant state in which he is within his mother’s womb, and the pure animal state which is the lot of his early childhood,” wrote Voltaire, “to the state when the maturity of the reason begins to appear.”
Now, however, advances in artificial intelligence, cybernetics, and genomics are blurring the outlines of the once-cozy categories of human, animal, and machine. Under the loose and shifting rubrics of “transhumanism” and “posthumanism,” a growing number of artists, philosophers, and self-modifying “biohackers” are looking to redefine the boundaries of the self.
Such innovations cast doubt on the legitimacy of the distinctions we have used to frame ourselves for centuries. To argue for or against human uniqueness, one must first claim that we can know what makes us us, our quiddity. But if science suggests that there is no such thing, then human uniqueness can’t be either true or false, but only beside the point.
Read it all from Sally Davies in Nautilus.