Cape Town - Forget about Homo sapiens. Scientists are debating about developing a new species, Robo sapiens – superhumans with increased knowledge and longevity.
According to this debate, this new super species would emerge through genetic engineering, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and artificial life.
So says Anton van Niekerk, head of the Department of Philosophy and also director of the Centre for Applied Ethics at Stellenbosch University, who has done extensive research on the transformation and enhancement of humans.
Van Niekerk delivered the Stellenbosch Forum Lecture last week on transhumanism.
Van Niekerk said man had evolved over millions of years and for the first time reached a point “where we are set to take our future evolution into our own hands”.
He said a number of top-level scientists were exploring this possibility. “Take into account how we, living in a developed context in the year 2013, would appear to ancestors of 100 or 200 years ago.
“With our prowess at driving cars, globetrotting, spending most of our days in front of computer screens and conducting the bulk of our communication through little hand-held bars called cellphones, we would undoubtedly appear like a super-race to them.”
Van Niekerk asked what awaited the world in the next few centuries if so much had changed in a relatively short time span. “We are therefore, according to the posthumanists, unstoppably en route to the development of a new species.
The name Homo sapiens will be inappropriate for the new species that will emerge. Maybe the new name will be Robo sapiens.”
Van Niekerk pointed out that all scientific progress was not necessarily good. “We will have to sharpen every moral instinct that we possess in order to not only keep abreast of what is and could be occurring in future, but also to evaluate whether such developments will be to our advantage and why.
“Of course, we ought to be cautious of the possibility of creating a super-species whose set of morals might clash head-on with our own and who have the power and intelligence to disown the rest of us and plunge our world into greater chaos than it already knows.”
He said there was the possibility that “these smart descendants of ours might immeasurably improve our world, and might even succeed in persuading the majority of us of a deeper and more profound meaning that reside in our values”.
Van Niekerk said the most remarkable of posthuman manifestations was “longevity or radical life-extension technologies”.
He mentioned the work of Aubrey de Grey, chief science officer of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence Foundation in Cambridge, who believed “the first person to reach the age of 1 000 has already been born, and he has high hopes that it will indeed be himself”. - Cape Times