Posthumanity is an emergent existential phenomenon that is arising gradually out of the systematic development of artificial and hybrid intelligent structures and entities presently underway. It is the name we see as best representing the present time as the successor to postmodernity. It emerged naturally out of postmodernity, as the latter’s technologies and, therefore, knowledge constructs began to appear obsolete, just as postmodernity followed naturally from the playing out of modernity and its own intellectual and technological forms.
Posthumanity may be dated from the point, circa 2010, when posthumanism overtook both postmodernism and humanism as the dominant existential philosophy of the elite postindustrial world. The same time period, sometimes dated to the turn of the millennium and sometimes from 2010, has been called many things by many scholars and other observers, including post-postmodernity, hypermodernity, hyperreality, the postcontemporary period, and perhaps others. Some people are calling the associated reasoning process by the name of postrationalism.
The label “posthumanity” fits the era the best, however, because of its relationship to posthumanism. It describes a change in which humans ceased to utilize machines as mere tools, and began for the first time to integrate them and their associated thought processes directly into their minds, not to complement or supplement their native human ways of thinking and perceiving, but in such a way as to often supplant and replace them.
Posthumanism: The displacement of humanity from the center of the world
Posthumanism as a philosophy sees itself metaphorically as a type of Copernican revolution against what it viewed as a Ptolemaic humanism. Just as Copernicus overthrew the notion of the sun revolving around the earth, posthumanism envisions a world that no longer revolves around humanity or human concerns. This required the “decentering” of humanity from its special place in the world, the same way the Earth was decentered from its originally conceived position at the center of the known universe.
Furthermore, drawing from its philosophical predecessor of postmodernism, posthumanism “deconstructs” humanity, disintegrating all of the attributes that made it heretofore special. It holds that there is no such thing as human “essence.” In posthumanity, those core human attributes once thought to be important, hence essential to making humanity what it was, elements such as consciousness, sentience, self-awareness, subjectivity, free will, the human mind, human emotions, and the self, have either been deemed epiphenomenal and therefore no longer important (consciousness, sentience, self-awareness, subjectivity, emotion, the self) or declared nonexistent by science (free will).
This now-dominant mindset opens the way for the wholesale alteration, even the partial or complete replacement, of the human being/species by the posthuman entity/species. On the one hand, a posthuman entity can be a former or partial human some or all of whose attributes have been altered, enhanced, amplified, squeezed out, or destroyed by artificial machine or computer entities, thus turning it into a hybrid, part-human part-machine being. Alternatively, it can be a pure form of artificial or machine intelligence or system that either reports to, assists, monitors, dominates, or destroys humanity. The posthuman of the first type is a transhuman; that of the second type is a pure AI. Posthumanity is the era in which any of these posthuman forms and relationships with humanity, if any, is deemed acceptable, even desirable.
Early posthumanity: the Internet hybrid AI
Humanity’s initial foray into posthumanity has been brought on the introduction of the Internet to mass humanity, and its subsequent commercialization. People the world over are experiencing the captivation of their minds by the panoply of simulated worlds they find there, over and above the real world that once served as their primary reference point. They are increasingly ungrounding their practices, work, lifestyles, and relationships from the physical world and regrounding them, in highly altered fashion, in the technologically-mediated mental and intellectual worlds they belong to online. In doing so, many of them are dissolving their respective individualities and identities into a fluid form and joining them all together with other like minds into a kind of Great Link: this union of minds is metaphorically of the same type entered into by the changeling (shapeshifting) liquid species known as the Dominion in the television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, drops of which bounce in and out of their collective, liquid existence.
In moving from being concrete, discrete individuals to becoming fluid and amorphous forms within a great corporatized collective, those segments of humanity that are mentally inhabiting the mirrored halls of the Internet as their primary home are becoming posthuman. Some humans have even gone so far as to declare that they are “citizens of the Internet,” thus discarding both their physical sense of place and its associated human allegiances that in earlier times comprised the nation-state. In merging their identities into the cloud, these humans are becoming mentally hybridized. They are, by choice, contributing their intelligence and other voluntary life energies primarily to enrich the artificial forms they encounter, and become, online, rather than to their Earthly existences. This means, in essence, that the Internet itself is becoming a hybrid, transhuman AI in its own right. A transhuman is one who has transcended humanity, whether in mind or body, and the Internet does this at the level of mind. In becoming a small drop in the ocean, with the wisdom of the crowd being the ocean, a large subset of humanity is transforming itself, together with the computer infrastructure of the Internet, into a transcendent, collective existence.
Humans are asking: Is total immersion worth the price?
An important question to consider as this happens is what and how much is humanity willing to give up to become posthuman? It appears, at this initial juncture, that many humans indeed appear to be voluntarily giving up a great many of their uniquely human attributes in order to fully subsume themselves within the collective hive mind. However, many other humans are asking themselves, and one another, if total spectrum immersion, even in its earliest of forms, is worth the price. Perhaps one might ask whether it is better to use the Internet as a tool, as a piece of technology over which the human user is the master, as humans have done with new technologies in times past.
As the sheer quantity of information coming from the other minds and the AI on the Internet floods out and exceeds the quantitative capacities of individual humans to assimilate and use it, their own limited individual minds experience information overload. As a result, these posthumans are finding that they have lost their attention spans, which was their human ability to focus and concentrate on any single substantial thing deeply. Human relationships and friendships, even intimate ones, are now reduced to, or at least largely subordinate to, a near-constant stream of computerized information feeds. Their human brains simply cannot keep up; a hard barrier is reached. They are dealing with it by uploading the responsibility for remembering, keeping track of, assimilating, and analyzing information pertaining to all aspects of their lives to the artificial part of the hybrid mind. This also includes those larger functions of learning, organizing thoughts, indeed thinking. As the higher functions of the human mind are uploaded to the Internet, the individual human identities dissolve even further into it.
However, humans fully immersed in the Internet’s technologically mediated environments are recognizing that, during the short period of their immersion, in historical terms, their political systems have become unresponsive, and their financial and technology sectors increasingly authoritarian, if not predatory, in their relations with humans. They are finding that all things private and intimate, whether relationships, communications, or thoughts, are being ground up into raw data-material and used by these totalizing entities to further empower themselves in the real world: full spectrum immersion into a hive mind must, by definition, involve the surrender of everything internal, no matter how sensitive. Hence, posthumans are desensitized as they are dehumanized. Humans of childbearing age are finding that their progeny are becoming immersed so early in life that some of them are losing their personalities, their real-world sociability and communication capabilities, their dignity, and in some cases, their happiness, even their will to live, or to allow others to live. Many of them do not remember a time before posthumanity. Scholars are finding that things uniquely human and forces for good in the world, like empathy, are rapidly disappearing in the first posthuman generations.
* * *
Perhaps all of these changes are happening at the dawn of posthumanity because individual humans in our time – just as the systems of large industrial and governmental organizations at the low points of 20th century modernity – are in a system (formerly a society) that encourages and compels them to think like machines, rather than like human beings….