From neanderthals to cyborgs

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Listening to a Guardian Science podcast recently, I came across a fascinating interview with Yuval Noah Harari. His recently released book is called Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, which is a whirlwind tour through the entire history of our species.

In the book, he offers an fascinating thought experiment: what if other pre-human species, such as neanderthals, had survived alongside Homo Sapiens? Instead of dying out as Homo Sapiens developed, neanderthals could be living side by side with us, like the various species of animals. How would we in that case relate to those pre-human species? Would they be the targets of racism and colonization? What rights would they have?

I was reminded of this idea when attending an event at Brookings the other week – The Future of Civilian Robotics. At the event, moderator Benjamin Wittes took the discussion past the more standard fare of the responsibility for actions committed by driverless cars, and onto the less explored area of humans and cyborgs as a spectrum of existence. His argument that it is not a binary choice between humans and cyborgs, but rather a spectrum that we find ourselves on, raises several interesting implications. The immediate implication that he highlighted is that we are already a bit down this spectrum, i.e. we are no longer just humans, given the prosthetics that we already use, be they metal body parts or digital extensions such as Google Glass.

A second interesting question arising from this is the question of cyborg rights. If this is indeed the beginning of a new species (wherever on the spectrum you see the new species commencing), we need to already now start looking at cyborg rights, and not just regulations.

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