First conceptualized in the 1960s, then accelerated in the 90s, transhumanism is the desire to augment humans using technology (see Transhumanism|Wikipedia). This topic is fraught with ethical and moral contentions. Like any social and intellectual movement, there is no clear “right” and transhumanism offers an interesting and engaging way for students to view science through an ethical or moralistic lens.
This activity could fit well in a biology course when discussing the evolution of humans, a human anthropology course, a history or social studies course, or a computer science course. The activity was conceived as a 30-minute activity, though it is possible to have it fill an entire 60-minute period by simply giving students more time to discuss or extending with a debate as mentioned below.
This section references three resources:
- Russian billionaire Dmitry Itskov seeks ‘immortality’ by uploading his brain to a computer, by Doug Bolton, The Independent (March 14, 2016)
- ‘Body Hacking’ Movement Rises Ahead Of Moral Answers, by Eyder Peralta, All Tech Considered (NPR) (March 11, 2016)
- Scientists discover how to ‘upload knowledge to your brain’, by Mark Molloy, The Telegraph (March 1, 2016)
Students are assigned one of the three articles above. The NPR piece is also presented as an audio news story and can be a consideration for students who struggle with reading. The students will read the article outside of class. While they read, students should consider the following questions:
- Who is being affected by the research science and application of technology in this story?
- How could this research science and application of technology have unintended effects?
- What are the benefits of this research science and application of technology? Who would experience those benefits?
Once students return with their article read, they will engage in a jigsaw discussion of the articles. Students will first sit down in homogenous groups, with other students who read the same article. They will quickly summarize the article to make sure everyone shares in the viewpoints of all. Then they will discuss their answers to the above questions.
Students will then jigsaw and form heterogeneous groups, so there is at least one reader of each article in each group. They will spend some time summarizing each article and discussing the answers to the above questions, so everyone can share in the information in all three articles. Then students will consider the following questions:
- How do these technologies support Transhumanism as discussed in the NPR article?
- Is Transhumanism an acceptable application of science and technology?
- What is the limit of acceptable application of science and technology?
Students will likely disagree in their responses to the last two questions. It’s important to let them sit in this disagreement.
A possible extension to this activity would be to then do one more jigsaw group, and have students get into homogenous groups about whether they think Transhumanism is acceptable. Groups could nominate students to engage in a debate in front of the class.