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Adieu, Mankind!

by Théophane Le Méné

When technology promises to abolish humanity

The 21st century was supposed to have been spiritual. It will, however, be technological. Every day offered to humanity brings its share of new discoveries promising to change life and Mankind, to fend of death ever more effectively.

A bionic man made out of artificial limbs and synthetic organs displayed at the Science Museum in London. Kevin Warwick, of Reading University in England, who has implanted a device into his body so that he can communicate with computers and machines directly from his nervous system. In Paris, French company Carmat has developed an artificial heart; in Israel, scientists have created miniaturised robots able to navigate the vascular system and attack cancerous cells; in Japan, research is being carried out on nano-brains and work is being done on computers capable of designing other computers more powerful than themselves. Even synthetic biology has made the transition from theory to reality. Scientists have succeeded in producing an artificial yeast chromosome. The race for technology is on. Now, artificial intelligence is preferred to human intelligence to the degree that Man has become the guinea pig for his own creations, presenting himself as a kind of intermediate development stage that stands to be technologically enhanced.

But what makes some people dream makes others stop and think. For, of necessity, constructive technology goes arm in arm with destructive technology. Biological weapons preceded antibiotics, nuclear bombs came before nuclear energy, human experimentation predated surgery, etc. In the race for progress that can now be observed all over the world, no rules have been defined. Called to technologise himself irredeemably from the inside, Mankind manipulates his condition and submits to the most attractive of temptations, the one for which the most beautiful and intelligent of angels being cast out, the temptation of becoming the most powerful of the powerful. Far from the myth of Epimetheus who, forgetting to provide Mankind with the skills required to deal with cruel Nature, obliged him to live in society, the myth of technology invites humanity to caparison itself with the best attributes rather than sharing them equitably. The poor, the weak, the sick are excluded a priori from this new era. As Man has been a wolf for Man, Man will be a robot for Man, with, alas, all that this connotes: an iron monster, mechanical and cold.

Eschewing such Cassandra-like predictions, some prefer to focus on the potential inherent in intelligent technologies applied for the good of humanity. But Caroline Gaudriault reminds us in her essay, A Small Man in a Big World [1] : “Everything that Man can do, he will do.” History has shown us just how many times Mankind, drunk with his own freedom, has forgotten his conscience. We should visit clinics in America and India dedicated to the manufacture of children and examine their selection criteria; we should observe how few mentally ill people there are in the streets now that the new technologies are able to isolate them in the womb, as Bruno Deniel-Laurent brilliantly points out in his book, Eloge des phénomènes [2] ; we should be mindful of the way in which, underpinned by a functional vision of humanity, transhumanism advances, entirely openly, without anyone being in the least bit shocked.

Laying claim to unlimited power at the risk of annihilation has always been a great temptation for those able to do so. From Andersen’s The Little Mermaid to the story of the Tower of Babel, from Goethe’s Faust to the myth of Icarus, there is no shortage of examples of the paradox of omnipotence. Can such omnipotence reduce one’s power? The subject has long been of interest to theologians, for if nothing is impossible for God, could He not choose to subject himself to an entity stronger than Himself? Today more than ever, Mankind is confronted by the ramifications of this metaphysical question. The advent of new technologies, the abolition of ancient prohibitions in the name of progress and emancipation, the organised forgetting of history, replaced by a new version, have placed Mankind in a situation in which all his powers, including the power to annihilate himself, are concentrated in one area. Once again, everything that Man can do, he will do.

Théophane Le Méné

[1A Small Man in a Big World, Caroline Gaudriault, Paradox Publishing

[2Eloge des phénomènes, Bruno Deniel-Laurent, Editions Max Milo

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