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Robots, Evolution, and the Future of the Human Race: What Webcomics Have to Say About Transhumanism

There was a time I thought listening to talk radio was for old people.  I do a lot of carpools, and typically someone will have the radio turned to either the news or boring old NPR.  This would annoy me tremendously.  Why are you listening to someone drone on when you could be blasting some Major Lazer, dude?

Perhaps it’s a sign of my age, or perhaps it is my diminishing tolerance for tunes that have lyrics in them, but I found that I’ve been listening to a lot of talk radio myself lately.  Only, not in the form of actual radio waves captured by the car antenna.  I’m talking podcasts.  Whether it’s the McElroy Boys playing Dungeons & Dragons in The Adventure Zone or Dan, Elliott, and Stuart jawing about movies on The Flophouse Podcast, my days are spent with people I can pretend are my much smarter imaginary friends having scintillating conversations.  Is that the true appeal of talk radio?

One such podcast, Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know, recently veered off into a topic I hadn’t expected.  I tune into a podcast with that name for paranoid conspiracy theories, dammit!  Instead, the hosts began speculating about transhumanism.  It’s a topic that seems to have been brewing in the background of several previous shows.  One episode talked about how technology has basically given us psychic powers: what is social media, after all, but a form of telepathy, where your privy to the innermost thoughts of your friends online?  Shoot, you out there on the internet somehow know all my thoughts about webcomics at this very moment!  The acceleration of technology has connected us closer than ever before, to the point where online marketers know exactly what they need to sell to you with only a few points of data.

Which brings us to transhumanism, i.e. the theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations.  One podcast episode began discussing, at length, about the potential for space travel.  As you do.  The consensus with the hosts was that any form of travel beyond our solar system was physically impossible.  However, one host began talking about what composes the human body.  We are just a bunch of tiny living organisms — cells — that come together to form a thinking, living being.  Our tiny cells probably go about their day, eating and reproducing, without any notion that they are part of a larger organism.

Nothing new, incidentally.  I had to read a book in high school, The Lives of a Cell, that makes the same observations, and it was first published in 1974. Being a small organism caught up in the collected consciousness of a larger creation was a part of 1969’s Galactic Pot Healer as well (written by sci-fi legend, Philip K. Dick).

So here’s the big question: what if we’re not the final stage in evolution?  What if, as the host coined, we’re just the midwife to an organism that can, in fact, traverse the stars?  And what if that organism is the collective intelligence of all humanity, bringing things to the next level that we tiny cells will never see?  The Lives of a Cell theorized that the bigger organism would be the planet itself… but a planet isn’t mobile.  What if that organism is a robot, one that can travel the stars and move beyond our fleshy confines?  Should we be terrified?  Or should we rejoice?

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