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The Techno-Human Condition

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In this latest version of humanity, we are equipped with a fully re-engineered immune system; the latest set of cultural assumptions about gender, ethnicity, and sexuality; and a suite of customized enhancements, including artificial joints, neurochemical mood modulators, and performance-boosting hormones. In The Techno-Human Condition, Braden Allenby and Daniel Sarewitz explore what it means to be human in an era of incomprehensible technological complexity and change. They argue that if we are to have any prospect of managing that complexity, we will need to escape the shackles of current assumptions about rationality, progress, and certainty, even as we maintain a commitment to fundamental human values.

Humans have been co-evolving with their technologies since the dawn of prehistory, when tool making and meat eating co-evolved with brain development and social complexity. What is different now is that we have moved beyond external technological interventions to transform ourselves from the inside out—even as we also remake the Earth system itself. Coping with this new reality, say Allenby and Sarewitz, means liberating ourselves from such categories as Œhuman,Œ Œtechnological,Œ and ŒnaturalŒ to embrace a new techno-human relationship. Describing the- terms of this relationship, and exploring sociotechnical systems ranging from railroads to modern military technology, Allenby and Sarewitz ultimately locate individual authenticity in the quest for a new humility in the face of the rapidly disappearing moorings of the Enlightenment.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Allenby (Reconstructing Earth) and Sarewitz (Frontiers of Illusion) explore the radical technological enhancement of people, or "transhumanism." Humanity today can be defined through our relationship with technology, but human evolution is nothing more than a series of enhancements; the "new-and-improved-model human brain and body," with its "fully re-engineered immune system...renders all previous models obsolete." After a quick history lesson, the authors delve into cognitive and genetic technological progress, the subjectivity problem with "progress" (the defeat of Nazism and life with The Bomb both show "progress"), and three levels of tech: a means through which a society meets its goals; a "networked" social and cultural phenomenon; and a wildly complex, constantly adapting "Earth system." The authors dismiss the binary debate of transhumanism as between the individual and the institution, and discuss the "existential challenge to society" brought be tech-aided warfare; in this context the authors see the 2003 invasion of Iraq as conflating "technological dominance and military power at Level I...with national security at Level III" and cite similar "category confusion" in America's response to terrorism. With the imperative for adaptability wired into every chapter, Allenby and Sarewitz entertaining articulate the importance of understanding the condition that has captured their imaginations and embroiled them in a "several-year running argument." (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"[A] valuable book" — Andrew C. Revkin, Dot Earth- A New York Times blog

" The Techno-Human Condition will infuriate some,be dismissed out-of-hand by a few, but will unsettle almost all readers. The reason is, that while Allenby & Sarewitz's analysis of current problem solving is a bitter pill to swallow, there is an underlying understanding that their approach is not only correct but also essential to embrace. The book is a fast-paced, easy read.

I couldn't put it down." — Leonardo

"An important, provocative, and wide-ranging volume on the role of technology in our rapidly changing Anthropocene-era world. Essential reading for anyone interested in Methods to Shape the Future, World Futures, Security,Sustainability, and science/technology in general... a stimulating and timely book." — Michael Marien, Global Foresight Books

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262015691
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 1/29/2010
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Braden R. Allenby is Founding Director of the Center for Earth Systems Engineering and Management, Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics, and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Arizona State University. He is the author of Reconstructing Earth: Technology and Environment in the Age of Humans.

Daniel Sarewitz is Professor of Science and Society at Arizona State University and the author of Frontiers of Illusion.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments ix

1 What a Long, Transhuman Trip It Has Already Been 1

2 In the Cause-and-Effect Zone 15

3 Level I and II Technology: Effectiveness, Progress, and Complexity 31

4 Level III Technology: Radical Contingency in Earth Systems 63

5 Individuality and Incomprehensibility 87

6 Complexity, Coherence, Contingency 107

7 Killer Apps 127

8 In Front of Our Nose 159

9 Epilogue: The Museum of Human Frailty 191

Bibliography 211

Index 217

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