Updated: Sep 24, 2018
Book title: The Techno-Human Shell, A Jump in the Evolutionary Gap
Author: Joseph Carvalko
198 Pages. Sunbury Press, Inc.
From an objective point of view, it is hard to say that Eve is human. On the outside, she certainly looks human--you and I might recognize her as an ordinary twenty-one year-old woman. But upon closer inspection, she is quite distinct from the homo sapiens that we learned about in biology class.
Despite her looks, Eve is sixty years-old. Her slow aging can be attributed to designer DNA. And that is not the only difference; she is also much smarter than we can even imagine. This is because Eve has a cerebral processor embedded in her brain that grants her vastly increased memory and intelligence. Other processors in her body perform tasks such as monitoring her health and automatically sending her doctor all of her health-data; she also has an identity chip that safely maintains not only her identification but also all of her financial data.
Eve, furthermore, has an enhancement specific to her career as a commodities trader. Specifically, her cerebral processor is connected to her internal server so that she can obtain data on the latest commodity trates instantaneously from the outside world--this is a direct data feed from the Internet to her neocortex.
No, Eve is not human. Eve is transhuman.
In The Techno-Human Shell, A Jump in the Evolutionary Gap, Joseph Carvalko takes his readers on a vast trip through time, from 2012 to 2084, describing the amazing advances in computer, medical, and biological technology along the way. Carvalko begins the journey grounded in our current reality--a reality where the human body is actually merged with technology more than we may realize. For example, Carvalko explores the nature of cochlear implants, which is a truly amazing technology. These devices use a microphone to listen to the outside world, translate the sounds that it hears into electrical currents, and then uses that electricity to stimulate an individual's auditory nerve fibers. This process allows the brains of even the profoundly hearing-impaired perceive sound--all without actually "hearing" any sound.
Similarly, Carvalko takes the reader through the development of artificial-heart technology. This technology began with devices that would sense when an individual's heart fell out of rhythm and then deliver an electric shock to reset the heart back to a normal pace. While these shocks saved lives, they would also burn the patient's flesh. Then, after several iterations of this technology, we come to have people (transhumans, cyborgs?) such as former Vice-President Dick Cheney. Mr. Cheney has a device implanted in his heart that constantly circulates blood through his body at an even rate. Consider what this means: Mr. Cheney lives with measurable blood pressure, but he has no heartbeat.
After describing our current technological capabilities, Carvalko explains the proceeding advancements on the horizon. Beyond brain-computer interfaces--and all with grounding in current scientific knowledge--Carvalko ultimately takes his readers to the realm of nanotechnology and synthetic DNA. In this period, our bodies will contain nanobots that travel around our systems looking for problems. If the nanobots find any illnesses, they will have the option to dispense medicine or physically destroy the abnormalities. This is, of course, perhaps unnecessary with the ability of synthetic DNA to alter our immune systems, life spans, physical characteristics, or anything else that comprises our physical being.
But the beneficence of human ingenuity is only half of what Carvalko wants his readers to think about--there is another, darker side to Eve's story.
Unfortunately for Eve, she has actually been unemployed for a while to focus on raising her child and is just now trying to get back into the job market. Eve does manage to get an interview for a commodities trading job (her trained profession), but she is passed over because her cerebral processor is out of data. Other candidates, those with the newer cerebral processors, are able to think milliseconds faster than Eve, and in Eve's world, milliseconds matter. Now, Eve is forced to decide whether upgrading her cerebral processor--at approximately the same cost of buying a new car--is worth the expected income of her desired job. Certainly, this is not the utopia many people think of when they imagine the post-singularity world, and that is what Carvalko wants to expose.
As Carvalko takes his readers in this trip through time, he slowly exposes legal and ethical quirks of current society, which, unabated, are revealed in the end of the book have the ability to end the human race. The end starts with the nature of patents and tools. For patents, Carvalko recognizes the connection between money and creation. The United States patent system encourages inventors because it grants them a monopoly over their inventions for a number of years, giving them the exclusive right to make money off of their creations. After all, who would take the effort to invent something if there was not a monetary incentive? In this paradigm, the United States began to allow patents on both designer DNA and processes for examining DNA. Inherently, this system provides access to these technologies only to those who can afford it (via licensing the technology as a business or being able to afford the uncompetitive-prices as a consumer). But, Carvalko questions, is it moral to apply our patent system as is currently exists to technologies that change what it means to be human, to technologies that change our very nature? If we already live in a world of haves and have-nots, what is to happen when the haves are super intelligent and long living, and the have-nots are still mere mortals?
For tools, Carvalko recognizes that necessity is the mother of invention. Put differently, all inventions are created to perform a specific purpose. A hammer is made to hammer things. A knife is made to cut things. Well, what are the consequences when the next step of human evolution is created by people, not nature? The consequence is that today's humans will make tomorrow's transhumas in their image. This inherently places limitations on our successors; this can rob them of their identity. For example, think of a computer program. That program is limited to the imagination and skill of its programmer. For transhumans, particularly those with technology-augmented brains, they will be limited by the imagination and skill of their creators. In a turn of fate, this places a different meaning on "shell" in The Techno-Human Shell. What has happened to the soul?
In the end, what Carvalko wants his readers to realize is that the pace in which society changes is so slow that individuals either do not recognize the incremental changes or become complacent to the perpetual "just one more step forward." The benefits of the next invention may blind individuals to the potential negative consequences. Without addressing issues such as the ethics of unequal economic access to human-changing technologies, by the time society realizes that two distinct classes have formed, the super-intelligent, long-living transhumans and the outdated homo sapiens, it will be too late to right any wrongs.
Interestingly, Carvalko does not venture to propose any solutions to the foreseen legal and moral dilemmas. One can read between the lines and see that Carvalko would advocate for open-license arrangements for in-the-body, humanity-altering technology to ensure equal access to all despite any wealth-gap. However, Carvalko ultimately leaves the "so what do we do" question to the readers. He is happy enough just to bring these issues to the forefront.
The only counter argument that one may propose to Caravalko is that after the technological-singularity, general artificial intelligence will be able to eradicate resource scarcity. But without relying on a deus ex machina plot twist, Carvalako's warnings must be taken seriously.
Indeed, The Techno-Human Shell is a must read for anyone wanting to know how the artificial hearts of today will become the nanobots of tomorrow, how DNA analysis leads to DNA creation. And none of this is merely fanciful thought by Carvalko. Instead, Carvalko provides an impressive list of 229 footnotes that support all of his claims. This book will entertain and elucidate its readers on how progress in the name of beneficient medical achievement can lull society into legal and moral dysfunction.
Stylistically, Carvalko's arguments can sometimes seem disjointed. The book's individual topics, often only a few pages in length, are generally distinguished by a page-break and a heading rather than a paragraph designed to provide a smooth transition. At times, this may cause the reader to get lost in a myriad technologies without the ability to see how they may come together to impact society on a moral and legal level. Fortunately, this problem is periodically rectified by narratives surrounding Eve and others as Carvalko progresses along the timeline. These stories, such as that of Eve detailed above, put the technological realities of the time into relatable spaces that let the reader see the benefits and struggles that come with progress.
On a final point, readers should be aware that Carvalko's explanations of technology or biology can, at times, be very technical. Generally, he does a fair job of explaining terms and walking the reader step-by-step through various processes. But this is not a textbook. For all of the topics covered in this book to be crystal-clear, the book would likely need to be many orders of magnitudes larger. While I found the vast majority of the material manageable, I did struggle with following the material on cellular biology quite a bit.
That being said, I definitely recommend this book. It packs a lot of material into is sub-two-hundred pages. Carvalko offers a balanced diet of excitement and awe for where us humans are heading with the knowledge that we must still be vigilant for unanticipated drawbacks.
Moreover, the fact that Carvalko does not offer definitive solutions to his raised social problems is a good thing. Much like how he warns that the design choices of today's creators may limit the capabilities of tomorrow's transhumans, Carvalko's leaving the solutions question open gives the readers free-range to come up with their own answers . . . and even their own additional questions. The fruits of this can be demonstrated by this blog's article on the Cyborg-Technology Provider relationship. The opening fact-pattern is that article is based on another one of Carvalko's characters, Adam. To read this article, click here for Part I (Part II and Part III here).
If you are interested in purchasing this book, please click the adjacent picture: