Posthuman or post-human is a concept originating in the fields of science fiction, futurology, contemporary art, and philosophy that literally means a person or entity that exists in a state beyond being human. In critical theory, the posthuman is a speculative being that represents or seeks to re-conceive the human. It is the object of posthumanist criticism to critically question Renaissance humanism, a branch of humanist philosophy which claims that human nature is a universal state from which the human being emerges; human nature is autonomous, rational, capable of free will, and unified in itself as the apex of existence. Thus, the posthuman position recognizes imperfectability and disunity within him or herself, and understands the world through heterogeneous perspectives while seeking to maintain intellectual rigour and a dedication to objective observations. Key to this posthuman practice is the ability to fluidly change perspectives and manifest oneself through different identities. The posthuman, for critical theorists of the subject, has an emergent ontology rather than a stable one; in other words, the posthuman is not a singular, defined individual, but rather one who can “become” or embody different identities and understand the world from multiple, heterogeneous perspectives.
The posthuman is roughly synonymous with the “cyborg” of A Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Haraway. Haraway’s cyborg is in many ways the “beta” version of the posthuman.
Following Haraway, Hayles, whose work grounds much of the critical posthuman discourse, asserts that liberal humanism – which separates the mind from the body and thus portrays the body as a “shell” or vehicle for the mind – becomes increasingly complicated in the late 20th and 21st centuries because information technology put the human bodyin question. Hayles maintains that we must be conscious of information technological advancements while understanding information as “disembodied,” that is, something which cannot fundamentally replace the human body but can only be incorporated into it and human life practices.
Posthumans could be completely synthetic artificial intelligences, or a symbiosis of human and artificial intelligence, or uploaded consciousnesses, or the result of making many smaller but cumulatively profound technological augmentations to a biological human, i.e. a cyborg. Some examples of the latter are redesigning the human organism using advanced nanotechnology or radical enhancement using some combination of technologies such as genetic engineering, psychopharmacology, life extension therapies, neural interfaces, advanced information management tools, memory enhancing drugs, wearable or implanted computers, and cognitive techniques.
“Posthuman” does not necessarily refer to a conjectured future where humans are extinct or otherwise absent from the Earth. Both humans and posthumans could continue to exist but the latter will predominate in society over the former because of their abilities. Recently, scholars have begun to speculate that posthumanism provides an alternative analysis of apocalyptic cinema and fiction, often casting vampires, werewolves and even zombies as potential evolutions of the human form and being. Many science fiction authors have written works set in posthuman futures.
Postbiological evolution is a form of evolution which has transitioned from a biological paradigm, driven by the propagation of genes, to a non-biological (e.g., cultural or technological) paradigm, presumably driven by some alternative replicator (e.g., memes or temes), and potentially resulting in the extinction, obsolescence, or trophic reorganization of the former. Researchers anticipating a postbiological universe tend to describe this transition as marked by the maturation and potential convergence of high technologies, such as artificial intelligence or nanotechnology. Experts in AI even believe it holds the potential and capability for a postbiological earth in the next several generations. AI could be utilised to solve scientific problems and to analyse situations much faster and more accurately than our own minds.
The move to a complete postbiological stage has two different routes. One route is the change of human consciousness from a biological vessel into a mechanical; this would require the digitisation of human consciousness. A mechanical based vessel would increase the computational power and intelligence of the human consciousness exponentially. The other route is the complete replacement of human consciousness by AI, for this the human race would die out, replaced by our own creation of AI.
While in some circles the expression “postbiological evolution” is roughly synonymous with human genetic engineering, it is used most often to refer to the general application of the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science to improve human performance.
However, the most common criticism of human enhancement is that it is or will often be practiced with a reckless and selfish short-term perspective that is ignorant of the long-term consequences on individuals and the rest of society, such as the fear that some enhancements will create unfair physical or mental advantages to those who can and will use them, or unequal access to such enhancements can and will further the gulf between the “haves” and “have-nots”.