Transhumanism: cyborgs and biohackers redefining beauty ideals

Transhumanism: cyborgs and biohackers redefining beauty ideals

Written by Karina Tsui, CNN

As biotechnology progresses, our ideas about what it means to be human.

Today, whether we are inserting microchips, fitting advanced prosthetic limbs, or designing completely new senses, we can change our bodies in ways that were previously unimaginable.

Transhumanists – people who try to improve their biology by developing their bodies with technology – believe that our natural state interferes with our world experience and that we can transcend our existing talents through science.

For some, “technoprogressive” ideas are controversial for others. But for photographer David Vintiner, these are something else entirely: beautiful.

Neil Harbisson was born with acromatism or total color blindness. In 2004, it had an antenna implanted into the skull and enabled it to perceive colors as audible vibrations. Credit: David Vintiner

“In beauty engineering products,” said Vintiner, who spent years taking pictures. real life cyborgs and body changers for his book “I Want to Believe – The Discovery of Transhumanism”.

In a book in collaboration with art director and critic Gem Fletcher, to some extent, technicians who have bionic ears, which are defined as “transhuman”, perceive changes in atmospheric pressure, and develop organs in the world.

Fletcher was first introduced through the London Futurist Group, which is investigating how technology with transhumanist subculture can counter future crises. Upon meeting some members, he approached London-based art director Vintiner with the idea of ​​taking a photo with a series of portraits.

Rob Spence, who calls himself “eyeliner”, has replaced a wireless video camera in place of his right eye. Credit: David Vintiner

“Our first shot was with a DIY ‘brain hacker’, Andrew Vladimirov,” Vintiner said in a phone call. “When we just photographed each, we asked for guidance and publicity to other key people in the movement.”

Although the photographer admitted that the claims of the transhumanists might seem strange at first, he soon saw the temptation to develop technological self-development. “How would you do if given the chance? design your own body and what would you like him to say about you? “asked.

Redefining the human experience

James Young, one of the subjects of Vintiner, returned to bionics after losing his arm and leg in an accident in 2012. The teenager was always interested in biotechnology and was especially attracted to science fiction aesthetics. Visualizing how your body can be “rebuilt” or even perform advanced tasks with the help of the latest technology has been part of the recovery process.

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But according to the 29-year-old boy, the options offered by doctors were far from exciting – the standard number of steel bionic limbs with skin-colored silicone sleeves.

James Young has always turned to science fiction aesthetics. After the accident, he came to see that he “rebuilt” his body as part of the healing process. Credit: David Vintiner

“It was the saddest part to see what’s available,” Young said in the video interview.

“What the human body can create in terms of tools and technology is such a blurry thing – if you think about the arm, it’s just sensory equipment.

“If someone had to cut his arm and leg, I would have because I am excited about the technology and what it can do.”

Japanese game giant Konami worked with prosthetic sculptor Sophie de Oliveira Barata to design a series of bionic limbs for Young. The result was an arm and leg made of gray carbon fiber, an aesthetic inspired by Konami’s “Metal Gear Solid”, one of the 22-year-old favorite video games at that time.

Beyond the expected functions, Young’s robot arm has a retractable socket that includes a USB port, a screen that shows Twitter feed, and a drone with remote control. The limbs are controlled by sensors that transform nerve impulses from Young’s spine into physical movements.

“Advanced prosthetics have allowed James to change people’s perception of disability,” said Vintiner of Young, “when you show people the first time photos, they are shocked and anxious about the ideas they contain. But if you distribute the ideas, they are very pragmatic.”

James Young’s bionic arm has a retractable socket that includes a USB port, a screen connected to his Twitter account, and a drone with remote control. Credit: David Vintiner

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Young says it took several years for people to appreciate not only the functions of advanced bionic limbs, but also their aesthetics. “Bionic and electronic limbs were considered frightening only because of how they looked,” he said. “They came across the idea that” disability is not sexy “. ”

He also felt that there was stigma surrounding the bionics because patients were often given flesh-colored arms to hide their artificial limbs.

“Visually, we think this is the limit of the human body,” said Young, referring to the remaining biological arm. “Opportunities are opening up for transhumanists because a bionic arm cannot feel pain or can be changed instantly if you have money. They have different abilities to withstand heat and avoid sunburn.”

As Vintiner continued to take portraits, she felt that most of her prejudices were in difficulty. The process also raised a deep question: If technology can change what it is to be human, can it change what it means to be beautiful?

“Most of my (original) workplaces are around people – their behavior, characters, quirks, and stories.” “But this project took the concept of beauty to another level.”

Liz Parrish claims to be the first to successfully enter dual gene therapy to “treat” biological aging. Credit: David Vintiner

The eye of the audience

According to Vintiner, the effect of science on our aesthetic understanding is one of the most fascinating aspects of transhumanism. What he discovered, however, was that many in the movement still looked at current beauty standards as a model of “post-human” perfection.

Another subject of Fletcher and Vintiner’s book is Sophia, a robot designed by scientists David Hanson and Ben Goertzel in Hanson Robotics. Sophia It is one of the most advanced humanoid robots to date.

Speaking with CNN Style in 2018, Hanson said that Sophia’s form will resonate with people around the world, and her appearance is partly inspired by real women and the sculptures of Egyptian queen Nefertiti, including Hanson’s wife and Audrey Hepburn.

But with light hazel eyes, perfectly arched eyebrows, long lashes, defined cheekbones and full lips – Sophia’s look traditionally summarizes the discussion of a beautiful Caucasian woman.

The photo shoot said, “When I photographed Goertzel, he voiced how he spent time thinking about how he looked – he wasn’t interested in the photo.”

Vintiner has seen a certain irony: someone who is not concerned about his own appearance will still reflect our interest in beauty through the invention of the company.

He also reminded that attractiveness can be more complex than algorithms ever.

Ben Goertzel is one of the scientists behind robot Sophia. Credit: David Vintiner

“I am afraid that if we can design people without any of the ‘flaws’ occurring in our biological structure, things will be pushed even further to a level of perfection that we can only imagine right now.” Vintiner said. “See how plastic surgery changed our perception of beauty in a very short time.

“If the transhumanists are right and we, as humans, can live hundreds of years, we will change dramatically in terms of our understanding of beauty and the meaning of being human.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, “I Want to Believe – Discovering a Transhumanism” launch and Kickstarter campaign and accompanying photography exhibition have been postponed temporarily.

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