New book explores how technology changes what it means to be human

Jan 08, 2014 by Mike Krings

Technology is often touted as being able to change our lives, to make them easier, more efficient or to simply make life better. But what happens if technology has the ability to change what it means to be human? That question is at the heart of a University of Kansas professor's new book.

F. Allan Hanson, professor of anthropology, has authored Technology and Cultural Tectonics: Shifting Values and Meanings. The book examines recent technological advancements such as fertility treatments, DNA technology and artificial intelligence, and the ways in which they change how a culture addresses fundamental questions of how people live.

"Human beings try, when faced with something new, to assimilate it to something familiar," Hanson said. "The book is focused on cultural meanings and values, the way we look at the world and give things meaning and how that changes with ."

The book begins with a specific look at . For the majority of human history reproduction was possible only sexually. However, with the birth of the first in 1978, things have changed dramatically. It is now possible to cultivate and freeze both sperm and eggs, to create embryos and store them indefinitely. This has changed the very nature of what it means to be a father or a mother. It is no longer a given that one person will be a genetic, gestational and nurturing mother to a child. Hanson addresses such questions as what these technologies mean in terms of current social models, examining the established role of nuclear and adoptive families.

Larger philosophical questions also come in to play with such technologies. For example, there is not an accepted answer to the question of what to do with . Some countries will only allow two embryos to be produced; others will only allow creation of embryos to be raised by what would be considered a "traditional family," and still others will not address the question at all.

In examining such questions Hanson also discusses the boundaries technology can cross, such as the line between nature and culture. While many technologies influence things normally under our control, others—such as in vitro fertilization—begin to take on things not naturally under human control. He also explores the dual nature of technology's use: On one hand technology is used by humans to accomplish a task, such as using a calculator to solve a math problem. But technology is used on humans as well, such as DNA evidence used to investigate crimes. In some cases the questions raised by these newfound abilities are easy to address, but in others they are not. Cultural mores and differences complicate matters.

While technology can radically change what humans are capable of achieving, Hanson argues that ultimately it increases human control. While some are of the mindset that eventually will surpass human intelligence, Hanson, a cultural anthropologist, views a more symbiotic nature between humans and technology. And while they can ultimately change cultures and ways of life, the two will continue to function together, even if they bring about fundamental changes.

"What humans and can do together is far greater than what either can ever do on their own," Hanson said. "It makes us fully accomplished beings, yet what this also does is change the concept of what it is to be human."

Explore further: Technology one step ahead of war laws

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Technology one step ahead of war laws

Jan 06, 2014

Today's emerging military technologies—including unmanned aerial vehicles, directed-energy weapons, lethal autonomous robots, and cyber weapons like Stuxnet—raise the prospect of upheavals in military practices so fundamental ...

Zeno "boy" robot: Let me introduce myself (w/ Video)

Aug 04, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Hanson Robotics is showing its new humanoid robot boy that belongs in its Robokind portfolio of robots, a 2012 reincarnation of its earlier cartoonlike Zeno boy but this time more humanoid with ...

Culture not genes drives humans forward

Feb 27, 2012

Evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading Professor Mark Pagel argues that our cultural influences are more important to our success as a species than our genes in his new book published this week.

Recommended for you

Report: FBI's anthrax investigation was flawed

16 hours ago

The FBI used flawed scientific methods to investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and sickened 17 others, federal auditors said Friday in a report sure to fuel skepticism over the FBI's ...

Study reveals mature motorists worse at texting and driving

Dec 18, 2014

A Wayne State University interdisciplinary research team in the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has made a surprising discovery: older, more mature motorists—who typically are better drivers in ...

Napster co-founder to invest in allergy research

Dec 17, 2014

(AP)—Napster co-founder Sean Parker missed most of his final year in high school and has ended up in the emergency room countless times because of his deadly allergy to nuts, shellfish and other foods.

LA mayor plans 7,000 police body cameras in 2015

Dec 16, 2014

Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a plan Tuesday to equip 7,000 Los Angeles police officers with on-body cameras by next summer, making LA's police department the nation's largest law enforcement agency to move ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.