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DIGITAL PEOPLE

At another level,perhaps nobler, perhaps only a matter of enlight- ened self-interest, is the desire to transcend our limitations:We imag- ine creating beings that go beyond humanitys natural physical and mental endowments. A related motivation is the desire to bionically repair ill or damaged bodies and minds or to enhance them for better performance, improved health, and longer lifespanor, returning to the cosmetic theme, for greater beauty.These, too, are old ideas. In- dian mythological writings 4,000 years old or older tell of a warrior queen who went into battle with a prosthetic iron leg, and in Norse mythology, Sif, wife of the god Thor, had dwarves make golden hair for her.

The desire to make ourselves healthier and more beautiful is rooted in our strongest motivation to consider artificial beings: fear of death. It is extreme fantasy, perhaps, to think that artificial creations might allow individuals or the entire race to foil nature and achieve immortality; but it is no fantasy to say that as we develop such beings, we begin scientifically exploring the incomprehensible gap between the living and dead, the animate and inanimate.

Inevitably, even cautious forays into this territory carry a scent of hubris, in the belief that we can outdo evolutionary forces or perhaps God Himself.As the science fiction author Stanislaw Lem has written: The concept of an artificially created man is blasphemy in our cul- tural sphere. Such a creation [is] a caricature, an attempt by humans to become equal to God.From the viewpoint of traditional religion, he adds, this blasphemy could succeed only if humanity were to collabo- rate with the forces of evil; that is why an air of the uncanny sur- rounds these creatures.

For those who find this eeriness unsettling or the blasphemy un- forgivable, other motives for making artificial creatures might prove compelling. Beyond physical improvements, perhaps we can create beings or states of consciousness that avoid our moral and spiritual failings,thereby guiding us toward becoming better humans.And from the scientific viewpoint, what could be more important than to un- derstand the origins and processes of life? In this spirit, research on artificial beings is a way to express our sense of wonder about life and

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