in the common reaction to Kismet or the robotic dogs, it takes only a few cues for us to meet creatures halfway, filling in gaps in their appar- ent naturalness from the well of our own humanity. In a way, an artifi- cial being exists most fully not in itself, but in the psychic space that lies between us and it.
And yet . . . there is the dream and the breathtaking possibility that humanity can actually develop the technology to create qualita- tively new kinds of beings.These might take the form of fully artifi- cial, yet fully living, intelligent, and conscious creatures—perhaps humanlike, perhaps not. Or they might take the form of a race of “new humans” that is; bionic or cyborgian people who have been enormously augmented and extended physically, mentally, and emo- tionally.
New humans could also arise from a different thread in modern technology. Purely biological methods such as cloning, genetic engi- neering, and stem-cell research offer another way to enhance human well-being and change our very nature. While astonishing progress has been made in these areas, we have yet to see definitive, broad-scale results. Moreover, a program for changing humans at the genetic level has ethical and religious implications that trouble many people, and the consequences of human-induced changes propagating in our gene pool trouble many scientists.The creation of fully or partly artificial beings has its own set of moral issues; these, however, might ultimately prove more acceptable to society than those arising from genetic ma- nipulation.
At its furthest reach, and as a great hope for the technology of artificial beings, we might be able to create a companion race—self- aware and self-sufficient, perhaps like us in some ways but different in others, with its own view of the universe and new ways to think about it. Fascination with the notion of communicating with another race of beings has been a main incentive in the search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe—a hope that engages many people, as witness the great interest in the 1996 announcement that traces of ancient life were found on Mars. But that announcement was mis- taken, and although the search continues (for instance, with the 2004