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Is the human body becoming obsolete?

An inquiry about technology replacing human bodies and flesh.
April 13, 2015, 11:45am

"Did you hear about the guy getting a human head transplant?"

"Yeah, he changed his mind."

Whatever, that joke almost works.

Did you hear about the guy getting a human head transplant, though? I mean, maybe getting a human head transplant. Or maybe turning into a Human Centipede-level medical horrorshow, ​or maybe dying, or maybe never going under the knife at all.

The surgery is years off, and many experts are calling it immoral an​d insane, but a Russian man with a genetic muscle disease, Valery Spiridonov, has volunteered to be the first human head transplantee.


"I'm ready for your experiments!" he wrote in an email to the doctor Sergio Canavero, author of Head Transplantation and the Quest for Immortality and now the world's most prominent peddler of the idea that immortality can be achieved through the Gillette m​odel.

One day, Dr. Canavero says, we will clone our bodies, grow them in artificial wombs, and transplant our heads onto them as our old meatbags weaken and wither. Got a bad knee? Diabetes? Early stage cancer? No problem, we'll just change the whole thing out.

Increasingly, the human body seems cosmetic

Dr. Canavero is a very optimistic man. But his vision does seem like one logical conclusion to the Information Age. Our bodies have been declining in importance since the machines took over mass production. Computers exponentially enhanced our intellectual abilities, while our physical abilities remain limited—at least until bionic arms become a thing. Gchat is replacing conversation, robots are replacing manual laborers, drones are replacing soldiers, and virtual reality is potentially replacing everything. Increasingly, the body seems cosmetic. Worse, it's fatally flawed—it dies.

This week, we're running a slate of special stories about the future of the human body. We'll be talking about ​immortality, ​mind uploading, transhumanism, cryonics, the history of bio-hacking. What is the ​fourth industrial revolution? Has the first person to live to be 1,000 ​already been born? What if we create the technology for everlasting life and bionic arms, but not everyone can afford it? If that technology were here, would you—should you—use it?

We'll also be ​talking to Valery Spiridonov, the first human head transplant volunteer, ​and his doctor, Sergio Canavero, along with a host of people working on transcending the limits of the human body. We will also be presenting our original documentary, "​Inhuman Kind," about the automation of war.

And we'll leave you with a question: Is the human body on its way to being obsolete?

Goodbye, Meatbags is a series on Motherboard about the waning relevance of the human physical form. Follow along ​here.