Transhumanism, the philosophical movement that believes technology and human biology will eventually merge to expand and improve the quality of life, has been circulating in pop culture and philosophy for decades. The idea probably sounds like science fiction, but when we stop and consider technology like pacemakers, vaccines, and Google Glass which exists in our world today, transhumanism begins to feel less like something from an episode of Star Trek and more like an actual window to humanity's future.
For deathcare professionals, technology and philosophy that blur the lines between life and death, humanity and immortality, should capture our interest. Looking to the future, as this article from Forbes explains, some transhumanists believe the goal of transhumanism is to defeat death all together. This motive is questionable at best on the ethical scale. While decades away from becoming a reality, deathcare professionals can stay informed and prepare for handling transhumanist technology likely to appear in our workspaces soon. Here is a look at four transhumanist technologies that embalmers may need to address by the year 2050.
1) Elon Musk’s NeuraLink
Elon Musk’s Neuralink is a brain implant device that will supposedly allow a human brain to control computers and mobile devices with thought. The company also claims that the implant can solve “brain and spine” problems ranging from insomnia and anxiety to paralysis, hearing loss, stroke, and brain damage. The technology behind the device claims to work by tracking and understanding electrical synapsis firings in the brain with implants placed near brain neurons, which fire electrical signals during brain and body functions.
Though the implant is still under development, with the onset of this technology already presented to the public in 2021, these types of brain implant devices will likely begin showing up on the embalming table within the next 30 years.
2) Intelligence and Mood Enhancing Brain Implants
We are already seeing social media storms around China using "focus headbands" to monitor students' concentration and collect data from and about those students' brains. An article from Medium claims that "China is at the forefront of mining data directly from people's brains, using such brain surveillance devices to monitor staff in factories, on public transport, in state-owned companies, and the military."
What about when technology from companies like BrainCo goes nano? Though external accessories are only available today, moving forward, it's a real possibility more permanent or internal devices will be used later.
3) Brain-Machine Interface Bionic Limbs
BrainCo, the corporation mentioned above, is also the parent company of BrainRobitics that creates cutting-edge bionic prosthetic limbs. These BMI (Brain Machine Interface) prosthetics are integrated with signals from the brain and make, giving a naturalistic handshake, retaining fine motor skills, and more possible.
Similar to the prosthetic technology that DARPA, or the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US military, developed and has implemented for the past few years. As technology around prosthesis continues to integrate with brain interfacing, funeral directors are very likely to see more of these integrated limbs needing to be removed and handled in the embalming room.
4) Neural Uploads to the Cloud
The idea of uploading human consciousness at or after the time of death is science fiction, existing only on streaming entertainment like Black Mirror or Amazon's Upload series. However, this core transhumanist theory showcases technology that digitally stores memories from the human brain, to later download them into a synthetic brain or body that could continue "living" with a person's old thoughts, memories, and emotions. In essence, this technology could turn funeral directors and embalmers into professionals who transition people from a biological existence to a digital presence.
An article about transhumanist technologies from Super Human Talks explains that, though we don't have a way to upload the human brain to a digital platform yet, companies like LifeNaut and Terasem are actively working to make this happen soon.
Like cryogenics, which is gaining popularity, upload options like Netcome require procedures similar to embalming to store tissue for future use. But, again, it's obvious how this directly ties into the skill sets and professional space of deathcare, so our profession should be looking ahead to what the future holds for these technologies.
If you’re interested in more information about these technologies, click here to download a free ebook on Transhumanism and Deathcare.
Transhumanism and the Future of Deathcare
On the surface, for professionals in the deathcare space, transhumanism seemingly may threaten our work. Yet, it's clear that, no matter how technology evolves, the biological human body has an expiration date. As long as humanity is around, we will need caretakers and professionals to help make the transition from life to some sort of existence (or not) beyond.
On a recent episode of the Deathcare Decoded podcast, Joél Simone Anthony, sacred grief practitioner, licensed funeral director, and deathcare educator, elaborates on how deathcare professionals could think about transhumanism today:
"In my mind, when I think about transhumanism from a deathcare perspective, I'm looking at it from the perspective of an embalmer, as a crematory operator, and as a funeral director. How is this technology going to affect the way that we care for the deceased and the effect of how we think of mortality in itself? The definition given by Wikipedia says that transhumanism is designed to lengthen our lives, so who is to say that there won't be a bridge that we reach either in consciousness or in actual anatomy that allows us to essentially live forever? Then that makes me think, what's considered dead if the technology works, but the actual physicality of the individual is dead, or if the consciousness of the individual is not dead? Then what is death?"
Joél also mentions ways that today's deathcare professionals can prepare for the transhumanist future of deathcare. She recommends preparing for more secular funeral ceremonies and rituals. Think how we need to support grieving families when a loved one's consciousness is present (in holographic or artificial form) at the funeral or the psychological consequences of what "never dying" would mean for the human race?
As death care workers, we can preemptively look ahead to the future of deathcare in an increasing transhumanist world and prepare for the hypothetical, but progressively possible, technology impacting our work.
You can listen to Joél’s episode about Transhumanism and the Future of Deathcare on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever podcasts are available.
Alexandra Jo is the Culture and Content Manager at Parting Stone where she cultivates a positive company culture for a fast-growing team of first-gen death care professionals. Alexandra is passionately death curious, and co-hosts the Deathcare Decoded podcast.