DEUS EX: Human Evolution?

A vision for the future is being given to us through our consoles. That future is human augmentation and the game in question is Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

The media we ingest gives us an array of hypotheses on the next stage of human evolution. From mutation to interstellar travel we are presented with many fantastic and imaginative ideas about our own future. It been a source of inspiration and imagination for hundreds of years. The advent of CGI has allowed our generation to really experience this first hand, 2011 alone giving us transforming robots, a range of alien life and enough mutations to shake a giant green fist at. However, one particular vision for the future is being given to us not on the silver screen but on our PCs, PS3s and Xboxes. The future is human augmentation and the game is Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I was introduced to the concept of human augmentation by Mamoru Oshii€™s Ghost in the Shell (1995). Based on Masamune Shirow€™s manga of the same name, Mamoru€™s film depicts a future where the human race is connected via a vast network and while race and culture still exist, the world operates on a global agenda. The story follows Major Kusanagi, a member of Japan€™s Public Security Section 9, a counter terrorism unit who specialise in cyber warfare. In the world of Ghost in the Shell many people have undergone human augmentation. These range from cyber brain implants (essentially modems for the brain, allowing internet access directly into your mind) to complete body prosthesis. Kusanagi is herself, a full cyborg retaining only her brain. Both the film and the original manga deal with issues regarding transhumanism and augmentation. The big question is how far is too far, when do we stop being human and become purely a machine?

I was profoundly affected by Ghost in the Shell because I could see our society heading in this direction. In 1989, when Masamune€™s manga was written, the internet as we understand it today did not exist, it was science fiction. Yet, by the time the film adaptation had been released the internet had become the titan that it is today. While we do not receive the internet directly into our heads we do now receive it directly into our pockets. In my opinion the internet was an evolutionary step for the human race. It has changed the way we live our lives. With the internet came another phenomenon adhered to in Masamune€™s work; cyber crime. Almost everyone online has suffered from a viral attack or worse. The recent attacks on Sony illustrate how big these crimes are becoming. While most cyber crime is on the scale of nuisance rather than global terrorism, the recent hacking of American politician's google accounts certainly suggests a more global agenda. However, if you apply the current level of cyber crime to a scenario where people are accessing the net with their brains these nuisance level crimes become much more sinister. In Ghost in the Shell people can be hacked, and forced to do things against their will. Is this fiction so far from becoming fact? Is the mobile phone such a far cry from a cyber implant in the brain? All it takes is a bus ride with some college students to see that some people are already completely attached to their phone. Cybernetic human augmentation still seems very much to be on the fictional side of science fiction. However, in actuality it may be much closer than we think. If you change the word augmentation and replace it with prosthetics then it becomes clear that replacing parts of the human body with mechanical parts is already commonplace and technology that allows the brain to interact with digital technology is already under development. One field that is particularly advanced is the development of visual prosthetics, or bionic eyes. In 2008 a 73 year old man underwent experimental surgery which connected a camera to his optic nerve. He can now see a certain amount light where before he was completely blind. Argo Medical Technologies€™ Rewalk is the first viable upright walking assistance tool that allows a paraplegic to stand and walk. DEKA have even created a robotic arm that can be controlled by the brain to give the user the dexterity to pour a glass of water from a bottle and pick up a grape without crushing it. The potential this technology has to benefit mankind is unbound.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution does not present this breakthrough as a utopian cure for the ills of man. Without a doubt, human augmentation could benefit many people who suffer from a range of disabilities. However, there is a dark side to human augmentation and that is what Deus Ex: Human Revolution is all about. Set in 2027 where bio-mechanical augmentations are state of the art, you play as Adam Jensen a security officer for Sarif Industries, the market leader in human augmentation. During a terrorist attack on the company Jensen is mortally wounded and must undergo drastic augmentation to survive.

The fundamental issue that is raised in Deus Ex is the morality of €œTranshumanism€ and the effect it has on society. Transhumanism is a movement that aspires to improve upon nature€™s design. What makes Ghost in the Shell so potent is Masamune€™s foresight in envisioning how people would react to the integration of robotics and the human body. It doesn€™t stop at recreating a lost ability, it becomes an opportunity to improve yourself. Our bodies are limited in many ways by our DNA, we are only capable of exerting so much strength, seeing so far, running so fast. Machines are only limited by design and can easily outperform the human body in most tasks. This raises an interesting and disturbing point. If Patient A loses their right arm, an obvious solution would be to replace it with a robotic arm. However, the robotic arm vastly outperforms Patient A€™s remaining left arm. Now Patient A must decide between keeping his original arm and having a restricted prosthetic limb or having his healthy and fully functional left arm removed and replaced with another prosthetic limb. By having both arms replaced he would benefit from being not only balanced, but stronger than he was before. It doesn€™t stop there, Patient A would be stronger still if his back was re-enforced to compensate for the increased lifting ability, not to mention his abdomen to balance his back and his legs to support the increased body weight. The fear comes from going too far and losing something important in the process. Human augmentation is big business even today. Plastic surgery is a billion Dollar industry in America and the rest of the world isn€™t far behind. You can fix almost anything you are unhappy with about your appearance. But there is a price, you lose your self in the process. An obvious example was the late Michael Jackson who became unrecognisable as the child star of Motown. Many people consider plastic surgery as a negative and destructive thing, but humans have always strived to improve them selves. This is what Masamune touched upon in Ghost in the Shell, the horror of self improvement. Every member bar one of Section 9 is at least partially cyborg. Why? Because they are stronger, faster and more invulnerable than an average person. Adam Jensen is also stronger, faster and more invulnerable than he was. A large part of Deus Ex is spent upgrading Jensen€™s augmentations to improve his skills. So what is wrong with improving upon the original? The problem is you lose your humanity. In the film adaptation of Ghost in the Shell Major Kusanagi begins to question her own humanity. Having never seen her own brain, she questions its existence, her gender and upon meeting someone with the same model body, herself as a unique individual. For a full cyborg, everything would become a choice, height, weight, sex, facial features and even their voice. To be able to pick and choose your own existence like the optional extras on a car would take away everything that makes someone an animal. Except of course their soul.

The human soul is possible the only thing we will never recreate with technology. It is the one thing that truly defines us as unique individuals. Should the ideas of Deus Ex and Ghost in the Shell come to pass then I feel that it will be the greatest step in evolution that the human race has undergone since evolving from apes. We run the risk of losing our humanity, but perhaps we could gain something equally diverse and beautiful.

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A video editor by trade and a lover of movies, games and manga.