The Open UniversitySkip to content

The disconnection thesis

Roden, David (2012). The disconnection thesis. In: Eden, Amnon; Moor, Jim; Søraker, Johnny and Steinhart, Eric eds. The Singularity Hypothesis: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment. Frontiers Collection. Berlin: Springer, pp. 281–298.

Full text available as:
Full text not publicly available (Accepted Manuscript)
Due to publisher licensing restrictions, this file is not available for public download
DOI (Digital Object Identifier) Link:
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar


In his 1993 article ‘The Coming Technological Singularity: How to survive in the posthuman era’ the computer scientist Virnor Vinge speculated that developments in artificial intelligence might reach a point where improvements in machine intelligence result in smart AI’s producing ever-smarter AI’s. According to Vinge the ‘singularity’, as he called this threshold of recursive self-improvement, would be a ‘transcendental event’ transforming life on Earth in ways that unaugmented humans are not equipped to envisage.

In this paper I argue Vinge’s idea of a technologically led intelligence explosion is philosophically important because it requires us to consider the prospect of a posthuman condition succeeding the human one. What is the ‘humanity’ to which the posthuman is ‘post’? Does the possibility of a posthumanity presuppose that there is a ‘human essence’, or is there some other way of conceiving the human-posthuman difference?

I argue that the difference should be conceived as a historically emergent disconnection between individuals, not in terms of the presence or lack of essential properties. I also suggest that these individuals should not be conceived in narrow biological terms but in ‘wide’ terms permitting biological, cultural and technological relations of descent between human and posthuman.

Finally, I consider the ethical implications of this metaphysics of the posthuman. If, as I claim, the posthuman difference is not one between kinds but between individuals, we cannot specify its nature a priori but only a posteriori. Thus the only way to evaluate the posthuman condition would be to witness the emergence of posthumans. The implications of this are somewhat paradoxical. We are not currently in a position to evaluate the posthuman condition. Since there are no posthumans, the condition of posthumanity is not defined. However, posthumans could result from some iteration of our current technical activity, so we have an interest in understanding what they might be like. It follows that we have an interest in making or becoming posthumans.

Item Type: Book Section
Copyright Holders: 2012 Springer-Verlag
ISBN: 3-642-32559-9, 978-3-642-32559-5
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) > Social Sciences and Global Studies > Philosophy
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) > Social Sciences and Global Studies
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS)
Related URLs:
Item ID: 32635
Depositing User: David Roden
Date Deposited: 22 Feb 2012 15:27
Last Modified: 09 Aug 2019 18:13
Share this page:


Altmetrics from Altmetric

Citations from Dimensions

Actions (login may be required)

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   contact the OU