Welcome to Wednesday, where Trump blocks U.S. stimulus package, the last continent gets its first COVID cases and Messi breaks Pele's record. We also discover the different ways the world's teachers kept 1.5 billion students learning through the pandemic's lockdowns.
SPOTLIGHT: A HUMAN MUTATION: PANDEMIC TRIALS, TRANS SPECIES VISIONS
Seeing Manel de Aguas can prompt a range of reactions. The connected artificial "fins' implanted in his skull might look silly to some, inspiring to others, or just very disturbing. "I don't feel 100% human," the 27-year-old Catalan told the La Razón daily last week.
On his Instagram page, de Aguas describes himself as a Trans Species Artist. Those fins protruding from his head help him "feel" the weather, and as such are for him both aesthetic and prosthetic. They are as much a part of what he claims as a genuine cyborg identity as they are part of his creative image and business model. Is this a kind of 21st-century circus act? A role model for all those who have ever felt deeply connected to other species on the planet? Or are we witnessing a walking preview of the hybrid future of the human race?
That's the future of "transhumanism," predicted by more and more respected thinkers, including renowned author Yuval Harari (Sapiens, Homos Deus), where advances in biotechnology, genetics and artificial intelligence may reorder what we consider to be human.
Building machines and scientific technology into our bodies is of course nothing new, though until now it's been the almost exclusive purview of the medical sector for those seeking to fix or replace something that has somehow been lost, broken or deficient. We're crossing another boundary when we fuse tech and flesh for less purely practical reasons: whether its de Aguas' apparent attempt to better connect to nature (or boost his Instagram following) — or for more nefarious ends.
"The reality is that the human species will become immortal. In 100 or 500 or 1,000 years, it doesn't matter," Laurent Alexandre, a leading French medical technologist, told Le Figaro. "The real question is at what price. The Faustian pact with technology is heavy with consequences."
Most recently, the rising interest in transhumanism has also sparked a growing number of conspiracy theories triggered by 5G technology and COVID-19 vaccines, with claims that we will soon carry, unwillingly, electronic chips in our bodies and brains.
But of course, the current pandemic is warning not only about the risks of human advancement but also about our weaknesses in the face of nature. While transhumanism opens the door to the physical enhancement of our very selves — and the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines is a testament to our technological prowess — we are still in the dark about how the virus may have been first transmitted from other species. The human condition, it seems, is still very much driven by our mortality.
— Laure Gautherin
THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• COVID-19 latest: The UK-France travel ban is eased, though tensions remain high among truck drivers who have been stuck at border controls in Dover. Meanwhile, with 36 cases recorded in a research station, Antarctica is no longer the last continent free from the virus.
• Trump rejects stimulus: U.S. President Donald Trump has called the $900 coronavirus relief bill "wasteful" and threatened to veto it if it doesn't include higher stimulus checks. Failure to pass the bill could result in a partial government shutdown.
• Israel back to polls: Israel's parliament dissolved, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition failed to pass a budget, triggering a fourth election in two years, slated for March.
• Turkish journalist sentenced: Former editor-in-chief of Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet Can Dundar has been sentenced in absentia to 27 years and 6 months in prison for espionage and supporting terrorism. He had fled to Germany in 2016 amid Turkey's crackdown on journalists after a failed coup.
• French police officers killed: Three police officers were shot dead by a man in central France after responding to a domestic call violence. The suspected gunman was later found dead in his car.
• Rock in the UK: Researchers in the UK have discovered a new type of mineral, that they named kernowite, while analyzing a rock mined in Cornwall about 220 years ago.
• Gooooooool! (x644) Argentina's Lionel Messi scored his 644th goal for Barcelona in Spain's Liga, breaking Pelé"s record of the most goals for one club.