Superhuman is a term that describes qualities or characteristics that exceed those found in humans.
It is used to describe abilities found in some fictional characters, such as superheroes. Fictional characters have been portrayed as having psychic/psionic abilities, flying abilities, impossible strength or exceptional proficiency beyond human capability. Superhuman can also mean something that is not human, but considered to be "superior" to humans in some way, e.g. a tiger may be described as having "superhuman strength".
Superhuman can describe future theoretical changes to current human abilities from human enhancement, for example, by genetic modification, cybernetic implants, nanotechnology, or from human evolution in the distant future.
Super-human is one of the stages in classification of progress in artificial intelligence and denotes where an entity of artificial intelligence performs better than most humans do in a specific task. Examples of where computers currently are super-human include backgammon, bridge, chess, reversi scrabble, and even Jeopardy!.
Human enhancement and advancement
Any attempt to temporarily or permanently overcome the current limitations of the human body through natural or artificial means may be referred to as human enhancement. The term is sometimes applied to the use of technological means to select or alter human characteristics and capacities, whether or not the alteration results in characteristics and capacities that lie beyond the existing human range. Here, the test is whether the technology is used for non-therapeutic purposes. Some bioethicists restrict the term to the non-therapeutic application of specific technologies — neuro-, cyber-, gene-, and nano-technologies — to human biology.
According to transhumanist thinkers, a posthuman is a hypothetical future being "whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards."
The concept of the superhuman is quite popular in science fiction, where superhumans are often cyborgs, mutants, aliens, telepaths, the product of ongoing human evolution or genetically engineered. The greatest publicity for the concept are comic book superheroes, such as Superman (an alien). The term is often used in discussions of comic book characters because of the considerable overlap between superheroes and superhumans is such that the archetypical comic book revolves around superhuman characters who become super heroes or super villains. However, many comic books outside of DC and Marvel rely on alternative terminology for both because the terms Superman and "Super Hero" (not the generic "superhero") are registered as trademarks. Superhuman characters in various comics, role-playing games and other entertainment media have also been referred to as a metahuman, mutant, evolved human or superhuman, or posthuman.
One type of superhuman described in science fiction stories, particularly during the Atomic Age, derives from the concept of mutation or further human evolution. In such tales, a human would evolve into or give birth to a being that either has powers not yet exhibited by 'baseline' humans, or else motivations entirely different from those humans, or both. In some stories, these humans are either unable to get along with "normal" humanity, or will ultimately supersede them entirely, causing the eventual extinction of the descendants of contemporary baseline humanity.
These metahumans are designated as a "new species" (or "successor species") of humanity. In some fictional franchises, such as those of The Tomorrow People, Babylon 5 or the X-Men, they refer to themselves through use of the binomial nomenclature Homo superior, to distinguish them from Homo sapiens. Progress is inherently built into this science fiction subgenre, as it is assumed that they are the natural product of ongoing evolutionary adaptation to a new environment.
However, other stories turn this notion on its head, showing the disadvantages of a supposedly superior ability or quality; for example, the mutants of the X-Men are depicted as being unable to control their own powers, resulting in significant damage and catastrophe when their powers first activate. They must undergo rigorous training to make practical use of their powers and to coexist among others. In Briar Patch by Dean Ing, a group of ancient hominids were portrayed as a largely pacifistic, telepathic and highly empathic species who could not stand to inflict pain, even while hunting; they were eventually overwhelmed and exterminated by the less sensitive but more ruthless Homo sapiens.
Indeed, fear, persecution and interspecies 'racism' from non-metahuman humanity is a problem in the fictional universes of The Tomorrow People, X-Men and Babylon 5 alike. Military exploitation and abuse of telepaths, anti-mutant Sentinel technology and the repressive tolerance of Psi Corps in the latter universe parallels real-world versions of prejudice and discrimination.
Many other types of superhumans are also portrayed in science fiction. For example, the Dune series contains several varieties of superhumans, ranging from those produced by selective breeding to chemical enhancement or lifelong training in as yet uninvented mental and physical disciplines, a nearly-immortal human-sandworm hybrid, and artificial lifeforms such as the Face Dancers. The Dune prequels also describe nearly-immortal brain-in-a-jar cyborgs called Cymeks and advanced artificial intelligence.
The CoDominium universe has superhumans produced by artificial and natural selection and by genetic engineering; for example, the alien Moties have been bred for thousands of generations to be far better than humans at their caste's specific job, such as Engineer or Mediator. Many other fictional aliens, such as Vulcans, Kzinti and Mork from Ork have greater than human abilities or powers, sometimes simply for the purpose of making them seem more advanced or more "alien", other times simply for dramatic reasons (particularly if they are the antagonists of the story).
Classification in fiction
In Marvel Comics the term superhuman is part of a "power classification system" and applies to aptitude (usually physical) far beyond the range attainable by normal humans. An athlete is a normal human in extraordinary physical condition, such as a weight lifter or boxer. Peak human is applied to physical abilities that are nearly, but not quite, beyond the limits of the best of humans, such as an olympic-grade athlete. Enhanced human refers to superhuman abilities some distance beyond the limits of humans, such as being able to lift a small car but not a tank, and is a term for "light" superhuman abilities. Then comes the level of the "superhuman." Characters with a superhuman attribute are far beyond normal human abilities.
These categories are very rarely referenced in the actual stories themselves.
- Tesauro, Gerald (March 1995). "Temporal difference learning and TD-Gammon". Communications of the ACM 38 (3): 58–68. doi:10.1145/203330.203343.
- Computer bridge#Computers versus humans
- Computer Chess#Computers versus humans
- Reversi#Computer opponents
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- Hughes, James (2004). "Human Enhancement on the Agenda". Retrieved 2007-02-02.
- Moore, P., "Enhancing Me: The Hope and the Hype of Human Enhancement", John Wiley, 2008
- World Transhumanist Association (2002–2005). "The transhumanist FAQ". Retrieved 2006-08-27.