If Wired or Technology Review were to do a cover story on “computing in 2020,” you know what you’d get: computer-generated mock-ups of what the laptop/wearable/ambient Computer of Tomorrow will look like, interviews with people working on bleeding-edge technologies, and lots of discussion of how future computers will work. When Nature does a cover story on “computing in 2020,” you get something quite different: only one of the eight feature articles talks about how future computers might operate; the rest look more at the evolution of how we use computers, a much more worldchanging topic.
A speech by Dr Nick Bostrom, IEET Chairman and Director of the Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford. The speech was given on March 22, 2006 in London to the Royal Society. The meeting was chaired by Robert Pepperell, University of Plymouth and at the University of Wales College, Newport, UK.
There’s a theory in cognitive science that suggests that one of the hallmarks of human consciousness is the ability to model another person’s thoughts in one’s own brain, and do so with reasonable accuracy. It’s not simply being able to read expressions, although that’s part of it; humans can imagine how another person’s thought processes, which may differ significantly from their own, would play out in reaction to a given situation. If you think about it, this is an amazing capability, especially because we don’t always do it consciously. We run sophisticated simulations of other people’s minds within our own. This capacity allows us both to imagine how others would feel after we witness their circumstances—that is, it allows us to experience empathy—and to imagine how others would respond to our own statements and actions—that is, it allows us to rehearse our behavior.
These notes were posted by IEET Fellow Andy Miah on his blog:
Tomorrow’s People - Oxford, James Martin Institute, Said Business School
Here I am at the Oxford meeting, which is one of the most exciting and interesting I have attended. Major names are here from all kinds of disciplinary perspectives, philosophy, sociology, natural science. The sun is even shining here! The level of the debate is high and many issues exciting. I have already had conversations with Joel Garreu, James Hughes, Julian Savulescu, William Sims Bainbridge, Lee Silver and a representative from the House of Commons Select Committee for Science and Technology.
My session on ‘rethinking enhancement in sport’ was lively and I got the felt that these issues are just beginning for us all. There’s a great deal left to be done.
I even signed a couple of copies of ‘Genetically Modified Athletes‘, which happened to be in the Blackwell book stand!
I delivered two talks at the James Martin conference at Oxford, one on “human nature” and one on “how to create the cultural, political and policy context for universal access to safe enhancement technologies,” which are available onliine.
Over the course of the summer of 2006 the IEET will be considering a new set of priorities and foci, to replace the current six programmatic emphases that we adopted from the WTA. There are many interesting policy areas that fit within a broader technoprogressive agenda, that are only peripherally related to the human enhancement agenda, such as energy policy, education, social welfare and employment policy, and international security, which could be addressed in more focused ways. There are also topics and constituencies which could more effectively help us make the case for human enhancement.
If you have thoughts about the programatic agenda that the IEET should move toward, pleaase let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org
In that context I was intrigued by this Future Brief survey, fielded by Zogby, which had 13,400 American respondents between January 27-30, 2006.
Future Brief asked: QUESTION: Which of the following would you most like to see accomplished through the development of emerging technologies?
- An end to fossil fuels: 45.6%
- An end to disease: 20.5%
- An end to world hunger: 18.2%
- Extended life-span: 5.4%
- Exploration of the universe: 4.7%
- None/Not sure: 5.6%
Researchers at MIT and at the University of Hong Kong have developed a treatment for repairing severely damaged brain tissues, offering the possibility of restoring partial function to people injured by disease or trauma.
The treatment uses synthetic peptide molecules as scaffolding, allowing damaged neurons to grow new axons in order to connect to other nerve endings. The researchers’ goal is a modest 20% restoration, but the process worked well enough to restore sight to hamsters that had been blinded by the intentional severing of their optical nerves.
The researchers injected the blind hamsters at the site of their injury with a solution containing synthetically made peptides - miniscule molecules measuring just five nanometres long. Once inside the hamster’s brain, the peptides spontaneously arranged into a scaffold-like criss-cross of nanofibres, which bridged the gap between the severed nerves. The scientists discovered that brain tissue in the hamsters knitted together across the molecular scaffold, while also preventing scar tissue from forming. Importantly, the newly formed brain tissue enabled the brain nerves to re-grow, restoring vision in the injured hamsters.
The treatment works as well in older brains as it does in younger ones, and the synthetic peptides appear to be both immunologically inert and either absorbed into local proteins or flushed through the urinary system in a matter of weeks.
O futile humans! Why does your folly teach skills innumerable, and search out manifold inventions still? But there is one knowledge you do not gain and have never sought it: to implant a right mind where no wisdom dwells. - Theseus
Occasionally advocates for the “disabled” will find themselves making arguments in which they seem to suggest that there might be something somehow “genocidal” about a woman’s choice to end a pregnancy that might eventuate in a differently enabled child. Rarely, but sometimes, this is literally the—to me, dreadfully misguided—claim the advocate is actually making. But more usually when they are talking this way I think “disability” advocates are trying to get at a much more fraught and painful point that is simply terribly difficult to convey:
I just spent three hours recording a special for CNN called Welcome to the Future, along with Jeff Greenfield, Ray Kurzweil, Mirka De Arellano, and the spectabulous (yes, she deserves her own adjective) Margaret Cho, which will air on CNN the evening of March 25.
The “Segundas Jornadas sobre Convergencia Ciencia-Tecnología” took place in the University of Alcalá (near Madrid) from 6 to 10 March 2006. On March 9 there was a panel on “TRANSHUMANISMO: UNA VISIÓN ÉTICA DE LA TECNOLOGÍA PARA LA EXTENSIÓN DE LA VIDA” (Transhumanism: an ethical vision of life extension technology) with speakers that included IEET Executive Director James Hughes, IEET Fellow Mike Treder and IEET Board member Giulio Prisco.
The event was very successful, with more than 500 students who listened to the presentations, and asking many passionate questions about how to ensure the safety and universal availability of emerging technologies in the future. Madrid-based Board member Prisco has been receiving letters from students to thank the lecturers for opening their eyes on the human enhancement worldview. One letter says: “until now I viewed our mortal lives as something with a beginning and an end, and nothing more. But now I believe in Man and in his technology, and this gives me hope”. The students in Spain appeared to accept that human enhancement technologies will be developed and deployed, sooner than most people think, and were willing to consider this as a positive or at least acceptable trend. But they want to hear “the rest of the story”: how to solve other, more urgent problems of our world like war, poverty, hunger, public health etc.
In a recent address made on behalf of the Family Research Council to The World Congress of Families, Dr. William L. Saunders made some extraordinary claims that are becoming ever more ordinary in bioconservative discourse:
Male pregnancy, fetal parenthood, human chimeras, genetic engineering, cloning, two genetically-differentiated kinds of human beings, cybernetics, nanotechnology, perhaps nano-epidemics, even a post-body human existence –- how do we decide whether any of these should be pursued? How do we decide if science and biotechnology should be permitted (by we citizens, under the laws our representatives pass) to proceed to do every thing that can be done? Some scientists argue that they should be allowed to do whatever they can. Professor Lee Silver, in fact [sic], says there are no ethical reasons to fail to do any of the things I have mentioned. Is he right?
Direct from the ‘lack of vision’ department comes S. Jay Olshanksky’s latest offering to the great life extension debate. In collaboration with Daniel Perry, Richard A. Miller and Robert N. Butler, Olshansky has published a piece for The Scientist in which he comes out in favour of life extending interventions.
Human lives have always been defined both by their limits and by the strategies we use to cope with and overcome them. Many people who are coming now to be ever more fascinated (or appalled) by the spectacle of emerging, disruptive technological developments have begun to voice the hope (or the worry) that human beings are on the verge of a series of profound technological transformations of what have long been deeply definitive human limits. Is that really true? How could anyone confidently claim to know such a thing? How would we sensibly assess our circumstances in the midst of such technodevelopmental churn? Do we have the critical and ethical vocabularies on hand to cope with such transformations?
Two philosophies dominate the broad debates about the development of potentially-worldchanging technologies. The Precautionary Principle tells us that we should err on the side of caution when it comes to developments with uncertain or potentially negative repercussions, even when those developments have demonstrable benefits, too. The Proactionary Principle, conversely, tells us that we should err on the side of action in those same circumstances, unless the potential for harm can be clearly demonstrated and is clearly worse than the benefits of the action. In recent months, however, I’ve been thinking about a third approach. Not a middle-of-the-road compromise, but a useful alternative: the Reversibility Principle.
I first heard the slogan, “Keep your laws off my body!” as an activist well over a decade ago, when I was still in my 20s. But I cannot remember if it was in a rally decrying the sodomy laws that were still on the books in Georgia, where I lived at the time, or in a march to defend a woman’s “right to choose” against conservative legal assaults.
More than Human by Ramez Naam
Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau
Designer Evolution by Simon Young
Rebuilt by Michael Chorost
Fantastic Voyage by Ray Kurweil
The Golden Age trilogy by John C. Wright
Better Humans edited by Paul Miller and James Wilsdon
This is a speech given by Cory Doctorow, an SF author and e-rights activist, on digital rights management laws and technology, delivered at the Boskone SF con February 18, 2006 in Boston. [PART1] [PART 2]
Rossi is one of the founders of The Abolitionist Society, a group devoted to the use of psychopharmaceuticals and neurotechnology to allow people to become as happy as they can be. “The metabolic pathways of pain and malaise evolved because they served the fitness of our genes in the ancestral environment. They will be replaced by a different sort of neural architecture. States of sublime well-being are destined to become the genetically pre-programmed norm of mental health.”
I’ve begun to notice an ever stronger anti-corporatist slant emerging in the popular public rhetoric of bioconservatives on a number of fronts lately. I believe that this shift registers their dawning realization that arguments relying on fundamentalist conceptions of “nature” are not now prevailing, nor are they likely anytime soon to prevail, in the technoscientific cultures to which they are addressing themselves.
Anxieties about the creation and destruction of human embryos for the purpose of scientific research on embryonic stem cells have given a new urgency to the question of whether embryos have moral rights. This article uses a thought experiment involving two possible worlds, somewhat removed from our own in the space of possibilities, to shed light on whether early embryos have such rights as a right not to be destroyed or discarded (a “right to life”). It is argued that early embryos do not have meaningful interests or any moral rights. Accordingly, claims about the moral rights of embryos do not justify restrictions on stem cell research.