Transhumanism’s niche (some would say “cult”) status causes those of us who support it to answer a lot of the same questions over and over. Those questions were asked in droves on Marginal Revolutionin response to my three-landmarks of transhumanism effort. I’m going to do my best to answer them here. Cowen himself actually asked one I hadn’t heard before, so I’m going to let that one ruminate the longest. Let’s start with the classic: aging.
[Contains spoilers] True Blood is a fascinating HBO series about vampires living with humans, now in its second season. It follows Sookie Stackhouse, a human that has fallen in love with the vampire Bill Compton. While the vampires’ fight for marriage rights and the intense religious opposition reflects the gay rights struggle, True Blood’s depiction of an ageless species with several enhanced powers also provides an exploration of how society might deal with transhumans, and perhaps more importantly how society views such possibilities.
Good news for Battlestar Galactica fans: the new Caprica series is excellent. I finally caught the two-hour pilot and was quite impressed with the new direction. If this first episode is any indication, this is going to be a provocative and fascinating series—one that will touch upon many topics near and dear to transhumanists, including artificial intelligence, whole brain emulation, consciousness transfer, virtual reality and even immortality.
Some of the most thoughtful work on the topic of climate change appears in Jamais Cascio’s new e-book, Hacking the Earth. Cascio is a Bay Area futurist who worked with Global Business Network during the 1990s and is currently a research affiliate at the Institute for the Future, a global futures strategist at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, and a fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.
io9’s head honcho Annalee Newitz talks about the relationship of science fiction and technological innovation at Webstock09. “Just two decades ago, the Web and public internet were the stuff of science fiction. Creators like William Gibson, who coined the term “cyberspace” in his novel Neuromancer, helped define the terms of social life online, as well as inspiring many of the inventions (like smartphones) that we take for granted. But what is today’s science fiction telling us about where our technology will go tomorrow? I’ll talk about the stories today’s scifi creators are telling about the Web and internet, and how their ideas create a fantastical map of what people are seeking in their online lives.”
Only a third of IEET readers who responded to our recently concluded poll agree that geoengineering is a good idea and should be started as soon as possible. Almost half (47%) of respondents are “on the fence” and believe that more study is needed before they can say for sure, while a small but significant percentage definitely oppose it.
Nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science—the so-called “NBIC” technologies—have the potential, especially as they converge, to radically transform both human beings and human societies.
Let’s consider a couple of questions raised by the powerful possibilities that loom in the near future.
Intelligence is a big deal. Humanity owes its dominant position on Earth not to any special strength of our muscles, nor any unusual sharpness of our teeth, but to the unique ingenuity of our brains. It is our brains that are responsible for the complex social organization and the accumulation of technical, economic and scientific advances that, for better and worse, undergird modern civilization.
The central transhumanist idea of self-directed evolution can be coupled with different political, philosophical and religious opinions. Accordingly, we have observed individuals and groups joining the movement from very different persuasions. On one hand such diversity may be an asset in terms of ideas and stimuli, but on the other hand it may involve a practical paralysis, especially when members give priority to their existing affiliations over their belonging to organized transhumanism.
Ohio State Political Science professor Alexander Wendt lectures in 2002 on why he believes a one state world is inevitable. (UPDATE: Ondra alerts us that Wendt published the piece he was preparing in this talk as “Why a World State is Inevitable: Teleology and the Logic of Anarchy” European Journal of International Relations 9(4): 491-542. Thanks Ondra!)
“In sorting priorities, I adopt what I term the central principle of cultural evolution, which I refer to as the Intelligence Principle: the maintenance, improvement and perpetuation of knowledge and intelligence is the central driving force of cultural evolution, and that to the extent intelligence can be improved, it will be improved.”—Stephen J. Dick
Dr. J. chats with David Koepsell, Asst. Prof. of Philosophy, Delft University of Technology, about his book Who Owns You? The Corporate Gold Rush to Patent Your Genes. They discuss the absurd legal rationales for the patenting of the human genome, and disastrous consequences for biotech innovation that the patent mess has wrought. (MP3)
For all the ability of genes and even memes to battle for survival against one another, human beings are just as likely to share and cooperate as they are to cheat and compete. But the ascendance of market rhetoric in America and Britain was accompanied by the assertion of some decidedly antiromantic science. University anthropologists seemed determined to correct the hopeful impressions that so many still clung to of peaceful, vegetarian gorillas enjoying one another’s company in the jungle. Like stories of supposedly peaceful aboriginal tribes as yet untainted by corrupt Western civilization, such visions—according to the new social Darwinists—were pure fantasy.
Over the past few weeks, the blogosphere has been alive with a passionate debate about the extent to which science should accommodate religion, leaving it an area in which it has authority - whether it be in respect of truths about morality or truths about a supernatural realm - while denying it authority over empirical claims.
Tehran’s streets may be bloody, says Douglas Rushkoff, but the opposition has won the digital war. The battleground: Facebook and Twitter. The weapons: bandwidth and hacking. The prize: the end of totalitarianism.
Although the fruits of genomics have yet to materialize for curing diseases, the science community does have a better understanding of how complex diseases and evolution work. In addition, genomics has a useful by-product, a tool used by forensic detectives. Using PCR, a fast and inexpensive technology for making copies of DNA, extremely small samples from blood stains, semen, hair follicles, saliva, and skin are used for DNA evidence.
Pandemics. Global warming. Food shortages. No more fossil fuels. What are humans to do? The same thing the species has done before: evolve to meet the challenge. But this time we don’t have to rely on natural evolution to make us smart enough to survive. We can do it ourselves, right now, by harnessing technology and pharmacology to boost our intelligence. Is Google actually making us smarter?
David Koepsell is an author, philosopher, and attorney whose recent research focuses on the nexus of science, technology, ethics, and public policy. He is Assistant Professor, Philosophy Section, Faculty of Technology, Policy, and Management at the Technology University of Delft, in The Netherlands, and Senior Fellow, 3TU Centre for Ethics and Technology, The Netherlands. He is also the author of The Ontology of Cyberspace: Philosophy, Law, and the Future of Intellectual Property, as well as numerous scholarly articles on law, philosophy, science, and ethics. His latest book is Who Owns You? The Corporate Gold Rush to Patent Your Genes.
In this interview with D.J. Grothe, David Koepsell discusses the implications of corporations patenting parts of the human genome, and how current patent practices negatively impact basic scientific research in genetics. He reviews the history of the practice of patenting genes and contrasts private ownership of gene sequences found in nature with that of the public ownership of the work of the Human Genome Project. He contrasts discovery with invention, and argues that patents should apply only to the latter. He details the relationship of human genes being patented with the practices of big agribusiness owning engineered crops, such as Monsanto’s “terminator corn.” He discusses the ACLU’s recent lawsuit against Myriad Genetics on behalf of scientists and cancer patients, and how it may lead to one of the most important legal battles in the history of biotechnology. He talks about “upstream” and “downstream” patents, and how this impacts genetic research. And he discusses various solutions currently proposed for the problems resulting from private ownership of naturally occurring gene sequences.
Treatments for some of the world’s biggest killers, such as malaria, can’t earn enough profits for pharmaceutical companies to attract research investments. The people they kill are just too poor to be worth the investment. Fortunately scientist-activists are attempting to find ways to support vital research through the non-profit sector.
Many IEET readers probably are familiar with the famous (and famously brilliant) “Powers of Ten” film created in 1977 by Charles and Ray Eames. What happens if we try a similar mental exercise with time instead of space?