Athena Andreadis is guest-blogging at Sentient Developments this month. Years ago, I saw a short in an animation festival. It showed earth inhabited by men who happily bopped each other and propagated by laying eggs. A starship crash interrupted the idyll. Presaging Battlestar Galactica, the newcomers proved miraculously interfertile with the men who handed them the job of propagation along with all other disagreeable chores. Things went swimmingly, at least for the men, until a rescue ship arrived. After the women left, the men were once again free to pursue manly things – until they realized they had forgotten how to lay eggs.
We can hold conference calls with colleagues from all over, and do it basically for free. Tiny videocams built into laptop computers—that are themselves millions of times more powerful than the computers used to fly men to the moon in the 1960s—allow real-time visual meetups, saving time and money, making business run better and progress move faster. Still, no matter how far we have come, in-person meetings are better than data-mediated connections.
It is 2007 on the steamy tropical streets of Rangoon, Burma, where journalism is against the law, and where no outside reporters are allowed. Fed up with living under the oppression of a heavy-handed military dictatorship, a few courageous citizens dare to speak out. They are quickly silenced and carried off by police and plain-clothes thugs—but a small band of video journalists is able to capture the events and begin leaking the news to the outside world.
This thought experiment is not as far-fetched as it may seem at first glance. Many experts believe that we will be able, not too many decades down the track, to build a device with the capacities that I’ll be describing. My Generation Y philosophy/international studies students may still be young enough to be involved in real-world decisions when this sort of technology is available. Even I may still be alive, to vote on it, if it’s an election issue in 30 or 40 years time. Though it may be at an early stage, the necessary research is going on, even now, in such places as the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The term “mindclone” evokes a wide range of sci-fi images from the “Cylons” of Battlestar Galactica to the “Mr. Smiths” of The Matrix. While it is indisputable that we are creating large mindfiles, as described in Question 1, and surely there are geeks working hard on mindware, as reviewed in Question 2, how close could we be to an actual mindclone when computers can’t converse on their own much better than a two-year old kid?
IEET Executive Director J. Hughes answered some questions about technology and its impact on humanity at Convergence 08, November 15, 2008 in Mountain View California. This video is one of a dozen that will be hosted shortly on the new Humanity+ website. If its too slow to stream you can download various versions from Archive.org.
In June 1983 I arrived in Sri Lanka with a starry-eyed commitment to grassroots Buddhist social change, and a lot of romanticism about national liberation movements and Asian Buddhism. The Sri Lankan civil war that started five days later forced me to confront how dangerous all identities and communities are unless we understand that they are fundamentally imaginary. My two years in Sri Lanka convinced me of the desperate need for a new project of global citizenship.
If we take a long view of human civilization and history, it is hard not to be impressed by how far we have come. Sure, we could always do more, and yes, I’m as impatient as you for the next steps forward. But it doesn’t hurt once in a while to pat ourselves on our collective backs for what we’ve accomplished over the last few thousand years.
Miller Brown (Philosophy, Trinity College) debunks arguments against human enhancement, specifically in sports, before the Hartford Ethics Group, May 14, 2009. (Apologies about the loud air conditioner in the background.)
Economic rights are fundamental human rights. European social democracies are the best at providing for basic economic security. Some of the evidence for Euro-socialist superiority comes from comparative studies of happiness. We can start providing more economic security here by expanding public options and universal access to healthcare. (MP3)
We are on the brink of technological breakthroughs that could augment our mental powers beyond recognition. It will soon be possible to boost human brainpower with electronic “plug-ins” or even by genetic enhancement. What will this mean for the future of humanity?
Given the accumulating effects of global warming and the increasing potential for disastrous climate change, some form of geoengineering likely will be attempted within the next decade or two. As advanced nanotechnology moves ahead, it could enable—for better or for worse—truly epic planet-scale (re)terraforming projects.
“The convergences of the past, like small streams flowing together to form a great river, have created stronger currents that carry the potential for even faster and more dramatic changes as they converge in the near future. These include information technology, genetic engineering and biotechnology, nanotechnology (the manipulation of matter at the molecular level, which may allow manufacturing without factories as we know them), and cognitive science (how we know and learn).”
[May contain spoilers for various movies or TV shows.] It is important to understand how issues such as cryonics are presented in the popular media, so as to gauge public perception of them and understand how to correct common misconceptions and appeal to popular values as much as possible. Unfortunately, in the case of cryonics a large portion of the portrayals in television and movies are negative and are rife with those misconceptions.
“The world will someday end with fire or ice, but we await clarification as to the proximate causes. The menu of looming catastrophes is a long one, growing with our advancing knowledge of the universe and powers of self-immolation.”
For a generation of science fiction fans who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) was a book that changed lives: a huge, bizarre, magical, loosely-knit satire of nearly everything. It recounts the adventures of Valentine Michael Smith (or Mike), a young man who is born on Mars and raised by the Martians, before being brought to a wacky near-future Earth. He is befriended by wise old Jubal Harshaw, the novel’s authorial spokesman or ‘Heinlein figure’ (though he is presented as much older than Heinlein actually was at the time). Jubal becomes Mike’s mentor and protector, then eventually something more like a disciple.
In Life Inc., award-winning writer, documentary filmmaker, and scholar Douglas Rushkoff traces how corporations went from a convenient legal fiction to the dominant fact of contemporary life. Indeed as Rushkoff shows, most Americans have so willingly adopted the values of corporations that they’re no longer even aware of it.
This fascinating journey reveals the roots of our debacle, from the late Middle Ages to today. From the founding of the chartered monopoly to the branding of the self; from the invention of central currency to the privatization of banking; from the birth of the modern, self-interested individual to his exploitation through the false ideal of the single-family home; from the Victorian Great Exhibition to the solipsism of MySpace; the corporation has infiltrated all aspects of our daily lives. Life Inc. exposes why we see our homes as investments rather than places to live, our 401k plans as the ultimate measure of success, and the Internet as just another place to do business.
Most of all, Life Inc. shows how the current financial crisis is actually an opportunity to reverse this 600-year-old trend, and to begin to create, invest and transact directly rather than outsourcing all this activity to institutions that exist solely for their own sakes.
Corporatism didn’t evolve naturally. The landscape on which we are living - the operating system on which we are now running our social software - was invented by people, sold to us as a better way of life, supported by myths, and ultimately allowed to develop into a self-sustaining reality. It is a map that has replaced the territory.
Rushkoff illuminates both how we’ve become disconnected from our world, and how we can reconnect to our towns, to the value we can create, and mostly, to one another. As the speculative economy collapses under its own weight, Life Inc. shows us how to build a real and human-scaled society to take its place.
In Life Inc, Douglas Rushkoff presents the unnerving, unbelievable, but ultimately undeniable proof that our world has been overtaken by an absolutely artificial economy.
He shows how our most fundamental assumptions about money and commerce are actually false ones - artifacts of a 400-year-old plan by a waning aristocracy to maintain control of Western Europe. Although the architects of this corporatism have long since passed on, we still live in a landscape defined by their plans and have internalized their values as our own.
Taking on some of the biggest assumptions of our age, this is a book filled with dangerous ideas and rather unspeakable heresies:
# Money is not a part of nature, to be studied by a science like economics, but an invention with a specific purpose.
# Centralized currency is just one kind of money - one not intended to promote transactions but to promote the accumulation of capital by the wealthy.
# Banking is our society’s biggest industry, and debt is our biggest product.
# Corporations were never intended to promote commerce, but to prevent it.
# The development of chartered corporations and centralized currency caused the plague; the economic devastation ended Europe’s most prosperous centuries, and led to the deaths of half of its population.
# The more money we make, the more debt we have actually created.
Most importantly, Rushkoff shows how this moment of financial crisis is actually an opportunity to reinstate commerce and communities based in creating value for one another, rather than continuing to extract it for the benefit of institutions that no longer exist.
The current IEET reader poll asks: If you could be any age you desired, for as long as you chose, would you opt for it? To answer, we may have to consider whether we most value quantity, quality, or meaning in life.
Dr. Susan Schneider, IEET fellow and assistant professor of philosophy and an affiliated faculty member with Penns Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science, speaks at a UPenn Media Seminar on Neuroscience and Society on philosophical controversies surrounding cognitive enhancement.
(Hat tip to Blogging the Singularity and a big thanks to Jeriaska for filming and posting the debate) Utopia or Artilect War? A debate between J. Storrs Hall and Hugo de Garis. J. Storrs Hall, president of the Foresight Institute, takes the position in this debate that the rise of artificial intelligence levels will create a utopia for humanity. Hugo de Garis, Wuhan University, China, takes the opposite position, namely that the rise of godlike massively intelligent machines will be catastrophic for humanity, leading to the worst, most passionate war humanity has ever known, using late 21st century weapons, killing billions of people.
This debate between J. Storrs Hall and Hugo de Garis took place at the 2nd AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) conference, 2009