Advance directives are documents which give guidance on what should be done when your health deteriorates to the point where you can no longer make decisions for yourself. Sadly, these documents are often neglected by the general public until it is too late, but it’s even more crucial for transhumanists to think about and complete these documents.
This week saw the return of Caprica. In its world with technology not too far beyond our own, Caprica jumped right back into action with a premiere remarkably relevant to transhumanism. While Sister Clarice seeks to attract followers to her religion with an artificial heaven, Daniel Graystone wants to win back his company with software to remove the pain of a loved one’s death.
Last year, JET published Kristi Scott’s fascinating article Cheating Darwin: The Genetic and Ethical Implications of Vanity and Cosmetic Plastic Surgery, which analyzed the implications of cosmetic plastic surgery (CPS) for relationships and genetics. It suggested that since “what one sees is not necessarily what one will get in regards to DNA” that “there is a responsibility on the part of the individual to disclose any previous CPS.” However, there are many other instances where we misrepresent our genetics or interfere with evolution. These range from other cosmetic enhancements, to medicines that allow the unhealthy to survive and the infertile to reproduce. But if we want a better future, we need to become comfortable with bending the principles of evolution to our will, and understand the risks and rewards of doing so.
True Blood seems to continuously illustrate all the things that could go wrong with human enhancement. Whether it’s non-humans being taken advantage of by humans, or non-humans being unable to control their powers, it all looks pretty bleak.
This summer True Blood, now in its third season, continues to explore the issues that it has in the past, such as personhood and the coexistence of humans with a species that has many advantages over humans. However, with the introduction of werewolves and the greater focus on shapeshifters, this year there are even better opportunities to relate True Blood to morphological freedom.
Ray Kurzweil didn’t cover much new this afternoon. As one wag said on Twitter, “Shouldn’t Ray’s five year-old stump speech be 10,000 times more interesting and only five minutes long?” But Ben does his best to summarize. By the way, check out Kurzweil, J. Hughes, and a cast of thousands in this New York Times story on the Singularity University - J.
We’re here for day 2 of the H+ Summit: Rise of the Citizen Scientist. Ray Kurzweil will be keynoting at the end of the day, but first we’ll hear talks from a bunch of other great speakers, including the IEET’s George Dvorsky, Aubrey de Grey, James Hughes, Patrick Lin, and Natasha Vita-More.
The IEET will be providing coverage of the H+ Summit today. We’re a few minutes away from Alex Lightman’s opening speech. I’m here with James Hughes and we’ll posting updates after every few talks. The first day is packed with exciting speakers. [Watch the conference live]
In its first season, Caprica has done an excellent job of exploring the ethical issues relating to V-World (the virtual world created by the ultra-rich Daniel Graystone), looking at the dangers of becoming overly immersed in V-World, and whether an avatar constitutes a real person. Also in the past year, we’ve seen Gamer and Surrogates, two movies that explore some common themes with interesting parallels to those in Caprica.
While it’s common to look at transhumanist themes through the lens of science fiction, I think it’s at least as fascinating to consider the ethical issues and themes explored in controversial, well-written dramas such as Nip/Tuck.
[Contains spoilers] Battlestar Galactica: The Plan is a movie released straight to Blu-ray and digital download, which retells the miniseries and the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica from the perspective of the Cylons.
[Contains spoilers.] How far does personhood and the rights associated with it reach across species? True Blood gives us an intelligent exploration of some aspects of this issue, specifically when that other species is perceived as dangerous, cruel, unnatural, and unholy. Unfortunately though, too often even those who support vampire rights refer to them as not being persons, instead emphasizing that they are essentially human or that vampires are a second species deserving of rights. A much more adaptable framework of rights could be built based on emphasizing the characteristics of personhood, such as intelligence and capacity to feel.
Marking the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, we present some thoughts on a technoprogressive approach to space policy. One of the IEET’s projects is to begin a discussion among technoprogressives about the parameters of technoprogressive policy ideas, using our “Technoprogressive Policy Wiki”. The policy wiki is outlined, but empty, and we have provided our interns with some parameters for how to begin filling it in. The goal is not to express “the IEET’s position” on any specific topic, but to explore our own internal agreements and diversity about policy topics, while pointing to relevant websites, documents, and policies. Ben’s piece here on space policy was developed after conversation with the executive director, and then review and extension by the IEET Fellows and staff. Like the rest of the wiki we expect it to continually evolve. We present it here for further critique and extension before we add it to the policy wiki. - J. Hughes
[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.
[Contains spoilers.] Overall, although Terminator: Salvation was a well produced and enjoyable movie, it wasn’t particularly deep. I was at least hoping for a more interesting exploration of Marcus Wright’s identity and the meaning he found in his existence after discovering he was the first genuine cross between a human and a machine, but even that was handled predictably. The movie evaded any of the complexity that the recently canceled Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles television series had been beginning to develop.
[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.
[Warning: contains spoilers for the Battlestar Galactica series finale] After five years, Battlestar Galactica finally brought itself to a close with a finale that did not disappoint. In the IEET’s poll, you were divided between whether the series was biocon or transhumanist, or whether we should wait for the end to determine its biopolitics. The final episode had both bioconservative and more technoprogressive elements, but after two hours it was quite refreshing to see some of our modern biopolitical issues quite explicitly addressed in the final five minutes.
[Warning: contains spoilers for the Battlestar Galactica episode Daybreak, Part 1] When forced to choose between who should live and who should die, how should one take into account the ages and potentials of the people involved?
[Warning: contains spoilers for the Battlestar Galactica episode Islanded in A Stream of Stars] In some instances, one should cling to hope and keep fighting even when that hope seems lost. At other times, it is necessary to accept defeat and loss, or abandon a goal towards which substantial resources have been dedicated. Distinguishing between these two situations is the challenging, yet crucial element.
[Warning: Contains spoilers for the Battlestar Galactica episode Someone to Watch Over Me] How should systems of punishment differ when indefinite lifespans are achieved, or when there are many copies of an individual? Does capital punishment become meaningless when you can download to a new body, or does it become an even harsher punishment if it is instead instituted more thoroughly as the deletion of all instances of an individual?
[Warning: Contains spoilers for the Battlestar Galactica episode Deadlock ] How would the human relationships we form evolve if instead of decades we had thousands of years to nurture them? Would we form deeper connections, strengthened by shared experiences we cannot yet imagine? Would we find find new ways of expressing love for one another, linked mind-to-mind with the sharing of emotions? Perhaps we would be able to work out the conflicts in relationships, and improve ourselves not only on the individual level but as a synergistic community. On the other hand, we could seek to preserve our relationships in their present form with all their eccentricities and flaws, much as Ellen and the Final Five Cylons seem to have done.
[Warning: Contains spoilers for the Battlestar Galactica episode No Exit] One of the most important issues regarding human enhancement is determining what novel traits we should seek to acquire, as well as which traits should be preserved, emphasized, limited, or discarded. It is particularly difficult when it comes to the many traits that exist along a continuum, for while if we eliminated our strong ingroup versus outgroup tendencies it would be refreshing to see the end of racism and xenophobia, at the same time we would lose some of the bonds that contribute to family closeness. That does not mean, however, that we should not attempt to eliminate our most detestable characteristics, and where they exist in a continuum with an admirable trait, we should carefully limit them along that continuum.