If predictions by future thinkers such as Aubrey de Grey, Robert Freitas, and Ray Kurzweil ring true – that future science will one day eliminate the disease of aging – then it makes sense to consider the repercussions a non-aging society might place on our world.
One of the weirder things about human being’s perception of time is that our subjective clocks are so off. A day spent in our dreary cubicles can seem to crawl like an Amazonian sloth, while our weekends pass by as fast as a chameleon’s tongue . Most dreadful of all, once we pass into middle age, time seems to transform itself from a lumbering steam train heaving us through clearly delineated seasons and years to a Japanese bullet unstoppably hurdling us towards death with decades passing us by in a blurr.
Some people think that neuroscience will have a significant impact on the law. Some people are more sceptical. A recent book by Michael Pardo and Dennis Patterson — Minds, Brains and Law: The Conceptual Foundations of Law and Neuroscience — belongs to the sceptical camp. In the book, Pardo and Patterson make a passionate plea for conceptual clarity when it comes to the interpretation of neuroscientific evidence and its potential application in the law. They suggest that most neurolaw hype stems from conceptual confusion. They want to throw some philosophical cold water on the proponents of this hype.
Of course, no one can predict the future with 100% accuracy, but by combining present day knowledge with anticipated advances, we can make plausible guesses about what life might be like in the 2050s. Over the coming decades, healthcare research will wield huge benefits for humankind. By 2050, stem cells, gene therapy, and 3-D bio printing promise to cure or make manageable most of today’s diseases.
Many scientists believe that we will soon be able to preserve our consciousness indefinitely. There are a number of scenarios by which this might be accomplished, but so-called mind uploading is one of the most prominent. Mind uploading refers to a hypothetical process of copying the contents of a consciousness from a brain to a computational device. This could be done by copying and transferring these contents into a computer, or by piecemeal replacement with parts of the brain gradually replaced by hardware. Either way consciousness would no longer be running on a biological brain.
I will attempt to take the fear out of the future, by giving Transhumanism a digestible definition, while at the same time offering a cautionary note. As an educator, technologist and ethicist, I feel I have a social obligation to provide a rationale for understanding Transhumanism for those people who have questions about our natural evolution and for younger generations who are embracing technology but want to know there is a brighter future.
Police body cameras are all the rage lately. Al Sharpton wants them used to monitor the activities of cops. Ann Coulter wants them used to “shut down” Al Sharpton. The White House wants them because, well, they’re a way to look both “tough on police violence” and “tough on crime” by spending $263 million on new law enforcement technology.
Death, like life, occurs within an interconnected web of forces. Eric Garner died at a specific place and time, but he was drawn there by those larger unseen forces. So was the officer who took his life. One of them never left. The neighborhood where Eric Garner died was near the terminal point for the Staten Island Ferry, which leaves lower Manhattan from a newly-built building on Whitehall Street.
Products with the label “BPA-free” have become ubiquitous on store shelves in recent years. It’s a trend that has been driven by consumer concerns that the chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA, may be harmful at low doses. Yet a recent study suggests that the label may mislead consumers into thinking that “free” means “safer” — even when there’s a chance that the substances used to substitute for BPA may also be harmful. The study is one of the first to explore how consumer responses to uncertainty and ambiguity in risk information may lead to “regrettable substitutions” — the replacement of one material with another that is potentially less safe.
Why do we punish others? There are many philosophical answers to that question. Some claim that we punish in order to incapacitate a potential wrongdoer; some claim that we do it in order to rehabilitate an offender; some claim that we do it in order to deter others; and some claim that we do it because wrongdoers simply deserve to be punished. Proponents of the last of these views are called retributivists. They believe that punishment is an intrinsic good, and that it ought to be imposed in order to ensure that justice is done. Proponents of the other views are consequentialists. They think that punishment is an instrumental good, and that its worth has to be assessed in terms of the ends it helps us to achieve.
Welcome to part 1 of the Your Mileage May Vary series of blog posts. The point of this series is to clearly and briefly state my personal view on matters which come up repeatedly, to save having to say the same things again and again. Although these are my own [Dr M. Amon Twyman's] views rather than the official position of any organisation (except where stated otherwise), no-one should be surprised when my own views coincide with those of organisations where I hold any position.
The value of religion depends, of course, on what you mean by "religion". If religion is merelyeuphemization of escapism or nihilism, as it so often manifests itself, then it probably has a net negative value—"probably" only because I can imagine some poor unfortunate souls that are constituted in ways that are painfully incompatible with the world as presently or possibly configured. Too many of us use religion or are used by religion to stop caring about the world and each other, except to the extent it and we happen to be "good" already.
There are several reasons why creating a superintelligent mind could bring about an existential catastrophe. For example, the AI could be malicious, or unfriendly, a scenario that I call the amity-enmity problem. It looms large in Nick Bostrom’s recent book Superintelligence, in which Bostrom suggests that we should recognize "doom" as the "default outcome" of creating a superintelligence. And AI could also be apathetic about our well-being and continued survival. Perhaps it wants to convert the entire surface of earth into solar panels (an example that Bostrom mentions), and as a result it annihilates the biosphere. Let’s call this the indifference problem.
What responsibility do we have for the things we make? At its root, this is a fairly straightforward science story. Neuroscience researchers at the University of Rochester and the University of Copenhagen successfully transplanted human glial progenitor cells (hGPCs) into a newborn mouse (here's the technical article in The Journal of Neuroscience, and the lay-friendly version in New Scientist). While glial cells are generally considered a support cell in the brain, positioning, feeding, insulating, and protecting neurons, they also help neurons make synaptic connections.
If the controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) tells us something indisputable, it is this: GMO food products from corporations like Monsanto are suspected to endanger health. On the other hand, an individual’s right to genetically modify and even synthesize entire organisms as part of his dietary or medical regimen could someday be a human right.
Lately there’s been a great deal of talk about finding a better Democratic message, one that will unify the party and energize voters. But how, exactly, can Democrats reconcile factions that include both the Wall Street-friendly Clintons (whose relationship with the financial industry is highlighted in this cutting infographic from The Nation) and populist senators like Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown?
Ramachandran begins the book by wondering which features are truly unique to the human brain. Many features of the ape brain were hijacked by evolution to produce novel functions in the human brain (a process called “exaptation”). For example, mirror neurons are responsible for human culture and ethics. Ramachandran believes that these unique traits are perfectly consistent with Darwinian evolution: millennia of gradual evolution can produce the mental equivalent of phase transitions, when suddenly a substance reorganizes itself into a different substance with different properties.
“The Three-Body Problem,” the first book of a best-selling Chinese science fiction trilogy that sold more than a million of copies in China, is finally available in English translation. The book is solid classic science fiction, like the best space operas of vintage science fiction that we loved and still fondly remember as our first introduction to space and science.
A few weeks back the technologist Jaron Lanier gave a provocative talk over at The Edge in which he declared ideas swirling around the current manifestation AI to be a “myth”, and a dangerous myth at that. Yet Lanier was only one of a set of prominent thinkers and technologists who have appeared over the last few months to challenge want they saw as a flawed narrative surrounding recent advances in artificial intelligence.
Regular readers will know that I have recently been working my through Erik Wielenberg’s fascinating new book Robust Ethics. In the book, Wielenberg defends a robust non-natural, non-theistic, moral realism. According to this view, moral facts exist as part of the basic metaphysical furniture of the universe. They are sui generis, not grounded in or constituted by other types of fact.
The Need to Promote Research of Aging and Aging-related Diseases as a Way to Improve Health of the Global Elderly Population.
Resolution of the International Conference on Aging and Disease of the International Society on Aging and Disease - ICAD 2014, November 1-2, 2014, Beijing, China: Aging and the Burden of Disease The degenerative aging processes and associated diseases are the gravest challenge to global public health. Aging-related degenerative processes do not necessarily cause a particular disease but rather combine to produce a large set of non-communicable chronic diseases.
At Stanford University, I had the honor of publicly debating the world's leading anarcho-primitivist philosopher John Zerzan. As a transhumanist, I differ from Zerzan on just about every topic. According to Wikipedia, anarcho-primitivism "advocates for a return to a non-'civilized' way of life through deindustrialization." Transhumanism advocates for the continued use of science and technology to improve and change the human species. Simply put, Zerzan encourages everyone to give up civilization and go back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. And I encourage everyone to do more to speed up technological and scientific progress. It was a meeting of polar opposite views. The debate headline was: Zoltan vs. Zerzan.
Will robots pose exceptional challenges for the law? That’s the question taken up in Ryan Calo’s recent article “Robotics and the Lessons of Cyberlaw”. As noted in the previous entry, Calo thinks that robots have three distinguishing features: (i) embodiment (i.e. they are mechanical agents operating in the real world); (ii) emergence (i.e. they don’t simply perform routine operations, but are programmed to acquire and develop new behaviours); and (iii) social meaning (i.e. we anthropomorphise and attach social meaning to them). So when Calo asks whether robots pose exceptional challenges for the legal system, he asks in light of those three distinguishing features.
Hayles has written a complex and erudite book on the hidden premises and visible consequences of the information age. Ultimately, her thesis is summarized by a sentence in the prologue: “thought is a much broader cognitive function depending for its specificities on the embodied form enacting it”. Rewritten in plain English, it means that you cannot separate your “i” from the body that you inhabit. Her nightmare is “a culture inhabited by posthumans who regard their bodies as fashion accessories rather than the ground of being”. Her dream is a society in which we “understand ourselves as embodied creatures living within and through embodied worlds and embodied words.”
What is the role (if any) of Bitcoin and blockchain technology with regard to the natural world and traditional science? One obvious link is using the blockchain as a means of improving distributed community computing projects with tracking and remuneration. BOINC, whose software runs SETI@home, has introduced Gridcoin, and [Protein]Folding@home has introduced Foldingcoin.
Here at the Transvision 2014 in Paris we just concluded a meeting of the technoprogressive caucus to draft a statement of common principles. The meeting consisted of the members of Technoprog!: AFT, Amon Twyman representing Zero State/Institute for Social Futurism, David Wood from the London Futurists, and me (J. Hughes) from IEET. The result is below. We are inviting individual and organizational co-signators. Please let me know if you would like to add your or your organization’s name. We would like to collect co-signators between now and the end of the year, so you don’t have to decide immediately.
The US neurophysiologist Paul Nunez previously wrote “Electric Fields of the Brain” (1981) and “Neocortical Dynamics and Human EEG Rhythms” (1995), and in fact his credentials in the field of brain studies harken back to a paper originally written in 1972 and ambitiously titled “The Brain Wave Equation” (an equation that eventually he resurrects in this book, 40 years later). In this book Nunez summarizes his novel ideas on the way that “brains cause minds” (to use Searle’s expression).
Many women know more about the risks of birth control than about how the right contraceptive might improve their lives. For busy women, making good health decisions and actually taking care of ourselves can be a challenge, especially when practical factors such as complicated schedules, finances, and competing demands are taken into consideration. Well-balanced, well-presented information can empower women to make smart decisions about reproductive health care. Unfortunately, thanks in part to how the American legal system works, many women know more about the risks and side effects of birth control than about how the right contraceptive might improve their health and well-being.