Pandora’s Brain is one of the most philosophical science fiction novels I have read recently. And since Calum Chace has been a valuable contributor to Singularity Weblog, as well as a great blogger with an interesting and diverse experience in his own right, I thought that he would make a great guest for my Singularity 1on1 podcast. And so I invited him for an interview which turned out to be a very enjoyable conversation indeed.
Every book on torture that i have browsed is mainly devoted to methods of torture and then to three topics: Ethical arguments against torture, Utilitarian arguments against torture, and History of the rejection of torture. I cannot find a neuroscientist or psychologist who thought of writing about the exact opposite: What were the ethical justifications for torture?, What were the utilitarian arguments for torture? and What is the history of the widespread adoption of torture?
In his article, “What is the Difference between Posthumanism and Transhumanism?”, Kevin LaGrandeur sets out to clarify the meaning of the terms “posthuman”, “transhuman” and “posthumanism”. (http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/lagrandeur20141226) He notes that the relative newness of the terminology is a source of confusion among many who employ these terms.
One thing that can certainly not be said either the anthropologist Ynval Harari’s or his new book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is that they lack ambition. In Sapiens, Harari sets out to tell the story of humanity since our emergence on the plains of Africa until the era in which we are living right now today, a period he thinks is the beginning of the end of our particular breed of primate. His book ends with some speculations on our post-human destiny, whether we achieve biological immortality or manage to biologically and technologically engineer ourselves into an entirely different species.
Are there ways to directly strengthen fairness and moral cognition in the prefrontal cortex, and weaken the cognitive biases bubbling up from the amygdala? Research on the genetic correlates of moral cognition, and the effects of psychoactive drugs, and of electrical and magnetic manipulation of the brain, suggest there are ways to enhance fairness and impartiality.
Position Paper: The Critical Need to Promote Research of Aging Below is the position paper on the Critical Need to Promote Research of Aging of the International Society on Aging and Disease (ISOAD). This paper briefly details the rationales, the technologies and the policies that are needed to promote this research. Thus it can serve as a generally applicable advocacy or lobbying paper in different countries. Please help spread it. Please contribute to the widest possible recognition and support of biological research of aging and aging-related diseases. We welcome the readers to circulate this position paper, share it in your social networks, forward it to politicians, potential donors and media, organize discussion groups to debate the topics raised (that may later grow into grassroots longevity research and activism groups in different countries), translate this position paper into your language, reference and link to it, even republish it in part or in full (for example, the policy recommendations can fit on a single page flyer), join the ISOAD or other aging and longevity research and advocacy organizations.
A genre that science fiction writers have been attempting to colonize with some regularity is that of the suspense thriller. Here the dissolution of genre boundaries is more subtle, since the imaginative material and narrative conventions of science fiction may be retained, while the plot, structure, and tone are borrowed from a mode of paranoid pursuit melodrama pioneered in espionage novels from John Buchan to Robert Ludlum. Initially, those novelists who seemed most successful—at least commercially—in effecting this merger were novelists whose starting point was the thriller rather than the science fiction tale: Robin Cook, Michael Crichton, and Peter Benchley are among the most prominent examples, with Crichton having based nearly his entire career on science fiction conceits.
It’s just possible that there is a looming crisis in yet another technological sector whose proponents have leaped too far ahead, and too soon, promising all kinds of things they are unable to deliver. It strange how we keep ramming our head into this same damned wall, but this next crisis is perhaps more important than deflated hype at other times, say our over optimism about the timeline for human space flight in the 1970’s, or the “AI winter” in the 1980’s, or the miracles that seemed just at our fingertips when we cracked the Human Genome while pulling riches out of the air during the dotcom boom- both of which brought us to a state of mania in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
I am a Cyborg. No, I don’t have any technological enhancements just yet, though I plan on doing so very soon with help from my friends within the DIY grinder community. Even then, my “choosing” to identify myself as a cyborg is more than a mere desire for cyborg enhancements, but is an identity that I feel deeply within myself – a longing to express myself in ways that my current biological body cannot.
I’ve met Erik Parens twice; he seems like a thoroughly nice fellow. I say this because I’ve just been reading his latest book Shaping Our Selves: On Technology, Flourishing and a Habit of Thinking, and it is noticeable how much of his personality shines through in the book. Indeed, the book opens with a revealing memoir of Parens’s personal life and experiences in bioethics, specifically in the enhancement debate. What’s more, Parens’s frustrations with the limiting and binary nature of much philosophical debate is apparent throughout his book.
Today we enjoy basic conversations with our smart phone, desktop PC, games console, TV and soon, our car; but voice recognition, many believe, should not be viewed as an endgame technology. Although directing electronics with voice and gestures may be considered state-of-the-art today, we will soon be controlling entertainment and communications equipment not by talking or waving; but just by thinking!
So I have another paper coming out. It’s about plea-bargaining, brain-based lie detection and the innocence problem. I wasn’t going to write about it on the blog, but then somebody sent me a link to a recent article by Jed Radoff entitled “Why Innocent People Plead Guilty”. Radoff’s article is an indictment of the plea-bargaining system currently in operation in the US. Since my article touches upon same thing, I thought it might be worth offering a summary of its core argument.
Overview of Advances Articulated in Nanomedical Device and Systems Design: Challenges, Possibilities, Visions (2013)  This article provides an overview of the research findings related to cognitive enhancement that are presented in Nanomedical Device and Systems Design: Challenges, Possibilities, Visions (2013), an encyclopedic textbook chronicling a plethora of recent advances in myriad areas of nanotechnology and nanomedicine. The final chapter discusses progress in nanomedical cognitive enhancement, where we find ourselves in a modern era in which many technologies appear to be on the cusp – helping to resolve pathologies while also having much future potential for the augmentation of human capabilities.
In Human Purpose and Transhuman Potential: A Cosmic Vision for Our Future Evolution, IEET affiliate scholar Ted Chu, a professor of Economics at New York University in Abu Dhabi and former chief economist for General Motors and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, argues that post-humanity is a logical and necessary evolutionary next step for humanity, and we need a new, heroic cosmic faith for the post-human era. “The ultimate meaning of our lives rests not in our personal happiness but in our contribution to cosmic evolution,” says Chu…
Before you ask, yes, this is a post about risk. And no, I’m not talking about the dangers of immortalizing the star of Terminator Genisys‘ real-life biological brain. But to begin somewhere near the beginning.
Empathy draws on both mammalian circuits that we share with other animals and cognitive abilities that only appear to be present in our closest relatives, the great apes and and cetaceans, and ourselves. As with happiness and self-control, there is strong evidence that differences in our capacity for compassion and empathy are tied to differences in the brain structures and neurochemistries that they depend on.
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.
What kind of society are we creating? With the advent of the internet-of-things, advanced data-mining and predictive analytics, and improvements in artificial intelligence and automation, we are the verge of creating a global “neural network”: a constantly-updated, massively interconnected, control system for the world. Imagine what it will be like when every “thing” in your home, place of work, school, city, state and country is connected to a smart device?
It is a risky business trying to predict the future, and although it makes some sense to try to get a handle on what the world might be like in one’s lifetime, one might wonder what’s even the point of all this prophecy that stretches out beyond the decades one is expected to live? The answer I think is that no one who engages in futurism is really trying to predict the future so much as shape it, or at the very least, inspire Noah like preparations for disaster.
In a powerful article at the Atlantic, “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel lined up facts and figures showing that much of the recent gain in human lifespan is about stretching out the process of decline and death rather than living well for longer. Most of us would love to live to 100 and beyond with our minds sharp and our senses clear, able to take pleasure in the world around us while contributing at least modestly to the happiness and wellbeing of others. But clear-eyed analysis shows that is not how most elderly Americans experience their final years.
The limitations of cognitive enhancement drugs will soon be complemented and surpassed by brain machine interfaces. The most consumer accessible brain machine devices that provide some intellectual enhancement are neurofeedback and transcranial direct current stimulation. Genetic and tissue engineering may provide avenues for at least the repair of cognitive deficits, and perhaps enhancement. Progress in actual nano-neural brain-machine interfaces, which will require advances in miniaturization, materials and nanotechnology, will enable more profound enhancement.
There are limits to our ability to enhance intelligence, and the intellectual virtues, through social reform and lifestyle changes. For thousands of years we have used stimulants like caffeine, coca, qat and nicotine to boost attention. Now we have increasingly targeted drugs that improve attention, memory and learning, with fewer side effects.
IEET Fellow David Eagleman has written and will host a six hour television series on The Brain for PBS. The series will premeire in 2015, and deals with tough questions of ethics and emerging neurotechnologies.
I’ve been writing about the ethics of human enhancement for some time. In the process, I’ve looked at many of the fascinating ethical and philosophical issues that are raised by the use of enhancing drugs. But throughout all this writing, there is one topic that I have studiously avoided. This is surprising given that, in many ways, it is the most fundamental topic of all: do the alleged cognitive enhancing drugs actually work?
The ability to think clearly and make good decisions is on almost every society’s list of virtues. In this essay I discuss the debate over different aspects of intelligence, the degree to which they are shaped by genes, chemistry and society, and the role of intelligence in other virtues.
We can encourage empathy and compassion through social policy and individual practices. But fully realizing our capacities for empathy and compassion will require careful, nuanced neurotechnological intervention.
The growth of our empathetic ability may have been key for the growth of civilization, and civilization may have selected for it. Two social policies that we can implement today to further empathy are reducing inequality, and screening and treating autism and psychopathy.