It has oft been observed that people are uneasy about the prospect of advanced enhancement technologies. But what is the cause of this unease? Is there any rational basis to it? I’m currently trying to work my way through a variety of arguments to this effect. At the moment, I’m looking at Saskia Nagel’s article “Too Much of Good Thing? Enhancement and the Burden of self determination”, which appeared a couple of years back in the journal Neuroethics.
In what might be the first documented case of technologically-assisted interspecies telepathy, an international team of researchers has successfully created a non-invasive brain-to-brain interface that allows humans to make a rat move involuntarily. The breakthrough could lead to more advanced techniques in which a person can control the parts of another person’s body with their thoughts.
Okay, it’s been awhile but at long last I’m going to finish off my series on Michael Hauskeller’s article “Human Enhancement and the Giftedness of Life”. To recap, in this article Hauskeller tries to refine, rehabilitate, and reconstruct Sandel’s giftedness argument against enhancement. I’m covering this as part of an ongoing series of posts looking at hyperagency-based objections to enhancement.
As I was reading over the comments of Dick Pelletier's recent article, he suggested that “although our brain and body will be considered non-biological, our consciousness will forever preserve our definition as a human being.” I have to agree with him here, which leads me to the concept of “mindspace” and a LessWrong article written by Eliezer Yudkowsky in 2008 suggesting it is impossible to understand what mind will be like.
Scientists want to learn how we become unique selves; and possibly even alter those selves. Investigators Misha Ahrens and Philipp Keller from HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus recently achieved imaging of a vertebrate brain at cellular resolution with speeds that approximate neural activity patterns and behavior – whole brain activities captured at the speed of the mind – 1.3 seconds.
Nearly 1.4 million babies are born surgically in the United States each year. That’s a third of all births, and the numbers are only getting bigger. The trend is due in part to an increase in elective cesarean sections, or surgical births that aren’t medically necessary. Why are women in the United States being encouraged to undergo unnecessary surgery?
The longstanding and growing concern over structural unemployment caused by automation highlights the absurdity of capitalism. Like homelessness caused by too many houses, poverty from mechanization looks perverse and nonsensical from a system-optimization standpoint. This article briefly sketches the history of both fears and hopes surrounding automated labor in order to argue against economic status quo of coercion, inequality, and inefficiency. I recommend distributing and/or socializing the twenty-first-century’s increasingly robotic means of production while simultaneously troubling sanguine post-scarcity dreams through attention to uncertainty, ecology, and pluralism.
Is there something disturbing about the drive for human enhancement? Is it unwise? Likely to reduce the quality and meaning of our lives? Likely to deprive us of something of great value? Several prominent philosophers argue that it is. Among them is Michael Sandel, who several years back argued that enhancement was unwise because it caused us to lose our appreciation for the giftedness of our lives. More precisely, he challenged proponents of enhancement on the grounds that its pursuit would give rise to a state of hyperagency, i.e. a state in which virtually every aspect of our lives is open to our control and manipulation.
A while back, I wrote a post about Michael Sandel’s case against human enhancement. As noted at the time, Sandel’s central claim was that enhancement was bad because it caused us to lose appreciation for the gifted nature of our lives. On the face of it, this doesn’t look to be a particularly persuasive argument, and indeed it has been repeatedly criticised in the literature since it was originally presented (see the earlier post for some examples of this). But maybe there is more to Sandel’s argument than meets the eye? Michael Hauskeller certainly seems to think so. In his 2011 article, “Human Enhancement and the Giftedness of Life”, he tries to rehabilitate, refine and reconstruct Sandel’s argument, defending it from common criticisms, and turning it into a powerful objection to the human enhancement project. Over the next few posts I want to take a fairly detailed look at Hauskeller’s attempted rehabilitation.
It might be said that some contemporary futurists tend to use technological innovation and scientific discovery in the same way God was said to use the whirlwind against defiant Job, or Donald Rumsfeld treated the poor citizens of Iraq a decade ago. It’s all about the “shock and awe”. One glance at something like KurzweilAI.Net leaves a reader with the impression that brand new discoveries are flying off the shelf by the nanosecond and that of all our deepest sci-fi dreams are about to come true. No similar effort is made, at least that I know of, to show all the scientific and technological paths that have led into cul-de-sac, or chart all the projects packed up and put away like our childhood chemistry sets to gather dust in the attic of the human might-have- been. In exact converse to the world of political news, in technological news it’s the jetpacks that do fly we read about not the ones that never get off the ground.
Straight from the pages of Existence… though sooner than I expected… researchers now claim to have the entire Neanderthal genome in published form, as clear as that of “any person on the street.” Okay, start your countdown till someone announces she is pregnant with… That will be a real boat-rocker…
...but there are other events on the near horizon that may be more important to saving our world.
As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve recently begun reading two books on the ethics of human enhancement. One of those books is called Humanity’s End and it’s by Nicholas Agar. Agar seems like an interesting character. In an earlier book he defended a liberal position on positive eugenics. This suggested he had a willingness to embrace certain forms of enhancement. And yet in this book he offers an argument against radical human enhancement. There’s not necessarily an incompatibility between the two positions, but it’s an interesting shift nonetheless.
Is immortality in our future? Positive futurists say it is. Infectious disease, accidents, starvation, and violence have kept average life expectancy at 20-to-30 years throughout most of human history. However, the quest to live longer and enjoy good health is one of the most ancient and deep-rooted hopes ingrained in our species.
Historians place the beginning of culture about 10,000 years ago, when our early ancestors abandoned hunter-gathering in favor of settling into communities, cultivating crops, and domesticating live stock.
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) exhibited significantly better economic and social indicators than Asia in the immediate post-independence era in the 1960s. Existing historical records and evidence suggest that the region had higher average per capita income and better human development indicators.
What makes receiving a badge for completing a task so exciting? Why does seeing a progress bar almost full make us itch until we finish it? Gamification—the combination of game-design principles and elements—implements cognitive psychology and decision-making theory as its scientific foundation. If gamification were stuffed shells, science is the shell, and everything else is stuffing.
Even before my two-year-old son was born, digital technology engulfed his life. We spent money on a 4D ultrasound scan, which gave us a glimpse of him a few weeks before he arrived. We used apps on our mobile phones to monitor my wife’s contractions and, when he eventually did arrive, his first few minutes were captured on a digital camera, and a video monitor ensured we never worried about his safety, nor needed to rush to attend to him when he cried. It even played lullabies to help him sleep.
Imagine a future in which every child is a chosen child.Imagine a future in which a woman becomes fertile only when she wants to have a child—a future in which high school and college students can pursue their dreams and women can plan their lives according to their own values without being derailed by a surprise pregnancy. Imagine a future in which every child is a chosen child.
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.
All seems to indicate that the next decade, the 20s, will be the magic decade of the brain, with amazing science but also amazing applications. With the development of nanoscale neural probes and high speed, two-way Brain-Computer interfaces (BCI), by the end of the next decade we may have our iPhones implanted in our brains and become a telepathic species. Ramez Naam’s great sci-fi novel NEXUS is a fascinating preview.
The Horn of Africa (HoA), which comprises of eight countries, has an estimated combined population of 210 million people and is one of the world’s most food-insecure and vulnerable regions on the planet, with the majority of the inhabitant’s pastoralists and agro-pastoralists, living on marginalized lands.
It is the year 2113. It is a very strange future, and one that has been shaped by the world we are already forming. 2113 is a the result of good 21st century where people didn’t die, and there was no major collapse or instability, and very few people died. There was no “great reset” and humanity made it through a number of massive challenges. This 2113 is the best world we could have inherited out of many.
Social Darwinism, Ayn Rand’s objectivism, capitalism and eugenics are all catastrophes of human thought: How to create a federation of anarchist-socialist / anarchist-syndicalist workers. Warning: This is a techno-optimist and “politically”-positive article.
Ultimately, the most structured society will be a society in which every action has to comply with some rules, i.e. its citizens will de facto be robots with no brains. Why does brain/mind want to get rid of brain/mind?