How do you like the Leaf? I get the question at odd times—like yesterday, when my husband and I were renting a vanilla sedan to negotiate L.A. freeways. “What do you usually drive?” the white-blonde boob-jobbed salesgirl asked from behind her tablet PC as she tapped through the options.
Back in the 1990s when I started doing surveys to test theories about the emerging biopolitics I had a theory that science fiction was spreading the idea of non-anthropocentric personhood. Star Trek’s Data had explicitly argued the case that sentience should be respected regardless of its substrate in an episode of Next Generation, and there were myriad other examples in written and visual SF. I eventually published a paper “Aliens, Technology and Freedom: SF Consumption and SocioEthical Attitudes” in Futures Research. Quarterly, that showed that SF consumers were in fact more personhood oriented. Twenty years later I have a better handle on what the factors are underlying personhood beliefs, which the recent IEET survey helps illustrate.
In what is perhaps the most absurd attack on transhumanism to date, Mike Adams of NaturalNews.com equates this broad philosophy and movement with “the entire idea that you can ‘upload your mind to a computer’” and further posits that the only kind of possible mind uploading is the destructive kind, where the original, biological organism ceases to exist. Adams goes so far as calling transhumanism a “death cult much like the infamous Heaven’s Gate cult led by Marshal Applewhite.”
In general, I’m not a betting man. Intellectual humility cautions against sticking one’s neck out too far into terrain that is too complex to understand, let alone reasonably predict with any confidence. But some bets are unavoidable.
Mike McNamee Sports, Vices and Virtues: Morality Plays: Part one of this essay discusses SSAs in general; part two looks at McNamee’s SSA against doping; and part three looks at McNamee’s complaints about the vices of athletes who dope. Just note that although “doping” has a particular meaning in sport, one that may be thought distinct from “performance enhancement”, the terms are used interchangeably in what follows.
There is an argument in popular culture that claims science fiction authors have over the past century routinely predicted the development of new technologies and new social problems. Proponents of this argument cite supposed predictions of geosynchronous satellites, the internet and artificial intelligence as proof. The issue with these predictive claims, aside from supposing that a science fiction authors possess extraordinary clairvoyant powers, is that such arguments ignore the scores of failed predictions. However, the basic question is still interesting to futurists. Can science fiction be used to predict the future?
First: Sad News - Though expected, the passing of author Iain Banks came as a shock and a blow. I first met Iain in London, where I lived in the mid-1980s, when we were both brash young newcomers. I've always respected his literary fiction, but even more deeply admired his science fiction, especially the last two decades. His Culture Universe was among the few to confront straight-on the myriad hopes, dangers and raw possibilities that might be faced by a humanity-that-succeeds….
By the time you have finished reading this sentence, you will be acutely aware of the sensation of your back resting against the chair. This demonstration is used by psychology lectures to demonstrate that people are largely unaware of the vast majority of sensations that they experience. This disregard stems in part from mechanical limitations of the brain and the need to maintain a stable body image. The mechanical limitations are not germane to the topic of the paper beyond saying that the brain can only process so much incoming sensory information and it must decide which information is relevant at the moment.
It is hard to avoid getting swept up in the utopian optimism of Peter Diamandis. The world he presents in his Abundance: The Future is Better Than you Think is certainly the kind of future I would hope for all of us: the earth’s environment saved and its energy costless, public health diseases, global hunger and thirst eradicated, quality education and health care ubiquitous (not to mention cheap) and, above, all extreme poverty at long last conquered.
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.
I haven’t said much political in a while. Moreover, amid all the talk of budget balancing and sequesters, I’d like to shift attention to a topic that may - at first sight - seem a bit wonkish and detached: farm subsidies. In fact, they are an area where Blue America remains frightfully ignorant and where the flood of entitlement spending merits closer attention, in times of near bankruptcy.
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.
Democratic Legitimacy and the Enhancement Project Klaming and Vedder (2010) have argued that enhancement technologies that improve the epistemic efficiency of the legal system (“epistemic enhancements”) would benefit the common good. But there are two flaws to Klaming and Vedder’s argument. First, they rely on an under-theorised and under-specified conception of the common good. When theory and specification are supplied, their CGJ for enhancing eyewitness memory and recall becomes significantly less persuasive. And second, although aware of such problems, they fail to give due weight and consideration to the tensions between the individual and common good.
The “Darwinian” theory of evolution is here to stay. I used the scare quotes to refer to it in the previous sentence because the current incarnation, known as the Modern Synthesis (and incorrectly referred to as “neo-Darwinism,” which actually was an even earlier version) is significantly more sophisticated and encompassing than the original insight by Darwin. Indeed, my opinion — which is certainly not universally shared — is that evolutionary biology is currently undergoing another gradual but significant change, referred to as the Extended Synthesis, that will expand its domain of application and explanatory tools even further.
We’ve all been in the situation where we do something – crash a bike, step wrong on thawing ground, trip over a damnedbeloved pet – that leaves us with a painful injury that doesn’t go away. And when that happens, we go to the doctor to verify we’re not badly injured, and possibly pick up some anti-inflammatories. For most of us, when this happens, our skin won’t slough off, we won’t end up in a burn unit for treatment, and we won’t be in a medically induced coma for months.
The Missing Mutation: Are We Really Smarter than our Ancestors? Several innovations that happened in the Neolithic seem to provide no advantage and sometimes create problems instead of solving them. About 10,000 years ago the burial ritual lasted a lifetime and the living were supposed to give offerings to the dead that were not valuable. At some point the burial ritual became much simpler but the living were supposed to give offerings to the dead that were valuable (e.g., food at times of starvation). Neither attitude makes a lot of sense from a materialistic viewpoint: what is the adaptive advantage of wasting goods and food for dead people? At the same time the cult of the dead moved from underground to aboveground (temples, pyramids), again an incredible waste of resources.
Science and technology have utterly transformed humanity during my lifetime. Where forecasts of the future used to be measured in decades, today, new medical discoveries are announced almost weekly. This article focuses on cutting-edge research that promises a healthier and longer lifespan for all of us.
Four hundred people responded to the IEET poll on whether they were science fiction fans. More than half - 54%- said they were “canon-masters,” knowledgeable about science fiction from “H.G. Wells to Charlie Stross, Star Trek to Battlestar Galactica.”
What often strikes me when I put the claims of some traditionally religious people regarding “eternal life” and the stated goals of the much more recent, I suppose you could label it with the oxymoronic phrase “materialist spirituality”, next to one another is just how much of the language and fundamental assumptions regarding human immortality these very different philosophies share.
New Google hire and renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil sums up how technologies might play out over the next two decades with this claim: “If you remain in good health for 20 more years, you may never die.”
James Miller has an interesting looking new book out, Singularity Rising: Surviving and Thriving in a Smarter, Richer, and More Dangerous World. I haven’t had a chance to pick up the book yet, but I did listen to a very engaging conversation about the book at Surprisingly Free.Miller is a true believer in the Singularity, the idea that at some point, from the next quarter century to the end of the 21st, our civilization will give rise to a greater than human intelligence which will rapidly bootstrap to a yet higher order of intelligence in such a way that we are unable to see past this event horizon in historical time.
Building machines that process information the same way a brain does has been a dream for over 50 years. Artificial intelligence, fuzzy logic, and neural networks have all experienced some degrees of success, but machines still cannot recognize pictures or understand language as well as humans can.