In my first installment, I began with the question - Who, or what, is a person? - using the Hierarchy of Exclusion from Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game novels as a starting point. My purpose in this second section is to expand our circle of inclusion.
Readers of this blog know that I’ve started to develop a bit of a fascination with psychopathy. It all got started after attending the Moral Brain Moral Brain conference at NYU last April. The more I look into this subject, the more I understand why so many neuroscientists are making such a big fuss about it.
In Western cultures, nature is a cosmological, primal ordering force and a terrestrial condition that exists in the absence of human beings. Both meanings are freely implied in everyday conversation. We distinguish ourselves from the natural world by manipulating our environment through technology. In What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly proposes that technology behaves as a form of meta-nature, which has greater potential for cultural change than the evolutionary powers of the organic world alone.
All buildings today have something in common: They are made using Victorian technologies. This involves blueprints, industrial manufacturing and construction using teams of workers. All this effort results in an inert object, which means there is a one–way transfer of energy from our environment into our homes and cities. This is not sustainable.
Why doesn’t everyone get excited about transhumanism? Why aren’t all people fascinated by augmented and virtual reality, radical life-extension, brain-uploading, and The Singularity? This essay is the first in a series of articles, entitled “The Casual Transhuman” - it will examine h+ topics from the layman’s perspective and give suggestions on how transhumanists can spread their ideas without looking like crackpots to the world-at-large.
I cultivate the excellent habit of rationality and consider it as a very useful tool. But rationality is indeed a tool (a useful means to achieve a desired result), and not an end in itself. Far from being the enemies of science, religion and spirituality often drive scientific advances. Open-minded soft rationality is a much better approach to science than dull, fundamentalist rationalism.
At the turn of the millennium, miniaturized canines acquired the cherished status of living, designer handbag ornaments. These teeny tiny photogenic doggies, which had been shrunken from generations of in breeding, were snapped up by fashionistas who pouted alongside them in front of seas of clicking cameras.
The nature of humanity in the twenty-first century is, according to sociologist Steve Fuller, a ‘bipolar disorder’ beset with dualisms of identification such as divine/animal, mind/body, nature/artifice and individual/social. He notes that they have challenged our collective sense of identity as ‘human’, particularly though the operationalization of the mind/body question in new material configurations of metallic or silicon bodies .
Imagine: you arrive at the party; you recognize no one; but immediately your internal antennae-and-computer begins to swap mind-files; within seconds the new acquaintances are scanned; you “know” everyone you see; you know who wants to sleep with you, work with you, laugh and/or be friends with you; you know everyone’s curiosities, intentions, memories - everyone’s brain is naked… Fully informed, you enter and mingle.
In 2009 the Initiative for Science, Society and Policy coined the phrase ‘living technology’  to draw attention to a group of emerging technologies that are useful because they share some of the fundamental properties of living systems. The technologies fell short of being fully ‘alive’ yet they possessed at least some unique characteristics that are usually associated with ‘life’: Self-assembly, self-organization, metabolism, growth and division, purposeful action, adaptive complexity, evolution, and intelligence. Examples of this new field of technology include synthetic biology, attempts to make living systems from scratch in the laboratory , ICT systems exhibiting collective and swarm intelligence and robot companions.
You’re right, and you want everyone else to know it. Maybe everyone should be a Transhumanist like you, but there’s a problem: they don’t see things the way you do. So what do you do? You might try telling them that they’re stupid, evil or ugly. When that doesn’t work, try integrating.
An ingenious Russian crow that used a lid as a snowboard to slide down a snowy roof persuaded millions of YouTube viewers that animals are not merely beasts of burden – they also want to have fun. Indeed, the natural world appears to be teeming with creatures enjoying themselves in all kinds of different ways, and wildlife experts even claim that bonobos and dolphins have sex for fun.
Here’s a headline we’re tempted to write - or rather, one that we would be tempted to write if we weren’t so nice, or so dedicated to avoiding oversimplification: “Climate-Change Deniers Struck by Climate Change in Texas Tornado Outbreak.”
Has my memory been eaten by prions? It seems like just yesterday I was a very young man. A cub, a pup, a sapling, a sapling, a green twig, a mushroom primordia. How did the years disappear? Why am I almost… 60?!
Imagine a tyrannosaur weighing one and a half tons, completely covered in soft, downy plumage. Even its tail is fluffy with feathers. Though we’ve known for a while that many dinosaurs were covered in feathers, a group of Chinese researchers have now provided direct evidence that gigantic, deadly tyrannosaurs might have looked a bit like wuffly birds.
I am about to write a few lines about veganism / vegetarianism. There are two concrete reasons: A week ago I read an IEET interview with English utilitarian philosopher and transhumanist, David Pearce, called Feeling groovy, forever.. - I knew a bit about him already, but it was time to google a bit.. – how else would I have a chance of understanding expressions like “utilitronium shocknawe” scenarios.. ?!
One of the most vexing questions for technoprogressives and transhumanists is how to maintain the hard-won gains toward political equality among citizens as we become more diverse in our bodies and abilities. Francis Fukuyama pointed to the challenge in Our Posthuman Future, and Nicholas Agar addressed the issue in Humanity’s End. Technoprogressives believe that an expanded transhuman solidarity is possible if enhancement is made widely and equitably available, and if we we fight for a society committed to the rights of all persons. But it won’t be easy. In this story David Brin reflects on political and even theological challenges of the advent of a society with radical enhancement.
There is a domain of creatures that diffusively encircles an entire planet. There are so many of them that they occupy every conceivable ecological niche. Yet, despite their countless numbers they are so in tune with their local ecology that they have become an intrinsic part of it. Those that live in rural locations greatly outnumber those that inhabit strange cites, which are gregarious, smart and even have their own personalities. The cities consider themselves as being independent from their inhabitants, yet share their nutrition with them. They have a diurnal waste cycle that removes debris and also makes room for a new influx of city dwellers. Mature cities can even reproduce to make new ones that are immediately available for the city inhabitants to colonize.
Our built environment doesn’t have to be static. With the right synthetic biology, it can respond automatically to changes in temperature or moisture level, and even react to natural disasters, hunkering down during earthquakes or removing toxins after a toxic spill.
Global fertility is declining so fast that, at current linear trends, global population would stabilize in this century at 9 or 10 billion. Progress in agriculture, energy and manufacturing technologies will hopefully make it possible to support these numbers in an increasingly ecologically sustainable way. But accelerating progress in the treatment of disease and slowing of aging will also be pressing down mortality rates, keeping unsustainable population growth a threat. Some have suggested that draconian controls on fertility would be an acceptable trade-off for the benefits of longer lives. This short story by Daniel Hero suggests another possible adaptation to the longevity-population dilemma. - J.
Intelligent life is a fragile accident in an indifferent universe, and the first duty of intelligent life is to figure out how to transform itself and its environment in order to survive. Unfortunately intelligent creatures sometimes evolve suicidally conservative memetic straitjackets - condoms are a sin, the climate isn’t changing, doing this ghost dance will stop bullets, unregulated markets are always right. In this short story Ms. Donoho imagines a far future descendant of ours forced to witness the unnecessary deaths of the descendants of today’s Luddites and bioconservatives.
Robotic and synthetic technology will largely overcome any progress biological technologies can offer, but we are further along in the biological sciences, so we’ll likely see those advances first. Some people, seeking to “stay human” will stop with biological enhancement. Here are cool new stories in three categories: currently available cures and treatments for diseases, speculative cures and treatments for diseases, and general upgrades to the human condition.
Artificial meat could significantly improve the world. It offers a way to drastically cut greenhouse emissions, save energy and water, feed the world’s growing population, and eat meat without killing animals. However it may be appealing, though, there is good reason to suspect that artificial meat will be met with great resistance and be slowly adopted.
Suffocation induces a sense of extreme panic. It’s a comparatively rare experience in contemporary human life, although panic disorder, an anxiety disorder characterized by recurring severe panic attacks, is extremely unpleasant and quite common. Whatever its cause, the experience of suffocation is horrific. One’s lungs feel as though they will burst at any second. There is a loss of control of bodily functions. There is no psychological “coping mechanism”, just an all-consuming fear, as witnessed by the traumatic effects of the waterboarding torture practised by the CIA; the entangled piles of bodies of victims in the Nazi gas chambers frantically clawing over each other to gasp in the last traces of breathable air; and the death-agonies of millions of herbivores every day in the wild.