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IEET > Security > SciTech > Life > Enablement > Innovation > Health > Vision > Futurism > Technoprogressivism > Contributors > Kyle Munkittrick

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Had I World Enough, and Time


Kyle Munkittrick
Kyle Munkittrick
Pop Transhumanism

Posted: Feb 16, 2010

Say that I knew that medicine had advanced to the point where I could reasonably expect to live to be 350 years old, with the first two decades, of course, going to maturation, and the last two decades resembling our current aging process. What would I do with all of that time?


Aubrey de Grey, Robert Butler, and Leonard Guarente recently sat down to discuss anti-aging medicine. One of the most common critiques of anti-aging (one I didn’t address in my FAQ about aging) is one of existential crisis. The question one must ask is: What would you do with all of that time? Wouldn’t you get bored? What would you do?

imageI asked myself those questions and realized that right now I feel impossibly rushed. There is so much life to experience, in so many ways that I feel compelled to try and do everything at once. Some people spend their teens and twenties partying and living paycheck to paycheck in a visceral, hedonistic, perpetual Bacchanalia of youth. Others cloister themselves away in libraries and academia to emerge in their late twenties/early thirties as The Next Big Thing in their field, granting them a position of influence for decades to come. Others travel, seeing the world, discovering who they want to be and meeting their fellow human beings. Still others start their careers, steadily moving up the ranks and in the process have the financial stability to settle down and have a family.

Yet for everyone of these potential ways of living comes at a cost of all the others. The very process of aging forces a choice. But what if I didn’t have to choose because I wasn’t aging? What if raising a family didn’t take half of my adult life, but barely a tenth of it? What if I could be a reckless youth, traveling, partying, living on a shoe-string budget and making loads of mistakes, for decades without worrying that I was “too old” or not “preparing for the future.” What if I could work for a couple years, putting most of it into savings, and then, 100 years down the road when I decided to have kids, have an enormous nest egg? There are so many questions we don’t even consider because we frame our lives as windows of time, wherein we get to do somethings but not others, because you only get that one chunk of time once. But what if instead of a couple decades of youth and vigor with another several decades of slow decline and aging, what if a person lived for over three centuries, with nearly all of it in a state of youth akin to a twenty-five year old. What would it be like?


Had I world enough, and time, here is how I would spend it.

I would grow up, I presume, as normal, but after undergrad, I wouldn’t have immediately started fretting and panicking about careers or graduate school or “what are you going to do with your life?” Instead, I’d spend a few decades, say three or four, living the life of a bachelor. No marriages, no living in one place for more than a couple years, career changes constantly, living with low inhibitions, thrill seeking, unworried about mistakes, bank accounts, savings, or nice things. I would take my time with everything. I’d try living for a while with almost no worldly possessions, going from hostel to hostel, working odd jobs and making barely enough money to pay for the next ticket or meal. I’d meet people and interact and learn. Then maybe I’d spend a few years just partying, embracing utter hedonism. Maybe after that, as a sort of cleansing, I’d go volunteer in one of the countries I’d visited a decade before, spending a few years giving myself freely to others. Thirty years of youth.

Perhaps somewhere in there I discovered a career I loved. Let’s say it’s marketing. I don’t want a family yet, don’t want to settle down, but I love this job: the people, the work, the company, all of it. I do well, make big bucks, put a bunch into savings and use the rest to live it up in a nice apartment, buy flashy crap I don’t need, go for the gusto with materialism. Just to see if I like it. Play the stock market with my extra bucks. Maybe I’d have a long term relationship, maybe I’d date, maybe I’d be so involved in work I’d barely have time for more than the occasional fling. I could live the life of a man about town, doing a job I loved, with money to spare.

But after a while, maybe fifteen years, I’d feel I’d done all I could in marketing, and my arm chair study of economics has really been intriguing me, so I decide to use some of my savings to go back to school. Maybe before I retired from marketing, I’d take some refresher courses, and then dive into things full time in a grad program. With my savings, I can pay tuition and go to school full time while still living comfortably. Having traveled and partied and worked for almost half a century, I’d revel in the solitude of study, spending whole weeks cooped up in the library or my home office, investigating nuanced, esoteric trains of thoughts and reading the enormous tomes of the greats at my leisure. I graduate in a decade with a Ph.D. and go out into the field.

Maybe I end up with a job at the IMF, over seeing development in South East Asia, a place I know well after traveling there for two years a few decades before. I speak Thai and Vietnamese, of course. I see it as one of the many homes I’ve had and take a personal investment in working to do the best for the region because of the time I spent there. While working for the IMF, I meet a woman. We fall in love, courting, dating, and experiencing each other over the next several years while working in Asia. We decide to get married.

Anticipating kids, we both quit our jobs at the IMF and get stable, low demand jobs back in the states in our respective fields. As we plan the wedding, we put most of our earnings into savings. A decade and a half after we first meet, we decide to have kids. We both take work off for a decade to raise the kids, living off of our enormous next egg from our previous decades of work and nearly century old savings accounts. I’d be able help my kids go through school, being deeply involved in their lives, continuing my learning with them, helping them discover as much of the world on their own terms as possible. Instead of supporting my family and having it at the same time, I’d support it first, then have it.

imageWith our kids grown and happy, going off into their own lives and adventures, I’d still have nearly two hundred years of life left. By now, I’m approaching 110 years old. Maybe my travel itch is back, and probably the itch for week-long parties too. Maybe my wife has got the same urges, and now, instead of traveling, partying, living recklessly, and on a shoestring budget alone, I’m doing it with a partner, re-seeing the world again with her.

And so the cycle would continue. I wouldn’t live one life, I would live lives, experiencing being every version of the good life out there. Imagine being able to genuinely start over, to be always able to live your life as if you’ve just turned twenty-five and your whole life is ahead of you to explore, but you’ve already lived a century and a half. Life goals wouldn’t just be to read the great works, but maybe every work by every great writer. Or maybe not to learn just an instrument, but perhaps how to play every instrument in the orchestra. The options are so preposterously wonderful that they are hard to contemplate not because they are impossible to imagine but because they remind us of how little time we really have.

There is too much to do, how could one not want enough life to be able to do it?


Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
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COMMENTS


I think it’s time for a little wake-up call to all you over-optimistic anti-aging supporters. Aging is NOT the only cause of death and depending on lifestyle and geographic location, it doesn’t even have to be the MAIN cause of death. Do you know what this means? It means that you would still end up dying even if you didn’t age UNLESS you made even more drastic changes to your life. Just look at freaking Wolverine, he doesn’t age but it wouldn’t help him much if that was the only thing he was able to. Now of course, Wolverine gets killed like every 5 seconds and that would hopefully not be the case for regular, mortal, eternally young people. The point is however that the way the world is now, life is extremely dangerous for somebody who aspires to live for even 500 years, not to say thousands of years. I don’t know where I saw this but I read once that the average expected lifespan for a westerner is 500 years if we remove aging and diseases. That is the AVERAGE. The only thing that can help us approach immortality is to undertake the most thorough existential risk assessment possible and eliminate ALL the risks that we can eliminate. VR, cyborgization and nanotechnology sound like musts and so do mind backups, space colonization and probably also mind uploading.

The perceived value of a human life would shoot up in the sky if we stopped aging but only if we realized that it must do that if we are to really live extremely long lives, since a huge portion of the current existential risks comes from humans themselves. Most of you anti-ageing proponents don’t seem to wanna talk about the REAL implications a cure for aging will have on human reality. It will create a NEW DIMENSION FOR NATURAL SELECTION, where each individual’s ability to stay alive is the measure of fitness and the trait selected for.

If you think that just by stopping aging you should start feeling safe from death then you are completely deluded. Furthermore, the grave human-made existential risks are not going to disappear until virtually everyone on this planet recalibrates their moral compass to take into account the possibility of living for thousands of years. What will complicate this even further of course are all those individuals who believe in an after-life or don’t fear death and who may decide to wage war against all immortalists. Curing aging is going to bring about a HUGE existential and moral crisis of global proportions.

There is a solution that may strongly ameliorate and possibly even eliminate such a crisis, but only by bringing about a much bigger crisis, which is however inevitable since it is just as relevant as the anti-aging ideal. What I am referring to is what Daniel Kolak has named Open Individualism, which PROVES that we are all immortal already since we all share the same personal identity. I don’t see how we can ever bring about peace to this planet without globally realizing the validity of this view. Once and ONLY once that happens will the world become mature enough for immortality. Now please read this 11 page long paper I’ve written explaining Open Individualism to a western mind as simply and directly as it has ever been so far and get ready to wake up:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/26828344/A-casual-analysis-of-Personal-Identity

Namaste.





@ Kyle..

That is a lengthy list of ideals and objectives, yet what if you could live for a thousand years as an uploaded consciousness or entity such as suggested by Martine’s Mindware : could you then cope with this kind of existence without getting very bored, or even worse, going insane? This may sound like madness itself, yet this may be a real possibility and may be a more realistic goal than increasing our mortal longevity to 350 years?

And moreover, mind uploading or machine consciousness may be the ideal way to extend one’s longevity in later years which will eliminate the need for all kinds of drug and body maintenance and the ethical and monetary costs incurred for this kind of mortal longevity?
How much would it cost to keep your consciousness alive in a virtual reality, as compared with constant biological repair and insurance costs?

How would you feel if you could live perpetually in a virtual retirement park, have your great, great, great grandchildren come visit you every month to say hi, and maybe even decide that you want to venture out back into the mortal world, and use a “surrogate” styled cybernetic body to do so, knowing full well your consciousness is safe and sound if you do get run over by the first bus you walk in front of?

Sounds like pie in the sky, maybe? Yet this makes so much more sense than bio-longevity to me. And what’s more, this is an ideal that leads us directly to post-humanity also? What if we could combine or merge consciousness, share wisdom, have time to learn every language or academic subject your ever want to study, or rather instantly download the knowledge. This pool of consciousness could even evolve to become a vast “oracle” of wisdom that can then help guide the whole of humanity to increased wisdom, (CEV?), and help understand and accept this further goal of living “timelessly”?

@ Alexxarian..

You have raised some valid points regarding the existential risks created by longevity goals. I guess there will always be diverse beliefs and cultures that would not embrace this tendency towards longevity and that these zealots may pose real dangers to those who do. I feel there would also be a vast split between the “have’s” and “have not’s” for these kinds of goals and ideals, which may also incur the same types of problems.

Either way, if longevity goals are to be realised, we must evolve “spiritually/ethically” to embrace and understanding of what it “really” means to live this long?





If we could live an extra 200+ years, one would hope that we use that extra time meaningfully. But I worry that we Homo sapiens are simply not hardwired to think/plan that far ahead…it might very well be that we’re doing more or less the same things we’re doing now.

Look at the 20-somethings today who think they’ll live forever…not exactly making great use of their time. Recall the saying: “Youth is wasted on the young” [G.B. Shaw, citation needed]. Even with the knowledge that life is short, we still fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way [Pink Floyd, 1973].

It could be that we need death to be around the corner to motivate us to make something of ourselves. If technology in the near future can extend our lives another 250 years, why not think that in 100 years, science can postpone our date with the Grim Reaper for another 500 years or indefinitely, in which case we don’t need to confront the “problem” of death at all…which removes a big internal motivation to do something with one’s life.

More optimistically, maybe the first hundred years would necessarily be mundane and boring. And then in our early to mid-100s, we grasp that we have more time to invest in developing talents, learning, etc.—in which case youth is still wasted on the young. This seems to parallel how life works in current timelines…gotta find out for yourself that hedonism is a dead-end philosophy and move on to something more meaningful before you die.

But this begs the ultimate question: What is the meaning of life? If we are never able to find meaning in life—something that gives us reason to exist and flourish as persons, other than some vague biological instinct to procreate, which incidentally propagates the species—I’m not sure that extra time is going to do us much good. If we’re still struggling to find meaning in life now, how does our situation improve by giving us an extra 200 years?

In any case, even if technology can extend our lives 1,000 years, we likely will still be victims of accidents that could kill us at any moment. So maybe life will still be urgent and spontaneous…but then nothing that needs to be planned for on such a long timeline. And unless work, money, and wants were made obsolete, we’d still have to have a job/career—but then this gets us away too much from the original issue of what (if anything) we’d do with extra time…





Quick point to preempt comments about fairness, wealth distribution, Malthusean Hells, or that I’m projecting my values as to what an “ideal” life is. This post was an effort to explain what I would plausibly see MYSELF doing if told I could expect to live about 300 years with youthful health. It’s based on my current life and seems reasonable based on the progress I’ve made in my half a century on the planet.

@Alexxxarian

1. The post doesn’t presume immortality or a guaranteed life of any duration. It presumes a life duration concomitant with the typical life span, health care techniques, and danger levels of an imagined future society in which anti-aging medicine has made major strides. I live my life currently as if I will likely live to be between 70 to 100, despite the fact that I might die minutes, hours, or days from now for any number of very plausible events.

2. Your initial point that aging and disease aren’t the only reasons people die is correct, here is the CDC on causes of death in the US. <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/FASTATS/lcod.htm> As you can see, accidental injuries are a cause, but not a major cause, less than 5% of the total.

3. Part of the impact of living in a society where everyone lives longer is that people would tend to take the long view. We often are only concerned with what we can change in our life time, which is why futurists rarely discuss things they believe will happen either within their life time or that of their colleagues. I believe the world in which people lived not just longer, but significantly more youthful lives, would have people far more concerned with long term, existential problems.

4. Nightcrawler is way cooler than Wolverine. BAMF.

5. I hardly think Kolak has proven anything. I suggest Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self as a different take on identity.

@CygnusX1

1. An eternal retirement home sounds like Hell on Earth, VR or not. You keep that for yourself. I wanna be YOUNG.

2. I simply have not read arguments from anyone in the upload community that I buy. Even the best arguments, like those from Bostrom, have not convinced me. I see consciousness as triple embodied, following the phenomenologists like Elizabeth Grosz, and uploading does not deal with the problems presented by this stronger construction of mind.

3. Right now, I see biological sciences advancing more quickly than biomechanical sciences. When we get a prosthetic that is fully neuro and osso integrated, then I’ll start considering mind-computer integration as a near-future capability. Of all the transhumanist areas of interest, messy biology is still advancing the most quickly and it’s not a matter of inventing the hardware, merely learning to fine tune it.





@ Mike: AHAHAHA. Wooooopsie daisy. Yes, I did mean quarter-century. I’m not even that old yet, actually.





That`s a very good article and you`re making a sound point.

Speaking about the “meaning of life” problem: I think eliminating (or even just slowing) aging could help more people to find what does life exactly mean for them. As it is now, few people are lucky to find themselves and things that actually bring meaning into their everyday life. The rest have to settle for something available and numerous sacrifices are made in a constant rush. It`s like with kids for a woman “maybe later” is a nice answer, when you are 25, but a delusional one when you are pushing forty, and at certain point you just have to make a decision, whether you are ready or not. Same is with trying to start a new career in a field that is entirely new for you, same is with finding a spouse…

Sorry for possible mistakes, non-native speaker here.





:0] @ Kyle..

Re: Retirement park and I was so looking forward to our daily chess match in the park..tsk, oh well perhaps Mike would be interested? Yet I was not intending to paint such a “Cocoon” styled picture of eternal retirement, as in VR uploading you could virtually be anything you wanted, solid, liquid or gas? And still you could always stay as young as Steve Guttenberg if you wished. But your point is valid : this type of interaction with the mortal world would only be subjective to consciousness : but hey.. isn’t this the case concerning existence already?

You may be right that biological advances may be first past the post, yet indefinite or perpetual existence as pure consciousness in a machine or otherwise is still the clear winner in the end. The difficulties for each are still tremendous, and we may not even have to understand consciousness fully, yet still be technically advanced enough to upload to a machine. Consciousness may forever be somewhat of a mystery, who knows?

@ Patrick

Wow !

You certainly have opened a can of worms here.. all the way back to questioning the meaning of life! Would our viewpoint of existence itself need to evolve to embrace these advances in longevity?  : most certainly I would guess yes. And here we are just debating and comparing extended life as compared to our current wants and needs.

I guess to embrace “timeless” existence, either as individuals or a collective consciousness, we will need to overcome cravings and desires and all the sufferings these bring us, once and for all? Even the need to reproduce would be negated, or worst case scenario not be required at all for post-humans?





To play Devil’s advocate and open up a religious can of worms, here’s a possible objection I don’t think I’ve seen yet:

Christians have argued that life extension and human enhancement are morally wrong because we’re “playing God” or somehow deforming human dignity.  But what about this: If you are Christian, your goal is to get to Heaven, right?  So spending more time on earth would seem to increase the number of opportunities to make mortal mistakes, sending you to Hell.  Thus, a Christian should want to minimize time on earth (or at least not prolong or shorten the stay beyond what’s “God’s will”) to expedite the trip to Heaven. For the same reason we don’t want to hang out at the airport longer before our flight, we should be eager to leave this plane of existence. 

Of course, if you might really, really like hanging out at airports, and that’s ok.  But more airport time also means more opportunities to get drunk and thus kicked off your flight, or more chances to buy junk you don’t really need, etc.  And if you were starving for a Cinnabon, you might appreciate some extra time to chow down at the airport kiosk—just as a sinner may want more time to make amends.  But I take these as more the exceptions than the rule.

The easy, non-productive way to respond to such an objection is to deny that God exists at all.  But is there a more compelling response that meets the theist on his/her own ground?





Yes, but the religious argument breaks down when you consider that most religions ban suicide as a means to expedite that trip to heaven. They forbid suicide even if you live in a decaying body that is not going to last much longer anyways. I think the real deal here is that religion is not a truly logically coherent world-view with regards to these matters.

Politically, there are two kinds of people in this world, those who believe people should be controlled and those who have no such desire. “Existential threats” are sophistry generated and used by the first group to justify their control and power over those of us who comprise the second group. There is no fundamental reality to any such threats.





@ Patrick

That’s a classic issue of theology in Christianity. As usual, wiki has got a great answer.





Right, I recognize that suicide is forbidden by Christian doctine.  Perhaps I could have made the point of my qualification in parentheses more clear: “Thus, a Christian should want to minimize time on earth (or at least not prolong or shorten the stay beyond what’s “God’s will”) to expedite the trip to Heaven”—I meant to rule out suicide as well as radical life extension.  The trick here, of course, is to determine what God’s will is…

@Kurt: I’m not sure I follow your last point…are you denying that there are such things as existential threats?  And if you believe in such threats, that means you’re trying to control others?  If so, this seems false: Dinosaurs were wiped out by some existential threas (unless you believe the fossil record was planted by the Devil), independently of whether they believed such threats were real.  Forget about killer asteroids and other natural disasters for a moment, today, we can kill nearly everyone on the planet with the nuclear weapons we’re still holding.





@ Patrick: I guess my point was that ANY effort to hasten one’s time on Earth, even the very desire to do so, would be in opposition to “God’s Plan,” whatever that might be. A Christian knows they must live on Earth for some time and must use that time to do good. In relation to eternity (in Heaven, one hopes) the time on Earth is vanishingly small, therefore any alteration in the actual duration would largely be pointless.

@Kurt: Existential threats are quite real. False threats trumped up as existential threats are, indeed, commonly used to justify power and whip up nationalist, xenophobic, and fascist sentiment. But it is hard to see how one could use the threat of a doomsday asteroid or total nuclear war to justify protectionist tariffs or anti-immigration legislation.





@Kyle: There’s the rub—what exactly is God’s plan?  If we can’t do anything that reduces our normal lifespan, then we may be morally required to not eat at McDonald’s and to join a gym.  We couldn’t drive cars if such technologies lead to the untimely deaths of God’s creatures.  You couldn’t be a pacifist, if it puts your life at risk, i.e., standing in front of a tank as a protest.  But I take it that most Christians wouldn’t agree with this (though perhaps logically they should).  So that’s why I would limit my comments to the issue of suicide, which Christianity is clear on.

Anyway, I don’t mean to hijack the discussion—the issues you raise are important and deserve consideration.  Religion often muddles such issues, but given that a significant percentage of the US (and international) population self-reports as religious, it’s perhaps a viewpoint that needs to be confronted at some point…





@Patrick: It’s not muddling the discussion. I’m one of the few transhumanists who isn’t either an atheist or a Buddhist, so any chance to bat around Christian theology is something I enjoy.

And to bring the topic back on point, I would say one of the things I would very much like to do is spend a decade or so really investigating the various religions. All of those goddamned hippies might actually have a point and if we just understood one another, we’d stop fighting. When I was confirmed (I was raised Methodist) part of our confirmation was to go to a Catholic mass, a Jewish synagogue and a mosque. It was only a week of “experiencing other religions” but it left a lasting impression (the Torah is SO COOL in huge scroll form). A big part of my travels around the world would involve spending time investigating different religions.





@ Kyle…

What about “Self enquiry”? I hope you will set aside a few decades of meditation also?

;0]





The only existential threat I see are politicians and bureaucrats who try to inhibit innovation and progress, particularly with regards to healthy life extension.





“I think it’s time for a little wake-up call to all you over-optimistic anti-aging supporters. Aging is NOT the only cause of death and depending on lifestyle and geographic location, it doesn’t even have to be the MAIN cause of death.”

Of course not. We’re all aware of that. But it’s currently the only one that’s *inevitable,* no matter how well you avoid the others. What’s more, age-related changes make you *more* vulnerable to the others.

(‘Damn.” he thought strangely calm in his last seconds. “Fifty years ago, I would’ve had the strength and reflexes to get out of the way of that oncoming-”)

Perhaps adaptability will become even more important, post longevity? Hard to say, as so many *other* things will change, too. The conditions allegedly causing that ‘500 year’ limit, are not themselves etched in stone, either. There will be new ways to make ourselves safer, AND probably new ways to die.

As I sometimes put it to my friends, if I have to go (and statistically SOMETHING is likely to eventually get me, yes). I’d rather it was on an exploding starship 400 years from now, instead of withering away in a nursing home, in 40.

Or getting run over by that truck, next week.





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