I am attending today’s session of the transhumanist conference, Euro-style, where I will speak this afternoon. I will also offer brief reports throughout the day on other presentations.
If you are interested in seeing the conference live but cannot attend in person, arrangements have been made for virtual participation. Here is the information provided by conference organizers:
Those who wish to attend TransVision 2010 but cannot come to Milan will have the option to participate remotely in the TVirtual online extension, watch all talks in realtime, and interact with speakers and other participants. TVirtual, hosted by the teleXLR8 project based on the Teleplace online telepresence platform, will be a mixed-reality event similar to the recent ASIM 2010 Conference. TVirtual tickets are now available at a reduced price.
Today’s presentations include:
Aubrey de Grey - SENS and SENS Foundation: recent progress
Max More - The Expanded Self: The Past, Present, and Future of Being You
Martine Rothblatt - Brains are to Minds as Birds are to Flight
Giuseppe Vatinno - Transhumanism: A New Philosophy for the XXI Century’s Man
David Orban - Free to Be Human: the Coming Machine Revolution and Our New Role in the World
Mike Treder - Are we in the future yet?
Giulio Prisco - Online conferences 2.0
Emanuele Ratti - Why Transhumanism Must Be Nietzschean
Aubrey de Grey reported on developments at the SENS Foundation, which is a separate organization from the Methuselah Foundation, and mentioned the availability of an updated edition of his book, Ending Aging. He also spoke about advances in stem cell medicine, on progress in understanding mitochondrial mutation, and about work taking place at the new SENS research facility in Mountain View, California.
During the Q&A at the conclusion of Aubrey’s talk, Martine Rothblatt asked how he would respond to a challenge which states that the Technological Singularity, as predicted by Ray Kurzweil’s logarithmic curves, is surely coming in the next 20 years or so - thus, why should we bother to work on such things now as ending aging, when machine superintelligence of the near future will be able to do it far better than we ever could? Aubrey responded that because it is still unclear how soon the intelligence explosion of a Singularity will arrive, or indeed whether it ever will arrive at all, we must continue to make progress as fast as we can and not simply sit back and wait for someone else or something else to come along later and do it for us.
Max More’s presentation challenged the idea of a Star Trek future, where marvelous new machines exist to make human life more enjoyable, but where the humans themselves are barely changed at all. Max pointed out that the basis of transhumanist philosophy is to understand and prepare for a time of transformed humanity. He said that a beginning of understanding this approach is to attempt a definition of the ‘self’. Eventually we may have to deal with concepts such as super-selves, meta-selves, exoselves, hierarchies of selves, swarms of selves, etc. Even today, it is useful to recognize that the idea of a single integrated self is mostly an illusion, that we already are a composite of various selves. This could, of course, be dramatically extended with the application of emerging technologies such as virtual reality.
Martine Rothblatt began her talk by saying she believes it is important that we pursue “multiple paths” toward human transcendence. It may be that physical human lives can be extended almost indefinitely, and we should encourage work in that direction, as described, for example, by Aubrey de Grey. Martine’s alternate approach is to make it possible for human personalities to be embedded in computer substrates, separate from our currently perishable bodies. She suggests that just as you don’t have to copy a bird to allow a human to fly, you also shouldn’t have to copy a brain to allow a personality to exist outside the body. [Her PowerPoint slides are dense, full of fascinating data on the human mind; I can’t hope to effectively deliver all of that to you here, so I will ask permission to post her whole presentation later on the IEET website.] She concludes that although it is not yet proven that human-level consciousness can exist outside the human body, what she’s proposing is a hypothesis that can be tested, and that we should let the testing begin at the earliest possible date. She is confident that the odds are in its favor.
Giuseppe Vatinno gave a talk in Italian (with translation provided) about the relationship between the two separate, and sometimes contentious, transhumanist organizations within Italy. He provided a review of the general history of transhumanism, from early influential thinkers like Marvin Minsky and F.M. Esfandiary, to the founding of the Extropy Institute in 1988, the creation of the World Transhumanist Association (now Humanity+) in 1998, and current efforts like the SENS Foundation. He also referred to Ray Kurzweil as “the prophet of the Singularity” (a title that I doubt Ray would welcome).
David Orban said that very few people recognize the power of exponential progress. He pointed out that if you are proceeding at an exponential rate, it is possible for 1% of accomplishment to mean you are already halfway to your goal. In response to questions about the debatable certainty of the Singularity, he mentioned the Fermi Paradox, and said that our current unsustainable use of resources may present a huge obstacle that could prevent the Singularity from ever being reached - and this also could explain why we see no evidence of super-advanced alien civilizations.
We took a break and when we came back, we found that the program had been slightly rearranged. It turned out that I was the first speaker for the next session, giving my talk entitled “Are we in the future yet?” It seemed to be well-received and I was pleased with the amount and quality of comments and questions during the Q&A session. Rather than try to recap everything I said in my presentation, I will post a copy of it here on the IEET blog in the next few days.
In the interest of time (we’re running late), conference organizer Giulio Prisco chose to deliver an abbreviated 5-minute version of his presentation about the emerging potential for holding virtual online conferences, which could make it easier for people to participate who otherwise might not have the money or the time to do so.
Emanuele Ratti gave a brief presentation based on a paper he’d written on the subject of “Why Transhumanism Must Be Nietzschean.” He spoke about the challenge of trying to achieve long-time >H goals in the face of societal resistance and in particular, based on his experience as an Italian, in dealing with the opposing power of the Roman Catholic Church.