Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Study anticipates a nanotechnology diagnostic revolution

From The Scientist: The medical benefits long promised from the field of nanotechnology should begin revolutionizing the way disease is diagnosed by 2010, according to an independent study commissioned by the Swiss government.
This study is to provide a survey of the current and future application domains of nanotechnology in the field of medicine, with a differentiation being made between applications feasibly implementable in the middle term, and those belonging to the realm of visionary ideas. With respect to the middle-term applications, the medical, social, and ethical aspects of nanotechnology in medicine will be analyzed, and the repercussions on the social sciences, as well as the socio-political, cultural, legal, and other eventual consequences will also be brought into the discussion. Furthermore, the study will examine the emergence of any possible controversies along with the conflict potential of medical applications of nanotechnology. The existing framework conditions and regulations will be assessed in order to detect any probable deficiencies relating to nanotechnology applications of the future, and recommendations for the funding and the promotion of research, for the medical corps, for the patients, and for the policy-makers will also be developed.
The experts forecast that nanotechnology will lead to more efficient medical diagnosis as early as 2010. On the other hand, the experts predict that using nanotechnology to treat illnesses could still be more than a decade away. It will also be restricted to specific illnesses, such as cancer and viral infections.
The study by TA-SWISS also addressed fears about the safety of nanotechnology. One area we do not know enough about is how nanoparticles impact on the immune system. We don't want to repeat the mistake made with biotechnology and genomics. The way these technologies were communicated to the general public was arrogant. People's fears need to be taken into account when it comes to deciding how nanotechnology will develop. Nanotechnology will revolutionize the way we live and have a huge impact on medicine. After all, the human body is composed of nanomachines.

How the Internet Invented Howard Dean

From Wired: The biggest news of the political season has been the tale of this small-state governor who, with the help of Meetup.com and hundreds of bloggers, has elbowed his way into serious contention for his party's presidential nomination. As every alert citizen knows, Dean has used the Net to raise more money than any other Democratic candidate. He's also used it to organize thousands of volunteers who go door-to-door, write personal letters to likely voters, host meetings, and distribute flyers.
Naturally, bloggers everywhere are thrilled. Even those who hate the candidate love the way the campaign is being managed. The Internet remains the key engine of Dean's election bid and he has yet to merge his grassroots movement with the traditional Democratic power structure. "We fell into this by accident," Dean admits. "I wish I could tell you we were smart enough to figure this out. But the community taught us. They seized the initiative through Meetup. They built our organization for us before we had an organization."
The intersection of political analysis and Internet theory is a busy crossroad of cliche, where familiar rhetorical vehicles - decentralized authority, emergent leadership, empowered grass roots - create a ceaseless buzz. But the Dean organization has embraced this language of Web politics passionately.
Joi Ito, founder of Neoteny, a venture firm, and former chair of Infoseek Japan, has joined a group of technologists advising Dean (others include Ross Mayfield, Clay Shirky, and Lawrence Lessig, also a regular contributor to Wired). After looking at a paper Ito and some of his colleagues have been working on called "Emergent Democracy," I contact him to ask if he thinks there's a difference between an emergent leader and an old-fashioned political opportunist. What does it take to lead a smart mob? Ito emails back an odd metaphor: "You're not a leader, you're a place. You're like a park or a garden. If it's comfortable and cool, people are attracted. Deanspace is not really about Dean. It's about us."

How The Schmirk Stole Nanotechnology

Via Howard Lovy's NanoBot comes this hilarious, no-holds-barred satire on the recent legislative shenanigans surrounding the US National Nanotechnology Initiative.

Excerpt: 'But the Schmirk didn't stop at that -- "No," he averred,
"I'll stop any funding for even one Nerd!"
So he called in his minions again, did the Schmirk,
And said "Find me proof that THEIR nano WON'T WORK!"

So his minions at once hurried back to their labs,
And prodded and poked what they had on their slabs,
And dickered and whined till their voices were shrill,
And returned to the Schmirk and said, "Sorry... IT WILL!"

But the Schmirk wasn't flustered. "No problem," he said.
If I can't find the proof, I'll invent it, instead!
So he stuffed up a strawman or two, very fat,
and blustered importantly, right through his hat.

It's a good thing satire and parody is protected by the First Amendment in the US.

John C. Wright "The Golden Age" series meditates on politics of posthuman society

I'm finishing the third book in John C. Wright's "The Golden Age" trilogy, Golden Age, Phoenix Exultant and Golden Transcendence. It takes place tens of millenia in the future with a wide variety of posthumans and super-intelligent AIs, living together in a utopian society. Wright explores the laws, governance, military and police functions of the society in a fascinating way, arguing that minarchism is possible because of a convergence on a consensual morality enforced by near universal surveillance. He says Olaf Stapledon is one of his forebears, but that
"As much as I admire him, Mr. Stapledon and I are philosophical foes. At the zenith of his human evolution, his Eighteenth Human Race on Neptune has a communist utopia with no private property; at the zenith of my human evolution, my Seventh Mental Structure is a libertarian utopia with no public property....

There would still be rich and poor, even if the poorest of the poor were absurdly well off by our standards. No advancements can eliminate differences in the abilities of men, or the differences in how men value the abilities of their fellow man (which is what causes inequality of prices and hence of incomes). If only by comparison, there will be poverty, even in Arcadia....

There will be war and rumors of war. No matter how peaceful, no matter how secure, no matter how fine and happy all living things might be, it is still easier, in the short term, to gain by rapine and violence than by reason, until and unless there is someone who stands ready to destroy you if you violate your covenants with your fellow man...

If there is a mechanism to restrain violence by means of a threat of violence, then there will be laws to govern that mechanism....And, if there are laws, there will be those to whom those laws, no matter how wise and gentle, seem rigid and oppressive....

There still will be dreams, great dreams, dreams of renown without peer. No matter how many tools, or how godlike the power, the super-technology of the future puts into human hands, human dreams will soar to places beyond what those powers can reach, or those tools do. Therefore, logically, there will be economic competition to prioritize how to spend those resources; there would still be things we are driven to do which we cannot do, even in Arcadia....

And there will be death, even in Arcadia. Entropy will eventually triumph, no matter in what strange bodies we house ourselves, or what sturdy systems we might use to store our minds. There will be those who can face grim reality, and those who will hide in illusions....

If there are happy children in some even farther future that dwell without wealth and poverty, love and war, law and chaos, birth and death, it is beyond my power to imagine. (link)

The least believable bit is the benign and helpful role played by the superintelligent AIs. SFF asked Wright about that:
SFF: "Why wouldn't the supercomputers just end up running things to suit themselves?"
A: I can only answer that by asking, what kind of engineer would build artificial minds to be mad if he could build them to be sane? Every time I see a story where the thinking machines are murderous villains, I wonder why someone would build a murderous villain...Besides, I see no inevitable reason why intelligent beings, super-intelligent beings, and hyper-super-intelligent beings cannot live together in reasonable harmony: quite the opposite. It is a rule of economics, a law of nature, so to speak, that cooperation is more mutually advantageous than mutual destruction. All you need is basic agreement on basic ground rules.... link
Well, that and a functioning governemnt with legitimate exercise of the monopoly of violence, which his novel also demonstrates in the character Atkins.

Cell Phones Close the Telephonic Divide

Encouragingly tech-positive report from the usually Ludd-leaning WorldWatch Institute. Not to knock them - they generally do great work. Well, with the exception of their foray into transhuman bioethics with their "Beyond Cloning" issue of Worldwatch magazine which included every left-wing Luddite and Francis Fukuyama thrown in for good measure. But its great to see them paying attention to some of the upsides of technological progress, in this case the fact that cell phones are bringing telephone access to the world's poor. [BBC story here] According to their report, thirty African nations have more mobile than fixed-line phones, and one in five humans has a cell phone.

Become a "transhumanist slave"

If this art project was a being conducted by a fraternity in the US there would be calls to throw them off campus. But this is a legit, well-intentioned effort to raise awareness about the nature of slavery. I think it raises very interesting questions about the line between wage slavery, aka "work," and wage-less slavery, and the website is some very cool flash.

The art project SLAVES4SALE.COM focuses on commodification and represents a variety of dreams and projects which are sold at auction on line. The website will showcase a wide range of problems and concepts and we are looking for interesting as well as original dreams to characterize the dawn of the 21st century.

We would therefore warmly welcome a 'transhumanist slave'.
We also kindly invite you to signal this site to friends and community boards.


You may obtain more information at:

Online press kit: http://www.slaves4sale.com/presskit.html - CHRISTMAS SLAVES
Website: http://WWW.SLAVES4SALE.COM

Did you know there are still about 20 million slaves in existence today? You’ll find them in countries such as Mauritania, the United States, Europe and Sudan.

So how do you eradicate this blight on humanity?

Lanfranco Aceti, a Ph.D. candidate and researcher at Central Saint Martins College of Art Design in London offers an ingenious, if somewhat irreverent creative solution.

Simply sell yourself into slavery!

Aceti has recently established an art web-site (WWW.SLAVES4SALE.COM) where you can actually sell yourself to a prospective buyer for, say, a one week period. For that time you’ll be at your buyer’s complete beck and call, catering to his every whim – e.g. cleaning his house, running his errands etc.

To avoid any kind of weirdness, ground rules can be established between the two parties before the transaction is sealed.

The money that the buyer pays for your enslavement? Well, that would go directly to finance a dream or to an organization that specializes in buying out a real slave’s freedom – e.g. Amnesty International.

Aceti has already put himself up for sale. His price? $5,000 for a week. “I’ll do anything for my buyer during that time - short of wiping his ass” said the affable Italian.

However, given most people’s constraints on time, Aceti also offers an alternative approach.

Commodify yourself instead. In other words, turn yourself into say, a toaster. Sell yourself as such on the same web-site. You’d therefore be your owner’s tool for him to burn and pop whenever he felt like it.


To book an interview, program an exhibition or to have more details and images about this project, visit the website http://WWW.SLAVES4SALE.COM or alternatively you may contact:

Manager & PR: John J. Francescutti, john@communart.com Tel. ++ 857-919-1418 (in the US)
Artist: Lanfranco Aceti, lanfranco@communart.com Tel. ++44(0)790-411-7441 (in the UK)
Online press kit: http://www.slaves4sale.com/presskit.html

Monday, December 22, 2003

The Politics of Transhumanists

Today we're closing a survey I conducted of the members of the World Transhumanist Association. The survey has presumably reached about 1650 of the WTA's members (about half the email addresses of the 3000+ people who have signed up with us no longer work). The survey response rate is currently 580 or 36%. Not bad for nonprofits and great for consumer research.

On the question "Which of these best describes your political views?" we got these responses:

Libertarian socialist 7.2%
Progressive 6.1%
Social democrat 5.1%
Democratic socialist 4.7%
US-style "liberal" 4.7%
Green 3.1%
Left anarchist 2.1%
Radical 1.7%
Communist 1.0%
Left-wing subtotal 35.7%

Libertarian 10.1%
European Liberal 5.6%
Anarcho-capitalist 4.0%
Minarchist 1.0%
Randian/Objectivist 0.7%
Libertarian subtotal 21.4%

Other 9.4%
Upwinger/advocate of
future political
system 7.2%
Upwinger/other subtotal 16.6%

Not political 14.7%

Moderate 7.3%
Christian Democrat 1.0%
Conservative 2.4%
Far right 0.7%
Center-right subtotal 11.4%

Total 100.0%

So far I think we are seeing far more diversity in our ranks than I expected, which bodes well for the future.
If you want to participate and haven't yet, please contact me and fill out our membership form at:

U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Conference, Wash D.C., Feb 20-22, 2004

Basic income advocates: J. Hughes will be speaking as a part of the Third Congress of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network, Washington D.C., The Capital Hill Hyatt, February 20-22, 2004, on a panel with Marshall Brain, and conference chair and USBIG organizer Karl Widerquist, titled "CAN TECHNOLOGY ELIMINATE THE NEED TO WORK?"
Moderator: Robert Harris
Karl Widerquist, “Economic Possibilities of our Grandparents”
James Hughes, “Beyond Luddism: Embracing a Full-Automated Future”
Marshall Brain, “Robotic Nation: Economy and Society After Robotics Replaces Fifty Percent of the Workforce”

Navrozov declares Drexler the Einstein of nanotechnology

Lev Navrozov, the Russian weapons expert who believes that China will eventually try to take over the world using nanoweapons, is declaring K. Eric Drexler to be the Einstein of nanotechnology. Specifically, Navrozov is comparing Einstein's famous warning to President Roosevelt about the viability of atomic weapons to Drexler's 1986 book, Engines of Creation, where he warns about the possibility of the development of nanoweapons. Navrozov is concerned, however, that Drexler is not being taken seriously by the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), an organization that Navrozov compares to the Manhattan Project. But as Navrozov notes, the irony in all this is that the NNI has denied the military aspects of nanotechnology. "Imagine," says Navrozov, "the U.S. Manhattan Project policy of tacit denial of the military importance of nuclear power, the implication being that the Manhattan Project, with all the money allocated for it, should concentrate on the development of nuclear power as fuel." Disturbingly, while the Chinese have been startlingly open about the potential military uses of molecular assemblers, Navrozov notes that "the current government-NNI policy completely excludes research involved in molecular nano assemblers because of the false non-feasibility argument as put forward by Richard Smalley with peremptory categorical zeal." Ultimately, as the debate between Drexler and Smalley rages, Navrozov sees no harm in assuming that Drexler is right, that we should err on the side of caution. "Now, let us conjecture, for the sake of argument, the opposite," argues Navrozov, "What would be the danger? That the West, including Dr. Smalley and his carbon nanotubes, would be reduced to dust or would surrender unconditionally to become a vast Hong Kong."

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Brazil Provisionally Passes Basic Income Bill Into Law

Karl Widerquist reports: "The Brazilian National Congress has approved the Bill of Law, authored by
Senator Eduardo Suplicy, that will create a basic income guarantee in Brazil.
The Bill now goes to President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva who is expected to
sign it. If signed into law, the bill will begin phasing-in a basic income in
2005 starting with the most needy. When fully implemented, the citizen basic
income will mean that all people, regardless of their origin, race, sex, age,
social and economic status will have a monetary income enough to attend their
vital needs. The bill calls for a subsistence level grant, but leaves it to
the executive to determine the exact amount of the benefit, with due regard to
the stage of development of the country and the budgetary capabilities. If
this bill becomes law, Brazil will become the first nation in history to grant
the unconditional right of subsistence to all inhabitants."

Dignity Requires Choice

There’s no question that the “yuck-factor” rhetoric of the bio-conservative Kassoid wing of bioethics has seized upon the concept of “dignity” to do the real argumentative heavy lifting for their perspective in many of their most influential recent formulations. For me this move evokes very conspicuously the rhetoric through which some Christian fundamentalist conservatives have sought to hijack the concept of “life” and the defense of “life” in their ongoing efforts to police and restrict human reproductive choices (and in so doing, of course, literally threaten the lives of some, and diminish the quality of life for many, many more). If I am right to see such a parallel to anti-choice (so-called “pro-life”) politics in the recent bio-conservative effort to hijack the idea of human dignity in the service of their project to police and restrict therapeutic choices and avenues of medical research just to better reflect their own parochial interests – then it seems to me that the recognition of this parallel also gives us some useful clues about what rhetorical moves we might use to convey our own perspectives more effectively.

Consider this as the narration for a thirty-second radio spot, or some such, to mobilize the support of a mass constituency for genetic medicine who might otherwise be nervous about the destabilizing implications of radical genetic intervention: "They tried to say they supported life, but they really wanted to take away our freedom to choose. Now they want to say they support dignity when they really want to restrict our options for healthy lives. But we know our lives and our dignity are our own. Support our freedom to choose. Support the growth of useful knowledge and the expansion of our choices. Support genetic medicine."

I believe that advocates for research and development into genetic medicine should embrace Pro-Choice politics as conspicuously as possible. "Dignity Requires Choice" should be our motto. Sizable majorities already support Choice, and stressing the connection (which I think is a true one) looks like a winner to me.

I happen to believe that this connection is a useful one for advocates of the traditional politics of reproductive choice as well, which have sometimes seemed in recent years a bit muddled and defensive in the face of bio-conservative activism against reasonable abortion, contraception, and sex education policies. At least part of the reason the pernicious politics around so-called “partial-birth” abortion have managed to render a woman’s right to choose vulnerable when actual widespread support of Choice should make this nearly impossible is because the trajectory of technological development has introduced real confusions into the status of profound biological experiences like conception, birth, illness, and death.

We must all face the fact that the susceptibility of organisms to radical intervention has transformed the status of “viability” as a measure of when lives can properly be said to begin or to end, and as a stable benchmark against which to leverage intuitions about the proper scope of such intervention. This is a crisis in traditional meaning that is exacerbated by contemporary technological developments now on an almost day to day basis.

By embracing the technological forces that would expand the reach of reasonable individual choices over once-definitive biological limits, a hopeful politics of Choice can once again seize the initiative away from the bio-conservative politics of fear in this most intimate collision of technological forces with individual human bodies.

The feminist politics of Choice has sometimes already connected up the defense of reproductive choices to other political struggles that would defend and support choices that enrich individual lives and yet threaten traditional understandings of the natural limits of human bodies -- for example, the politics around queer forms of family, transgender rights, and ending the so-called War on Drugs. Therefore, I believe the feminist politics of Choice has already demonstrated its openness to a move like the one I am proposing here, connecting Choice to the politics of genetic medicine, the support of increased research, and the protection of multiplying therapeutic options. “Morphological freedom” is a word transhumanists have often used to name such a connection between a broader conception of the politics of Choice and the specific technological proliferation of choices available for the genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive modification of human bodies today and in the near and far-flung future.

It’s surely time to revive and expand the feminist slogan: “Keep Your Laws Off of My Body!” Who knows where this might end, this process of translating the politics of Choice from reproductive to morphological freedom? Certainly I can say it is more hopeful and inspiring and powerful by far to build a political coalition that would expand the field of freedom for all in an era of radical technological transformation than it is to defend a few fragile and threatened entitlements from harm from a few timid bigots frightened of the future. –Dale Carrico

Dutch Court Throws Out Kazaa Case

From Wired: The makers of Kazaa, the world's most popular computer file-sharing program, cannot be held liable for copyright infringement of music or movies swapped on its free software, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled Friday. The decision upheld a 2002 appellate-court verdict in Amsterdam that dismissed a suit filed by Buma/Stemra, which protects the interests of the music industry. Buma/Stemra had demanded that Kazaa stop offering free downloads from its website, or face a daily fine of $124,000.
Kazaa said the ruling, the first by a national court dealing with the legality of file-sharing websites, affirms not just the legality of its software, but all file-sharing programs. "This victory sets the precedent about the legality of peer-to-peer technology across the European Union, and around the world," Kazaa founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis said in a statement distributed on the Internet. They called the ruling a "historic victory for the evolution of the Internet and for consumers."