Saturday, January 31, 2004

Atlantic Monthly Dabbles in Robot/Class Analysis, Basic Income Guarantee

The editors of that bastion of socialism, the Atlantic Monthly, have written a wonderful review of the "productivity miracle," jobloss economy and the possible economic responses to them:
Viewed through the lens of class politics, one of the most striking elements of the past quarter century has been what Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution, calls "the slow erosion of bargaining power" among low-income and middle-income workers. Better information technology and more-sophisticated robotics have significantly reduced job opportunities for many types of "routine" laborers, such as factory workers and middle managers, especially as globalized production has allowed U.S. companies to move many jobs—particularly low- and middle-skilled jobs—to countries where wages are lower. Increased global competition and the aggressive expectations of the financial markets (mainly in the form of shareholders demanding increased earnings per share every quarter) have eroded traditional managerial notions of "fairness" in setting wages and benefits and replaced them with a relentless focus on reducing cost; many companies now refuse to pay workers more than their immediate ability to contribute justifies, regardless of how old they are, how long they've worked for the company, or how much they've earned in the past. On top of all this, increased immigration of low-skilled workers since 1970 has disproportionately increased the labor supply at the lower end of the economy, probably depressing wages for less skilled workers...

But there may be ways to help displaced workers without harming the economy. In "Are We Still a Middle-Class Nation?" Michael Lind proposes that the federal government grant equity-market stakes to every citizen, so that all Americans, not just the richest, might draw extra income from investments.
The article goes on to describe how declining access to higher education in the U.S. and the ballooning Bush deficit are destroying our economic future.

Damien Broderick reflects on the nature of poverty in a nano-future

Jim Pethokoukis interviewed our Aussie transhumanist SF author friend Damien Broderick for Next News:
What trend(s)—technological, social, economic, political—do you often hear talked about but think may not play out the way people expect, if at all?

Broderick: People often worry about increasing inequality—the rich getting obscenely richer while the poor sink lower. Actually this seems only partly true—the poor, in the First and the Third worlds, are also getting richer, but not as fast, and they lag further behind the rich all the time. Does this matter? For the truly poor, and the cruelly outcast, of course it does. For those with only 25-inch TV screens instead of the huge plasma sets they’d prefer to own, it’s worth recalling that both the rich and the poor in 1904 had none at all, nor any antibiotics and rudimentary medical care, even if they could pay for it. But this might eventually be moot. Developing technologies such as molecular manufacture—nanotechnology—will allow the very engines of productivity to be copied cheaply and distributed widely. If that happens (and it will only occur if we find ways to prevent portable nanofactories from making lethal weapons available to any child or psychopath), the gap between rich and "poor" might not sting as much.
I don't know about you Damien, but I wouldn't be that happy if I knew there were people 100s of times more powerful, wealthy, intelligent and long-lived around, and all I got out of the TechnoRapture was a plasma TV and a nanofactory. I've got a job, a laptop and a suburban home now and I'm still pissed off that Bush and the corporate cabal run the damn world.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Nanotech and the developing world

From "Will Prince Charles et al diminish the opportunities of developing countries in nanotechnology?" (January 2004)
Nanotechnology offers a range of potential benefits for developing countries. Nanometre-sized quantum dots can be used to tag biological molecules for the identification of proteins that indicate disease status7 without many of the drawbacks associated with conventional organic dyes used to mark cells. Quantum dots could eventually be used in clinical diagnostic tests to quickly detect molecules associated with cancer cells and HIV/AIDS. This has great relevance to developing countries, where over 95% of new HIV infections occurred in 2002.

Quantum dot optical biosensors can be used for the detection of TB, which along with HIV and Malaria is responsible for half of infectious disease mortality in developing countries. In India, the Central Scientific Instruments Organization has recently announced plans for the development of a prototype nanotechnology-based TB diagnostic kit which would reduce the cost and time required for TB tests and also use a smaller amount of blood for testing12. Further, quantum dots and other nanomaterials could be integrated with microtechnology to develop inexpensive miniaturized devices for medical diagnostics. The size of these devices would allow them to be easily used in remote regions. Vaccinations that have greatly reduced child mortality in developing countries could be administered in a more controlled and targeted manner using nanoparticle delivery systems. Two US-patented nanoparticle drug delivery systems developed by researchers at the University of Delhi have already been transferred to Indian industry for commercialization. Nanotechnology-based bone scaffolds have the ability to repair damaged skeletal tissue caused by injury resulting from road traffic accidents, the so-called “unseen epidemic” of developing countries.

In China, a recently developed nanotechnology bone scaffold has been tested in 26 hospital patients. Enzyme biosensors can be used to monitor soil and crop toxicity levels to improve agricultural quality control in developing countries. Water purification technologies have been recognized as one of several key nanotechnology applications for developing countries. The University of Brazil is currently conducting research on nanomagnets that would be attracted to oil to aid the clean-up of large oil spills. Many of these activities, of course, also hold promise for economic development.

More on Dean and Telecom Politics

Hey, I'm as bummed as the next desperate US leftist/Democrat that Dean has crashed and burned, but Xeni Jardin at boing boing passes on Dan Gillmor's reflections on Dean's new campaign manager:
Neel isn't just a Gore associate. He was head of the United States Telecom Association, probably the single most retrograde Washington lobbying organization around -- the mouthpiece for the local phone monopolies that have worked so hard to thwart serious competition in telecommunications. In other words, Neel is as inside-the-beltway as you can get. Now he's running an 'outsider's' campaign. Sure thing.

Trippi was far from perfect as an operative. But under his guidance, Dean emerged in the first place as a credible candidate. And Trippi, via Dean's candidacy, was a catalyst who helped change the rules of national campaigning in ways that will reverberate through politics until they've been absorbed by everyone in the political game. The Net helped make Dean, and it was Trippi who grasped what was happening early on and convinced Dean to take advantage of it. Of course, the true revolutionaries here have been the Dean supporters who understood the power they could bring from the edges and apply to the center. They will not go away, however much the political establishment may want them to.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

More on posthuman erotism: Metabods

Thanks to a note from the master of the site Metabods, Brian Kyle Ramirez, we discover yet more allies in the struggle for our right to transhuman tech:
Metabods caters to an specific segment of the erotic spectrum: erotic fantasies about and among men with enhanced and augmented bodies. The fantastically endowed, the transformed, the multilimbed...the denizens of Metabods are men born of a special kind of fantasy...

Cool. So give me an example. What do you guys dream about?

It's all very individual. Muscle growth, in moderation or extreme, is one popular category. There's also replication (cloning, the growth of a second body, or "twinning", the splitting of a body into two exact forms), cock growth (increasing size a few inches or a few feet), macro (growth in size beyond the range possible for regular humans), micro (shrinking, which can be down to a few feet or a few inches or even smaller), body swapping (placing your mind in another body), centaur forms, and various kinds of extras (extra limbs, digits, cocks, even heads; twinning, which is basically extra bodies, falls into this too)....

How do you feel about people that laugh at you because your fetish is so bizarre?

Lalalala, not listening...

Presumably the prior step before we get to full fledged humanimal transforms is designer genitalia - clitoral tissue implants, hermaphroditism, etc. And of course the trade-in for a bigger penis:
Fun With Your New Penis: Recent advances in the technology of physiology have led to the development of three new types of penis, the MagnumPenis, the MaximPenis, and the MetaPenis. Exchanging one's penis for one of these can be done relatively inexpensively (for about as much as Austin Powers XI grossed in its second week at the box office) and the operation required is an essentially simple procedure, entailing no more post-surgical discomfort than one would feel after having one's genitalia slammed in the door of an economy-size car.
Since Michael J. Bailey published The Man Who Would be Queen last year arguing (on the basis of personal bias masquerading as scientific research) that transsexuals are either sissies (the pretty ones) or men who are overwhlemed by sexual fantasies of being women (the butch ones), the trans community has been bent out of shape, so to speak. But so what if it were true? If it isn't true now - today most trans-people appear to have a deep rooted identity as the other gender - it will be true in the future that people will adopt bodies to fulfill sexual fantasies. Let start defending it now.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Market Failure in the War Against Microbes

The Transhumanist NeoFiles

The current issue of the NeoFiles webzine features more conversation about transhumanist subjects. All interview subjects (Christopher Dewdney, Brian Alexander, Howard Lovy) share a fascination, and even a sense of hope, about the transformational possibilities of 21st Century technology.

The NeoFiles webzine is edited by R.U. Sirius, the co-founder and former editor of the original cyberculture magazine, Mondo 2000, who has an impressive track record of spotting cultural and technological trends years before the rest of the media pick up on it.

NeoFiles' articles and interviews explore scientific and technological advances: The rejuvenation of the body and its healthy survival beyond the natural biological life span - Control over the molecular structure of matter (nanotechnology) - Control over the neurochemistry of intelligence and emotion - The easy and intuitive sharing of information and the contents of the human imagination on a global scale - The building of intelligent machines to accomplish previously unthinkable tasks - The comprehension and manipulation of the genome - The expansion of human life into space - Clean and plentiful energy - The end of human scarcity.

However, the seriousness and immediacy of these potentially life-altering developments is perhaps best indicated by evolutions in business and culture. On the one hand, hopes are symbolized by the long-term existence of Wall Street-ready businesses dedicated to marvels like the expansion of maximum life span. On the other hand, our fears are expressed by the increasingly vocal anguish of those who see potential for disaster in these developments.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

A Defense of the Dean Internet Policy

As one of the two vocal Howard Dean defenders on this blog who actually lives in the United States, I feel that I must respond to Charlie's assertion that Howard Dean is just a tool of the trusted computing movement.

First, and this is the most important point, there are , for lack of a better phrase, a number of evil actors out on the Internet who will do anything to discredit Dean. I'm not sure if you know too much about American politics but let me give you a very short primer. Both of our political parties are comfortably in the arms of business interests. Across the ocean you probably wonder in dismay about the sheer stupidity and evil of our politics. The reason why our politics are so bad, aside from the outdated winner take all mechanisms of our constitutional structures (I think that both James and I are on record as supporting proportional representation.), is that it's a system that rewards a kind of stylized and very legal bribery. Our political outcomes are about as exciting as a Globetrotter/ Washington Generals matchup and just as banal, with the similarity that the Globetrotters, or Republicans, have bought off the refs if, in fact, they're not one in the same. (See 2000 Supreme Court decision.)

That is, until Howard Dean, who gets 89 percent of his money from small donors. This is what has both the Republican and Democrat establishment scared witless. Dean really isn't beholden to them. In fact, if he wanted to, he could push a kind of a single payer plan and it wouldn't really hurt him. This is revolutionary. How can he do this? The Internet allows him to. I hope you don't mind if we get to elect an American who can talk, right?

For example, to put this in terms you will immediately get, there is a war between the proprietary and open source movements (which Dean publicly supports in his internet principles by the way! His community kits are open sourced! You're arguing that Dean would kill the openness that elected him! Are you, and I mean this in a friendly way, are you nuts!?). While you want everyone to know that you're an anybody but Gates kinda guy, let me, Charlie Stross go into detail about Mr. Torvald's link to the Russian mafia and terrorist groups because TERRORIST GROUPS AND THE MAFIA use Open logic is unassailable. "It's a black mark against this Torvalds fella I tellya..." Expect to be used maliciously by the Instapundit Smear Patrol relentlessly and over and over again. You have a right to say what you think, but can't you wait until the primaries or until Dean is elected. I know Open Source probably isn't ready for the desktop for average users but I don't shout it from the mountaintops.

Second, there is more to Howard Dean than who backs Joe Trippi. Even if Dean were to be nominated, a long shot at this point, that kind of connection would never be tolerated by a Republican congress. If, say, Chief of Staff Trippi engaged in the same kind of Cheney like indiscretions where billions went to Halliburton/Wisepoint then the GOP would start impeachment proceedings immediately. And, oddly enough, they would be right this time. Also keep in mind that what you're saying is in violation of two huge factors: the campaign's use of Open Source products and their knowledge that if you build the Internet into a parallel broadcast medium that makes the GOP controlled Fox News media less relevant....

To me, Howard Dean is the only candidate who is independent from the usual slew of special interest lobbyists who run Washington. He represents real change and oddly enough represents the best money possibilities for the Democrats. While I would never ask anyone to censor his or her thoughts, please withhold your complaints until after Dean is elected, just as I am always happy to withhold my favorable viewpoints about the SCO lawsuit until after linux is on every desktop...


Philip Shropshire

PS: Here's a list of Dean's Internet principles. Honestly Charlie this could just as easily have been written by the Slashdot editorial board. Isn't this why Lessig allowed Dean to guestblog?

This nation - and not just this nation - needs to have an honest conversation about what's real, possible and desirable when it comes to the gift of the Internet. Conversations need shared ground. Here are the beliefs we think should guide the development of a fact-based federal policy. We put these forward as part of a continuing Great American Conversation . . .

1. No one owns the Internet

The Internet does not exist for the unique benefit of any group or economic interest. It is ours as citizens of this country and as inhabitants of this planet.

2. Everyone should be connected

The social, economic, and educational advantages of being on the Internet are real. Universal Internet access regardless of economic or geographic position should be a federal goal.

3. The Internet's value comes from its openness

The Internet provides a new possibility of global access to an unprecedented sum of human knowledge. It is the responsibility of this generation to make sure that knowledge is available for innovation in business and culture.

4. The Internet’s openness should be promoted

The Internet was initially designed as a way of moving bits without preferring some bits to others. Network architects call this principle "end-to-end" networking. That way, anyone with a good idea - or a bad one - can build it and see if it works. This openness is essential to the Internet's value as a marketplace of innovation and a public square for ideas.

5. The Internet is a democracy of voices, not primarily a broadcast medium

Although the Internet certainly can be used to broadcast messages and programs from one spot to hundreds of millions of others, its most important effect socially and economically is its transformation of the broadcast model. Rather than "freedom of the press belonging to those who own one," everyone now can reach everyone else. The Internet is encouraging people to speak up, in their own voice, about what matters to them. This empowerment of human voice and conversation is profoundly in line with the ideals of American democracy.

6. The Internet is not perfectible

The Internet is not perfect and it never will be. It is a global network providing possibility of connecting to geniuses and pickpockets and worse. We need to work to root out illegal and malicious uses of the Internet and the exploitation of children and other vulnerable members of our society.

7. The Internet is just at the beginning

Although the Internet has connected 700,000,000 people worldwide, it is just at its beginning. We need to recognize that no one yet knows the true potential of the Internet. And we need to support the political and technological policies that will help the Internet grow to its true capacity as a force for democracy world-wide.

British Reprotech Politics Heats Up

Reprotech politics in Britain gets interesting. The House of Lords will be deciding whether parents can use reprotech to have a child with a tissue type needed by an older sibling, so that the older child can get a blood or bone marrow transfusion. Philosopher John Harris stick his neck out for personhood theory:
John Harris, a member of the Human Genetics Commission, told a parliamentary meeting last week that he did not see any moral difference in aborting a fully grown unborn baby at 40 weeks and committing infanticide.

In the past Harris has spoken of the need to allow people to buy and sell human organs as a means of increasing the supply for transplant operations. He also recently expressed support for sex selection for social reasons among babies. “If it isn’t wrong to wish for a bonny, bouncing baby girl, why would it be wrong to make use of technology to play fairy godmother?” he said. (London Times)
The often conservative HREF is going to let gays have tech-assisted kids:
Suzi Leather, chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, insists that the current legal requirement that women who undergo fertility treatment must find a man to act as father to their child is 'anachronistic' and should be scrapped.
It would give the green light for single and lesbian women to seek IVF on equal terms with heterosexual couples. ThisisLondon

Panopticon Singularity essay from Whole Earth Review

The article I wrote for Whole Earth Review is now online on my website. You can find it here: The Panopticon Singularity. I wrote it in a spirit of contrarianism after seeing who else was on the list of contributors; I'm not a Bill Joy style singularity-phobe, but I do worry that we might be on course for one of these. (Quick, somebody reassure me!)

Monday, January 26, 2004

Brian Alexander discusses Politics of Transhumanism with Exponent

A radical cyborg shared some of the interview that Extropy Institute's Exponent conducted with Brian Alexander, a Wired writer and author of Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion [From "Exponent Newsletter" (11/15/03)]:
"Exponent: . In your opinion, does transhumanity have a particular political line of thinking that is evident in the underlying values of transhumanists?

BrianAlexander: I do recognize that within transhumanism, and even within extropy, there may be a wide variety of views on political philosophy. Just have a look at the past year on the extrope discussion group! This is a very important question for transhumanists....

...The minds of people are what really count. I think transhumanists have done a generally poor job of addressing fears, concerns, apprehensions of the general public about how biotech will affect people. There's a tendency to look down on such fears with disdain. But when Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama and others appeal to fears, they talk about culture, society, religion, art, and human relations. People understand these things. This is what "Rapture" is about, really, the culture. The science places it in context but it is not, at heart, a science book. It's about hope. So if I were a transhumanist who wanted to make a difference, I'd research issues like population, resources, environment, social justice, human rights, art and the ways these will or will not be affected. When I give talks, these are the questions people are most interested in.

...transhumanism is now becoming bigger than Extropy or any one organization. I think this is a measure of Extropy's success, but also may mean that in the future extropy comes to be less and less important as the spawn swim on their own. As science catches up to Extropy's ideas, the ideas will spread outward into the general public, as "rapture" shows they already have, and the need for an organization like extropy will pass completely.
Also see Jim Pethokoukis' interview with Alexander in USNWR online.

Why Not Just Sell the Presidency on Ebay?

Wired reports that Amazon is now a conduit for Presidential campaign contributions, without any partisan leanings. Not a bad idea in and of itself, especially in light of Dean's huge on-line fundraising success. But it does exercise the imagination about all the creative ways that the affluent classes and corporate power structure wil be able to channel money to their favored mouthpieces. And then they can always tweak the voting machines, designed by Republicans without a paper trail and poor security, if that doesn't work.

Bush Discovers Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument

"All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind." Marx and Engels, The C*****t Manifesto. Or not. At least in this cartoon by Tom Tomorrow. Nick's simulation argument is basically that if intelligence survives into the future, given transhumanist expectations about the inexorable and possibly rapid conversion of enormous amounts of the universe into a computing media, there will eventually be computers capable of running extremely detailed simulations of human existence. Perhaps simulations of the actual events of human history which may or may not have contributed to the creation of the superminds, or just simulations of made up intelligent life which might every once in a while be human beings on Earth. In any case, if we extrapolate the tens of billions of years in which these vast superminds will have to entertain themselves in, the simulation argument contends that at least some of them will entertain themselves by running sims of human experience. Those sims will be capable of being so detailed that their simulated nature is beyond our ability to detect.

Since there can only have been one "actual" human existence on Earth, while we can supposedly assume multiple simulations of human existence on Earth somewhere in the universe, over the next tens of billions of years, then we are most likely living in a simulation. Personally, I try to avoid conspiracy theories and profound looking-glass epistemological puzzles - I prefer to focus on fighting the Machine, live, love and think deep thoughts, even if its just to entertain the Tron-master. Take the blue pill and fight the Matrix anyhow. I think the simulation argument, like gnostic ideas about the illusory nature of reality that have cropped up repeatedly throughout history, tend to lead to irrational and self-destructive behavior, as Tom suggests. Even if they are right.

Anyway, Robin Hanson argues that the best way to keep your simulation going is to remain entertaining. Do you think the superminds would be more entertained by Truman before or after he realizes its all just a a TV show? I think Truman should just have quit his fake job, robbed the bank, lived the high life, and contacted the Screen Actors Guild and sued for back wages and time off.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Beyond Political Incorrectness

Since I often get frustrated when I hear Transhumanists refer to their own ideas as "politically incorrect," I will post this short rant written by an online acquaintance nicknamed OrangeRevel:

"I can't stand the term 'political correctness' and the way it gets applied by some to the opinions and arguments of others in order to dismiss them out of hand. The accusation of 'being PC' only works one way, right accusing the left (or centre) of it. And because the term gained currency in the first place because of the mythical notoriety of how 'silly' political correctness could be, "standing up against PC" is seen as somehow rebellious, radical and even sexy somehow. And yes, sometimes even those of a leftish persuasion eagerly declare themselves or their opinions "rather un-PC".

My objection is that by buying into the use of the sneering term PC, those who claim to be liberal or leftish seem to forget what those on the right would include by it. What may have looked outlandish to some 20 years ago (e.g. making provision so the disabled can participate in society properly; teaching history from a variety of angles, not just the victors' story; the depiction of minorities as more than just stereotypes) are practical steps towards a better society. But to some, they're infringements on the right to call a nigger a nigger and a faggot a faggot.

Calling all this "PC" suggests some sort of thought police at work, whereas I see what usually counts as "PC" as simply a general practise of considering the sensibilities of others in ones actions, and seeing more than the loudest or most entrenched views on a subject. When a supporter of a nominally socialist or centrist party or organisation joins in the disparagement of this tendency, I'm disappointed.

BTW, I'm largely against censorship too. I don't think a so-called "PC approach" censors anyone. When Trent Lott made positive recollections of segregation on December 5, 2002, nobody censored him; backlash was from the public, the same public who would have seen his remarks as normal 40 years ago. Now, whether the shift in public attitudes has been down to the alleged imposition of PC thinking in the media or something else, I don't know. Either way, I think it's great that it's no longer seen by the majority as a reasonable view to hold.

I don't want peoples' views censored, I want to know what the controversial really think so that I can make up my mind as best I can about them. I also laugh at supposedly 'un-PC' jokes if they're any good, believe those who commit certain crimes ought to be publically strung up... but would never castigate those who object to me as 'just blinded by political correctness'.

In summary: Those who constantly fling accusations of 'PC-ness' act like playground bullies. Easier to stick your fingers in your ears and chant names and mock than consider why some tribe might want their land back, or whatever. This discourages others from looking at issues fairly for fear of being ridiculed too. When a 'leftie' uses their language, they're giving the term some credit when instead they should be exposing and opposing the often hateful way it is bandied about by those who would rather publish attacks on the vulnerable, and those who defend them."