Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I finally get a Sirius hearing for Cyborg Democracy

Check it out comrades. RU Sirius has just published a long interview with me in his e-zine NeoFiles on Cyborg Democracy and the the virtues of a democratic transhumanism.
the ideas of human self-liberation through reason have been politically radical from their very origins. From Priestley, Condorcet, Godwin, and Paine through Wells, Haldane, Bernal and FM-2030, the advocates of a radical technological future were also inescapably political revolutionaries, each in their own time and with their own political limitations.
Ah, I could read myself all day.

US capitalist medicine rapidly inflating in cost...but how much would we pay for SENS?

Health care inflation in the coming year in the US is estimated to be 13%, further motivating employers to shift the burden of paying for health care to employees. Only a universal health care system could impose some rationality and fiscal discipline on US health care.

But what effect would it have on the debate if we were to invent a radical life extension treatment? My guess is that, unless it was very cheap or outrageously expensive, such a technology would galvanize support for universal coverage to ensure equitable access. If it was expensive enough that not everyone could afford it, but cheap enough so that we could collectively provide it to everyone as a public good, I think we would. So what are the upper bounds on the cost of such a treatment that would tip us against universal provision?

Right now the US spends 15% of its GDP on formal health care, and I 've asked my health policy classes for the last decade how much they think we should allocate if we could provide everyone indefinite lifespans?

I think of it as the health policy/economics version of Aubrey de Grey's "Strategies for Engineered Negligable Senescence" (SENS) challenge - "Look, all this medical research is being done to cure disease and extend longevity - why not simply make clear that our goal is stopping aging, and fund a focused research program?"

In every country in the industrialized world the proportion of GDP spent on health care has been increasing, as has the less well accounted proportion of money spent on alternative medicine, supplements, exercise equipment, sports memberships, etc. Clearly longevity isn't the sole purpose of this spending, but it is one of the principal goals.

So I think the immediate questions that Aubrey's program raises are political-economic:

A) What policies would ensure the quickest and widest availability of effective cures for aging?

B) Although Aubrey is agnostic about whether SENS should be primarily publicly or privately funded, if governments invest in SENS (as I think they should) how should they handle the licensing, development, production and distribution of publicly financed research? We already have seen this issue play out over the Human Genome sequencing race with Celera, and the (completely illegitimate IMHO) race to patent human genes.

C) how do we trade-off the social spending invested in health/longevity against social spending on other things?

As we have seen with drug reimportation, orphan drug legislation, patent extension fights, and the pricing of anti-retrovirals in the developing world there is no ideal market at work in drug pricing. The costs of medical treatments are intimately bound to research funding, regulation, public medical provision, monopsonistic purchasing, the political climate, and so on.

If the treatments have large benefits, but are very expensive, and the companies are reaping huge profits, there will be moves for price regulation, restrictions on intellectual property regulation and so on. As well there should, since private medical innovation is benefitting hugely from public investments in medical education and basic research.

Life extension treatments that are safe and cost-effective should be universally provided, leaving those that are riskier and costlier to the market. In both cases governments will be obliged to make the drugs as cheap as possible, while ensuring adequate profit margins to ensure continued private innovation and production.

16 political futurists ponder "What If Bush Wins"

This month's Washington Monthly prints 16 answers to "What If Bush Wins". Gitlin argues that the Left will learn to build an national infrastructure like the one the New Right has built. Two promising signs of such an infrastructure getting built are the post-Dean campaign's Democracy for America and the Progressive Democrats of America, which has brought together a number of grassroots organizations such as Progressive Vote and Punks for Democracy.

Possible new left transhumanist ally at

In a very positive article on gene-doping and the "freak Olympics" David Ewing Duncan, editorial director of the biotech policy thinktank BioAgenda argues, referring to performance enhancers,
make the drugs available to everyone, giving us all the strength of Atlas holding up the sky and the swiftness of Hermes with wings on our ankles. When and if they're developed, society could also make enhancements for intelligence available to every human, which will make us all equally enhanced geniuses. Of course, this blissful future is hard to imagine on a planet in which millions of people don't get enough to eat.
Of course then he backs down quickly and concludes with the obligatory warning about hubris, Icarus' wings, and blah-di-blah.
Duncan's underwriters include Johnson and Johnson, IBM, Pillsbury, Bristol-Meyers Squib, Hewlett Packard, Lilly and Wired magazine. So I guess they won't be calling for revolution any time soon.

Positive Tech News: Fab Labs, Fab Food and Living Off-Grid

The intriguingly-named MIT Centre for Bits and Atoms has a fascinating report on its remarkable, and remarkably successful, attempts to bring general-purpose fabrication labs to ("Fab Labs") to the developing world:
"In our first full week, we had classes filled to capacity in each time slot," said CBA program manager Sherry Lassiter, who helped set up the Ghana fab lab. "What is really lovely to see happens in the evenings when the older students and the children are in the lab together. The older students are very generous with their time and gently teach the small children. Peer to peer training seems to be working quite well."
Elsewhere, over at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, Chris Phoenix provides an analysis of how in the (distant?) future, personal fabricators utilitising advanced nanotechnology (i.e. molecular manufacturing) could enable people to live "off-grid" - and thereby become more aware of their ecological footprint.

I was interested to read Chris Phoenix's prediction that, in addition to nanotechnology making localised agriculture more efficient:
"Water can also be purified electrically and recovered from greenhouse air, and direct chemical food production using cheap microfluidics will probably be an early post-nanofactory development." [emphasis added]
That would be enormously significant, if true.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Continuing job loss to robots may sink Bush re-election

Long Road to Paradise blog

New left transhumanist blog: Long Road to Paradise -
Comments on politics, technology and current events from a vegan transhumanist socialist perspective (see sidebar for explanations). From our own Robin Green.