Saturday, October 16, 2004

Turse No! to Cyborg Super-Soldiers

In an excellent piece on the US military's work on cyborgizing of soldiers, including exo-skeletons, cosmetic surgery, and removing their need for sleep and food, Nicholas Turse concludes:
: In a world where many still lack access to adequate clothing, despite it being decreed a basic human right in 1948, DARPA is pouring massive sums into building costly robotic suits. In a world where 800 million people suffer from malnutrition and 1 billion lack access to potable water, food and water are only made 'sexy' when DARPA researchers figure out how a few (well armed) people in the global North can do without them on military missions (generally in the global South). There's no DARPA-esque organization involved in actually solving the most pressing problems in the world. And yes, while some in the developing world could benefit from possible DARPA spin-off, trickle-down innovations like futuristic prosthetic limbs, many, many more could benefit from low-cost, low-tech public health initiatives. Of course, many would have no need for high-tech prosthetics if, for so many years, the U.S. military hadn't pumped so much money into weapons, especially landmine research and production.
Ouch! Gotta agree there. Although, with the news today of US soldiers refusing to go on "suicide missions" in Iraq, I suspect the US military may discover the lesson pointed to by Joe Haldeman in Forever Peace: unless you want cyborg supersoliders to come back and kick your non-cyborg ass for sending them to kill poor people for the global elite, you will also have to give them moral lobotomies.

The Regular: "Slashdot for politics"

Via Boing Boing: The folks behind Downhill Battle have launched a new news-site called The Regular, an hourly politics blog from some sharp copyfighters.
We were wondering why there wasn't slashdot for politics. Could it because there are already really good political blogs? Well, we think it's about time to use Slashdot's really good format where the efforts of a whole community go to make really good news stories. Thanks, Slashdot, for blazing this trail.
We have good reason to think that filesharing is participatory culture in the making. And that's what Downhill Battle is really about. Our next step is to hit the politics industry and we hope we can hit it big. We're working on getting something out the door that's participatory culture for politics; the same way that the current music industry isn't what music is about, participatory politics is not just about electoral politics. Our bread and butter will be housed at in the future.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Tom Mackey Whacks Anti-anti-aging Arguments

In the Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine last year, Tom Mackey of Georgetown Law wrote "An Ethical Assessment of Anti-Aging Medicine," which debunked six arguments against anti-aging medicine
  • 1) inequity: the poor die young by the millions, while the rich refuse to age;
  • 2) denying aging's immutability;
  • 3) dominating nature, altering and commodifying ourselves;
  • 4) overpopulation: carrying capacity concerns and the rights of future people to be born;
  • 5) ennui: with no natural deadline, life itself outlives its value;
  • 6) ageism: prejudice against the old and the young.

  • He then outlines four ethical arguments in favor of anti-aging medicine:
    1) beneficence: duties to maintain health and prevent disease and death; 2) efficiency: slowing down aging would reduce the rates for all of the most common causes of death in developed societies; 3) limited autonomy: freedom to purchase anti-aging medicines that may or may not work, so long as they are not harmful; 4) improved quality of life: more active, healthier, and wiser (two propositions supporting this argument - that anti-aging medicine would allow for a longer, more active, healthier, and fuller life and that wisdom comes from experience, not senescence - are also presented and evaluated). The arguments in favor of anti-aging medicine are found to be more compelling than the arguments against it. The paper concludes with the recommendation that anti-aging medicine should be funded and regulated in ways that facilitate its potential both to reduce the incidence and prevalence of many diseases and to allow for longer, fuller, and more meaningful lives.

    Fight for Equality, Universal Health Care and our Right to Get Very Old

    In his latest essay in Betterhumans Australian attorney and science fiction author Russell Blackford argues that
    "transhumanists should go beyond arguing that enhancement technologies should be widely available. I now think that we should support political reforms to society itself, to make it more an association of equals. "
    Excellent essay - give it a read.

    And on the heels of my essay "Cover Everyone and Cure Aging!" in Betterhumans, which argued that the two principal answers to health care inflation are universal coverage and treatments to retard aging, Phil Mullan, the author of The Imaginary Time Bomb: Why an Ageing Population Is Not a Social Problem, has penned an essay for Spiked, "Ageing: the future is affordable":
    there is no basis for maintaining that ageing is unaffordable. On the contrary - we should be looking forward to greater prosperity for people of all ages. The genuine problem we face, as in so many other areas today, is not financial or economic but is our negative and cynical view of the future. Our real problem is that ageing is perceived to be a problem. Actions taken because of the fear of this older future are already having deleterious effects for lots of older people. If these irrational anxieties are allowed to fester and this direction of policy continues, it will be to all our detriments.

    Transhumanism's Origins in Alchemy

    Looks like William Newman's Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature is another must read on the transhumanist bookshelf. He chronicles the early debates about transgressing "the natural" from the Greeks to Newton, and argues that alchemists were the transhumanists of their time and resposible for legitimating the scientific inquiries of the Renaissance. Most fascinating he chronicles the alchemical idea of growing a homunculus out of a vial of semen as the first stab at a debate over extra-uterine gestation.

    Thursday, October 14, 2004

    Left BioLuddites Attack California Therapeutic Stem Cell Proposition

    Thanks to Chris Mooney for pointing out this latest gambit by the left wing of the growing bioLuddite cabal to erode progressives' support for medical progress. This time its their Prochoice Alliance Against Prop 71 front organization which seeks to
    defeat Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act. We support responsible stem cell research, but believe that Proposition 71 is an inappropriate mechanism for carrying out these activities. The initiative poses serious fiscal, technical, and ethical problems that could have negative consequences for generations to come, nationally and internationally.
    What are those issues? After a lot of assertions that therapeutic stem cell research is dangerous for women and will be full of conflicts of interest and biotech profiteering, they get down to the nub of their angst:
    Research cloning is the gateway technology for the further development of human reproductive cloning as well as inheritable genetic modification ("designer baby technology"). Without a universal ban on human reproductive cloning (not just in California) and further public debate about the use of this technology for non-therapeutic purposes, its further development at this time is ill-advised. In the meantime, much embryo stem cell research can and will continue even without the pursuit of research cloning.
    Heavens to Betsy!

    But you have to give it to them for thinking strategically. They duped the California Nurses Association into supporting them this time.

    Best Book for Transhumanity

    Kurzweil's newest book, Fantastic Voyage, just hit the streets. I can't think of another that will have more public positive impact for transhumanity. Let me just share the subtitle: "How to live long enough to live FOREVER", the back cover "IMMORTALITY IS WITHIN OUR REACH", the publisher (Rodale, publisher of prevention magazine), the biggest blurber (Dean Ornish), and the main points -- (1) nanobiotech makes immortality achieveable within 50 years, (2) conventional biotech can get us to that point if we are lucky and smart. He doesn't really get into cyberconsciousness, which gives us immortality as well as spatial diversity, saving that I suppose for his upcoming the Singularity Is Near.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2004


    That there are more members of Meetups for Elvis than for meetups for transhumanism. Consolation: I'm sure 400 years ago there were more surreptitious gatherings of folks to discuss playing cards than to discuss Copernicus. This blog is like the mind of Galileo, fast-fowarded for our times...

    Tuesday, October 12, 2004

    Cloning Oneself into Poverty

    Interesting comics parable today in Salon about cloning ourselves into poverty. How many of us will feel comfortable enough with mental replicas to commit suicide? Won't you want to keep your original head around for a while to make sure the upload worked?

    Applying nanotechnology to the challenges of global poverty

    I'm glad to see that someone will be banging on about one of my hobby-horses at the Foresight 1st Conference on Nanotechnology:

    Applying Nanotechnology to the Challenges of Global Poverty

    "Billions of people around the world still suffer from inadequate access to clean water, energy, information, shelter, health care, and other basic needs. Even with continuing progress in poverty reduction, many people will probably still be poor when molecular manufacturing technologies become available. Advanced nanotechnologies could help poor people improve their lives, if developed in ways that are appropriate and accessible. This presentation uses examples of potential molecular manufacturing products to illustrate future opportunities and strategies for applying nanotechnology to reduce global poverty and promote sustainable prosperity."

    Since I can't afford to go to this conference (and it would probably be over my head anyway) I will look out for coverage of Dr. Bruns' talk after the conference and post links to it here if I find any.

    Another stupid apology of death and disease

    From the Times, the usual stupid apology of death and disease, even more disgusting since the article, "We should fear the disturbing future where man becomes superman" was inspired by the death of Christopher Reeve.

    "To be human is to inhabit a world of vulnerability and limits. The weakness of flesh, and its end in death, frame all human endeavour. Human virtues, certainly as most moral thinkers have understood them, are responses to the fraught nature of our existence."

    Then my dog is much more human than me: she is much more stupid and will have a much shorter life. A fly is more human than both. The "human dignity" that apologists of death want for us all, is the dignity of flies.

    "For some scientists the promise inherent in stem-cell research, the cloning of human embryos and the whole burgeoning field of biotechnology, is the prospect of remaking man. The frailties that make up the human condition can, progressively, be eliminated by the manipulation of life’s building blocks. Not just life-threatening disease, but all manner of infirmities and imperfections can, potentially, be engineered out of existence. The prospect, if not of Superman, certainly of superior models of man, beckons. The comic- book myth of transcending human constraints has become a modern scientific aspiration."

    Here the author is right, transcending human constraints has become a modern scientific aspiration.

    "Have we not learnt from those in the past century who wished to remake man, and saw in the lure of genetics the chance to create their own superman? I fear that once we trample over respect for the vulnerable and voiceless in our desire to eliminate frailty, we no longer make weakness our enemy, but make enemies of the weak."

    Here the author tries to scare the reader by making a subliminal analogy with things, like eugenics and nazi, that carry a negative connotation (without having anything to do with the actual issue), and tries to appeal to the social sensibility of the reader with a similarly misguided argument. We do not want to make enemies of the weak, we want to make the weak strong. Period.

    Monday, October 11, 2004

    EU Superheroes

    Now this is my kind of comic book: Thanks to Crooked Timber for bringing to our awareness the European Parliament information center's educational graphic novel, Troubled Waters. The book features EuroMP Irma Vega, party and country unspecified, but battling evil chemical companies.