Tuesday, May 31, 2005

SciAm's Horgan bashes Citizen Cyborg and cyborg-evangelism

John Horgan, the author of "Brain Chips and Other Dreams of the Cyber-Evangelists," (subscription required) in the Chronicle of Higher Education today (6/3/2005), doesn't think that the prospects of cyborgs are worth talking about, at least in comparison with "terrorism, overpopulation, poverty, environmental degradation, AIDS and other diseases, and all the pitfalls of ordinary life."
Indeed, now and for the foreseeable future, cyber-evangelism is best understood as an escapist, quasi-religious fantasy, which reflects an oddly dated, Jetsons-esque faith in scientific progress and its potential to cure all that ails us.
Horgan is the author of Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirituality, a quite good book on the neurobiological basis of mystical experiences, one of the topics I'm exploring for my second book. I wonder if he'll like that book better than he liked Citizen Cyborg.
James Hughes, a bioethicist at Trinity College, in Hartford, nonetheless contends that the benefits of neurobionics far outweigh the risks. We could minimize potential problems, he argues in Citizen Cyborg, by establishing a benign, global government that made brain chips available to everyone and regulated their use. To ensure that cyborgs behaved, for example, the government would test them for moral decency; those who failed would have 'morality chips' installed.

Hughes is executive director of the World Transhumanist Association, whose members favor transcendence of our biological limits. Transhumanists enjoy debating issues like cryonic preservation: After you die, should you have your whole body frozen for revival after science has solved the problem of death -- or will your head alone suffice? Hughes also proposes equipping dolphins and monkeys with brain chips so that we can communicate with them. You would think someone who entertains such notions would be a fun guy, and perhaps Hughes is in person. But Citizen Cyborg has the deadly earnestness of an Al Gore white paper on toxic waste. Hughes wants us to take this cyborg stuff very, very seriously."
Ouch. Can't please everyone. But it is ironic that Horgan dismisses progress towards cyborg chipping and mandated behavior modification in the same week that Zarlink announces its wireless receiver/broadcast computer chip for medical implants , and Nature publishes research on the use of the hormone oxytocin to increase trust.

Monday, May 30, 2005

New in-vitro method ups chance of pregnancy

From a CBC News article with a very transhumanist conclusion:

Doctors in Montreal are reporting success with a new reproductive technology. It's called in-vitro maturation and is similar to in-vitro fertilization. But doctors say this technique is much easier on women's bodies, and much less expensive.

Dr. Seang Lin Tan of McGill University's Reproductive Centre is the first doctor in Canada to perform the technique. The new technology accelerates the maturation of human eggs outside the womb.

It is similar to in-vitro fertilization in that women are given hormones to mature their eggs in the ovary. The eggs are removed and fertilized in the lab.

But with IVM, women take only one shot of hormone and the embryo is grown outside the body for a longer period of time.

That means less drugs, fewer side-effects, and about half the cost.

Medical ethicist Margaret Somerville doesn't like the idea. "Scientists are charging ahead with reproductive technology...without watching where they are going."

Jihan Alkharouf, a patient in the study and new parent, disagrees.

"IVM is the perfect joining of religion and technology. That resulted in life where none had been possible before."