Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Hughes, Joy, Ishiguro and Wilson on NPR Book Program

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Description of Show:

To The Best of Our Knowledge from Wisconsin Public Radio

FUTURE PERFECT Program 05-10-23-A

Consider this future world: a vaccine that makes you continually happy. A chip in your brain that lets you communicate telepathically with your spouse. Human lives that span hundreds of years. Sound far-fetched? Not according the James Hughes of the World Transhumanist Association. He says all this will happen. It's not just a matter of when - not if. In this hour of To the Best of Our Knowledge we'll speculate on what some are calling the post-human future.

SEGMENT 1: Social critic Bill McKibben is the author of "Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age." He says we're rushing through a momentous doorway into a new age of human evolution and suggests we might want to slow down and think things over. Also, James Hughes is excited about the new Post-human world. He tells Anne Strainchamps why people can and should be stronger, healthier and smarter than they are. His book is "Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future."

SEGMENT 2: Kazuo Ishiguro's latest novel, "Never Let Me Go," was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. He reads an excerpt and talks with Steve Paulson about his boarding school full of cloned children bred to donate their organs. Also, we're reminded of Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics, and hear a montage of the chaos the ensues when they're ignored in the movies. Then Daniel Wilson, author of "How to Survive a Robot Uprising" tells Jim Fleming the secret is to go for their sensors! Wilson is a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University and fills Jim in on the many real life tasks robots are learning to do. He hasn't heard about any plans to take over. Or he's not talking.

SEGMENT 3: Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood talks with Steve Paulson about her dystopian science fiction book, "Oryx and Crake." She says she likes science and sees the world she's created as a logical extension of things that already exist.

Always On - The Techno Sapiens Are Coming

Always On - The Techno Sapiens Are Coming - The promise and peril of nanotechnology invite a closer look at its ethical implications. The author Dr. C. Christopher Hook, MD, quotes the conference proceedings on "Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance" as seminal documents for government sponsorship of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science/cybernetics to enhance human beings. Though Dr. Hook demonstrates a good understanding of the horizons opened by recent advances in NBIC: " Many scholars are anticipating cyborg and nanotech enhancements as means of forestalling aging or even pursuing immortality. The possibilities belong mostly in the realm of science fiction right now, but they seem less and less improbable as the years go by ", he has a quite negative attitude.
Referring to the debate on using technology "beyond therapy" for human enhancement, Dr. Hook writes: "My hope is that those involved in this research will heed the wisdom of the report of the president's Council on Bioethics released last October, which examines the ethical and social meanings of using biotechnologies for purposes "beyond therapy." It is a statement appropriately skeptical of transhumanist and scientific utopianism ".
My comment: I do not heed the wisdom of this report, which seems to me more like a statement inappropriately skeptical of progress, science and human values.
We have been using technology to enhance our bodies for centuries. Reading glasses were one of the first examples, followed by dental implants, orthopedic prostheses, and countless other aids that have improved the quality of life of billions. Direct neural interfacing with computer systems, the ultimate step toward "seamless" interfacing by direct brain implants to which Dr. Hook refers, will be just one more step on the same road leading to better bodies, better minds, and a better life . As Dr. Hook says, such tools will move beyond therapy into augmentation, or enhancement, of "normal" individuals.
As a humanist I affirm human values and think that whatever can improve the quality of life of people, without decreasing the quality of life of other people, is good and worth pursuing. As a transhumanist, I am in favor of using technology to improve our lives by overcoming the limitations of our bodies and minds.
We do not wish humans to "go gently into that good night", and we do not think this will happen. On the contrary, we see technology enabled human enhancement as one more evolutionary step for our species. Humans will remain humans, but with vastly improved capabilities.
I do not consider my frail body, short-lived and vulnerable to horrible diseases, as a defining feature of my human identity. What I do consider as defining features of my human identity are reason, curiosity, understanding, and love. So even when technology will permit " tapping the contents of my mind and transfering them into the metallic lattices of a computer", I will retain the really important aspects of my human nature.
We want everyone to enjoy a better life: how can anyone be against? We find the answer in " Embodiment is fundamental to our identity, designed by God, and sanctified by the Incarnation and bodily resurrection of our Lord". So, this is just the old war of religious fundamentalists on reason, progress and humanist values.
Sorry Dr. Hook, but I don't think embodiment is fundamental to my identity, and I am not sure if I believe in any God. If I did, mine would be a God of Love and not a God of Fear: a God who has given us a mind capable of understanding the universe, and using such understanding to improve our lives.