IEET > Vision > Fellows > Natasha Vita-More > HealthLongevity > Futurism > Innovation
We Are Strong: Only Insofar As We Take Advantage of Our Innate Abilities and Build Smarter Tools
Natasha Vita-More   Apr 4, 2012   NanoTech-Now  

Humans are animals that build tools to enhance physiology. It is the use of tools that helped to increase the human brain into a larger, more complex system than that of early hominids. “Tools and bigger brains mark the beginning of a distinctly human line of evolution.” (Kelly 2010, 22) According to Jared Diamond, early hominids lacked innovation: “In short, Neanderthal tools had no variation in either time or space to suggest that most human characteristics, innovation”. (Diamond 2006, 44) What will we do with nanotechnology and AGI?

Norbert Wiener once wrote that “[t]he human species is strong only insofar as it takes advantage of the innate, adaptive, learning faculties that its physiological structure makes possible.”

Building theories and designing schemes to unfix biological systems as augmented, enhanced and extended is in concert with the hastening of science and technology. The engineering of tools has increase physiological abilities for sustenance, survival and for pleasure. From rock, wood, metal to electronics, robotics, cybernetics—innovative tools are fostering moist media toward a field of human enhancement where personal identity continues the notion that “life is a self-generated information system”. (Kelly 2010, 45) The many questions and concerns about modifying/enhancing human physiology draw from issues of human rights and the affects of converging NBIC sciences and technologies. 

Humans are animals that build tools to enhance physiology. It is the use of tools that helped to increase the human brain into a larger, more complex system than that of early hominids. “Tools and bigger brains mark the beginning of a distinctly human line of evolution.” (Kelly 2010, 22) According to Jared Diamond, early hominids lacked innovation: “In short, Neanderthal tools had no variation in either time or space to suggest that most human characteristics, innovation”. (Diamond 2006, 44) The hunter-gatherer life span increased most likely due to mobility, language, and a need to convey information their tribal societies—information became a means to convey knowledge that could help others survive. “Many modern populations enjoy longer life spans than did humans of the past.” (Diamond 2006, 4) “Our long life span, therefore, was important to our rise from animal to human status.” (Diamond 2006, 123) Studies show that the approximate life expectancy of the Neanderthal could have been 20 years, Classical Greece 28 years, Medieval England 33 years, late 19th Century 37 years, and Early 20th Century approximately 50 years. The current general lifespan for most people worldwide, including developing countries that have sanitation, is in the vicinity of between 77 and 81 years. The large gap between early humans to late humans has been based on tools for fighting disease, curing injury and preventing the spread of deadly viruses through the continuing development of sanitation and medical biotechnological advances. Nevertheless, even with the advances of our life-saving tools, approximately 155,000 humans die every day, many of which could have been averted.

Nevertheless, aggressive methods for prolonging biological life are limited. The responsibility, for the most part, has been that of the individual person to practice suggested protocol for ensuring health and vitality, including healthy diets, aerobics and aerobic exercise, yearly physicals, blood screening, MRIs, and other types of noninvasive assessment of physiology. Yet these diagnostics do not actually offer a precise and substantial analysis of wellness, including reliable readouts of cell mutation or malignancy. People who are proactive about longevity often engage hormone replacement therapy, antioxidant enzymes, methylation support for the nervous system, mitochondrial restoration, and neuro-immune stabilizers, (Stewart 2010) and practicing lowered heart rate (through transcendental meditation (TM), for example). While these practices may provide a sense of self-esteem and promote good health, there is potential for adverse reactions to pharmaceuticals, such as hormone replacement therapy, and even placebo effects and, further, they do not extend human life. The truth of the matter is that even though innovative tools have improved the quality of life for many people living close to the maximum life span, which is currently slated at 122 years ; it has not increased the maximum life span.

Out of all the possible tools for life prolongevity, nanomedicine and artificial [general] intelligence may offer the greatest potential for eradicating disease and enhancing physiology. Nano-medical technology (nanomedicine) suggests nanorobot synthetic cells functioning alongside bio-cells would organize to deliver repair to cells and to assist the total bodily system in identifying cell mutation and malignancies. Nanomedicine for repairing cell damage, may not only prolong human life to its maximum but may also restructure DNA to function for a longer periods of time. (Freitas 1999) Nevertheless, innovation will not stop here. The tools of life prolongation include protocols for exploring synthetic transbiological platforms for human inhabitancy rather than exclusively extending the biological life span. 

However somewhat inconceivable, one could ask: What will brains look like in the future? Moreover, what might the mind look like in the future? These questions may be onto something special—something stemming from our observations and theoretical findings about art, science and the future and ideas from many highly specialized fields: bioengineering, neuroscience, artificial [general] intelligence, nanotechnology, computational hardware architectures, visual art, immersivity and virtuality, industrial design, philosophy and psychology.

“In the past, the transferal of minds into computer-based systems has been rather vaguely referred to as “uploading.” However, those hoping to advance this multidisciplinary field of research prefer to use the term Advancing Substrate Independent Minds (ASIM), to emphasize a more scientific, and less science-fiction approach to creating emulations of human brains in non-biological substrates. The term ASIM captures the fact that there are several ways in which hardware and software may be used to run algorithms that mimic the human brain, and that there are many different approaches that can be used to realize this end goal.” (Koene and Gildert 2010) 

A brief description of nine current projects that explore brain engineering and physiological simulations, as well as memory storage and brain health and plasticity include:

• The Blue Brain Project is an attempt to reverse engineering of the brain and focuses on creating a physiological simulation for biomedical purposes.

• The Cryonics Neuro Suspension Project is the low-temperature preservation of the human brain. Cryoprotectants are used to reduce crystallization of brain cells. The process for cooling the brain is called vitrification.

• The Brain Corporation Project is working to build an anatomically detailed and physiologically accurate large-scale model of the nervous system.

• The Neural-Prosthetic Project research uses experimental and theoretical approaches to develop models of mammalian neural systems. The focus is currently on the hippocampus (learning and memory).

• The Connectomics Project represents emerging field called “connectomics” and attempts to physically map all synaptic connections between neurons in the mammalian brain and its neural circuits that collect, process, and archive information contained in the nervous system.

• The Brain Preservation Project has a three-fold purpose: (1) to develop progress in connectomics, plastinating, and scanning animal brains in order to develop deeper understanding of healthy and disordered mental behavior; (2) to preserve memories and experiences of animals; (3) to aid to the project of continued life by working with other technologies, such as AGI and nanomedicine.

• The Carboncopies organization networks researches the fields of the mammalian brain and nervous system research facilitating brain transfer onto nonbiological substrates. The goal is to offer a hub around experts in cross-disciplinary fields engaging the new field of Advancing Substrate-Independent Minds (ASIM).

• Reconstructing Minds Project. Project suggests reconstructing minds from software mindfiles. The subproject is CyBeRev Project, which provides an opportunity for people to take a first step in preserving their identity.

• The Neurotransmitters Project is an inquiry into issues concerning minimal nonspecific scattered foci of abnormal signals in white matter, consistent with aging. Observation of viral elements in the body resulted in the use of Acyclovir (for DNA viral inflammation) and Amantadine (for RNA viral inflammation), along with application of Methylation and Dopamine support for possible increase in memory and other cognitive factors.

Returning to human enhancement of somatic physiology as well as cognitive processes, there are many questions and concerns about whether or not modifying or enhancing the human is advantageous, and there is deep interest in the ratio of positive vs. negative outcomes of human enhancement. Nevertheless, most of the relevant literature reports a consensus of opinion that NBIC technologies—separately or together—will inevitably affect human biology and increase human lifespan. (Roco and Bainbridge 2002)
To illustrate some of the issues, below are six beneficial scenarios and six non-beneficial scenarios which might come about if and when humanity moves more deeply from the wet zone and into the zone of life prolongation. The following chart summarizes the author’s research on potential outcomes of human enhancement tools for life prolongation:

Beneficial Possibilities

- Shared sensory-experience-technology to map one person’s thoughts onto synthetic platforms.

- Internal network of nano-computers to continually detect cell disease and report status to the brain.

- Exo-body AGIs function as silicon partners to assist human-level intelligence.

- Global Human Rights encourages Morphological Freedom as the right for a person to enhance and the right for a person not to be coerced to enhance.

- Death to be an option and reversible for all humans.

- The industry of life insurance develops the Life-Assurance-Social-System for preserving a person’s synthetic single or multiple identities.

Non-Beneficial Possibilities

- A rise in idea-theft challenges security protocol protects a person’s thoughts.

- Those who remain 75 - 100% biological experience a vertigo effect, challenging the need to enhance the senses.

- Mental diseases and psychotic disorders are reintroduced into medical fields with new criterion as a result of a person’s inability to cope with co-existing within multiple identities in real-time and synthetic-time.

- The human need for death rituals becomes big business and consumerist entertainment industry—if only for the experience of death.

- Molecular nanotechnology is out-of-control as it self-replicates and cannot be dissolved permanently, causing mass pollution—a scenario known as ecophagy.

- The eradication of disease causes people to feel isolated and long for a biological connection to bring them together in hope.

- Supercomputing intelligences (AGIs) become smarter and more capable than humans.

Lists such as this one offer little option other than a selection of positive/beneficial and negative/nonbeneficial outcomes. Nevertheless, life prolongation includes the very same sciences and technologies that are, by today’s standards, emerging and converging. These same sciences and technologies are proposed to integrate to bring about a technological singularity—one suggested result of mass technological acceleration and convergence at the intersection of computers and invention whereby supercomputing power could far exceed human level intelligence.

In this column I discussed life prolongation as stemming from the tools our ancestors used for sustenance, survival and for pleasure, as well as for fighting disease, curing injury and preventing the spread of deadly viruses. I stated that the human’s general lifespan has increased from approximately 20 years to the maximum lifespan of 122 years. I argued that this maximum lifespan could be increased through the continued innovation of technology in developing new tools for enhancing physiology. Life prolongation, from a philosophical perspective, means that personal identity would become unfixed to biology. To illustrate this, I briefed current projects exploring brain engineering and physiological simulations, cryonic neuro suspension, the building of anatomically accurate large-scale models of the brain, and neuro-prosthetics, attempts to physically map synaptic neuronal connections. I also briefed projects engaging brain preservation, such as the Carboncopies research and networking project. On a more near-term basis, I noted the Mindfiles project for building a personal portfolio of identity data and a project exploring the brain’s nonspecific scattered foci of abnormal signals in white matter reflecting aging neuroactivity and possible alternatives to memory degeneration most likely due to viral inflammation.

By quoting Wiener that “[t]he human species is strong only insofar as it takes advantage of the innate, adaptive, learning faculties that its physiological structure makes possible”, I attempted to establish the idea that innovative tools could lead to human enhancement and life prolongation. The questions and concerns about modifying/enhancing human physiology and the development of artificial [general] intelligence are crucial for us to look at and explore. I firmly believe that it is advantageous to do both because one way or another, superintelligence will develop and be present on a nanoscale level, and incorporated with nanotechnology.

Computer-generated works, including robotics, AI, and virtuality, as well as biological arts in altering cell structures, have historical significance in the development of the field of human enhancement and life prolongation. More now than ever, we must consider a cross-disciplinary field for human futures, biologically unfixed bodies, and brain integration whereby personal identity of the biological person and supercomputers/AGI are strategized for the best possible outcome to sustain the human species.

Natasha Vita-More, PhD is faculty and Program Lead of Graduate Studies at the University of Advancing Technology. Her book The Transhumanist Reader - Classical and Contemporary essays on the Science, Technology and Philosophy of the Human Future is the most read book on transhumanism. She designed the first whole body prosthetic and establishing groundbreaking science on long-term memory after vitrification of C. elegans. Her creative works have been featured in Wired, The New York Times, London Observer, MIT Technology Review, U.S. News & World Report, Net Business, Teleopolis, and Village Voice, and in more than a dozen documentaries. She Chair of Humanity+. Her website is


Great piece!  I really like the term ASIM, and what this movement is trying to do.  I prefer this method to that of typical AGI routes.  My conception of Friendliness is, essentially, that tools should increasingly become synergistic with their operators. 

Thanks for the list of projects.  I saw a couple cool ones recently displayed at TEDxWarwick (4:50)

I long for a day soon when we can reap the beneficial possibilities, but to get there we need vastly more work.  We certainly need more research effort, and as transhumanists we can publicize and fund raise.  More importantly, I believe we can start to implement and monetize. 

We need the next iPhone to be an implant, and an Android for the cyborg user.

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