Tuesday, February 25. 2014
My husband watches the new TV show "Intelligence" starring Josh Holloway (previously Sawyer from Lost) as Gabriel, a man with a rare genetic mutation (or some such) that allowed the U.S. government to put a chip in his brain. This chip gives Gabriel unlimited access to the Internet directly into his consciousness. As an agent for a super secret intelligence agency, that comes in super handy. Gabriel, the best of all guys, uses his enhancement only for good. He saves people and catches bad guys and he looks good doing it. Gabriel is the quintessential enhanced American hero reminiscent of Captain America, just without the tights and shield.
In a recent episode, Gabriel has to enter a middle eastern country to rescue two American journalists sentenced to death for being spies. A former U.S. president tags along to distract the middle eastern government with diplomacy while Gabriel breaks the journalists out of prison using his enhancement to hijack security cameras and pinpoint his targets' exact location.
After many twists and turns, the objective of their mission complete, the former U.S. president asks Gabriel why he would let the government put that chip in his head.
Gabriel answers, "Because I love my country."
And there it is. A good American would do anything for his country, including volunteering to be an experiment and allowing the government to violate his or her bodily integrity with a microchip in the brain.
And why not, when we ask those who serve our country to place their lives at risk? Why not ask them to alter their bodies, with possible permanent side effects, to make the job easier? Why not if it means an American victory?
Many Catholics do not see the harm in such enhancements for our soldiers and intelligence agents. In a discussion at a Catholic blog about genetically enhancing soldier's eyes to have night vision like a cat, one commenter saw no moral issue with such an intervention. Why would we not give our soldier's such an advantage?
But is that treating the soldier as a person or a means to an end? What about the possible side effects? The human brain is not wired to "see" in the dark permanently.
Why not instead equip our soldiers with the best in night vision goggles that they can take off at the end of the day and at the end of a career?
Do we really need to ask those that serve American interests to radically alter their bodies?
But I am afraid that with shows like "Intelligence", the seed had already been planted. I doubt any parent turned to their child after Gabriel announced that he loved his country and said, "This is a fun show and that was a nice sentiment, but in reality it would be immoral for a government to do that to one of its citizens."
Not everyone is buying what shows like Intelligence are selling. Here are some comments from viewers on IMDB:
my next question however is: "when will they find the unusually large mass in his brain next to that constantly radiating chip?"This gives me hope that some Americans are thinking critically about radical enhancements and the physical and moral implications of the "super soldier."
I fear though that not enough of us are dissecting such mainstream depictions of transhumanism, especially when they are placed in such a patriotic package.
Tuesday, December 10. 2013
Most of society is under the impression that human augmentation is something that our grandchildren will have to deal with. Stuff for T.V. and big screens. I have been screaming from the rooftops that this is something we need to discuss now because it is happening now.
Case in point, this crowd-funded project that is looking into augmenting human vision so that we can see in the near infrared range. Infrared light is light that has a longer wavelength than red light and so is not in the range that we call "visible light." Their goal is to use dietary restrictions and supplements to increase porphyropsin in the human eye. It is porphyropsin that would allow the eye to see wavelengths longer than the visual range. The website asks "Can we biologically extend the range of human vision into the near infrared?" and explains how they plan to proceed:
We have developed a protocol to augment human sight to see into the near infrared range through human formation of porphyropsin, the protein complex which grants infrared vision to freshwater fish.So this study is simply using diet to try and augment human sight. Sounds harmless enough, but there may be a good reason that our cells have four times the affinity for vitamin A over vitamin A2.
Also, these researchers are clear that this is only one step. They want to go further:
We are also hoping to use this study as a proof of concept to continue working on a more long term modification to human vision that doesn't rely on dietary restrictions / supplementation.Long-term modification that is not diet based. I wonder what they have in mind?
The important thing here is to understand that human augmentation for the otherwise healthy is already being attempted. This project was fully funded meaning that the public is interested in enhancements. This is not something we can all ignore and pretend is not happening. Today it is simple dietary changes. Tomorrow it will be something much more invasive.
Friday, November 15. 2013
It seems that integration of technology into our otherwise healthy bodies may be on the horizon. Motorola has applied for a patent for a throat tattoo that can act as a microphone for many devices. PC Mag has the story:
Motorola has applied for a patent for an electronic skin tattoo that acts as a mobile communication device.Other stories indicate that Motorola, owned by Google, mentioned a lie detecting capability:
The patent states that this temporary tattoo could “include a galvanic skin response detector.” If the user is “speaking falsehoods,” the tattoo can detect skin response caused by nervousness.PC Mag says this is "permanent" while others say it is a "temporary" tattoo. This seems like a big detail. If it is a permanent microphone tattooed on your neck, then that is clearly transhumanism. If it is temporary then I would say it is just technology that can be removed at the user's discretion.
Motorola does not seem to want to talk about it, declining to make a statement about their application.
I suppose, we shall see.
Wednesday, October 30. 2013
Google has launched a new company called Calico (California Life Company) whose focus is to "solve death." CNN reports:
Last month Google announced a new medical company called Calico, whose explicit aim is to take on aging itself. But what will Google's approach be? And what other research into prolonging life already exists?...The article, titled "How Google's Calico aims to fight aging and 'solve death'," speculates about everything from cryogenics to cloning to nanotechnology as Calico's focus.
Calico may be looking at diseases like Alzheimer's, heart disease and cancer initially, but I speculate that part of Calico's approach will be working on an interface between man and machine. This is a Google company after all.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Friday, October 18. 2013
This is going to be a fascinating documentary:
If you are not reading Wesley Smith's blog Human Exceptionalism, you should be.
This clip reminds me of Wesley's quote on Starbucks cup The Way I See It #127 (which sits on my desk holding a variety of writing implements):
Wesley is completely correct.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Friday, October 4. 2013
I worry for young people these days. I know every generation says that about the one that follows, but today's youth may face a world where simply being human won't be good enough. Augmentation may be required to participate in society. A cyber-brain here, a bionic limb there with some genetic engineering and a few nanobots sprinkled in for good measure. Being without such tech integrated into their bodies may be a one-way ticket to second-class citizenship, maybe even slavery. Choosing to live as God created them could become a great sacrifice.
I have argued many times that once we must violate our bodily integrity with technology, not to get ahead, but to just keep up, that is the moment when we no longer are masters of our technology. That is the point where technology is our master. That is when we become slaves to the things we have created.
Ironically, the very technology that might enslave the human race is being sold today as the only thing that can liberate us. Case in point, this interview with "Elysium" and "District 9" director, Neill Blomkamp, where he is clear that, to level the playing field, we must genetically enhance. Blomkamp told The Guardian:
You'd literally have to change the human genome to stop wealth discrepancy.... The only way things will change is if we're smart enough to develop technology that can think us out of this, meaning augmenting ourselves genetically to be smart enough to change sh**.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report>>
Tuesday, August 13. 2013
Just in case you haven't had enough of the "ethics" coming out of Oxford these days, here are more disturbing musings by Oxford ethicist, Rebecca Roache. You may remember Roache co-authored "Human Engineering and Climate Change" with Matthew Liao where they explore engineering humans to have cat eyes or to be smaller as a way to combat "climate change."
On the Practical Ethics blog in a post titled "Enhanced punishment: can technology make life sentences longer?," Roache laments the "laughably inadequate" sentence of 30 years in prison for Magdelena Luczak and Mariusz Krezolek. Luczak and Krezolek were convicted of murdering Luczak's 4 year-old son, Daniel. Daniel was beaten, starved and basically tortured before his death. These are terrible acts of evil that rightfully inspire anger in anyone who knows about the case.
Roache points out that Luczak and Krezolek will get what Daniel never did: humane treatment.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Monday, August 5. 2013
Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Barnaby Jack uses a mannequin equipped with an insulin pump to show the vulnerabilities of wireless medical devices.
Barnaby Jack was a "good guy" using his hacker skills to expose risks in these critical medical devices. His work raises serious concerns about the ability to wirelessly control medical implants by "bad guys." Clearly medical device makers need to address these flaws in implants for the safety of patients who need them.
Barnaby's work got me thinking about transhumanism. In the case of pacemakers and insulin pumps, these devices are needed for medical reasons. But transhumanists want such devices for their otherwise healthy bodies. Neural implants, nanobots, cyber-brains, all integrated into our organic systems.
Why would someone voluntarily expose their healthy body to a cyber-attack? Is it naiveté that nothing bad will happen? Is it a trust in companies that their products will be "hack-proof?"
The truth is we can't trust software companies to create hack-proof software. I doubt any of the enhancement devices that transhumanists dream about will be any different. I ask, "Why put your bodily integrating at such risk?" If you have a medical need that is one thing, but just to be augmented? I don't get it.
Of course, Bryan Singer, has already addressed this scenario in a fictional format. Singer, creator of The Usual Suspects and the X-men movies, has made a digital series on transhumanism called H+.
In H+, a company provides an implant that connects the user's nervous system to computers and the Internet. Everything we love about technology, social media, music, sports, all accessible directly to our brain without any other device. This implant may even replace doctors. It seems to be a technological triumph until someone creates a virus that remotely kills everyone with the implant.
Here are the first 6 episodes:
Monday, July 8. 2013
WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD. (That is if you want to read Inferno of your own free will.)
"I can tell you without a doubt that without some kind of drastic change, the end of our species is coming. And it’s coming fast. It won’t be fire, brimstone, apocalypse, or nuclear war . . . it will be total collapse due to the number of people on the planet. The mathematics is indisputable.”Wait. I have heard that before. Ah yes...first it was Robert Malthus in the late 18th century warning us of catastrophe because of overpopulation, catastrophe that has yet to happen. Then it was Paul Ehlrich, in his book The Population Bomb, (the cover of which asks, "Population control or race to oblivion?") who told us that because of overpopulation, there would be mass famine by the 1980s. I am sure Ehlrich thought his math was indisputable too.
Of course, Brown does not take the time to debunk the overpopulation myth. A quick look at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division report World Population to 2300 would have revealed that the human population is estimated to level out under 9 billion and then decline. Or a quick Internet search would have shown that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that by 2030 global food production will exceed the population growth. Ah details...they get in the way of a good fictional narrative where the world's problems can be blamed on the Catholic Church.
Anyway, Zobrist is a transhumanist that is eager for the advent of the "post-human," an engineered human that is resistant to illness, ignorance and death. Zobrist is afraid that the catastrophe of human overpopulation will destroy us all before we can become "post-humans" that can live better lives longer. Never mind that human overpopulation might actually be a problem if all humans could live for hundreds of years or even forever. Zobrist also commits suicide which seems as likely for a "want to live forever" transhumanist as it would be for a devout Catholic.
At first it seems that Brown treats transhumanism properly, as a dangerous philosophy that will create a two-tiered society where the rich are not just richer but also biologically superior. Brown even mentions the similarities between transhumanism and eugenics. Langdon, when he first hears of transhumanist ideas, says, "Sounds ominous.”
But from there everything goes downhill in a hurry. Turns out Sienna was Zobrist's lover and is also a transhumanist. She is the "good" kind of transhumanist. The super smart, compassionate kind that everyone can love. And when they finally find Zobrist's "plague" under Istanbul, it has already been released. It is not a plague after all; just a sweet little virus that renders one-third of the population sterile and the other two-thirds less fertile.
Once all the plot twists are revealed, the characters don't seem all that bothered with Zobrist's crime. They all kind of say, "Oh well. Damage done. But bigger problem solved. And no one had to die." The reader of Inferno is left thinking that the forced sterilization of 2.3 billion people without their consent is no big deal and I can imagine many readers may even secretly wish a non-fiction Zobrist would emerge to "save us from ourselves."
I was left feeling that Brown is a closet transhumanist. The reviewer for H+, the transhumanist magazine, had the same idea:
Despite the fact that he has his hero Langdon reply “Sounds ominous.” when he first learns about tranhsumanism, his transhumanist side kick and misunderstod [sic] heroine FS 2080 has the first name “Sienna”, a type of brown. This was a conscious choice of the author and not an accident obviously.While Inferno does expose transhumanism's links to eugenics, especially in the forced sterilization arena, the problem is that Brown leaves the reader wondering, "What is the harm?" I am sure the populace during the early 20th century eugenics movement felt the same about the forced sterilizations that went on in the name of "bettering mankind." Let us never forget that eugenics was the tinder for the Holocaust in World War II.
So while Brown seems to have no major beef with transhumanism, I still agree with Francis Fukuyama, economist at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, that transhumanism just maybe an idea that poses "greatest threat to the welfare of humanity."
Friday, May 3. 2013
Themes of how we will relate to each other when we live in Ray Kurzweil's singularity and are no longer oragnic, just disembodied consciousnesses uploaded to the digital world, have made it to Broadway. Well off, off Broadway at least. Broadway World reports on "Love Machine":
What do a small town girl flirting with a satellite, a robot giving a lecture about transhumanism, and a man uploading his consciousness into the digital ether all have in common? Love. Love Machine is created to reflect the current trend of the way humans have come to rely on technology. Below, BroadwayWorld has a first look at the piece, debuting at Incubator Arts Project on May 10!That should be really interesting. I wonder how to theatrically portray a disembodied consciousness and whether the audience will have any idea of what they are viewing.
No matter. Transhumanist ideas are here to stay. Next it will be a blockbuster musical-comedy about wayward artificial limbs and dreams of becoming re-embodied. I can see the headline: "Transhumans Take Broadway By Storm!"
Have you talked with your kids about enhancements yet?
Tuesday, February 26. 2013
In BioTalk Episode 3, Chelsea, from Reflections of a Paralytic, and I talk about sport, transhumanism, and what acceptance of performance enhancing drugs may mean for our kids and how they view sports. Check it out. I think it is a conversation worth having.
Tuesday, February 5. 2013
After Lance Armstrong admitted that he cheated with performance enhancing drugs, I was waiting for the transhumanists to claim him as their own. It didn't take long. The title of this Wired piece says it all: "Lance Armstrong should be celebrated as a pioneer in human enhancement."
The premise? Sure Armstrong broke the rules, but maybe it is the rules that are wrong and not Armstrong. Maybe we should allow and promote human enhancements in sport so that they will be safer, not just for the athlete, but for us coach-potatoes as well.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Wednesday, January 30. 2013
Transhumanism is not just about transforming humanity. Part of the movement seeks to redefine what it means to be a "person" extending personhood rights to any kind of intelligence, artificial or otherwise. (This, of course, means that humans without a sufficient intelligence, determined by elite minds, would not qualify as persons.)
Yale is hosting a conference to discuss non-human personhood. It is called The Personhood Beyond the Human conference and the transhumanist group The Institute of Ethics and Emerging Technologies has the details:
Personhood Beyond the HumanWhen Peter Singer is involved you know that some humans will not be considered "persons" while some animals will be.
Frankly, it is beyond time that the average citizen started taking notice. Pretty soon we might have days old babies without rights and African grey parrots with rights and we will be wondering "How did this happen?"
Thursday, January 24. 2013
This is exciting. A documentary film by Doug Wolens about transhumanism and the singularity with some serious players like Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey De Grey and Bill McKibben. It is called "The Singularity" and it asks right under the title "Will we survive our technology?" I am interested in finding out what the film maker suggests is the answer. Regardless, I applaud Doug Wolens for taking a serious look at what is no longer science fiction and is quickly becoming reality. Wolen writes:
Singularity advocates argue that consciousness is just another problem to solve or that it will just happen when a system is sufficiently advanced. But I was not too sure. The promise of this new future began to lose its luster. I started to see holes in some of the arguments and I began questioning the philosophical and moral implications. If smarter than human computers were created, how would they treat their human creators? Would everyone have the means to augment their intelligence or just the rich? What would happen if something went wrong with these super powerful technologies and destroyed everything on the planet? Or if these powerful technologies got in the wrong hands and were maliciously used? Maybe the singularity wasn’t such a good idea.
Thursday, January 3. 2013
Peering into the abyss of biotechnology, I have often mused that the problem with much of what goes on in fertility clinics and laboratories of the world is a denial of human nature. The denial that living human organisms, regardless of how they are created, are indeed human beings. They are small and immature, but human beings none-the-less.
This denial of the nature of humanity can be seen in nearly all the moral problems in our society: from the denial of the humanity of the unborn, the sick and the disabled; to the denial of our need of an intact family unit with both a mother and a father; to the denial that sex is a procreative event; to the denial that the safest most loving place to begin our lives is in our mother's womb, not in a laboratory; to the denial that the sex of your next child should be decided by God and not by you.
I was heartened that the Holy Father spoke about human nature in his Christmas address to the Roman Curia. It is the denial our God-given nature that threatens to destroy our families and our civilization.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Wednesday, December 12. 2012
I have always felt that Iron Man was the anti-transhumanist super-hero. His chest-plate is there to prevent shrapnel from entering his heart, not as an augmentation of an already healthy body. And instead of building a better soldier, Tony Stark builds a better suit. A suit that can be taken off at the end of the day and at the end of a career. Apparently, Iron Man 3, which opens in May 2013, delves into a tranhumanist plot line where Tony is compelled to enhance his body as well. Subculture for the Cultured has the story:
Extremis focuses on a battle between Tony Stark and a reactionary named Mallen, who has taken a dose of a genetic enhancer called Extremis. In their first encounter, Mallen handily defeats Stark leaving him beaten and close to death. Tony realizes he has no chance of defeating Mallen as long as he lacks Mallen’s speed and genetic enhancements.Interesting. This plot illustrates what many opponents of transhumanism have said for years. Transhumanism is NOT ABOUT FREEDOM to do with one's body as one chooses. Once people begin to enhance their otherwise healthy bodies, the rest of us have to as well just to keep up. Tony has to enhance to survive and beat the bad guy. Enhancements equal a loss of freedom not a gain. Wake up. Coercion is part of the augmentation package.
Saturday, November 17. 2012
There is a dangerous philosophy emerging in our fast-paced, technology-driven world of which most people are totally unaware. And yet, when Francis Fukuyama, economist at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, was asked what idea posed the "greatest threat to the welfare of humanity," his answer was this philosophy.
And yet I am positive most Catholics have never heard of it. Catholics certainly do not realize that they are being fed a steady diet of images in popular media that play right to the more seductive aspects of this ideology.
Continue reading at the National Catholic Register >>
Tuesday, November 13. 2012
So the other day on my blogging break my family made me sit down and watch the new Spider-Man movie, "The Amazing Spider-Man". I don't know why they had to make yet another Spider-Man flick, but for the sake of family unity I cuddled up on the coach and watched.
Recently, I hit a bunch of unsuspecting Catholic women at an innocuous book club over the head with the reality that transhumanist ideas are everywhere and that our children are soaking them up like a sponge. "The Amazing Spider-Man" was full of them.
I appreciated that the depiction of transhumanism, called "cross-species genetics" in the movie was a negative one. Dr. Connors, in a desperate attempt to keep his job and regrow his lost arm, injects himself with what I assume is a concoction of reptile DNA. In a total suspension of disbelief, Dr. Connors gets his arm back and then some when he turns into something horrific, the vile character of the Lizard that is whole, strong and, in the Lizard's opinion, superior to all humanity.
But Dr. Connors doesn't stop there. He wants the whole human race to share in his new found genetic superiority. He now understands that humans are weak and pathetic and it isn't good enough to fix us. He needs to change us and it is for our own good. In a monologue in the the depths of the sewer, Dr. Connors muses, "This is no longer about curing ills. This is about finding perfection." (At which point my 10 year-old son whispers to me, "Don't say a word, Mom. Don't say a word.") Dr. Connors, of course, attempts to bring all of New York City into his genetic nirvana.
I was heartened that Dr. Connors was such a tragic figure as super-heroes and villains with super powers have traditionally been. So why does the depiction of a lizard-man in a silly remake of a silly comic matter? Because I hear Dr. Connor's monologue everywhere coming from normal everyday people. People like this commenter at the transhumanist site Singularity Hub who tells us how he or she really feels about being human:
"Who doesn’t want to be smarter, prettier, healthier? Who doesn’t want to have wings to fly through the air, or gills to breathe under water? Are we stuck just being land dwellers? We spend most of our lives OBTAINING and MAINTAINING health, beauty, intelligence, etc., when we could be spending all this time and money obtaining and maintaining loving relationships with other people (transhumanists!) and going on adventures out to space exploring the universe, rather than stuck at home watching crap movies from Hollywood, going to school half our lives and drowning in debt because of it, and then just paying bills and taxes till you die. That’s no life, that’s SLAVERY.The screenwriters from "The Amazing Spider Man" could have put these exact words in the mouth of Dr. Connors. Take note that this person qualifies who "people" are: other transhumanists. Join them or be inferior, considered less than a person.
Do your children a favor: use these super-hero movies as a way to talk about what it means to be human, how God loves us just the way we are, and going beyond curing disease and disability to changing our God-given nature is a disaster waiting to happen. My 10 year-old son can spot a transhumanist story line from a mile away. Can yours?
Wednesday, September 19. 2012
New Scientist claims that Giuseppe Vatinno became the world's first transhumanist to be elected as a member of the a parliament. Giuseppe Vatinno's platform? "Becoming less human is not necessarily a negative thing..." From New Scientist:
Why do you think it is important to have a transhumanist politician?
Wednesday, August 15. 2012
Parents everywhere want the best for their children. We spend money on swimming lessons, piano lessons, tutors, private coaches and the latest gadgets so that they will have an edge over the other kids. We want them to succeed.
But many want to go beyond lessons and gadgets and actively give their children a genetic advantage with germ-line genetic enhancements. Sounds fantastic doesn't it? Having the smartest, fastest and best looking children on the block.
Logically, this is about as far as most people get before they say, "Sign me and my kids up!" But ask yourself what enhancing our children really means. It means being trapped forever in a dangerous biological game of "Keeping up with the Jones."
Bill McKibben, an environmentalist, in his book Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, outlines the trap we will fall into once we begin to enhance our offspring:
...if germline manipulation actually does begin, it seems likely to set off a kind of biological arms race.... Of course, the problem with arms races is that you never really get anywhere. If everyone's adding 30 IQ points, then having an IQ of 150 won't get you any closer to Stanford than you were at the outset. The very first athlete engineered to use twice as much oxygen as the next guy will be unbeatable in the Tour de France - but in no time he'll merely be the new standard. You'll have to do what he did to be in the race, but your upgrades won't put you ahead, merely back on a level playing field.The typical argument is that enhancements are just like gadgets. We are always upgrading those, so what's the problem upgrading our kids. The problem is that people are not gadgets. People should never be considered obsolete. But that is exactly where enhancements will take us.
McKibben warns us:
If germline genetic engineering ever starts, it will accelerate endlessly and unstoppable into the future, as individuals make the calculation that they have no choice but to equip their kids for the world that's being made. Once the game is under way, in other words, there will be no moral decisions, only strategic ones. If the technology is going to be stopped, it will have to happen now, before it's quite begun.I wholeheartedly agree. Enhancing our children will be a destructive genie that once it is out of the bottle, will never relent. Enhancements will reduce our moral worth to no more than that of an old computer collecting dust in the corner of the basement. So unless you want your children or grandchildren to become "obsolete" it is time to fight enhancements well before they are a reality.
Monday, August 13. 2012
Hollywood is clueless about a lot of things. They don't get marriage. They don't get true love. They certainly don't get religion.
But one thing they do get is transhumanism, the promises, the pitfalls and the peril. Bryan Singer, creator of The Usual Suspects and the X-men movies, has made a digital series on transhumanism called H+.
Continue reading at Creative Minority >>
Tuesday, July 17. 2012
So I finally did it. I sat down and read The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil. And while many question Kurzweil's calculations, and his unbounded optimism about the technology of the future, The Singularity is Near is possibly the closest thing to a transhumanist manifesto as you can find.
It was as enjoyable to read as eating sand, not only because of what it offered: endless pages of technical jargon, but also because of what it didn't: any sense of anything other than "self."
What is the Singularity? Well defining it is a bit like nailing Jello to the wall, but I will give it a try. The Singularity is the moment when human intelligence merges with non-biological technology to vastly enhance our capabilities. The word singularity is derived from the mathematical term referring to a value that does not have a finite limitation. So essentially, after the Singularity, human intelligence, with the help of machines, will no longer be limited to what can be accomplished in our finite brains. With technology, it has the chance to become infinite.
I will let Kurzweil explain the Singularity:
"The Singularity will allow us to transcend these limitations of our biological bodies and brains. We will gain power over our fates. Our mortality will be in our own hands. We will be able to live as long as we want (a subtly different statement from saying we will live forever.)"Basically, we will merge with our technology, and Kurzweil predicts:
"There will be no distinction post-Singularity, between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality."And what will this technological utopia look like? The human body version 2.0 will be mostly "non-biological" with all of our major systems, nervous, circulatory, immune, digestive, and respiratory augmented or replaced by nanotechnology. Nanobots will allow us to perform Olympic pace sprints for 15 minutes without taking a breath, eat whatever we want without gaining weight, have super-fast, limitless cognitive skills, summon a virtual reality, including a virtual lover, at will, and have a "back-up" of our consciousness ready if needed. We will never get sick and, most importantly to Kurzweil, we will never have to die.
So when will this amazing human 2.0 come into existence? Because of the exponential growth of technology, Kurzweil predicts as soon as the 2030s. Yes that's right. In the 2030s, I will hopefully, be getting ready to retire and take care of my grandkids. My children will be starting their families. In other words, not in the distant future, but in this lifetime. Kurzweil writes:
"Let's consider where we are, circa early 2030s. We've eliminated the heart, lungs, red and white blood cells, platelets, pancreas, thyroid and all the hormone-producing organs, kidneys, bladder, liver, lower esophagus, stomach, small intestines, large intestines and bowel. What we have left at this point is the skeleton, skin, sex organs, sensory organs, mouth and upper esophagus and brain."He goes on to describe human body version 3.0 made a special material where we will be able to "rapidly alter our physical manifestations at will." With a 3.0 body, not only could change ourselves to be our idea of physical perfection, but our lover could even change us to be what they would prefer.
Now many people will simply laugh at Kurzweil and dismiss him as some over-optimistic technophile. While his predictions may well be zealous, I would not ignore him or his wares. If even a small percentage of what he discusses in this book comes to pass, we are still in trouble.
Namely that as the elite enhance, the poor will be left behind. The enhanced will then not only have a monetary advantage, but a biological one as well. Kurzweil acknowledges the disparity that is inevitable. He is even kind of snarky about it. He says that the unenhanced human will be "unable think fast enough to keep up." And when discussing the question of whether or not to enhance humanity, Kurzweil writes:
"And to the extent that there will be debate about the desirability of such augmentation, it's easy to predict who will win, since those with enhanced intelligence will be far better debaters."He admits that the poor will be behind the rich in becoming enhanced, but in true transhumanist style he dismisses the problem by insisting that at by that time the pace of technological advance will be so fast that the poor will only have to wait a short time before they too can afford to enhanced. He is assuming of course that everyone in the world will have access to such technologies. In a human existence where dictators hoard money, food and medicine and keep them from the people, I don't think it is a valid assumption.
What I found most disturbing about The Singularity is Near was not the physical description of the transhuman, but simply a lack of any of the virtues that make life worth living. The whole book is an homage to "self." While others would find it lacking a sense of reality, I found it lacking in love, sacrifice, and selflessness. It is especially haunting in that the self-giving conjugal love of husband and wife and the gift of children that result are non-existent, an after thought, victims of virtual lovers and the selfish quest to live forever.
Like I said, it was like eating sand. Terrible taste, terrible texture with little or no nutritional value. Here's hoping the Singularity is not near. Ever.
Tuesday, May 29. 2012
Sometimes I wonder if Germany is the last bastion of common sense in our world. In Germany, they do not allow any research on human embryos. Germany just recently caved to pressure and allowed preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) on human embryos, but only for cases whether the parents carry genetic disease. (In the U.S., we have no restrictions on PGD, not even for sex selection.) And it was Greenpeace of Germany that successfully challenged the patenting of human embryos in Europe. With the crazy ideas coming out of England and Australia these days, I found this story refreshingly sane.
Dr Roland Kipke, of the University of Tübingen International Centre for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities, and his colleagues have written a paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics arguing that cognitive enhancing drugs for otherwise healthy people are too dangerous to be ethical. From Michael Cook's commentary at BioEdge:
They contend that the neuroenhancers are wrong on two counts.Note the authors mention the coercive nature of enhancements. You can choose not to enhance, but you will be left behind or forced into low-paying, low-satisfaction positions. Medicine, research, engineering, the law, etc will all be reserved for the enhanced because us lowlys who don't want to be addicted to some drug we don't need just won't be smart enough anymore. Some choice.
Monday, May 7. 2012
Commenter Tom from AZ writes about transhumanism:
How we can make machines to do things, rather than modifying ourselves, anyone who prefers the alternative is regressive. One of the key traits of anatomically modern humans is that, rather than adapting our bodies, we adapt our tools.Tom is right. Instead of modifying a soldier's eyes to have night vision, give him the best night vision goggles and then let him take them off at the end of the day and at the end of his career.
We should be looking to advance technology like cell phones, glasses and hand-held computers that we can use and then change or stop using without having to see a physician. Integrating these technologies into our bodies with genetic enhancements, artificial limbs or eyes replacing perfectly good ones, or hooking up artificial intelligence straight into our nervous system ensures that we are slaves to the technology.
In preparation for the new Avenger Movie, my son and I watched "The Incredible Hulk" with Edward Norton and in it I found a gem. In the now famous post credit scenes that lead up to The Avengers, General Ross is drowning his sorrows in a bar. His attempt to create a super soldier out of actor Tim Roth had some serious unintended consequences. In essence, Ross created a monster he couldn't control.
Tony Stark walks in and says to the General, "I hate to say I told you so, but that super soldier program was put on ice for a reason. I always thought that hardware was much more reliable." Ross replies, "You always wear such nice suits." 0:38 for those who want to watch it:
In other words, don't mess with the human body. Instead make a better suit.
Friday, April 27. 2012
More and more I am seeing the assertion that transhumanism and Christianity are not only compatible, but that Christians can and should be transhumanist. Transhumanists know that to bring about their technological utopia, they need to convert the one group that has a real foundation with which to resist the transhumanist future: Christians. In fact, transhumanist Eric Steinhart wrote the following in the Journal of Evolution and Technology:
But transhumanism cannot avoid a fateful engagement with Christianity. Christian institutions may support or oppose transhumanism. Since Christianity is an extremely powerful cultural force in the West, it is imperative for transhumanism to engage it carefully.Steinhart comes armed with Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's book The Phenomenon of Man as a way for transhumanists to convince Christians we are all on the same team. With prophetic vision, the Holy Office issued a warning against the writings of Teilhard de Chardin in both 1962 and again in 1981 asking "Religious institutes, rectors of seminaries and presidents of universities, effectively to protect the minds, particularly of the youth, against the dangers presented by the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and of his followers."
Now a Presbyterian minister and professor at Columbia Theological Seminary is telling Christians that transhumanism is "inevitable." David Yonke writes in the Toledo Blade:
Welcome to the posthuman world. Everyone is smart, tall, good looking, free from disease, and, some predict, will live forever.Douglas is a bit ambiguous, but he encourages Christians to "Believe in a better future because God is doing something." I take that to mean that we are to embrace the changes that transhumaism will bring because it is the work of God. (Douglas also references Teilhard de Chardin's writings against which we have been warned.)
But let us look at the transhumanist future so eloquently reiterated by Yonke: everyone is smart, tall, beautiful, disease-free and will live forever. It this transhumanist desire to live forever that lets me know that this movement is not of God.
Living forever in this world means forsaking the most important part of Christianity: the eternal life with God in Heaven purchased by the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus Christ. What better way for Satan to deny us this gift than to convince mankind we should live forever here in this flawed existence? That way we may never receive what God has lovingly provided for us, a place in His house for eternity.
But what about the rest of it? The "everyone is smart, tall, beautiful and disease-free" part? Well, the transhumanist really cannot ensure those traits will be available to everyone. Really how could that be? With billions of humans living hand to mouth, some without clean water, electricity or plumbing, how will we enhance everyone to be smart, tall, beautiful and disease-free?
The truth is that the smart, tall, beautiful and disease-free life will be for those who have access and can afford the technology, creating a two-tiered society where the enhanced will rule over the unenhanced. This will further divide the haves from the have-nots and breed discord and injustice. Two realities we Christians are supposed to work against.
The Catholic Church is very aware of this disparity that will come from going beyond using technologies like genetic engineering to heal and using them to enhance humanity beyond what can be accomplished by nature. Dignitas Personae states:
Some have imagined the possibility of using techniques of genetic engineering to introduce alterations with the presumed aim of improving and strengthening the gene pool. Some of these proposals exhibit a certain dissatisfaction or even rejection of the value of the human being as a finite creature and person. Apart from technical difficulties and the real and potential risks involved, such manipulation would promote a eugenic mentality and would lead to indirect social stigma with regard to people who lack certain qualities, while privileging qualities that happen to be appreciated by a certain culture or society; such qualities do not constitute what is specifically human. This would be in contrast with the fundamental truth of the equality of all human beings which is expressed in the principle of justice, the violation of which, in the long run, would harm peaceful coexistence among individuals.It is not the fact that transhumanists are trying to sell their wares to Christians that bothers me. It is the fact that I don't think Christians are well-versed enough in their own faith to realize they are being sold ocean-front property in Montana. I get as much resistance to my writings on enhancement and transhumanism from fellow Christians as I do from transhumanists. I have been called anti-American and anti-military for pointing out the dangerous transhumanist messages in Captain America. I have been told that there would be nothing wrong with genetically enhancing a soldier's eyes to have night vision because it would help our military. (Talk about reducing a person to a means-to-an-end. Don't violate a soldier's bodily integrity for the rest of his life so you can feel safer. Give him a pair of awesome night-vision goggles that he can take off at the end of the day and at the end of his career.)
I am not the only one who sees the incompatibility between Christianity and transhumanism. Wesley J. Smith, a much better mind that I, recently said it best. Smith wrote:
Christians certainly believe that they will indeed become a new (“glorified”) being–but not “post human,” and certainly not through human efforts. And Rev. Douglas also seems to embrace a trend I see growing within some Christian circles, which expediently conflates what I want with that which supposedly God wants for me.
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