On BioScience and Life and Such

Posts Tagged ‘Transhumanism’

Be afraid, be very afraid … not

In Transhumanism on October 26, 2012 at 11:13 am

In response to this post by my favourite catholic blogger (!) who writes:

Transhumanists will tell you that the enhancements they propose for the human race will always be “optional.” Freedom and choice are their mantra. Freedom to enhance ourselves and our offspring, or not. That is our choice.

In contrast, I have continually argued that transhumanism is by nature coercive. Once we begin to radically change our bodies and our genetics, everyone will have to follow suit or be left behind.

I do understand her concern, it is a valid one, and one that is very frequently encountered when disruptive technologies emerge. It is however almost always a minor concern it would seem if you use comparable technological advances in our recent past as giudeline-examples. Take cosmetic surgery. While cosmetic surgery when it first became available, was regarded as an enhancement, – it has never become “coercive”. The reason is simply that it is not considered an enhancement by everyone. And of all those cosmetic enhancements that are available, very few opt for all of them since preferences for physical appearance is extremely individual.

I believe other kinds of enhancements (intelligence, endurance, physical strength, charm or what have you ..) will follow the same pattern in the future. While one particular enhancement will be desireable for one individual, someone else may find it repulsive and choose either a different enhancement or none at all.

In my mind such a future encompasses more diversity and more choices for anyone to fix whatever is considered by them personally as impairments or obstacles to personal development. The ones “left behind” by enhancement-technologies will probably be those who had no particular need for them in the first place. Consequence of such a scenario: more equal opportunities. Which would be a gaping contrast to the fear-inspired scenario above.

Mary Meets Dolly will continue to be my favourite catholic blog (!) because she does voice the sensible opposition to some of the more far-fetched transhumanist ideas out there. But, those ideas are just that, – far fetched.

Transhumanism to me means having the positive potential of technology as a starting point. If you choose to always use the worst case scenario when considering future developments, you’ll end up going backwards.

Have no fear.

Honors to ….

In Transhumanism, Uncategorized on December 6, 2011 at 9:38 am

Professor Moran at Sandwalk who is relentlessly responding to (the same) intelligent design claims. It’s a battle that may never be won. Beliefs based on faith is impossible to argue rationally against. Converting them to science is doing it the right way – but, no doubt – the hard way.

English: Transhumanism H+ symbol Русский: Симв...

Mary Meets Dolly for fighting against transhumanism and human enhancement – even though at the root of transhumanism you will find improved artificial limbs and medical technology made to heal disease and improve health. Who is opposed to that ? Strange how religion justifies suffering.

The Biotechnology board in my home-country who keeps having conferences on how knowledge of our own genes is dangerous is so many ways – even though most of us live unharmed lives with most of our traits (inherited or not) exposed.

Temperature predictions from some climate mode...

To the environmentalist movement who keeps warning us about global warming . If nobody cares, then converting people to science may not be such a good idea after all. Could some divine force intelligently design us out of this mess or are we intelligently designed into it with no escape ?

To me for writing another blog-post even though blogging is dead.

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The slope is only slippery when dictated to be so

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2010 at 9:33 am

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Frankenstein's monster
Image by Steffe via Flickr

In a democracy, are there any reasons to fear the horror-scenarios of our biotech-future ?

I am listening three audiobooks by Dean Koontz. The books are called Frankenstein (apparently there’s no copyright on that name), and I bought them based on a recommendation from Mary Meets Dolly. In her blogpost she makes the point that the books are about transhumanism. Of this I am not so sure. The story is about how Frankenstein, still alive and going strong, is making enhanced humans to replace the existing, and in his eyes flawed, human race. Consequently, the story distinguishes itself from transhumanist thinking. Transhumanism is not about replacing anything and it is certainly not about diminishing the value of life. On the contrary, transhumanism is about valuing all life equally, even to the extent that entities harboring artificial intelligence is considered to have equal value to any biological life form. My self-declared transhumanist values gives anyone (and hopefully everyone) the right to enhance their own life as they wish. It is essential that a choice to do such enhancement is a free one. If these choices are forced, we are not talking about transhumanism anymore, we are talking about tyranny.

It struck me that all these scenarios of a future dominated by improved humans are all based on some crazy person dictating their view of “the correct human nature”. I wish someone would write a book on how genetic sorting and human improvements would play out in a modern democratic society with respect for individual rights and freedom of choice. Now that would be interesting to read. It would also give us a literary reference a lot more useful than the horror-scenarios everyone is using today, when discussing genetic engineering and human enhancement.

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The Testosterone Project II

In Uncategorized on November 10, 2009 at 2:58 pm

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A vial of the injectable anabolic steroid, dep...
Image via Wikipedia

Previous post in series: The Testosterone project.

Recap: Project Testosterone is my main project aimed at alleviating  mature age growing pains.

Plan is as follows:

  1. Test my testosterone levels.
    – Done. Twice now. Turns out I’m still at the low end of the normal spectrum. This second time I also measured Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) to get an accurate measure of Bioavailable Testosterone. Detailed results were: Testosterone – 8,1 nmol/L (normal level 8-35 nmol/L), SHBG – 12,6 (normal level 8-60 nmol/L), Bioavailable Testosterone (calculated from here) – 10,20 nmol/L (normal level 3,85-13,67 nmol/L).
  2. If low (and yes it feels low, even if it is within the normal spectrum, it’s my manliness we’re talking about after all), then learn more.
    – Done, but will continue reading about this.
  3. If not to scary, find out how to get a hold of it.
    – Have gone to see a gullible physician, but was turned down because I was in the normal range. Plan was to measure a second time to see if values were lower and then go back, but it seems values are reasonably stable. Legally prescribed testosterone plan scrapped. Next: probe the illegal substance market.
  4. If not too illegal, then get some. Topic for next blog post.
  5. Try low doses. Future posts.
  6. If adverse events acceptable, continue and report effects continously on blog.
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Thoughts on H+

In Uncategorized on November 5, 2009 at 2:38 pm

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The last H+ magazine is full of articles telling us that we’ll soon rid ourselves of various body parts, mood swings and even the physical acts of sexual relations. I am still a transhumanist, but will have to distance myself from H+ if this continues because:

Bodies are nice – I like them. Mood swings are nice – I like them too. Sex is also nice, and anticipation of physical sex can be even nicer. Probably because  constant and unhindered sexual interaction is unattainable. Consequently, such anticipations are major drivers of behavior. Messing with the availability of sex is not something one should do without caution.

Fellow transhumanists, please put some restraint on your desires to remove yourselves from the physical world. And, do not underestimate our biology – it isn’t always as bad as you’d think.

The Testosterone Project

In Transhumanism on March 12, 2009 at 10:58 am

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A vial of the injectable anabolic steroid, dep...

Image via Wikipedia

I have reached a crossing point of (what feels like crucial) life events :

1) Reaching an age where a life crisis is acceptable, 2) failing in sports activities and 3) becoming a transhumanist (see previous posts Epiphany: Transhumanism, – not ?, Diving into Transhumanism I and II and Decision time, become a transhumanist or not).

Enter: Testosterone.

Without further ado, I am launching my personal testosterone project. However, since the whole idea of human enhancement is new (and still feels scary) to me, I’m going to take this slowly and stepwise, – with an option to pull out after each step.

My plan is to post as I go along. Here’s the project plan outline:

  1. Test my testosterone levels.
    – Done. Turns out I’m at the low end of the normal spectrum.
  2. If low (and yes it was low), then learn more.
    – This will be the topic of the next post. For those who would like some more background on testosterone therapy – go here (via Alexis Madrigal).
  3. If not to scary, find out how to get a hold of it. Options seem to be a gullible physician or the illegal substance market.
  4. If not too illegal, then get some.
  5. Try low doses.
  6. If adverse events acceptable, continue and report effects on blog.
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Decision time, become a transhumanist or not.

In Transhumanism on January 25, 2009 at 9:10 pm

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Ama-gi, an early human symbol representing fre...
Image via Wikipedia

Endpoint: become a transhumanist or not (join Humanity +).

People often go through three stages in considering the impact of future technology: awe and wonderment at its potential to overcome age-old problems; then a sense of dread at a new set of grave dangers that accompany these novel technologies; followed finally by the realization that the only viable and responsible path is to set a careful course that can realize the benefits while managing the dangers. - Ray Kurzweil “The Singularity is near” p. 408.

After almost a year of personal (re)search and pondering, I find myself leaning more and more towards Transhumanist ideas and principles. My three remaining major concerns are:

1. Technology accessibility in the future. If technology is available only to the fortunate, then technology can easily be a source of conflict, death and destruction rather than an instrument for peaceful, prosperous and healthy living for all. Humanity + deals with this concern saying:

……everybody should have the opportunity to become posthuman. It would be sub-optimal if the opportunity to become posthuman were restricted to a tiny elite. Taken from here

2. A question that has been bugging me, and one that I feel the needed to find an answer to before calling myself a Transhumanist is

“why is something natural also regarded as something good ? – by default”.

And I think I have come up with (a somewhat unsophisticated) answer: Natural is good because many people (most of us ?) believe that we need to remain as self-sustainable as possible. Dependency on technology is just that….dependency, and that, together with lack of knowledge, may be what is scaring many of us. I do not however, feel scared myself, – and knowledge is out there to be grabbed by anyone….

3. The right to say no to technology. When it comes to medical genetic technologies, I have come to the conclusion that the single most important right is the right to say “no”. Freedom to say no to any technology must be an essential part of our technological future. To ensure personal freedom, but more importantly – to keep non-technological options alive – preserving diversity as well as potentially life-saving alternatives……The people that many transhumanists and singularitariens derogatorily label “bio-pundits” or “bio-conservatives” will be an important balancing factor in the future we are developing. Transhumanists do not have to agree with them, only respect their opinions and rights to make personal anti-technological choices.

Those three concerns out of the way, the only thing that remains now is to take the test leaflet to see if me and the Human + society is a match. Result:

7-10 points: You are a transhumanist. Go forth and share the memes.

I refuse to use the word meme, but be open about my transhumanist membership I will. One small reservation will be made in making this last quote my own…..:

………transhumanism is very diverse. It’s a phenomenon that may well look different in Italy (say) from how it looks in (say) California or Nairobi. Not only that, there may be considerable debate about the essence of transhumanism, or what is important to it, among different thinkers in Italy (or in California, or Nairobi, or wherever). Transhumanism is a cultural, social, and political movement with much internal variety and debate. –

And with that, I am filling in the form and joining the fold. I am officially a transhumanist.

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Anyone seen a nanobot lately

In Uncategorized on January 11, 2009 at 4:19 pm

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After finishing Ray Kurzweils book “The singularity is near” I had some thoughts on why his predictions on timing was probably a bit off.  One thing I didn’t mention, because I wanted to do some research on the concept first, was nanorobotics or “nanobots“. His singularity- at least for the biological part of it, is highly dependent on these. Kurzweils vision is that these nanobots will crawl around inside our blood vessels and neurons fixing everything from infections to physical damage.

And Kurzweil is not alone in his beliefs. Dr Anirban Bandyopadhyay of the International Center for Young Scientists, Tsukuba, Japan as reported this (really cool) nanobot formed by 17 identical molecules (and capable of performing a lot of computations) and says that it may be able to guide future nanobots through the body and control their functions:

“If [in the future] you want to remotely operate on a tumour you might want to send some molecular machines there,”……..”But you cannot just put them into the blood and [expect them] to go to the right place.” – quotes taken from BBC-news.

Others like Robert Freitas have similarly voiced their hopes for nanobots. But the problem is that so far there hasn’t been a single biological application for nanobots that I know of. I have been looking and looking, but have not seen a single experiment involving a nanorobotic structure doing anything inside a biological entity – much less a human body.

Of course, I may not have looked hard enough and I am by no means saying that nanobots is never to have its place in biomedicine. Who’s to say that nanobots will even look like robots:

“But even if such nano-devices were actually created some day, it would be their function that would matter, not their appearance. They’re not going to look like a robot or an other ultra-miniaturized version of machines that exist on a macroscopic scale in our everyday world”……”If you come into our lab, you’re not going to see a little micron toaster popping up nano pieces of toast.” – Neil Branda, professor of organic materials at Simon Fraser University in B.C quoted from here.

After all, nanomaterials like silver oxide nanoparticles and molecular drug delivery assemblies like liposomes have been known for a while and many, many more have future potential.

But, if the timing of singularity is dependent on robotic nanostructures in biomedical applications, then the singularity is further away than the predicted 2-4 decades.

Let’s hope it isn’t.

Image from: Microscopy-UK

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Diving into Transhumanism III – Singularity

In Transhumanism on January 2, 2009 at 9:51 am

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Endpoint: Become a Transhumanist or not (previous posts Epiphany: Transhumanism, – not ? and Diving into Transhumanism I and II).

The Singularity is defined by Wikipedia as : “a theoretical future point of unprecedented technological progress, caused in part by the ability of machines to improve themselves”. Ray Kurzweil predicts that we will reach singularity in a couple of decades from now. He sees the law of accelerating returns for technological development (a refinement of Moores law) as proof  that this drastic endpoint is imminent. Kurzweil outlines the process in his book “The Singularity in near“. This post comments on the book and summarizes some of my thoughts on the singularity, which again will be pivotal in my own decision to embrace Transhumanism or not (next blog post).

Image from KurzweilAI.net

I am not going to discuss the concept of singularity itself as others have already done that extensively. The IEEE Spectrum Online’s special edition on Singularity is a recent example where several papers presents intelligent criticism of Kurzweils view on singularity:

The singularity debate is too rarely a real argument. There’s too much fixation on death avoidance. That’s a shame, because in the coming years, as ­computers become stupendously powerful—really and truly ridiculously powerful—and as electronics and other technologies begin to enhance and fuse with biology, life really is going to get more interesting. - Glenn Zorpette, IEEE Spectrum Online.

Reading the book from a biology/biochemistry perspective I myself find a number of flaws in Kurzweils arguments. He clearly is not a biologist by training and his lack of knowledge in biology fundamentals, in my view, puts a dent in his predictions. An illustrating example is when he mislabels the E. coli bacteria as a virus (p. 392, 1st chapter, 3rd bulletpoint). This in itself is a minor error, and could easily be excused if it wasn’t for the fact that he throughout the book,  displays a lack of understanding of the complexity in biology. Which in turn leads to oversimplified solutions like the one for antiviral medications and treatments:

We have new tools suited to this task. RNA interference for example can be used to block gene expression. Virtually all infections (as well as cancer) rely on gene expression at some point during their life cycles (p. 422)

The basic biological fact is that all cells rely on gene expression, and consequently, simply knowing about RNA interference will not cure viral disease. Similar oversimplifications are displayed when discussing our brains  (the quote below is also a quote in the book, but Kurzweil voices similar views throughout his book):

….The brain is bad: it is an evolved, messy system where a lot of interactions happen because of evolutionary contingencies…….(Anders Sandberg, quote p. 143)

I am convinced as I have argued before,  that this brainy mess is a good thing and I most certainly do not think our brains are bad, – although granted, there is room for significant improvement. The problem with biology however, is that it sometimes is hard to predict what side effects such improvements can have (see this Sentient Development post for illustrative examples).  This last point is my major issue with Kurzweil’s time-line predictions.

That said, none of the things discussed above diminish the essential message in the book :

Only technology, with its ability to provide orders of magnitude of improvement in capability and affordability, has the scale to confront problems such as poverty, disease, pollution and the other overriding concerns of society today (p. 408).

More worryingly, oversimplification is sometimes combined with throwing caution aside.  I strongly feel that a warning is in place when Kurzweil argues towards speeding up medical treatment approval by loosening up FDA guidelines and regulations (p. 417). Safety should always be put first, regardless of the treatment potential. Deviating from this rule truly puts us at risk.

The complexity of biology and the much needed regulative process for approving medical treatments suggest that the singularity is further away than Kurzweil predicts. However, the timing is of minor importance. My conclusion from reading this book, and a personal revelation that has had profound impact on my view of the world, is that the singularity will come in one form or another. It may take a 4-5 decades or it may take longer – but, it is relentlessly approaching. And importantly, … we need to be aware of the far reaching social and ethical issues that lie ahead.

To me, transhumanism needs to be about how we can best prepare for the singularity. What I have to consider in my personal quest is whether the actions, life choices and political stands (that I as a member of the transhumanist society would have to adhere to) are the right ones for me and my consciousness.

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Diving into Transhumanism II

In Transhumanism on May 14, 2008 at 3:23 pm

Endpoint: Become a Transhumanist or not.

In the previous posts Epiphany: Transhumanism, not ? and Diving into Transhumanism I, I have introduced the Transhumanist philosophy as presented on the World Transhumanist Association (WTA) website. This post will look at some examples on how transhumanism translates into real life in the foreseeable future (the quotes are still from the WTA website).

Drugs

Life-events have little long-term impact; the crests and troughs of fortune push us up and bring us down, but there is little long-term effect on self-reported well-being. Lasting joy remains elusive except for those of us who are lucky enough to have been born with a temperament that plays in a major key.

Drawing from the (depressing and hopefully untrue) quote above and other potentially drug-promoting statements on the WTA-web, one would assume that the safe use of mood-changing drugs (and cognitive enhancing drugs) must not only be accepted beyond recreational use, but also recommended to everyone to achieve lasting happiness and increased mental capacity. The pitfalls here are more than obvious however, and the lack of a solution on how to avoid detrimental drug abuse is a major drawback. Drugs are meant to treat disease and the dangers of pushing for extended use in the general population are evident to everyone. If being a Transhumanist means pushing drugs to otherwise healthy people, I need to pass.

Artificial intelligence

Transhumanism promotes accepting artificial intelligence (AI) and supporting it’s widespread use. This I guess, could be a good thing. But, as I will come back to in a later post, many Sci-Fi scenarios are situated in a machine-run future where humans have lost control. The Transhumanist values seems to reject the possibility of such a development since one of the Transhumanist values is to give equal rights to future sentient AI machines.

Should future forms of artificial intelligence
become sentient, they would be entitled to
moral consideration. Nobody should be discriminated
against on the basis of their morphology or
the substrate of their implementation.

Like in the case of drug use, this is naive in my opinion. Is it plausible to believe that we in the foreseeable future can design sentient AI that display the compassion, care and love it has taken biology millions of years to develop. Such an advanced morality must be a prerequisite for equal rights. Reassuringly though, there is a section on the dangers of AI which shows that Transhumanists see the dangers of their own philosophy.

As the prospect of general machine intelligence draws closer, more thought needs to be devoted to working out the legal, ethi-cal, social, and security implications, e.g. to deter-mine under what conditions artificial intellects or copies of existing persons should be given property rights or voting rights, and whether new public poli-cies will be needed to ameliorate structural unem-ployment.

Infertility and Cloning

Any procedure to create healthy offspring is supported by Transhumanists. That means that widespread use of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and other assisted reproduction technologies (ART) is encouraged. On a positive note, I have already changed my attitude towards IVF based on my ongoing Transhumanism studies. But, to revert to the more questionable Transhumanism values, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) must also be supported (since the endpoint is a better, healthier human being) and worryingly for a lot of us, reproductive cloning is equally supported and encouraged. I have posted on the slippery slope of PGD previously, and it is no secret that I have have serious problems accepting extended use of PGD. On reproductive cloning It is argued that opposition to human reproductive cloning (HRC) can be described like this:

….objections to HRC are based on the “yuck factor” — it just “feels wrong” to some. But our right to control our own reproduc-tion, not to be told by the government what kind of children we should and shouldn’t have, is far too important to be determined by other people’s vague anxieties. We learned that from the terrible history of eugenic laws. Historically the same people who say that HRC is wrong said the same thing about IVF. Just as society got used to the idea of “test-tube babies” so we will also get used to the idea of cloning.

Now, it may be true that there is a “yuck factor”, but dismissing the rather unison opposition to HRC on account of this is not only arrogant, but also non-scientific and down right unintelligent. Of course there are plenty good arguments against reproductive cloning. From a biologist perspective I worry that genetic diversity will suffer if cloning becomes common. There are benefits to sexual reproduction. Thus, the evolutionary consequences of cloning could be devastating. In addition, there are plenty more, perfectly valid counterarguments, – here are some taken from Center for Genetics and Society:

1. Reproductive cloning would foster an understanding of children, and of people in general, as objects that can be designed and manufactured to possess specific characteristics.

2. Reproductive cloning would diminish the sense of uniqueness of an individual. It would violate deeply and widely held convictions concerning human individuality and freedom, and could lead to a devaluation of clones in comparison with non-clones.

3. Cloned children would unavoidably be raised “in the shadow” of their nuclear donor, in a way that would strongly tend to constrain individual psychological and social development.

4. Reproductive cloning is inherently unsafe. At least 95% of mammalian cloning experiments have resulted in failures in the form of miscarriages, stillbirths, and life-threatening anomalies; some experts believe no clones are fully healthy. The technique could not be developed in humans without putting the physical safety of the clones and the women who bear them at grave risk.

5. If reproductive cloning is permitted to happen and becomes accepted, it is difficult to see how any other dangerous applications of genetic engineering technology could be proscribed.

Their pro and con site has more on this issue, – worth reading. In light of these counterarguments it is very clear that WTA is on thin ice when they are dismissing the whole debate based on the “yuck factor”. This better not be symptomatic in their dealings with issues of this importance.

The disabled

I am ending this post on a positive note, since those who can benefit most from biology-enhancing/repairing technology are the disabled.

Disabled people in the wealthier industrialized countries, with their wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, novel computing interfaces and portable computing, are the most technologically dependent humans ever known, and are aggressive in their insistence on their rights to be technologically assisted in fully participating in society.

Any technology that enables interaction and inclusion in society whenever that would otherwise have been impossible, cannot possibly be opposed by anyone. But, the disabled must not end up as guinea pigs for tech-testing, and the right to refuse to adopt technologies must be central. Giving WTA extra points on this issue is this statement:

Just as we should have the choice to get rid of a disability, we should also have the right to choose not to be “fixed,” and to choose to live with bodies that aren’t “normal.”

Other cons for still considering Transhumanism includes their expressed intent to care:

about the well-being of all sentience

And most importantly, their open-debate approach to science and ethics. Not all emerging philosophies in history has had these as core values, and that may have been why so many of them brought about such devastation and human grief. If you on the other hand combine heartfelt intention to do good with open debate and a willingness learn from such a debate, you may have a winner…….even if your original views where completely off base.

More to follow.

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