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The Global Brain
"It is not guilty pride but the ceaselessly reawakened instinct of the game which calls forth new worlds." (Heraclitus Reloaded)
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    The human species is rapidly and indisputably moving towards the technological singularity. The cadence of the flow of information and innovation in...

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    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    Founding the Singularity University is perhaps one of the most essential events to happen lately. It is, I hope, only a first step in focusing and coordinating the efforts of bringing about a positive transformation of human civilization on this planet and beyond. First steps are often trend setting, especially in the light of the institute's stated agenda to educate and shape the leadership of a future singularity. As such the Singularity University deserves much attention and critical thinking and I do hope its founders are enough open minded to listen. I found the following blog post by Jamais Cascio a constructive response to this event worth republishing here in its entirety:

    So, Singularity University is now up and running (and has evidently fixed its web hosting problem). I've had a few people already ask me what I think of it. Based on what I've seen so far, I can just say:

    This is about as close to getting it wrong as I could imagine.

    I find the name and slogan annoying, but let's set those aside. I'm mostly astounded — and not in a good way — by the academic tracks. For those of you who haven't yet ventured into SU's ivy-covered marble halls, they are:

    1. Future Studies & Forecasting
    2. Networks & Computing Systems
    3. Biotechnology & Bioinformatics
    4. Nanotechnology
    5. Medicine, Neuroscience & Human Enhancement
    6. AI, Robotics, & Cognitive Computing
    7. Energy & Ecological Systems
    8. Space & Physical Sciences
    9. Policy, Law & Ethics
    10. Finance & Entrepreneurship

    The message here? People don't matter.

    The first track is just Singularitarianism 101. The next seven cover technology-based industries — the mix of "here's what you can invest in now!" with "here's something that we can imagine" still to be determined. The last one, on "Finance & Entrepreneurship," gives away the game with its introduction: " can we monetize this new knowledge of future technologies?"

    The only one that gives a glance at social forces? The catch-all on "Policy, Law & Ethics." Nice that they can fit all of those issues, which have consumed the human mind for millennia, into a single theme. Too bad they couldn't have found room for politics (which is not the same as policy), economics (sorry, finance isn't the same thing, either), demographics, history, cities and urban planning, trade and resources, or war, let alone art, media, psychology, or cultural studies, too.

    For an institution that claims to be "preparing humanity for accelerating technological change," it sure seems to be spending a lot more time talking about nifty gadgets than about the connection between technology and society.

    To put it another way: this is all about the symptoms of "accelerating technological change," and almost nothing about the consequences.

    For a trade show or a business workshop, that's fine. For something calling itself a university, it's amazingly short-sighted. Given the nature of the subject matter, that's especially ironic/tragic.

    Of course, constructive criticism is always more useful than ranty carping, so — having noticed that they say that their academic tracks are still being created — here's what I think they should have as their areas of study (limiting myself to ten, as well, albeit by cheating a bit):

    [Intro:] Future Studies & Forecasting: With Ray K as the chancellor, you're not going to get away without a Singularity 101 session — but this doesn't need to be a full track.
    1. Remaking Our Bodies:
    Understanding biotech, radical longevity, and enhancement.
    2. Remaking Our World:
    Understanding energy, ecological systems, and nanotechnologies.
    3. Remaking Our Minds:
    Understanding neurotech, cognitive systems, and AI.
    4. Power and Conflict:
    Emphasizing the role that political choices have in shaping technology.
    5. Scarcity, Trade, and Economics:
    How does scarcity manifest in an accelerating tech world? How do you deal
    with mass unemployment, technology diffusion, leapfrogging?
    6. Demography, Aging, and Human Mobility:
    Shifts in population and cultural identity; understanding impact of extending life.
    7. Human Identity and Communication:
    Understanding the changing nature of identity in a densely-linked world,
    looking at how different forms of identity clash.
    8. Governance and Law:
    How does governance emerge? How are laws about technology shaped?
    9. Ethics, Morality, and Unintended Consequences:
    How ethics emerges in a swiftly-changing environment; morality and
    technology; precautionary/proactionary principles.
    10. Openness, Resilience, and Models for Dealing with Rapid Transformation:
    Open source, open access, open governance; understanding resilience.

    That is: three tracks on emerging techs, two tracks on political/economic impacts, two tracks on human/culture impacts, and three on the processes and institutions that grapple with large-scale change. These kinds of classes would be much harder to put together than "This Tech Will Change Everything! 101", but they'd be correspondingly much more powerful.

    A useful Singularity University (or whatever it would be called) would be one that dove deeply into the nature of disruption, how society and technology co-evolve, and how we deal with unintended and unanticipated results of our choices. As sorry as I am to say it — there are some very good people, folks I admire and respect, who are on the faculty & advisor list — this institution isn't what we need in an era of uncertainty, crisis, and potential transformation.

    I see Jamais' thoughts primarily as an invitation to a discussion and exchange which is much in need, and I believe the SpaceCollective can and perhaps should become a stage for such discussion. Bringing about the singularity is not only about gaining knowledge and figuring how to solve humanity's pressing problems. Neither it is about avoiding global catastrophes, and regulating an accelerating technological transformation of society. To bring about a positive singularity we need a vision which goes far beyond our present survivalist conceptions and neolithic motivations. Besides bringing prosperity to all, fulfilling all our private and collective fantasies and dodging catastrophes, we really need a great something else which perhaps is quite evanescent while we still find ourselves within so many crises and existential risks. We need to figure, imagine, dream, invent, expose a human beyond the humans that we are. A human who is not only the sum total of the amazing augmentations technology promises.

    There must be a difference between super charged, hyper augmented, life extended, mind uploaded, catastrophe dodging, prosperous apes that we are already becoming... and a future singular phenomenon I have no name for as yet, that we might become.

    To allow this essential yet ephemeral difference arise we need Singularity art and Singularity philosophy as integral threads of a revolutionary happening such as the Singularity University. We need it open, wide open.
    Fri, Feb 6, 2009  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    How quickly do things change; when we started the Pin Yin series of posts describing our techno-optimism for 2008/2009 we did not realize we had so much to tell about. What was meant to be a short review became a foray into the realms of energy both alternative and exotic as portrayed in part 1, we then went and explored resources, and climate change, of our planet and beyond in part 2. Part 3 was dedicated to the explosion in brain science, psychology and the very real prospects of enhancing human intelligence and in part 4 we penetrated into the realm and the prospects of technology profoundly enhancing the human biological system through genetic, bionic, and other biotechnological interventions. Finally in part 5 we surveyed the advent of the information age, computation, the rise of robotics and the first steps towards a true Artificial Intelligence.

    We have now reached a pause, a point of reflection; we wish to dedicate part 6, probably the last in our techno-optimistic visionary series to projects that to our eyes represent an epitome of human endeavor and activist hope towards a better future. These are very real ideas at different stages of realization, some are visionary, others already implemented. What makes them stand out is the presence of a courageous out-of-the-box kind of ingenuity, the essential ingredient of a world changing idea. These are the ideas that made us proud of being human; not a very common sentiment these days, and if not for anything else, we find them most appropriate as our concluding note.

    Life Straw

    "Approximately 1 billion people throughout the world are without access to safe drinking water. A large percentage of these people suffer because their drinking supply is infected with bacteria, or microorganisms brought on by agricultural pollution and poor sanitation. But a much touted new device called the Life straw seeks to give those billion a fresh look at water...

    The Life straw is a little longer than a toilet paper tube, and about the same diameter. Inside the tube, a series of mechanical screens, carbon particles, and resin beads filter and kill most pathogenic bacteria and microorganisms common in water systems throughout the world. Using a patented material called PuroTech Disinfecting Resin, the filters are rated for 700 liters of water — approximately one year's use for a single individual. They require no training to use (just suck) and minimal maintenance.

    But perhaps most exciting is the cost: Only 2 dollars US if sold individually (presumably, volume discounting could apply). Obviously, this is a large amount of a subsistence farmer's income, but the amount of wages earned during the time lost to illness is probably comparable. And it's still awfully cheap for drinking water."

    From: (Life Straw: All You Can Drink For A Year!)

    Life straw is of course not the final solution for the acute lack of drinking water in developing countries. By 2015 half of the world population is predicted to live without access to clean drinking water. Dwindling resources of water may also affect the capability of whole populations to produce enough food. Drinking water is a planetary resource that needs planetary level solutions. Meanwhile, Life straw is one simple and ingenious answer for those who already find themselves without access to this precious resource. By that it buys for all of us some time to address this urgent issue.

    To the Life Straw project we award the Bravo!factor.

    The micro nutrient initiative

    The micro nutrient initiative was already mentioned in part 3 of this series. It is certainly one of those initiatives that can literally transform humanity in a matter of just a few generations. “Probably no other technology, the World Bank said of micronutrients, “offers as large an opportunity to improve lives ... at such low cost and in such a short time.”

    “The Copenhagen Consensus, which brings together a panel of top global economists to find the most cost-effective solutions to the world’s problems, puts micronutrients at the top of the list of foreign aid spending priorities.”

    In a New York Times article named “Raising the World’s I.Q”, Nicholas D. Kristof reveals a plan to massively boost intelligence worldwide using a chemical additive, as part of the micronutrient initiative. He writes:

    Almost one-third of the world’s people don’t get enough iodine from food and water. The result in extreme cases is large goiters that swell their necks, or other obvious impairments such as dwarfism or cretinism. But far more common is mental slowness. When a pregnant woman doesn’t have enough iodine in her body, her child may suffer irreversible brain damage and could have an I.Q. that is 10 to 15 points lower than it would otherwise be. An educated guess is that iodine deficiency results in a needless loss of more than 1 billion I.Q. points around the world.

    In a blog post “The perfect cognition enhancer” about the same issue, Andres Sandberg adds:

    Similarly iodine appears to be a de facto cognitive enhancer with big social impact: the total economic impact of reduced iodine deficiency can be enormous. Iodine deficient populations had 12.5-13.5 IQ points less than normal populations. In areas of severe iodine deficiency cretinism can affect 5-10%, straining the resources of the community to support them beside the direct loss to the sufferers. Since cognition is important for personal success, for example by affecting how much can be learned in school, work productivity and health behaviors, deficiency likely has large detrimental effects on the community.

    Using the assumption that 1 IQ point is worth about 1% increased income (a low estimate; when comparing IQs and GDP across countries the relation seems even stronger) this would mean an increase in average income by at least 10% - definitely nothing to sneeze at. Better, there seem to be strong network effects of cognition in a society: if more people are smart, educatable and healthy they will produce wealth more efficiently. Note that this calculation has not taken into account the effects of apathy and illness due to iodine deficiency, just the cognitive impairment - fixing those will probably have at least a comparable effect on their own.

    "The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, launched at a UN Special Session in May 2002, was created to pave the way. Chiefly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the organization's mission is to help governments and food producers in needy countries start their own iron, iodine and folate fortification programs. As to vitamin A, the Micronutrient Initiative will work with governments and nongovernmental organizations to expand supplement distribution programs in countries that already have them and develop new ones in those that don't."

    (From: Vitamin and mineral deficiencies harm one-third of the world's population)

    There is no doubt that there is a direct link between smarts and the ability to produce wealth. There seems to be a firm connection between mental and cognitive enhancement and technological progress. In the light of the serious problems humanity faces today, the importance of pharmaceutical brain enhancement becomes quite clear and we are sure we will see its priority rapidly increasing on the public agenda. The ongoing change of attitude towards intelligence enhancement is perhaps the most significant paradigm shift presently taking place.

    To the global Micronutrient initiative we award the Bravo!factor.

    The Solar Internet

    The internet is certainly becoming the backbone of future civilization on this planet. Yet, large communities in developing countries do not have access to the internet. They cannot be left out.

    SolarNetOne is a collaborative effort spanning several continents, organizations, and technical disciplines, with the goal of developing a feasible, sustainable solution for providing public and private Internet access and related services to areas that do not have the benefit of a reliable power or communications grid. With experts in open source software, photo-voltaic electricity, internet infrastructure, and true internet pioneers on the SolarNetOne team, we have endeavored to design and implement systems capable of bridging the digital divide under the most difficult of conditions, and in the most open method available. (From SolarNetOne Wiki)

    Developed by Florida based GNUveau, the system is a solar-powered Internet “hub” (running Ubuntu GNU/Linux). The terminals includes access to web browsing, email, voip, office, multimedia, software development and web development tools as well as 15,000 other applications. Wifi coverage spans a 2-mile radius, with no fuel costs, no polluting emissions and a long lifespan of up to 20 years with proper maintenance. The entire system, in fact, operates on about the same amount of power as a 100-watt light bulb, GNUveau says.

    To SolarNetOne we award the Bravo!factor.

    A new kind of transportation

    Visionary Shai Agassi has founded a new startup called Better Place, aiming to introduce a paradigm shift in how we think about and operate private transportation. It is not only about replacing conventionally fueled cars with zero emission electric cars. It is about a whole system that includes environmentally friendly transportation, smart use of renewable energy, and the way we own and use cars.

    Electric cars had been the future for over 100 years. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Electric Vehicle Company was the largest automaker in the US, with dealers from Paris to Mexico City. But oil, in the end, supplanted volts on American highways because of one perennial problem: batteries. Car batteries, then and now, are heavy and expensive, don’t last long, and take forever to recharge. In five minutes you can fill a car with enough gas to go 300 miles, but five minutes of charging at home gets you only about 8 miles in an electric car. Clever tricks, like adding “range extenders”—gas engines that kick in when a battery dies—end up making the cars too expensive.

    Agassi dealt with the battery issue by simply swatting it away. Previous approaches relied on a traditional manufacturing formula: We make the cars, you buy them. Agassi reimagined the entire automotive ecosystem by proposing a new concept he called the Electric Recharge Grid Operator. It was an unorthodox mashup of the automotive and mobile phone industries. Instead of gas stations on every corner, the ERGO would blanket a country with a network of “smart” charge spots. Drivers could plug in anywhere, anytime, and would subscribe to a specific plan—unlimited miles, a maximum number of miles each month, or pay as you go—all for less than the equivalent cost for gas. They’d buy their car from the operator, who would offer steep discounts, perhaps even give the cars away. The profit would come from selling electricity—the minutes.

    There would be plugs in homes, offices, shopping malls. And when customers couldn’t wait to “fill up,” they’d go to battery exchange stations where they would pull into car-wash-like sheds, and in a few minutes, a hydraulic lift would swap the depleted battery with a fresh one. Drivers wouldn’t pay a penny extra: The ERGO would own the battery.

    Agassi unveiled the outline of his vision for the crowd at the Saban event: a new kind of infrastructure, with ubiquitous charge stations, that was not only simple and logical but potentially profitable, too. As he talked, he read the body language of the audience—they were leaning forward, they were nodding—and he fed off it, layering on details. A country like Israel, he told them, could get off oil by simply adopting his new business model. No technological breakthroughs were necessary. No new inventions. It was as if he’d discovered a trapdoor beneath both the gasoline industry and the auto industry, a combined $3 trillion market. It sounded easy and unavoidable. Even Daniel Yergin was amazed. Shai Agassi had stolen the show.

    By early summer 2008, Agassi had two countries ready to roll out the plan, a major automaker producing the cars, and $200 million in committed capital. He had launched the fifth-largest startup of all time in less than a year.

    (Adapted from Wired Magazine)

    Aggasi’s plan to electrify the private transportation system is nothing short of ingenious. It is a win-win game for governments, car owners, for the environment, for the economy and for Aggasi’s company. True many details must be worked out properly for such a deep change to take place. But it seems entirely within reach. Read the rest here.

    The paradigm shift proposed by Agassi, will certainly encourage projects like the three-wheeled, crash-resilient, all-electric hyper car, Aptera.

    Expected to be in full production and distribution by October 2009, Southern California-based manufacturer Aptera Motors will initially sell the vehicles only in their home state, at an expected cost between US $25,000-$45,000. The company plans to extend the distribution of the Aptera to the rest of the United States by late 2010.

    According to the manufacturer, the aerodynamically-inspired 2e will go from zero to 60 in under 10 seconds, top out at 90 mph and get the equivalent of more than 200 miles-per-gallon(!) based on a standard EPA driving cycle. “

    To Shai Agassi and the Better place project as well as to the Aptera we award the Bravo!factor.

    Alternative monetary systems

    “Not since Marx identified the manufacturing plants of Manchester as the blueprint for the new capitalist society has there been a deeper transformation of the fundamentals of our social life. As political, economic, and social systems transform themselves into distributed networks, a new human dynamic is emerging: peer to peer (P2P). As P2P gives rise to the emergence of a third mode of production, a third mode of governance, and a third mode of property, it is poised to overhaul our political economy in unprecedented ways…”

    (From: The Political Economy of Peer Production- Michel Bauwens at Ctheory)

    Though the above quote was published in 2005, the economic reality of 2008-2009 has proven yet again that given enough pressure to change, human civilization will muster its mindfulness to accommodate new ways of doing things. A proliferation of new ideas, methods and fashions has found its way to the mainstream economic trends, so much so that Time Magazine devoted a full article on the issue:

    ” Alternative (or "complementary") currencies range from quaint to robust, simple to high tech. There are Greens from the Lettuce Patch Bank at the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in rural northeastern Missouri. In western Massachusetts one finds fine-artist-designed BerkShares, which are convertible to U.S. dollars. More than $2 million in BerkShares have been issued through the 12 branches of five local banks, according to Susan Witt, executive director of the E.F. Schumacher Society, the nonprofit behind the currency. And in South Africa, proprietary software keeps track of Community Exchange System (CES) Talents; one ambitious plan is to make Khayelitsha, a vast, desolate township of perhaps 1 million inhabitants near Cape Town, a self-sustaining community."

    (From: Alternative Currencies Grow in Popularity, Time Magazine, Dec 2008)

    A number of new web sites that are dedicated to novel currency systems and projects has emerged; most prominent and interesting are: Kashklash and the Transitioner, those we have chosen for the Bravo!factor:

    “KashKlash is a space to share thoughts on, and to shape, the future; a playground for visionary people like you, who, in a sense, are already living a few years ahead. Let’s start from the basic consideration that people have always shared and exchanged things. Sure, it comes to us naturally. But today’s digital communication systems are changing and expanding this age-old behaviour: not only are there new things to share — pictures, music, ratings, writings, videos, data and information — but there are now also many more platforms and opportunities for sharing and exchanging to take place.” (From Kashklash)

    TheTransitioner is an international network of researchers, social entrepreneurs, spiritual explorers, visionaries, writers, leaders, scientists, technical and software engineers who work on Collective Intelligence, Wisdom and Consciousness (CIWC). Jean-François Noubel, founder of the Transitioner in his captivating article writes:

    Money is probably the trickiest and most powerful invisible architecture because it is pervasive and planetary. Although money has taken digital form, its fundamental dynamic has remained the same since the Victorian age. Its built-in architecture is based on artificial scarcity and centralization and works like a seed from which wealth and power concentration, ownership, usury, and secrecy unfold. The emerging planetary consciousness, observable through the arising of the free/open source economy, is about to invent its own appropriate new monetary systems that will support its body structure. In the coming years, anyone will be able to create currencies. There will be millions of them. Money is about to follow the path of distributed networks.

    (From: Collective Bodhisattvas by Jean-François Noubel)

    There are additional organizations and projects worthy of note: People and plants international write in their website:

    "We believe that cultural diversity is inherently linked to biological diversity and that effective stewardship of our Earth must involve local people. We also believe that traditional knowledge systems are invaluable to manage and conserve threatened landscapes and respond to global change."

    The Community Economies project, is a place where new visions of community and economy can be theorized, discussed, represented and enacted. The project grew out of J.K. Gibson-Graham's feminist critique of political economy that focused upon the limiting effects of representing economies as dominantly capitalist. Central to the project is the idea that economies are always diverse and always in the process of becoming. This project developed as a way of documenting the multiple ways in which people are making economies of difference and in the process building new forms of community.

    Special Mentions

    In our choice of the Bravo!factor, we would like to mention two more issues:
    In the New York Times article from July 13, 2008: 'When human rights extend to non humans', we first read that the environment committee of the Spanish parliament voted to grant limited rights to our closest biological relatives, the great apes — chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans. The committee would bind Spain to the principles of the Great Ape Project, which points to apes’ human qualities, including the ability to feel fear and happiness, create tools, use languages, remember the past and plan the future. The project’s directors, Peter Singer, the Princeton ethicist, and Paola Cavalieri, an Italian philosopher, regard apes as part of a “community of equals” with humans.

    With their motto 'Equality beyond humanity' the idea behind the Great Ape Project is founded upon undeniable scientific proof that non-human great apes share more than genetically similar DNA with their human counterparts. They enjoy a rich emotional and cultural existence in which they experience emotions such as fear, anxiety and happiness. They share the intellectual capacity to create and use tools, learn and teach other languages. They remember their past and plan for their future. It is in recognition of these and other morally significant qualities that the Great Ape Project was founded. The Great Ape Project seeks to end the unconscionable treatment of our nearest living relatives by obtaining for non-human great apes the fundamental moral and legal protections of the right to life, the freedom from arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and protection from torture. (From The Great Ape Project Website)

    Spain's move, so we hope, is only a first one among many that will pronounce in action a potential upgrade of the human ethical system. An evolved humanity must realize its undeniable interconnectedness and therefore responsibility to all life, and this realization should find its place in our ethics. More about that in 'The Emerging Uplift Principle'.

    Last and certainly not least in our respectable list is a provocative and enlightening article by Steven Pinker published on may 2008 in the New Republic under the title 'The Stupidity of Dignity'. Pinker's article starts with the following:

    "This spring, the President's Council on Bioethics released a 555-page report, titled Human Dignity and Bioethics. The Council, created in 2001 by George W. Bush, is a panel of scholars charged with advising the president and exploring policy issues related to the ethics of biomedical innovation, including drugs that would enhance cognition, genetic manipulation of animals or humans, therapies that could extend the lifespan, and embryonic stem cells and so-called "therapeutic cloning" that could furnish replacements for diseased tissue and organs. Advances like these, if translated into freely undertaken treatments, could make millions of people better off and no one worse off. So what's not to like? The advances do not raise the traditional concerns of bioethics, which focuses on potential harm and coercion of patients or research subjects. What, then, are the ethical concerns that call for a presidential council?
    Many people are vaguely disquieted by developments (real or imagined) that could alter minds and bodies in novel ways. Romantics and Greens tend to idealize the natural and demonize technology. Traditionalists and conservatives by temperament distrust radical change. Egalitarians worry about an arms race in enhancement techniques. And anyone is likely to have a "yuck" response when contemplating unprecedented manipulations of our biology. The President's Council has become a forum for the airing of this disquiet, and the concept of "dignity" a rubric for expounding on it. This collection of essays is the culmination of a long effort by the Council to place dignity at the center of bioethics. The general feeling is that, even if a new technology would improve life and health and decrease suffering and waste, it might have to be rejected, or even outlawed, if it affronted human dignity."

    Pinker makes an excellent job in exposing how high human values such as dignity are cynically obscured and distorted for the purpose of advancing certain political agendas. Nowadays when powerful words and concepts are being abused as a matter of acceptable political practice, Pinker's article was read with relief. It is a wakeup call to all of us to sharpen our critical thinking and become mindful to the way we use language. As our reality becomes increasingly complex, we should all strive to become keen observers and critical thinkers, mindful to the subtleties and sensibilities of the vast conceptual ecology our minds exist in.

    End note

    The Bravo!factor is our way of showing appreciation and yes, even gratitude, for the multitude of humans that make this civilization of ours have hope and reach for its proper place in the universe.

    We say bravo when we witness an act or an initiative or indeed a performance that rightfully deserves to be applauded. Applauded for its courage and bravery in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, acclaimed for its vision and groundbreaking actuation, commended for the anticipation it creates in us, but above all for the fresh invigorating wind it continuously blows into the sails of our optimistic vision for the future of humanity.

    We started the “Pin-Yin Shi Shi Zao Ying Xiong!” series as an overview of clues to optimism from science and technology heralding great changes for life as we know it, these in turn become the harbingers of social movements and “Great movements for social change always begin with statements of great optimism”, which is as was mentioned before, a political act (Optimism is a political act).

    And yet, ours is not a political statement but maybe an intellectual emotion based on the reality of the facts of knowledge that came to our attention accompanied with a generous dosage of desire to see humanity thrive.

    Humanity is on the move, our civilization is progressing, and the clues for that, as we have shown, are innumerable. The explosive powers unleashed by the Internet and the resulting emergence of collaborative intelligence is nothing less than awe inspiring; as with the Polytopia project and the contributions we all share here at Space Collective, we see the end of this series as only the embryonic stage of the approaching singularity.

    We are living in interesting times indeed! We hope you have enjoyed reading and thank you all for allowing us to share our optimistic vision.

    Wildcat, Spaceweaver
    Sun, Jan 25, 2009  Permanent link

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    This is the fourth of a series of articles jointly written by Wildcat and Spaceweaver, summing our techno-optimistic view of 2008. This part is dedicated to the prospects of technology profoundly enhancing the human biological system through genetic, bionic, and other biotechnological interventions.

    Such prospects invoke in many, deep concerns, even fears, that the very essence of human nature is being meddled with, and such meddling will bring with it unpredictable and possibly adverse consequences. Having said that, we believe that the human scientific and technological advancements, guided by an enhanced sense of ethical consideration and rational openness to the current needs of the world will usher a future in which illness and ailments, suffering born of faulty genes or unfortunate circumstances can, should and will be eradicated.

    “They said Ned Ludd was an idiot boy
    That all he could do was wreck and destroy, and
    He turned to his workmates and said: Death to Machines
    They tread on our future and they stamp on our dreams.”

    (Robert Calvert wrote and recorded the song Ned Ludd, appearing on his 1985 album Freq)

    Have you ever heard of Ned Ludd? Well, Ned Ludd is the person from whom the Luddites took their name. His actions were the inspiration for the folkloric character of "Captain Ludd" who became the Luddites' imagined leader and founder. The year is 1811 and the industrial revolution is in full swing, a new social movement of British textile artisans is born to protest—often by destroying mechanized looms—against the changes produced by the industrial revolution, which they felt were leaving them without livelihood. These then are the Luddites, anti-technologists and possibly technophobes, and yet given the times of their arrival one may even be able to sympathize with their lack of foresight and insufficient vision, they were after all mostly skilled artisans who lost substantial income due to newly created textile machines. (Adapted from: History of Luddism and wiki/Luddites)

    But even if we extend our understanding to ideologies past, carrying a load of ignorance and insufficient facts we cannot in any fashion accept the modern form of Luddism, Bio-luddism.The premise that many new and advanced technologies influence human nature in a way that degrades the overall quality of human existence can be said to represent the main aspect of Bio-luddism. Moreover, Bio-luddism as George Dvorsky puts it in his eye- opening essay, in the paragraph ‘Big Brother wants you dead’:
    At times the Bio-Luddites sound parochial and authoritarian, and at their worst they sound downright ideological and even totalitarian. Indeed, as Leon Kass has repeatedly stated, "the finitude of human life is a blessing for every individual, whether he knows it or not." And frighteningly, when asked by Brian Alexander, the author of Rapture: How Biotechnology Became the New Religion, if the government has a right to tell its citizens that they have to die, Francis Fukuyama answered, "Yes, absolutely."

    (From: Deathist Nation-At Sentient developments )

    And yet as any conscious aware intelligent entity such as we supposedly are, realizes, the advances of biomedicine, molecular biology and the whole realm of anti-aging has recently received a fundamental revitalization, so Bio-luddites notwithstanding, we desire to live longer, healthier lives and we now may finally have the means to implement these desires. For is it not the case that given a sufficiently advanced and safe technology each and every one of us will choose life over death? Health over illness? Upgrade of mental capacities over a continuous degradation? The fact that we are shaped by our genes is indisputable, a fact that we may know intellectually but feel very little. “None of us know what made us what we are, and when we have to say something, we make up a good story” (so says Steven Pinker in My Genome, My Self) What it all comes down to is the need to finally realize the foundations of human biology, the transformation that continuously arises from it and the implications of this transformation on understanding ourselves.

    The transformation of human biology takes place within a few distinct disciplines of life science and technology. The first is of course the field of genetics. The human genome, considered to be the blueprint of the human biological system and many aspects of human nature, was first sequenced in 2003 after a 13 years long project costing about 300 million dollars. In 2007, 2 human genomes were sequenced for one million dollar each. In 2008, 3 genomes were sequenced costing 60,000$ each. Conservative predictions towards 2009 speak about sequencing 1000 genomes taking approximately 2 weeks each with costs just under 10,000$ each. In just a few years sequencing a genome is predicted to become as cheap and as ubiquitous as a complex blood test. It will become part of standard medical practice, and this will open the age of personalized medicine, where medical care will be specifically tailored to the individual with optimal effectiveness.

    Personalized medicine tries to answer questions like: Why do some people get cancer and others don't? Why is cancer more aggressive in this person compared to that one? Why does this drug work for you and not for me? Why does someone need twice the standard dose to be effective? And why do others need only half of the standard dose? The goal of personalized medicine is to get the best medical outcomes by choosing treatments that work well with a person's genomic profile, or with certain characteristics in the person's blood proteins or cell surface proteins.
    (FDA: Genomics and Personalized Medicine)

    Meanwhile, Fast Sequencing and personal Genomics companies providing partial yet effective genetic screening, are on the rise: “Startups offering genetic analysis directly to consumers, including 23andMe and Navigenics, have had a roller-coaster year. “The Genetic Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibits genetic discrimination in employment or health insurance, passed after more than a decade of debate, removing a potential barrier to use.” (Technology review) The very fact that the genetic non-discrimination act has passed is one of the main reasons to be optimistic about our capability to adjust our social organization to transformative technologies. This legislation provides comprehensive protection against all forms of genetic discrimination and is necessary to ensure that biomedical research continues to advance.

    One cannot overstate the vast impact genomics has on medicine and our understanding of the human system. We already know today that many medical conditions, some of which severe and disabling, are of genetic origin. Technologies are emerging that will allow (and already are allowing) correcting disease causing genetic errors, or totally avoid them in the first place. On January 2009, the first British baby genetically screened before conception to be free of a breast cancer gene has been born. This is only a first hint of the huge potential genetic screening has in ridding humanity’s genetic pool from a long list of hereditary diseases, and hereditary dispositions towards medical conditions. Genetic screening, though it is already technologically within reach is still highly controversial, perhaps because it represents one of the most profoundly effective means of altering the human biological makeup.

    Advances in biomedicine and especially regenerative medicine promise the possibility of reversing many severe illnesses and restoring the body to optimal and prolonged health condition. Deciphering the human genome will soon allow medical interventions at the genetic level. This evolving field is called Gene therapy; but what is Gene Therapy?

    “Imagine that you accidentally broke one of your neighbor's windows. What would you do? You could stay silent, no one will ever find out that you are guilty, but the window doesn't get fixed. You could try to repair the cracked window with some tape: not the best long-term solution. Or, you could put in a new window: not only do you solve the problem, but also you do the honorable thing. What does this have to do with gene therapy?

    You can think of a medical condition or illness as a "broken window." Many medical conditions result from flaws, or mutations, in one or more of a person's genes. Mutations cause the protein encoded by that gene to malfunction. When a protein malfunctions, cells that rely on that protein's function can't behave normally, causing problems for whole tissues or organs. Medical conditions related to gene mutations are called genetic disorders.

    So, if a flawed gene caused our "broken window," can you "fix" it? What are your options?

    1. Stay silent: ignore the genetic disorder and nothing gets fixed.
    2. Try to treat the disorder with drugs or other approaches: depending on the disorder, treatment may or may not be a good long-term solution.
    3. Replace the flawed gene with a correct, functioning copy: if you can do this, it will solve the problem from its root!

    If it is successful, gene therapy provides a way to fix a problem at its source. Adding a corrected copy of the gene may help the affected cells, tissues and organs restoring their optimal function. Gene therapy differs from traditional drug-based approaches, which may treat the problem, but do not repair the underlying genetic flaw.”

    (From: What is gene Therapy? The University of Utah genetic science learning center)

    2008 has also seen a tremendous advance in the field of regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy. Stem cells are special kind of cells that can be reprogrammed to replace virtually any other kind of cell in the body. This versatility is the key to their outstanding therapeutic potential.

    When stems cells are placed within a damaged organ such as heart, liver, skin or even the brain, they are capable to promptly reprogram themselves to become healthy cells of that organ and actually regenerate the sick tissue. Scientists hope one day to be able to create whole new organs from a patient's own stem cells and by that cure or replace organs damaged by sickness or accidents.

    Just for the taste what regenerative medicine promises within the coming decade or even sooner, the Guardian reported last week about A revolutionary stem cell therapy:

    a team led by Sara Rankin at Imperial College London has discovered a way to stimulate bone marrow to release two other types of stem cell, which between them can repair bone, blood vessels and cartilage. Giving mice a drug called mozobil and a naturally occuring growth factor called VEGF boosted stem cell counts in their bloodstream more than 100-fold.

    "This has huge and broad implications. It's an untapped process," said Rankin, whose study appears in the US journal Cell Stem Cell. "Suppose a person comes in to hospital having had a heart attack. You give them these drugs and stem cells are quickly released into the blood. We know they will naturally home in on areas of damage, so if you've got a broken bone, or you've had a heart attack, the stem cells will go there. In response to a heart attack, you'd accelerate the repair process."

    “In its annual list of the year's top ten scientific breakthroughs, the journal Science has given top honors to a research that produced "made-to-order" cell lines by reprogramming cells from ill patients. These cell lines, and the techniques for producing them, offer long-sought tools for understanding — and hopefully someday curing — difficult-to-study diseases such as Parkinson's disease and type 1 diabetes.” (Science daily)

    Biomedicine is at present the most promising field of immediate succor to millions of people all over the world, suffering, we believe will eventually be a reference in the history books. However, not all failures of the human imperfect machine can be cured in this fashion.

    When biology fails due to severe illness or accidents, the fast pacing field of bionics offers an increasing number of artificial replacements to failing or missing biological systems. For years now, a few companies work towards the holy grail of building an implantable artificial heart. In BBC news from October 2008, scientists say they have a working prototype of a fully artificial heart ready for implanting in humans. Meanwhile a company named Tengion is experimenting with full sized artificial bladder grown from a patient’s own tissue over a biodegradable scaffold. This technology could one day produce many kinds of replacement inner organs made from a patient’s own tissues. Such organs can replace organs that were damaged by illness, aging or accidents.

    The convergence of man and machine has gained quite a lot of momentum in 2008. Dean Kamen has presented his amazing bionic hand, and researchers with the Boston Retinal Implant Project, which was spun out of MIT, Harvard Medical School, and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in 1988, are developing an artificial eye

    These are amazing technological advancements, but the really far-reaching technological advancements in the field of bionics have to do with directly interfacing the brain with electronic computers. The cochlear implant often referred to, as a bionic ear is a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. Unlike hearing aids, the cochlear implant does not amplify sound, but works by directly stimulating any functioning auditory nerves inside the cochlea with an electric field. Approximately 150,000 people worldwide have received cochlear implants, with recipients split almost evenly between children and adults. Patients with a ‘locked in’ syndrome, severely paralyzed to the extent they cannot move any part of their bodies and therefore cannot communicate, were first able to operate computers by the power of their thoughts alone, by that regaining contact with the world around them and some sort of independence. This amazing feat of technology is achieved by directly interfacing computer hardware to neurons in the brain. For a fascinating account of the state of the art brain implants and brain machine interface read Discover magazine’s The rise of the Cyborgs

    No doubt the field of bionics is in its infancy. In the coming decades we can expect to see emerging technologies capable of replacing many if not most of our biological systems with engineered and probably significantly enhanced systems. The futuristic field of nanomedicine already explores the convergence of nanotechnology and medicine; microscopic robots could one day roam our bodies and perform complex tasks of monitoring metabolism, tissue repair, drug delivery and neural interfacing on the cellular level.

    Last and perhaps the most impacting prospect of technology changing our biology is that of life extension. Human life expectancy is already increasing for a few centuries. Lately, however, the possibility of stopping aging altogether attracted quite a lot of attention from the media, and it seems that last year, for the first time, very significant life extension is not considered anymore as a fictional prospect but as a viable option for people living today. A paradigm shift regarding ageing and death is gaining a real momentum.

    “Biological aging is a progressive, degenerative process of decay, in which the healthy cellular and molecular order laid down in our youth slowly falls apart in the face of accumulating aging damage to its functional structures. This damage is a series of unintended biochemical side-effects of normal metabolism. As more and more of our cellular and molecular structures suffer this damage, functionality is lost, and health, resilience, and vitality are slowly taken away from us, leading to increasing age-related pathology. Thus, as laid out in the Flowchart: metabolism on-goingly causes aging damage, and accumulating damage eventually reaches a critical mass at which it causes age-related frailty, disability, disease, and ultimately, death.”
    (The Metushelah foundation website)

    Anti-aging scientific research becomes more credible and increasingly funded. Much of this momentum belongs to Aubrey de Grey, who was the first to offer the radical idea that today’s life sciences is mature enough to tackle head on the issue of aging and offer some very real results. It is de Grey’s prediction that the first human to live a 1000 years has already been born. This proposition has a great many profound implications on culture, economy, social organization, ethics, religion and individual psychology and more. In a Cosmos magazine article Becoming Immortal, Bryan Appleyard writes: “Within a few decades, we might reasonably expect to have extended life to 150 years or more – the first human to live to 1,000 may have already been born. But, does death give meaning to our lives? Where do we go from here?”. The article, is a good starting point in helping to understand the possible implications of extreme life extension (there is also a book on the subject by the same author). Additional articles on the subjects are: How one day we may all be eternally young and Who wants to live for ever? A scientific breakthrough could mean humans live for hundreds of years, both published by the Independent.

    On the scientific side of this story, the new thinking about aging is progressively more evident. “Age may not be rust after all. Specific genetic instructions drive aging in worms, report researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.“ Their discovery contradicts the prevailing theory that aging is a buildup of tissue damage akin to rust, and implies science might eventually halt or even reverse the ravages of age. The first anti-aging drug by Sirtris will enter human trial phase early 2009. “Cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, heart disease: All have stubbornly resisted billions of dollars of research conducted by the world's finest minds. But they all may finally be defied by a single new class of drugs, a virtual cure for the diseases of aging.

    In labs across the country, researchers are developing several new drugs that target the cellular engines called mitochondria. The first, resveratrol, is already in clinical trials for diabetes. It could be on the market in four years and used off-label as an all-purpose longevity enhancer. Other drugs promise to be more potent and refined. They might even be cheap.

    It's going to revolutionize western medicine," said Doug Wallace, a pioneer of mitochondrial medicine at the University of California at Irvine. "All the things that are common for an aging society, and nobody worried about when they died of infectious disease," he said, could be treated.

    (Wired Magazine’s New Longevity Drugs Poised to Tackle Diseases of Aging )

    The introduction of engineering methods to augment the human system either by genetic manipulation, biomedical interventions, bionics and otherwise raises ethical issues over which heated debates are already taking place. Should such interventions be confined to therapeutic use only or should we pursue ways to enhance the human system with such technologies? And if we pursue enhancement, how can we possibly define the lines between human, non-humans and super human? Additionally, how can we make sure that such technologies will be safe and available to all? This is of course part of a much wider ethical issue having to do with human augmentation. The bio-luddites and bio-conservatives in general hold that the human biological system, its form, its capacities and limitations, including life span, are essential aspects of human nature and human identity. Our position regarding the issue is that human nature is evolving, and this evolution is part and parcel of what it means to be human. Indeed we have many serious questions to answer, and how we will answer them will, to a very large extent, redefine what it means to be human. Yet we believe that these questions should be approached courageously and with much openness. Our identity as human beings is primarily shaped by our minds not our bodies.

    No one has expressed the sense that we carry with us at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 better than J.B.S. Haldane’s 1923 paper: Daedalus; or, Science and the Future:
    "The chemical or physical inventor is always a Prometheus. There is no great invention, from fire to flying, which has not been hailed as an insult to some god. But if every physical and chemical invention is a blasphemy, every biological invention is a perversion. There is hardly one which, on first being brought to the notice of an observer from any nation which had not previously heard of their existence, would not appear to him as indecent and unnatural." (A paper read to the Heretics, by British scientist J.B.S. Haldane, Cambridge, February 4th, 1923)


    To be continued in part 5
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    This is the second in a series of articles jointly written by Wildcat and Spaceweaver, summing our techno-optimistic view of 2008. In this part we shall focus on resources, climate change, our planet and beyond.

    The way towards unlimited energy seems to be promising. We are yet to get there; we are yet to turn this earth into an abundant paradise. Meanwhile we have become increasingly aware that the very possibility of realizing the brightest vision starts with our ability to responsibly and intelligently manage the precious and dwindling resources of humanity at present. Two examples we found most interesting and inspiring have to do with water. Although 5/6 of the surface of earth is covered with water, the drinking water resources of this planet are in a critical condition. Water resources hold the potential of becoming a cause for international bloody conflicts in the very near future. The map of "blue gold" (picture) is the result of nearly a decade of sometimes difficult talks between neighboring governments, mediated by UNESCO. The hope is that it will help pave the way to an international law to govern how water is shared around the world. This atlas of hidden water is a resource of knowledge that may help the nations of the world to collaborate in managing this life giving resource instead of pointlessly fighting over it.

    Another story of rapidly dwindling resources is the global collapse of fisheries due to over fishing. Many of the fish species that were abundant just a few years ago are now extinct, and the problem worsens rapidly. A new study reported in offers, perhaps for the first time a hint as to how we might prevent the collapse of fisheries which are a primary source of food for hundreds of millions: “The study published in the September 19 issue of Science shows that an innovative yet contentious fisheries management strategy called "catch shares" can reverse fisheries collapse. Where traditional "open access" fisheries have converted to catch shares, both fishermen and the oceans have benefited. The results of the study are striking: while nearly a third of open-access fisheries have collapsed, the number is only half that for fisheries managed under catch share systems. Furthermore, the authors show that catch shares reverse the overall downward trajectory for fisheries worldwide, and that this beneficial effect strengthens over time.”

    Economical growth, growing energy demands and the aggressive over usage of other natural resources have long term global effects first of which in magnitude and severity is man induced climate change. The evidence for climate change is as of today incontrovertible, and the concern that climate change represents a real existential risk to the whole of humanity, gains a growing consensus. The heated debate over climate change being human induced or naturally occurring is nevertheless still on, and the general motions towards reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses by industrialized nations is hesitant at best. More voices are heard nowadays saying that the process of climate change is well beyond its point of no return, and humanity is due to pay devastating prices within a century or less no matter how extreme are the measures we will be willing to take in the near future.

    In the light of such grim forecasts by many experts, few scientists have raised the fantastic possibility that the only way to avert the ill effects of climate change, is to embark on an ambitious project of global climate control. How can we possibly imagine we can control the weather? At October’s Global Catastrophic Risks Conference in Mountain View J. Storrs Hall gave a presentation entitled “The Weather Machine” on the potential for nano-enabled “Climate Control for the Earth” watch the video here. Moreover, this weather machine also happens to be the ultimate solar energy production machine making it our door towards a Kardashev type 1 and eventually even type 2 civilization.

    Probably we are not going to have a weather controlled earth anytime soon. The point is to highlight this kind of creative ‘Hutzpa’ in addressing the very serious problems that humanity is facing today. People like J. Storrs and C. Venter do not just give talks about weather machines, synthetic life forms, and cheap fusion reactors. They afterwards go to their labs and make it happen.

    No doubt, the entire planet earth is our most precious resource; yet, thinking about future resources, earth is definitely not the limit, certainly not in our dreams, and lately not in our scientific understanding and technological ambitions. In year 2008 the presence of water on Mars has become an established fact. (picture) Back in 2007, a first earth like planet was discovered by astronomers 20.5 light years away. Up to date about 300 exoplanets were discovered and new technologies to detect earth like planets are being vigorously pursued. At this point, if you ask yourself what a 20 light years far earth like planet has to do with out pressing resource problems, read NewScientist’s 2006 article “Take a leap into hyperspace”. As incredible as it might sound, some serious scientists do think that space travel beyond the solar system is possible. From the paper: “Every year, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics awards prizes for the best papers presented at its annual conference. Last year's winner in the nuclear and future flight category went to a paper calling for experimental tests of an astonishing new type of engine. According to the paper, this hyperdrive motor would propel a craft through another dimension at enormous speeds. It could leave Earth at lunchtime and get to the moon in time for dinner. There's just one catch: the idea relies on an obscure and largely unrecognized kind of physics. Can they possibly be serious? The AIAA is certainly not embarrassed. What's more, the US military has begun to cast its eyes over the hyperdrive concept, and a space propulsion researcher at the US Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories has said he would be interested in putting the idea to the test.”

    Meanwhile, exploring extremely hostile to life environments on earth is giving us new insights regarding life in general and the possibility of finding extraterrestrial life in particular. Life, as we discover, can find ways to proliferate in what we used to believe are extreme conditions. Watch this fascinating TED lecture by Penelope Boston on the prospects of life on other planets.

    A future exponentially expanding civilization will necessarily have an exponentially growing need for resources. Expanding into space seems to be the only long term option to fulfill such needs. Until we get there, however, we need to assume full responsibility to the only repository of resources in our hands: Spaceship Earth. How are we going to do that?

    In a fascinating interview Jonah Lehrer (author of one of the best books we have read in 2008- Proust was a neuroscientist) talks to Peter Ubel over at Scientific American Mind. The interview:” eBay and the Brain: What Psychology Teaches Us about the Economic Downturn” reflects to our mind the exact situation we are in at the end of 2008.

    “Lehrer: Your new book, Free Market Madness, argues that conventional economics, which assumes that humans are rational agents acting in their own self-interest, is deeply naive and scientifically unrealistic. Instead, you describe a brain brimming with biases and flaws. Do you think these flaws are responsible for the latest economic turmoil? If so, how?

    Ubel: Irrationality is responsible for the economic mess we find ourselves in right now. Irrationality plus greed, of course, and a substantial dose of ignorance.”

    In response we say: let us be rational dreamers, humble visionaries but above all let us forsake ignorance. On that, in the coming parts.


    To be continued in part 3
    Sat, Jan 3, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: Futurism, Technology, Vision
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    Watch these 4 fascinating short videos about the fundamental riddles of existence. Some food for thought...

    Wed, Nov 12, 2008  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Psychedelic Society
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    I have been reading with great interest and pleasure Rene's latest post bringing forth with critical reflection the emergent relevance of the Space Collective. It brought to mind a few thoughts I would like to share here.

    Rene writes:

    To my knowledge, there is no faculty anywhere in the academic world which specifically addresses the future. In fact, the very subject tends to be dismissed as a legitimate topic for lack of empirical validation. Scientists at least are consistently pushing the envelope of their respective disciplines, but the Humanities are firmly entrenched in a canon-based tradition that is thoroughly out of step with the moving target that is our future. Everything concerning the world that lies ahead is routinely relegated to the realm of science-fiction, leaving it up to individual forward thinkers to make up for this wholesale denial of one of the most critically important subjects of our lives.

    And in a comment:

    ...Still, like yourself, we are wondering on a regular basis how to make the theoretical activities on this site more actionable. Right now I'm pretty fond of the concept of curriculum creation and there are many other ideas floating around to establish an effective connection with the world at large.

    There is no doubt that we are living in an era of an accelerating change. There is no doubt today that technological progress is becoming perhaps the single most influential force that shapes the future of human civilization. I would dare say even that there is (almost) no doubt that we become slowly but surely more intelligent. We, as a species, are increasingly capable to do more with less. There is no doubt about that. Yet, simultaneously we live in an era which is becoming less and less stable, economically, politically, conceptually and spiritually. These are all the symptoms of a great change that we all sense as the coming end of the human era. J.C. Oates, a leading American novelist wrote back in the 70's about this very experience:

    What appears to be the breaking down of civilization may well be simply the breaking up of old forms by life itself (not an eruption of madness or self destruction), a process that is entirely natural and inevitable. Perhaps we are in the tumultuous but exciting close of a centuries-old kind of consciousness - a few of us like theologians of the Medieval church encountering the unstoppable energy of the Renaissance. What we must avoid is the paranoia of history’s “true believers”, who have always misinterpreted a natural, evolutionary transformation of consciousness as being the violent conclusion of all history. [Ref: (New Heaven, New Earth: The Visionary Experience in Literature (1974)) images p.105]

    I deem this to be one of the most insightful reflections regarding the future, and I am continuously asking myself (and everybody around who cares to listen): Are we really in the midst of an evolutionary transformation of consciousness?

    Ray Kurzweil and others claim (see link above), that all information based technologies and branches of science are undergoing a lawful process of acceleration. But consciousness is not information based. At least not yet. On the other hand our consciousness rides this great wave of accelerating change, and has to fine balance on the crest of this awe inspiring wave not unlike the surfers catching those giant breaker waves of the ocean. It is the dynamic, perhaps acrobatic, balance of our transforming consciousness that will make the difference between surfing far and beyond, and being slapped by the very same breaker wave of change into an abyss of a post modern dark age.

    The transformation of consciousness, therefore, is not an option for us, it is an imperative. And since wisdom is the only recognizable mark of transforming consciousness, in this very sense I try to figure: do we become wiser while surfing this cresting wave of accelerating change? Here my thoughts are coinciding with the Space Collective and Rene's latest post, for I think the Space Collective may emerge as a very unique nexus in regards to the wisdom of the future and the future of wisdom. I was thinking about us, in the SC, holding in our hands a huge temporal scales of wisdom: one arm of the scale extends 2500 years back across history to the golden age of Greek Philosophers, the other arm extends 25 years forward into our future. Back then, a handful of humans such as Socrates and Plato have lain the foundations of western civilization's thought. Approximately at the same period in India, Gautama Buddha revolutionized eastern philosophy. None of them was particularly concerned about doing or acting, yet their influence extended across millennia. In contrast to the Judeo-Christian view that holds the human as essentially separate from and rightful master over nature, a view that is at the motivational basis of the utilitarian pursuit of knowledge and modern technological progress, the Greek approach to the pursuit of knowledge was largely aesthetic. Those great humans of 2500 years ago realized the transformative powers of pure thought. They made thought their doing and beauty their motive.

    25 years into the future, are we up to balance the scales? Are we up to invest our future with the transformative powers of pure thought? To catalyze a transformation of consciousness marked by a new kind of wisdom? In a plain historical perspective we are left with very little time. While our experiential time is accelerated one hundred fold at least, our wisdom still unfolds in slow time as compared to information fueled utilitarian intelligence. If we are to create space here for anything at all we have to create space for wisdom, for the evolution of consciousness, for the pursuit of knowledge which is aesthetic in nature. This I see as a vision and a challenge for the Space Collective to lead. We need not worry about doing so much. Everybody does, just look around and observe how busy our human species has become. We can, if we dare, trust in the transformative powers of pure thought, and bet on our aesthetic intuition to lead us into an interesting and sustainable post human era.

    In 25 years, perhaps in 50 years or 250 years, very soon anyway, and plausibly in our extended lifetime, the human era as we know it will end. In the post human era we will become dwellers of pure thought spaces, for eventually there will be no difference anymore between our thought spaces and action spaces. We can make the Space Collective the first vehicle of this grand unification.

    Sun, Nov 9, 2008  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    Watch this amazing short document on CBS 60min about the first brain machine interfaces. Little imagination is needed to imagine how fat this can go in the next couple of decades. It seems that our future is deeply connected. The merging of human with machine is already here.

    Moreover, this is a small yet a significant step in releasing our thoughts from a biological body.

    Watch CBS Videos Online

    Tue, Nov 4, 2008  Permanent link

    Sent to project: The great enhancement debate
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    Mon, Oct 27, 2008  Permanent link

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    May 2008 issue of the Journal of Evolution and Technology, published a fascinating article titled: "All Together Now: Developmental and ethical considerations for biologically uplifting nonhuman animals".

    In the article, the author George Dvorsky argues the unconventional case that the future application of biological and other augmentation methods to animals for the purpose of endowing them with the necessary physical and mental capabilities that will allow them eventually to participate as equal agents in a futuristic multi-species society, is not only ethically conceivable but perhaps even an ethical necessity.

    Here are a few excerpts:

    From the introduction, on the general change of ethical attitude towards nonhuman animals:

    Recent initiatives in Spain and New Zealand seeking to establish legal personhood status for the great apes represent unprecedented steps in the history of the animal rights movement. Great apes are poised to be endowed with those rights that have traditionally been ascribed to humans, a development that would see their promotion from non-persons with property-like status to persons with real and enforceable protections. In all likelihood, and though it may take some time, other countries will follow suit.

    Humanity has been widening its moral purview for some time now. With rights potentially being passed down to the great apes, it can be said that humans are widening both their moral and social circles. This is a trend that will have profound implications for the relationship between humanity and nonhuman animals.

    As the potential for enhancement technologies migrates from the theoretical to the practical, a difficult and important decision will be imposed upon human civilization, namely the issue as to whether or not we are morally obligated to biologically enhance nonhuman animals and integrate them into a larger postbiological society.

    Animal uplifting, also referred to as biological uplift, or simply uplift, is the theoretical prospect of endowing nonhumans with greater capacities, including and especially increased intelligence.

    On the foundation of the moral argument for uplift:

    Given the very real potential for biological augmentation some time later this century, the means to better distribute primary goods will eventually come into being and will by consequence enter into the marketplace of distributable primary goods. To deny nonhumans access to enhancement technologies, therefore, would be a breach of distributive justice and an act of genetic or biological exceptionalism – the idea that one’s biological constitution falls into a special category of goods that lie outside other sanctioned or recognized primary goods. Such claims, as argued by Allen Buchanan and others, do not carry much moral currency.[29]

    Indeed, liberal theories of distributive justice necessarily provide for the elimination or mitigation of the undeserved effects of luck on welfare.[30] Fair equality of opportunity, argued Rawls, requires not merely that offices and positions be distributed on the basis of merit, but that all persons have reasonable opportunity to acquire the skills on the basis of which merit is assessed.[31] These skills, in the context of animal uplift, are the biological augmentations that would enable social interaction at the “human” level (at the very least).

    The idea of uplifting nonhuman animals and integrating them into a futuristic sentient society is both fascinating and courageous. There is no doubt that on the technological aspect the issue is still highly speculative, and on the ethical aspect it opens more riddles than it resolves. Nevertheless, Dvorsky describes an important and interesting trend: "humans are widening both their moral and social circles". It seems that this widening is indicative to a more general evolutionary motion of minding. The more the sphere of human knowledge is expanded, human conscious awareness expands in scope and depth. The more conscious awareness expands, the sphere of moral deliberation and moral responsibility expands, which finds its culmination in the expansion of empathy towards that which is increasingly different from us. It is this profound sense of empathy that will eventually drive human civilization towards a perpetual motion of overreaching its own borders, and expansion of identity by embracing widening spheres of intelligent lifeforms.

    The idea of uplift as described in Dvorsky's article can and should be taken further. If we leave for a moment the technological aspects that are involved, I do not see why uplift should stop with , by now, obvious candidates such as the great apes, dolphins, whales and others. Uplift, it seems, is an imperative of conscious intelligent life to expand. Though we do not have the capacity to uplift other lifeforms as yet, there is quite a strong argument we can already figure, why it will be ethical to exercise such a capacity if and when we will realize it. But then, following Dvorsky's arguments to their logical end, I can see no place where a line can be drawn marking the limits of the application of such capabilities. That is to say that if we consider the great apes, dolphins and such for uplift, we have to go as far as it goes, to all life forms at all stages of evolution that is. Otherwise, we necessarily infringe distributive justice at some point as Dvorsky writes:

    To deny nonhumans access to enhancement technologies, therefore, would be a breach of distributive justice and an act of genetic or biological exceptionalism – the idea that one’s biological constitution falls into a special category of goods that lie outside other sanctioned or recognized primary goods. Such claims, as argued by Allen Buchanan and others, do not carry much moral currency.

    Since we cannot arbitrarily draw a line and stay faithful to the ethical principle, we come if so to an interesting and provocative conclusion: In as much as it is technologically possible, it is morally desirable to apply uplift as a form of directed evolution, to all life forms.

    If we further explore this idea, it means that at the phase that human civilization is approaching culminating in technological singularity, a new ethical imperative is emerging: The commitment to the uplift and inclusion of all life forms, or in other words, the commitment to the accelerated evolution of all existing life forms to the stage of sapience. This emergence of an expanding ethical consideration, is inseparable from, and to my understanding, an essential mark of the evolution of minding, briefly described above.

    When expanded to the sphere of all life forms, however, the idea becomes much more intriguing: if we think about the great apes, we may have quite a good idea of what uplift might practically mean because in fact they are very similar to humans. We could imagine that increasing the ape's general intelligence, and endowing it with linguistic capabilities will make them pretty close to our idea of sapience even without radically changing their morphology and other distinctive characteristics of their nature (again it is a nature that humans observe and there is no easy way out from this conundrum) . But when we come to contemplate the accelerated evolution of other creatures towards sapience, what should be done is not obvious at all, not even in principle. How much directed intervention is plausible as compared to the ongoing blind evolutionary processes? Would it be possible to foresee entire evolutionary processes culminating in uplift? Could an entire ecology be optimized to yield the highest number of uplifted species? These are questions that as of now belong to the realm of science fiction, perhaps even fantasy, but the motive behind asking them is very real, because philosophical speculations such as this can teach us something important about the evolution of intelligence in general, and the evolution of the human species in particular. They can help us to see what kinds of philosophical riddles radically enhanced capabilities might bring up, and give us some clues as to how to design our future to be an interesting, elegant and beautiful future.

    Not only that, we can go yet further with uplift idea: our future understanding of evolutionary processes might perhaps allow us to explore not only existing life forms, but also potential life forms and whole ecologies that do not exist. The above mentioned ethical imperative will expand if so to include all forms of life, biological and otherwise, as they are and as they could possibly be. This might sound fantastic, and perhaps it is fantastic but it boils down to what seem to be a guiding principle in the evolution of minding: I call it here the Uplift Principle.

    The Uplift Principle: When a sapient species reaches a stage where it can perpetually uplift itself, this species will eventually chose (following its evolving ethical imperatives) to expand by exploring and uplifting all life forms conceivable to it.

    Interestingly, this invites a novel definition of the singularity as the stage when a civilization reaches a perpetual self uplifting capability, and thereby realizes the Uplift Principle. Singularity, thus understood, will not affect only humanity or a limited category of lifeforms, it will profoundly affect life at large and by that it gains the status of a universal event in that that its sphere of meaning and influence will perpetually expand without limit.

    In conclusion, the idea of uplift described in Dvorsky's article extrapolates an already existing trend of expanding the sphere of humanity's ethical consideration towards non human animals. This idea is further extrapolated here to expose its possible profound meaning and consequences in regards to the future evolution of human minding and the singularity. The synergetic expansion of human knowledge, consciousness, ethics and empathy can be shown to eventually bring about the a perpetual uplifting of all life towards sapience.
    Sat, Oct 11, 2008  Permanent link
    Categories: polytopia, Uplift, Uplift Principle
    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    For quite a while, I have the idea to invite Space Collective members to reflect, discuss and perhaps open a continuous exchange of thoughts and emotions regarding the prospect of extreme life extension. It seems to me there is no subject today of a more profound potential impact on the future of human civilization, and human life in all its aspects.
    As such, I would like to see it becoming one of the 'backbone' issues on the agenda of the Space Collective community.

    I had in mind to write a keynote post to present the issue to some depth. I have found today, to my delight, an excellent and highly interesting introduction to the discussion I have in mind. It is an edited extract from a book called: 'How to Live Forever or Die Trying', written by Bryan Appleyard, and published in Cosmos Online Magazine. Bryan Appleyard is a features writer for London's Sunday Times newspaper and also writes for the New York Times and Vanity Fair.

    Here is an excerpt:

    Developments in a number of scientific disciplines suggest that we may soon be able to increase life expectancies from the 70- to 80-year range already seen in the richest countries to well over 100 and, perhaps, to over 1,000. We shall, in one sense, have made ourselves immortal.

    We shall not be immortal in the sense that we cannot die; plainly we could still be killed in a car accident or by a cosmic event such as an asteroid striking the Earth. But we could not be killed by disease or age, our bodies would be immune to infection, dysfunction or the ravages of time. We would be medically immortal.

    Some say this will happen quickly within, perhaps, 30 years with the first clear signs that we are on the right track appearing within the next decade. Others think we are at least a century or two away from attaining medical immortality. Some consider it completely unattainable. But the majority of scientists and thinkers in this area now consider life extension and even medical immortality possible and likely.

    Not long ago, most would have said it was out of the question, that death at or well before the absolute maximum age of something like 122 was inevitable.

    canceling the debt

    The basis of this shift from unattainable to feasible is not generally understood. It involves a transformation in our conception of human biology and an expansion of our capacity to intervene in its workings that may yet prove to be at least as momentous as the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin or Einstein.

    But Copernicus to Einstein is not the only tradition that is at issue here. There are also the traditions that run from Buddha to Mohammed and from Plato to Wittgenstein, the traditions of religion and philosophy.

    Our relatively brief lives and our routine proximity to the deaths of ourselves and others are the foundations of everything we have ever thought or believed. Neither religion nor philosophy necessarily promises immortality, but each offers ways of coming to terms with or giving meaning to death and, therefore, life. If death is to be postponed indefinitely, then both religion and philosophy face fundamental crises.

    Of course, many other traditions of politics, art, commerce and culture are also at stake. In truth, it is difficult to think of any aspect of human life that would not face similar crises.

    What, for example, would be the meaning of the greatest works of the human imagination to a medical immortal? Shakespeare's sonnets may be said to be about the brevity of life and the painful transience of human love and beauty.

    But if we lived for 1,000 years or more in a condition of youthful health and vitality the postulated life extension technologies promise to hold us permanently in our late twenties then would we come to see these poems as the curious remnants of an antique world rather than urgent expressions of the deepest truths of our predicament? Would any art of the past survive this revolution with its dignity intact? Would there be any art of the future?

    Many may think that, as they suffer from no illusions, fantasies or sensitivities, new life extension technologies are nothing but good news, simple additions to the portfolio of benefits delivered by modern technology. But their worlds are also threatened.

    For example, the language of relationships is the vernacular of our contemporary, secular life. What would our precious relationships look like to medical immortals? Love itself would have to be redefined. Romantic love depends for its very meaning on the promise that it will last forever. But 'forever' now means no more than, say, 50 years, the average span, in other words, of the human life from falling in love to death. If falling in love actually meant a commitment for 1,000 or more years, then 'forever' starts to take on a new meaning. Love is suddenly relativised, its significance thrown into doubt.

    There remains, of course, love of self and surely in that context life extension must be an unalloyed good. Life extension must mean extension of the self and the cultivation of the self is, alongside relationships, the supreme contemporary preoccupation. But even here there are problems.

    How much cultivation of the self can we take? There will only ever be so many gadgets to buy, so many days we can spend at the gym or beauty parlour though these may well be unnecessary activities in the new world order so much sex we can have, so many cars we can drive. Perhaps medically immortal selves will seek alternative spiritual or intellectual diversions as the wealthier mortal selves, disillusioned with getting and spending, already do in increasing numbers.

    Maybe these will see us through the long centuries of life. Or maybe none of these things will matter as we shall not be just one self in the future but many.

    The rest of the article can be found here and is highly recommended.

    Let us talk about the vision and prospects of immortality, This is definitely a subject I would like to see as an independent project of the Collective.
    Sun, Jun 15, 2008  Permanent link
    Categories: Aging, Death, Immortality
    Sent to project: , Polytopia
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