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Peter Wicks: Future Of Humanity May 25, 2011

Posted by Metabiological in Transhumanism.
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Apologies for being a little lax in posting.  I am in the midst of earning my certification to be a scientific SCUBA diver (basically I’m getting trained to set transects and write on a slate) which has left little time for anything other than eating and sleeping.  I have however been finding time to spend on Peter Wicks’ new website, Future of Humanity.

What makes his website fun is that rather than simply spouting off his own personal views into the cesspool that is the internet, like yours truly, Peter is more interested in what other people have to say.  His posts involve setting up a scenario or posing a thought experiment to stimulate debate among readers. 

Though there are only two posts currently up both have some very insightful conversation and are well worth checking out.  Here’s hoping for more in the months to come.


Man Replaces Biological Hand With Bionic One May 19, 2011

Posted by Metabiological in Transhumanism.
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An Austrian man who’s hand was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident has become the second person to take part in a radical new surgery, having his hand replaced by a robotic one.

Milo took the decision after using a hybrid hand fitted parallel to his dysfunctional hand with which he could experience controlling a prosthesis.

Such bionic hands, manufactured by the German prosthetics company Otto Bock, can pinch and grasp in response to signals from the brain that are picked up by two sensors placed over the skin above nerves in the forearm.

In effect, the patient controls the hand using the same brain signals that would have once powered similar movements in the real hand.

Okay a couple of things.  First of all I am shocked that this is the second surgery of this type.  How the hell did I miss the first?  Secondly as far as personal freedoms go this is unequivocally a good thing.  The first commandment of transhumanism (as far as I’m concerned) is that a person has authority over their own body a a right to do with it as they see fit.

Finally, good points aside this opens up a whole new can of worms.  Though our society has come to accept numerous forms of elective surgery (how many boob jobs were performed in the US last year?) as acceptable if not quite accepted the idea of cutting off a part of your body and replacing it with a machine is going to strike a lot of people as crossing a line.  This particular case is unlikely to cause much of a furor since the body part in question no longer worked but just wait until someone tries to replace a fully functioning limb.

Its quite telling that when the surgeon performing this operation held a symposium on the subject he invited a theologian to attend.  The concept of the sanctity of the human body is still a major part of the theology of many of the world’s major religions, made in god’s image and all that, and still exerts a major influence on the opinions of the average person, even if they’ve become a little selective in when they apply it (e.g. the aforementioned boob jobs.)

Still I don’t want to dwell too much on the broader impacts of this since at the end of the day this story is about one thing: a man who has been living for years with a hand that doesn’t work will soon have one that does.  That’s a good story no matter how you tell it.

Transhumanist Media: New Deus Ex Advertisement May 18, 2011

Posted by Metabiological in Transhumanism.
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Eidos is getting really good at this sort of thing.  The makers of the new Deus Ex game have come out with a new viral marketing spot in the form of an advertisement for the in-game company Sarif Industries.  Watch below:

Just like their previous spot what impresses me about this is how much it resembles advertising we see today for various human enhancement products.  What enhancement products you ask?  Think of all the commercials you’ve seen featuring smiling people eager to tell you how the brand new weight loss drug they took (or beauty cream, or surgery, or “male enhancement product”) changed their life.  Keeping that in mind, doesn’t this seem like something we can expect to see in the coming decades?

Either way this new spot makes me even more excited for this game both as a gamer and a transhumanist.

Paralyzed Student Walks At Graduation Thanks Robotic Exoskeleton May 18, 2011

Posted by Metabiological in Transhumanism.
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Nothing really to say about this story other than, HELL YEAH!!!

Hedonistic Sustainability: Environmentalism, Aesthetics, And Human Happiness May 11, 2011

Posted by Metabiological in Ecology.
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Over at Big Think (a site I really need to start reading more often) there is an excellent article up about the integration of architecture, ecology and human happiness, a triad the author refers to as hedonistic sustainability.

What Hedonistic Sustainability does is transform the whole sustainability movement into something very youthful, dynamic and egalitarian. It proves that design and architecture can be economically profitable as well as environmentally sustainable. You no longer need to compromise when it comes to going green.

Now usually when I hear things like that last sentence my mental alarm bells start going off because I know someone is about to sell me something.  In this case however I cannot say enough good things about this.  It’s a sad fact but currently the only way most people are going to reduce their ecological footprint is if you make it fun and fashionable to do so.   On the one hand I can understand this point of view.  After all very few of us, least of all me, want to live like a monk for the rest of our lives but it is often infuriating to see the level of apathy in the general public towards the larger consequences of their actions.  That is why real efforts to integrate ecological sustainability and human happiness excite me so much.

I also think that this is something the environmental movement tends to forget and needs to be reminded ever every now and again.  It’s all well and good to talk about saving endangered species and it’s important to bring to light how our actions are threatening ecosystems across the world but we must never forget that human suffering matters as much as non-human suffering (usually I’m reminding people of the opposite).  A solution that involves a drastic reduction in our quality of life is no solution at all.

Now it’s important to point out that quality of life is not the same thing as prosperity.  Our current consumer driven economies are in no way sustainable even given the promises of renewable energy and greater efficiency.  Capitalism, responsible for so much of the good in our modern world that we take for granted, cannot continue as it is.  As we seek a solution to the environmental crises of our own making we must remember that the problems our system has created will likely prove unsolvable to that same system.  Even the efforts of hedonistic sustainability, wonderful step though it is, will not succeed unless there is an equal change in how both we and our society relate to the natural world.

This sounds like a massive, almost unachievable, undertaking.  I agree with the former but disagree strongly with the latter.  We have the technological solutions to many of the problems we are already facing and the ingenuity to discover solutions for the rest.  The primitivist idea that technology naturally results in environmental destruction is a false one.  Calls to abandon it will not solve anything and indeed will hold us back from the only thing that ever has solved anything.  This is not to deny that technology has never resulted in negative consequences, only that it’s use is inherently negative.  It is not technology that has failed us but we who have failed to use it properly.  Luckily, though we have stumbled a lot on the way, we may be approaching the point where our moral development begins to catch up with out scientific.

In the past few decades we have seen the beginnings of a change in how humanity views the world around us.  No longer putting ourselves above and away from the natural world we are coming to understand that we are a part of it as much as any other species.  This has been seen in the efforts to expand our moral sphere to other animals and to see ourselves as stewards of the earth rather than exploiters.  Now we are approaching a new step, seeing our very society not separate from the natural ecosystems but as an extension of them.  Or perhaps to but it better:

Taking a big picture view, hedonistic sustainability is what happens when you stop thinking about buildings as structures and start thinking about them as ecosystems. When buildings are part of ecosystems, they can be used to help create a closed loop for recycling energy, minimizing your environmental impact and creating positive side products like a higher quality of life. Sustainable cities start with sustainable systems.

Amen brother.

Oldest Living Couple Has 190 Years Between Them May 8, 2011

Posted by Metabiological in Longevity.
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Who says love is wasted on the young?  Okay I’m not sure anyone has said that but who cares.  This is such a lovely story.

The couple, Rose Pollard and Forrest Lunsway, are 90 years and 100 years old respectfully and have been dating for thirty years.  Why did they wait until now to tie the knot?

The wedding date holds double significance for Forrest, as it was also his 100th birthday. In fact, that was part of the deal: both were widows and didn’t wish to remarry when they met on a blind date in 1983. But one day, the question came up – and Forrest proposed on the spot. Rose’s response: “I told him, ‘I’ll marry you on your 100th birthday.’ And I did.”

It must be fate that on the same day I write about the amortal phenomena I get perhaps the perfect example of it.  These people are not content to sit around and wait for death to come.  They’re not interested in the fact that people their age aren’t “supposed” to do this sort of thing.  They’ve found someone they love and dammit they’re going to enjoy their lives together.  Best wishes to both of them!

Are You An Amortal? May 8, 2011

Posted by Metabiological in Longevity, Transhumanism.
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An interesting article up in the Observer takes a  look at a rapidly growing subset of the elderly: the amortals.   Divorced from traditional notions of age-appropriate behavior these are the type of people who go hiking Mount Everest for their 70th birthday or who decide to marry partners 40 years their junior (looking at you Hugh Hefner).

So much of the talk regarding longevity revolves around the technical solutions to the problem that it actually quite refreshing to see people discussing both the type of person who can successfully live long into their golden years.  First and foremost is the fact that these people, whatever their age, do not see themselves as old.  No age for them is too old to start a business or enter a new relationship and retirement might as well be a dirty word.  In fact many of these people see the current effort to raise to retirement ages in a very different way than most of us:

Retirement isn’t a proposition that appeals to amortals unless life after work promises to be busier and better than the life before. And the impulse to keep working isn’t such a bad thing, given the changing profile of the world’s population. In Europe, the 60-pluses are projected to make up 37% of the population by the middle of this century. In some countries, two-fifths of citizens will be in their seventh decade or beyond…

Amortals are more inclined to celebrate the lifting of compulsory retirement ages and to deplore the ageism that seriously disadvantages older job seekers.

That brings us to a disturbing fact.  Society is not prepared to deal with large numbers of amortals.  Everything about us from our economies to our social benefits is based on the idea that people stop working once they reach 60-65.  This worked very well 50 year ago when the general trend after retirement was to take up golf for a few years and then die but it is completely outdated in an age where the average person has at least a decade, and most likely quite a bit more, to look forward to after the pension checks start coming in.  One only needs to look at the debt crises afflicting most of the developed to see the first waves battering our shores.

It’s not all doom and gloom though.  The fact that people are living longer means at least one very good thing; people have more time to enjoy their lives.  This is one thing I greatly appreciated about the article.  Too often in the transhumanist community I feel like our desire for longevity is little more than an adolescent urge to thumb our nose at death, to spit at the Grim Reaper (see Ray Kurzweil).  It is wonderful to see people for whom the desire to live is borne out of nothing more than “joie de vivre.”  People like this are living counter-arguments to the tired objections one sees whenever the debate over immortality is brought up;  “but won’t we get bored?”, “who wants to be old forever?”

Attitudes like that are not only poorly reasoned (no transhumanist advocates growing decrepit) but are also obsolete.  They were born in a time when the lines separating the young, the mature and the elderly were clearly demarcated.  That is no longer the case.  As our lifespans lengthen we are coming to understand that no age is too old to better ourselves, to set plans for our future, to set out on a new adventure in life.  So I ask again, are you an amortal?