Pages

March 07, 2008

Proper framing of the transhumanist debate

Michael Anissimov has another article related to the defence of transhumanism from misguided attacks.

Transhumanism (sometimes symbolized by >H or H+), a term often used as a synonym for "human enhancement", is an international intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of new sciences and technologies to enhance human mental and physical abilities and aptitudes, and ameliorate what it regards as undesirable and unnecessary aspects of the human condition, such as stupidity, suffering, disease, aging and involuntary death.

I think the discussions around Transhumanism get bogged down because the discussions too often skip over the history and trends around the use of technology to enhance human mental and physical abilities. They also add in a bunch of convoluted and unnecessary intellectual baggage. Enhancement has been going on since someone picked up a rock or stick to fight an animal or prepare one for food or clothing. Improved enhancement since someone sharpened the stick or the rock or tied the sharpened rock to the stick. Riding a horse to enhance mobility. Writing and paper to enhance communication and memory. Steam engines for enhanced mechanical/physical productivity.

Does every attempt at improvement succeed ? No, but since individuals switch to what is better for them then there is a strong general trend toward improvement.

Wired has an interesting little article which I would categorize as transhumanist lite. Compares hypothetical augmentation drug with coffee.


I would like to see some kind of definitions around “end of history”.

History is the continuous, systematic narrative and the research of events in the past of importance to the human race, including the study of events over time and their relation to humanity.

So there is the history before homo-sapiens. There would still be history even if homo-sapiens are modified.

In regards to augmentation with technology and biological and non-biological. Currently many people have smart phones that they carry around all the time, some have cochlear implants, pace makers etc… They also have lasik eye surgery, millions take steroids, millions take test score enhancing drugs, cosmetics, cosmetic surgery, take vitamins etc… People drive cars, forklifts, and ride Segways. Sometimes we integrate with technology like with prosthesis or surgery and sometimes we don't. However, voluntary modification of all types is common place.

The smart cellphones can provide access to the internet, google, wikipedia etc.. to augment the ability of someone to access facts, other resources etc… They can also access systems for enhancing the ability to perform math (calculators).

So technology has caused and is causing enhancement and modification.

So the only things at issue are how much more and how will this change in the future.

Will the bandwidth speed to my smartphone increase ? Will its processing power improve ? Will the interface get better (true some companies could backslide on this but people would then choose not to buy their phones) ?

Certain features trends seem certain. Some of the products can be bought now and some seem likely to be more available and cheaper in the future.

Recently there is lab work for human power generated from regenerative braking from walking. Generates 5 watts while someone is walking A square meter of flexible solar cells could generate 19-56 watts depending upon location and sunlight conditions. US army has solar tent material for generating up to 1000 watts.

There is plenty of other energy that could be captured to power devices.

Broken into usable terms, waiting to be harvested are 81 watts from a sleeping person, 128 from a soldier standing at ease, 163 from a walking person, 407 from a briskly walking person, 1,048 from a long-distance runner, and 1,630 from a sprinter, according to the center. But of course there’s not 100% capture. Body heat, for example, can only be converted with 3% efficiency with current thermoelectric materials.


Computing at about 19.4 gigaflops per watt for best new chips. This is a continually improving metric (just like flops per $ they go along with Moore's law).

Exaflop processing with configurable semi-custom processors is achievable by 2015. Other kinds of computers could achieve success and provide different kinds of computational advantages. quantum computers, optical computers, artificial intelligence and neural simulators.

Lightweight batteries and ultracapacitors. 100-300 watt-hours/kg.

So within say 10 years, carrying around teraflop+ class smartphones that are constantly charged with gigabit+ connections seems likely. One would also be able to network to quantum computers and supercomputers of all types for remote processing. Plus other components and gear could be carried and powered. 36V power tools (not used constantly unless you had access to a solar tent or we were capturing a lot more of the ambient power) or human body powered tasers, vision enhancement gear etc… Also, not including all the gear you might have in the future car or around your home. Also, you could have availed yourself of immune system enhancement, myostatin inhibitors etc…

Would individuals choose a better-faster phone ? Those who argue against enhancement are saying no, at some point all people will not choose better products.

Comments on the class arguements of rich versus poor
Would the businessperson or someone with more money have a better phone ? Maybe. Students with not much income can still own iPhones. How about medical procedures ? Who is paying $500-1000 for lasik now ? Is it only the wealthy ?
There are 3 billion people with some kind of cellphone now. It seems penetration of some technology is reaching even the poorest people in the world.

There are choices and priorities now and there will be options, choices and priorities in the future.

Those who ridicule the idea that technology can make us even richer are wrong

People who take advantage of opportunity - technological or otherwise - are and have become richer. Ray Kurzweil, Bill Joy are both what I consider rich. I do not know what the quantity is of “beyond dreams of avarice”. It appears to be a useless subjective phrase with an anti-wealth bias most frequently used by Berkeley communists.

One could look at the economic history of the world. List of regions by past GDP on a PPP basis and divide by populations to get per capita levels of wealth. It seems pretty plain that in the thought experiment of asking someone from one of those past times to compare their economic lot versus someone at a place and time with more tech that the place with more tech is richer with a larger fraction of people who would classified as rich. There seems to be no reason to believe that this trend to wealth enabled by better technology and economy will end. Those who argue about resource limits are ignoring vastly improved nuclear fission, successful development of nuclear fusion, development of economical space travel and techonlogy for tapping the resources of the solar system which I discuss throughout my thousands of articles.

FURTHER READING
Nick Bostrom discusses the impact of a 1% general and safe treatment for general cognitive improvement.

UPDATE:
One person who posted anonymously on the Chronicle of Higher Education Web site said that a daily regimen of three 20-milligram doses of Adderall transformed his career: “I’m not talking about being able to work longer hours without sleep (although that helps),” the posting said. “I’m talking about being able to take on twice the responsibility, work twice as fast, write more effectively, manage better, be more attentive, devise better and more creative strategies.”

Surveys of college students have found that from 4 percent to 16 percent say they have used stimulants or other prescription drugs to improve their academic performance — usually getting the pills from other students.

In a recent commentary in the journal Nature, two Cambridge University researchers reported that about a dozen of their colleagues had admitted to regular use of prescription drugs like Adderall, a stimulant, and Provigil, which promotes wakefulness, to improve their academic performance.




2 comments:

Lobo7922 said...

Brian, congratulations, this is by far the most clever article that I have ever read about transhumanism.
You put it in simple and clear words, this has happened before is happening now and will happen in the future.

bw said...

Thanks. I am glad that you liked it