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April 15, 2010

Transhumanist Scenarios Need Historical View and One Technology at a Time Analysis

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Mike Treder had a piece about transhumanism and used a classic four box structure to analyze what might happen in the next 15-20 years If you can make the following substituation: new technology in place of transhumanism or science in place of transhumanism and have the meaning and insights in the article remain unchanged, then I would propose that there is not enough detail in the analysis for it to be more useful than a general musing on society and technology. Another checkpoint is to consider whether existing technology could cause or has already been causeing the same projected effects or reaction in society. This can reveal historical and current cases that can provide a more nuanced understanding and it can invalidate certain scenarios or require an explaination as to why something similar will have different results.

I look at transhumanism and consider transhumanism more than 99.9999% of the population. Transhumanism is like nanotechnology, a term that is applied loosely by everyone and where there has been different definitions applied. If there were a discussion about it between several people, the first hours would be clarifying what was being discussed.
Mike talks about strong or weak opposition. What is historically strong opposition ? What is strong opposition that was successful against something like transhumanism or technologies ? Luddites fought against factory mass production and automation, but that was mostly because of mass job displacement.
Mike talks about fast or slow emerging technology development. How is fast or slow defined and is it fast if many technologies emerge or is it the speed and level of change they cause in society ? I do not think it is a matter of numbers of emerging technologies but the level of change and impact on countries and cities. In particular the impact on things that people typically have fought over - jobs, abortion/procreation issues, environment and similar topics.

Summarizing from the Transhumanist FAQ

Transhuman is a relatively undefined intermediate between human and posthuman. Posthuman are possible future beings whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current (year 2000) standards. Posthumans could be completely synthetic artificial intelligences, or they could be enhanced uploads or they could be the result of making many smaller but cumulatively profound augmentations to a biological human.

The Transhuman part in not clear. What would there be to oppose or agree with beyond a general philosophical debate ? Is there something in there to rally for or against to the level of say the recent Tea Parties ?
What has triggered mass protests or violent opposition ?
* anti-government protests
* anti-war protests
* massive job losses or shifts
* abortion and gender issues
* major race or religion issues
* nationalism
* conflict land and resources

If a technology effected one of the known things that can set a lot of people off then there could be organized oppositon to that technology
>
The main technologies mentioned in the Transhuman FAQ are artificial intelligence, superintelligence, virtual reality, molecular nanotechnology, cryonics, biotechnology, genetic engineering, stem cells, life extension and cloning. The main societal capabilities mentioned are large scale colonization of space and life extension


There has already been controversy and some opposition to stem cells, genetic engineering and cryonics. However, this opposition only caused some funding problems for embryonic stem cell research in the USA for eight years. (2001-2009) Genetically modified food had some controversy but is still widely used and researched.
Cryonics has some bad press and has only been performed on a hundred to two hundred people and a thousand or so have signed up for it. I think the main reason that Cryonics is chosen by less than one in one million people is that people do not believe the premises: * your body and mind can be preserved without damage that would prevent later successful re-animation
* your preserved body will be re-animated
* then there are many implications in regards to personal, family and society beliefs and emotions in regards to death


Molecular nanotechnology development was slowed by disbelief it could be achieved and prevention of funding for research.
Life extension has philosophical opposition, but in general everyone wants as many treatments that can enable their own life extension (if that extension does not mean more personal suffering). This is similar to philosophical opposition to lower taxes. It is fine for some to argue or vote for more taxes for other people but given the personal choice to pay more taxes or less taxes then people choose overwhelmingly to pay less tax. In Massachusetts there is a two tier tax system. In 2000, 40 voted against lowering taxes, but only 0.05% choose the option of paying the higher tax level.
For life extension, people can say they do not want everyone living longer, but actually choosing to avoid procedures that would extend there lives and which they believe will extend their life and their health I think the actual number of people will be similarly small.
The Technological segments and projects of each of the major Transhumanist technology categories would mostly be assessed independently. For example, life extension could have thousands different procedures and methods for preventing or curing different aspects of cancer. There also would be multiple different ways to effect several different cellular pathways. Just like there are different regulatory responses and different public attitudes to the thousands of different drugs that exist today. Nanotechnology has thousands of different technologies. There are no general rules for all of material science or all of chemistry. There are only the very rare people who are generally anti-science or anti-technology. Those people have historically only become dominant in a few countries which were disfunctional.

A better analysis is to look at
1. significant historical cases and assess what happened and how this might be relevant for a situation that is emerging over the next twenty years.
2. The emerging situations that are developing over the next twenty years in detail. This is what many of the nearly 5000 articles on this site cover.
3. Try to determine where there are significant boundary conditions and situations to determine what would be emerging technology situations that could trigger significant public or governmental response.
ie. Nuclear bombs triggered a governmental and public response over the course of decades. After they were used and there still are tens of thousands of devices.
Nuclear powered navy ships had a different response.
Biological and chemical agents were used extensively in World War I and there was some success in countries agreeing to limit their use in later wars.
* A few dozen historical and future projected military technology scenarios would need to be considered to start a meaningful analysis. Similarly dozens of scenarios for medical technology, agriculture technology, employment impacting technology etc...
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