July 31, 2004

Towards a posthuman sport, or a better world?

Towards a posthuman sport, or a better world?
Amit Varma

Last night I dreamt I was Spiderman. I was just putting on my brand-new Slazenger web-enhanced batting gloves when my captain, Captain America, walked into the dressing room.

"Spidey," he said, "I'm afraid we can't play you. Conan will open with young Clark instead."

"Why on earth is that?" I asked, pedantically, as we were playing this match on Earth. He turned around. There was a man with him. It was Jagmohan Dalmiya, 108 years old, ICC President for the last 44 years.

"I'm afraid you've failed a doping test," Dalmiya said. "We've learnt that you're genetically enhanced. You lied about the radioactive spider."

BBC interviews Richard Dawkins

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has just topped Prospect Magazine's poll for Britain's top 100 public intellectuals. The BBC talked to Dawkins about this and other things.

When asked why he thought more scientists did not feature at the top of the poll, Dawkins responded:
Are you sure it is right to say that the science dog didn't bark?

A scientist came top of the voting, and he obtained nearly twice as many votes as the next person. The mean number of votes per person in the entire list of 100 is 42.6.

Eleven scientists were eligible for votes, and the mean number of votes per scientist is 54.5, noticeably above the general average. If you count Jonathan Miller and George Monbiot as scientists (Miller trained as a doctor, Monbiot as a zoologist, and both of them use their science in what they do), the mean number of votes per scientist rises to 62.3.

I haven't done the sums for any other category of person such as journalists or philosophers, but you could, and if you did I think you'd conclude that science put up a respectable growl by comparison.
And when asked if he was tired of the science vs. religion debate, he answered:
We can't move on as long as more than 50% of American voters believe the entire universe began later than the Middle Stone Age, and Tony Blair encourages such teachings in English schools on grounds of "diversity in education".

July 30, 2004

Singer: Humans are sentient, too

Animal rights activist Peter Singer has a new article in the Guardian, Humans are Sentient, Too, in which he argues that violent animal liberation activists undermine the ethical basis of the animal rights movement itseself:
Those who oppose treating animals as if they were mere tools for research therefore have a strong ethical argument.

But when a few people use violence and intimidation to achieve the desired goal, they undermine the animal movement's ethical basis. In a democratic society, change should come about through education and persuasion, not intimidation.

Those who advocate violence may claim, with some justice, that the democratic process has been tried, and has failed.
Singer essentially says that extremism may well be the result of the frustration caused by the failure of the democratic process to lead to measures on which virtually everyone agrees.

July 27, 2004

Ron Reagan: Important atheist role model

Who would have thought that after the death of his father, Ronald Reagan, that Ron Jr. would be thrust into the limelight as much as he has over his views on stem cell research and his openness about his atheism. Some observers are saying that this is a huge breakthrough in the United States for non-believers, and I'm inclined to agree. In a country where "atheism" is all but a pejorative, Reagan is offering not just legitimacy to secularism, but he's becoming an important role model as well. Go, Ron, go!

July 25, 2004

Toronto Star: Evolution's Next Stage?

The Toronto Star's Olivia Ward has penned an article on transhumanism and the upcoming TransVision conference. Titled "Evolution's Next Stage?," Ward quotes WTA executive director James Hughes, cyborg Steve Mann and biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey in the article.

The article is not great, but it could have been a lot worse. Frustratingly, Ward mistakenly put the start of the conference at August 8 (it starts August 5), and notes that both the WTA and Extropy Institute are sponsors, when in fact the WTA is organizing the event with ExI sponsoring.

And Ward closes with some unbelievably lame comments from Joshua Kunken and Margaret Somerville--a likely attempt to close the article with some "sensible" balanced reporting and perspectives.

Ah well, at least the article is out, and hopefully it'll generate some interest in the conference.

Here's some blurbage from the article:
But now, experts say, another scientific quantum leap has transported us from the human to the transhuman era — a time when humankind itself is being manipulated and enhanced, leading to an unknown future where man, machine and technology will merge with startling results.

"What's happening in the 21st century is a natural progression of the invention of fire," says James Hughes, secretary of the World Transhumanist Association. "Human tool use has always extended the capability of doing what we weren't biologically intended to do. But now the possibilities are infinite, and they're making some people feel scared."

Next month, Hughes, a bioethicist at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., will take part in an international conference at the University of Toronto, titled ``TransVision 2004: Art and Life in the Posthuman Era.'' Sponsored by the transhumanist association and the Texas-based Extropy Institute, the four-day event opens Aug. 8 [Aug. 5].

For many people the very concept of transhumanism is vague, unsettling or downright off-putting, suggestive of sci-fi films such as I, Robot, in which a new generation of homicidal androids swarms Chicago in an anti-human hatefest.

That, advocates say, is the very opposite of what transhumanism means: rather than a potentially destructive force, it is "a nascent approach to bioethics, futurism, art and culture whose adherents affirm the use of technology to overcome the limitations of the human body."

July 23, 2004

Upcoming anti-transhumanist storyline in ST: Enterprise

Star Trek: Enterprise will be lauching its fourth season shortly. They will be airing a 3-part episode that has a definite (anti)transhumanist message:
Some upcoming storyline details were also announced. Brent Spiner will be appearing over a three-episode arc playing an ancestor of the scientist who created Lt. Cmdr. Data - the android whom Spiner played in Star Trek: The Next Generation. This ancestor, however, does not believe that artificial intelligence is worthwhile and sets about supporting genetic modifications to human beings - in turn leading to a eugenics storyline. New showrunner Manny Coto explained to StarTrek.com:

"Well, it's a very exciting arc. Brent is going to play an ancestor of Dr. Soong, the creator of Data. However, this character is more of a Dr. Frankenstein. He is not a benign individual. He has brought to life 20 embryos from the Eugenics era. So you have Soong who's leading a band of Khan Noonien Singh's, so to speak. He believes that genetic engineering was on the right track! He wants to improve humanity, and he believes that the Eugenics Wars were an aberration, that these individuals are the future of humanity. Of course he's wrong — they get away from him. They get out of control, and it becomes this three-episode saga that's kind of like 'Apocalypse Now' — Enterprise becomes kind of like a ship going up river, trying to find these individuals, with Soong on board."
This sounds fairly typical of the anti-technologist and reactionary post-Rodenberry era of the franchise. The last thing the writers want to do is have their audience thinking about difficult issues and thinking outside the box (which is what Rodenberry was all about).

No, instead it's, "Me Star Trek fan, me no think. Me know genetics bad because Khan Noonien Singh is evil and he puts crazy things into people's ears that make them go evil also," etc.

Seth Shostak: We'll detect ET in 20 years

SETI's Seth Shostak believes that we'll find evidence of ETIs in about twenty years. If intelligent life exists elsewhere in our galaxy, says Shostak, advances in computer processing power and radio telescope technology will ensure we detect their transmissions within two decades. In other words, we're being bombarded by signals from ETIs as we speak, but our communications technology is too primitive to detect it.

To come up with the figure of 2 decades, Shostak took the Drake Equation and crunched some numbers. He figures that n is somewhere between 10,000 and one million in our galaxy.

I don't know what's crazier, Shostak's take on the Drake Equation or his utter disregard for time scales. Given recent insight into astrobiology and cosmology, most experts put n at 10 or less. Some, like myself, put n at less than 1. But 10,000 to 1,000,000? Holy geez. I can't believe a guy from SETI is actually suggesting this. Sounds like he needs to dig into Ward and Brownlee's book, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe. Sometimes I wonder just how tuned into reality SETI people really are.

Moreover, if Shostak seriously believes this, then he has some rather strong opinions about i) when intelligence could first arise in our galaxy, ii) ET's inability to engage in interstellar travel, and iii) a civ's inability to distribute Von Neumann probes. What Shostak may be subscribing to--and I haven't heard him be this explicit about it--is the phase transition model of the universe which suggests that the conditions for the rise of intelligent radio transmitting life have only been established recently. In other words, intelligence in the galaxy has only been able to get going recently, which is why we don't find the entire galaxy colonized by post Singularity intelligences already. But like I said, he hasn't actually said this, so I may be giving him too much credit.

If Shostak believes in the phase transition model, then he joins a number of other cosmologists and astrosociobiologists, including Serbian cosmologist Milan Cirkovic, who believe that this is the answer to the mysterious Fermi Paradox. These thinkers speculate that the next phase of the universe will necessarily involve the rise and union of multiple intelligent civs--a prospect that wasn't physically possible prior to this point in the universe's history.

For those that reject the phase transition model, ie those who believe that the galaxy has been able to produce Von Neumann producing civs for millennia, they argue that the detection of ETIs would be a very bad sign. Philosopher Nick Bostrom is one of them, who in his paper, Existential Risks, claims that:

The probability of running into aliens any time soon appears to be very small... If things go well, however, and we develop into an intergalactic civilization, we may well one day in the distant future encounter aliens. If they were hostile and if (for some unknown reason) they had significantly better technology than we will have then, they may begin the process of conquering us. Alternatively, if they trigger a phase transition of the vacuum through their high-energy physics experiments (see the Bangs section) we may one day face the consequences. Because the spatial extent of our civilization at that stage would likely be very large, the conquest or destruction would take relatively long to complete, making this scenario a whimper rather than a bang. ...

There must be (at least) one Great Filter – an evolutionary step that is extremely improbable – somewhere on the line between Earth-like planet and colonizing-in-detectable-ways civilization [64]. If the Great Filter isn’t in our past, we must fear it in our (near) future. Maybe nearly every civilization that develops a certain level of technology causes its own extinction.

Luckily, what we know about our evolutionary past is consistent with the hypothesis that the Great Filter is behind us. ... This would change dramatically if we discovered traces of life (whether extinct or not) on other planets. Such a discovery would be bad news. Finding a relatively advanced life-form (multicellular organisms) would be especially depressing.
Thus, as Cirkovic notes, we are led into a bizarre situation that out of all scientific disciplines, astrobiology is the only one whose successes are not desirable. This particularly applies to the SETI sector of the astrobiological endeavor. This being said, Cirkovic rejects Bostrom's theory in favour of the phase transition model, as outlined in his paper, On the Importance of SETI for Transhumanism.

Of course, Shostak may be unconcerned (or blissfully unaware) about any of this. His proclamation may merely be an attempt to secure future funding for SETI, which would be sad from the perspective of sound science.

July 21, 2004

Deep in writing mode

My contributions to Betterhumans and this blog have decreased significantly in recent days. I'm buried deep in researching and writing my TransVision 2004 talk, which is titled, "Art and Recreation in the Age of Cognitive Self-Modification."

Speaking of TV04, for those of you in Toronto, look out for articles in the Toronto Star and NOW Magazine about the conference in the next couple of weeks.

Hawking says black holes don't produce baby universes

Cosmologist Stephen Hawking recently posited his new theory about where information goes when in enters into a black hole (funny how the press tends to report Hawking's theories not so much as theories but as Ultimate Truths). Hawking, 62, claims that the black holes hold their contents for eons but themselves eventually deteriorate and die. As the black hole disintegrates, they send their transformed contents back into the infinite universal horizons from whence they came.

Hawking had previously considered the idea that the information branches off into parallel universes. Hawking had this to say about his recent thinking:
“There is no baby universe branching off, as I once thought. The information remains firmly in our universe.”

“I'm sorry to disappoint science-fiction fans, but if information is preserved, there is no possibility of using black holes to travel to other universes. If you jump into a black hole, your mass energy will be returned to our universe, but in a mangled form, which contains the information about what you were like, but in an unrecognizable state.

“It is great to solve a problem that has been troubling me for nearly 30 years, even though the answer is less exciting than the alternative I suggested.”

Time will tell if Hawking is correct and I'm sure a number of cosmologists, like Lee Smolin, will have lots to say on the issue.

July 20, 2004

Popular movies and their philosophical themes

[via Gravity Lens] Here's an excellent list of movies along with the philosophical themes and issues they bring to the table.

NYT: As Gene Test Menu Grows, Who Gets to Choose?

The New York Times has an article by Amy Harmon called "As Gene Test Menu Grows, Who Gets to Choose?" about genetic testing for offspring. A growing number of prospective parents want the choice--and they're right:
Ms. Coveler says she would not trade Benjamin, now a year old, for the world. But she is one of many people demanding to know why screening tests for certain genetic conditions, including deafness, mental retardation and breast cancer, are not being offered to them - even, in some cases, when they ask.

Too many health care providers, critics say, have not educated themselves about the genetic tests that could benefit their patients. Others, pressed for time, simply do not communicate what can be complex information. And some choose not to inform their patients of certain tests they have deemed inappropriate, in effect making a value judgment about abortion, disabilities and risk that patients say they have a right to make for themselves.

Some critics also blame the professional societies that set policy for specialists, which they say are reluctant to endorse scientifically valid tests for fear of exposing their members to lawsuits. As a result, advocates for patients say, the medical profession is failing to deliver the benefits of the genomic revolution to the public that financed it.

July 17, 2004

Buddha Moment

A couple of Buddhism related tidbits:

Steven Batchelor, author of Buddhism without Beliefs, has recently released a new book called Living With the Devil: A Meditation on Good and Evil. Here's the Publisher's Weekly's synopsis:
The author of Buddhism Without Beliefs and a former monk in the Tibetan and Zen traditions, Batchelor works to reconcile the fears, desires, and compulsions of the ego (the devil or Mara) with the certainty of death. Drawing on a rich variety of literature, religious tradition and history, Batchelor demonstrates how the anguish associated with the transient nature of life has preoccupied humans for centuries: Job wrestles with his fate; Pascal's writings reflect his dread at being expelled from the universe when his existence would eventually come to a close. Surveying responses to this intractable problem, Batchelor concludes that mankind has always relied on the temptations of the devil to still anxiety and create an aura of permanence. Compulsive activities, lustful behavior and behaving violently and destructively to others are all evils that stem from Mara. Overcoming these feelings and pursuing the way of love and compassion, for Batchelor, rests on one's ability to make peace with the devil and nourish one's "Buddha nature." Although he explores a number of philosophies, Batchelor's focus is on the path to nirvana (a cessation of desires) forged by Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian prince and the historical Buddha, whose life and thinking are presented in some detail. Some of the references will be obscure to neophytes, but Batchelor's genuine concern and desire for a better world come through clearly.

I'm currently reading Lama Surya Das's Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World. This has already proven to be a very important book for me as I venture along the beginning phases of my Buddhist journey.

Here's a wonderful excerpt from the Dhammapada (sayings of the Buddha):
The thought manifests the word;
The word manifests the deed;
The deed manifests the habit;
And habit hardens the character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of conern for all beings...

As the shadow follows the body,
as we think, so we become.

July 16, 2004

3 Laws Unsafe

3 Laws Unsafe, a web project devised by the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, is based on the premise that human-equivalent AIs and robots will one day become possible, and that Asimov's 3 Laws of Robotics are too simplistic to ensure a positive outcome.

July 14, 2004

Asimov rolling in his grave

Edward Rothstein of the NY Times shows how Will Smith's new movie, I, Robot, deviates from Isaac Asimov's vision of robots and the future:
The movie's retro material, then, may be a kind of a wink at its antique source. But in his book, Asimov also declared war on those who think about robots with fear and trembling, dreading the dangers of technological change. The new movie, though, often seems to oppose Asimov's view. Spooner hates robots, and he may have good reason. So Asimov's old battles are being engaged yet again and may be worth thinking about because they touch on so much more than android design.

Asimov's robots can certainly seem born of a more innocent, less knowing world: one loves hearing children's stories, another malfunctions by drunkenly going around in circles, a third may or may not be masquerading as a well-meaning human politician. Surely this gently imagined future is hopelessly eclipsed now that we have seen the killer android of "Terminator 2" morph into any human shape out of blobs of mercury, or watched the machines of the "Matrix" trilogy rule the post-apocalyptic earth, plugging humans into energy pods with elaborate software.

The movie, as if troubled by its innocent origins, even tries to leave the book behind. (A more faithful adaptation is in a published screenplay for "I, Robot," written in the 1970's by Harlan Ellison.) Any similarities that remain are on the surface.

This film, directed by Alex Proyas, is actually a hybrid that developed out of a robotic murder mystery by the screenwriter Jeff Vintar and was then transformed after the acquisition of rights to Asimov's book. That hybrid character exists even in its views of technology. The movie wants to look backward toward Asimov and sideways toward Hollywood technothrillers. It promises a fresh embrace of technology while rounding up the usual technological suspects. It is torn between the two sides but is far more interested in one than the other.

This was not Asimov's approach. In 1956 Asimov explained that before beginning his robot stories he had tired of the typical robot plot about "the creature that turned against its creator, the robot that became a threat to humanity." That plot was there with the very invention of the word in Karel Capek's 1921 Czech play, "R.U.R." and became disturbingly perverse in Fritz Lang's 1927 film, "Metropolis."
Entire article.

July 12, 2004

TV04 Book List

The University of Toronto bookstore will be selling books at TransVision 2004. Here's the list that we finally settled on:

The Age of Spiritual Machines, Ray Kurzweil
From Chance to Choice, Buchanan et al
Engines of Creation, K. E. Drexler
Redesigning Humans, G. Stock
Cyborg, S. Mann
The Spike, D. Broderick
Robot, H. P. Moravec
Better Than Well, C. Elliot
The First Immortal, J. L. Halperin
Remaking Eden, L. M. Silver
Natural Born Cyborgs, A. Clark
Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity, L. R. Kass
Enough, B. MacKibben
Our Posthuman Future, F. Fukuyama

July 11, 2004

Re: Cyborgs in the City

Justice wasn't entirely happy with the Mirror article and had this rebuttal:
Transhumanist technicalities

I just read the "Cyborgs in the city" article by Kristian Gravenor about myself and NEXUS: The Montreal Transhumanist Association [July 1]. I want to thank the entire staff of the Mirror for your interest in our movement. However, due to the massive amount of data I provided your reporter, I'm not surprised to find a few mistakes. Please allow me the opportunity to make the proper corrections:

(1) Although some transhumanists are "hardcore techno-utopians," NEXUS is comprised of techno-realists who assess the social implications of new technologies so that people might all have more control over the shape of their future. This approach involves a continuous critical examination of how these technologies might help or hinder people in the struggle to improve the quality of their lives and their communities.

(2) Although the NEXUS vice-president studies the potential of brain-computer interface technology as a precursor to mind uploading, he is very much a down-to-earth fellow who keeps an archive of audio recordings of his life as a memory aid only.

(3) I do not foresee people using germline engineering to give themselves "animal feathers" or "changing the colour of one's skin"! I was only musing about the possibility that body modification could lead to animal-like features such as night vision or having one's skin and hair automatically adapt to weather changes. However, I do envision the coming of the "hybrid man" - an individual enhanced with both gene therapy and cybernetic implants.

(4) The visual phone and the Segway are not examples of ubiquitous integrated technology, but a single mother putting a radio frequency ID chip in her child's clothing in order to better track him for his safety is.

(5) There is much debate among scientists about whether or not an artificial intelligence explosion known as the Singularity will ever happen. However, there would be nothing "magical" about this event if it did.

(6) Finally, transhumanists may have different interests, but we all share the value of rational thinking, freedom, tolerance, democracy and concern for our fellow human beings.

Due to my respect for Margaret Somerville, rather than responding to her alarmist vitriol (which reminded me of the control voice from a bad episode of the Outer Limits) I invite her, and anyone else interested, to read the Transhumanist FAQ at http://transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/faq/

» Justice De Thézier, NEXUS: The Montreal Transhumanist Association

July 10, 2004

Cyborgs in the City

Congratulations to fellow Canadian transhumanist Justice de Thezier for the Montreal Mirror article by Kristian Gravenor, "Cyborgs in the City." Here's an excerpt:
The local group busies itself with the challenge of making government more receptive to the techno-future, translating documents into French and hoping to ensure that the poor also benefit from future innovations. "What people really want to know is whether human enhancement is only going to benefit the Donald Trumps of the world," says Thézier, who wants to bring superintelligent brain implants and other innovations to the all social strata by "guaranteeing safe, universal and voluntary access to them. Because for me, ultimately, it's all about the little guy finally having a chance to not only overcome the biological limitations we all have as human beings but also the social limitations imposed on him."
BTW, the Toronto debate with Margaret Somerville and James Hughes that Justice refers to was the Betterhumans event, Debating the Future, that we organized last year.

July 8, 2004

God is a vestigial meme

God is to the mind what the appendix is to the body--a vestigial organ that is on its way out, but one that occasionally acts up and causes trouble.

In Hunt for E.T., A Giant Leap

Peter N. Spotts argues that better technology and robust funding is the required fuel to help in the search for intelligent life beyond Earth.
For years, scientists have been listening for faint whispers of E.T. phoning anyone in electronic earshot. Now, some researchers are hearing sounds almost as exciting - the staccato of hammers, the crackle of arc welders, and the rumble of construction equipment - that signal the building of huge new telescopes to help answer an old question: Are we alone in the galaxy?

The answer to that question looms closer, thanks to boosts in funding, facilities, astronomical discoveries, and advances in technology. Researchers say within a few years they'll be able to conduct far more exhaustive searches for civilizations beyond our solar system.

The field "is in a stage of explosive growth," says Kent Cullers, director of research and development at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. "I'm not only excited, I'm ebullient."

A decade ago, the idea of searching for intelligent life drew more sneers than cheers in some circles. Congress was skeptical. NASA ended its small-scale program, leaving the search to private efforts. Now, interest is building again.

July 7, 2004

Ernst Mayr interview

Scientific American has published a very good interview with a living legend, a true god among evolutionary biologists, Ernst Mayr. He turned 100 a couple of days ago.

Mayr's work contributed to the conceptual revolution that led to the modern evolutionary synthesis of Mendelian genetics and Darwinian evolution and to the development of the biological species concept. He is known for his theory of allopatric speciation (speciation by geographic isolation) which is considered the basis of the theory of punctuated equilibrium.

Also, he was writing about systematics (the modern version of taxonomy) long before anyone had a clue about what he was talking about, something he's quite aware and proud of:
Now, in a way I'm sometimes surprised at how advanced I was in my 1942 book Systematics and the Origin of Species. That was quite a bit ahead of its time. I had no teacher who was that much ahead. How I could see things in such a modern way I still don't understand. But I did.
Mayr is also an outspoken historian and philosopher of biology who rejects a lot of the reductionism that characterizes much of biology today, namely molecular biology and the infatuation with individual/isolated genes (he was critical of J. B. S. Haldane's "bean-bag genetics" way back when, and his work runs counter to a lot of Dawkinsian neo-Darwinism). You've got to look at the entire genotype when it comes to evolution, argues Mayr. When it comes to molecular biology, he says:
The funny part is that molecular biology has a remarkably small impact on the theory structure of biology. At least that's the way it looks to me. Of course, they can point out that the genetic code has shown that life as it now exists on the earth could have originated only a single time, otherwise it wouldn't be the same code that it is. And of course there are several other things that molecular biologists have contributed. But none of them really touched the theory structure of the Darwinian paradigm, in my opinion.
And when asked by SciAm, "What do you think the major questions, or even a single question, for a young researcher today is. Where would you point that person?," Mayr responded:
Well, you know, the genotype. I'll mention something that nobody ever mentions. Let's say you have now a genotype that makes a certain protein. And that protein, and you can see this in every issue of Science practically, that protein is a very complex structure, incredibly complex. Now how that step from a group of amino acids to that polypeptide [happens] is an enormous jump. I think right now everybody leaves it alone because nobody yet has figured out just exactly how to attack this problem.

How to irritate an atheist

Here are a number of excellent suggestions on how to irritate an atheist.

More signs of accelerating change

[via Slashdot] Companies are moving from the 1-year product cycle to the 6-month:
"What is perhaps more interesting than the 4 new Konica Minolta cameras announced today is the rapid product cycle that seems to have been established by both Konica Minolta and other manufacturers." Rather than the yearly model updates that people have come to expect, the article notes that three members of this batch aren't even a year old, and one is only six months.
The question is, can they test this stuff that fast? Unlikely.

July 6, 2004

Rapture Review

My book review for Brian Alexander's Rapture has been posted on Betterhumans:
Do You Believe in Science?: In Rapture, Brian Alexander describes how biotechnology and boosterism have made transhumanism the next big thing

TV04 Schedule

The TransVision 2004 speakers schedule has been posted on the TV04 Website.

July 4, 2004

Can't we all just get along?

I was watching Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis with my two sons today when about half way through my eldest son, 7-year old Lucas, interjected and said, "In the future, if humans and robots get into a big fight, I'm going to step in and break it up." Bless you, Luke.

BTW, I highly recommend the movie.

July 1, 2004

Nano Arms Race

[via CRN] "What effect will molecular manufacturing have on military and government capability and planning, considering the implications of arms races and unbalanced development?"

It has been predicted that a sufficiently advanced and general-purpose molecular manufacturing technology could have a significant destabilizing effect on geopolitical balances of power. This must be explored. Study #20 on CRN's list of thirty essential studies relating to nanotechnology will examine these issues.

Read the entire report.

9 billion people living in harmony with the environment

Michael Lind argues in his article, Worldly Wealth, that a future population of 9 billion can enjoy the lifestyle of today's rich without crippling the environment:
Can everyone on earth be rich? Not rich in relative terms - in a world of billionaires, millionaires would feel poor - but in terms of the lifestyle choices that today only the rich enjoy: in particular, in stuff (personal technology), space (low-density living in proximity to nature), and speed (geographic mobility). The world's population is expected to stabilise at around 9bn and then decline.

Can 9bn people enjoy stuff, space and speed?

The austerity school says no. The earth's environment will be devastated if 9bn human beings attempt to enjoy the average standard of living of a middle-class individual - much less a rich person - in Europe, North America or Japan. Not only should the majority of the world's people resign themselves to poverty forever, but rich nations must also revert to simpler lifestyles in order to save the planet.

But the pessimism of the austerity school is unfounded. There may be political or social barriers to achieving a rich world. But there seems to be no insuperable physical or ecological reason why 9bn people should not achieve something like the lifestyle of today's rich, with technology only slightly more advanced than that which we now possess.