April 27, 2012

Center for Inquiry offering online seminar on transhumanism, May 1-31

The Center for Free Inquiry is offering an online four week seminar on transhumanism—and I'll be teaching it alongside John Shook, CFI director of education and AHA education coordinator. The cost is $70 for general registration, $60 for Friends of the Center, and $30 for students. The course will run from May 1 to May 31 so there's still time to register. You can get more information and register here.

Course Objectives:
This four week, four-module short course, running from May 1 to May 31, introduces the philosophy and socio-cultural movement that is Transhumanism. We will survey its core ideas, history, technological requirements, potential manifestations, and ethical implications. Topics to be discussed include: the various ways humans have tried to enhance themselves throughout history; the political and social aspects of Transhumanism; the technologies required to enhance humans (including cybernetics, pharmaceuticals, genetics, and nanotechnology); and the various ways humans may choose to use these technologies to modify and augment their capacities (including radical life extension, intelligence augmentation, and mind uploading). Along the way we will discuss social and ethical problems that might be posed by human enhancement.
I've put together an amazing curriculum and reading list, so I hope to see you in the virtual classroom.

April 24, 2012

Guest blogging on io9 next week

I'll be guest blogging on io9 next week, from April 30 to May 3. I'm sure most of you are aware of io9, but for those of you who are unfamiliar it is a popular daily publication that covers science, science fiction, and the future. In other words, a perfect place for my content. Stay tuned for more.

April 23, 2012

Mining the Sky for Resources? (guest blog by David Brin)

It appears that a small cabal of the Good Billionaires  -- those who got rich through innovation and who feel loyal to the future -- are about to to fund a new effort worth some excitement and attention. It aims at transforming not just our Earth -- but the whole solar system. And, along the way, this endeavor may help bootstrap us back into our natural condition... a species, nation and civilization that believes (again) in can-do ambition.

Can that be achieved - while making us all rich - through asteroid mining? 

In its Tuesday announcement, Space exploration company Planetary Resources will claim a goal to "create a new industry and a new definition of 'natural resources.'... adding trillions of dollars to the global GDP."

Resources from space? It's not a wholly new concept.  Way back in the 1980s, in his prophetic book - Mining The Sky: Untold Riches From The Asteroids, Comets, And Planets, my friend and colleague John S. Lewis explored in detail the range of minerals, volatiles and other useful materials to be found in all the different types of small bodies we know to be drifting about the solar system, from carbonaceous chondrites to stony or iron meteoroids, to dormant comets which (according to my doctoral thesis) may make up to a third of the asteroids we find out there.*

Back then, as a young fellow at the California Space Institute, I recall many long conversations with John and the few others working in the field, striving to come up with ways to get some movement in this area. Before it became clear that the Space Shuttle would suck up every gram of funding or attention.

What makes this new effort unique is its high-profile support group. The venture is backed by Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, film director James Cameron, and politician Ross Perot's son, among others.  Moreover, I am pleased to note that John Lewis is, indeed, one of the major advisors for this new company, along with his former students, noted planetary scientists Chris Lewicki and Tom Jones.

The founders apparently did their homework. (A Cameron trademark.)  They apparently mean business.

== A Long and Hard Road ==

But what kind of business? Is such a grand project feasible? As I see it, there are a several distinct general problem domains.

1) Prioritizing asteroidal science.  Naturally, as an astronomer who specialized in small solar system bodies, I approve of this phase one. (My wife, Cheryl, also did her doctoral work in this area - we're neighbors in the solar system.) 

It also correlates well with President Obama's wise decision to abandon a fruitless return to the sterile Moon, in favor of studying objects that might make us all rich.

In fact, this seems an excellent time for private funding to make a big difference. New thresholds have been reached. The technologies needed for inexpensive asteroid rendezvous missions are coming to fruition rapidly, as we saw at the recent NASA NIAC meeting.  Some, in fact, are downright amazing, opening the potential for missions that cost mere tens of millions, rather than billions of dollars, confirming and characterizing these fascinating - and possibly lucrative - bodies.

2) Shepherding and changing the trajectories of small meteoroids and asteroids.  There are several techniques on the table.  Some of them surprisingly simple, using solar sails.  We might as well get started! And if these guys can give the technologies a boost, more power to them.

3) Legal, safety and environmental impact considerations. Is it even permissible to grab and "own" space resources? The pertinent treaties were left deliberately vague and it may be time to update them, so that investors in wealth-generating processes can be sure of decent return.

Of much more public concern - and sure to dominate the headlines - will be the image of deliberately moving asteroidal bodies toward the Earth. That's sure to prompt a lot of fretting and talk of lurid disaster scenarios. Oh, we'll start small and aim them toward the Moon or Lagrangian Points (e.g. L5), giving plenty of time to discuss issues of law and care in space. But these fellows need to come up with just the right tone of prudence, avoiding the kinds of lines spoken by Michael Crichton's science-hubris villains.  Like: "all contingencies are accounted for - there's no cause for concern!"

Worth pondering on the up-side: these same technologies might someday prove very useful, if we spot something dangerous, on a long-warning collision course toward Earth.  If done right, this is a potential world-saver, not world-killer.

4) Mining, disassembly, smelting and refining in space.  Here we're still in a very tentative, sketching phase. Most concepts  involve using large mirrors to concentrate sunlight and process the raw materials. Or else solar energy to drive heat and electro-mechanical processes indirectly. If this can be done robotically and efficiently, all the way off in L1 or Lunar Orbit, then much smaller masses of refined substance could be transported down to GEO... where electrodynamic tugs might bring it to LEO... where cheap, asteroid-made braking shells would deliver the goods safely to collection points on Earth.

5)  Or, better yet, much of the iron and nickel and such could be used up there in orbit to make more cool things and reduce the burden of launching bulk material out of our planet's deep gravity well.  Certainly, storing the ​volatile​ like water and carbon and nitrogen compounds in orbit-made tanks will be a major side-benefit, providing the materials needed most for both life support and rocket fuel. To derive those benefits would entail learning to do many other things in space. Larger habitats and radiation shielding. Possibly solar energy collectors of massive scale, beaming power 24/7 to Earth. Or grand vessels to explore the planets.

6) Economics. It's a lot more complicated than the first calculations might make you imagine. In Mining The Sky, John Lewis calculates that even just one asteroid a kilometer across - of a certain type - might (if smelted down) produce the world's entire steel production for 10 years!  
It gets better. Try the entire world's gold and silver production for 100 years!  That plus a thousand year's production of platinum-group elements.

The good news?  We would be unleashed to do a myriad things with cheap raw materialswhile cutting way back on wasteful, inefficient and polluting processes to mine and process the stuff here on Earth.  Much less digging, grinding and greenhouse gas emissions. All that wealth, generated with solar mirrors melting rocks way out in space.  Talk about improving the balance of payments....

One reality check?  Downstream, after this ball gets fully rolling and initial R&D costs are paid off, you can expect the prices of gold and platinum to plummet.  That's a good thing, overall! We have much better uses for gold than leering gleefully over stupid coins and bars. Still, bear this in mind when you start rubbing your hands over how rich you'll get from asteroid mining.
You won't be rich enough to own the world.  Sorry.  Just very very very rich, from doing a whole heap-loads lot of good for us all.

7) Which brings us to the final benefit of all this. We'll all benefit.  But the top fellows who are taking the risks, who will reap a lot of the rewards, happen also to be the ​good billionaires.​ Archetypes of how capitalism ought to work.  Self-made moguls who got wealthy by helping engender new-better products and services, not by means that Adam Smith himself derided as parasitism.  These guys have proved, time and again, their loyalty to the positive-sum process that raises all boats.  This is the kind of endeavor that will keep them up there as role models, instead of the new feudalists.
It's certainly how ​I​ plan to get rich.  By delivering magnificent, daring products that help take us to the stars.

-  David Brin  (Thanks George!)

== NOTES ==

 A little colorful aside:
In our 1984 novel Heart of the Comet (soon to be re-released) Gregory Benford and I portrayed a dramatized effort to harvest space resources, by sending a human crewed mission to Halley's Comet in 2065, intending to use the controlled evaporation of the comet's own material (an effect long-known) to divert it into orbit near the Earth.
A bit extravagant in its action-adventure aspects (though based on my doctoral work), the book still conveys the best science known about these mysterious and wonderful bodies, including the main process by which some of them evolve into dormant asteroids.
(See the original blog posting at Contrary Brin - http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2012/04/space-resources-re-igniting-can-do.html)

April 20, 2012

Remembering the art of Moebius (aka Jean Giraud)

The French comic artist Jean Giraud, who also went by the name Moebius, died in Paris last month at the age of 73 after a long illness.

The influential Giraud, who drew for over 50 years under both names, was celebrated internationally for his fantastic works, particularly in the US and Japan.

He collaborated with some true legends, including Stan Lee and a number of manga artists. Giraud also worked on storyboards and design concepts for some science fiction films, including Alien, Tron, The Abyss and The Fifth Element.

Artists from around the world have cited Giraud as an important influence on their work, including Hayao Miyazaki, Federico Fellini, William Gibson, and Ridley Scott.

Giraud is a seminal figure in the aesthetic development of fantasy, science fiction, and cyberpunk. Upon hearing of his passing, Benoit Mouchart, artistic director at France's Angouleme International Comics Festival, had this to say of his importance to the field of comics:
France has lost one of its best known artists in the world. In Japan, Italy, in the United States he is an incredible star who influenced world comics. Moebius will remain part of the history of drawing, in the same right as Dürer or Ingres. He was an incredible producer, he said he wanted to show what eyes do not always see.

April 19, 2012

Dan Hurley: Can You Make Yourself Smarter?

Dan Hurley has put together a comprehensive piece for the New York Times about using games like dual N-back training to improve intelligence.
Over the past three decades, theorists and researchers alike have made significant headway in understanding how working memory functions. They have developed a variety of sensitive tests to measure it and determine its relationship to fluid intelligence. Then, in 2008, Jaeggi turned one of these tests of working memory into a training task for building it up, in the same way that push-ups can be used both as a measure of physical fitness and as a strength-building task. “We see attention and working memory as the cardiovascular function of the brain,” Jaeggi says.“If you train your attention and working memory, you increase your basic cognitive skills that help you for many different complex tasks.”

Jaeggi’s study has been widely influential. Since its publication, others have achieved results similar to Jaeggi’s not only in elementary-school children but also in preschoolers, college students and the elderly. The training tasks generally require only 15 to 25 minutes of work per day, five days a week, and have been found to improve scores on tests of fluid intelligence in as little as four weeks. Follow-up studies linking that improvement to real-world gains in schooling and job performance are just getting under way. But already, people with disorders including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.) and traumatic brain injury have seen benefits from training. Gains can persist for up to eight months after treatment.

Laura Carstensen: Older people are happier

Another strong case for the longevity dividend!
In the 20th century we added an unprecedented number of years to our lifespans, but is the quality of life as good? Surprisingly, yes! At TEDxWomen psychologist Laura Carstensen shows research that demonstrates that as people get older they become happier, more content, and have a more positive outlook on the world.

April 17, 2012

NASA gets serious about the 2018 launch opportunity to Mars

We are six years away from the next best launch opportunity to Mars—and NASA wants to be ready. To that end, they are reformulating their Mars strategy, starting with a workshop this coming June to get the party started.

Titled, "Concepts and Approaches for Mars Exploration," the meeting will bring together a host of experts and groups, including scientists, engineers, graduate students and academics, NASA centers, federal labs, industry, and international partner organizations. The point of the workshop will be to provide an open forum for presentation, discussion, and consideration of any and all concepts, options, capabilities, and innovations that will advance Mars exploration. It's clear from the workshop description that NASA is hoping to inspire the innovation of some next-level capabilities. And it's also clear that the robotic exploration of Mars remains a high priority.

And it's not just the 2018 window that's being considered. NASA wants to start planning for both short-term and longer-term projects. Much of the agenda will be driven by the President's challenge of sending humans to orbit Mars in the decade of the 2030s. They've broken down their timeframes to two periods: 2018 through 2024, and a mid- to longer-term timeframe spanning 2024 to the mid-2030s.

NASA has outlined three basic challenge areas that they're hoping to address:
  1. Instrumentation and investigation approaches
  2. Safe and accurate landing capabilities, Mars ascent, and innovative exploration approaches
  3. Mars surface system capabilities
NASA has opened these challenge areas to the wider public in an effort to out-source the work.

The workshop will be held from June 12-14, 2012, at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, which is located in the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) building in Houston Texas.

April 16, 2012

Beaming solar power to Earth with satellites

There's no question that we need to seriously consider harvesting the sun's energy in space with massive solar panels. The big question, however, is how to get all that energy back to Earth.

NASA believes they have found the answer: Power-beaming solar-power satellites. It's a plan that was developed by John Mankins, leader of the first NASA solar-power-satellite development team in the 90s.

He calls his proposed project SPS-ALPHA, which stands for Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large PHased Array. Mankins claims that it's the “first practical solar-power satellite concept” that uses a novel “biomimetic” approach.

This project would make possible the construction of huge platforms from tens of thousands of small elements that can deliver remotely and affordably tens to thousands of megawatts using wireless power transmission to markets on Earth, as well as missions in space.

It would do this by using a large array of individually controlled thin-film mirrors, outfitted on the curved surface of a satellite. These movable mirrors would intercept and redirect incoming sunlight toward photovoltaic cells affixed to the backside of the solar power satellite’s large array.

The Earth-pointing side of this large modular circular array would be tiled with a collection of microwave-power transmission panels that generate the coherent, low-intensity beam of radio frequency energy and transmits that energy to Earth.

And what's particularly cool about this concept is that it would enable the construction of a solar-power satellite that can be assembled entirely from individual system elements that weigh no more than 110 to 440 pounds (50 to 200 kilograms), allowing all pieces to be mass produced at dramatically lower cost than traditional space systems.

Bonobo Chat: An app for communicating with apes

Looking to communicate with your favorite bonobo, but you just don't know how?

Well, worry no more: Ken Schweller of the Iowa Great Ape Trust has launched a new kickstarter in an attempt to develop an iPad based app to assist with ape-human communication and interaction. The app will help apes and humans communicate through lexigrams—abstract symbols that represent words. By using the iPad, apes can arrange the lexigrams to convey they thoughts and requests. And in addition to this, the app will enable the apes to operate remote doors, vending machines, and even a "RoboBonobo" robot.

You can help Schweller and contribute to his kickstarter here.

April 13, 2012

Do "advanced" dinosaurs rule other planets? Uh, no.

There's an article making the rounds from the American Chemical Society asking, "Could "advanced" dinosaurs rule other planets?"

It's a provocative title, but strangely, the article has virtually nothing to do with the question at hand, and instead addresses the issue of DNA/RNA left-right orientation and the problem of chirality in origin of life studies. It's kind of a bait and switch in which the researcher, Ronald Breslow, is clearly trying to draw attention to his work on the subject.

But to answer the question...in a word...no. And here's why:

A number of people speculate that, had an asteroid not wiped out the dinosaurs, they would have eventually spawned a species that would be human-like, and subsequently follow a similar developmental trajectory to our own. Unfortunately, however, this assumption misses two very crucial points: They didn't and they couldn't.

Dinosaurs ruled the Earth for an astounding 265 millions years. And within that time they produced nothing like our species.

The reason was that they couldn't. The environment wouldn't allow it. The age of the dinosaurs was marked by the presence of super-predators -- you know, T-Rexes and Spinosauruses -- nasty buggers like that. Super-predators force prey animals to adapt accordingly and along a very narrow band of morphological possibilities. In other words, animals back then needed to be able to run like hell or somehow fend for themselves. Back then it was all about physicality; intelligence had very little sway against the likes of super-predators.

Our species, on the other hand, was given the elbow room to evolve thanks to the absence of these super-predators. Sure, we still had nasties like saber toothed tigers, but nothing that compared to the dinosaurs.

The asteroid was a kind of reset button on evolution. We can be thankful for it, otherwise we wouldn't be here right now.

"This is your body speaking. You're about to have a heart attack."

Not that you'd ever want to get this sort of message, but the AngelMed Guardian, an implantable medical device that's currently undergoing clinical trials, will alert users about a potential heart attack through a combination of vibrations, audible tones, and visual warnings.

In other words, it's going to let you know every which way and how that you're about to drop and that you better seek medical attention asap.

Indeed, according to Mary Carol Day and Christopher Young of The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, what makes this particular device distinctive is its combination of alert modes. Vibrotactile (vibrating) alarms are often used in operating rooms or ICUs, but very little research has focused on their potential as a self-monitoring device for patients. And some auditory alarms are provided with selected implantable heart defibrillators, but many patients are unable to hear the alarms, particularly as they're elderly.

A vibrotactile alarm, on the other hand, has two major advantages. First, the implanted device can't be left behind like a portable device. And second, a vibrotactile alarm from the implanted device is more likely to be felt than an auditory alarm is to be heard because, for example, the patient may be wearing heavy clothing, has hearing loss, or is in a noisy environment.

The AngelMed Guardian offers two levels of alarm urgency: A high-priority alarm indicating that the user may be having a heart attack and should call 911, and a low-priority alarm indicating that a condition has been detected that requires a doctor visit within 48 hours. The alarms are provided by an implanted medical device, similar in size to a pacemaker, that is placed in the upper left chest, plus an external device, similar to a pager, that emits an auditory alarm and flashes a red or yellow warning light.

If the Guardian is approved for sale by the FDA, its developers hope that it might be extended in ways that will change the way the patient interacts with the system as a whole.

Veteran astronomer Geoff Marcy joins SETI

Astronomer Geoff Marcy is famous for discovering 70 of the first 100 exoplanets and the first system of planets around a sun-like star. But now he's shifting his focus to finding ET. To that end, he is the new chair of SETI at UC-Berkeley. Slate recently ran an interview of Marcy. Clip:
Slate: What's your plan to find aliens?

Marcy: If Gene Roddenberry is right and the Klingons and the Romulans are really out there, they have to communicate with each other. They aren't going to do this by stringing fiber optic cables between the stars, they are going to do it with lasers. Lasers are a logical way to go, because you can maintain a level of privacy by confining your laser to a beam narrow enough that it just hits a spacecraft or the civilization that's around another star three light years away. Not to mention, you save energy. Why spread energy everywhere like a radio transmitter does?
If our galaxy is teeming with advanced technological life, it has lasers crisscrossing it—tens of thousands, millions of them—and we should be able to pick up some spillover. Also, some aliens are going to try to communicate with us. Maybe they are literally pointing their lasers at us and we just aren't looking.

Slate: You think aliens may have identified Earth as a habitable planet?

Marcy: In the next century or two, we humans will have planet-finder telescopes that span our solar system with mirrors strewn from here to Jupiter, giving us enormous angular resolution so we can do the kind of science that a self-respecting advanced civilization ought to be doing. We should someday be imaging the continents on other planets. We can't do that yet, but aliens can do that already, so they know we are here.

Slate: What makes you sure aliens can do this already?

Marcy: Oh, because our galaxy is 10 billion years old. The Earth is only 4.5 billion years old. We are a firefly flicker in the great astrobiology of the galaxy. They presumably have had their light bulbs on for much longer.
Read the rest of the interview.

April 12, 2012

True Skin trailer

True Skin will be a 12-minute short film scheduled for release sometime later this year.

April 11, 2012

Elon Musk: Let's go to space—humanity's survival may depend on it

Nature has posted an interview with Elon Musk, SpaceX's chief executive and chief technology officer. Unlike so many people these days, Musk is not afraid to talk about going to space, whether it be missions to Mars or beyond. And his desire is not just frivolous; he sees humanity's presence in space as way to back up the biosphere. He was asked, "Do you see a space-faring civilization as a way of defending humanity against a catastrophe on Earth?", to which he responded:
Absolutely. We would be backing up the biosphere. We wouldn't just be preserving humanity, we would be preserving much of life. It is certainly possible for some calamity to come along — as we see in the several major extinction events in the fossil record. Humanity has obviously developed the means of destroying itself, so I think we need planetary redundancy to protect against the unlikely possibility of natural or man-made Armageddon.

It is important that we take action now to make life multi-planetary, because this is really the first point in the 4-billion-year history of Earth that it has been possible. That window of possibility will hopefully be open for a long time, but it may only be open for a short time. That's why I think urgent action is required on making life multi-planetary.
Read the entire interview here.

Frans de Waal: Moral behavior in animals

Empathy, cooperation, fairness and reciprocity -- caring about the well-being of others seems like a very human trait. But Frans de Waal shares some surprising videos of behavioral tests, on primates and other mammals, that show how many of these moral traits all of us share.

Lucy McRae: How can technology transform the human body?

Lucy McRae is an artist who straddles the worlds of fashion, technology and the body. Trained as a classical ballerina and architect, her work – which is inherently fascinated with the human body – involves inventing and building structures on the skin that reshape the human silhouette. Her provocative and often grotesquely beautiful imagery suggests a new breed: a future human archetype existing in an alternate world. The media call her an inventor; friends call her a trailblazer. Either way, Lucy relies on instinct to evolve an extraordinary visual path that is powerful, primal and unique.

Gender Selection in Canada: No Easy Answers

The issue of gender selection has once again made an appearance in the Canadian media. Rajendra Kale, an interim editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, recently called for a ban on disclosing the sex of a fetus until 30 weeks, before which time it is difficult to obtain an abortion. The idea is to prevent Canadian parents from engaging in gender selection by means of selective abortion. The overarching fear is that boys are being favoured over girls in some ethnic communities, causing a gender imbalance which could result in a number of social problems.

At first blush Kale’s concern and prescription seems warranted, but like so many other issues that pertain to human reproduction, it is one that is deeply complex and multi-faceted. There are many angles that need to be considered before enacting laws that block health information to parents and potentially limit their reproductive options.

There is no question that gender selection is happening in Canada among certain ethic groups. As Andre Picard recently noted in the Globe and Mail, “Female fetuses are being aborted because, in some cultures, girls are not valued; the birth of a girl is considered a financial burden because she has few prospects of a good income, and a dowry can drain a family’s finances.” In particular, he notes that there is growing evidence showing that sex selection is practiced by some Canadians of Sikh, Hindu and Chinese descent. What is not known, however, is the prevalence of this practice.

It is this rise in selective abortions that has prompted Kale to call for a universal ban on disclosing fetal gender information to parents prior to 30 weeks. It would be a sweeping measure that would impact on those parents who are not interested in gender selection (i.e. those who simply want to know the gender of their offspring) or those who would use selective abortion for “family balancing” purposes, which is the practice of ensuring an equal number of boys and girls in the family.

Indeed, as the family balancing practice indicates, gender selection extends beyond the desire for just boys. Tim Caulfield, the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, aptly notes that, “You may disagree or feel uncomfortable with the practice but people who practice family balancing are not evil or nefarious.” In many cases, parents are doing what they feel is best for their family.

Gender selection is currently prohibited in Canada under Bill C-6 (Assisted Human Reproduction Act). Regardless, it’s no secret that Canadians who wish to choose the sex of their offspring can go to the United States and engage in embryo selection. With this technique, rather than aborting a fetus, embryos of the desired gender are implanted in the mother. Since this practice is illegal in Canada, and because most prospective parents cannot or do not want to go the United States for this purpose, it is likely that selective abortions are being used in its place.

As noted, Kale’s proposed legislation would impact on those families who are looking to have a boy and for those who want to engage in gender selection. Consequently, Kale’s plan can be construed as another way to enforce Bill C-6’s prescription against sex selection. That said, given the apparent demand among Canadians, it would appear that a review of the legislation and the potential downfalls of gender selection is in order.

Moreover, when it comes to considering laws like the one proposed by Kale, legislators need to ensure that they are not conflating the rampant practice of selective abortions outside of Canada with what is happening within in. The situation in Canada is not nearly as severe as it is in India and China where gender imbalances are starting to become statistically relevant -- as high as 120 male births for every 100 female births in some regions. Given Canada’s cultural diversity, it is very possible that gender selection practices will not have a measurable impact on Canadian sex ratios. Consequently, it is imperative that this legislation not be considered until it can be determined that a problem truly exists.

It is worth noting that sex selection can be construed as a problem outside of imbalanced gender ratios; a strong case can be made that gender selection in favour of males is a form of sexism and discrimination against girls and women. Moreover, it may be a practice that exacerbates the problem over time (i.e. the re-enforcement of cultural norms and expectations). If such an interpretation is valid, such a claim would add further credence to the suggestion that gender selection is a larger sociological and cultural problem that needs to be addressed.

Prior to enacting laws that limit information and constrain reproductive choice, it is imperative that due diligence be done in terms of the metrics involved. Mere speculation about the potential pitfalls of the practice is inadequate (the unwarranted hysteria against gay marriage and parenting being a classic example). Some questions that need to be asked include:
  • Is gender selection truly happening in Canada?
  • Is it at statistically significant rates given the entire Canadian population?
  • At what rate do gender imbalances become a problem?
  • What exactly are the problems of a skewed gender ratio?
  • Do these sociological impacts warrant the withholding of information from parents and the lessening of reproductive choice?
  • Is sex selection discriminatory against women?
  • Is banning the disclosure of information prior to 30 weeks a violation of a woman’s reproductive rights?
It’s been said, for example, that a skewed gender ratio in favour of males will lead to an entire generation of frustrated men unable to find life partners, and that it could lead to increased violence and social unrest. While there may be some truth to these claims, they are far from proven. Such prognostications are not only hetero-centric, they are also potentially sexist. Again, such fears may be warranted, but further studies from different methodological frameworks need to be conducted to ensure that they are genuine possibilities.

Another issue that needs to be considered is the question of government involvement. Having the state limit information and constrain reproductive choice should always be considered a last resort.

Moreover, banning assistive reproductive technologies does little to address the overarching problem that is sex selection; where there is a will there is a way, and families intent on choosing the gender of their offspring are clearly finding ways to get it done. What would be more welcome, and likelier more effective, are public information campaigns. The Canadian government should work to educate the public and sway popular opinion in favourable ways. In addition, in the event of grossly imbalanced sex ratios, the government could compensate those families who voluntarily choose to have girls (e.g. through the child tax benefit program).

Finally, there is the potential for this issue to self-correct. A region with a dearth of girls will create demand, and the pendulum may start to swing the other way. Ironically enough, the practice may eventually result in the re-valuing of girls. Moreover, cultural and economic globalization will mitigate both the cultural and economic factors driving families to choose boys over girls, both within and outside of Canada.

And all this without the need to pass laws like the one suggested by Rajendra Kale. This is clearly a complicated issue and one with no clear-cut answers. What is certain, however, is that much more thought needs to be put into the matter before such legislation is considered.

April 9, 2012

Sentient Developments Podcast: Episode 2012.04.09

Sentient Developments Podcast for the week of April 9, 2012. Topics discussed in this week's episode:
  • My recap of the Moral Brain conference
  • A review of the attention my Dyson Sphere article is getting
  • A summary of my recent appearance on the al-Jazeera show, The Stream
Tracks used in this episode:
  • Orbital: "Straight Sun"
  • Bear in Heaven: "The Reflection of You"
  • Modeselektor: "Berlin"
Podcast Feed | Subscribe via iTunes

April 8, 2012

Bostrom on the 'superintelligent will'

Philosopher Nick Bostrom has penned a new article about artificial superintelligence: "The Superintelligent Will: Motivation and Instrumental Rationality in Advanced Artificial Agents." The abstract:
This paper discusses the relation between intelligence and motivation in artificial agents, developing and briefly arguing for two theses. The first, the orthogonality thesis, holds (with some caveats) that intelligence and final goals (purposes) are orthogonal axes along which possible artificial intellects can freely vary—more or less any level of intelligence could be combined with more or less any final goal. The second, the instrumental convergence thesis, holds that as long as they possess a sufficient level of intelligence, agents having any of a wide range of final goals will pursue similar intermediary goals because they have instrumental reasons to do so. In combination, the two theses help us understand the possible range of behavior of superintelligent agents, and they point to some potential dangers in building such an agent.
Via Accelerating Future.

The psychopaths among us

One of the more surprising things I learned at the recently concluded Moral Brain conference at NYU is that psychopathy affects 1-2% of the general population. That seems shockingly high to me. But on reflection, it kind of makes sense. I'm sure most of us know at least a couple of people who we suspect might be psychopaths.

Psychopathy is defined as severe emotional dysfunction, especially a lack of empathy. Psychopaths are completely unable to recognize such things as anger and fear in individuals, whether it be from facial expressions or verbal exclamations. Psychopathy can also defined by the expression of anti-social behaviors.

Neuroscience is helping to identify parts of the brain that are deficient leading to psychopathy. According to James Blair, the root of the problem is in the amygdala, which, when not functioning properly, causes individuals to respond in less averse way to fear, sadness, and pain. It's important to note that there is no correlation between psychopathy and IQ.

In fact, it is very difficult to detect psychopaths as many of them appear well adjusted, successful, and even charming. Most of them are not criminals. And according to Fabrice Jotterand, psychopathy affects 3-5% of businessmen. Perhaps there is something to be said about psychopathic traits and those characteristics required for success in the business world--including such things as ruthlessness and indifference.

In terms of possible treatments, pharmaceutical interventions seem to be a better bet than behavioral therapy. Surprisingly, according to Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, behavioral therapy for psychopaths actually makes their condition worse. Instead, drugs like Sertaline, which is considered an anti-psychotic, and other SSRI's can be used with positive affects. Ideally, however, neuroscientists would like to repair the dysfunction to the amygdala, which is typically at the root of the cause.

So, should this be considered a kind of "moral enhancement"?

Jotterand says no. He argues that it's not a question of moral enhancement, but more about altering behavior. I'm not sure I completely agree as the line dividing the two is quite blurred. If we can alter anti-social behavior, and augment (or repair) a person's sense of empathy, we are both going about moral enhancement, and subsequently, working to alter a person's behavior.

This could be a good gateway approach to moral enhancement for neurotypicals. It reminds me of how assistive devices for the physically disabled could eventually trickle down to "normal" humans once these devices exceed normal biological capacities. It's not unrealistic to believe that a future intervention to cure psychopathy could actually result in greater-than-normal empathy and other pro-social traits. Should this happen, neurotypicals might eventually start to demand it for themselves.

April 5, 2012

Oh, yeah, well NASA agrees with me: Rapidly initiating space civilization

In light of my Dyson Sphere article getting attention in Forbes (here and here) and PopSci, I was contacted by Philip T. Metzger, project lead at the Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations Laboratory at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre. But unlike the skeptical Forbes and PopSci, Metzger agreed with my conclusion that "...we could conceivably get going on the project in about 25 to 50 years, with completion of the first phase requiring only a few decades." In his letter to me, he writes:
I have attached a preprint of an article that was just accepted by the Journal of Aerospace Engineering. It explains in a little more detail than prior work how to initiate this sort of space industry affordably and very fast. I agree that it would take only 20 years to startup an industry that will then grow, within only a few more decades, to millions or billions of times the industrial capacity of the US. We modeled it to understand some of the key parameters and to test whether the concept is very robust, and we found that it is indeed very feasible and very affordable. There is no reason why we can’t start right now.
Amazing, eh? Now unfortunately, the paper, which is titled "Affordable, rapid bootstrapping of space industry and solar system civilization", has yet to be published in print, so I cannot share it with you, but here's a taste of the abstract:
Advances in robotics and additive manufacturing have become game-changing for the prospects of space industry. It has become feasible to bootstrap a self-sustaining, self-expanding industry at reasonably low cost. Simple modeling was developed to identify the main parameters of successful bootstrapping. This indicates that bootstrapping can be achieved with as little as 12 metric tons (MT) landed on the Moon during a period of about 20 years. The equipment will be teleoperated and then transitioned to full autonomy so the industry can spread to the asteroid belt and beyond. The strategy begins with a sub-replicating system and evolves it toward full self-sustainability (full closure) via an in situ technology spiral. The industry grows exponentially due to the free real estate, energy, and material resources of space. The mass of industrial assets at the end of bootstrapping will be 156 MT with 60 humanoid robots, or as high as 40,000 MT with as many as 100,000 humanoid robots if faster manufacturing is supported by launching a total of 41 MT to the Moon. Within another few decades with no further investment, it can have millions of times the industrial capacity of the United States. Modeling over wide parameter ranges indicates this is reasonable, but further analysis is needed. This industry promises to revolutionize the human condition.
This industry promises to revolutionize the human condition. Yeah, no kidding.

Moral Brain Conference Wrap-up

I recently returned from New York where I attended the NYU 2012 Bioethics Conference: The Moral Brain organized by the NYU Center for Bioethics in collaboration with the Duke Kenan Institute for Ethics and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. The conference took a multi-disciplinal approach to the issue of morality as it pertains to cognitive function and the question of whether or not our moral sense could ever be enhanced at the biological level. The event brought together an impressive number of key thinkers and academic leaders, including neuroscientists, bioethicists, and philosophers. In fact, this conference featured one of the strongest itinerary of speakers I have seen in quite some time (download program here (pdf)).

The first half of the conference was dedicated to the neuroscientific aspect, while the back-half focused on bioethics and the question of modification and enhancement. I have to admit, I felt a bit out of my league during the first portion as most of the talks delved into hardcore neuroscience. As a bioethicist, I had to quickly adjust to keep up with all the talk of OFC's (orbitofrontal cortex) and vmPFC's (ventromedial prefrontal cortex) — but surprisingly, I started to get a hang of it after a while. And I have to admit, it was fascinating to take part in this conversation and see how moral sentiment is so indelibly tied into brain function.

Demonstration without explanation

One thing I noticed, however, is that neuroscientists tend to get a little too excited about fMRI's (functional magnetic resonance imaging). A typical presentation would showcase the work of a neuroscientist in which they came up with a challenge in moral decision making, put a person in an fMRI, make them think about that challenge, and see what parts of the brain light-up. Then, when the results are in, they put up their fancy screen-grabs and use their laser pointers to show us where the action is happening in the brain.

Look, I completely understand the importance of showing a cognitive basis for specific brain function. I get it. At the same time, however, there seemed to be a deficit of understanding from a cognitive or computational perspective. Absent from the conversation were potential insights from cognitive scientists.

Indeed, the emphasis was on data collection and articulating function, and less so on explanation. This was not necessarily a bad thing, as the former has to exist to fuel the latter. And encouragingly, philosophy is getting in on the action, namely through the burgeoning field of experimental philosophy. Old-school armchair philosophizing has largely been trumped by doing actual science. Now days, philosophers don't do their work until the data is in.

Is there a moral brain to be modified?

Interestingly, while arm-chair philosophy is on the way out, talk of Aristotelian virtue, Kantian deontology, and Millsian utilitarianism is still very much in vogue. The subsequent challenge for experimental philosophy and neuroscience is to (1) correlate those traditional frameworks with actual cognitive function (which may be impossible) and (2) decide which of these various ethical models provides the best roadmap for enhancement.

A general consensus that emerged from the conference was the idea that "morality" as a specific brain function could not be defined. As Walter Sinnott-Armstrong noted, we need to study the various components of morality separately as it's not a united, cohesive thing. No brain mechanism is both common to all moral judgments of wrongs and also distinctive of moral judgments of wrongs. Instead, morality, as broken down into different components, is more properly understood as a dyadic relationship. Interestingly, Sinnott-Armstrong's argument strengthened the case for consequentialism.

Moroever, there is also the exosomatic aspect of morality that needs to be considered. As Jonathan Haidt noted in his talk, "Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, practices, identities, institutions, technologies and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible." In other words, it's not all in the brain—and not by a long shot.

Other presenters made similar cases, including Wendell Wallach and John Shook. Wallach noted that we risk "pathologizing human nature" and that "there is no moral compass in the brain to be modified." And Shook, who took a normative perspective, noted that, "neuroethics will always be on its way to some newer ethics." For every moral person, he argued, there is a specific moral brain in action.

Which also made me realize that, aside from socio-cultural differences, gender differences must also account for differences in moralizing. It's no secret that testosterone impacts on male aggression and risk taking — which, if applied as an intervention, could be seen as moral (or virtue) unenhancement. I would have certainly liked to have seen more consideration given to gender differences in moral decision making and the various ways we could offset these traits among the two genders (an excellent application of postgenderism, to be sure).

Moreover, it was obvious to me (even before the conference) that moral enhancement cannot really be parsed out from cognitive enhancement. Because we're essentially talking about altering "normal" human brain functioning, and because our considerations are based on normative perceptions of moral or virtuous behavior, we're still essentially just talking about cognitive modifications. At best, we can isolate certain behaviours or tendencies, and seek to strengthen them through interventions.

For example, back in the days of the ancient Greeks, courage was considered to be a very important virtue. These days we don't consider it as such. I can only assume that, in future, we will similarly develop a different sense of virtuous behaviours compared to today's. Another example of blurred lines is the issue of strong executive control in decision making. It was generally agreed that, in order for an effective moral enhancement regime to work, strong will had to be an integral part of it. But is executive control a cognitive enhancement or moral enhancement? Both?

On a somewhat similar note, James Hughes's notion of "virtue enhancement" carried a lot of currency at Moral Brain, both in terms of its efficacy and its potential for controversy. By suppressing vice, argued Hughes, we can enhance virtue. It's moral enhancement that will make us more responsible. He contended that, while we should suppress immoral sentiments, we need to reinforce reasonable sentiments, including the retention of our capacity for "discriminating wisdom." That said, Hughes admitted that moral enhancement could cause risks to cognitive liberty through lack of privacy, overt control, ownership, norms, addiction, and inequality.

Hughes's notion of discriminating wisdom was very well taken. As Anna Pacholczyk noted, anger and outrage can be very useful things. Thus, determining pro-social traits can be tricky.

Unintended intentions

Indeed, the issue of unintended consequences and unintuitive side-effects came up quite regularly. Take oxytocin, for example — the poster molecule for moral enhancement. While it's well known that oxytocin can improve social bonding and interaction, it also has the paradoxical effect of increasing tribalistic tendencies on account of tighter lock-in of in-group thinking. In addition, heightening a virtuous trait doesn't necessarily imply a better person overall, and it could in fact cause other problems. As Paul Bloom showed, serial rapists have the highest self-esteem of any group. And Patrick Hopkins noted that hypermorality could cause crippling, debilitating effects on agency.

Erik Parens expressed similar concerns. He claimed that no one wants a "soma pill," that it would diminish options and negatively impact on our freedom. At the same time, however, he noted the complexity of creating the kind of "love pill" advocated by Matthew Liao. On the one hand, Parens argued that we should reject a pill that creates love as it would separate us from how the world really works. At the same time, however, he admitted that we should approve a pill that creates love as it would facilitate meaningful activities. These are most certainly challenging distinctions.

Making moral modifications

Aside from oxytocin, serotonin, propranolol and the implication of various areas of the brain required for moral action, there was very little said about how to go about moral enhancement. Virtually all interventions proposed were pharmacological in nature (hence the over-reliance of the ridiculous term "morality pill"), with no consideration given for genetic function, epigenetic factors, or ways we could actual physically alter the brain's mechanical function (e.g. deep brain stimulation or transcranial magnetic stimulation (See this study for example)). Part of the problem was the lack of imagination amongst the neuroscientists when it came to enhancement (most of whom, it's fair to say, had never even considered it prior to the conference—this is a new area of inquiry, after all). This is definitely one area that could stand some improvement in our thinking.

It's worth noting that the impermanence of neuropharmaceuticals is not necessarily a bad thing. Reversing undesirable brain-state may prove to be beneficial—a strategy that would work well within my designer psychologies model. The problem with neuropharma, however, is that is can often be too untargeted and blunt. As Molly Crocket noted, oxytocin and serotonin do a ton more than just instigate feelings of social bonding; we can't use them for this kind of specificity without incurring some side-effects.

And in terms of developing moral enhancement interventions, very little consideration was given to the role of supply and demand, and the role of Big Pharma in all this. One can make a strong case that demand does in fact exist, and as a result, pharmaceutical companies will eventually start to develop effective interventions. Take MDMA for example, which illicits heightened feelings of connectedness and empathy. That's a bona fide moral enhancement if I ever heard one — and considering the widespread use of MDMA, it's fair to say there's considerable demand. It could even be said that Aderall is a kind of virtue enhancement, in that it enables a person to focus on a specific task and get things done (i.e. what I was just referring to earlier: strong executive control in moral decision making).

Big picture?

Lastly, I would have liked to have seen moral enhancement discussed more in terms of its ends. Yes, there was some talk about it in the sense that it fulfilled the demands of certain ethical frameworks (virtue, deontological, and utilitarian/consequential), but not so much about the actual desired results for both individuals and society as a whole (Matthew Liao's talk notwithstanding). I was hoping to hear more about moral enhancement in the context of ensuring human flourishing, happiness, and well-being. But perhaps I'm being too picky; utilitarianism is broad enough a framework to make these sorts of assumptions. And in that sense this was all implied.

The Moral Brain conference was one of the most fascinating and provocative events I have ever attended. I certainly hope to see this discussion rekindled again in the near future.

April 4, 2012

My twitter round-up for the Moral Brain conference

Here's the complete list of my tweets from the recently concluded Moral Brain conference at New York University:
At the Moral Brain conference at NYU.

Currently listening to James Blair's talk on care-based morality problems and its relation to psychopathic traits

Three lectures in and it's clear that the burgeoning field of moral neuroscience is being driven by fMRI data.

Blair: Psychopaths have a busted amygdala causing them to respond in a less averse way to fear, sadness, and pain

Hell of a turnout at the #moralbrain conference, btw. An organizer told me that over 100 people had to be turned away.

Blair: There is nothing related to psychopathy and IQ

Someone needs to do a study into why philosophers and neuroscientists are universally clueless when it comes to the use of the microphone.

Up next: Walter Sinott-Armstrong: "Is There One Moral Brain?"

Sinnott-Armstrong: We need to study the various components of morality separately; not a united thing

Sinnott-Armstrong: Morality, as broken down into different components, is more properly understood as a diadic relationship

Sinnett-Armstrong: No brain mechanism is both common to all moral judgments of wrongs and also distinctive of moral judgments of wrongs.

Sinnett-Armstrong's argument strengthens the case for consequentialist ethics

Day One of #moralbrain is complete. Tomorrow's talks will also focus on the parts of the brain involved in moral sentiment and cognition.

Jonathan Haidt currently talking about intuition and reasoning

Haidt: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second

Haidt: "Can" is more persuasive on reasoning than "must"

Haidt: It's not that we like equality, it's that we hate alpha males and bullying

Haidt: Our evolved trick: ability to forge a team and circle around things we value

Haidt: Moral foundations: Loyalty, authority, and sanctity

Haidt: Moral capital = social capital plus institutions and norms that preserve it

Haidt: Law works to the extent that it is a quasi-religious practice

Haidt: Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, practices, identities, institutions, technologies...

...and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible.

Happening now: Panel discussion on applying the neuroscience of morality

Bloom: Serial rapists have the highest sense of self-esteem of any group

Sinnott-Armstrong: Behavioral therapy for psychopaths actually makes their condition *worse*

The hardest working people at the #moralbrain conference: the 2 people conveying the entire thing in sign language.

Greene: Oxytocin could be used to improve social bonding and interaction

Sinnott-Armstrong: "I'm not so sure that lots of empathy is a good thing." Says it can lead to poor decisions and conclusions

Bloom: Paradoxically, heightened levels of oxytocin can *increase* tribalistic tendencies due to tighter lock-in of the in-group

Bloom: Hugs and back rubs can increase oxytocin production

Here's what the panel looks like #moralbrain http://ow.ly/i/xzQa

Washington Square Park last night http://ow.ly/i/xzQs

On the #moralbrain panel: Wendell Wallach (mod), Paul Bloom, Joshua Knobe, Molly Crockett, Joshua Green, and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong.

Bloom: "People think steroids are bad...because they're bad."

Book: Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu: Unfit for the Future: The need for moral enhancement.

And now presenting: Ingmar Persson

Persson: It is easier for us to harm each other than to benefit each other

Persson: Tech increases our powers of action and ability to cause ultimate harm, making life forever impossible on Earth

Persson: Terrorists are more likely to use nuclear weapons than states, no fear of reprisal

Persson: Our moral psychology has evolved to make us fit for life in small, close-nit societies with limited tech

Persson: We have a bias for the near future; and exhibit parochial altruism.

Persson: We have an incapacity to feel proportionate sympathy with large number of sufferers

Persson: The act-omission doctrine: harming is harder to justify than failing to benefit #moralbrain #trolly

Man, the Trolly Problem has come up time and time again at #moralbrain http://ow.ly/1JEcJZ #neuroethics

Persson: We need moral enhancement to counteract all these problems and prevent us from causing ultimate harm

Day 3 of #moralbrain conference; James Hughes now presenting on benefits and risks of virtue enhancement.

Hughes: Supressing vice is enhancing virtue. Moral enhancement makes us more responsible.

Hughes: Supressing immoral sentiments, reinforcing reasonable sentiments

Hughes: We need to retain capacity for "discriminating wisdom."

Hughes: Moral enhancement could cause risks to cognitive liberty: lack of privacy, overt control, ownership, norms, addiction, inequality.

Erik Parens now presenting: the 2nd wave: talking ABOUT moral enhancement

Parens: 1st wave of enhancement debate: Enthusiasts & Critics.

Parens: 2nd wave debate: what enhancements are worthy of the name?

Parens: No one wants Soma, it would diminish options, negatively impact on our freedom

Parens: We should reject a pill that creates love as it would separate us from how the world really works

Parens: We should approve a pill that creates love as it would facilitate meaningful activities

Now presenting: Joshua Knobe: Seeing a person as a body.

Knobe is a pioneer in experimental philosophy

Knobe: A body contains a mind which is capable of both intentional and phenomenal states

Knobe: Do corporations exhibit both intentional and phenomenal states? At best, just the former

Knobe: The more we think of an entity as having a body (higher salience) the more we think of them as having phenomenal states

Knobe: The higher bodily salience, decrease in attribution of intentional states

Knobe: This is a kind of animalization of people based on degree of bodily salience

Anna Pacholczyk presenting: What is moral enhancement? Shades of 'moral'

Pacholczyk: Anger and outrage can be very useful things

Anna Pacholczyk: Determing pro-social traits can be tricky

John Shook: Is ethical theory relevant to neuroethical evaluations of moral enhancement?

Shook: Neuroethics will always be on its way to some newer ethics

Shook: For every moral person there is a specific moral brain in action

Now presenting: Bill Kabasenche

Kabasenche: Virtue is a state that decides; Aristotelian

Kabasenche: emotions are not just causes of actions they also determine the identity of actions - Bob Roberts

Kabasenche: taking a pill for moral enhancement is no less authentic than the other things we do to achieve same ends

Kabasenche: Moral enhancements as aids for moral formation

Molly Crockett: Moral enhancement? Evidence and challenges

Crockett: Oxytocin: a moral molecule?

Crockett: Oxytocin can be administered through nasal spray, increases sense of trust

Crockett: BUT, oxytocin has a way of illiciting feelings of envy and schadenfreude in certain contexts

Crockett: Oxytocin also increases sense of ethnocentrism, in-group preference

Crockett: Bartz et al "social effects of oxytocin on humans"

Crockett: Now on to serotonin: illicits sense of wanting to avoid harming of others

Crockett: Humans are conditionally cooperative (you scratch my back...)

Crockett: Unconditional cooperation = "sucker!"

Crockett: Oxytocin and serotonin do a lot more than just these things, so we can't use them for this kind of specificity

Crockett: oxytocin and serotonin are too blunt and untargeted as a means for moral enhancement

Crockett: Good thing about them, though, is their impermanent nature

Crockett: Non-pharma interventions for moral enhancement: changing beliefs, brain (incl meditation)

Now presenting: Wendell Wallach

Wallach: We risk pathologizing human nature

Wallach: Moral enhancement is in many ways just cognitive enhancement

Wallach: Propranolol: can reduce racial bias, sense of guilt, helps encode memory

Wallach: The is no moral compass in the brain to be modified

Wallach: The entire human organism is a moral instructional mechanism

Self-control is increasingly being seen as a moral enhancement

Conversation now about religion as moral enhancement

I'm so loving the #moralbrain conference. A total headsplosion of ideas.

Now presenting: Patrick Hopkins

Hopkins: Hypermorality could cause crippling, debilitating effects on agency

Hopkins: Moral disease: cluster characteristics, personal health, public health, paradigmatic, prospect for moral disease

Hopkins: Concern: by pathologizing immorality we strip the individual of responsibility.

Now speaking: Geoffrey Miller: Modifying childhood behaviors

Now up Matthew Liao: Parental love pills

Liao: Can we induce parental love? Oxytocin?

Liao: Oxytocin can be found in mother's milk

Liao: Oxytocin impacts on empathy, closeness, and trust

Liao: One of the mechanisms of oxytocin's effects is its ability to reduce anxiety

Liao: why a parental love pill? estrangement, resentment, step-children, adopted children

Liao: Issue of authenticity: spontaneity, experiential, ownership, induced parental love as self-alienation

Liao: Pugmire: "emotion becomes narcissistic when the focus shifts from its object to its subjective experience"

Liao: We treat ourselves as mere means when we bypass our beliefs; self-instrumentalization

Liao: The scope of our duties to children may be even more extensive than common sense morality supposes

Up next: William Casebeer of DARPA: Neuroethics and national security

Casebeer: Wants to immunize soldiers from acquiring PTSD

Up next: Fabrice Jotterand: Enhancing criminal brains?

Jotterand: Psychopathy affects 1-2% of general population (3-5% of businessmen)

Jotterand: Not all psychopaths are criminals

Jotterand: Difficult to detect psychopaths, many of them are charming

Jotterand: Psychpathy defined as severe emotional dysfunction esp. Lack of empathy

Jotterand: Psychopathhs completely unable to recognize anger and fear in individuals

Jotterand: Psychopathy also defined by anti-social behaviors

Jotterand: Neuroscience is helping to identify parts of the brain that are deficient leading to psychopathy

Jotterand: Sertraline considered as anti-psychotic, including other SSRI's

Jotterand: This is not moral enhancement, it's about altering behavior

Maxwell Mehlman now presenting on #moralenhancement and the law

Mehlman: If a "morality pill" could be developed, would people (esp. criminals) be compelled to take it?

Mehlman: if it's deemed a public health and safety issue, could be pushed by gov't

Mehlman: Could a morality pill be seen as a kind of vaccination and given to kids?

Mehlman: Would we discriminate against people who do not take morality pills?

Mehlman: If you're on the morality pill, are you held to a higher standard of care? More accountable?

Mehlman: If you're not taking morality pill, could you be deemed criminally negligent if something bad happens?

James Giordano now up on neuromorality: implications for human ecology, global relations, and national security policy

Giordano: Neuro-ecology: studies and interventions of cognitions, emotions, and behaviors engaged in decisions and actions

Giordano: The brain is an opportunistic target for multiple level assessment and manipulative actions #moralbrain

The #moralbrain conference is now over, one of the best conferences I've ever attended, very strong cast of speakers