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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.

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The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Survey: Human Evolution -- the Near Future... -- All Except Easy, Gov, Hum, Plan, Rev, SF, SKiP and Super

Here’s a question I’ve asked in other forms in other venues, but which I think is useful to consider carefully.

Which of the following methods do you think is most likely to lead to radically improved human beings (or sentient beings) in the next 30 years?

Nootropic (intelligence enhancing) drugs

Nootropic nutrients, and/or improved diet, exercise and general health

Genetic engineering of new children

Gene therapy that can modify adults

Cybernetics/surgical modification

Longevity/immortality treatments

Any other biotech that could enhance/repair the body or brain (such as stem cells, over-expressing growth-stimulating proteins in the brain, the use of field effects, peptides, etc. for resequencing of proteins, etc)

Artificial Intelligence

Nanotechnology

Widespread study of challenging fields that require great discipline and/or ability (anything from martial arts to Socratic debate to spontaneously composing poetry in public to conventional athletics)

Society highly conducive to the emergence and nurturing of genius (perhaps superior to ancient Athens or Italian cities in the Renaissance)

Bio/neuro-feedback

Floatation tanks

Other machines designed to enhance the brain (ganzfelds, cranial electro-stimulation, photic and auditory brainwave driving, etc)

Accelerated learning techniques (speed reading, mnemonic tools, Borrowed Genius, etc)

Creativity and/or intelligence boosting techniques (Image Streaming, Provocative Operations (PO), brainstorming, lateral thinking, Beachhead, Toolbuilder, meditation, etc)

Alternative healing techniques

Putting people under incredibly stressful, dangerous conditions, and seeing how they adapt (as in Dune and most of Frank Herbert's other works)

A huge increase in the wealth of a substantial number of people.

The study/practice of psi effects

Some mystical/magical method

Some fanatical subculture or organization completely focused on improving the abilities of its members

The eclectic use of whatever "seems to work" on the above list (a bit of this and a bit of that)

A widespread realization that some or all of these methods of self-improvement exist

A widespread fear that if you don't keep up with other radically-improved people, you'll be obsolete


One respondent commented, “My worst concern in your list is the fanatical subculture ororganization - that could happen all too easily.”

To which I replied…

“My desire to see the public substantially improve itself is not completely selfless. The more capable, self-reliant, intelligent and difficult-to-manipulate the public becomes, the harder it is for any unnaturally bright individual to play games with them. What's more, hundreds of millions or even billions of united human beings of exceptional intelligence would have almost unimaginable resources to throw at their problems. Which means they could snuff out many classic threats to their well-being -- bio- or nuclear terrorism, warfare, economic instability, "natural" disasters, destructive fads/addictions, political manipulation, brain-washing cults, etc.

"Imagine what a united world could do, especially with just a fraction of the resources we casually fiddle with on this list. Imagine being able to throw a hundred thousand scientists at a single problem -- especially if they could Beachhead, High Thinktank and/or Over-the-Wall their way out of that problem. Imagine all those minds casually tapping all that genius at once. Now imagine a world in which all the billions of ‘commoners’ outside the scientific profession also had access to those problem-solving tools.

"Suddenly the threat of a powerful cabal or an insane demi-god no longer seems so pressing, does it? =) If we get to this stage, that is.

"Otherwise, general progress on these matters has been so slow that a small group could easily lurch in this direction with nothing to counter it. Self-interest, self-aggrandizement, a charismatic leader, economic or political bonds -- there are quite a few reasons why a small company, club or research project could go awry. And all the more reason for the rest of us to get going on our own evolution.”

My friend also said, “Efforts to prohibit most of this will be increasingly questioned and will lead in turn to bootlegging, with some real human costs as well as some human benefits. Enough of this is already happening that we are going to be redefining what it is to be a human being, over at least the next half century. We went through an era inideologies where the collective ‘we’ were willing to tear the planet apart over mere differences in economic theory. In this we will be debating the very stuff of what it is to be ourself and what it is to be a human being.”

To which I felt compelled to remark…

“Indeed, ‘bio-conservatives’ have already mobilized against the idea of improving humans. I suspect that creating a fuss on this point may be counterproductive for their cause -- most people, if they had the option of being healthier, stronger, smarter, faster, better looking, younger, etc with no particular drawbacks, would choose to improve their lot. A lot of storm and noise at this point is only going to draw the public's attentionto the concept. Though the idea seems to be to cut off all funding for human enhancement research (including research into inherited health problems), no matter how impractical that may seem.”

I’ll add that I’m staying out of this particular fight, though I suspect that once a general idea of what enhancement technologies can do leaks out, the entire debate will be utterly beside the point.

My friend also added, “We could take the sting out of that by making more progress in the above-mentioned methodological fields where reactions would be tempered by the consideration that one's own efforts have some bearing on advantaged outcome, not riding entirely with some ‘magic pill.’ If these fields remain blocked in their progress, we are headed into a most troublesome path.”

And what could I say, other than…

“Quite frankly, I suspect we'll have rapid breakthroughs in a number of fields. But if we only derived ‘superhumans’ from one or two routes such as ‘superbabies’ and gene therapy, and those methods could be restricted to a chosen few based on political power or economic resources, we could easily end up with a nightmarish scenario and an elite ‘born to rule.’ Yet another reason to develop all our resources now, in order to uplift everyone in the near future.”

He also commented, “PS - don't reflexively believe, nor reflexively discard, the above predictions. Go take a look for yourself, either from conventional linear evidence or en scenario modeled on our "Beachhead" and "Toolbuilder" procedures…”

(Yes, my counterpart in this exchange was Dr. Win Wenger.)

My reply, in its essence, was…

“Believe me, I don't disregard anything. Though it's not something I talk about, my personal experiences/observations (mainly from my youth) have convinced me that a lone genius could easily have vast influence over the world without anyone really knowing. Unless more of us are truly able to ‘think for ourselves,’ we'll be at the mercy of any such individual or small group that chooses to play games with the planet. I don't like the idea of sitting around waiting for some flake of a super-savant to turn the worldinside out, or trying to pre-empt such a power grab with one of their own.

"Such actions are inherently corrupting, and I agree with Dr. Wenger that if human beings learn to tap their most basic creative gifts, then they will be the best possible people to govern their own lives (as they are now =) ) now matter how brilliant their would-be overlords become.”

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