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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.


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.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

AI Lawyers -- Don't Let Them Drive You Crazy... -- AI, AL, Bio, CPS, Cyber, Soc

A legal firm is introducing robot lawyers to its staff. This isn't the first example of computers handling complex, "mentally demanding" tasks, but it's interesting given that most people think of legal work as an inherently human function. And no, before you ask, these robots won't be arguing cases before juries but rather handling basic legal questions through the company's website and other interfaces.

But the fact remains that yet another form of intellectual "grunt work" may have just fallen victim to automation, just as these research tasks in comparative drug studies and genetic analysis have. Oddly enough, today in his subscription-only column in The Times, David Brooks made an argument that "human capital" is far more than simply skills and knowledge, but an array of attributes and learned abilities.

Brooks comments, "Most people think of human capital the way economists and policy makers do - as the skills and knowledge people need to get jobs and thrive in a modern economy. When President Bush proposed his big education reform, he insisted on tests to measure skills and knowledge. When commissions issue reports, they call for longer school years, revamped curriculums and more funds so teachers can transmit skills and knowledge.

"But skills and knowledge - the stuff you can measure with tests - is only the most superficial component of human capital. U.S. education reforms have generally failed because they try to improve the skills of students without addressing the underlying components of human capital."

His point is supported to a degree by these recent breakthroughs in artificial thought -- the newfound ability to transfer more and more educationally and mentally demanding -- but computationally relatively simple -- jobs to machines. If we can push basic legal consultation and biotech research jobs onto computers (or foreign workers) what's left for the rest of us?

I would suggest, as Mr. Brooks seems to be doing, that we should be pushing as many human beings to ascend to the heights of achievement, to live and work in ways we would consider extraordinary, whether or not they have received any form of mindtech enhancements or biotech or cybertech augmentations. There's a line in How to Win Friends and Influence People where Carnegie tells us that, contrary to popular belief, there's only a limited number of places at the bottom -- only so many positions open for brick layers and ditch diggers -- but unlimited room for great leaders and revolutionary genius.

This point is well worth remembering. Not only are intellectual "mind workers" in professions and the sciences going to have to give up more and more of the menial tasks set aside for novices and grad students, but blue collar workers are facing precisely the same threat. Even without China's immense workforce on the horizon, what are manufacturing workers in the advanced world going to do about the Fab Lab or Rapid Prototyping Machines? I've offered some suggestions in the past, but generally speaking, I think we have to make it a priority to get people's skills to the highest level possible.

The basic methods to achieve such advanced capacities already exist, whether in the form of accelerated learning or non-invasive mindtech, without ever getting into the "more controversial" issues of nootropics, genetic engineering, other biotech augmentations or cybernetics. What's more, the learning and creativity techniques in question would likely buffer humanity against the likely emergence of biologically superior beings. Whatever jolt or learning curve we'll suffer at that point in time will be lessened if humanity in general already knows a great deal about handling superhuman intelligence, transcendant innovation and commonplace genius. And humanities' collective capacity to handle such prodigies will be magnified if there are billions of brilliant (or greater) humans capable of perceiving attempts to dominate or manipulate the species.

Such levels of inventiveness will presumably also disperse the major research into human enhancement, making it less likely that a single power could monopolize the only technologies for radical human transformation.

Future Imperative


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