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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, August 27, 2005

Man into Supermouse -- Some Reservations Regarding Incipient "Immortality" -- Bio, Long

I've heard a few objections to the idea of extending humanity's youth and lifespan, even if there were no health drawbacks, based on social concerns. For example, what happens when we have all of these retirees? Though the point of this blog isn't to handle political issues -- merely to help people be more informed about enhancement options -- from a social viewpoint, it's worthwhile to consider some options. So here is my reply...

"Ah, but if the onset of aging and age-related deterioration is delayed, doesn't that save us from having to pay for the tons of medical care people need by their 50s... and especially their 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond? Remember, if your youth has been extended by 30%, by the time you turn 40, you'll look and feel just over 30. By the time you hit 80, you'll look and feel just over 60.

"That's a pretty big boost to your overall health -- especially coming from just one breakthrough. Which means that this form of longevity could help us deal with the enormous costs of dealing with an elderly population (costs we already have to deal with).

"Are there issues regarding what people will do for the rest of their lives? Sure, add a couple of decades -- especially a couple of productive decades in which people are at the "height of their powers" -- and yes, there will be some issues. But consider, most people who enjoy their jobs and careers if anything tend to want to stay at them longer. Which is why you see lots of older doctors, musicians, CEOs, lawyers, small business owners, political leaders, inventors, artists and scientists still laboring away, even after some of them have really "lost it." They enjoy what they do.

"So yes, one of the challenges we'll face is getting people into work they love. Other people will retire, but may find they can still contribute to society in other ways -- volunteer work, advising people in their old field, lending a hand in the management of business startups, doing art, writing short stories, taking photos or writing articles for a local paper, etc. There's plenty of part time work out there for people who have or develop the requisite skills.

"There may still be other problems, but honestly, who here would prefer the problems of youth and good health to those of degeneration, illness and untimely death?"

Future Imperative

Man into Supermouse -- Some Reservations Regarding the Apotheosis of the Master (Mouse) Race -- Bio, Long

One person had these comments regarding my 'Man into Supermouse' post: "Altering the Klotho gene in humans could make people diabetic because of its effect on insulin. I don't think that parents would really want to tinker with that. Furthermore, since this can likely be developed into a drug rather than gene therapy, there doesn't seem to be much advantage to genetically engineering kids with extra Klotho. Just get them the Klotho pills. Then, when the next big antiaging advance hits, they won't have to worry about whether their Klotho genes will prevent them from having healthy access to it."

I've modified my original statement a bit elsewhere, but nevertheless, we have a therapy that may yet prove to be equally safe in humans. Or which may need to be jiggered slightly. The point is, the modification of a single gene could easily create a literally superior human being, _without_ diabetes. Or any other drawbacks.

Frankly, they're working on using the hormone or an analogue to produce the same effect in human beings without any gene therapy... but that fact just makes this a better place to start the conversation.

Ask yourself, what if we now essentially have the technology to give, theoretically at least, every unborn child on the planet a lifespan 20 to 30% longer by the simple alteration of a single gene? If we can do the same thing for everyone who is already here through a regular hormone or drug treatment, all the better. At least kneejerk jealousy won't play as much of a social and political factor.

Nevertheless, what if we can already alter the world's unborn generations in this way? What if we can create a change that everyone sees as unquestionably good? (And yes, the extension of youth and vitality along with lifespan would definitely be seen as an objective good, once it was laid out as a choice for the average person.) What responsibility do we have to our descendants? Should governments regulate this technology? Subsidize it? Analyze it and offer positive or negative recommendations?

And heck, where do we stand as individuals? Who here is waiting on the edge of their seats for the potential longevity drug or hormone that could come out of this?

Your point about wanting to avoid unnecessary genetic complications when the next longevity treatment comes along is well taken, but the counterargument might be that we know of no reason why they would arise with that particular gene (instead of one of the many others individuals may or may not have active) and a conflict might actually be more likely between the regular hormone pill or injection and whatever new longevity drug or therapy arises next.

Some of these details can only be settled by experimentation and analysis, but whether or not this particular innovation opens the floodgates or another one does, it's obvious scientists are tinkering more and more with genes with the potential to radically alter the human condition. That's what strikes me most about this genetic breakthrough -- that it was almost incidental to ongoing research towards a pharmaceutical solution. Now consider how many devastating human conditions are now being researched from a genetic angle whose cure could also serve as revolutionary human augmentations.

Does it matter whether it's methusaleh mice or dementia in a dormouse? There are other options in typical pharmaceutical research that could alter society far more profoundly than a mere 20 or 30% tacked on to our youthful lifespan. Say, literally superhuman intelligence arising from one or more optimizations of the human brain.

Which is another reason why talking about a global change "of this magnitude" is so useful. Because this earthshaking change is actually so very, very small.

So let's have that conversation, eh?

Future Imperative

Friday, August 26, 2005

Man into Supermouse... -- Bio, Long

Just in case the point hasn't slipped past with the elegant subtlety of a flourescent bulldozer in a china shop, yes, the longevity-boosted mice in this Washington Post article were in fact genetically modified.

Yes, I repeat, we now have a blatant germline modification in mice that we pretty well know how to apply to humans.* Prospective parents could no doubt now choose to have their children's genes modified in order to gain a substantial advantage (a roughly 20 to 30% increase in lifespan) over unmodified humans.

It is now possible to make a "superior human being"... at least in that one respect.

Welcome to the future.

* Note: Further research _is_ required to weigh side effects in humans, such as insulin production. But this is a pretty darned staggering thing to have passed unmentioned, even in circles where human augmentation is often discussed. Imagine if it had no drawbacks and we gave this modification to every unborn child on Earth.

Future Imperative

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Immortality Now! (For Mice...) -- Bio, Long

Michael Yamashita was kind enough to point out the existence of the M-Prize, a fund set aside for an award meant to catalyze longevity research in much the same way that the X-Prize has stimulated the development of commercial spaceflight options. Creating the M-Prize was exactly the kind of resourceful, intelligent strategy I was trying to encourage in my earlier article where I discuss the importance of doing meaningful planning and mustering meaningful resources to accomplish your projects. The M-Prize is the kind of grassroots effort you can accomplish without requiring vast amounts of personal capital or exceptional lobbying skills. Michael's comment is therefore well taken.

His response is also quite appropriate because of its timing. The Washington Post reports that scientists have found a hormone -- and a genetic modification -- that slows aging in mice. Since drugs are more apt to be used to extend human longevity in the near term, the hormone is probably of more immediate interest, but the genetic modification is the sort of thing that might become standard issue to newborns once gene therapy and/or germline modification for enhancement become widespread.

Future Imperative

Micronations Take Macroplanning -- Plan, SkiP, Soc, $$$

One of the key points of my last article on micronations was that anyone who seriously intends to create an independent microstate needs to muster serious resources and get their administrative house in order. John Pina Craven, the developer of ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) power harvesting technology -- a technology often considered key by would-be ocean-going micronation founders, seems to have a similar idea.

As they note in this Wired article, "As proud as he is, Craven knows his marketing and administrative abilities leave much to be desired. In 2000, he placed his company stock in a blind trust, became 'chief scientist,' and let others take CHC forward as a for-profit business. Ke Kai Kealoha, CHC's project manager, is charged with the selling of his vision. Craven prefers to get things started, then have others manage the operation so he can wander on to something new. 'I get put to death every seven years as great kings do, until I start a new kingship...'"

Or to put it another way, here you have a brilliant, maverick inventor -- a classic iconoclastic outsider -- and what does he do? He puts together a company to develop his technology, and if he can't figure out all the details on how to exploit his technology, or handle the management issues involved, he delegates those responsibilities to others.

I mention this point not just for the sake of people who want to build their own microstates, but because many dreamers, including inventors and futurists, want to have the great dream and to either build it all themselves or present it to the world and watch everyone take it up spontaneously. (And lavish that visionary soul with riches and/or praise.)

The fact is, the world doesn't work that way. You need to be prepared to do some work on your own, but also be ready to gather a team that can handle all of the details and challenges that you can't take on alone. Considering how many creative people want to go on to their next project rather than devote their lives to just one, it only makes sense for people trying to launch an invention, a company, a research project, an NGO or even a microstate to be ready to let go of some of the work. Rest assured, most grand enterprises have more than enough work to go around.

If you want to get a sense of how strong your team is, think about setting up a "formal organization." It doesn't have to be rigid or complex, but simply registering yourselves as a non-profit or a corporation gives you certain rights and protections that informal gatherings of individuals do not. If that works out, set yourself some interim goals, and see how that goes.

I may seem a bit cynical about microstate and other grandiose projects, but that's only because I don't think people should waste their lives on a goal if they have neither the determination, the resources or the organization to achieve it -- and no desire to muster any of those attributes. If you have such an attitude, the only way you're going to succeed is if someone else comes along and does it all for you.

In which case, you need to take my above comments on delegation even more seriously than my goal-oriented readers. Either way, good luck.

Future Imperative

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Some Futurists Come in for Criticism, and What It All Means -- Rev, SkiP, Soc

Simon Smith at Betterhumans posted his comments on an interesting review of the TransVision 2005 transhumanist conference in Caracas, Venezuela. To say the review by Jordan Ginsberg was negative would be putting it mildly, particularly as he is apparently rooting for the success of transhumanism -- a philosophy that calls for technology to be used to enhance human health, abilities and quality of life in every way possible.

The sharpest criticism offered by Ginsberg and his predecessor, Shannon Larratt is "What transhumanism needs is transhumanists. Not people who talk about. People who do it." He is also particularly searing when he accuses transhumanists of undermining their own credibility by coming across as irrelevant or deranged.

Transhumanism's credibility matters to "the rest of us" because their core idea of improving the human condition using all available technological means is not only something most futurists would agree with, but in fact the vast majority of human beings. Now where an organization like the World Transhumanist Association takes that concept is another story. But if transhumanism can be put up as a straw man by people who want to attack all technological progress that might lead to "better humans" (like almost any advanced medical research), then it may turn into a tool for thwarting technological progress rather than promoting it. Which means, wherever you stand on human augmentation, longevity, medicine, etc, this is an issue worth watching.

I found one of Ginsberg's comments particularly interesting. He was describing Jordan Amadio's talk about a firsthand look at the flowering of Africa's biotech field, the continent's great potential in nanotech, and the great work teachers are now doing in teaching science to village children in ways they find relative to their lives.

"This, to me, seemed more like the embodiment of true transhumanist values than any of the nonsensical ramblings I was subjected to otherwise—the idea of making humans the absolute best they can be. While some philosophical movements in transhumanism—such as the idea that the human body is the weakest, most flawed vessel for our mind to inhabit and that our future will consist of living on within machines—are questionable on many moral and ethical levels, this struck me as a very basic, yet virtuous mission that really does help people improve themselves."

I think this effectively sums an unfortunate reflex in transhumanist forums -- the inclination to dismiss everything that doesn't relate to the Chosen Technology(ies). And worse still, to dismiss as irrelevant everything about the human condition except a few key researchers or projects that will enable the Chosen to leapfrog out of this mortal clay into the transcendent digitized heights beyond.

Whatever you may think of humanity's potential (or transhumanity's), there's a vast number of things which can impact our immediate future. Energy crises, rampant plagues, wars, nuclear terrorism, a political backlash against some or all scientific research as well as many other matters. Yet you often converse with people who are not merely deeply ignorant of these factors, but willfully so. And proud of it.

The argument, of course, is that humanity's position is so precarious that the enlightened -- in good conscience -- have to devote every waking moment to Saving the World by means of their research. To the extent that their particular work is "mission critical" human survival, they've got a point.

I understand that professionals usually have to focus on their fields of expertise. But somehow I have to assume that a true transhuman -- be they a superior human or posthuman -- would have a greater understanding of the world, not a sadly narrow or limited one. What's more, most participants in these groups aren't professionals in key research fields. Even more ironically, many people, both inspired researchers and untalented enthusiasts, might find resources, ideas and inspiration that could help them build their future. If only they'd pay attention. And open their minds.

Who else finds it amusing to see people on transhumanist forums decrying fundamentalists, while also crying out that the Great Rapture Technology will save us all when the god-computer descends from the heavens in all its glory to raise the dead, eat our brains and free the living from this mortal coil? A view of the future which is often held up as being as inevitable in the eyes of the faithful as any religious apocalypse.

I admit, not everyone has such an extreme viewpoint, but these assumptions are widespread enough that transhumanist forums, which arguably should among the most wide-ranging and expansive of futurist discussion groups, are too often woefully narrow in their commentary.

Getting back to Shannon Larratt's review -- I appreciate his concern that there's too much talk and not enough action being seen at these conferences. I fear that's all-too-likely given the present state of "the transhumanist movement," mainly a scattered group of enthusiasts with a few researchers and philosophers among them. Not everyone, to be frank, yet has something substantive to offer.

Personally, while I'm not necessarily a transhumanist, I am a believer in human enhancement, improving human health and life-extension. What am I trying to do to shape the future for the better? At the moment, I'm trying to become very, very rich.

...And I'm also working on a few simple but potentially highly useful and/or lucrative inventions I have up my sleeve. Once I complete my present entreneurial project, I'll be working on those.

Why? One, becoming wealthy will provide any one of us with the funds to support research, invest in new projects, develop new technologies, see to our own personal development, and so on. And two, since I have some ideas worth exploring, I'm going to see what I can do about some of those imminent world problems.

My point here isn't to gloat, but to point out something very basic. The more you accept that only one or two fields of science "Really Matter," the more you'll be inclined to lay down and wait for someone else to bring you salvation, instead of going out there and working for it yourself. And I believe everyone has the potential to contribute to our future, often in staggeringly effective ways.

Future Imperative

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Scientific Perspective on Some "Unscientific" Phenomena -- Long, MA, Mind, Myst, Psych, Rev

One thing that conventional science sometimes has a hard time doing is taking a serious look at "mysterious phenomena" that everyone knows exist but which do not fit into most accepted paradigms. For example, for a long time few western scientists would examine what was actually happening in acupuncture, apparently being put off by the seemingly mystical explanations of its practitioners.

Eastern scientists have fortunately been more flexible. I nevertheless found the diversity of topics being discussed in a Japanese scientific journal, The International Society of Life Information Science (ISLIS), astounding. As you can see from the contents and abstracts can be found here, ISLIS does not shy away from studying subjects because they are just "too weird." Below are some examples of the substantive lines of research being explored by journal contributors. (There are also abstracts of "harder" scientific and technological research reported in the Journal, but I wanted to highlight some of their other studies.)

I find such an open minded pursuit of the truth valuable not because I believe that every declaration of every maverick researcher and fringe group should be accepted without question, but because there are enough demonstrably "unnatural" yet easily replicated effects out there that should be cataloged. And, if possible, explained. If something as simple as this bio-energy sensing technique can be learned in a minute or two, what else is possible for human beings?

The substance of "Meridians and Collaterals" is set in the central nervous system or memories in the brain Yoshihiro UEDA Dept. of Physiology, Kansai College of Oriental Medicine ( Osaka , Japan )Abstract: In Oriental medicine, the words auto-therapy power", "meridian points" and "hibiki" are always used. And some questions are always asked: "How can the body be healed? How can the body's health status be maintained that the healing power aims for? How will each acupoint associate with the health status? For the past five years, I have insisted on the importance of "The neural network theory of meridians and acupoints". When an abnormality in a living body is detected from comparison with normal data, vital signs which are a reaction telling about the aberration appear as a meridian phenomenon (effective spot for acupoint, ryodo point, flare, induration and etc ).
Integrated Body Control Method with Image, Breath, Intention, Consciousness, Cognition, Qi and Healing to Make Oneself HealthyKoichiro HAYASHI Gifu Prefectural Institute of Health and Environmental Sciences (Gifu, Japan) Abstract: As an active and effective self-health method, I propose the Integrated Body Control Method (IBC Method) which is composed of Image, Breath control, Intention, Consciousness, Cognition, Qi and Healing. The method focuses on self positive image, intention and consciousness to get better blood flow, nutrition, immunity function and Qi to the whole body and especially to diseased parts. The method changes the body positively while recognizing actual body change. It repeats the instant change between tensioned-active caution concentration and relaxed passive caution concentration. It adjusts the balance between sympathetic nerves and parasympathetic nerves and immediately and drastically changes blood pressure, heart rate, blood flow, body temperature and perspiration. It can improve body functions-spontaneous recovery, immunity, metabolism and regeneration of organs, cells, skins and nerves, for example. The IBC Method is suited to curing diseases and healing injuries (autonomic ataxia, stiff shoulders, pain, nerve damage and so on) to ensure its users are healthy in mind and body.
Changes in Rectal Temperatures and Forced Swimming Behaviors of Mice Irradiated by 30Hz Interference Magnetic Fields An Attempt to Resolve the Qigong Mechanism Takashi AOKI1, Katsushi YOSHIDA2, Yasuo YOSHIHUKU1 and Yoshinori ADACHI3 1.College of Engineering, Chubu University (Aichi, Japan) 2.Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Chubu University (Aichi, Japan) 3 College of Business Administration and Information Science, Chubu University (Aichi, Japan Abstract: Two electromagnetic waves having the same wavelength propagate, meet as they travel, and then are nullified in an instant by interference; next wave fronts are produced from this nullified point and the electromagnetic waves continue to propagate forward. Exactly what is the electromagnetically nullified point? It is well known that the most of the magnetic fields produced by nerve excitement currents in a living body are nullified by interference. We previously pointed out the significance of investigating biomedical influences of interference nullified fields (in other words, interference opposed-fields) in research on the qigong mechanism, and we reported the experimental fact that 65kHz interference opposed-fields produced by a coil had significant biomedical influences. However, biomedical influences by interference opposed-fields of scores of Hz (i.e. average frequency levels for nerve excitement currents) have not been investigated yet. In the present experiment, we examined influences for 30Hz magnetic opposed-fields produced by a non-induction coil on rectal temperatures and swimming activities of mice. We found that the fields had significant biomedical effects, and this suggested that the fields actually existed in the physical world, although they were nullified mathematically. We thought there would be a possibility that the interference opposed-fields produced by currents flowing in a living body such as a qigong healer would have biomedical influences on other bodies, without actually physically touching or invading them.
A Study on Mechanism of Consciousness Based on Holographic Cosmology Takeo OKU Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research, Osaka University (Osaka, Japan) Abstract: The purpose of the present work was to investigate a mechanism of consciousness and life energy from the viewpoint of quantum theory and holographic cosmology. Consciousness / life energy (ECL) for human beings is considered to be photon-like waves expressed by a wave function, and the mechanism of consciousness / life energy is proposed as freezing and materialization of light in macroscopic quantum condensates. Light in a conscious field is frozen in dark energy and dark matter, and atomic self-organization in materialized life-body is due to formation of negative entropy. It is believed that the ECL would include characteristics of quantum coherence such as Bose-Einstein condensation, Fermi condensation, quantum entanglement and tunneling photons. Since all information of the four-dimensional spacetime of the universe is recorded on a three-dimensional boundary from the holographic principle and superstring theory, all the coded information or extra seven dimensions is believed to correspond to ECL, and an information-transformation model of 'consciousness ¨ life energy ¨ matter' could be proposed. From the viewpoint of matter information, the universe information would be a condition with frozen time.

Future Imperative