.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

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.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Jobs, Poverty, Intellectual Property and the Posthuman Future -- Soc, $$$

After reading some comments critical of intellectual property rights -- basically critical of the idea that intellectual property can belong to anyone, instead of automatically falling into the public domain -- I responded:

"Your points about intellectual property and relative wealth and poverty are also worth considering. Honestly, I think overwhelming material and intellectual-property-based wealth will relieve many of the immediate problems of real poverty -- lack of adequate food, shelter, clothes, health care and education. Nevertheless, one point that people who want to make intellectual property meaningless often do not consider is what kinds of jobs we want to see available in the future.

"If most forms of physical labor and simple intellectual labor -- and basically repetitive, easily broken down tasks of all kinds -- can be automated, what do you want ordinary or even extraordinary people to do in their spare time? One obvious option is to get as many people as possible working in the arts, sciences and technological development -- inventors, musicians, astronomers, biotech researchers, graphic artists, actors, playwrights, novelists, poets, short story writers, screenplay writers, etc.

"If we leave these career paths open to people, and particularly if we have nigh-unlimited material wealth, then there's basically no limit to how many brilliant or even modestly skilled people we can have contributing to society in these fields. There are, however, limits to how many cops, soldiers, legislators, doctors and lawyers we really need, as well as many other jobs seen as important for the function of modern-day society."

Future Imperative

The Cultist Advantage -- Plan, Soc

Dr. Win Wenger responded to one comment in my earlier article Gene Therapy vs. the Genetic Superbaby. I had written "I feel the related problem with mind-enhancing tech could be relieved if the most powerful techniques that are also extremely easy to use are made widely available to the public. That won't prevent the brilliant, the disciplined or the obsessed from magnifying their relative mental advantages, but will allow for a wide-enough distribution of effective resources to prevent that gap from growing too wide, while also giving a gentle and rewarding-enough introduction to general society to encourage many people to explore their minds' potential further."

Dr. Wenger replied, "The temptation has always been with such tools as we have, especially in today's national and world conditions, to form some sort of semi-secretive order and exploit matters from there. I think we have to be as open as possible, as accessible with these tools as possible, (make) it a matter of record every minute so to speak that people who are not yet enjoying the benefits of these tools are that way by their own or someone else's choice and not ours, and that they can in the first minutes of becoming aware of these tools take personal and immediate advantage of them. Anything less than that, tempts fate to say the least."

And so I felt compelled to answer, "I think this policy of openness is definitely the way to go. There is one problem, however -- people often seem to do a better job of exploiting resources for their own personal gain, and sometimes being part of a small, self-interested group, motivates them more effectively. Whether that group is a small business, a research lab, a social clique or some kind of esoteric cabal (conspirators, martial artists, criminals, religious devotees, revolutionaries, mystic practitioners or secretive would-be orders devoted to the long term manipulation or dominance of mankind =) ).

"I think we need to harness that impulse in a positive way, or someone else will tap into it, for good or evil.

"It's rather like nuclear weapons, you see. For over half a century, we've had these weapons, and very few dangerous people have had access to them. And those that did were mainly interested in the status quo. But that situation is changing, and instead of whining about how dangerous things have become, we should be thankful that it's taken this long for the bad guys to get ahold of what is, after all, 1940s technology.

"Are we still going to be sitting on our duffs when bad folks realize they can self-train to become de facto superhumans? Not necessarily just terrorists, but ruthless corporate leaders, unscrupulous politicians, relentless generals, secret police, incautious scientists and inventors and so on and so forth? There are plenty of "honest jobs" that could be dangerous in the hands of someone with limited morals or restraint who could draw upon limitless intelligence (and possibly money, talent, people, political power and/or military force). Are you concerned by what these kinds of people could do if there were no one there to stop them? Then it's probably time to act. Unlike nuclear proliferation, we are unlikely to get such a lengthy "breather", if only because there are folks already working hard on human enhancement methods like nootropics and genetic modification. The "supermen" are coming. It's only a question of when and on what terms.

"I think we'd better shape those terms for the better."

Another poster commented, "There was a guy named Silva, who gave his carefully researched system of mind control/mental discipline to the US government (Truman's time I think). Who did nothing. Finally he took it back, put a high price tag on it and sold it to the public. Look how large the organization 'silva mind control method' has become (search on google for evidence))."

And while I could not speak to the historical veracity of this anecdote, I noted, "One point this story brings up is that Silva's organization now generates profits that enable it to attract more users. I think we may need to use this strategy in a distributed fashion -- small clubs, businesses, etc -- each working independently for their own benefit/goals. We sometimes forget that many dedicated, selfless volunteers actually see local benefits to the work they do -- safer or more tolerant communities for their kids, a healthier city environment, cleaner drinking water, fewer street people, etc -- in addition to whatever feelings of personal satisfaction may come from helping others.

"Harnessing people's energies so that improving human beings isn't a mere hobby or indulgence but a vital part of their lives, as a business, profession or development project will magnify the impact of this field. Once again, we come back to the simple fact that almost no one uses the vast riches available for their transformation. Getting people to do so seems to be the most critical overall goal before us. Well, getting people of at least reasonable morals to do so, anyway."

The lesson I draw from observations such as these is that fanatics, cultists and many other extremists will have an enormous advantage over most casual individual hobbyists, warm and fluffy self-development clubs or online discussion groups. Why? Because crazed fanatics can throw all their energies into a particular method or methods and work at them as if their lives depended on it. While ordinary dabblers tend to get distracted -- walking the dog, going to work, watching American Idol or Survivor... whatever.

Aside from disciplined military and paramilitary forces (which obviously do not always serve just and righteous governments) normal society has very few places where people will work on an arbitrary task with the kind of energy and willpower found in a group of zealots who have just been given an order by their Supreme Leader.

One reason I like to encourage people to employ accelerated learning and creativity enhancing methods in their work and businesses is because self-interested groups (such as a board of directors, or the R&D team at a large corporation) can form their own band of "extremists." Though in this case, motivated by extreme success, as witnessed by their own eyes, not ideology.

Future Imperative

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Skepticism -- SkiP, Soc

In one of my first articles here I shared a technique for sensing and effecting bio-energy fields over a distance of just a few inches. It's a pretty pitiful version of telekinesis -- defined as the ability to affect objects at a distance without using any apparent physical force to do so. But when I read about an award offered by a "professional debunker" like the Amazing Randi for any proof of "psychic ability," I find myself flabbergasted. Especially when people claim that since no one has claimed said prize, we have absolute and inconvertible proof of the non-existence of all non-physical influences, entitites, etc. Such an attitude seems astonishing.

Why? See this article. "The Power" is already there.

Am I claiming the phenomena explained here is classic floating object telekinesis, like you see in movies? That you'll be able to study this method for a minute or two and then be able to coam your hair, tie your shoes or literally balance your checkbook... with no hands? No.

My point is that even such a relatively small ability to affect and alter an object over a very short distance raises questions about supposedly "iron clad proof" that all telekinesis is fake. Given that most of the people tested by sceptics like Randi seem to be of the "levitate/move paper giblets at incredibly short ranges" variety, I have real doubts as to whether he's disproven anything. As it would seem such minute forces can indeed be exerted -- at least in one form -- over such pitifully small distances.

You can affect at least some objects at a very short distance without touching them, breathing on them or otherwise affecting them with any obvious physical force. That's the basic definition of telekinesis.

Can you levitate a chair with this technique? I don't know that you can... but that brings me back to what I was saying in my original post. Virtually anyone can learn this technique in just a minute or two. Hence, virtually anyone can demonstrate to themselves the reality of this form of "telekinesis". Personally, it doesn't matter to me if someone proves this effect is all the result of bio-electricity, bio-magnetic fields, etc.

Do you want to debunk this phenomena as a "spiritual" or "psi" power? Go ahead. Because if you're experimenting on these questions in a scientifically rigorous manner, then at least you'll be looking at the actual data, rather than refusing to see it out of blind devotion to a philosophy or paradigm of what constitutes acceptible results and what uncomfortable facts are simply unmentionable.

What's surprising to me is that so many people who want to talk about reason, logic and the Scientific Method look at the evidence -- and all but declare it to be a Heresy against the Teachings of the Great Book. If they deal with it at all. Personally, I'm sorry if the thought of anything spiritual, non-physical and/or ephemeral is antithetical to anyone's religious or philosophical beliefs, but if the notion offends people so much, why don't they go out and prove this is entirely a physical phenomenon? (It may not be, and the existance of associated real-but-incredibly-faint electromagnetic fields may end up damning that theory with faint proof -- but that is the Scientific Method, so why not use it? Are we all so afraid of the Truth after all?) This is telekinesis over a range of no more than three inches. Why is it so darned intimidating?

In the end, this is a relatively minor talent, so why can't members of the scientific community and its supposed friends handle it a bit more logically and reasonably? That is what science is supposed to be about. And with a technique that only takes a minute or two to learn, the evidence isn't going away. So why not test it? And disprove it -- or reclassify it -- using facts, not baseless suppositions?

Future Imperative

Man Into Superman -- Free Online Book (With a Warning) -- Bio, Long, Rev

Some of you may recognize a book I've mentioned here and there, Man Into Superman, by Robert C. W. Ettinger, which you can read free online here. This book was written in 1972, but was surprisingly forward-looking in terms of the potential for human augmentation. While some of his ideas will definitely seem extreme to most readers, this is a terrific primer on the concept of human augmentation taken to one particular extreme.

There is a concept sometimes referred to as "Transhumanism," the idea that technology should be used to make our lives as good as they can possibly be. Stated that way, transhumanism isn't at all radical, but pretty much what everyone does. The reason the philosophy is sometimes seen as radical is because of the aspects of human life that some transhumanists are willing to consider optimizing. Such as longevity and immortality, computers as a substrate for our minds instead of biology, and the potential for nigh-infinite intelligence and power represented by the use of technologies such as genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology.

I will warn you, however, not to read Chapter 5, "Transsex and Supersex," even if you have a strong stomach. And by "don't read" I mean "don't even look at the first page." I'm not that squeamish myself, but probably the most horrific image in the entire chapter is contained within its first paragraph. Depending on your nature, it may not only put you off a lot of human contact, but also... well... eating.

Aside from that, however, the book is an excellent examination of all the ways in which human beings could theoretically be optimized. You don't have to agree with his ideas to get the main point that humanity suffers a host of weaknesses and indignities that limits its potential and quality of life. If you consider Ettinger's recommendations extreme, consider what less radical options you would be willing to utilize, and why those are more acceptable to you than his or other proposals.

Future Imperative