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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.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Open Access Book on Human Enhancement from Demos Thinktank

The Demos thinktank in Britain has published an open access book on the Web, Better Humans?
The Politics of Human Enhancement and Life Extension
. Demos describes the book thus:
We all share a desire for self-improvement. Whether through education, work, parenthood or adhering to religious or ethical codes, each of us seeks to become a ‘better human’ in a variety of ways. And for some people, more consumerist pursuits hold the key to self-improvement: working out in the gym, wearing makeup, buying new clothes, or indulging in a spot of cosmetic surgery.

But now a new set of possibilities is opening up. Advances in biotechnology, neuroscience, computing and nanotechnology mean that we are in the early stages of a period of huge technological potential. Within the next 30 years, it may become commonplace to alter the genetic make-up of our children, to insert artificial implants into our bodies, or to radically extend life expectancy.

This collection of essays by leading scientists and commentators explores the implications of human enhancement technologies and asks how citizens and policy-makers should respond.

You can check out the individual articles below.

01 - Stronger, longer, smarter, faster - Paul Miller and James Wilsdon
02 - Is it wrong to try to improve human nature? - Arthur Caplan
03 - Welcome to a world of exponential change - Nick Bostrom
04 - The mand who wants to live forever - Paul Miller and James Wilsdon
05 - The transhumanists as tribe - Greg Klerkx
06 - Brain gain - Steven Rose
07 - The cognition-enhanced classroom - Danielle Turner and Barbara Sahakian
08 - Better by design - Sarah Franklin
09 - More life - Jon Turney
10 - Nip/Tuck nation - Decca Aitkenhead
11 - The perfect crime - Rachel Hurst
12 - The unenhanced underclass - Gregor Wolbring
13 - Does smarter mean happier? - Raj Persaud

Bio, Soc
Future Imperative

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Gods and Monsters -- Human Augmentation for Athletes, Legal or Otherwise...

Human augmentation has the promise of improving human mental and physical abilities in almost every way by changing our biochemistry, our methods of learning, our neurology, even (perhaps especially) our genes. Ironically, while increasing human intelligence and creative/technical gifts would have a dramatic impact on human civilization, much of the furor surrounding this field's potential results from its demonstrated ability to modify athletes.

This article from Deutch Welle describes suspicions that a German coach has been involved in the "genetic doping" of athletes, defined by the World Anti-Doping Agency as "the non-therapeutic use of cells, genes, genetic elements, or of the modulation of gene expression, having the capacity to improve athletic performance." The article reports:

E-mails sent and received by Springstein, a one-time coach of the German Athletics Association (DLV), which were seized by the police during a raid on Springstein's home, brought up references to Repoxygen -- a banned substance meant to be used in gene therapy to treat patients with anemia.

Repoxygen helps to induce a controlled release of erythropoietin (EPO), a substance that stimulates the production of red blood cells, thereby increasing the amount of oxygen the blood can deliver to the muscles.

In one email, Springstein wrote that "new Repoxygen is hard to get. Please give me new instructions soon so that I can order the product before Christmas."

Since the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee have already banned synthetic EPO among athletes, but Repoxygen stimulates cells to produce EPO "naturally." Experts are surprised that genetic doping has become a factor prior to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Some experts actually suspected that genetic augmentation might have been a factor in even the 2004 Olympic Games (as noted here).

An article in The Scientist also discusses these issues, also noting some concerns from members of the World Anti-Doping Agency:

Olivier Rabin, the agency's science director, said athletes are most likely to use gene technologies that offer them the same kind of benefits as banned drugs. "Boosting of oxygen transfer and muscle mass building are definitely two of the key areas of gene doping, as indicated by the abuse of pharmaceutical drugs by some athletes for those purposes today," Rabin said.

Geoffrey Goldspink from University College London is one researcher whose work on gene therapy for muscle mass has already brought him unwanted attention from the sporting world. He and his colleagues are developing a treatment for muscle wasting diseases that involves transferring the gene for mechano growth factor, using a plasmid vector. In mouse studies, the gene triggered a 30% increase in muscle mass within weeks, suggesting the treatment could be more potent than anabolic steroids.

Goldspink said he is frequently contacted by people from what he calls the "sports counter-culture," who want him to supply them with his technology. He forwards such Emails to WADA, but acknowledges it wouldn't be impossible for a lab elsewhere to produce it themselves. "It's not rocket science to make genes," he said. "Many graduates in biochemistry can make them if they're experienced enough."

The article notes that WADA scientists are trying to develop ways of detecting gene doping, "including mass spectroscopy approaches that can distinguish between endogenous and introduced growth factors, tomographic detection of mRNA being formed in unusual tissues after gene transfer, and microarray searches for alterations in the expression profile of certain genes."

Opinions differ, however, as to whether or not genetic augmentation is necessarily a bad thing, as noted in this article from Betterhumans.Com:

Miah, the author of Genetically Modified Athletes, says that the IOC can't treat genetic modification as it does other forms of doping. "It's not sufficient simply to prohibit this technology in sport," says Miah, "and hope that will be the end of the issue." Given the threat of black market labs and the lack of a valid method of detection, Miah says that prohibition isn't the best option. "Increasingly, genetic modification will be seen as a valuable aspect of our society," says Miah, "promoting health and benefiting humanity."

Miah points out that genetic modification is just one more tool at athletes' disposal, no different than an altitude chamber that increases the concentration of their red blood cells to improve their endurance. He says the criteria for distinguishing between fair and unfair technologies haven't been addressed by international sport bodies since the beginning of the anti-doping movement 40 years ago.

Some argue that genetic manipulation undermines the anti-doping position that doping creates an inequality amongst competitors. There are natural variations in genes among people and allowing athletes access to gene therapy could actually level the inherently uneven playing field. This argument, however, rests on there being equal access to gene therapy.

And equal access, of course, cuts to the heart of most human enhancement issues. If we can make people "better than well," if we can make them effectively superhuman in one or many attributes (such as endurance, memory, strength, overall health or basic intelligence), what happens to the gap between rich and poor if only a small sliver of a society can afford the augmentations?

As Joel Garreau, author of Radical Evolution, notes in this WorldChanging interview:

Garreau: Well I have a scenario on that. Take any enhancement technology. I'm think of the ones that exist, like Modafinil, trade name Provigil. This is the primitive prescription drug that allows you to stay awake without any of the side effects of speed or caffeine like jitter or paranoia. You always see the same path. The drug is originally aimed at the sick. In this case it was aimed at the narcoleptics who fall asleep uncontrollably. But within the blink of an eye it moves on to group two, which is the needy well; in this case it was instantly tested on Army helicopter pilots who were young and healthy. The Army discovered that these helicopter pilots could function splendidly for 40 hours without sleep and then have 8 hours of sleep and then do it again for another 40 hours.

And that's just the first iteration of this. The stuff that's in the pipeline is much more impressive in its effects. But the third group to be attracted to enhancements like this is where people start getting creeped out. And that's the merely ambitious, the people who want to stay awake either in the immortal words of Kiss, to "rock and roll all night and party every day," or they're just ambitious because they want to make partner in a law firm and they want to outperform their peers. And so they lunge at any enhancement that you can offer. Viagra was originally created for some other therapeutic reason but of course its big market has been the ambitious, if you will.

I think we're going to see that path with any enhancement and I think what freaks people out is the idea that it's going to be used by people who simply want to have advantage over their competitors. If you buy that path, then you're looking in the very near term at a potential division of the species between the Enhanced, the Naturals, and the Rest. The Enhanced are the people who have the interest and the money to embrace all of these enhancements. The Naturals are the ones who could do it if they wanted to, but they're like today's vegetarians or today's fundamentalists, and they eschew these enhancements for either aesthetic or political or religious reasons. The third group is the Rest and either for reasons of geography or money, they don't have access to these enhancements and they hate and envy the people who do. That division could get pretty exciting pretty fast in terms of conflict.
James Hughes, author of Citizen Cyborg, offers this alternative path in the same interview:

Hughes: My answer to that complaint is that literacy is in the same boat. When you teach people to read are you making the illiterate less well off? Yes, in fact, in a generally literate society employers will generally want to hire literate people. But we don't then argue that we shouldn't teach people to read because we're making the illiterates worse off. We argue that we should teach everyone to read. So if there is a substantial population of Amish in the future who feel disenfranchised because they've decided not to take the cognitive enhancement drugs, and aren't able to work at what's considered the then normative level of work productivity and cognitive performance, I don't really think that the answer is to have a regulatory approach. I'm not suggesting that that's Joel's answer, but that is a lot of people's answer.

I also don't think that there's any useful distinction between therapy and enhancement although many people will persist in making it. My favorite example is that anti-aging medicine will stop an awful lot of diseases. I don't see how you can distinguish in that case between saying well this is also a prophylactic against cancer, and saying that it will extend my life a couple tens of decades. In terms of the psychopharmaceuticals I'm generally in favor of deregulation. As I said I think that there are gonna be some psychopharmaceuticals and neuro-nano technologies which will have very profound dangers attached to them, much more dangerous than heroin and cocaine are today. But we see with the Drug War today the tremendous social costs associated with restricting people's cognitive liberty.

My final point about this is that the real distinction in the future will be between what we have "in the Plan," that is what we have as a matter of universal access, and what we have in the market. Already we have "enhancements" covered by Medicaid or Medicare or by private health insurance, like breast reconstruction after cancer or Viagra, and so we just stretch our boundaries of what we consider to be therapeutic to include these cosmetic or life enhancements. At the same time, over in the marketplace, we have things like aspirin and Band-Aids which are indisputably therapeutic but we've decided that there's no useful reason why they need to be "in the Plan." So I think that's the kind of decision that we're gonna have to make in the future. If there are drugs or treatments or devices which threaten to radically exacerbate inequality in society that is the point at which you say everybody needs access to this through some kind of universal access system - put them in the plan and give them to everybody. But if the enhancements don't threaten those kinds of
inequalities, then we can have a debate about whether they belong in the market or not.

I happen to think a well-informed public discussion of these issues would serve everyone's best interests. I also think we should remember this discussion is not happening in a vacuum -- whatever the United States or the European Union may decide to do, India, Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, Russia and many other advanced nations will have to decide how they will deal with this issue. Will they decide to dramatically augment their entire populations? Just the scientists? Just a chosen elite? Or will they forego the technology altogether?

Bio, Soc
Future Imperative

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Seamless, the Computational Couture Fashion Show...

Here's a report on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology "Seamless: Computational Couture" fashion show in Boston. Show co-producer Nick Knouf comments:

As for the perception of fashion and technology, you have the beginnings of mass-market integration with iPods in belts, iPod jackets, and so on. Yet all of those garments or accessories revolve around an existing object that doesn't need to be merged with clothing in order to function. What I think we'll see in a few short years are clothes that use new materials and technologies (such as conductive threads and rubbers) to make clothes in which the technology is an essential part of the garment, and not simply an afterthought. With that said, we still have not come up with the "killer-app" of computationally-infused clothing. Much thought, research, and development still has to happen in order to create garments that not only seamlessly (pardon the pun) combine the technology with the garment, but do so in a way that is interesting and meaningful to the wearer. It's not that people's perceptions of fashion and technology have to change per se; rather, the technology and the application must be compelling enough, and designed well- enough, such that the garments still look like clothes and the application is interesting, relevant, and

Though I think Mr. Knouf has a point, I suspect we won't get much integrated digital technology into clothes until it's incredibly cheap to add modifications. Why?

Because until micro-computers become almost insignificantly inexpensive to include (like printing on a box or can) the impulse will be to keep technology that's non-essential to the item's function separate. Again, why?

Two reasons. One, people don't like unnecessary bulk or weight added to their clothes for no reason. And two, most people will keep technology like IPods separate because it's still an expensive item they want to carry around regardless of what they're wearing, yet also something they want to upgrade or customize as desired. And you can't get a new IPod too casually when the one you want to toss is irretrievably joined to a $300 leather jacket.

Does that mean that tech-fashion is a blind alley? Hardly. As we've seen with the IPod, tech itself can be seen as a fashion statement. And stylish stand-alone devices are probably one major expression we'll see of this aesthetic in the immediate future. Like watches, IPods, slimmed-down cell phones and nifty laptops/PDAs/Blackberries, there's no shortage of stylized tech already running around.

Odds are that we'll eventually see slimmed down shades with heads-up displays linked (by Bluetooth, or whatever) to our other tech -- but that's just another example of customizable technology (though admittedly technology that would at least be able to shade your eyes, making it more wardrobe-like than our other examples). Still, that's probably one model for designers of fashion/tech to remember -- developing killer-ap devices that happen to be usable as garb or ornamentation. People fundamentally like IPods and handheld computers because of what they do, not just how they look.

Still, there's another element in this picture -- eventually digital technology will be cheap and small enough to put in every consumer item out there... becoming as affordable and ubiquitous as printed words. But what applications would you include? Would you want your ITunes recorded in all your clothes, or even most of them, even assuming your garments could play them (through earphones, vibration of your bones, Flanagan neurophone effects, etc)? Maybe. But you might also prefer having a wristwatch/IPod/cell phone/palmtop computer/etc that's a little easier to keep track of, especially if you could automatically backup all the data on your harddrives and keep everything secure.

Instead of constantly wondering, "Wait a second, what the heck happened to my scarf?!"

Cyber, Soc, Tech
Future Imperative

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Science Gap

Sebastian Mallaby is arguing in The Washington Post that the threat to American scientific preeminence is greatly exaggerated. Despite the expressed concerns of many CEOs in sci/tech-driven industries, Mr. Mallaby feels America's technological edge faces no serious challenge from the expanding scientific research bases of nations such as India and China. He comments:

In short, the "China threat" argument ignores the ways that competition between countries, unlike companies, is a positive-sum game. Moreover, to the extent that Chinese institutions -- firms or university laboratories -- compete against American ones, the alarmists underestimate U.S. strengths.

In the race to turn scientific ideas into businesses, the United States is hard to beat.

...Equally, in the competition to retain the best research scientists, the United States has a lead that tends to reinforce itself.

With all respect to Mr. Mallaby, I suspect that the concern about the shift in technological resources boils down to the fact that China and India each apparently already have far more engineers than the United States and are churning more out at a rapid and ever-increasing pace. What's more, as barriers to performing vast amounts of high-quality research in the Third World fall -- for example, a rapid change in the financial and technical resources of both these Great Powers (which aren't exactly Third World anymore, anyway) -- they're going to be able to employ those excess engineers and scientists more and more effectively.

Do Chinese and Indian scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs have a lot to learn? Of course, don't we all? Most American tech revolutions aren't driven by millions of workers who all get the
"Big Picture," but by dozens and hundreds and thousands of Brins and Jobs and Andreesens and Gates who get their piece of it, and maybe a bit more, and drive their industry into new places. Once China and India have the right environment for this kind of innovation, they are going to have a colossal intellectual resource base to drive it.

That's what people are concerned about. The simple fact is that in terms of population, China and India are roughly four times larger than the U.S.... which is roughly twice the size of those countries immediately below her in the population scale. What does that mean? If the U.S. with her enormous population and financial resources can't keep ahead of China and India, and the EU with their aggregate population and wealth can not, then no one else can. No one else can even come close.

Regardless of how you may view the politics of such a shift, there is an intriguing question behind all of the arguments and numbers. Potentially we may have a massive explosion in the world's research and development base in the next decade or so -- either because of an uncontested Chinese and Indian emergence as scientific superpowers or because the U.S., EU and other developed countries decide not to yield up their scientific and economic status so easily, and deal with this rivalry by educating -- and gainfully employing -- millions upon millions of researchers and inventors themselves.

So long as these professionals can be put to meaningful work using adequate tools, we will almost certainly see dramatic technological progress. We will also see a multiplication of the global Creative Class described by Dr. Richard Florida. And we will see all of this without requiring any human augmentation at all.

So imagine what might happen if we combined this surplus of researchers with the systematic enhancement of our innovative class. And if we engineered an even more unprecedented wave of researchers... by adding a host of computers capable of performing serious scientific research to the mix.

ACL, AI, CPS, Bio, Soc, $$$
Future Imperative

Sunday, February 05, 2006

More Feedback on... The Creeping Revolution or... Meet the New Boss, and Scrap the Old Boss --

Noah Johnson replied to my following comment...

Well, my reason for sharing this information is so that more people have a chance to educate themselves and become a part of the debate... before that debate is already over. There's a great deal going on in the world right now, both in terms of technology that can enhance humans and technology that can make most "ordinary humans" irrelevant -- and I think most people would like to know what's going on while they still have some say in their lives.

...with this statement:

Dry, you even more than most people need to read this book. Seriously. Take a chance on it, spend the money, if you don't like it, write me and I will _______ send you however much you spent on it. It's that good, if you're planning on thinking about the future in a real way.
Thanks for the recommendation, Noah. I believe Wired did a piece on The Clock of the Long Now and The Long Now Foundation (or whatever they were called at the time). I think a long term perspective is a valuable thing. But I also think the argument "Let's look at the long view" can miss the fact that decisions are being made right now that effect what will be happening a thousand years from now.

Will we preserve the environment or destroy it? That's not really a question to be settled in fifty years -- what we do now -- and every Now for the next twenty years -- will in large part decide the question... long before we have nanotech or engineered microbes or other ultratech to clean up all our messes. That doesn't mean we don't need a long-term perspective. But it might help us to realize just how immediate many of our concerns actually are.

The same thing can be said about investing, career planning, health issues, dealing with foreign competition, etc. You can talk about making plans and taking the long view, but if you don't act in the Now, you aren't going to get very far in the future.

Probably Brand's best point is that many modern people lack an attention span. He has a point, but do you need another "perspective changing" tourist attraction to change that? Do you need a "Ten Thousand Year Library," or do you simply need to pick up an intelligent, insightful book and read it? And not just one book written from one perspective on one subject, but one after another after another?

Heck, how many people shied away from reading the above article, especially without having any simple categories to break it down into (Liberal idea, Conservative idea, Green idea, Techie idea, Capitalist idea, Communist idea)?

A terrible flaw in many modern minds appears to be our tendency to know many things at a very shallow level, yet lacking appreciation for a well-crafted, extended argument. If your mind can't handle taking in a deep and complex discussion, can you really make an informed judgement on an important issue?

Too many people are making decisions all the time based upon a very limited view of the world.

The truth is that many of the "shockwaves" happening now were not impossible to predict. I remember sitting in Israel in the mid-90s, explaining to an engineer friend from Bangalore how Y2K was going to open up a revolution in outsourcing for his country and especially his city. And how that was, in turn going to combine with Chinese manufacturing to revolutionize the world.

Brilliant? Or did I simply read The Far Eastern Economic Review in the early 90s, and thus have all the pieces save one laid out at my feet? With only the simplest extrapolation being required to see the rest?

(The answer to the latter two questions is "yes," incidentally.)

I'll be blunt. When I get around to addressing this question, I'm not going to build a monument to "my Vision." I'm going to encourage large numbers of people, especially kids, to read. Probably by distributing large numbers of kid-oriented comic books among them. (And other visually based reading materials, but particularly comics.)

Yes, that most trivial and Now-oriented of entertainments. And also a form that American librarians have apparently found encourages literacy and good reading habits. And also a form in which characters are happy to excell and are sadly bereft of a postmodern cynicism about striving for excellence or the value of doing good deeds.

Why comics? To give them timeless classics to peruse?


To encourage positive momentum in lives just when it would make all the difference, and in a way that happens to be incredibly cheap?

Yes. =)

I've done this before, and I've found the Now always matters far more than polishing my credentials as a far-sighted visionary.

A pity, that. =)


By the way, Noah, thanks for recommending a book, and engaging with the ideas at that level. The fact that you've read at least one book that applies to this question is a great example of how some very basic actions can expand someone's mind and their ability to deal with complicated issues.

I'm just more inclined to taking immediate actions while working from a longer perspective, rather than putting considerable resources into an elegant, millennial project meant to "inspire people." The changes that are taking place in the world today are being driven by people with very immediate desires and needs. Something we often forget in the West is that so many of these educated Asians we're now dealing with haven't had two or three generations of undreamt of prosperity to grow complacent in. They haven't come to assume that jobs or benefits are simply going to be given to them for the simple virtue of existing.

Instead, they have reason to believe they can, in fact, escape the prison of terrible poverty, and bring up their families and friends and communities and nations as well -- if they just work hard enough at it. Telling them to sit back and be content with their life as it is isn't going to work -- too many starving children and grandparents. Too many, young and old, dying of disease or malnutrition. Or simply too many, young and old, who are still threatened by such levels of poverty, which are far too close at hand to be ignored.

The problem, you see, isn't that their desires are too petty. The problem is that behind any frivolous impulses they may have are very real issues of opportunity, inspiration and enlightenment versus loss and hopeless ignorance. And ultimately, matters of life and death. For themselves, and for everyone they know.

They're a little too close to the truth to ignore it, as we might in more prosperous nations.

(The Truth is pesky like that. =) )

So if the needs and issues are that immediate, do they render Stewart Brand's ideas meaningless? Not necessarily. As I've said, the point about many people having terribly limited attention spans is well taken.

But if we really want to serve the interests of the distant future, of generations living decades if not centuries from now, then we have a great deal to do in the Now that's in front of us.

I think one reason people often want to pull back from society is the feeling that nothing they do can possibly make a difference. Personally, I believe a moderately intelligent, open-minded Westerner can make a tremendous difference -- so long as she or he is willing to keep learning and to keep acting to change the world for the better.

AI, Soc, $$$
Future Imperative

An Interesting Quote... -- Self, Soc

An interesting and perhaps inspirational quote from the late American President Teddy Roosevelt occurs to me in the context of developing one's own human (or superhuman) potential.

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

So much of the criticism of even the most mild, mundane of methods for human enhancement seems driven by one emotion -- fear. Fear, jealousy and a certain comfort with the way things are rather than a consideration of how they could one day be...

These are some of the strongest barriers to human achievement, and some of the greatest reasons why the future always belongs to the young -- not simply because they are going to be alive longer than the rest of us, but because they are already on that journey to a new place, and have no choice but to consider what road they intend to travel. Small children dream about being astronauts or cowboys/girls or actresses or musicians because they know they won't be living in the same "place" forever. They can see themselves changing, and so the idea of changing into someone awesome, of seizing the stars themselves isn't a dream they've been taught properly to ignore.

Perhaps that's a lesson the rest of us might care to forget.

Future Imperative

Criticism of Human Enhancement Shared in a Major British Newspaper -- Bio, Mind, Psych, Soc

The Observer in Britain has printed an edited excerpt from Better Humans? The Politics of Human Enhancement and Life Extension, a collection of essays soon to be published by Demos and the Wellcome Trust. The hostile tone of this piece may be partly a result of the author conflating human enhancement research with technological applications that could supposedly "read minds" or control them.

The author, Steven Rose, states:

Science cannot happen without major public or private expenditure but its goals are set at least as much by the market and the military as by the disinterested pursuit of knowledge. This is why neuroscientists have a responsibility to make their subject and its potentials as transparent as possible, and why the voices of concerned citizens should be heard not 'downstream' when the technologies are already fully formed, but 'upstream' while the science is still in progress. We have to find ways of ensuring that such voices are listened through the cacophony of slogans about 'better brains' - and the power of the military and the market.

Professor Rose seems to suggest in this article that calls for "better brains" are merely a cover for more sinister research meant to spy upon and dominate people.

Personally, I suspect that scanning minds for revealing cues may be extremely difficult if you want to get more than a general idea of someone's emotions. And as for "brainwashing techniques," it seems we have no shortage of drugs and coercive methods already, though I'm not sure how effective they are in subverting (as opposed to destroying) a determined adult.

But nevertheless, serious discussion of these subjects should be a welcome event, particularly if this article heralds a wide-ranging, serious and open-minded debate on human enhancement technologies. It will be interesting to see if The Observer prints any more positive excerpts from the collection, assuming there are any more positive essays to be had.

Future Imperative

Feedback on... The Creeping Revolution or... Meet the New Boss, and Scrap the Old Boss... -- AI, Soc, $$$

Noah Johnson offered the following comment on my "The Creeping Revolution or... Meet the New Boss, Scrap the Old Boss" article (a discussion of the impact of even limited AI on the economy and human employment):
If this technology is in fact coming, we should manage its arrival so we don't have a disconnect period when having a job is still necessary to human survival, but is no longer necessary for anything else.

Well, my reason for sharing this information is so that more people have a chance to educate themselves and become a part of the debate... before that debate is already over. There's a great deal going on in the world right now, both in terms of technology that can enhance humans and technology that can make most "ordinary humans" irrelevant -- and I think most people would like to know what's going on while they still have some say in their lives.

Many people such as Tom Friedman have written that globalization is going to challenge many people in this world who are complacent about their standing in the world and the way they live their lives. Friedman feels that the competition coming from people newly able to compete in China, India, the former Soviet Bloc and so forth is going to overwhelm the present global status quo. I would argue that automation, artificial intelligence and human augmentation technologies may be about to do the same thing, only more so.

How we all respond to these kinds of challenges -- and opportunities -- may take more research than just reading another boilerplate polemic or spouting off another bumper sticker slogan. Especially since the conventional sources of "conventional wisdom" haven't yet made up their minds on these subjects. (Most are still basically unaware of them.)

And hence, we're all left in the deadly position of having to think for ourselves.

Please, tread carefully. =)

Future Imperative