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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, May 27, 2006

McKibben on the Climate Crisis

Bill McKibben, not always the darling of human enhancement enthusiasts, has written a Washington Post article on confronting global warming. He begins,

For those who have been working for decades to raise awareness about climate change, this is a moment charged with opportunity -- and with peril. A series of events -- beginning with Hurricane Katrina and continuing through the release of Al Gore's new movie -- has finally pushed the issue near the forefront of the public agenda. It doesn't yet rank quite up there with the war on terrorism or the high price of gasoline, but it's clear that the next bad storm season or prolonged drought will seal the deal; even as things stand now, there's no chance that it will simply be ignored in the next presidential campaign, not with evangelical leaders and Greenpeace activists taking turns pressing the question.

But here's the danger: 20 years of inaction, and especially the Bush administration's stupendous record of ignorance and neglect, have set the bar so low that any legislation at all may look like real progress. The utilities, the coal companies and Detroit may find themselves able to easily set the terms of any deal that will, in turn, set policy for the next 20 years -- and if it's a deal that's too modest in attempting to rein in carbon emissions, then it may be worse than no deal at all. Precisely because we've wasted the past two decades, we need real, not token, action now. So here's how to tell if your politicians really get global warming:

McKibben's list is ambitious -- at least compared to what action most countries have taken thus far. But the issue of global warming has important implications for people trying to enhance their abilities beyond normal levels.

Why? Because if you have gifts -- particularly intellectual gifts -- so far beyond those of normal people or even "mere" genius, you become far more than just a spectator in global events. Global warming is a classic example. Will you invent new technologies to provide clean energy so cheaply that fossil fuels can not possibly compete? Will you hone the energy efficiency of the world's major economies? Will you start social movements, raise public consciousness, maybe publish a few books or produce a few movies?

Quite simply, if you have de facto superhuman mental resources -- if only to the degree of a Leonardo da Vinci, Nikola Tesla or Archimedes, or perhaps a short step beyond -- then you likely have the raw talent to meddle in many global concerns. And even if you don't have those abilities now, given the rate at which human enhancement technologies are progressing, it's quite possible that as a "first adopter," you could soon be someone who does.

The point of this article is to remind you, the reader, that if you are such an emerging genius, you could suddenly end up with the creativity, the skills or the simple, raw intelligence to handle a multitude of intractible problems. So pay attention. If you aren't, you might not notice when you stumble on a brilliant solution to a global issue. And you might not realize just how vulnerable you are to a crisis, when you should logically be one of those helping out, rather than just another hapless victim.

So ask yourself some basic questions.

First, in the event of a global emergency (which many believe global warming is fast becoming) what capacity do you have to act on a global scale to counter such a threat? What capacity do organizations you belong to (such as the business you own, the agency in which you serve, or the country in which you are a citizen) have to respond to such threats -- either to thwart or merely survive them?

And second, what capacity do you have endure a global catastrophe or merely a large scale local disaster (such as hurricane Katrina or the South Asian tsunami)? What capacity do your organizations (your businesses, local governments, foundations, critical associations -- any group you deem important in your life) have to endure a cataclysmic event, an ongoing military conflict or even an ongoing, non-life-threatening emergency?

For example, there were areas on the Gulf Coast after Katrina in which electrical power was not restored for weeks, even months. Including in some larger towns. Imagine, would your business be able to operate without electricity for a period of a few weeks? Now imagine a larger disaster. Many have pointed out that if hurricanes Katrina or Rita had seriously disrupted the U.S. fuel supply, large areas of the country would have been without fuel deliveries... potentially for weeks, with all the economic devastation that would imply.

So... Do you have the basic resources needed to survive an obvious potential disaster? A hurricane, a large-scale blackout, a disruption of national fuel shipments, a terrorist attack? How well are you "stocked" with food, medicine, fuel, electricity? How will your business survive, or your government or NGO offices stay open if workers can't or won't get there? If local economic activity grinds to a halt?

My point here isn't to panic anyone, but to point out that many otherwise brilliant people assume that the resources normally available to them in daily life will also be there after a catastrophe -- or will be "just around the corner." And as a result, many extremely intelligent people get caught up in the chaos when they be among those with the wherewithal and foresight to protect themselves and others.

So I suggest, to any rising superintelligences out there... this world has enough victims. Try to avoid being one of them. And if you have compassion or pragmatic social conscience at all, see what you can do to at least guard those in your immediate circle. After all, no matter how bright you are, you're going to feel very silly if you end up dying because you forgot to add bottled water or Tamiflu to your emergency supplies checklist.

Future Imperative