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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.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Calorie Restriction May Prevent Alzheimer's through Promotion of Longevity Program in the Brain

Mount Sinai Hospital has put out the following news release about a new method for fighting the onset of Alzheimer's:

A recent study directed by Mount Sinai School of Medicine suggests that experimental dietary regimens might calm or even reverse symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease (AD). The study, which appears in the July 2006 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, is the first to show that restricting caloric intake, specifically carbohydrates, may prevent AD by triggering activity in the brain associated with longevity.

The key thing, the article notes, is that "restricting caloric intake, specifically carbohydrates, may prevent AD by triggering activity in the brain associated with longevity."

So... Lay off the carbs, I suppose. At least until further information becomes available. Assuming you are concerned about Alzheimer's at all.

Future Imperative

Monday, June 19, 2006

Silicon Teamwork

Flying and ground-pounding robots team up to search for targets (image and video). The cool bit? That little bot with the monster tires is called "Clodbuster." That, or the writer can't spell. =)

"A team of autonomous flying and ground-based robots have successfully cooperated to search for and locate targets in the streets of an urban warfare training ground in the US. The system could help in search and rescue efforts and military operations – and even has the potential to include humans in the team."

Seriously, every improvement in artificial impact could have significant social implications. In this case, we may not be moving much closer to nigh-omniscient supercomputers ruling the universe, but we are moving closer to replacing yet another set of jobs with robots. Such changes are essentially an extension of the Industrial Revolution, which has been destroying old jobs and creating new ones for years through automation. The most important thing about this present challenge is that the jobs being eliminated are ones that have traditionally required a human being in some capacity.

We'll probably continue to want a human being to supervise these operations, and I don't think any soldier will regret not being able to "go through the door first" instead of his robots. But it is a change from where we've been. If we fail to move immense numbers of people from traditionally "safe" jobs and careers to more challenging fields in which robots are still struggling, then a great many people will one day be out of work and left with a feeling that they can no longer contribute meaningfully to society.

Which isn't something any of us should want.

AI, Tech
Future Imperative

How Very Odd -- Madness and Creativity

This article by Ker Than of LiveScience discusses the link between madness and creativity. The article notes:
History suggests that the line between creativity and madness is a fine one, but a small group of people known as schizotypes are able to walk it with few problems and even benefit from it.

A new study confirms that their enhanced creativity may come from using more of the right side of the brain than the rest of us.

The study in question (reported in the journal Schizophrenia Research) utilized, among other techniques, a method called near-infrared optical spectroscopy to analyze subjects' brains during problem-solving. The activation of the right side of the brain in the schizotypes (whose group had already demonstrated a greater degree of creativity when brainstorming) was notably greater than that of the normal and schizophrenic groups.

For another perspective on this possible connection, I would like to recommend Kay Redfield Jamison's book Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. Temperament and personal drive have, I suspect, a great deal to do with creative gifts and the will -- the drive -- to use them.

AL, Bio, CPS, Psych, Soc
Future Imperative

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Global Uplift

I originally wrote the following on Warren Ellis' potential futures website:

Incidentally, on the subject of transcending human limitations, is anyone else getting ready to do any dramatic human augmentation projects? Preferably with multiple volunteers?

My efforts are still contigent on mustering enough money from my various business projects -- but if that works out, I'm making plans to start with my first band of local prospects by this winter/holiday break. I'm interested in exploring the potential for the radical enhancement of human capabilities, and hope the protocols I'm putting together -- modified, synergistically combined and techologically enhanced methods from leading accelerated learning and creativity researchers -- will enable us to achieve levels of mental function beyond anything seen before.

Or at least, beyond anything other than certain specific prodigies and savants (see Ramanujan, Shereshevski, Tesla, etc). And perhaps, at least in terms of the overall talents gained and refined, even better than that.

I should add that I'm not planning to introduce any invasive technologies into this particular project -- no gene therapy, no cybernetics, no nootropic drugs. I'm sure others will explore those permutations in due course. The focus of my experiment, instead, will be to see what happens when you take several young, healthy and fairly bright and well-motivated students for a six-week brain-development marathon.

I'll have to pay them, of course, and plan to pay them reasonably well (another reason why I have to get the finances assembled or put this project aside till at least mid-2007). But I'm sure there are organizations and individuals out there which could plunge right into this kind of research. So why not, people? If you're in a position to do this kind of thing for yourself, why delay?

I'm picking "kids" who are pretty decent, tolerant and unlikely to try to dominate others or create pointless mayhem if we do have an impressive breakthrough in our initial marathon attempt. But I don't know that most augmentation-intensive projects will have the same criteria in mind for their subjects... indeed, I don't know how well you could maintain such standards. After all, how well could you know that many people? It's one thing if you start out with a group of just ten and consider each prospect carefully.

But what happens with your second group, or your third? When you expand these groups to 20 or 30 or 100? Eventually, even if you screen extremely well, the simple diversity of attitudes and personalities prevalent among gifted people insures that you will end up with individuals whose ultimate decisions, plans and goals can not be anticipated. Especially once they've undergone a "ten-fold"* or greater increase in their basic intelligence.

So let me suggest -- if you're planning to be among those "early adopters" who radically enhance their intelligence *first*, then you might want to start arranging things now.

Because I honestly doubt most experimental groups will be put together the way mine is -- young people of good will who are all friends or are at least very friendly. But I'm sure plenty of enthusiasts could pull something like that together, if only a group of four or five or six.

I'm starting with small, close-knit bands of decent people not just to avoid creating transhuman gangs or lone sociopaths but to establish micro-societies -- collections of intensely bright people who share a powerful connection and who can "be there for each other" no matter how dramatically some of them may change. And which can remain as a safety net for sucessive "generations" of the enhanced who come after them. That psychological support may prove crucial -- the last thing you want to do with a nascent supermind is convince her or him that s/he is completely alone and practically a different species from all the mindless sheep milling about them.

My concern with many organizational attempts to do the same thing is that while they may put together some people of considerable goodwill (be they scientists or law-enforcement or artists or military personnel or writers or performers or inventors), most governments, companies and NGOs are unlikely to put forward a group of friends living in relative proximity to each other as their best option for such work -- and over the long term "just a bunch of friends" probably isn't the best option.

But if you're trying to develop a kind of local sub-culture that can support the newly enhanced and restrain the more volatile augmentees, it could be just the ticket for you.

So I ask again... Who else has plans to radically evolve in the near future? Details welcome.

*And yes, I know that "ten-fold" is a poor descriptor for most forms of enhanced mental abilities -- these gifts rarely increase with perfect precision across every single area of performance, even assuming all of your basic abilities and esoteric talents could possibly be quantified.

AL, Bio, CPS, Noo, Soc
Future Imperative