September 17th changed everything.
On that day in 2013, Oxford University published an innocuously titled academic paper by two mostly unknown economists. But “The Future of Employment” wasn’t just another number-crunching exercise in opacity by a couple of dreary scientists. No, their bombshell report portended a coming robot apocalypse that could change the nature of human civilization, and perhaps even human beings themselves.
Thankfully, the forthcoming carnage described by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne isn’t a doomsday scenario where Skynet systematically wipes out humankind, or a darkly lit near-future where attractive Replicants violently struggle to make sense of their emerging emotions in a perpetually damp Los Angeles.
Instead, the economists previewed an all-too-real world where the second-richest man on the planet — Amazon’s Jeff Bezos — gleefully parades around like Sigourney Weaver in a massive robotic exoskeleton built by Hankook Mirae Technology.
They presaged the impending doom from robots like Handle, the Michael Jordan-esque robot built by Boston Dynamics. Handle can leap like a superhero, can run a marathon in under three hours and, if Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son is right, will probably be smarter than you in just a few decades.
They foresaw a future with the likes of Gordon, the “first robotic barista in the U.S.” Gordon can serve “about 120 coffees in an hour.” They also predicted the likes of Otto, the self-driving big-rig designated by Uber to deliver truckloads of beer to thirsty consumers. And then there’s Pepper, the empathic, “day-to-day” companion that is not just working in airports and banks, but being “adopted” into Japanese homes … and even “enrolling” in school.
Upgrades are not just for software anymore. Humans are steadily gaining access to technologies that enhance our brains and bodies. But most Americans, says the Pew Research Center, see this as yet another way for the haves to get a leg up over the have-nots.
Scientists are already working on synthetic blood substitutes to boost strength and endurance, brain implants to improve concentration and information processing, and gene splicing techniques that hack the human genome with surgical precision. Most of these techniques are designed to prevent debilitating diseases. Eventually, they will allow us to redesign our genetic inheritance.
That doesn’t sit well with most Americans. The majority of U.S. adults would not want brain or blood enhancements (66 percent and 63 percent, respectively) for themselves or their children, while about one-third favored such procedures. Of the 4,726 people surveyed by Pew, most were “very” or “somewhat” worried about technology-enhanced humans, believing the negatives outweighed the benefits for society.
John Horgan is a science journalist who recently spoke at the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) from May 12-15 in New York City. His speech has been republished in Scientific American:
I hate preaching to the converted. If you were Buddhists, I’d bash Buddhism. But you’re skeptics, so I have to bash skepticism.
I’m a science journalist. I don’t celebrate science, I criticize it, because science needs critics more than cheerleaders. I point out gaps between scientific hype and reality. That keeps me busy, because, as you know, most peer-reviewed scientific claims are wrong.
So I’m a skeptic, but with a small S, not capital S. I don’t belong to skeptical societies. I don’t hang out with people who self-identify as capital-S Skeptics. Or Atheists. Or Rationalists.
When people like this get together, they become tribal. They pat each other on the back and tell each other how smart they are compared to those outside the tribe. But belonging to a tribe often makes you dumber.
Here’s an example involving two idols of Capital-S Skepticism: biologist Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss. Krauss recently wrote a book, A Universe from Nothing. He claims that physics is answering the old question, Why is there something rather than nothing?
Krauss’s book doesn’t come close to fulfilling the promise of its title, but Dawkins loved it. He writes in the book’s afterword: “If On the Origin of Species was biology’s deadliest blow to supernaturalism, we may come to see A Universe From Nothing as the equivalent from cosmology.”
Just to be clear: Dawkins is comparing Lawrence Krauss to Charles Darwin. Why would Dawkins say something so foolish? Because he hates religion so much that it impairs his scientific judgment. He succumbs to what you might call “The Science Delusion.”
“The Science Delusion” is common among Capital-S Skeptics. You don’t apply your skepticism equally. You are extremely critical of belief in God, ghosts, heaven, ESP, astrology, homeopathy and Bigfoot. You also attackdisbelief in global warming, vaccines and genetically modified food.
These beliefs and disbeliefs deserve criticism, but they are what I call “soft targets.” That’s because, for the most part, you’re bashing people outside your tribe, who ignore you. You end up preaching to the converted.
Meanwhile, you neglect what I call hard targets. These are dubious and even harmful claims promoted by major scientists and institutions. In the rest of this talk, I’ll give you examples of hard targets from physics, medicine and biology. I’ll wrap up with a rant about war, the hardest target of all.
The age of super smart machines is no longer the stuff of science fiction. The reality of their arrival is presenting both great opportunities and profound challenges across a wide swath of our lives. Artificial Intelligence (AI) expert Roman Yampolskiy discusses the emergence of smart machines and their impact on human pursuits, work and the economy. Scott Kimel and Jenny Wu join the discussion for a broader perspective on the effects and implications of this new era. (Idea Festival)
Where does true power reside? Is it waving at you from a stage-lit, Presidentially-sealed podium? Or tucked away inside a billionaire’s wallet? Can you smell it in a mahogany-clad clubroom at Yale in the smoke of a Bonesman’s cigar, or catch a glimpse of its dark feathers perching on the advisory council of a transnational bank? One thing we know for sure: the nature and location of power is changing, and the agents of that change are the Californian technology companies that have the taken the 21st century by the throat.
A revolution in “connection technologies” means we are entering what executive chairman at Google, Eric Schmidt, calls “a new age of shared power.” New power dynamics will be played out within what he calls “the interconnected estate,” a realm in which, soon enough, humans will be sharing power, policies, and influence not just with each other, but with increasingly intelligent computers.
The rise of Artificial Intelligence is set to change everything: the dynamics of power and politics for starters, but beyond that, the nature of life itself. “We are just at the beginning of this infinite journey,” gushes PayPal founder and AI enthusiast Peter Thiel, as he announces his intention to live forever. Thiel sits on the board of Facebook, a company “on a mission to connect the world,” and one of the biggest investors in AI. Meanwhile, over at Google’s DeepMind project, British specialist Demis Hassabis, is working to unravel “the deepest mysteries of the mind.” Hassabis wants to create Artificial Intelligence in order to “solve intelligence and use it to solve everything else.”
Solve everything, connect everyone, live forever: the time for humble ambitions is past. The mood of the day is summed up in the triumphant howl that echoes from Google’s R&D department, when the former head of DARPA, Regina Dugan, swallows a microchip in a pill that turns her body into a digital authentication device, and cries: “My first superpower!”
- Bilderberg looks to the future but is stuck in the past
- Bilderberg 2014 roundup: privacy, transparency and Birkin bags
- Bilderberg on Ukraine: military chiefs, arms bosses and billionaire speculators
- Bilderberg conference 2014: eating our politicians for breakfast
- Bilderberg 2013: The sun sets on Watford
- Bilderberg 2012: the technocrats are rising at this year’s annual conference
‘Within the next 200 years, humans will have become so merged with technology that we’ll have evolved into “God-like cyborgs”, according to Yuval Noah Harari, an historian and author from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel.
Harari researches the history of the human species, and after writing a new book on our past, he now believes that we’re just a few short centuries away from being able to use technology to avoid death altogether – if we can afford it, that is.
[…] Harari warned that these upgrades may only be available to the wealthiest members of society, and that could cause a growing biological divide between rich and poor – especially if some of us can afford to pay for the privilege of living forever while the rest of the species dies out.
If that sounds depressing, the alternative is a future where instead of us taking advantage of technology, technology takes advantage of us, and artificial intelligence poses a threat to our survival, as Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and Bill Gates have all predicted.’
- Humans ‘will become God-like cyborgs within 200 years’
- Humans could download brains on to a computer and live forever
- Why Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates Are Terrified of Artificial Intelligence
- Peter Thiel: the billionaire tech entrepreneur on a mission to cheat death
- How Close Are We to Building a Full-Fledged Cyborg?
- Transhumanism – RationalWiki
‘This report has, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, created the first list of global risks with impacts that for all practical purposes can be called infinite. It is also the first structured overview of key events related to such risks and has tried to provide initial rough quantifications for the probabilities of these impacts.
With such a focus it may surprise some readers to find that the report’s essential aim is to inspire action and dialogue as well as an increased use of the methodologies used for risk assessment.
The real focus is not on the almost unimaginable impacts of the risks the report outlines. Its fundamental purpose is to encourage global collaboration and to use this new category of risk as a driver for innovation.
The idea that we face a number of global risks threatening the very basis of our civilisation at the beginning of the 21st century is well accepted in the scientific community, and is studied at a number of leading universities. But there is still no coordinated approach to address this group of risks and turn them into opportunities.’
‘The United States military’s research and development agency is designing a brain interface to inject images directly into the human visual cortex via a “cortical modem” chip implanted in the brain. Think: Terminator vision.
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced the project at the Biology Is Technology conference in Silicon Valley last week.
DARPA, which h+ Magazine described as a “friendly, but somewhat crazy, rich uncle,” wants to build a device that could display images over a user’s natural vision without the need for glasses or similar technology.’
- DARPA’s ‘Cortical Modem’ will plug straight into your BRAIN
- DARPA Cortical Modem connects brain directly to computer for ‘electronic telepathy and telekinesis’
- The Promise and Perils of Manipulating Memory
- Motorola patents e-tattoo that can read your thoughts by listening to unvocalized words in your throat
- Pentagon agency to spend $70m on brain implant research
- This Is Your Brain on the Department of Defense
- Military-Funded Brain Science Sparks Controversy
- Pentagon wants to fit soldiers with a little black box brain implant
- Brain will be battlefield of future, warns US intelligence report
- The Government Is Trying to Wrap Its Mind Around Yours
- The brain scan that can read people’s intentions
- A Spy Machine of DARPA’s Dreams
- Your life at your fingertips — courtesy of the Pentagon
- CIA Mind Control Experiments (Short Documentary)
- DARPA – Wikipedia
‘Whatever you think of transhumanism, one thing is quite certain: the transhumanist movement is alive, healthy and growing. In any ordinary week in the world of bioethics, several articles will be published exploring one aspect or other of transhumanism.
Consider, for example, Zoltan Istvan, best-selling author and self-proclaimed “transhumanist visionary”. Istvan has published 20 articles this year in the Huffington Post on transhumanism. He recently announced that he intends to run as a representative of the Transhumanist Party in the 2016 US presidential elections.
There is also a fully-fledged international transhumanist society, Humanity +. The organisation, founded in 1998, runs seminars around the world to discuss the latest developments in human enhancement technologies. The also organisation publish the online quarterly Humanity + magazine, a publication dedicated to discussing transhumanist news and ideas.
In a recent blog post, Wesley Smith argued that the transhumanist vision was a mere ‘utopian fantasy land’. A small army of transhumanist supporters came to the support of the movement, commenting extensively on the article and criticising Smith’s argument. ‘
- Should a Transhumanist Run for US President?
- Transhumanism’s Utopian Fantasy Land
- The Biggest Worry About Transhumanism
- Human thoughts used to switch on genes
- ‘Transhumanists’ are planning to upload your mind to a memory stick…
- A transhumanist wants children to know that Death Is Wrong
- U.S. spy agency predicts a very transhuman future by 2030
- Francis Fukuyama: Transhumanism
- The Singularity Is Near (Book)
‘A new American documentary examines the ethical issues surrounding human enhancement for people with disabilities. The documentary, FIXED, contains interviews with a range of physically impaired people, as well as specialists in bioehancement. It presents an exciting picture of technological advance, while at the same time giving voice to scepticism and concerns. Overall the documentary presents the bioehancement project in a favorable light. Some may disagree with its conclusions, but it is a resource for understanding the ethical issues surrounding emerging enhancement technologies.’ (BioEdge)
‘In March 2009, British researcher Mark Gasson had a chip injected under the skin of his hand. The chip, a slightly more advanced version of the tags used to track pets, turned Gasson into a walking swipe-card. With a wave of his wrist, he could open security doors at the University of Reading laboratory, where his experiment was being conducted, and he could unlock his cell phone just by cradling it.
A year later, Gasson infected his own implant with a computer virus, one that he could pass on to other computer systems if the building’s networks were programmed to read his chip. As Gasson breezed around the the workplace, spreading the virus and corrupting computer systems, certain areas of the building became inaccessible to his colleagues. At the time of the experiment, theoretical physicist and author of “The Future of the Mind” Michio Kaku told FOX News that demonstrating the ability to spread infection was an “important point” because “we’re going to have more chips in our body and clothing.”
Thousands of Americans already have implanted medical devices, including pacemakers, which are inserted into the chest to treat abnormal heart rhythms, and cochlear implants, which help deaf people to hear. But the future, Gasson says, is going to focus on implantable technology for healthy people. Part of the reason is that we continually look for ways to make our lives easier. The question is whether we’re willing accept both the unintended and unknown consequences that come with giving up partial control of our bodies to technology.’
- Human implants: from invasive to pervasive (Mark Gasson at TED)
- Unlock your car, share contacts or log into your computer. It’s all possible with human microchipping
- The legal ramifications of microchipping people in the United States of America
- The 11 Most Implanted Medical Devices In America
- Katherine Albrecht: VeriChip Admits Failure To Disclose Implant Chip Risks
- Human enhancement: could you become infected with a computer virus?
- Biohacking — you can do it, too (Ellen Jorgensen at TED)
- Welcome to Dataland: Design fiction at the most magical place on Earth
- Hilton lets guests pick rooms, use smartphones as keys
Thousands of technology enthusiasts use it as the ultimate app, enabling them to lock and unlock their homes, cars, computers and mobile phones with a simple wave of a hand. But there’s a catch: they must have a microchip inserted into their bodies. The idea may seem weird, and painful, but human microchipping appears to appeal not only to amateurs, who call themselves biohackers, but also to governments, police forces, medical authorities and security companies.
It involves using a hypodermic needle to inject an RFID (radio-frequency identification) microchip, the size of a grain of rice, usually into the person’s hand or wrist. The same kind of chip is used for tracking lost pets. The implants send a unique ID number that can be used to activate devices such as phones and locks, and can link to databases containing limitless information, including personal details such as names, addresses and health records. RFID chips are everywhere.
TED’s 30th anniversary kicked off with MIT MediaLab founder Nicholas Negroponte, who took the stage to recount his 40-plus years of experience as a technology experimenter and visionary. You might say he was making the case to be Negropodamus. Indeed, his talk was appropriate, as Negroponte was one of the first presenters at the very first TED in 1984. He has a habit of making predictions—many of which do come true.
…In 30 years, Negroponte said, we’re going to be able to literally ingest information. Once information is in your bloodstream, some kind of mechanism could deposit the information in the brain. You could take a pill and learn English or the works of Shakespeare. He said little else on the subject, but Negroponte assured the audience that the idea is not as ridiculous as it seems.
- Coming Soon, Maybe: ‘Knowledge Pills’ That You Eat To Automatically Learn Anything
- Scientists watch glowing molecules form memories in real time
- Documentary: Bionics, Transhumanism, And The End Of Evolution
- Transhumanism Will Change Everything
- Here’s Some Of The Futuristic Technology Being Developed By The Geniuses At MIT
Gennady Stolyarov is afraid to die, and not afraid to say so. He also strongly believes that human beings don’t have to die, or at least, will live much, much longer in the future. A writer and transhumanist activist, Stolyarov sees death as something that can be “solved” by technology and science, and one day it will possible to extend life indefinitely. To that end, he’s trying to buck the cultural perception that mortality is inevitable, and he’s starting with kids.
Stolyarov published the children’s book Death Is Wrong in November, and Zoltan Istvan, author of The Transhumanist Wager, unearthed the story in a post on Psychology Today. Now Stolyarov is promoting the book with an Indiegogo campaign, trying to crowdfund $5,000 to print and distribute 1,000 copies of the book and get the anti-death word out. (Hat tip to “The mainstream of society remains pervaded by the old death-acceptance arguments,” the campaign page explains. To get rid of these “pro-death prejudices,” the book gives an overview of the major reasons that life extension is feasible and desirable. It makes the case for immortality—for ages eight and up.
The life-extension movement is one faction of the transhumanism creed—the idea that we can transcend the limitations of being a human being by embracing technological progress. Both radical ideas are certainly gaining traction, thanks in no small part to Google’s Calico moonshot project announced last fall, an initiative to study and defeat aging, and eventually even mortality itself.
Google, which also raised eyebrows by hiring renowned futurist and AI expert Ray Kurzweil as its director of engineering, has breathed new life into the H+ movement. So much so in fact that just this week, a handful of transhumanist activists gathered outside the Googleplex with signs saying ‘Immortality now,’ ‘Viva Calico,’ and ‘Google, please, solve Death.’”
[…] Wristbands, watches and glasses are just the beginning. Next-generation wearables will be part of the fabric of our clothes – literally. London-based CuteCircuit has developed a mobile phone dress with an antenna in the seam and the SIM card in the label. Artist and designer Dominic Wilcox’s No Place Like Home shoes use GPS and LED lights to give directions.
These are concepts, not commercial products, but compared with what’s coming, they seem crude. Research published in 2011 by a team of scientists from Italy, France and the US explored the possibilities of using conductive thread – cotton coated in nanoparticles and polymers – to form transistors and circuits. Instead of wearing a dress with a computer built-in, your dress will be the computer.
Sabine Seymour, founder of Moondial, an agency that develops and consults on wearables, says: “We forget that we constantly wear a textile on our body. If we use that assumption that a consumer is covered everyday, we have a fantastic surface where we can embed a lot of functionality.”
She foresees smart clothes that change colour, regulate our temperature, charge the gadgets we carry and don’t need to be washed. Wearable computers and smart clothes are fine, but what about simply having the technology surgically implanted in your body? Instead of glasses, imagine if your retina had a display built-in. Consider an activity tracker implanted in your foot, or a tooth-filling sensor that vibrates when you have a message. Embedded technology has been used in medicine for decades. Pacemakers and cochlear implants were first developed in the 1960s.
More recently, work has begun on sensors that can be swallowed to monitor the effect of medical treatment and disposable monitoring patches that can be attached to the body. There is a difference between medical implants, which are often the best way to deal with a health problem, and lifestyle implants – but there’s no reason to think there won’t be demand for the latter. Many people already modify their bodies with tattoos, piercings and cosmetic surgery.
[…] Dr Richard Graham, from the Capio Nightingale Clinic in London, is the psychiatrist who is treating an anonymous little girl who has been increasingly wedded to her iPad since the age of three. She already plugs into it for several hours a day. There have been many blowout tantrums when she is separated from it. None of this is good. So naturally, instead of sending her to bed and telling her “no” in a firm but loving voice, her parents have decided that their child is a junkie. They have booked her in for treatment at the Capio Nightingale, which reportedly charges £4,000 a week to treat adult internet addiction sufferers. (At the time of going to press no one seemed quite sure what the kiddie discount was.)
Dr Graham has praised the girl’s parents, saying that, had they not noticed the signs early and done something, their child would likely have ended up a full-blown addict by the age of 11. Pretty soon, on the message boards, other parents were posting up similar experiences. “My youngest is 3 and is addicted to iphones n ipads same as this girl :o,” said Rak in Milton Keynes. “Ah! My 15 month old loves my mobile phone,” said Fran in North Wales. “I can’t get him off it!! He prefers playing on my phone then playing with his toys,” she added, semi-poignantly. “Would love it if he spent more time playing with his toys then my phone. I’ve noticed a lot of babies/children prefer it too.”
It’s now obvious that internet-addicted tots are the crack babies of our era. Born doped up to the tits on digital living, withdrawal for them is torture by another name. Except that these aren’t the product of ragged teen mums in inner cities. They are the products of money-rich, time-poor middle class households. These children will never have a chance at a normal life, but that’s OK, because pretty soon “normal lives” won’t exist in the new world our lax parenting and hyper-accessible tech is inadvertently building.
[…] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), aka Mormon Church, has a concept of boundless elevation and exaltation of Man, through all means including science and technology, until he becomes like God.
Conversely, God was once like Man before attaining an exalted status. “[Mormonism] allows for humans to ascend to a higher, more godlike level,” writes Max More in his introduction to The Transhumanist Reader, “rather than sharply dividing God from Man.”
Mormon transhumanists are persuaded that we will become like God — through science and technology — in a progression without end, and this seems a more faithful interpretation of the teachings of Joseph Smith and a return to the roots of the Mormon religion.
Not all Mormons agree with this transhumanist formulation of their faith but, according to MTA president Lincoln Cannon, it is a correct interpretation of the writings of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, close to the historic and philosophical roots of the LDS doctrine, as shown by the King Follet discourse and the quotes of Smith and other Mormon authorities collected here.
All Mormons are familiar with this aspect of their faith, but many modern Mormons seem to sweep these concepts to the back of their mind, as they do for other controversial issues such as polygamy, promoted (and practiced) by Smith and the founding fathers but frowned upon in modern times.