Saturday, 28 June 2008
We think to ourselves, “There’s nothing we can do”, and continue with our daily lives. "It doesn't really affect me or anyone I know". We blame "fate", or, most fundamentally, we think "Everyone dies, he was just taken before his time".
As a society, we still see death as inevitable. As a result, there is just no respect for human life. This, I believe, is why we have a situation where killing somebody can carry a lower sentence than stealing money from a bank.
Not only do the killers have no respect (another topic!), but neither do those handing out the pathetic sentences. Nor do the beauracrats who create the laws. Nor do the media, who report on deaths with a cold objectivity. As such, nor do the public, whose attitudes shape the decisions of authority. So we live in a world where the consequences of our actions are severely depreciated, a world where a mindless violent killing just isn’t important enough to get more than a passing mention.
When you know about Actuarial escape velocity and the potential for people alive today to live forever - this attitude is incredibly significant. Life suddenly gains a lot more significance when people are presented with the possibility of an increased or even indefinate biological life span. And not just on a personal level, people living longer has many implications to society. Centuries of training, knowledge, and wisdom could bring us an entire generation of Einsteins, Da Vincis, and Hendrixes. (Another topic!)
Our attitude to death must change. Every human life is sacred, deserving far more respect and recognition than we currently give. The concept of radical Life Extension simply must be introduced into the public conciousness, because every day, we're seeing more and more mindless killings of valuable, potentially immortal members of society.
Monday, 23 June 2008
Now for the difficult part: maintaining the standard...
Saturday, 21 June 2008
Imagine, a life fully immersed inside a computer game where our every desire is fulfilled, and the suffering of reality is absent.
One day, we may decide that a virtual existence is a more appealing option than the real world of pain and limitations. Perhaps we could create such an amazing alternative, that reality itself becomes obsolete.
Even today, without the "fully immersed" aspect, there are thousands of people who already spend more time in virtual worlds than the real one. As virtual environments improve, this will only increase.
Since the early 21st century, the residents of the virtual world Second Life have been working hard to recreate real "life" as accurately as possible. Despite the virtual platform giving occupants the ability to fly and teleport, they still prefer to meticulously create staircases to walk their avatar up and down. At discos, people require the coolest dance animations and best looking clothes. In meetings, virtual characters sit down to rest their virtual legs. It seems the confines of "reality" provide a comfortable and familiar environment.
Going further, we may be able to upload our minds completely to a virtual reality environment. In this case there will be no need for food, other than virtual food for our enjoyment. Of course, the machines running the Virtual Reality interfaces would require fuel, but in the virtual world itself, we may have no concept of starvation or even eating.
However, if you were dealing only with Artificial Intelligences, their memories could be erased and you would be able to re-live situations, essentially going back in time. Which of these two alternatives you wish to live in could perhaps be a choice.
It may even be possible, in the case of the virtual world dictatorship, that the actions and memories of real people are undone for the benefit of elites within the world, thus giving a select few complete control over their lives at the expense of the rest of the population.
Virtually HumanThe move to a virtual existence would have all sorts of implications on our humanity.
As humans, we are motivated and driven by our needs. Our primary needs are physiological; food, sex, and comfort. At the current state of society, these needs are quite often not met, leading to all kinds of consequences.
In fully realised virtual immersion, satisfying these needs is as simple as programming the environment. The implications of this are profound, and will change the fabric of society.
Even now we see the impact of desires being met with virtual reality. Millions of online gamers are able to live virtual lives that are better than real lives, having adventures, being different people, and fulfilling their fantasies, albeit via a keyboard and monitor. This changes our very essence of our psyches.
In realising that these fantasies are possible, our general expectations in life are altered. Our priorities are distorted.
Our morals and ethics are altered by the alternative environments we occupy - we are a product of our environments after all. If our environment provides us with all we need, we remove many aspects of our humanity in an instant, both positive and negative.
As well as our environments, we are defined by our bio-chemistry. Testosterone changes men's personality as oestrogen does women's. What happens when we can control the brain more intimately and more precisely by artificial means, in a similar way to hormones?
Without food, where do we focus our efforts? With ultimate sex, what impact does this have on relationships, sexuality, love, friendship, reproduction, and sex itself? What will become of violence without anything to cause it? Without suffering, will we retain the concept of good with nothing to contrast?
What will we become without the primitive animal urges that made us human in the first place?
Saturday, 14 June 2008
- Imagine we learn to read human brains down to the most intricate details.
- Imagine we learn to record, in detail, every action that occurs within the brain, every synapse firing, every cell interaction, every memory.
- Imagine if all of this data could then be stored on a computer and used to re-engineer a new, identical brain.
- Imagine this brain could then be put into a new body, thus creating a new version of us when we die.
- Imagine we knew for a fact that there was nothing after death.
- Imagine we live forever using this, or some other mind transfer technique.
- Imagine then we discover another civilisation on another planet, who is still too primitive to save minds, and who still believes that death is natural and essential.
- Imagine we then engineer a situation, for example we send swarms of microscopic probes to their planet to monitor, transmit via microscopic satellites, and then record their minds on our computers.
- Imagine we use this data to re-engineer the brains of these people back on our planet when they die.
Wednesday, 11 June 2008
NanotechnologyNanotechnology presents many interesting possibilities. How about using self replicating nanoscopic robots to turn everything on the planet into grey goo? This kind of destruction would be so effective that nothing would remain of the present world. Perhaps this kind of disaster has already happened in our history? As there would be no evidence, we would never know! However, for many supervillians or religious fanatics, disassembling us to our core molecules just wouldn’t be fulfilling enough.
Fear not, the destructive power of nanotechnology is limited only by our imaginations. What about swarms of predatory nanobots, programmed to hunt down and kill “non-believers” and kill them in any manner of ways – asphyxiation, crushing, burning, or simply tearing them apart? Having a non-solid physical presence they would be virtually impossible to catch and destroy. Nano-assemblers, machines capable of manufacturing anything with atomic precision out of basic molecules such as carbon, look set to change the entire world as we know it. They would put an end to world hunger, propel the entire world into luxury, and have untold effects on the economy.
Or, they could be used to undermine security measures, creating weapons in volatile scenarios, thus reversing power balances in an instant. Imagine terrorists gaining access to the Whitehouse unarmed, only to fabricate guns once inside. Or an entire country arming every citizen within hours before going on a worldwide rampage? With nano-assemblers, the rules of supply, laws of transportation, and manufacturing limitations are turned on their head. As such, any controls put in place to limit armourment are undermined in an instant.
Of course, these kinds of scenarios are purely speculation, in a world full of nano-assemblers, the playing field would be severely levelled. Who knows what scenarios would present themselves? Nanotechnology itself paves the way for unimaginable abuse. At its most basic, it could provide means to simply and barbarically destroy human bodies, at its most advanced, it could turn every one of us into powerful gods, able to truly manipulate our environments and bodies.
At the moment though, nanotechnology in these forms is not yet a reality. In fact, due to the differences in basic mechanics at the atomic level, the dream of nanoscopic robots able to manipulate molecules could remain just that – a dream.
Mutant ArmySo what other options does a would-be evil tyrant have? Well, blasphemous scientists are always looking for ways to play god, providing a few more ways to wreak havoc on society. Potentially there is nothing to stop corrupt governments or corporations creating an array of superhuman, cybernetic, or mutant monsters reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons. Creating “The Hulk” isn’t too far off, there is much research going on in the field of increased strength.
Many other superpowers are around the corner, and cybernetics could allow any manner of weapons to be incorporated into the body, such as a cannon for an arm. Once we have mastered biology, the limits are again set by our imaginations. My favourite cartoon character of all time, Hordak from He-Man/She-ra, was modifying bodies to create an army of elite evil warriors back in the early 80s. A real life Hordak needn’t be far away.
The Chinese controlled the weather to prevent rain during the 2008 Olympics. This was just the first step in controlling the world around us. Controlling hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes and the like are not outside the realms of possibility, and many speculate that it's already happening.
A Moral Dilemna
All of these powerful technologies have one thing in common, they involve manipulation. Manipulation of matter, biology, the weather, or even time itself. It seems we are on the verge of mastering the universe in the most intricate fashion. And unlike nuclear weapons, these new God-like powers will be in the hands of the majority, corporations and individuals. What a scary thought. How can the general population which is riddled with wrongdoers, do-gooders and just plain irrationals, remain responsible with such awesome and destructive power? Should we restrict technology and not allow society down this dark and blasphemous path?
Well, taking such a stance is naïve. The fact is, even if such advances are banned, someone will still do it. Legislation, as always, is not the answer. Not only does it give unfair advantage to those who want to break the law, but the legislation itself is usually extremely narrow scoped. It will restrict an action deemed to have negative consequences without taking into account that it may also have good implications. Take the legislation against stem cells as a prime example. Holding back on science and progress with legislation is not just pointless, it is highly immoral. Any leader who does so, either by political power or religious manipulation, has the blood of future generations on their hands.
Whatever their reason, restricting knowledge equates to deliberate neglect. The power to manipulate the universe is the destiny of conscious life. Since we first picked up a stick and used it as a tool, humanity has been on a journey, a journey of discovery and creation. These new powers are no more than an extension of building an aeroplane, performing a heart bypass, or planting a tree. They may well be abused to the point where they threaten our entire existence, but without them, we stagnate, or even regress.
Considering, for a second, the human spirit, I really don’t think that’s an option.
Sunday, 8 June 2008
There's no knowing where the internet will take us in the next 10-20 years. What if, we were to look far further into the future?
This century we are closer than we have ever been to discovering alien life. If it exists, we may well discover it in the next few decades. Far more significant however, will be the discovery of intelligent life. The implications of discovering an extra terrestrial conscious life form are immense. It will shake the entire foundations of our society. It will give us new perspectives on both the problems and pleasures of human life.
Given the vastness of the universe, and the unimaginable timescales it presents us, the discovery of alien life will no doubt give us the opportunity to see not only a totally different race, but a totally different time. The chances of finding a civilisation that has come into fruition in the past few thousand years like we have are extremely improbable. So the likelihood is that any civilisation we discover will be far, far in advance of our own.
Look at the way the world has changed in the past decade, just because of the internet. This century is expected to bring such medical and technological breakthroughs that mankind will soon become unrecognisable to its ancestors. Combine this exponential, accellerating rate of change, with the massive timescales of space. Can you imagine, what any race intelligent enough not to succumb to existential risk would become?
Now imagine what such a civilisation's internet would have evolved into. For an interstellar civilisation, an interstellar communications system would be essential. Vast amounts of data would need to be shared between star systems. Entire planets or stars would need to be used for data storage and computation.
Transfer of data would provide the biggest obstacle, given the speed limit of the universe and the vast distances presented. Sci-fi solutions such as wormholes or time travel could solve these problems. With wormholes, data could simply be sent through tears in space, with time travel, data could be sent via traditional methods, only to be sent back in time once it arrived at its destination, giving the illusion of an instantaneous transfer. Von Neumann communication probes could provide the infrastructure.
Discovering the transfer method used for such a galactic internet could enable us to at least detect its presence. It is possible though, that advanced civilisations protect themselves from "non-enlightened species" by hiding or securing the network. Perhaps, discovery of the network requires enlightenment, for example the singularity itself could provide discovery and connection methods that we would never have discovered without it. Alternatively, discovery may be extremely easy, which would almost certainly be a deliberate scenario designed to uplift us once we find it. (If an advanced civilisation doesn't want us to find it, it's highly unlikely we'll be able to.)
What applications and knowledge could such a powerful internet that spreads across the galaxy, or even the universe, bring us?
Friday, 6 June 2008
Science Fiction Author Warren Ellis has written a short blog attacking supporters of the Singularity idea which has caused some ripples in Transhumanist circles. The blog "The NerdGod Delusion" is misinformed and full of non-sequiturs (comparison to scientology illustrates a distinct lack of understanding of both the Singularity and Scientology), but, I believe it is important to take note of his comments.
The fact is, there are similarities between believing in the Singularity and believing in religious faith, and opponents are always going to pick up on this. This blog has shown just how easy it is for the general population to jump to irrational conclusions and generalize ideas.
So how is supporting the Singularity similar to religious faith? Obviously nowadays it has developed into a community, bringing with it the sense of belonging that goes with faith, bringing together people with similar ideals and morals. Also, it gives hope of a utopian future – just like some prophecy.
However, what is making “Singularitarianism” worryingly comparable to religion in recent years is the growing dogmatic sense that surrounds it, and the fact that it is, for many believers, a closed belief system. There are no alternatives. Many followers believe that it is inevitable and what it brings is definitely going to happen. Many followers believe the projections of visionaries like Kurzweil and DeGrey without question, which, regardless of their integrity, is irresponsible.
The Singularity, taking into account the Law of Accelerating Returns, seems logical, even within the timeframe – but it is a prediction that is fundamentally flawed. It may not be possible. Real Artificial General Intelligence may never be possible due to the nature of how intelligence evolved, nanotechnology may never be possible due to the unpredictable behaviour of particles in the atomic world, and immortality may never be possible if there are underlying complications to the way the brain stores consciousness that we are yet to discover. That said, if any of them are possible, then they really are reasonable predictions and there is no need to attach religious connotations to them. We just have to show caution in our commitment to them until their feasibility is confirmed.
I commend George Dvorsky’s suggestions for normalizing the Singularity debate. However one thing this reaction has taught us is that we must be careful how we expose people to Future shock if we want the Singularity idea to keep its credibility. Alternatively, we could play off the shock value and the idea of it being a religion. The shock value itself is a great selling point and the majority of people still want to belong to something, still want to have a faith. Promoting the Singularity in this way could have its merits.
Personally, I am against this principal because it goes against the very essence of my beliefs – the essence of this blog. We should not endorse closed belief systems and should be evolving into more open, innovative mindsets. Expect, expecting humanity to take this step is the battle I find myself in on a daily basis.
Ellis’s comments, misinformed as they are, are a wake up call to Singularity supporters. More effort must be made to question and debate the Singularity, to ensure its supporters are not being represented as a single group, and to improve its credibility through provable results.