Transhumanist Sects

Transhumanism, like any large movement, consists of multiple currents. Many individuals identify themselves with more than one. A short overview of a few, written a couple years ago by Nick Bostrom, can be found here. In this post, I will present my own classification scheme, and include descriptions and names that Dr. Bostrom didn’t include in the Transhumanist FAQ. They will be listed in rough order of their popularity, but please don’t take the ordering scheme too seriously – it’s roughly based on the number of Google search results for each term.

Transhumanism is unique because it is so diverse. That’s why it never makes sense to label us as a religion or unified conspiracy – besides being mostly unreligious, transhumanists can barely agree on something long enough to cooperate towards it. That’s why the #1 version of transhumanism is…

1) Salon transhumanism. This is the huge group that dabbles on the fringes of transhumanism, making small donations to a few organizations here, commenting on blogs or mailing lists there, and exploring issues for the first time that …

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Transhumanism in The Economist

In both the online and print edition of the latest Economist, we have this delightfully positive little article, Towards Immortality. An excerpt:

There is no greater goal for transhumanism than the conquest of death. Some of the most controversial advocates of technological improvements to humans, including Ray Kurzweil, an American inventor and author, and Aubrey de Grey, a gerontologist and chairman of the Methuselah Foundation, argue optimistically that immortality may become achievable for people who are alive today. But even without the yet-to-be-invented technologies that they say will make this possible, there are good reasons why we can hope to live a lot longer.

The article goes on to discuss the proven anti-aging power of caloric restriction and resveratrol. It mentions something interesting I wasn’t aware of, that there’s work to develop drugs to activate the genes (sirtuin) that kick in during caloric restriction, while skipping the whole not-eating thing.

In caloric restriction, you eat less, so your body goes into starvation mode, where it tries harder to live longer at the expense of other things, like libido. …

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Space Colonization and Existential Risk

If all goes well, NASA could have a permanent moon base by 2020. This is hopeful, because it’s a step towards putting our eggs in more than one basket. At the Lifeboat Foundation, there is a general consensus that setting up autonomous colonies outside of Earth’s atmospheric envelope is an urgent priority, even more urgent than traditional lofty goals, like curing cancer. If the 250+ members of our Scientific Advisory Board is any indication, quite a few people are on the same page about this.

For a colony to qualify as a true “Lifeboat”, it requires enough people to provide a bare minimum of genetic, racial, and skillset diversity – 200 individuals, preferably 2,000. Men, women, and children would all need to operate in harmony with maximum safety and minimum conflict. To be truly autonomous, a Lifeboat would need years worth of supplies – computers, medical equipment, robotics, food, water, recycling systems, and in the longer run, industrial facilities that can process raw materials into useful products. To avoid the need for constant resupplying from …

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Review of Accelerando, by Charles Stross

Transhumanist and Creative Commons CTO Mike Linksvayer has written something you don’t see too often – a negative review of Charles Stross’s Accelerando. In the comments, he muses, “one person’s dense content is another person’s thicket of cliches”, well put. Here is the review:

I expected to enjoy Accelerando by Charles Stross and have a really hard time finishing Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. The former includes cool stuff like mind uploading, space colonization, and singularity. The latter is set in an incredibly challenging environment (in terms of holding my interest)–a theme park. I experienced the reverse.

Manfred Macx, an open source entrepreneur of the future (very approximately), has a kid with his IRS agent luddite wife. They and their descendents carry their family squabbles across the universe and singularity. As this incredibly non-interesting story unfolds, Accelerando takes every opportunity to reference dot com bubble, transhumanist, and obscure political cliches and inside jokes, without any real depth.

Accelerando was originally written as ten stories, many of which won awards, and …

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New Book: Military Nanotechnology

A new book on nanotech security is out by the German physicist, Dr. Jurgen Altmann. It looks like an important contribution to the field, which is terribly lacking. But I wonder, can his analysis really be “comprehensive” when many of the applications of nanotech haven’t even been dreamed up yet? Anyway, here’s the description from Amazon:

This book is the first systematic and comprehensive presentation of the potential military applications of nanotechnology (NT). After a thorough introduction and overview of nanotechnology and its history, it presents the actual military NT R&D in the USA and gives a systematic description of the potential military applications of NT that may include in 10-20 years extremely small computers, miniature sensors, lighter and stronger materials in vehicles and weapons, autonomous systems of many sizes and implants in soldiers’ bodies. These potential applications are assessed from a viewpoint of international security, considering the new criteria of dangers for arms control and the international law of warfare, dangers for stability through potential new arms races and proliferation, and dangers for humans and society.

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