The Mundanity of Physical Enhancement

Although physical enhancement is what most people associate with transhumanism, it’s not particularly interesting. A man with tentacles and wings who can fly and breathe underwater is still just some dude. Humans are primitive beings, with conspicuously primitive minds — we just recently evolved from un-intelligent apes that used the same stone tools for millions of years.

Everything truly exciting about the transhumanist project lies in the mental realm. Only through opening up and intervening in the brain can we really change ourselves and the way the world works. Anything else is just the surface.

What approaches can we take to cognitive enhancement?

First, take brain surgery. It is extremely unlikely that cognitive enhancement will be conducted through conventional brain surgery as is practiced today. These procedures are inherently risky and only conducted under necessary circumstances, when the challenges of surgery outweigh the huge cost, substantial risk, and long recovery time of the procedures.

More subtle than brain surgery is optogenetics, regarded by some as the scientific breakthrough of the last decade. Optogenetics allows researchers to control the precise activation of neurons through the introduction of light-sensitive genes to animal brain tissue.

Optogenetics is unlikely to be applied to humans before 2030-2040, for two reasons. The first is that it involves the introduction of foreign genes into human brain tissue, and gene therapy is in its infancy — treatments derived from gene therapy are extremely rare and highly experimental. People have been killed by gene therapy gone awry. When gene therapy research moves in the direction of human enhancement, a massive backlash seems plausible. It may be banned entirely for enhancement purposes.

At the very least, the short-lived nature of gene therapy and problems with viral vectors ensure that gene therapy will stay experimental until entirely new vectors are developed. Chromallocytes are the ideal gene delivery vector, but those are quite far off. Is there something between current vectors and chromallocytes that produces safe, predictable gene therapy results? That is a great big question mark. What is needed is not one or two breakthroughs, but a long series of many breakthroughs. I challenge readers to find anyone in biotech who would bet that gene therapy will be made safe, predictable, and approved for use in humans within 10 years, 20 years, or 30. Developing new basic capabilities in biotech is a long, drawn out process.

The second reason optogenetics will not bear fruit for cognitive enhancement before 2030-2040 is that it requires slicing off part of the scalp and mounting fiber optics directly on the skull. This is all well and good for animals, which we torment with abandon, but it seems unlikely to be popular among the Homo sapiens crowd. Mature regenerative medicine would be necessary to heal tissue damage from this procedure.

According to Ray Kurzweil’s scenario, “nanobots” will be developed during the late 2020s which will be injected into the human body by the trillions, where they can link up with neurons and augment the brain from the inside.

However, given the near complete lack of progress towards molecular nanotechnology since Eric Drexler wrote Engines of Creation in 1986, I find this hard to believe. Nanobots require nanofactories, nanofactories require assemblers, and assemblers would be highly complex aggregates of millions of molecules that themselves would need to be manufactured to atomic precision. Today, all objects manufactured to molecular precision have negligible complexity. The imaging tools that exist today — and for the foreseeable future — are far too imprecise to allow for troubleshooting molecular systems of non-negligible size and complexity that refuse to behave as intended. The more precise the imaging method, the more energy is delivered to the molecular structure, and the more likely it is to be blown into a million little pieces.

It is difficult to understate how far we are from developing autonomous nanobots with the ability to perform complex tasks in a living human body. There is no reason to expect a smooth path from today’s autonomous MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) to the “nanobots” of futurist anticipation. Autonomous MEMS are early in their infancy. Assemblers are probably a necessary prerequisite to miniature robotics with the power to enhance human cognition. No one has designed anything close to an assembler, and if progress continues as it has for the last 25 years, it will be many decades before one is developed.

So, that is three technologies that I have argued will not be applied to cognitive enhancement in the foreseeable future — brain surgery, optogenetics, and nanobots.

Comments

  1. Michelle Waters

    I’m not sure physical enhancement is that mundane. I was watching some little kids on the monkey bars last night and being able to do what they did easily would at least be enjoyable.

    Also, while people with severe disabilities tend to drift back to a happiness set point and value getting rid of the disability less than people without it value not acquiring it, they’d still like their disabilities gone.

    The ability to do physical enhancement would come with the ability to make the lame walk and the blind see, definitely good things.

    That said I agree with you that their will be no mental enhancement soon, though I certainly need it :-).

    • richard holt

      It isn’t necessary to accept Kurtzweilian time-scales to accept the basic analysis. It would be ludicrous to expect that any futurist gets everything right.

      I have a fond memory as a kid i had this book. Its
      http://life.enhasa.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/The%20Usborne%20Book%20of%20the%20Future.pdf

      The link takes a while to load but its well worth it. It was published in 1979

      Allow me to summarize the main predictions into two categories – technologies currently in use, and technologies not yet in use / unlikely ever to be.

      CORRECT

      Robotics for household use.
      Liver Transplants
      Hip replacements
      Synthetic emergency skin
      Modular space stations
      Considerable growth in the number of satellites in orbit.
      Computer-assisted design
      Fly-by-wire control systems
      Laser weaponry
      Hubble-type radio telescopes
      Genetic engineering
      Teleworking / video-conferencing / email
      Flat screen TV
      Electronic voting
      Mobile telephony
      GPS
      Cloning
      Mag-Lev Trains

      INCORRECT / NOT YET

      Widespread adoption of wave power
      Solar energy collected in space and microwaved to collector stations on earth.
      Large scale off-planet manufacturing
      Off planet resource gathering – asteroid mining
      Space mirrors for night time illumination
      Nuclear-powered artificial hearts
      Rocket-powered military personnel carriers
      Nuclear Fusion
      ESP / Telepathy (although we do have thought-controlled electronics)
      Floating cities
      Space-elevator
      A permanent moon-base
      Planetary engineering
      Terraforming
      Inter-stellar travel
      Contact with extra-terrestrial intelligence

      It is difficult not to be impressed by the accuracy
      of this children’s book published in 1979, my point being that futurology is not, as portrayed by critics, a ridiculous waste of time.

      • kid from those days

        Awesome.

        So we’re most of the way in the future envisioned 30 years ago and nobody notices? And some idiots keep repeating that thinking about (and working on, as many H+ are) the future is being a cult member. Give us a break.

  2. Heartland

    There are two paths to get to molecular nanotechnology: through mechanosynthesis or by hacking biology. The latter approach seems far more pragmatic and promising–according to Drexler himself–while progress toward mechanosynthesis remains virtually nonexistent. With the right amount of funding and public attention, molecular nanotech could arrive before 2030. Combine that with the exponential increase in detailed understanding of the brain that Human Brain Project will provide even before 2020, and there’s a good chance there will exist technology enabling first mental upgrades before 2030.

    But, of course, if HBP alone succeeds around 2020, AGI and, consequently, MNT will probably have happened well before 2030 so the mind-upgrading technology should exist then, even though humans will not control it.

  3. Shamir

    Michael, I agree with what you said in the two first paragraphs. To me that is a real transhumanist thinking – the novices tend to be more surface and gadget oriented.

    I wish you could expand on that theme. What do you think is the mind of a transhumanist made of? What kinds of thoughts and experiences does a transhumanist value and seek? Which things are important, less important, of no importance to an advanced. real transhumanist? I’m thinking transhumanism is more about advanced thinking and advancing your thinking – whatever your current thinking machinery happens to be – than anything else, would you agree?

  4. As far as technologies that might actually accomplish this, I’d say external electromagnetic sensors and possibly magnetic stimulators to complete the circle are most likely, although of course the latter is not as well tested and potentially dangerous. I found an “Uncle Milton’s Force Trainer” at a thrift store for 3 dollars last year. With something I got in a discount toys section for a couple bucks, an Arduino, and various circuitry bits I can make a device that would allow me to unlock doors with my mind. Not too exciting, but this is just the beginning.

  5. negyxo

    Michael, I agree with you, but however, there’s something in my mind which is constantly emerging – there is no nanotechnology before AGI arrive. I personally think, that people are just not smart enough to create more complex structures at nano scale – at least, progress will be painfully slow… if we let machines to do it (yes, I know, probably a long the way we will do a lot of things with a help of a software, but that’s still slow…) well, then progress will be exponential…

    So, to summarize, as you have said for space travel – there is no space travel before MNT, same I would say for MNT, there is no MNT before AGI arrive.

    So, I think first assembler could be developed a lot sooner then we expect.

  6. richard holt

    I agree that brain surgery, optogenetics and nanobots do not seem to be the likely candidates for near term cognitive enhancement.

    I hope to see incremental growth in the use and acceptance of pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals for the ‘well’ person in line with rising expectations of well-being. The rapid growth of the energy drink industry is a case in point. People want better ways to tamper with their brain chemistry than caffeine and alcohol.

    • Michelle Waters

      The problem with pharmaceuticals is that you cannot get any precise control of what part of the brain they effect. Also, you cannot really use them to get information into or out of the brain.

      They are, intrinsically, light-years behind what Michael is talking about.

      About the only non-invasive technology that might be able to provide greater than human capabilities would be new disciplines and improved training regimes.

      The trouble with this, of course, is that while literacy, artistic training, musical training, and martial arts training all provide people with intrinsic capabilities an untrained person can’t equal they are hard and time consuming. Also, all of those disciplines are thousands of years old and it is difficult to see a new discipline that’s as powerful arising. Still people try and if you want new capabilities without breakthroughs in brain science that might be the way to go.

  7. richard holt

    H+ activists need to hammer the point that any attempt to draw a distinction between treatments for illness and enhancements for the normal is nullified when the treatment takes a person beyond average health. Here is a thought experiment to illustrate the case:

    At some point prosthetic vision (PV) may surpass average human vision (AHV) .

    Fine, the bio-conservative might say – we should ban PV > AHV and permit PV = AHV.

    The difficulty arises when there is not a smooth progression of PV < AHV to PV = AHV. The choice is then between forcing the visually impaired to have PV < AHV, or permitting them to have PV > AHV, and the former choice is clearly unethical. Having allowed one group to have > AHV, it would then be unethical to prevent others to have the same benefit.

    If there is a fault in this reasoning i’d like to have someone point it out to me. Of course, what goes for vision, goes for other aspects of human performance.

    I commonly hear the idea that human enhancement technology will exacerbate social inequalities. Everybody agrees that unfairness is bad. I think H+ needs to raise the possibility that enhancement technology will, in the long term, provide a more level playing field than the genetic and environmental lottery with which we are presently encumbered. These are empirical questions, and society’s response should be evidence-based IMO.

    • Potentia

      “Everybody agrees that unfairness is bad.”

      Except nature. Unfairness is natural.

      In fact nearly everyone on the good end of the unfairness spectrum embraces it – they use their unfair advantages (superior minds and bodies and often bank accounts of their ancestors) to their advantage without considering how unfair it is.

      As long as we can’t do anything about it, we might as well stop pretending there’s anything bad about it because we aren’t responsible.

      Do you want to mitigate or remove unfairness by improving human genetics to a standard minimum level? Selective procreation is the only known, and simple, means of achieving it.
      And if you want to be fair only those with unfairly bad genes get to do it, and those with unfairly good don’t, so in the end every has as fairly bad chances in life as everyone else! If some people have fun and some don’t, it’s unfair and the only fair solution is that no one should have fun!

      • richard holt

        Honestly I find your Social Darwinism repugnant.
        Nature is not a moral agent, and even if it were, we should certainly not be copying it.

        IMO people with innate cognitive and genetic advantages ARE aware of their privilege AND probably also have more capacity for empathy than their less fortunate peers.

        “As long as we can’t do anything about it, we might as well stop pretending there’s anything bad about it because we aren’t responsible.”

        To the contary H+ will be able to do something about it, and to the extent that H+ acquires such ability, it becomes responsible.

        Do I want to mitigate or remove unfairness – YES absolutely. But not by genetic engineering.
        What i’d really like to see is an emphasis from the H+ community on empathy and moral cognition, and enhancing these abilities specifically. Surely we want friendly post-humans not just friendly AI.

        • Potentia

          If you’re not doing it by genetic modification, you’re not doing anything. You’re dooming all those who are to be born with unfairly disadvantaged genes to unfairly low chances of living a satisfactory, happy productive life, particularly if they measure it by the standards of those with genes superior to them. Many do and many commit suicide. That is unvarnished reality of the situation.

          You’re right, as one with above average genes, and a transhumanist, I have strong(er than most) empathy for all lifeforms, and use my capabilities to help the less fortunate, but without disadvantaging myself in doing so. I’m not pretending that I’m equal to them nor that they are equal to me. I’m not pretending that they deserve that same opportunities as I do, like the money in my family, because there’s nothing good they could do with them, they’re simply too ignorant and dumb (a condition they’re not responsible for) – and neither does any high-tech company or university – their policy is: dumb genes – next! And what about ugly people? Forget about being a model, or an actor (except cast as some crook, you know how it works) and no good looking mates for you, unless you’re talented/rich.

          I hate this situation as much as anyone.

          Unfairness is something that people have to just deal with, or not: I knew a few ugly and dumb people who killed themselves – drug overdose and a bullet. Everyone could tell they weren’t enjoying their existence and it was simple as that.

          And, please – I’m not a social darwinist nor a racist. I’m in favor of ALL humans (and animals), particularly the most disadvantaged, ugly and dumb ones (which often goes hand in hand, let’s not pretend otherwise), because they need the most help they can get. I would fix them all immediately if it was possible and I had the resources. The smart ones don’t need anything from anyone (unless they become ill); in fact you can’t keep them from rising to the top, no matter what you do, they’ll find a way. While with the most unfortunate ones, you’re struggling to keep them afloat.

          The one thing humanity could do today is to change attitudes towards the disadvantaged people, treating everyone well, with respect. It would transform our world overnight. But that’s unlikely to happen, as in when it snows in hell. The fact is that we treat people preferentially, no, hyper-preferentially based on their looks and intelligence. You’ve done it. I’ve done it. We’re all guilty. If you look super good or are super smart or both you get millions and beautiful mates with little effort that the lesser ones have learned not to even dream of. Currently there are millions of genetically lucky people and billions who aren’t.

          All I’m asking for is that we should eliminate luck. Read some utopian science fiction and you’ll notice how everyone there is smart and beautiful, because they’ve fixed this gene issue. It’s an engineering problem and we will deal with it some day. I’m merely not in favor of creating individuals using blueprints known to highly likely create miserable people who crash and burn, sometimes taking others with them. The cosmic lottery = genes. If you want to deal with the problem you deal with the genes. It’s no different to fixing a faulty factory that produces broken units

          • richard holt

            I apologize for the social darwinist comment. But i hope you’ll understand why I thought it from your first post. I’ll reply in more detail soon.

        • richard holt

          We need to study how altruism and cooperation have arisen (within certain limitations) within the context of evolutionary competition and then apply this knowledge towards enhancing the pay-offs for these behaviors. Moral cognition is another aspect, as is the ability to discern the mental states of others through body language, facial expression etc.

          I hope it will be possible to reduce our tendencies to seek status, money and power and to enhance our pleasure in other activities. Another way to look at it would be to develop the ability to ‘switch’ off the bad feelings which result from not being at the top of the pecking order.

        • Potentia

          Richard, you should keep in mind that low intelligence and violence go together. They’re inextricable.

          As long as intelligence below a low threshold exists, as it does now, violence and cruelty will remain commonplace, a human condition. Low intelligence is really the only factor defining human condition.

          Raise the species IQ above a threshold above which statistics show violence goes down and practically vanishes, and it’s a new world.

          Well, it could be said we largely already do have the new world in countries with high IQs, but those are really not your concern, are they?

        • Potentia

          You’ve kind of lost me here, too.

          I said that the intelligence of the human *species* is too low for us to get rid of cruelty. If there are differences in the IQ averages between countries, so be it, but nonetheless there is no “country” or “race” intelligence, just individual intelligence. I personally know very smart and not very smart people from all around the world, and call them all my friends – the dumb ones aren’t all criminals, that’s *not* what I’m saying!

          I’ve yet to meet *any* truly intelligent people who are violent or cruel, so I think unless they’re psychopaths as a rule they aren’t, or rather can’t be. They’re too smart and sensitive for that crap. In fact above some IQ threshold you find practically no violent crime. And my experience and statistics also say that stupid people tend to be violent and impulsive, and dominate the criminal population, by an overwhelming majority.

          I don’t know in which world you have lived but I suggest that if you see and hear a stupid person you should take it seriously and leave as quickly as possible without attracting attention. My so far (sometimes barely) ass-saving heuristics based on decades of experience: Looks like a caveman, acts like a caveman. Exceptions are possible but rare. Looks like smart guy, may be smarter than you thought. Exceptions are practically non-existent.

          My experience is that the problem is that I regularly *underestimated* the possibility of violence from dumb looking and sounding guys, not overestimated it. I’ve adjusted it so that now I avoid all encounters with even slightly dumb seeming people as if my life depended on it – because it actually once almost did.

  8. Jay

    Michael,

    You’ve come a long way over the past decade or so. You’ve traversed the entire road from optimistic transhumanist newbie to being a well informed defensively pessimistic person.

    You really managed to surprise me when you announced that ‘the future is not accelerating’. This is a bit too defensively pessimistic for my taste, but if this is the mindset you have chosen to adopt….. then I say good luck with it.

    I agree with you that there ought to be more conscious effort towards developing the technologies of the future. However, you can’t guarantee that nanobots *won’t* be built in the 2020s any more than Kurzweil can guarantee that they *will* be built.

    I do not think that it is accurate to say that ‘there has been no progress towards molecular nanotechnology’.

    When the Wright brothers were building the first planes, there was also ‘no progress towards moon rockets’. But they were built decades later anyway.

    Since things are moving much faster now, I do not think the distance between the current state of nanotechnology and full blown nanobots is as large as the distance between planes and rockets.

    Keep in mind that you are only a human being and you might very well be wrong. Defensive pessimism is not the end of the line. There is room for further development.

    For example, do you remember that other post about the Singularity where you stated that fictional timelines are no good as an inspiration for building real world technology?

    I believe the following article proves you wrong:

    http://tinyurl.com/66h4a39

    Being wrong about something on occasion, is a good thing IMO. It keeps the brain sharp. We always need to be critical of ourselves.

  9. Eudoxia

    I’ll have to reluctantly agree that there has been no progress in molecular nanotechnology.

    It may have looked like it was only a few decades away back in 1999, when Drexler and company sold the dream to politicians, but the actual implementation was a lot more mundane and failed to meet any revolutionary expectations. A single-molecule motor driven by a current from an STM tip is most definitely interesting, but no known mechanosynthethic reactions can synthesize the molecule they used, and nobody specified means through which the motor can impart motion on a moving part. Moreover, there are no bearings for the motor, and no guarantee that thermal noise from the tip or the molecule won’t cause it to slide away.

    Consider: Mechanosynthesis was demonstrated by Noriaki Oyabu and friends in 2003 with a single atom. In 2008, it was done again to spell the word ‘Si’ in this way: http://www.ohgizmo.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/atom_pen.jpg

    Five years to go from one atom to a bunch of them, and all of this on Silicon. In 2005, when Robert Freitas wrote “Pharmacytes: An Ideal Vehicle for Targeted Drug Delivery” he said “Mechanosynthesis using silicon atoms was first achieved experimentally in 2003. Carbon atoms should not be far behind.”

    Well, look where we are now.

    The only person to engage in actual, diamond mechanosynthesis experiments rather than purely theoretical work in the environment of computer simulations was Moriarty, who is skeptical of molecular manufacturing working for macroscale applications. In 2010, he made a video about modifying the bond angle of Silicon dimers and during the interview he said that only recently had they achieved atomic resolution on the surface. His goal was to abstract Hydrogen and deposit a dimer, but how close is he now to that goal? The grant ends in 2013, and the clock is still ticking.

    Zyvex… Well, Zyvex is just about the only candle in the dark. They are not pursuing diamondoid, but I think their method for atomically-precise manufacturing is promising. I really, really hope they can meet their goal (Scaling it up to a million atoms per second in 7 years, which by now should be five). Jim Von Ehr says we’ll have primitive molecular manufacturing by 2020, though the definition of molecular manufacturing may vary. Vertical, gas-phase sort-of-controlled CVD, which is what Zyvex is doing, is a good way to pattern surfaces, but what about slightly larger objects like MEMS or NEMS wheels, gears and axles?

    EDIT: Michael, you reported in 2008 that NIST was working on a “proto-proto assembler.” Has there been any follow-ups on that?

  10. David Pearce

    I think Michael is right to argue that the most exciting part the transhumanist project lies in the mental realm. But how does one program a digital computer to explore e.g. states of consciousness that have never been recruited by natural selection for information-signalling purposes?
    (https://www.erowid.org/psychoactives/psychoactives.shtml etc)

    Also, what can a recursively self-improving silicon (etc) robot do that a recursively self-improving organic robot can’t?
    Michael is surely right to stress the technical difficulties of gene therapy/genetic enhancement. But as AI gets smarter, won’t tomorrow’s biohackers use AI to enhance their own code in a positive feedback loop of self-enhancement?
    ( http://www.biointelligence-explosion.com/ for one such scenario )

  11. Transcientist

    I am a lifelong transhumanist and I am a scientist. I’m not merely a coder as is often claimed, but you have to be able to code a bit these days in almost every research. Advanced research is almost exclusively computational, making sense of the data. Our team is creating part of the future envisioned in transhumanist thinking and more generally in science fiction. And we are succeeding.

    Critics can stay living in the past. Nobody needs them. No one benefits from their “contribution” any more than the moon landings happened because of the people who said it was just moonshine.

    There’s not one bad thing about transhumanism if you understand what it’s about. It’s all about rationality and logical thinking. In terms of ideas transhumanists are the most advanced people you can find. Mr. Anissimov has the correct understanding and you should read his writings, as well as Mr. Yudkowsky’s, and Mr. Kurzweil’s, if you want to understand what transhumanism is really about. It’s all clear and simple. Lesser intellects twist it into some crazy religion or cult, like they do also with atheism.

    There’s one thing about both science and transhumanism, that’s never going to change: only the most intelligent people are drawn to them and that’s why there’ll always be very few of us (relatively speaking), though of course quite enough to change the world.

  12. IrritatedWithBlindBelief

    @Transcientist
    “Critics can stay living in the past. Nobody needs them. No one benefits from their “contribution” any more than the moon landings happened because of the people who said it was just moonshine.”

    Spoken like a true believer. This is the classic position of transhumanists, the absolute faith without regard for evidence or common sense or basic rationality. You are not a scientist.

    “There’s not one bad thing about transhumanism if you understand what it’s about.”

    I understand it perfectly, its a faith based initiative. Its full of broad oversimplifications and injections of faith and religious fervor. Its just a cobbled together idea that draws from science fiction, and christianity and then tries to claim that it is somehow a belief system or some form of rational thought process. Let’s be real honest here, transhumanism is simply a cult and you are a sucker.

    “It’s all about rationality and logical thinking. In terms of ideas transhumanists are the most advanced people you can find.”

    Spoken like a true cult member.

    “Mr. Anissimov has the correct understanding and you should read his writings, as well as Mr. Yudkowsky’s, and Mr. Kurzweil’s, if you want to understand what transhumanism is really about.

    So Kurzweil and his wild predictions and his mediocre accomplishments in science, and Yudkowsky’s complete lack of academic credentials and inability to even get an advanced degree, or be taken seriously outside of the futurologic tin-pot fiefdom, and Mr Anissimov who is neither a college graduate or a scholar, these are your beacons of rationality. You make this argument thinking you are rational. You my friend are delusional.

    “It’s all clear and simple. Lesser intellects twist it into some crazy religion or cult, like they do also with atheism.”

    Yeah, well considering only 1 out of 20,696,863 people are as smart as me (IQ wise) I will go out on a limb and say I am smarter than you and I can see transhumanism for the cult that it is.

    “There’s one thing about both science and transhumanism, that’s never going to change: only the most intelligent people are drawn to them and that’s why there’ll always be very few of us (relatively speaking), though of course quite enough to change the world.”

    You have not changed the world. If you want to continue making the claims that you are or have then please post some accomplishments and credentials. I think you are blowing smoke here, and I think you probably are some wet behind the ears B.S. student who thinks he is all that because he mastered basic Quantum mechanics. Transhumanists have not changed the world and remain a fringe movement, and that is the way it will stay thanks to cult members like you blowing all this noxious ignorance everywhere. Please do us a favor and go away. Nobody appreciates your contributions here.

    • richard holt

      It makes me laugh every time i hear the same tired assertion that ‘H+ is a fringe cult’

      Do you even know how fast the movement is growing? If you could produce this data I might take you seriously, otherwise you are the smoke-blower in this discussion. Here are a few counterexamples off the top of my head:

      Statistics of people signing up for cryonic preservation,
      Funding levels for AI – DARPA, trading AIs etc
      Use of cognitive enhancers in the student population

      Show me your data.

    • panda

      Two points:

      1. transhumanism is an ethical philosophy and is agnostic about the future. If someone says that a tranhumanist philosophy predicts “X,” then that person is wrong. You actually may be referring to Singularitarianism.

      2. the number of followers of a topic does not define whether or not it is a cult. Just because a few people like a television show does not mean that those people are a cult. Give us a rigorous definition of the word “cult” and explain how each part of the definition applies to… well, whatever it is you are talking about. (See #1.)

  13. IrritatedWithBlindBelief

    @Richard Holt
    “Do you even know how fast the movement is growing?”

    Do you? I doubt it.You are just hoping that I don’t. Let’s take a step back and compare transhumanism to Christianity and Islam, which do you think has the bigger following. I will give you a hint its not transhumanism. Transhumanism is fringe by an definition, it is a tiny movement (Within the 4% of the US population that is Atheist) that only those suckers stuck in it think its large, the classic head buried in the sand scenario.

    “If you could produce this data I might take you seriously, otherwise you are the smoke-blower in this discussion.”

    Richard, I will never take someone like you seriously. You are a blow-hard. I have read your comments you just the average cult member. I looked online and you don’t seem to be much of an anybody.

    “Here are a few counterexamples off the top of my head:
    Statistics of people signing up for cryonic preservation,
    Funding levels for AI – DARPA, trading AIs etc
    Use of cognitive enhancers in the student population”

    I love how transhumanists try to make any technology that is even remotely related to their beliefs part of the fold. It is made all the more amusing since many of these people and organizations you attempt to bring into the fold wouldn’t give you the time of day. The thought that DARPA or cognitive enhancers have anything to do with Transhumanism in any sort of real way shows you to be the joker you are.

    Now for your weak claim on cryonics, according to Alcor the seemingly biggest cryonics outfit they only have ~980 people signed up and even adding all other cryo-cook-organizations to the list I bet you guys can’t even hit 2000 people total. The fact that you think this supports the non-fringe nature of cryonics just further proves my point that you are a below average person who thinks he is more than he ought. Now go away before I really take some time to embarrass you.

    • richard holt

      “Do you? I doubt it. You are just hoping that I don’t.”

      Since you are the one making the ‘fringe cult’ assertion, the burden of proof is yours.

      “I looked online and you don’t seem to be much of an anybody”

      Last time i heard an argument like this it was in the playground. How embarrassing. You discredit yourself.

      “The thought that DARPA or cognitive enhancers have anything to do with Transhumanism in any sort of real way”

      Transhumanism, often abbreviated as H+ or h+ … affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies …to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. Are you claiming that cognitive enhancers somehow fall outside the scope of this rubric ?

      Its not just DARPA which is pursuing H+ goals, but also the the Department of Commerce and the National Science Foundation, not to mention numerous private companies. I don’t normally cut and paste, but on this occasion I’m sure other blog contributors will forgive me.

      ‘…2002 report, Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance, commissioned by the National Science Foundation and US Department of Commerce, which contains descriptions and commentaries on the state of NBIC science and technology by major contributors to these fields. The report discusses potential uses of these technologies in implementing transhumanist goals of enhanced performance and health, and ongoing work on planned applications of human enhancement technologies in the military and in the rationalization of the human-machine interface in industry.[71]… research on brain and body alteration technologies has accelerated under the sponsorship of the US Department of Defense, which is interested in the battlefield advantages they would provide to the “supersoldiers” of the United States and its allies.[75] There has already been a brain research program to “extend the ability to manage information” while military scientists are now looking at stretching the human capacity for combat to a maximum 168 hours without sleep.[76]

      You don’t have to wear a badge or post in forums in order to be H+. By the fact of their commitment to research in relevant fields, there are very many people who affirm the desirability and feasibility of H+.

    • Ben

      While I agree with some of irritated’s points, his overall manner suggests a personality disorder. What a prick.

  14. John Douglas

    Hi IrritatedWithBlindBelief / NoBullshit,

    Send me an email at:

    johnm4douglas@yahoo.com

    I have got something for you that you may want to hear.

    Thanks,
    John

  15. THarris

    “However, given the near complete lack of progress towards molecular nanotechnology since Eric Drexler wrote Engines of Creation in 1986, I find this hard to believe. Nanobots require nanofactories, nanofactories require assemblers, and assemblers would be highly complex aggregates of millions of molecules that themselves would need to be manufactured to atomic precision. Today, all objects manufactured to molecular precision have negligible complexity. The imaging tools that exist today — and for the foreseeable future — are far too imprecise to allow for troubleshooting molecular systems of non-negligible size and complexity that refuse to behave as intended. The more precise the imaging method, the more energy is delivered to the molecular structure, and the more likely it is to be blown into a million little pieces.

    It is difficult to understate how far we are from developing autonomous nanobots with the ability to perform complex tasks in a living human body. There is no reason to expect a smooth path from today’s autonomous MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) to the “nanobots” of futurist anticipation. Autonomous MEMS are early in their infancy. Assemblers are probably a necessary prerequisite to miniature robotics with the power to enhance human cognition. No one has designed anything close to an assembler, and if progress continues as it has for the last 25 years, it will be many decades before one is developed.”

    OK so what are we saying here? Is it that MEMS nanotech femtotech are not possible in our current understanding of physics? or that the weak link is the plodding glacial human research scientists and engineers?

    If it is the latter why are we just sitting around wringing our hands about friendly Ai/robots and start developing Ai/robots to run automated research/engineering labs and lets move these projects into the fast lane????

    • Eudoxia

      I think it was because of a lack of a focused effort and funding, or just lack of interest, though I wouldn’t say that was the case: As Ed Regis said, there were newsgroups, conferences, pictures, mailing lists, but little to no progress.

  16. H+ member

    I’m disappointed and perplexed by the critics here. Whose interests do they think they’re serving by denigrating the most advanced thinking and thinkers to be found in the known universe?

    We have only one opponent and that is nature itself. As a species we have no need for people who say we shouldn’t and can’t do things that should and most likely can be done – to date, I’ve found no claims about future technologies by transhumanists that are impossible in principle. There’s science fiction for that.

    What is their problem?

    Why do they say the things they say?

    What are they trying to achieve?

    I try hard but I can’t see what their point is. What are they suggesting should be done about transhumanism and transhumanists?

    Youtube commenters are much more direct and easier to understand. Critics, take it to that level, please, so that everyone understands what you mean, because even though I understand what you say, your message makes absolutely no sense.

  17. H+ member

    OTOH, I’m impressed and often thrilled by the insights to be found here, written clearly by smart individuals, not least the blog owner, who is as down-to-earth normal smart guy as I can imagine. That kind of thinking is what the future of humanity is made of!

    Where does this cult cult cult chanting come from? Their understanding of religions and cults is not terribly realistic if they think transhumanism – just about as atheistic, naturalistic, independent and rational a worldview as you can get on this planet – belongs to that class. Most incredibly the critics seem to be saying that we shouldn’t even THINK about these things! Now what good would that do?!

  18. Monotask

    LOL. The critics don’t understand the first thing about transhumanism…

    They’re talking about a figment of their imagination, a “cult” that never has and never will exist, because transhumanists just. aren’t. like. that. If they were, they wouldn’t be transhumanists. They’re portraying transhumanists as some seriously disturbed and stupid people, which you can’t be if you’re an actual transhumanist, not just calling yourself one (like many crazy and stupid people tend to do, hey, what’s new?).

    The majority of people who identify as transhumanists certainly have an IQ higher than two thirds of the population (mine is way, way up there though you can’t tell it from these comments – I feel stupid writing this!) and you just can’t make cult members out of such minds.

    Peace and progress.

  19. Monotask

    My point: I’m sick and tired of this meaningless anti-transhumanist crap. Why don’t you just take it back to the cave you crawled out of. Sheesh, people can be thick.

    • richard holt

      Its frustrating dealing with rude posters who make facile criticisms. But it gives H+ an opportunity to respond with reason and evidence so that others reading can draw their own conclusions.

      A person who asserts that they should be listened to because they have a high IQ is manifestly not making use of it.

  20. Given the previous evidence, it’s hard to tell if Michael is trolling again in his well thought-out manner, or is this genuine.

  21. enoonsti

    @IrritatedWithBlindBelief

    That’s the third time I heard someone say “tin-pot fiefdom” at this blog. The other two came from users named FlapperStopper and Concerned, and neither of them post here anymore. My point is that you should stop using multiple names as an attempt to astroturf a wave of hipster cynicism. It would make it easier for all of us here. For example, I was once debating a user named Jim whom I discovered lacked a basic understanding of biology. If you are Jim, I would be able to safely scroll past all of your future posts.

    tldr: stick with one name.

  22. Transingularity

    Would you agree that transhumanism itself is a singularity?

    Never before has humanity thought in such an advanced way, with such a long-term vision.

    History shows that when thinking changes, reality changes. Clearly thinking in ways that are considered transhumanistic is precursor to the Singularity.

  23. average sci-fi buff

    What does transhumanism offer than science fiction does not?

    Currently my mind is putting them in the same basket.

    What does it offer that futurology does not?

    What’s the need for transhumanism?

    Why does it exist?

  24. Nowlogy

    What is the track record of
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Futurology
    ? Why is talking about future technologies even useful? Why should we anticipate something? Don’t we have enough time (years to decades) to notice them and their effects as they’re being developed? If we haven’t started developing something why would we worry about it?

  25. Nowlogy

    Those who are unable to create the future, predict it.

    The less skills you have the more you talk.

    The lower the quality and usefulness of the product, the fiercer the marketing.

  26. High Impact Low Probability Event

    Michael, what about working on technologies in secret?

    Doesn’t predicting technologies assume that they are known to be under development or even possible prior to their launch? There are no predictions of impossible technologies, right?

    IMO, it’s naive and unrealistic to assume every technology would be known to the public or even the most connected transhumanist/futurologist even a day before its world-changing launch (e.g. the atomic bomb, Apple products).

    This simple fact seems to pull the rug from under the feet of all prognostications and prognosticators. A real AGI might be up and running solving scientific problems somewhere already, decades before it’s deemed stable and safe enough to be introduced to the world.
    You might say that’s highly improbable or even impossible given what you know. But you don’t know everything, particularly something that only a single genius in the world, like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grigori_Perelman knows.

    You. Just. Can’t. Know.

    • “You can’t know so therefore my overly optimistic wishful thinking MUST be true!!”

      “You can’t know for sure that there ISN’T a God so he must be there!”

      • HILPE

        In many cases your response makes sense, but nowhere was a ‘must’ implied. The point is that all ultra high impact technologies are most probably ultra beyond top secret for eyes only black projects.

        If you were running a successful AGI project (let’s imagine alternative history: started back in the days of AI optimism, very advanced already (near human level and in many ways beyond), while every public project has famously failed to deliver the goods – even intentionally) would You not keep it a secret?

  27. Michelle Waters

    I would not expect secret technologies to be secret for long. Generally people who develop technologies want to use or market them. Even if the developers want to do neither they often release documentation concerning their efforts in order to secure prestige or increased funding for other projects.

    The type of technologies Michael describes also require multiple specialists, to produce. The more people the less likely something can be kept secret.

    Finally, with past surprising technology such as moon rockets and atomic bombs, clear predecessors were visible for years or decades before hand. While there are some technologies around, such as brain pacemakers for depression and Parkinson’s disease they are quite crude.

    Also, lone geniuses are overrated in technology though not math and theoretical physics. Such things as electricity, atomic bombs, steam engines, computers and even radios were the product of multiple workers over years, decades or centuries. It is improbable in the extreme that a one genius can contribute much to our understanding of intelligence. Hank Rearden and John Galt are ficticious.

    • cube

      Secrets will be kept if everyone involved has an incentive or a few, like loss of a lot of money, job and blacklisting so you won’t ever get employment in the industry, and threat of incarceration.

    • Realworlder

      What can you do about a billionaire who decides to develop AGI in secret? While it’s easier to divide by zero than to make an AGI, my money is on independent secret development winning the race.

      Why would they share one bit of their technology with the world given the power it has?

  28. Alan

    Gene therapy is likely to be approved for human use in fewer than 30 years. Gene sequencing technology will become exponentially more efficient and soon. Technologies like IBM’s “Watson” will also improve exponentially, helping scientists to make vastly better use of the available scientific data. What’s more, machines have recently proven capable of solving scientific problems from scratch. While regulatory red tape may impede human testing in counties like the U.S., the same will not be true for countries like China. Non-viral gene editing technology will also emerge. It is almost laughable to think that genetic-based cognitive enhancement won’t happen in 30 years. Look at where we are now compared to 1982. The Kurtzweilian calculus is real.

  29. PariahDrake

    I like the first two paragraphs, but after that, this post dovetails into inanity.

    It’s true, nanotechnology as envisioned by Drexler, that is, “diamondoid mechanosyntheis” will not become important for awhile, your estimates on other timelines are way off.

    But that’s ok, because by the time this decade is done, you are going to be suffering from future shock.

  30. Am I the only one getting a distinct feeling of Poe’s law reading some of the back and forth between critics and “supporters” in these comments?

    Anyway’s on topic, while the idea of physical enhancements is certainly cool I tend to agree with you that in the grand scheme of things they’re not particularly important. Intelligence, ultimately, is what drives us forward.

    As far as what technologies will get us to that point from where I’m sitting pharmaceuticals (nootropics) are the only thing showing true promise. Unfortunately even that seems like a long ways away since most so called “smart drugs” are just off-label uses of established medicines and no one has figured out how to selectively target all the traits we generally think of as intelligence.

    You know it’s kind of funny. The longer I consider myself a transhumanist the less and less likely I think it is I’ll see most of the progress we talk about in my lifetime. Certainly the future will be different but the big, paradigm shifting technologies are not something I’m optimistic on.

  31. H+ member

    As one of the supporters, or “supporters” as you call them, I would be interested in you pointing out what makes you think of Poe’s law, as I don’t detect any here.

    • Sure.

      “Critics can stay living in the past. Nobody needs them.”

      “The majority of people who identify as transhumanists certainly have an IQ higher than two thirds of the population (mine is way, way up there though you can’t tell it from these comments – I feel stupid writing this!)”

      “There’s one thing about both science and transhumanism, that’s never going to change: only the most intelligent people are drawn to them and that’s why there’ll always be very few of us (relatively speaking), though of course quite enough to change the world.”

      “They’re talking about a figment of their imagination, a “cult” that never has and never will exist, because transhumanists just. aren’t. like. that. If they were, they wouldn’t be transhumanists. They’re portraying transhumanists as some seriously disturbed and stupid people, which you can’t be if you’re an actual transhumanist, not just calling yourself one”

      “I’m disappointed and perplexed by the critics here. Whose interests do they think they’re serving by denigrating the most advanced thinking and thinkers to be found in the known universe?”

      Poe’s law (which I realize is not an actual law) states that it is nearly impossible to tell a parody of extremism from the genuine thing. The critics of transhumanism say we’re a bunch of self-absorbed geeks too enamored with our own intelligence and blind faith in our “robot rapture” to see the very real obstacles that exist to achieving the kind of technological advancement we seek. Now read the above quotes again and tell me that they don’t sound exactly like what the critics accuse us of being.

    • H+ member

      Sure, it could apply to those. Could be some critic posing as a transhumanist or a genuine one.

      Critics say that in their view the ideas and attitudes of transhumanists, e.g., as seen in this blog and comments, are generally bad and to be avoided. With what authority or reasoning is their point of view the correct one? Why are we wrong and they are right?

      Even though transhumanists do speak and act like the critics say they do – they don’t have to accuse us of being like this, they can readily observe us and then simply state what they see, which they do – the question is: what’s bad about it? Why? Because you think so?

      What is factually wrong with statements such as the ones you quoted? How are they unreasonable or extreme or counterproductive, hindering technological development?

  32. Transorganism

    The first two paragraphs are quotable.

    Are there more people who write so well about transhumanism? This is an excellent bog.

  33. Human enhancement is crucial stepping stone in the path toward life expansion. Humans will not simply snap our fingers and be posthuman. Human enhancement includes regenerative medicine, nanomedicine and AGI/brain interfaces.

    Human enhancement is concerned with extending the human lifespan and expanding personal identity (human agency) onto semi- and non-biological platforms.

  34. Beyond Z

    expanding personal identity (human agency) onto semi- and non-biological platforms.

    is, AFAIK, the real goal of transhumanism.

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