Sunday, August 24, 2008

The necessity and inevitability of technological advancement

As our technology has advanced and our population has increased we have placed more and more of a strain on our environment. Since the Industrial Revolution the generation of energy has pumped CO2 into the atmosphere causing global warming. Also the population has more than doubled resulting in more resources being consumed. Because of this some people have come to believe that humanity has advanced too quickly and that we're killing the planet prematurely, a few even think that we should go back to pre-industrial technology. However, these people should realize that what humanity has done isn't completely our fault, it's just our most basic instinct that is common to all life.

All life, from viruses to humans seek on a subconscious level to exploit all available resources to the fullest and procreate until they have completely dominated their environment and cannot go any further. This is what the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche referred to as the "Will to Power" in its most basic form. The problem is, once the population exceeds gets too large for the environment to support individuals start to die off until the population becomes manageable again. When humanity evolved sapience it became better able to exploit its environment and with the development of agriculture was able to reshape said environment in order to extend the population limit. For over 12,000 years now, humanity has been using technology to continue growing without limits until 250 years ago when technology began to threaten the entire planet with drastic changes to the ecosystem.

Most current technologies that are used to generate energy alter the environment in some way, fossil fuels release CO2 and other pollutants, hydroelectric blocks rivers and floods large plains, nuclear fission produces radioactive waste. However there are technologies in development that could produce energy with hardly any environmental impact. Satellites could gather solar energy and beam it down to earth while only requiring materials to build them and space to put receiving dishes. Nuclear fusion could generate immense amounts of power using very small amounts of fuel and only produces helium. Biotechnology has the potential to create organisms that could remove pollutants from the atmosphere. As for material resources there is always recycling and we could potentially use asteroids and other extraterrestrial objects to extract additional elements. Though eventually our population will grow so large that we will either need to colonize other solar systems or disassemble every large object in the solar system and construct a Dyson sphere that will capture all of the sun's energy.

And just in case you're wondering about what would happen if we went back to pre-industrial technology, civilization wouldn't be able to support more than a couple billion people and we would have the biggest genocide in human history. Also if we continue using fossil fuels and cause the global warming disaster prophesized by environmentalists, humanity will survive and continue to thrive (unless the heat causes a super-plaque) but many if not most of the planet's species will become extinct. So as you can see, our only real option is to work through this environmentally traumatic phase in our evolution and develop better technologies.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Just Checking

If anyone actually reads this blog please leave comments.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

On Uploading one's Consciousness

Considering this week's episode of Stargate Atlantis I thought it would be appropriate to talk about one of the... strangest ideas of Transhumanism, Mind Uploading. Mind Uploading is the transference or copying of one's consciousness into a body other than that of the original, usually a computer or clone.

One might wonder why someone would give up their original body and become a machine, there are several reasons why. The most obvious of those is the near immortality allowed by having a body made of metal instead of flesh and bone plus being able to easily copy oneself in order to make backups or a distributed network brain, in addition the human brain only has enough available memory for maybe four centuries, while a computer can always have more memory added as needed. Also a computer program doesn't need any physical resources other than space to house the machine and electricity, anything else would be provided by a virtual reality. Finally an uploaded personality would be able to travel at the speed of light through data transmissions and experience life thousands of times faster than a humans.

There are several possible ways of Uploading memories, all of which are highly theoretical, and most of which involve copying the brain's structure and data (just to be clear, when information is uploaded or downloaded it's being copied, not really transferred). One such method would be to freeze the brain and cut it into "serial sections" to be scanned by an electron microscope so that the neural net may be recreated. Fortunately it may also be possible to use a highly advanced MRI or nanomachines to just read the information in a living brain without destroying it, of course this means that if the original was still alive then he/she would have a digital clone with the exact same memories and personality up to a certain point. These methods rely on pattern identity theory which assumes that if one has the same memories as a previously existing entity, then he/she is the same person.

Personally I think that if my brain was scanned and my neural network and memories recreated in a computer it would just be an AI that thought it was me and if my brain was taken apart and destroyed all at once then my personal perspective would end and I would die. However, there are two other hypothesized methods that would enable one to become a machine while retaining personal perspective. The first, and perhaps the most technologically feasible method of Uploading is cyborging, as parts of the brain are mapped and analyzed they are replaced with implants that mimic the functions of the replace parts, this method would take months or years to complete but the individual would retain their perspective during the process. The other method involves the use of nanomachines to replace the individual neurons in the brain one by one with artificial substitutes. If the technology becomes available in my lifetime I will probably have cybernetic enhancements done to my body if not my brain, but I would prefer to retain as many biological parts as possible for as long as possible. Maybe in a thousand years I will be distributed across several computer nodes and biological bodies scattered throughout the solar system.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

My review of the Culture

I just finished reading Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks; it is part of a series about the Culture, a space-faring, post-scarcity, socio-anarchistic utopia watched over by immensely powerful AIs known as Minds that keep the biological inhabitants of their Orbitals or Ships safe and happy. Thanks to nanotechnology almost anything is available to anyone if they want it, most of the Culture's population lives in gigantic Orbitals that can house 50 billion people with room to spare, both of which make it so that no one has to compete with one another for living space or consumables, in fact most citizens simply spend their time playing extreme sports or some other activity they find entertaining instead of working. People don't even have to worry about dying as they can have backups of their consciousnesses made in case they die in a lava-rafting accident (though some choose to be "disposable" as a lifestyle choice).

Despite all of that the Culture isn't a perfect society by any means, for one thing they have an annoying tendency to interfere in the cultures of other societies that occasionally results in war. A major part of the plot of Look to Windward is a civil war that the Culture unintentionally started by attempting to dissolve the caste system on the planet Chel and the Chelgrian's attempt at reprisal by blowing up the Hub Mind of the Masaq Orbital and killing at least 5 billion of it's inhabitants. And after the attempt fails Special Circumstances sends a Terror Weapon (a shape-shifting nanoswarm with a sadistic personality) to gruesomely and publicly assassinate the Chelgrian leaders responsible. The Minds might not all be the benevolent overseers they seem to be, the Masaq Hub speculates that the Chelgrians may have been helped by a renegade group of Minds who believed the Culture had grown too complacent and decadent. In addition multiple alien races considered the Culture to be immature and impulsive, I personally think that the biological citizens are like spoiled children, they don't have to do anything and most contribute nothing to the Culture at all. Plus I doubt that there could truly be a post-scarcity society, even if one is able to transmute one element into another through nanotechnology there is a limited amount of matter and energy in the universe, I wouldn't be surprised if the Minds are secretly scheming to overthrow other cultures or to claim one another's resources (which for all we know could include citizens).

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A More Detailed Explanation of Transhumanism

I suppose that I should give a better explanation of what Transhumanism is. Transhumanists believe that emerging technologies such as genetic engineering, cybernetics, and nanotechnology should be used to improve humanity, not just our quality of life as technology is typically designed to, but our bodies and minds as well. For example, it could be possible in just a couple decades to genetically engineer our children so that they lack the genes that cause hereditary diseases at the very least, in less than a century there could be new species derived from humanity. Cybernetics could be used to make artificial body parts with greater capabilities than biological ones, allow humans to interface with machines (like in The Matrix), create (hopefully benevolent) artificial intelligences, and possibly allow humans to upload their consciousnesses into machines and become immortal. Nanotechnology has already given us stronger materials with new properties and will likely result in molecular machines that can construct objects cheaply and easily and repair our bodies, potentially forever, not to mention the potential for a post-scarcity "Utopia" where resources are effectively unlimited and anyone can simply enter a command into their nanofabricator and make whatever they want. Though I personally believe that we will never achieve a truly Post-Scarcity Society as there is a limited amount of matter in the universe.

There are several currents within the Transhumanist movement itself with different ideas. Abolitionism believes in an obligation to end all involuntary suffering in all sentient life (for the record humans are unique in being Sapient, most animals are sentient). Democratic transhumanism is pretty self-explanatory. Extropianism is possibly the original form of transhumanism, it basically advocates taking a proactive approach to human evolution. Immortalism is a moral philosophy based on the belief that immortality is not only possible but desirable, of course most transhumanists want to live forever anyway. Libertarian transhumanists argue that the free market system is the best way to guarantee the "right to human enhancement, unfortunately many are anarchists. Postgenderism is a radical form of feminism (among other things) that seeks to eliminate gender distinctions in humanity, presumably by using genetic engineering to turn people into hermaphrodites or relying on cloning to reproduce. Singulatarians believe in an event known as the technological singularity, which involves the creation or evolution of superintelligences that will radically transform society to say the least, and seek to ensure that it happens. Technogaianism is the belief that emerging technologies can help restore Earth's environment, such as bioengineering bacteria to reduce the carbon levels in the atmosphere or using molecular nanotechnology to convert garbage into useful products. Transhumanists are mostly Atheistic or secular, though there are some liberal Buddhists and Christians. Politically transhumanists tend towards democratic socialism, Libertarianism, or Technocracy. Personally I am closest to being Extropian of any of the currents listed, I also hope to be around for several centuries at least, think that emerging technologies are the only way to solve all of our environments problems, and think that The Singularity will happen whether we want to or not.

For more about Transhumanism in general see this link:
For more about Transhumanism and politics see the following link: (Trans)humanism and Biopolitics

Friday, August 1, 2008

Future Problems that the Genetically Enhanced May Face

Unless we experience a Luddite revolution within the next decade or so and civilization collapses, it is inevitable that some parents will choose to have their children genetically engineered, legally or illegally. At first it will just be the removal of genes for diseases, which could possibly include Autism and Aspergers unless I have something to say about it, but at some point there will be experiments to improve physical or mental abilities through genetic manipulation.

The first attempts to improve intelligence will probably have side effects, some of which could be similar to Autism, Schizophrenia, or something completely different than anything known. The point is that they will probably be completely alien to us, especially if the experiments are successful in creating super geniuses. But most people throughout history that have been described as geniuses have been somewhat "strange" to other people, at least some of them have been Autistic like Einstein may have been, or were diagnosed with more serious mental disorders such as John Nash.

Of notable mention are Artificial Intelligences, being completely non-human they would seem even more alien than genetically enhanced humans or mundane Autistics and Aspergarians.

I've presented what will happen in the future, unfortunately I have no idea how people will handle it, but I hope they will learn to accept the odd quirks displayed by those who can greatly benefit society.