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David Lucifer
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Human, know thy place!
« on: 2010-10-03 23:19:42 »
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source: Rationally Speaking

By Julia Galef

I kicked off a recent episode of the Rationally Speaking podcast on the topic of transhumanism by defining it as “the idea that we should be pursuing science and technology to improve the human condition, modifying our bodies and our minds to make us smarter, healthier, happier, and potentially longer-lived.”

In response to my (pretty standard) definition, Massimo understandably expressed some skepticism about why there needs to be a transhumanist movement at all, given how incontestable their mission statement seems to be. As he rhetorically asked, “Is transhumanism more than just the idea that we should be using technologies to improve the human condition? Because that seems a pretty uncontroversial point.” Later in the episode, referring to things such as radical life extension and modifications of our minds and genomes, Massimo said, “I don't think these are things that one can necessarily have objections to in principle.”
It's a perfectly reasonable sentiment, and one that others have expressed as well. On the teaser before the episode, one of our commenters, Alex SL, said, “I am not sure if anybody apart from maybe some churches can be said to oppose transhumanism. If somebody comes up with a robotic arm, or a brain implant that improves memory, hooray! Who will have any problems with that?”

Actually, a lot of people. I completely share Massimo's and Alex SL's attitude that if we could feasibly improve everyone's bodies, minds and lifespans, that should be a no-brainer. But I think they've underestimated the degree to which this point is far from a no-brainer for the rest of the world. There are a surprising number of people whose reaction, when they are presented with the possibility of making humanity much healthier, smarter and longer-lived, is not “That would be great,” nor “That would be great, but it's infeasible,” nor even “That would be great, but it's too risky.” Their reaction is, “That would be terrible.”

The people with this attitude aren't just fringe fundamentalists who are fearful of messing with God's Plan. Many of them are prestigious professors and authors whose arguments make no mention of religion. One of the most prominent examples is political theorist Francis Fukuyama, author of End of History, who published a book in 2003 called “Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution.” In it he argues that we will lose our “essential” humanity by enhancing ourselves, and that the result will be a loss of respect for “human dignity” and a collapse of morality.

Fukuyama's reasoning represents a prominent strain of thought about human enhancement, and one that I find doubly fallacious. (Fukuyama is aware of the following criticisms, but neither I nor other reviewers were impressed by his attempt to defend himself against them.) The idea that the status quo represents some “essential” quality of humanity collapses when you zoom out and look at the steady change in the human condition over previous millennia. Our ancestors were less knowledgable, more tribalistic, less healthy, shorter-lived; would Fukuyama have argued for the preservation of all those qualities on the grounds that, in their respective time, they constituted an “essential human nature”? And even if there were such a thing as a persistent “human nature,” why is it necessarily worth preserving? In other words, I would argue that Fukuyama is committing both the fallacy of essentialism (there exists a distinct thing that is “human nature”) and the appeal to nature (the way things naturally are is how they ought to be).
But, while I find Fukuyama's argument fallacious, other common arguments against the transhumanist worldview strike me as downright creepy. I'm referring especially to the premise that death and suffering are beautiful, a sentiment which I had hoped I’d seen the last of after I parted ways with my goth friends in high school. Alas, it lives on!

Writer Bill McKibben, who was called “probably the nation's leading environmentalist” by the Boston Globe this year, and “the world's best green journalist” by Time magazine, published a book in 2003 called “Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age.” In it he writes, “That is the choice... one that no human should have to make... To be launched into a future without bounds, where meaning may evaporate.” McKibben concludes that it is likely that “meaning and pain, meaning and transience are inextricably intertwined.” Or as one blogger tartly paraphrased: “If we all live long healthy happy lives, Bill’s favorite poetry will become obsolete.”

Best-selling books aren't the only way this kind of thinking impacts the public. President George W. Bush's Council on Bioethics, which advised him from 2001-2009, was steeped in it. Harvard professor of political philosophy Michael J. Sandel served on the Council from 2002-2005 and penned an article in the Atlantic Monthly called “The Case Against Perfection,” in which he objected to genetic engineering on the grounds that, basically, it’s uppity. He argues that genetic engineering is “the ultimate expression of our resolve to see ourselves astride the world, the masters of our nature.” Better we should be bowing in submission than standing in mastery, Sandel feels. Mastery “threatens to banish our appreciation of life as a gift,” he warns, and submitting to forces outside our control “restrains our tendency toward hubris.”

If you like Sandel's “It's uppity” argument against human enhancement, you'll love his fellow Councilmember Dr. William Hurlbut's argument against life extension: “It's unmanly.” Hurlbut's exact words, delivered in a 2007 debate with Aubrey de Grey: “I actually find a preoccupation with anti-aging technologies to be, I think, somewhat spiritually immature and unmanly... I’m inclined to think that there’s something profound about aging and death.”

And Council chairman Dr. Leon Kass, a professor of bioethics from the University of Chicago who served from 2001-2005, was arguably the worst of all. Like McKibben, Kass has frequently argued against radical life extension on the grounds that life's transience is central to its meaningfulness. “Could the beauty of flowers depend on the fact that they will soon wither?” he once asked. “How deeply could one deathless ‘human’ being love another?”

Kass has also argued against human enhancements on the same grounds as Fukuyama, that we shouldn't deviate from our proper nature as human beings. “To turn a man into a cockroach— as we don’t need Kafka to show us —would be dehumanizing. To try to turn a man into more than a man might be so as well,” he said. And Kass completes the anti-transhumanist triad (it robs life of meaning; it's dehumanizing; it's hubris) by echoing Sandel's call for humility and gratitude, urging, “We need a particular regard and respect for the special gift that is our own given nature.”

By now you may have noticed a familiar ring to a lot of this language. The idea that it's virtuous to suffer, and to humbly surrender control of your own fate, is a cornerstone of Christian morality. Mother Teresa's Third World hospices were a grim case in point. They denied pain relief to their patients, not because Mother Teresa's mission couldn't afford morphine, but because she believed her patients' suffering was a good thing. "I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ," she said.

Catholics may be unparalleled in their glorification of suffering, with their depictions of the crucifixion and their luridly gory saints' deaths, but Protestantism can give them a run for their money when it comes to prostration. “I will bow and be humble... I will bow and will be broken, yea, I'll fall upon the rock...” sing the Shakers in one of the religion's most famous hymns. I remember that song giving me the creeps when I first encountered it as a child in a chorus, and I subsequently came to understand that it's fairly representative of standard Christian tropes: surrendering to God, submitting to God, trusting that God has good reasons for your suffering.

I suppose I can understand that if you believe in an all-powerful entity who will become irate if he thinks you are ungrateful for anything, then this kind of groveling might seem like a smart strategic move. But what I can't understand is adopting these same attitudes in the absence of any religious context. When secular people chastise each other for the “hubris” of trying to improve the “gift” of life they've received, I want to ask them: just who, exactly, are you groveling to? Who, exactly, are you afraid of affronting if you dare to reach for better things?

This is why transhumanism is most needed, from my perspective – to counter the astoundingly widespread attitude that suffering and 80-year-lifespans are good things that are worth preserving. That attitude may make sense conditional on certain peculiarly masochistic theologies, but the rest of us have no need to defer to it. It also may have been a comforting thing to tell ourselves back when we had no hope of remedying our situation, but that's not necessarily the case anymore.
And to people like Kass, and Hurlbut, and McKibben, I say: Dear Sirs, I understand that you would like me to shrivel up and die in agony so that you can find beauty in the world, and I respect that. But before we go that route, maybe first we could try the alternate approach of broadening your aesthetic horizons? Just a suggestion. I do hope you'll think it over.
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Re:Human, know thy place!
« Reply #1 on: 2010-11-30 01:19:16 »
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I thought that I'd throw my 2 cents worth in here, partly because I have not seen anyone else in this debate (wherever it may take place) mention such ideas.

In general, I personally do not see a problem with transhumanism, because science should be used to improve the human condition, that really is one of the main points of it, after all (besides simple curiosity). And it has been used many times for this purpose, even if only in relatively simple ways.

I do have two objections though, and they are not directed to the entire concept, but instead just to the idea that we should enthusiastically embrace it as much and as soon as possible, which seems to be the position of many transhumanists. Unlike other objectors, I hope that you do not find these to be the results of a meme-allergy.

The first one has to do with our current society, at least mostly in the west. Much of our scientific and medical knowledge and technology is now in the hands of corporations, and becoming increasingly so. Science is becoming less of the kind that Einstein and Tesla could do, and increasingly requires the resources of powerful entities, like corporations and governments. And as corporations gain in power, so too does their influence over the government and its handling of science. So without going extensively into why at the moment (although we can certainly go there if you want), I simply don't trust this kind of power in those hands. The embracing of transhumanism in this kind of culture threatens to further empower the rich who can afford such cutting-edge technologies, and thus further separate them from the rest of society. They will live longer, be stronger, smarter, and whatever else they can get their hands on. Whether we are talking about genetics or cybernetics, it is very likely to create much clearer distinctions between the "classes", for how can someone without the right genetic enhancements, brain implants, and super-vitamins possibly compete with someone who has always had them? Social mobility is lost, and the classes become castes. This is not a future I want for humanity, for it will not only be very bad, but also much more difficult to break out of than the revolutions and such of the past.

So for this problem, I think that it is much more important that we solve our social problems first, and create a society in which everyone can benefit from these things. Then we can get on with "reinventing" the human species.

My second objection is a bit harder to describe, or even prove. Basically, my belief is that we have not yet learned to tap the full potential of the human form. Whether this potential can come in the form of biological, psychological, or perhaps even "paranormal" developments, I think that it is important that we first make sure that we have properly explored these limits. The reason why is because I fear that once we start changing things about ourselves before we fully understand ourselves, that we may inadvertently end up making changes that cause us to lose some or all of these potentials. I'm not sure how to explain it more than that, so I hope that that is enough, but if there are any questions, I will try to answer them.

So, in conclusion, and as I said before, I am not against the idea in general, but we should be cautious in how much we embrace before addressing these other problems first.
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Re:Human, know thy place!
« Reply #2 on: 2010-11-30 14:19:50 »
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Quote from: Kolzene on 2010-11-30 01:19:16   
I thought that I'd throw my 2 cents worth in here, partly because I have not seen anyone else in this debate (wherever it may take place) mention such ideas.

In general, I personally do not see a problem with transhumanism, because science should be used to improve the human condition, that really is one of the main points of it, after all (besides simple curiosity). And it has been used many times for this purpose, even if only in relatively simple ways.

I do have two objections though, and they are not directed to the entire concept, but instead just to the idea that we should enthusiastically embrace it as much and as soon as possible, which seems to be the position of many transhumanists. Unlike other objectors, I hope that you do not find these to be the results of a meme-allergy.

The first one has to do with our current society, at least mostly in the west. <snip> 

<snip>This is not a future I want for humanity, for it will not only be very bad, but also much more difficult to break out of than the revolutions and such of the past.

So for this problem, I think that it is much more important that we solve our social problems first, and create a society in which everyone can benefit from these things. Then we can get on with "reinventing" the human species. <snip>



Morning light, a Coffee, CoV, and a new Magazine; are always a auspicious start for the day for me. The attached articles popped out at me after reading Kolzene's post and seem to underscore at least some of the concerns I have with becoming one with the 'machine', not the least of which is finding a reliable form of energy to keep all the kit fueled and lubricated and in silicone.

That we as a species still are genuflecting and howling at the 'Gods of our desires' in the face of the scientific method and endless cries for reason that go back to antiquity is discouraging. Endless attempts at our social experiments around the globe still result in; burning witches, embrace martyrdom, and cower in fear of our boogie-men. When I look at the other side of those tribal traits I seen power hungry individuals; sociopaths and psychopaths, leading the masses over yet another cliff, in exchange for self serving wants. It would seems to me that we have not evolved in any significant way socially, fashions have morphed and technology as become more complex and resource intensive, but to what end.

Could Technocracy provide the social Memes to help us improve as a collective ? This I am curious to hear about.

Cheers

Fritz


Artificial intelligence
No command, and control


Source: Economist
Author: Print Edition
Date: 2010.11.25



ARMIES have always been divided into officers and grunts. The officers give the orders. The grunts carry them out. But what if the grunts took over and tried to decide among themselves on the best course of action? The limits of human psychology, battlefield communications and (cynics might suggest) the brainpower of the average grunt mean this probably would not work in an army of people. It might, though, work in an army of robots.
Handing battlefield decisions to the collective intelligence of robot soldiers sounds risky, but it is the essence of a research project called ALADDIN. Autonomous Learning Agents for Decentralised Data and Information Networks, to give its full name, is a five-year-old collaboration between BAE Systems, a British defence contractor, the universities of Bristol, Oxford and Southampton, and Imperial College, London. In it, the grunts act as agents, collecting and exchanging information. They then bargain with each other over the best course of action, make a decision and carry it out.
So far, ALADDIN’s researchers have limited themselves to tests that simulate disasters such as earthquakes rather than warfare; saving life, then, rather than taking it. That may make the technology seem less sinister. But disasters are similar to battlefields in their degree of confusion and complexity, and in the consequent unreliability and incompleteness of the information available. What works for disaster relief should therefore also work for conflict. BAE Systems has said that it plans to use some of the results from ALADDIN to improve military logistics, communications and combat-management systems.

Animation and robotics
Crossing the uncanny valley


Source: Economist
Author: Print Edition
Date: 2010.11.25



ROBOT-MAKERS and the animators who design characters for films and video games face a paradox. People readily accept machines and cartoons that are simplifications or distortions of the human form. Simulacra that are intended to look like real people, though, are frequently perceived as creepy. In November 2004, for example, two films intended as light entertainment were released to very different receptions. “The Incredibles”, a cartoon in traditional style, was one of the most successful movies in history. “The Polar Express”, which used motion capture and computer graphics to produce an animation whose characters looked almost human, received a critical panning: one reviewer suggested its characters were so frightening the film should be subtitled “The Night of the Living Dead”.
The difference lay in that one crucial word: almost. Workers in the field refer to the perceptual crevasse which separates acceptable caricature from accurate representation as “the uncanny valley”—and the “The Polar Express” fell right into it. Mapping the uncanny valley, to avoid its perils, would be of great benefit to film-makers. It would also, as robots become smart and safe enough for use outside factories, help engineers to design plastic pals who are truly fun to be with.
Though several previous expeditions have been lost in the valley, there is no shortage of volunteers to have another go. The latest pair to harness up the metaphorical huskies are Chin-Chang Ho and Karl MacDorman of the Indiana University School of Informatics. They think they can find their way by following a new compass direction—the quality of eeriness.
&#8232;The valley below

The idea of the uncanny valley was originally proposed by Masahiro Mori, a Japanese roboticist, in 1970. Though he had no hard data, his intuition was that increasing humanness in a robot was positive only up to a certain point. Dr Mori drew a graph (see chart) with “human-likeness” on the horizontal axis and a quality he called shinwakan (variously translated as “familiarity” and “comfort level”) on the vertical one. As an object or image looks and behaves more like a human, the viewer’s level of shinwakan increases. Beyond a certain point, however, the not-quite-human object strikes people as creepy, and shinwakan drops. This is the uncanny valley. Only when the object becomes almost indistinguishable from a human does shinwakan increase again.
Dr Ho and Dr MacDorman accept the general idea, but they began by throwing out the idea of shinwakan. In their study, just published in Computers in Human Behavior, they say that Dr Mori’s ideas of familiarity and comfort level do not properly get at the quality of uncanniness. Neither do some suggested alternatives, such as warmth and likeability. The wicked queen in Disney’s “Snow White”, for instance, was hardly likeable. But she was not uncanny either.
To isolate the factors that really affect how people feel about simulacra, the two researchers rounded up several hundred undergraduates and showed them ten video clips, five of robots and five of animations. These included sequences from “The Polar Express”, “The Incredibles” and also an animation of Orville Redenbacher, an American businessman who died in 1995, that many people think falls right at the bottom of the valley. The robots were the Roomba, a disc-shaped autonomous vacuum cleaner, and four anthropoid machines of varying degrees of humanness.
The volunteers were asked to apply ratings from dozens of scales to each video: machinelike to humanlike, synthetic to real and so on. Scales that turned out to measure the same qualities with different words were eliminated and the researchers eventually lighted on 19 that described aspects of four underlying qualities that they dub attractiveness, eeriness, humanness and warmth. According to Dr MacDorman, all four are important qualities for designers. A robot that exhibits warmth and attractiveness will be easier to interact with than one that looks cold and ugly. Only two of them, however, are needed to explain the uncanny valley. These are humanness and eeriness.
Eeriness is not quite the same thing as comfort level, likeability or even strangeness. Levels of eeriness were indicated by eight descriptive scales, including “ordinary/supernatural”, “boring/shocking” and “uninspiring/spine-tingling”. By plotting perceived humanness along the horizontal axis and eeriness along the vertical, Dr MacDorman says that he can recreate Dr Mori’s chart of the uncanny valley, this time using real data about how people feel about a particular robot or animation.
That could be useful information. Although robot butlers remain a distant dream, if people are ever to interact with robots in a comfortable way those robots will need to avoid making users’ skins crawl. In the meantime, the video-game industry is continually trying to increase the realism of its basketball players and brawny mercenaries. Hollywood, too, would probably enjoy replacing stuntmen—and perhaps even temperamental stars—with computer-generated versions. A world without celebs? That really would be eerie.

How Americans turn religious diversity into a source of unity—for some

Source: Economist
Author: Print Edition
Date: 2010.11.25



AT A time when Americans are worried about their crippling political divisions, it is pleasing to report that two social scientists, Robert Putnam of Harvard University and David Campbell of the University of Notre Dame, have just written a book that examines a powerful source of American unity. Perhaps unexpectedly, the unifying force they focus on is religion.
America’s religiosity has been extensively documented and should surprise no one. It is, Sarah Palin said in her own new book this week, “a prayerful country”. More than eight out of ten Americans say they belong to a religion. More Americans than Iranians (four out of ten) say they attend a religious service nearly once a week or more. What is a surprise—or should be, when you think about it in the way Messrs Putnam and Campbell have—is that religion in America is not more divisive. They argue in “American Grace” (Simon & Schuster) that religion gives Americans a sort of “civic glue, uniting rather than dividing”.
The unifying impact of religion would not be so puzzling in a country where people were pious but where there was only one dominant religion—Catholic Poland, say. Americans, by contrast, hold intense religious beliefs but belong to many different faiths and denominations. That should in theory produce an explosive combination. So why doesn’t it?
There are the protections of the constitution, of course. But the authors put much of it down to Aunt Susan. Such is America’s churning diversity that most Americans are intimately acquainted with people of other faiths. Aunt Susan may be a Methodist, and you a Jew, but you know that Aunt Susan deserves a place in heaven anyway. In fact, Susan does not have to be your aunt, because in addition to the Aunt Susan principle the authors have invented the My Friend Al principle. In this case you befriend Al because, say, of a shared interest in beekeeping, and later learn that he is an evangelical Christian. Having an evangelical Christian in your circle of friends makes you warmer than you were before to evangelical Christians. Not only that, befriending someone from another faith makes you warmer to other religions in general.
This is not just a hunch. Mr Putnam and Mr Campbell administered a questionnaire to a representative sample of thousands of Americans in the summer of 2006, and in the spring and summer of 2007 they went back to question the same people. Sure enough, those whose circles had became more religiously diverse in between the surveys expressed measurably more positive feelings towards other religions.
Is this web of interlocking personal relationships among people of many different faiths the secret transmission mechanism of religious tolerance in America? One happy feature of modern America is indeed that soaring interfaith marriages over the past century mean that the average person has a good many Aunt Susans. Roughly half of all married Americans today are married to someone who grew up in a different religion from their own. So it is little wonder that when the authors asked their subjects whether a person of a different faith from theirs could find salvation and go to heaven, almost nine out of ten said yes.
&#8232;Three blemishes in paradise
Yet Mr Putnam and Mr Campbell are also careful not to claim too much. About a tenth of Americans are what they call “true believers” holding strong and inflexible views about morality and their own creed’s exclusive pathway to heaven; Aunt Susan is not welcome in their company. Also worrying is the continuing “God gap” in politics: Americans who are more religious have become Republicans and the more secular have become Democrats. A final blemish on the picture of tolerance is that the circle of those who are tolerated is tightly drawn.
For example, even though nine out of ten Americans think that people of a different faith can get into heaven, a much smaller proportion think that a Mormon should get into the White House, as Mitt Romney discovered in his 2008 campaign to win the Republican presidential nomination. When the authors asked respondents to rank their feelings about other religions, the resulting scores were highly uneven. Almost everyone said they liked “mainline” Protestants, Jews and Catholics. Evangelical Protestants liked almost everyone else more than they were liked in return. Mormons liked everyone else, while almost everyone else (except Jews) disliked Mormons. And almost everyone disliked Muslims and Buddhists more than any other group.
Part of the problem for Muslims and Buddhists in America could be their small number: few Americans have a Muslim relation or a Buddhist friend. But since being few in number has not prevented Jews from eventually becoming the most popular religious group in the nation, this is not a good enough explanation on its own. Osama bin Laden did not help American Muslims by attacking America in Islam’s name, but Mr Putnam and Mr Campbell believe another factor is at work: the fact that Muslims, Buddhists and Mormons do not have a place in what people have come to call America’s Judeo-Christian framework. Tolerance of Jews and Christians only? That is not quite so impressive.
Worse, anti-Muslim feeling may be growing. In a recent survey the Public Religion Research Institute found that 45% of all Americans, and 67% of Republicans, agreed that the values of Islam were “at odds” with America’s way of life. Two scholars from the Brookings Institution, E.J. Dionne and William Galston, worried aloud this month that divisions over Islam inside America may now be deeper than they were ten years ago. George Bush tamped down anti-Muslim feeling, but some of today’s Republicans—Newt Gingrich, with his wild crusade against sharia, is a spectacular example—seem intent on stirring it up. What chance does Aunt Susan stand against the demagoguery of fear?
« Last Edit: 2010-11-30 14:21:49 by Fritz » Report to moderator   Logged

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Re:Human, know thy place!
« Reply #3 on: 2010-12-01 08:37:24 »
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Quote:
Could Technocracy provide the social Memes to help us improve as a collective ? This I am curious to hear about.

I believe so. There are many reasons why, and to explain them all would be to describe virtually the whole system, but the upshot of it is that with all physical needs met, an excellent educational and health-care system, the need for menial labor removed, the encouragement of anti-social behaviour gone (i.e. the profit motive), and an environment that provides much stimulation, opportunity for achievement, and free time for socialization would all contribute to more constructive, harmonious, and enjoyable human relationships and communities. With the scourge of scarcity gone, humans would no longer be pressured by the demands of survival and competition, and hence be freed to flourish in all the ways that we know are characteristic of human beings, such art, culture, philosophy, and science.
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Re:Human, know thy place!
« Reply #4 on: 2010-12-01 09:02:20 »
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Kolzene objects:

Quote from: Kolzene on 2010-11-30 01:19:16   


The first one has to do with our current society, at least mostly in the west. Much of our scientific and medical knowledge and technology is now in the hands of corporations, and becoming increasingly so. Science is becoming less of the kind that Einstein and Tesla could do, and increasingly requires the resources of powerful entities, like corporations and governments. And as corporations gain in power, so too does their influence over the government and its handling of science. So without going extensively into why at the moment (although we can certainly go there if you want), I simply don't trust this kind of power in those hands. The embracing of transhumanism in this kind of culture threatens to further empower the rich who can afford such cutting-edge technologies, and thus further separate them from the rest of society. They will live longer, be stronger, smarter, and whatever else they can get their hands on. Whether we are talking about genetics or cybernetics, it is very likely to create much clearer distinctions between the "classes", for how can someone without the right genetic enhancements, brain implants, and super-vitamins possibly compete with someone who has always had them? Social mobility is lost, and the classes become castes. This is not a future I want for humanity, for it will not only be very bad, but also much more difficult to break out of than the revolutions and such of the past.

So for this problem, I think that it is much more important that we solve our social problems first, and create a society in which everyone can benefit from these things. Then we can get on with "reinventing" the human species.

While I agree we have issues regarding social inequity which deserve addressing, I don't think it's necessary to solve them before any progress on other fronts is possible. We can improve the health and wealth of ALL people without first solving inequality. Here is a very good graphic presentation regarding global improvements in health and wealth over the last 200 years.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbkSRLYSojo


Notice that inequalities remain even while everyone's well being improves. I think most people are willing to accept a certain amount of inequality as long as everyone enjoys the fruits of progress. I don't think inequality becomes a real objection until it threatens such global progress.
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Re:Human, know thy place!
« Reply #5 on: 2010-12-01 14:32:05 »
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Quote from: MoEnzyme on 2010-12-01 09:02:20   

Notice that inequalities remain even while everyone's well being improves. I think most people are willing to accept a certain amount of inequality as long as everyone enjoys the fruits of progress. I don't think inequality becomes a real objection until it threatens such global progress.

I agree with Mo on this one. Where would we be today if we held back books, medicine, computers and other technology until we solved social inequality problems?
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Re:Human, know thy place!
« Reply #6 on: 2010-12-03 16:26:31 »
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Regarding the concerns around trusting corporations with advanced technologies, I would say that as  technology increases in complexity, individuals have little choice but to become more specialized in particular areas of expertise.  There's just no way around it.  To create a complex system like an iPhone requires thousands of different experts.  Coordinating those experts requires some form of organisational structure. 

I'm not saying that our current corporate model is perfect (far from it, I think it could be greatly enhanced), but modern life requires that we put our trust in the companies and enterprises that bring about the technologies we rely on every day.  In fact, we trust today's corporations with our very lives every time we zoom down the highway at 80mph, or every time we board a plane, sit at our desks on the 20th floor of a building, swallow medication, etc.

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Re:Human, know thy place!
« Reply #7 on: 2010-12-05 03:27:02 »
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I think that perhaps I am being misunderstood a bit here. First of all, I am not talking about halting all scientific advances. Nor do I disagree with the fact that overall, average quality of life has improved. What I am saying is that some of the very advanced technologies, that are still in their relative infancy right now, that transhumanism deals with, like genetic engineering, bionics, and computer-brain interfaces, are so complex that it is it becoming necessary for large, powerful organizations to develop them. Right now corporations are advancing in power faster than anything else, and are already quickly becoming the sole owners of these technologies, and it is only going to become more so in the future. And since their primary motivation is profit, the only controls we have to prevent abuse are laws, and as the corporations become increasingly powerful, these laws will become increasingly ineffective, for a number of reasons. The history of human quality of life is not very relevant here as corporations have not had nearly the same power for most of the past that they do today, where we are seeing an increasing number of abuses of many types by large corporations, and those are just the ones we know about because they did not get away with them.

So no, perhaps we do not need to solve all our social problems before this (although I might argue otherwise for other reasons, I'll leave that for the Technocracy thread), but this trend in increasing corporate power is one problem I think needs to be dealt with before we lose the ability to do so. Sure we trust them in our everyday lives, but is that a good idea? How much more trust do we give them?
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Re:Human, know thy place!
« Reply #8 on: 2010-12-05 15:39:56 »
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Quote from: Kolzene on 2010-12-05 03:27:02   

So no, perhaps we do not need to solve all our social problems before this (although I might argue otherwise for other reasons, I'll leave that for the Technocracy thread), but this trend in increasing corporate power is one problem I think needs to be dealt with before we lose the ability to do so. Sure we trust them in our everyday lives, but is that a good idea? How much more trust do we give them?

Assuming corporations are driven by profit that means they have strong incentive to deliver the technology they "own" to the widest possible market at reasonable prices, not hoard it.
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Re:Human, know thy place!
« Reply #9 on: 2010-12-06 00:29:01 »
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Quote:
Assuming corporations are driven by profit that means they have strong incentive to deliver the technology they "own" to the widest possible market at reasonable prices, not hoard it.

Not if they can get more money for it overall by selling it at a higher price per unit to those that can afford it. Otherwise, nothing would be expensive. Lamborghinis aren't available to a very wide market, are they? If you prefer a more medically-related example, look at many pharmaceuticals, like AIDS drugs, and how expensive they are. And the reason they give for it is the expensive R&D that goes into it. Even assuming this is entirely the motivation, I expect the genetic and bionic treatments to be quite expensive for some time, long enough to create the divisions I've been talking about.
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Re:Human, know thy place!
« Reply #10 on: 2010-12-06 09:58:57 »
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Quote from: Kolzene on 2010-12-06 00:29:01   

Not if they can get more money for it overall by selling it at a higher price per unit to those that can afford it. Otherwise, nothing would be expensive. Lamborghinis aren't available to a very wide market, are they?

Lamborghinis aren't affordable by everyone, but other brands of cars are.  There was a time when refrigerators were a luxury item, but today practically everyone has one.  Ditto for washer/dryers, computers, cell phones, etc.

Producers don't decide the price of their goods.  The market does.  Even if Lamborghini wanted to sell their top car for $10M, they couldn't.  The richest of the rich would simply refuse to buy at that price.  Producers want to sell high, and consumers want to buy low; the "price" is somewhere in between.

For sure, genetic & bionic treatments will start as luxury items.  But over time, you'll see the price of those treatments go down, and one day, such treatments will be as widely available as wristwatches are today.  We can already see this happening with the price for genome sequencing.
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Re:Human, know thy place!
« Reply #11 on: 2010-12-08 17:55:25 »
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Quote from: David Lucifer on 2010-10-03 23:19:42   

source: Rationally Speaking

By Julia Galef

I kicked off a recent episode of the Rationally Speaking podcast on the topic of transhumanism by defining it as “the idea that we should be pursuing science and technology to improve the human condition, modifying our bodies and our minds to make us smarter, healthier, happier, and potentially longer-lived.”<snip>

SO ... does this mean the trans-humanist Meme is seeping into Scouting ?

Cheers

Fritz
 

Source: GIZMODO

Cub Scouts Give Up Entirely, Offer Video Game Badge

Cub Scouts Give Up Entirely, Offer Video Game BadgeHa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

From scouting.org—OK, it's not technically a merit badge, it's a belt loop:

    Requirements

    Tiger Cubs, Cub Scouts, and Webelos Scouts may complete requirements in a family, den, pack, school, or community environment. Tiger Cubs must work with their parents or adult partners. Parents and partners do not earn loops or pins.
    Belt Loop

    Complete these three requirements:

    1. Explain why it is important to have a rating system for video games. Check your video games to be sure they are right for your age.
    2. With an adult, create a schedule for you to do things that includes your chores, homework, and video gaming. Do your best to follow this schedule.
    3. Learn to play a new video game that is approved by your parent, guardian, or teacher.

    Academics Pin

    Earn the Video Games belt loop and complete five of the following requirements:

    1. With your parents, create a plan to buy a video game that is right for your age group.
    2. Compare two game systems (for example, Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Wii, and so on). Explain some of the differences between the two. List good reasons to purchase or use a game system.
    3. Play a video game with family members in a family tournament.
    4. Teach an adult or a friend how to play a video game.
    5. List at least five tips that would help someone who was learning how to play your favorite video game.
    6. Play an appropriate video game with a friend for one hour.
    7. Play a video game that will help you practice your math, spelling, or another skill that helps you in your schoolwork.
    8. Choose a game you might like to purchase. Compare the price for this game at three different stores. Decide which store has the best deal. In your decision, be sure to consider things like the store return policy and manufacturer's warranty.
    9. With an adult's supervision, install a gaming system.

Oh scouts, you're in a lose-lose here, but for the inevitable day when playing video games requires real-life survival skills, you'll be right back on top. [Scouts via GameIndustry via Engadget]



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Where there is the necessary technical skill to move mountains, there is no need for the faith that moves mountains -anon-
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