ACCELER8OR

Oct 23 2012

Not Sci Fi. Sci NOW!

By Valkyrie Ice


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As the walrus said to the Carpenter, the time has come to talk of many things.

To understand why I hold the views I do, you must first understand that my choices and views are shaped by the future that I see is coming, and without understanding that future, it is impossible to truly see why I support some issues on the right, some on the left, some in the middle, etc. So, this article is an attempt to explain, in a brief overview fashion, what I see coming down the road, and which I think far too many people are completely unaware of.

To begin, I am not a liberal, a conservative, a libertarian, a communist, a socialist, or any other political leaning. If I must be labeled, I would say I am a Humanitarian first, and a Transhumanist second.

Humanitarianism: In its most general form, humanitarianism is an ethic of kindness, benevolence and sympathy extended universally and impartially to all human beings. Humanitarianism has been an evolving concept historically but universality is a common element in its evolution. No distinction is to be made in the face of human suffering or abuse on grounds of tribal, caste, religious or national divisions.

Transhumanism: An international intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of science and technology to improve human mental and physical characteristics and capacities. The movement regards aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death as unnecessary and undesirable. Transhumanists look to biotechnologies and other emerging technologies for these purposes. Dangers, as well as benefits, are also of concern to the transhumanist movement.

As such I would have to say I am a Transhumanist because I am a Humanitarian.

So, what precisely does that have to so with the future? It means I take the long view of most everything, because I believe there is a significant probability that I will be around to face the consequences of short sighted actions in the present. But it also means that I can look at some problems which are long term and see that the solutions to them are not yet available, but have a high likelihood of existing before the problem becomes a crisis. This includes such “catastrophic” issues as “Global Warming”, “Overpopulation” and in fact, most “Crisis” politics. Many of these issues are almost impossible to address with current technological capabilities, but will be much easier to address with technologies that are currently “in the lab”.

However, it also means I spend a lot of time researching exactly what the future is likely to bring, so that I can make determinations on which problems are immediate, short term or long term, and whether or not practical solutions exist now, or must wait until we have developed a little further.

But primarily, what those researches have shown me is that most people are utterly unaware of just what the future is going to bring. Most people see a future just like today, with differences only of degrees. They see the future of Star Trek, or of too many other tv shows, where humanity still has to face the exact same problems as they do today on a social level, with fancier trimmings.

Yet such a future is utter fantasy.  Our future is going to change things on a scale undreamt of by most humans, because it is a change not of scale, but of kind.

Humanity, as we know it, is going to cease to exist.

If you are unfamiliar with the concepts of Artificial Intelligence, Nanotechnolgy, Quantum Computing, Cybernetics, and Bioengineering, you need to educate yourself in them, and soon, because they will have a much larger impact on us than who is president, whether or not global warming is happening, or even whether or not Healthcare reform is passed.

And before you dismiss any of those topics as flights of fantasy, you should be aware of the truth. If you want a quick brief overview, check out Next Big Future, Acceler8or, Gizmag, IO9, IEET, or Wired and spend a few hours reading through the various links and stories. This is not Sci-Fi, it is Sci-now.

Within the next twenty to fifty years, and possibly even within the next decade, humanity is going to face the largest identity crisis ever known.  We are going to find that things we have always taken for granted as unchangeable are indeed matters of choice. It’s already started.

As of this exact moment in time, you are reading this on the internet.  As such you have already entered into the realm of Transhumanism. You are free to choose what sex you wish to present yourself as, free to be which ever race you want to be, free to even choose what species you wish to present yourself as. You could be a Vulcan, an Orc, even a cartoon character from South Park. Every aspect of who you are comes down to your personal choice. You may choose to present yourself as you are, or you may present yourself as something else entirely.

That same choice is going to be coming to humanity outside the internet as well. Our medical technology, understanding of our biology, and ability to manipulate the body on finer and finer scales is advancing at an exponential rate. It will not be much longer before everyone has the ability to change everything about their physical body to match their idealized selves.

How will racists be able to cope with the concept that race is a choice? Or sexists deal with people switching genders on a whim? How will people feel when in vitro fertilization and an artificial womb can allow two genetic males to have a child, or for one to become female and have one via old fashioned pregnancy?

And yet that is just the barest tip of the iceberg, for not only will we be able to reshape ourselves into our idealized human form, we will also eventually have the ability to add and subtract other creatures as well. Not everyone will choose to be “human”.  There will be elves, and aliens, cat girls and lion men. We are already on the verge of nearly perfect human limb replacement, within a decade it is highly likely that we will be able to replace damaged nerves with electronic equivalents to control artificial limbs that mimic not only the full range of human motions, but with the creation of artificial muscles, do so in a completely natural manner.  It is but one step from creating an artificial replacement to making an artificial addition.

And there will be those who choose such additions, or who may even choose to replace their natural parts with enhanced cybernetic parts. We will have to face the very real fact of humans with far greater than current human physical ability, and even those with abilities no current human has, such as flight using their own wings.

Imagine a football game with someone who can leap the distance of the field, or throw a hail mary a mile. Is that someone we would call “human” today? Yet they will be the human of tomorrow.

But even that is just the barest hint of the future, because there is so much more that is happening as well. Since you are sitting here, reading this, I know you are already participating in another tenet of Transhumanism, mental augmentation. You use your computer to collect knowledge, to research and educate yourself, to improve your personal knowledge base by using it as an extended intelligence tool. I know quite well that most of you also use it for your primary news source, your main way of keeping yourself aware of what is happening in the world.

You also use it for entertainment, to watch videos, to game, to read, to discuss, and even to keep in touch with your friends and families.

It already is a mental augmentation device. And that function will only grow.  Your cell phone is becoming more and more of an accessory to your computer everyday. In less than ten years it is likely to become your primary computer, with your desktop communicating with it, and making it simply an extension. There is already an advanced cellphone in labs that is subdermal, meaning it is implanted into your skin, is powered by your own body sugars, and is invisible when not in use. Contact lenses with computer displays that use body heat for power are also in prototype stage. Eventually you will be connected to your computer every second of the day, and using it to augment your life in ways I doubt most people will even be able to imagine. And once the ability to connect the human mind directly to this intelligence augmentation device allows us to use it with a mere thought, can you really call such a person “human” as we currently define it?

And yet again, that is simply the merest hint of the possibilities, because in addition to all this computerization and cybernetics, you have to face the reality that we will soon be able to control matter at the atomic scale. And that is something that very very few people have any real grasp of.

Nanotechnology is not a pipedream. Anyone who tells you it is, is either indulging in denial, or is sadly misinformed. You want proof nanoscale machinery is possible, simply look in a mirror.  You are the finest proof that nanotechnology works. DNA is the most versatile molecular machine in existence that we are aware of, and it is with DNA that we are developing the earliest stages of true Molecular Engineering.

And with Molecular Engineering, almost everything we take for granted right now is going to change. I won’t go into the pages and pages of description of what complete control of matter on the molecular scale can do, but suffice it to say that nothing in our history has prepared us to cope with this ability. We will be able to make food on your kitchen counter, make a car that is indestructible, but can fold into a handy briefcase, and just about everything you have seen in any scifi show ever. With nanotechnology we can permanently end hunger, poverty, and even clean up the environment.

If you truly wish to get a bare minimal grasp of the scope of the possible read Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler. While his vision of nanotech’s foundation is based on pure mechanical engineering, it is nonetheless one of the best introductions to the subject I know. We are developing this ability as we speak, as any of you who bothered to check out the recommended reading list would be able to see.

And that brings us to the next topic, Artificial Intelligence. I am not speaking here of the kind of AI that you are familiar with from Hollywood, but with something called Artificial General Intelligence. This is something far different.  AGI is the kind of program that can drive your car, cook your food, clean your house, diagnose your illnesses, operate on your brain, and yes, even do your job better, faster, and more reliably than you can. AGI is that AI which has absolutely no need to be self aware, conscious, or even thinking. AGI is what runs Chess computers. Any Skill that can be taught can be accomplished by AGI. IBM’s Watson is an example of this future, a machine able to learn to become an expert on any given subject and enable non-experts to have that expertise available on demand.

So be prepared people.  You will be replaced by a machine eventually.

And yet with Nanotechnology capable of ensuring our every physical need is met, Cybertechnology giving us superhuman abilities, and Bioengineering enabling us to be exactly who and what we want to be, is that really such a bad thing?

So I will at last come to the final technology which will make our future far different than what has come before. Indefinite Life Extension.

If you are alive today, you need to seriously contemplate that fact that you may not merely have a long life, but that your life may not even have a definite end. You may be alive, healthy, and in the best physical shape possible a thousand years from now. The younger you are, the greater the possibility.

You may have to face the very real likelihood that aging, death by natural causes, and every disease that currently afflicts mankind may be overcome within the next 30 to 60 years. It might even happen as soon as tomorrow. You may never die unless you have an accident, or commit suicide. And even that is just the simplest scenario. With the possibility of up to the nanosecond backups of your brain’s synaptic patterns and electrical impulses, dying might simply become as permanent as it is in a video game.

Humanity, as we currently know it, is going to cease to exist.

And most of us will not even notice it happening until it’s already occurring, indeed, most people are unaware of the fact that it is happening RIGHT NOW.

And this is the future, in the tiniest snippets of hints of what I truly foresee, that guides my thoughts and actions. A future which is so very, radically, unimaginably different that no-one can even truly begin to envision it. It becomes a blank wall beyond which we cannot see, because we do not even have the concepts to understand what is beyond the wall.

So think about these questions. Think about the reality we will have to face, and understand, you will have to come to terms with this. You can’t keep your head in the sand forever and you can’t comfort yourself by thinking it is decades down the road. It’s here, it’s now, and it’s in your face.

And if anything is certain, it is this: You are not prepared.

  • By shagggz, October 24, 2012 @ 1:47 am

    I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read this same type of article by you where you’ve forcefully told me how I feel and it still irritates me. I get that it’s aimed more at the kind of person who hasn’t given these kinds of issues much thought, but still.

  • By rick james, October 24, 2012 @ 6:47 am

    No you do not call this “human”, you call it insectoid and dystopian and Wrong in every way you can define wrong in an aesthetic and moral sense.

    Fortunately, it isn’t realistic and isn’t going to happen.

    You really ought to try pitching this door to door, as you come across no different fundamentally than any earnest Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon on a Bicycle.

  • By rick james, October 24, 2012 @ 6:51 am

    A human mind is _not_ a digital computer, it is not in any way a function of “synaptic pathways.” You over simplify. Your layman’s view is uninformed in any but a popular sense far removed from actual pragmatic and practical reality ie the actual work involved in creating or implementing any of your far fetched notions.

  • By Valkyrie, October 24, 2012 @ 11:04 am

    In actuality Shagggz, I wrote this originally for a response to an IEET article several years ago which was basically saying “don’t worry, this is a hundred years off still”

    And as for you, “Rick James”, sounds like have been taking lessons in how to use big words from Athena Andreadis. Oh, and to make it clear, that is NOT a compliment. I will tell you precisely the same thing I told her. An expert in the field can at best delineate the difficulties, and clarify the issues that still need to be met. Your blanket dismissal of uploading with the claim that the “mind is not a digital computer” is straight out of Athena’s mouth. I’ve had this particular argument before. So, let me reiterate.

    Saying “we can’t do it now, so we never will” is utter horseshit. We don’t even yet have the knowledge to conclusively state that the brain is NOT a digital computer, as we’ve not even defined the realm of possibilities in the creation of digital computers. Memristors are blurring the lines between memory and processors and quantum computers are blurring the difference between analog and digital. We can confidently state that we have not as yet found a means to record and store a human brain in a digital medium, but to make the claim that we will never be able to do so is pure denial of the reality that we have made so many advances in enabling a merger of electronics to nerves, as well as in communication directly with the brain, that the only real obstacle to electronics/brain merger is our lack of understanding of how the brain works. To claim that uploading is “impossible” reflects a rejection of the concept on your part, not a description of a technical problem that cannot be solved.

    It comes down to the reality that our knowledge of how the brain works is growing, and like most other scientific fields, is growing at an exponential rate made possible by advances in electronics, both in computers and sensors. Understanding of the brain is a finite problem, with a definite solution. As such, we will discover everything there is to know about the brain within a finite time. Can I state conclusively that we will be able to duplicate the brain within a specific time frame? No. But I can state conclusively that given present knowledge, no definite technical hurdle has yet been found that excludes “uploading” from the realm of possibility, and that until such a time such an issue is found, I am forced to conclude that we will find a means to transfer human intelligence to a computer substrate.

    Feel free to point out the difficulties. There are many. Feel free to point out technical capabilities are not yet sufficient to duplicate the human brain. But to step beyond that and claim that it is IMPOSSIBLE reflects a BELIEF that somehow, without any supporting evidence, a hurdle will be found that will somehow render the brain sacrosanct, and beyond man’s ability to comprehend, and copy, keeping it safely within “Gods” hands.

    Sorry, but the cynical pessimist in me says the possibility exists, therefore assuming it’s eventual achievement, given the human track record for problem solving, is the more logical course of action. Sorry, the only thing I have “faith” in is human nature.

  • By rick james, October 24, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

    quantum computing is not “blurring the line between analog and digital”, that is “not even wrong”

  • By Mark Bruce, October 24, 2012 @ 6:46 pm

    Another great piece and very enjoyable read Val – well done.

    I’m thinking we’ve been influenced by similar authors and sources so there shouldn’t be too much surprise that we very much have the same stance on many of these trends.

    The other commenters barely deserved a response.

    Personally I have been putting theory into practice over the past 6 or so months by actively addressing what I see as massive deficiencies in my education by building familiarity with and basic competencies in a range of technology areas. First off was basic robotics, then basic (EEG) BCIs, and for the next month or two I will be getting into 3D printing in a big way. Next is DIYBio in my kitchen.

    It is amazing the new product and technology ideas that form in one’s mind when exposed to a basic understanding of the principles of how many of these technologies are put together and what, in combination, they are capable of.

    E.g. By the end of next month I will have designed and 3D printed custom components for the rudimentary mind-controlled telepresence robot that I hacked together out of Lego and a Smartphone.

    And it is only 2012.

  • By shagggz, October 24, 2012 @ 7:15 pm

    @rickjames: The entire history of human endeavor is characterized by thoughtless and xenophobic reactionaries proclaiming entire fields of potential impossible because their possibility would mean our current, received worldview is not infallible, and even if it was possible it would be immoral because it goes against said worldview, so there!

    Perhaps if you took advantage of the unprecedented bounty of knowledge and wizardry that has become available to you precisely because those reactionaries were wrong every single time they opened their slacked jaws, and Googled the memristors and other related technologies that Val referred to (not the quantum computing straw man you so confidently and baselessly refuted), perhaps the confused and frightened brayings you emanate through this digital ether would be somewhat grounded in reality.

  • By shagggz, October 24, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

    @rick james: I would also like to point out the wisdom of condemning the technologies to give our species a reasonable chance of long-term survival as “immoral.”

  • By Valkyrie, October 24, 2012 @ 8:42 pm

    *sigh* Digital binary code is either ON or OFF. Analog systems can be a continuous transition from ON to OFF. Quantum computers can exist simultaneously in every state between On and OFF. Ergo, Quantum computers are more “Analog” then “Digital”

    Really, you should do a tiny amount of research before trolling.

  • By Valkyrie, October 24, 2012 @ 9:39 pm

    @Bruce I sincerely wish I had the time and resources to do that myself. I have long wanted to be able to afford the various DIY resources that have become available over the last decade. If you’ve read my articles over at H+ and IEET about looking for someone able to help me start developing my “skin tight exoskeleton” suit( http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/mcgill20121010), you know I would love to be able to get my hands on a 3D printer and start creating.

  • By glen, October 24, 2012 @ 10:45 pm

    Replaced or joined with machines?

  • By Valkyrie, October 24, 2012 @ 11:38 pm

    @Glen

    Replaced in the current “workplace” concept and represented by human physical labor and human “knowledge workers” who make up the overwhelming majority of currently existing “jobs”. These are jobs not actively directed at creating new knowledge, merely using existing knowledge to provide services or human labor to provide mechanical power or as an efficient form of manipulator (we make the best robots so far available)

    Essentially, the robots will do all the “grunt work” of the workplace, and free the humans to engage in more important work, i.e. contributing to the sum total of human knowledge.

  • By rick james, October 25, 2012 @ 3:58 am

    1. What you describe as “quantum computing” is a another gross over simplification

    2. Cheerleading for the end of the human species is the very highest form of genocidal Treason

    3. What is possible does not necessarily NEED TO BE DONE

    4. The author states this is the “end” of the human race not its “survival”, so Shaggz, do YOUR READING first

  • By rick james, October 25, 2012 @ 4:37 am

    You are not even in possession of the correct definition of an analog signal!

    An analog or analogue signal is any continuous signal for which the time varying feature (variable) of the signal is a representation of some other time varying quantity, i.e., analogous to another time varying signal. For example, in an analog audio signal, the instantaneous voltage of the signal varies continuously with the pressure of the sound waves. It differs from a digital signal, in which a continuous quantity is represented by a discrete function which can only take on one of a finite number of values. The term analog signal usually refers to electrical signals; however, mechanical, pneumatic, hydraulic, and other systems may also convey analog signals.
    An analog signal uses some property of the medium to convey the signal’s information. For example, an aneroid barometer uses rotary position as the signal to convey pressure information. In an electrical signal, the voltage, current, or frequency of the signal may be varied to represent the information.
    Any information may be conveyed by an analog signal; often such a signal is a measured response to changes in physical phenomena, such as sound, light, temperature, position, or pressure. The physical variable is converted to an analog signal by a transducer. For example, in sound recording, fluctuations in air pressure (that is to say, sound) strike the diaphragm of a microphone which induces corresponding fluctuations in the current produced by a coil in an electromagnetic microphone, or the voltage produced by a condensor microphone. The voltage or the current is said to be an “analog” of the sound.
    An analog signal has a theoretically infinite resolution. In practice an analog signal is subject to electronic noise and distortion introduced by communication channels and signal processing operations, which can progressively degrade the signal-to-noise ratio. In contrast, digital signals have a finite resolution. Converting an analog signal to digital form introduces a constant low-level noise called quantization noise into the signal which determines the noise floor, but once in digital form the signal can in general be processed or transmitted without introducing additional noise or distortion. Therefore as analog signal processing systems become more complex, they may ultimately degrade signal resolution to such an extent that their performance is surpassed by digital systems. This explains the widespread use of digital signals in preference to analog in modern technology. In analog systems, it is difficult to detect when such degradation occurs. However, in digital systems, degradation can not only be detected but corrected as well.

  • By Valkyrie, October 25, 2012 @ 5:53 pm

    Yes, “Rick”, I am SIMPLIFYING the terminology used. Analog is a continuous wave, Digital is either on or off. An analog signal can exist in any state between ON and OFF, while a digital signal can ONLY BE ON or OFF. As such, a quantum computer does blur the difference between the two.

    Now, do you have anything else to cut and paste, since the terms and language used in that post is so far beyond your verbal skills it’s easy to see that you didn’t write it.

  • By rick james, October 25, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

    There are three more levels of abstraction I could haul out to educate you, but you have not got the background in physics to follow more than ‘Discover Magazine Online’ and ‘Popular Science’, like the bulk of your fellow religionists/transhumanists.

  • By Giulio Prisco, October 29, 2012 @ 12:42 am

    Re “Humanity, as we know it, is going to cease to exist.”

    Val, I understand what you mean, but I am afraid this is exactly the kind of statement that puts people off. We are humans, and using technology to change themselves is what humans do. Therefore, we will always be humans, no matter how far and how fast we advance.

    You don’t cease to be a person when you wear eyeglasses: you become a person who sees better thanks to eyeglasses. Same for future extreme longevity therapy, brain implants, and uploading.

    Saying that we will cease to be human and become something else that is not human is a PR suicide if you ask me.

  • By Valkyrie, October 29, 2012 @ 4:19 am

    That’s why I stress, “As we know it.” We are a “self improving species” and we are NOT the same “humans” that we were a thousand years ago. Our concepts of what it means to “be human” has evolved. It will continue to evolve and the “human” of a hundred years from now will no longer be the same “human” we are today, because we will have expanded that definition beyond what we limit ourselves to today.

    That’s what this is trying to illustrate – that “human” is a concept that evolves over time, and that to try to claim, as “Rick/Max” does, that our future is “inhuman” is to deny the very fact that we are continually expanding the definition of what it means to “Be Human.” Xenophobia like Rick’s is as silly as it would have been for our ancestors to say “Look, he is using a stone to cut skins! KILL the inhuman monster!!!!!”

  • By rick james, October 29, 2012 @ 4:57 am

    When you start putting implants in the human brain to access information or change brain chemistry for various reasons? That is no longer a human being. This is not comparable at all to eyeglasses. Read some of the work of Dr. Jose Delgado. And his published work is 50 years old now….
    Now uploading is simply a crock of shit, IF anything speaks after such a far fetched procedure, it sure won’t be within a light year of ‘you’… it will be an obscene and dim copy at best.

  • By rick james, October 29, 2012 @ 2:10 pm

    No prior technology has invaded the brain and its chemistry. To compare what you desire (computer brain hybrid) with ANY previous human technology is beyond ridiculous. Humans 1,000 years ago were exactly the same as late 20th century humans in biology and brain chemistry. Humans 1,000 years ago were in most cases a much more moral and altruistically motivated species (with some notable exceptions), that is the only difference. Your notions are spurious and crudely grafted together from points with nothing in common at all.

  • By shagggz, October 29, 2012 @ 9:36 pm

    @rick james: Are the people who currently have cochlear or retinal implants not human beings? How about ones who “change brain chemistry” through pharmaceuticals or deep brain stimulation implants? If they aren’t humans, what are they, and what rights are they deserving of? If someone changes their brain chemistry through a cybernetic implant as opposed to a transient pharmaceutical, why would this difference affect the level of personhood? The entire basis of your objection is crude, unthinking handwavery and amounts to nothing but “different scary! scary bad!” Think more.

  • By Giulio Prisco, October 30, 2012 @ 1:01 am

    Rick, I hope you will forgive me for saying this, but I don’t think someone who refers to opinions politely expressed by others as “a crock of shit” is qualified, scientifically or otherwise, “to educate us.” But perhaps you want to share your qualifications and achievements with us? We are listening.

  • By rick james, October 30, 2012 @ 4:23 am

    WE ARE NOT OUR TECHNOLOGY. Human beings 1,000 years ago were in every fact of biology identical to current human beings, except less poisoned by thousands of industrial toxins from womb to tomb. If we do become our technology, then we will cease to be human. The process has begun, and it is called DEHUMANIZATION. Heidegger warned that the German death camps arose from the industrialization of agriculture, and this would lead to humans being subjected to the same process and fate as cattle as long as we continue to confuse MAN and MACHINE.

  • By shagggz, October 30, 2012 @ 6:29 pm

    @rick james: I agree, providing SCARILY CAPITALIZED TERMS to emphasize SCARY NAZI THINGS is a far better way to demonstrate one’s qualifications than actual credentials. Why don’t more people do that?

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