transhumanism

Tech In Your Body - Let The Seduction Begin

https://www.ted.com/talks/tom_gruber_how_ai_can_enhance_our_memory_work_and_social_lives?utm_campaign=&utm_medium=on.ted.com-static&utm_content=awesm-publisher&awesm=on.ted.com_IndustrialInternet&utm_source=t.co

Please watch that video as an introduction to this blog post. It’s 9+ minutes, which I recognize will instantly turn most of your off from reading the rest of this for the TL:DR (Too Long, Didn’t read for those not familiar with the term) problem. But for those of you who choose to stay. Here’s what I took away from this:

  1. This is some smooth presenting. You introduce technology that so clearly helps people who are disabled live better lives.
  2. He does a great job of highlighting the fallibility of memory and the associated downside of human memory
  3. He makes you disappointed in yourself for your failures, namely forgetfulness of all kinds

So what are my concerns with having tech in your body or most importantly in your brain.

  1. You will be hackable. Seriously. Someone at some point will be able to control your mind, how you think, and how you act. You may doubt this, but, there are those who believe that the voting population of the US was manipulated in the last election and that didn’t even involve embedded technology.
  2. Your every thought will now exist somewhere on a hard drive. Imperfect memory is a gift, not a liability. As much as we wish we remembered the good memories, its the forgotten bad memories that are probably more important to our mental health
  3. Talk about privacy — this is the definition of NO privacy. Not only will we be surrounded by thousands of instruments listening and recording everything we do with the IoT, but now it’s in our head and our memory
  4. Imagine if you are opposed to the government on ANY level. James Comey recently said, you have NO privacy. Could the government snoop around in your head? Is your head now admissible evidence against you?
  5. The wealthiest companies and the most skillful hackers will ALWAYS have access to you, your brain, your memories. It is impossible for security to stay ahead of countries, companies and nefarious actors.
  6. Apple wants you to buy their tech. Apple is a company, driven by profit. They aren’t trying to fix the world. If some customers feel better off, they enjoy those stories and make sure that the world knows about them, but in the end, Apple is a company and companies are beholden to their shareholders. This is about profit. Interestingly, sometimes these companies fool themselves, convincing themselves of their altruism, but it won’t last. The bottom line eventually drives all decisions.
  7. This will dramatically increase income inequality. Only the most wealthy will find this technology available to them initially and most likely it will make them wealthier
  8. Those uncomfortable with putting tech in their bodies will become a persecuted minority

Transhumanism and augementation are not new. Work on prostheses connected to the brain has been improving dramatically. Take Professor Hugh Herr of MIT, stranded on Mt. Washington, loses the lower half of both legs and works for decades to develop prosthetic legs for himself which he can control with his mind. He has received numerous awards and accolades for his work. And it is amazing. Anytime a human being, loses some of their abilities, whether that be through birth or accident and is able to have them restored to human level function — it is a glorious story. If only it stopped there, read this excerpt from a recent article on Prof Herr written by Sally Helgesen, published in Strategy + Business…

But the scope of Herr’s interests and ambitions takes him beyond the desire to simply redress lost function. He’s become an evangelist for the notion that augmentation can also be used to expand capacity for those with intact bodies and functioning minds: wearables that enable human eyes to see infrared waves; tools that permit individuals to design and sculpt their own bodies, either for aesthetic reasons or to enhance athletic or professional performance. — Sally Helgesen, on Prof Hugh Herr

And this is where I get uncomfortable. Likely this is my own discomfort as I believe that many will choose to augment themselves in the future. Many people want to be superhuman, even if it is only in a narrow function. It’s a seductive offer. People like to be better than others. Oh, there is one catch, Prof Hugh Herr’s prostheses cost many millions of dollars, but I’m sure everyone has that lying around.

I am not opposed to augmentation or transhumanism. I can’t stop it. Maybe I should want to stop it based on these concerns, but I recognize that people have a right to make these decisions for themselves. The disabled can’t be prevented from being returned to human standard function levels. If Prof Herr wants to make super climbing legs for himself, he has that right. And just in case you think brain tech is a generation ahead of us, please note that brain tech already exists and is being enhanced daily.

Spinal Injury Patients Could Regain Mobility Through Brain-Computer Interfaces
In Brief Researchers are developing an implantable brain chip to bypass problems in the spinal cord and using a brain…futurism.com

I am concerned that as technology moves inside our bodies, we won’t be able to distinguish natural humans from the cyborgs, when we need to legally. Whether it be for athletic competitions, like Oscar Pistorius at the London Olympics, or Jeopardy! in the future. Certainly a person with a perfect memory (or bionic thumb) can’t be allowed to compete with a natural human — the competition would be a farce. These examples are fairly whimsical, but I am using them rather than the more disturbing versions where natural humans and augmented humans will be interested to know who-is-who.

I am further concerned about increasing income inequality. Augmentation today and in the near future will only be for the wealthiest. The newest class of brain enhancements will be expensive, it is the nature of R&D and the capitalist model that they will begin to recoup their costs. So will we be helping humanity or will the rich be extending their lead, I suspect you know the answer to that question. Imagine the parent about to send their child off to University. Already committed to spending hundred of thousands of dollars on that education. Won’t you feel compelled to purchase that “perfect memory” device from Apple to ensure that investment gets maximized? What about the competition from other students who are likely getting their “perfect memories”, are you the cheap parent that can’t afford to get your child the very best? Are you trying to let him/her fail? It’s a beautiful sales model and one that will certainly work. I think the risks to your humanity are too great.

Lastly, I am concerned that transhumanism will create two classes of humans, the augmented and the natural. The augmented will be superior to the natural and we have numerous examples in history of how a population that believes itself superior treats the inferior. This is the genuine problem because it will divide humanity. It has to. You can’t compete at work, you probably won’t have work. The lives of the super-human will be better and they will be in control. Could a natural human be forced to augment? Told it is for your own good, it is the next phase in human evolution? Eventually, for failure to augment, you might be deemed worthless and unemployable. Could you be outcast? I know this sounds like science-fiction, but I disagree. This is an extension of human relationships since time immemorial. Superior groups have a longer track record of overwhelming weaker entities, whether that be based on: military might (Greeks), organization (Romans), the enlighment/colonization/Age of Discovery (Western Europe), nationalism (Nazi- Germany), economic-strength (US), superior forces impose their will on the weak, embarrassingly often “for their own good”. It is not difficult to see it play out. Science and Technology already feels superior, you can hear in Mr. Gruber’s talk. Certainly I am talking about nothing different or unique here, except that it is based on forecast. I argue this is an obvious course of events, time is the only variable. For further thoughts on this division of humanity you can read my previous blog post:

Technology + The Human Body = Insurmountable Societal Challenge?
Picture this world for a moment. You are out of work. Technology is moving so rapidly that it is hard to keep up. In…medium.com

ForHumanity believes in the right to augment. But our most important efforts will be to create a world for natural humans to thrive in and I suspect that we will spend the rest of my life fighting an uphill battle for that. Each of you has the right to augment, especially if you are augmenting to return to human level standards. But once augmentation goes beyond the natural human, like science and technology are planning, then we have a problem. I’ve enumerated a series of concerns without highlighting the positive. I felt Mr. Gruber did an excellent job on the positives. But his sales pitch was so smooth, it made me distinctly uncomfortable and I needed to explain why. I hope this helps you consider tech in your body and make an informed decision when the time comes.

Technology + The Human Body = Insurmountable Societal Challenge?

Picture this world for a moment. You are out of work. Technology is moving so rapidly that it is hard to keep up. In fact, at your last job, you almost felt like you couldn’t process information as quickly as the younger employees on your team. They seemed to be up-to-speed on the latest software almost overnight. So when the company had a couple of difficult quarters and your boss scheduled that one-on-one meeting, you knew what was coming. Probably something many can relate to, if not actually experienced.

A few months later, it has been difficult to get a job. So you are networking everywhere you can, including with old colleagues. You decide to get drinks after work. A couple of beers later, the conversation is flowing, you’re chatting away almost forgetting that this was meant to be networking. You mention how frustrating technological advancement has been and that you found it difficult to keep up. Your colleague gives you a wry smile, leans back and says, “yep, you are so right, I’d be lost without my NeuraMesh”.

“NeuraMesh, what’s a NeuraMesh?” you ask.

He points to his head and says that he has an implant that increases his hearing, records all his sights and sounds, increases brain function by 2x and automatically downloads new software. Augmented and virtual reality tutorials operate overnight while he sleeps so that he can learn new technology immediately. “You should get one,” he says. “Only cost me $20,000. My parents bought it for me before college. They wanted to make sure they got the most out of their college investment,” he laughs.

You’re floored. You were competing for your job with a machine. Or at least, a cyborg (part man, part machine). How could you possibly measure up? How could you possibly learn new software while you slept? How could you compete with someone who has 2x brain function?

This may seem like science fiction, but it is nearing science fact. Not necessarily in the brain function department, although there are plenty of people working on it including Elon Musk and his $1 billion commitment to fund a “NeuraMesh” type interface for the brain.

Elon Musk launches Neuralink, a venture to merge the human brain with AI
SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk is backing a brain-computer interface venture called Neuralink, according to The Wall…www.theverge.com

But you don’t have to wait for those breakthroughs. Today, the government and independent scientists are developing prosthetics for every part of the body. Each one of these is developed with a patient in mind, someone who is disabled, lost a limb, lost an eye, spinal injury etc. This endeavors are generally altruistic and even beautiful advancements. Seeing video of a soldier who lost his arm, wiggle his fingers, by thinking about it is heart-warming. From that perspective, transhumanism is beautiful.

The military just built the most advanced prosthetic arm we've ever seen
During a recent event held by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Tech Insider had a chance to check…www.businessinsider.com

THE 'EYEBORG': This filmmaker lost an eye - and replaced it with a tiny camera
Filmmaker Rob Spence lost his right eye in a childhood accident. Recently, he decided to take advantage of his…www.businessinsider.com

 

But there are two parts to that word, trans (across, beyond, through, changing) and human. Because the human is involved, it begins to become problematic.

Humans are competitive. Humans want to win. Humans want to achieve things that have never been done before. Humans like attention and accolades. What steps won’t people take to succeed. Just look at steroid use in sports. Athletes found a way to surpass their previous abilities and it was exploited rampantly. It also changed the game of baseball forever…

Humans will take Artificial Intelligence and Automation, in the form of cybernetics and they will make themselves superhuman cyborgs. But it doesn’t even have to be intentional at first. Take Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius. He lost both of his lower legs. Used prosthetic blades as replacements and competed at the highest levels in sprint racing, a glorious triumph of the human spirit. But it begged the question, do his prostheses enhances his ability to compete. The short answer is yes, there are advantages, but researchers aren’t sure if they are meaningful contributors above human-level performance. However, no one would disagree, that they could be made to be meaningfully better.

Blade Runners: Do High-Tech Prostheses Give Runners an Unfair Advantage?
Paralympic long jump champ Markus Rehm's bid to compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics fell short in July when he…www.scientificamerican.com

So just like steroids in baseball or blood-doping in cycling. Athletes looking for an edge are incentivized to push the boundaries. Pushing boundaries, as it happens, is the express desire of many scientists in the field. The Department of Defense in the US is already experimenting with exoskeletons that are stronger, faster, bullet-proof and armed. Some prostheses, like mechanical eyes, already have the advantage of recording, rather than relying upon memory. Cochlear implants can record everything audible. These are steps which have already allowed the disabled who have implanted them to achieve super-human status with that sense. These developments will continue.

Here’s the point. ForHumanity has no intention, today, to prevent the use or development of transhuman technologies. Honestly, I don’t think they could be stopped and in many case don’t need to be stopped. However, it creates a problem for humanityIt creates unfair competition and it disadvantages those who do not have super-human cybernetics.

I am afraid, however, that transhumanism may become the steroids of the late 90’s Major League Baseball, but with FAR greater consequences. The peer pressure among baseball players was tremendous. Jobs were being lost, millions of dollars being lost by players who did not use steroids. This article from 1999 in USA Today highlights the pressure that even high school athletes were feeling to use steroids to compete and in some cases to even survive: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/life/health/doctor/lhdoc058.htm

When you can no longer find work because you can’t compete, you will invest in the cybernetics. When you are no longer strong enough to do your manual-labor job, you will invest in cybernetics. When your friends tell you how convenient their implanted technology is, you will invest in cybernetics. Eventually, societal expectation will be for all to accept certain technologies. When they are proven safe through usage, proponents will argue that there is no excuse for implantation. The argument will be simple, “why rely on that feeble brain when you can have a better brain?. We got rid of horses for automobiles didn’t we? No more abacus, use this calculator. No more calculator, use this computer”. Technology and the assistance it gives us is nice, convenient and makes life easier for us, right? Well, technology is a little bit like a drug. Makes us happier, makes life easier when we use it. But does it have side effects or lead to addiction. If we are honest with ourselves, many of us have some sort of technology addiction. That concern leads me to the gateway “drug” of cybernetics.

The implanted RFID chip. Harmless right? Implanted in my hand in the blink of an eye. Gets rid of those car keys I always lose. Wallets? who needs those, people can steal them or I can lose it? Why not put everything on a chip and embedded it into my hand. Simple, cheap and easy. Well, that is what a gateway drug is… simple, cheap and easy. When will you stop adding tech to your body? Bluetooth ears? Health monitors that make sure you are in tip-top physical shape. Eye implants that record everything you see. Lightweight exoskeletons that triple your strength and speed? Brain interfaces that let you learn faster, record more data and operate your gadgets with a thought. Why would you stop? We don’t stop advancing our external technology? If things are proven to be safe, physically, why not continue to upgrade your internal technology. Each step forward however, you are less human. Partly because you are also superior, to many of those around you. I ask you, is it fair for a natural human to have to compete with you for your job, if you have advanced brain function? or if you are stronger? ForHumanity believes that is not fair.

Where does that leave us? Well, in a conundrum quite frankly. Today, technology can be restorative and beautiful. Tomorrow we will have humans with super human “powers or skills”. In the beginning, we will see these cybernetics hacked and exploited. There will be debates on the pros and cons, but eventually they will become quite robust, all technology does. When there are problems with tech, innovation takes over and gets them fixed eventually. On the other side of the coin, we have natural humans, who choose not to engage these technologies and they will experience heavy peer pressure to join or will become a disadvantaged minority, the likes of which our species has never seen. How will we respond when being/remaining a natural born human is a weakness? Will society protect the weak? Will our leaders and electorates create legislation to protect or even level the playing field? Will those who are natural even feel like a part of the same species? How will we even know who is cybernetic and how much tech they have? These are massive challenges for humanity. I fear it will lead to a genuine break in society and that is why I am raising the issue. We should be preparing to consider these issues right now, at the beginning, while these technologies are being developed. ForHumanity wants your views on this topic, please think deeply and share them with us. Forhumanityryan@gmail.com, or comment here.

Transhumanism, Life Extension and my Concerns

At ForHumanity, our primary mission is to defend the rights of Humanity in the age of AI and Automation. Trying to preserve the things that make us human in world where technological change and technological choice are unstoppable. To be clear, I have no interest in try to stop technological progress, this is not a Luddite movement. Trying to stop technological progress is a fruitless endeavor. Rather, I want to maximize the freedom to choose how and when technology is embraced or eschewed.

So when it comes to Transhumanism (Trans) and Life Extension (LE)technologies, such as the digital download of the mind, I see some substantial challenges and I wanted to get them down on paper and begin/join the dialogue. A few bullet points to start:

  1. People should have the choice to participate or not participate in Trans and LE technologies. I can imagine a few instances where participation in Trans technology might become mandatory. Two examples are implant identification and implant medical records/health monitoring. Both arguments are easily made by a central authority. Implant identification is for “our safety”. Medical health records and monitoring would be argued on a cost basis by the centralized provider of health care. If they know what is wrong with you, they can “fix” it and keep their costs down. I argue that neither technology can be forced upon you, but I believe there will come a day where it will.
  2. It is likely that when people do choose Trans, then their ability to do certain jobs will be dramatically enhanced, while non-Trans people will not be able to compete. This will create a new “inequality”.
  3. If and when the mind becomes downloadable, essentially allowing that mind to “live forever”, it introduces a series of challenges, especially around wealth creation and wealth retention for that downloaded entity. In the US, the estate tax was create to minimize the ability of a family to pass more and more assets down through the generations. The estate tax was firmly rooted in American wishes to avoid creating a aristocracy like the British. So unchecked, a digitally downloaded mind could acquire assets over hundreds of years exacerbating an already intolerable income inequality problem.
  4. Differentiation, like it or not, today there is already “technology prejudice”. If you don’t use Facebook, you are labelled “disconnected”. If you aren’t tethered to your phone, you are “unreachable and out-of-touch”. The older generations struggle to grasp the latest technologies in many cases, which isn’t a new phenomenon. However, the difference this time is that the changes are exponential. Already, middle-aged workers with 20 years of experience are finding themselves without work and without the qualifications for the majority of jobs suited to their experience and pay level. I believe that the divide between enhanced humans and regular humans will create a class system, if not an outright schism.
  5. Hackability, as personal privacy evaporates, the one place that I am certain I still have privacy, is in my mind. If I engage in Elon Musk’s Neural Lace or some other potential computer embedded brain apparatus, then the likelihood that I could be hacked has gone from zero to something greater than zero. There is already concern about the hackability of pace makers and similar devices, this is a real phenomenon.
  6. Simple loss of humanity — our quest for the elimination of errors and greater knowledge, destroys something beautiful about humanity, our chaos. Our errors are personal, its a rare person who wouldn’t tell you that they learned more from a mistake than anything else in their life. Our choices, sub-optimal and all, give life color and movement. Our lives have ups and downs and those roller coaster rides are part of the joy of life. Each step we take towards greater knowledge and fewer mistakes comes at a cost — our humanity. We stand on the edge of a precipice. Over the edge, is the worship of intelligence and I fear we are tetering on the brink, our center-of-gravity already over the edge. Intelligence is FAR from the thing that make life worth living, yet every business and every individual is chasing it as if our very lives depended upon it. Chaos avoidance is good for risk management and insurance company spreadsheets. It does not help us achieve “joie de vive”, the joy of life. And finally control
  7. The concept of living forever has a deeply rooted challenger in faith, especially the Christian and Muslim faiths. Efforts and successes on life extension will be met not only with skepticism, but cynicism, but the faith-based communities. I believe this will be an additional source of divide between humans. A divide that is rife with risk and opportune for conflict, oppression and subjugation by enhanced humans.

These are simply a few of my concerns and I wanted to share them. Please note that I intend for this to be a dynamic and working list. Challenges and additions are welcome, as feedback always is on my writings. As I explore Transhumanism, I will probably amend and adapt this post with the things that I am able to learn along the way. As always, ForHumanity can use your support, visit the website at https://www.forhumanity.center/ for more information.