Each Tuesday Nikolas Badminton, Futurist, summarizes 3 to 5 future looking developments in the realm of transhuman and cyborg-related technologies.
In Transhuman Tuesday – Brexit, Mind Control and Roaches we look at the implications of Brexit on transhumans, paralysed people inhabiting robots, ethics, Westworld morals, and cyborg roaches.
Brexit for Transhumanists: A Parable for Getting What You Wish For
For the past two years, Zoltan Istvan has been campaigning for the US presidency on the Transhumanist Party, a largely one-man show which nevertheless remains faithful to the basic tenets of transhumanism. Now suppose he won. Top of his policy agenda had been to ensure the immortality of all Americans. But even Zoltan realized that this would entail quite big changes in how the state and society function. So, shortly after being elected president, he decides to hold a national referendum on the matter.
The question on the ballot is one that makes the stakes crystal clear: ‘The government shall endeavour to release all Americans from the constraints of mortality’. Zoltan liked this way of putting things because were he to lose to the referendum, which he half-presumed, the opportunity to air publicly the relevant issues would continue to shift naysayers in Congress to increase funding for broadly anti-death research and treatments — a step in the right direction, as far as he’s concerned.
Zoltan also liked the idea that the referendum effectively ‘rotated the political axis’, from left-right to up-down, a turn of phrase he picked up from some philosopher whose name he couldn’t remember. But this also meant that the ensuing campaign, which was fierce, attracted a motley crew of supporters on both sides.
The ‘Remainers’ (as the anti-immortalists call themselves) were composed of a mix of traditional religious believers, environmental activists and hard-headed sceptics who distrust all transcendental hype, whether it comes from religion or science. In other words, those who wanted us to remain in our normal bodies held that our fate either is confined to our current circumstances or requires that we remain in those circumstances in order for something better to happen post mortem. The stakes were so high that even the Pope was called out to argue the case, which of course he was more than happy to do, Obama-style.
Read more of this article by Steve Fuller at IEET
Paralysed people inhabit distant robot bodies with thought alone
IN THE 2009 Bruce Willis movie Surrogates, people live their lives by embodying themselves as robots. They meet people, go to work, even fall in love, all without leaving the comfort of their own home. Now, for the first time, three people with severe spinal injuries have taken the first steps towards that vision by controlling a robot thousands of kilometres away, using thought alone.
The idea is that people with spinal injuries will be able to use robot bodies to interact with the world. It is part of the European Union-backed VERE project, which aims to dissolve the boundary between the human body and a surrogate, giving people the illusion that their surrogate is in fact their own body.
In 2012, an international team went some way to achieving this by taking fMRI scans of the brains of volunteers while they thought about moving their hands or legs. The scanner measured changes in blood flow to the brain area responsible for such thoughts. An algorithm then passed these on as instructions to a robot.
The feeling of embodying the robot was good, although the sensation varied over time
The volunteers could see what the robot was looking at via a head-mounted display. When they thought about moving their left or right hand, the robot moved 30 degrees to the left or right. Imagining moving their legs made the robot walk forward.
Now, a second team has tested a similar set-up in people who are paralysed from the neck or trunk down. To make the technology cheaper, more comfortable and more portable, the team swapped the fMRI scanner for an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap, which records electrical activity in the brain using electrodes attached to the scalp.
Read more at New Scientist
The Ethics of Transhumanism
When I was growing up, my father often told me that Andy Warhol once said that he wanted to be a machine, and that it would be a lot easier to be a machine — if something broke, you could just replace it.
Even though small wounds and injuries heal, this has not been the case for humans. If something were inherently broken, it would stay broken therest of our lives. Which relates to another common saying: The only two things in this world that are certain are death and taxes.
For the transhumanist movement, this is not thecase. Transhumanists believe that humankind can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations to become “superhuman” and, eventually, immortal. One of the most prominent members of the movement is Zoltan Istvan, founder of the Transhumanist Party and 2016 third-party presidential candidate.
For Istvan, aging and death are the biggest plague of our time. The party is proposing a transhumanist bill of rights that states that it should be illegal to stop research on longevity and eternal rights based on religious and ethical reasons.
Many of today’s well-known faces in the tech world accompany the movement. Peter Thiel has, like a modern-day King Gilgamesh, stated that it is against human nature not to fight death, and is investing heavily in companies like the Methuselah Foundation. He is joined by Larry Ellison, who finds accepting mortality “incomprehensible.” Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, as well as Mark Zuckerberg, are also investing in ways to extend human life.
The concept of eternal or even extended life would challenge several constructs of today’s society, ranging from healthcare and social services to pensions and insurance, as well as the labor market, just to name a few. Eternal life also poses a series of ethical and moral dilemmas, such as how to make room for the next generation, or whether eternal or prolonged life would be reserved for those privileged few.
Read more at TechCrunch
‘Westworld’ and the Moral Dilemma of Cyborgs
The new HBO series “Westworld,” though based on a 1973 sci-fi thriller about a rebellion of robotic slaves at an amusement park, is closely related to “Blade Runner” in both tone and substance. It acknowledges this debt in a number of ways, not least of all by using the word “retire” to describe the park’s decision to lobotomize a cyborg prostitute who fights back when she is assaulted, despite programming that requires her to submit to rape, strangulation, gunshot wounds and temporary death. Under ordinary circumstances, cyborgs who “die” are surgically repaired, subjected to memory erasure and put back into circulation. The next day, hell begins all over again.
“Westworld” has been attacked for sensationalizing violence. But the violence in this series is tame compared with the carnage depicted in any number of video games that show characters being blown to pieces in every frame. Now imagine what gamers decades from now might pay to enter into a world where a quite-nearly-human adversary bleeds, cries and “dies’’ when injured in battle. This is the bloody, morally compromised future that “Westworld” envisions.
The father of cybernetics cautioned human beings against the desire to be waited upon by intelligent machines that are equipped to improve their minds over time. “We wish a slave to be intelligent, to be able to assist us in the carrying out of our tasks,” Wiener writes. “However, we also wish him to be subservient.” The obvious problem is that keen intelligence and groveling submission do not go hand in hand.
Read more at New York Times
Drones and Cyborg Roaches Team Up to Map Disaster Zones
Imagine this scenario: An earthquake has just rattled your city and you’ve found yourself alive, but trapped in the rubble of a collapsed office building. Air and a sliver of light stream through a crack to the outside world. You call for help, but no one answers.
And then suddenly, there’s movement. Dozens of cockroaches come swarming toward you through the crack. It’s the stuff of nightmares. Except it’s not. These are not your common, garbage-variety roaches; these are a team of sensor-laden cyborgs in communication with a drone and base station outside, and they’re about to save your life.
“Maybe you’re reaction is to scream, but maybe that would help because they will be able to find where you are,” assistant professor Edgar Lobaton told Seeker.
He and his colleagues Alireza Dirafzoon and Alper Bozkurt at North Carolina State University reported this week on the latest development in a system to pair unmanned aerial vehicles with insect cyborgs in order to create 3-D maps of large, unfamiliar areas such as disaster zones — and even locate survivors.
Read more at Seeker
Nikolas Badminton is a world-respected futurist speaker that researches, speaks, and writes about the future of work, how technology is affecting the workplace, how workers are adapting, the sharing economy, and how the world is evolving. He appears at conferences in Canada, USA, UK, and Europe. Email him to book him for your radio, TV show, or conference.