Christmakwanzachanukah Days
As an atheist, I'm no more offended by the use of the word Christmas than I would be by the use of the word Zeusmas. However, if you grind axes on my interchangeable use of the word Christmas and holiday, I reserve the right to criticize your hypocrisy. Getting upset over words, semantics, gets me upset. Words have meanings but no special powers. I ascribe no more meaning to the word Christ than to the word Dionysus. If you do, whatever, but if you portray yourself as a victim because I use the word holiday, then I equally have a right to assume I'm being victimized when you use the word Christmas. The only reconciliation that can be found is to stop being offended one by the other for the use of words. Christians can go on using the word Christmas. Nonbelievers can go on using the word holidays. And, we can all assume no malicious intent. Otherwise, Christians can go on using the word Christmas as a weapon and contrarily claiming to be victims, while nonbelievers draw a line in the sand on the mythical 'war on Christmas'.

Get over yourselves.

Sacred Places

God does not dwell in every sacred place upon the earth. Some sacred places are reserved for man, and the sacred dwells within him. For if a man surrounds himself with mediocrity, mediocrity will reside within him, but if a man surrounds himself with the extraordinary, the extraordinary will fill him and shine from within him, as a beacon to the world.


Transhumanism 101: Lesson 8 - Existential Risks
I would be remiss if in a series on transhumanist philosophy I did not mention the existential risks presented by the same technologies that could bring about existential security. Nanites, like the ones that could one day be adapted to aid our immune systems, healing us from the inside, could also be adapted to shred our bodies from the inside out. This risk is sometimes referred to as 'Grey Goo'. This technology might first be employed by a military as a weapon, like a technological bio-weapon, but much like thermonuclear weapons at Bikini Atoll, such weapons may not be predictable or contained. Self-replicating nanoscale robots designed to destroy an enemy target, out of control, could wipe out the entire human population in days. We in the transhumanist community have proposed a solution to this risk, which we call 'Blue Goo', nanites that could be adapted to seek and destroy grey goo. Of course, it might be best if the human race had the good sense not to adapt such technologies as weapons in the first place.

For almost any existential risk from technology we can imagine, we can imagine a technological solution. The democratization of biotechnology could lead to bioterrorism on a large scale. We can imagine the Timothy McVeigh of the future might engineer in his basement a superbug more virulent and deadly than small pox. Deploying this superbug in a heavily populated area could lead to a deadly global pandemic with billions of casualties in a few days time. However, we can also imagine, as I've discussed, the rapid prototyping of vaccines. With the technology of the future, we will be able to map the genome of a new virus and synthesize a vaccine in minutes. In hours the vaccine could be deployed to the affected area, effectively curing the effected population and quarantining the virus from the rest of us.

There is one existential risk presented by these technologies for which there is no easy solution, and it is the greatest existential risk the human race has ever faced, greater than super volcanoes, greater than cometary impacts, and greater than thermonuclear holocaust. That risk is AI. Super-intelligent, strong AI, also known as Artilects could wipe out the entire human race in an instant or in any time-frame of their choosing, and countering their attack would be futile because of their superior intellect. Any counter attack we could engineer with human-level intelligence would be handily countered by an intelligence a billion times greater. The prescription that we offer for this in the transhumanist community is to merge with machines and to technologically enhance our own intelligence. The success of such a plan hinges upon human intelligence keeping up with machine intelligence, which is hard to imagine. Even if this prescription was effective, the outcome could be the same. It is perfectly rational (that is, if all intelligences have a survival instinct), being an immortal super-intellence, realizing that energy in the cosmos is finite, to destroy all other competition for resources and convert all matter and energy in the cosmos to your own sustenance. The result of such a scenario would be the destruction of all life in the cosmos with a single super-intellegence perched upon the ruins.

The risks of post-singularity technology cannot be overstated, but 'risks' implies choice. The future is never an individual choice. The future is like a train we're all riding as passengers, driving as conductors, and laying new track. The direction is set by a collection of a trillion-trillion individual choices. We as individuals can help shape trends but not significantly. Whatever positive and negative outcomes arise out of this new technological revolution, we cannot choose them, and we cannot stop them. We are only then left with the individual choice to look to the future with dread or hope.

Transhumanism 101: Lesson 7 - Longevity Escape Velocity
Transhumanism on a basic level is about mankind merging with machines, but that says nothing about the real implications of these technologies. Merging with machines is not an end; it is merely a stepping stone on the path of evolution that has no end. The greatest implication of these technologies is longevity escape velocity, also known as indefinite lifespan. It's important to note that we are not talking about some Faustian bid for immortality. We are not talking about metaphysical notions of everlasting life of an immortal soul in some spiritual existence; that is a fairy tale.

Longevity escape velocity is the eventuality of curing all major diseases, including age-related cellular senescence, making cancer chronic, rapid prototyping vaccines for emerging viral epidemics, gene therapies, stem cell therapies, nanite-enhanced immune systems, and other technologies of the post-singularity world. The human body remains mortal, but in this paradigm, in the new epoch, accidental death and murder will become the only practical way to die. Even accidents will be unthinkably rare as we can easily imagine technological automation all but eliminating accidents. Indefinite lifespan doesn't mean everlasting life, but it does mean lifespans in the hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of years. We can imagine if we have uploaded our consciousness to an artificial substrate, our consciousness could be sustained as long as there was a power source, perhaps 10,000 years. It remains a finite lifespan but not particular limiting.

Billions of men have lived and died. It is an unthinkable tragedy. All these men and women, their hopes, dreams, & aspirations, their creations & innovations, their human potential lost forever. We delude ourselves with notions of an afterlife in which our souls can thrive forever, so we don't have to grapple with the reality that when we die all is lost forever. Dead is dead. It is nothing to fear from a certain perspective. I was not aware of my nothingness before I was born; I will not be aware of my oblivion after death. Death itself is nothing to fear, but the loss is terrible. We have so much creativity, love, ingenuity, and joy to experience and to share with the world. Death may be nothing to fear, but death is the enemy around which we should all be united in common cause. Indefinite lifespan will be the spoils when we win this battle with death. The implications of that, the question of what comes next, I explore in great detail in my novel, but suffice it for now that it means we will get to share our creativity, love, ingenuity, and joy for a while longer.

Transhumanism 101: Lesson 6 - Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology, put simply, is very small technology, technology at a scale of one-billionth of a meter, in fact, inconceivably small. When many people think of nanotechnology, they think of little, tiny robots, also known as nanites. While I do contend there is coming a day when we will all have nanites swimming through our bloodstream, aiding our immune systems, and destroying cancer cells, that level of technology is a long way off; at least thirty years away, I would estimate. That said, I have seen proof of concept. Today, in the lab, we have molecular robots and, in animal applications, nanoscale capsules delivering medicine directly to the sight of infection.

Nanotechnology is not just a potential medical technology. Nanotechnology's greatest potential is in the world of materials science. Today, in the laboratory, we have self-healing paint, battery-like textiles, and carbon nanotubes with potential applications ranging from ultracapcitors to space elevators. Like genetic engineering, nanotechnology is a technology about manipulating matter at a molecular level, so the possibilities are nearly limitless.

Today, we have 3D printers (additive manufacturing) that print materials at a scale as small as 100nm. It's not just plastic toys that we can print. Today, not in some far flung future, we can print things a complex as buildings, electric bicycles, and food (pizza). When nanotechnology converges with 3D printing, we will be able to fabricate anything you can imagine, molecule by molecule. The implications of this are larger than you can imagine. We are talking about near-perfect resource efficiency. We will be able to fabricate what we need with a minimum of a few grams of raw elements. We are talking about true supply on demand; build only what you need, when you need it, where you need it. We are talking about the prices of goods falling to nominal, which means anyone, anywhere, who has access to the 3D printer of the future will have access to any product one needs. We are talking about a global abundance of material resources.

Imagine the cities of tomorrow built with carbon extracted from the atmosphere; we will reverse global climate change by building cities. Imagine printing an apple when you are hungry. Imagine printing the iPhone 30 with a template you downloaded from an open source, free domain, file-sharing database. The economics of the future will have to change to respond to the change from a need-based economy to an abundance-based economy. Nanotechnology will drive the largest economic shift in human history, greater than the industrial revolution, greater than the invention of agriculture. Nanotechnology, together with the other technological forces of the singularity will usher in a new epoch, an era in which our history will no longer inform us about our future.

Transhumanism 101: Lesson 5 - Genetic Engineering
Continuing my series on transhumanism, I will discuss genetic engineering, genomics, synthetic biology, and biotechnology. These are diverse fields of research, and with everything else, there are some crossovers to other disciplines like nanotechnology, which I will discuss in lesson 6. It might be helpful to have an overview on genetics before discussing genetic engineering. What are genes? Genes in short are the molecules in DNA that code proteins and the functions of RNA chains. To put it more simply, if DNA is the collection of instructions that make a biological organism what it is, genes are the individual instructions that code for the individual characteristics of the organism. This includes everything from the simplest single-celled organisms to humans. Genes are what make you you.

Genetic engineering put simply, then, is using technology to change the genetic instructions in an individual or groups DNA, to change the characteristics of an organism or group of organisms. This obviously has broad implications. We have mapped the human genome. If we can go the next step further, this is where genomics comes in, to understand what individual genes do, how they interact, and under what conditions, then we can do things like cure genetic diseases or make a person's eyes blue if they wish. It's not only genetic engineering in humans that have implications for humans. We can modify bacteria to kill other bacteria and use them as antibiotics where traditional antibiotics fail. You've probably heard some controversy over GMOs. GMOs are genetically engineered foods. It's worth noting that in the several decades history of use of GMOs in foods, GMOs have been found to have no negative health effects on humans and have equivalent nutritional content to so-called 'organic' foods. There have only been legal issues with the patents of GMOs and the heavy-handed enforcement of patent law in the realm of genetically modified organisms. Meanwhile, we can engineer foods to be grown in infertile soil and arid or cold climates. We can engineer foods to produce higher yields. There are many different ends in mind with different approaches to genetically modifying foods, but suffice it, we have had some success. That said, there is great potential for harm in the realm of genetic engineering. If we can engineering bugs to kill super-bugs, we can engineer super-bugs to kill people, our 'enemies' presumably.

Genetic engineering is not the beginning or ending of biotechnology or medical technology that has implications for transhumanism. There are a wide array of bleeding edge medical technologies in various stages of development today. You've probably seen the advanced prosthetics for severed limbs. There are many in the transhumanist community who talk about prosthetic bodies. Today, we can grow human organs in a petri dish. I've seen a heart grown in a jar. Today, not in some radical distant future, we can grow replacement organs for people who need them. The technology is in its infancy, but there is coming a day when we will be able to have a persons organs, grown from their own stem cells, standing by for whenever they need a replacement, extending human life expectancy by several times and improving healthful outcomes. There may come a day when we will replace the entire human body with a synthetic transplant, engineered for optimum performance and survivability. The possibilities with engineering biology on the molecular level are practically limitless.

Transhumanism 101: Lesson 4 - Artificial Intelligence
There are three core technologies thought to be driving us towards a technological singularity, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology, sometimes referred to as AGN. The reality is that each of these core technologies encompasses and relates to many other important technologies. Artificial Intelligence relates broadly to information technology. Growth in computer processing power, developments in alternate computer processing modalities, neuroscience research, biotechnology, software development, virtual reality, and many other areas of scientific research play heavily in the development of artificial intelligence. Biotechnology, genomics, stem cells, growth in computer processing power, and many other areas of scientific research play heavily in the development of genetic engineering. Likewise with nanotechnology, many other areas of scientific research come into play. Still, other technologies like robotics will play heavily in driving a technological singularity. There is beginning to be a convergence and an interrelatedness in the growth of technologies driving transhumanism.

Today, we will discuss artificial intelligence and how its associated technologies will drive the transformation of the human animal. First, we should acknowledge that when we are talking about AI in the transhuman community, we are usually talking about human-level artificial general intelligence or AGI. There are today and will be in the future narrow AIs. These are the AIs behind credit card security and air traffic control. They are good at coordinating difficult tasks within a narrow range. It is possible to have human-level or even super-human-level narrow AI. For example, if we were to push forward driverless car technology, there would be narrow AIs coordinating automobile traffic as they do air traffic. This narrow AI would be coordinating the individual movements of thousands or even millions of automobiles simultaneously, a task beyond human-level cognition. However, this narrow AI or AIs would be very bad at making a critique of post-modern architecture or really anything other than coordinating driverless cars. Narrow AI can only make decisions about a narrow range of information within a narrow framework of programmed decision making algorithms. Generalized artificial intelligence would be able to relate many different kinds of information from many different sources, a feat currently reserved for humans and other intelligent animals. Human-level AGI would be able to perform this feat on the same level as humans.

What does AI research have to do with transhumanism and the singularity? By 2050, at the current exponential rate of growth in information technology, a $1000 laptop will have the computational ability of one billion human brains. There will be super-human AGIs as well. There will be an intelligence arms race one day, and it represents the single greatest existential risk that we have ever imagined. AI research is important to humans, because if we can create AGIs and ultimately Artilects, super-human artificial intelligences, we can use the same technology to enhance human cognition artificially. I will talk more about this existential risk in my final entry for the series, but for now, try to imagine what we could do with enhanced intelligence. Imagine what we could do with the assistance of super-human-level narrow AIs. Think of the scientific problems we could solve, questions we could answer, in the fields of astrophyscis, geophysics, quantum mechanics, and others. If we can coordinate air traffic with narrow AI, now, imagine what is in store beyond the event horizon of the technological singularity. Now, imagine all the processing power that comes with these advances and what we can do with that in the fields of nanotechnology, robotics, biotechnology, genomics, genetic engineering, and virtual reality. If we can build an artificial substrate for super-human-level intelligence, we would only be one step away from mind uploading to a full-immersion virtual reality environment or an android. We could transcend our physical bodies and live on artificial substrates indefinitely. We could live virtually forever. I will discuss this more in a later entry, but suffice it that the implications of an explosion in artificial intelligence, in intelligence broadly, cannot be overstated.

Transhumanism 101: Lesson 3 - The Singularity
I want to continue defining terms as I offer primers on transhumanism. A word you will hear often in the transhumanist community, without much context, is 'The Singularity'. There are many singularities. Singularity is a generic term for black holes. It also refers to what existed before the Big Bang. When we talk about 'The Singularity' in the transhumanist community, we are referring to the technological singularity.

What does it mean? Technology, information technology specifically, is evolving exponentially. On one level, we are talking about Moore's Law. Moore's Law specifically refers to the exponential growth, a doubling every 18 months, of the number of transistors on integrated circuits (computer processors). Moore also accurately predicted the exponential growth in price performance of computer processing power. It's worth noting that Moore's Law refers only to integrated circuits, so while Moore's Law has a limit (every s-curve has a plateau), there's no reason to think that this exponential progress in performance of computer processing will stop when we move to three-dimensional molecular computing or some other computer processing technology.

Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Returns picks up where Moore's Law leaves off. The exponential progress in information technology has implications for other types of technology, because IT is used in almost every application of technology. Medical technology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, almost any technology you can think of has benefited from the exponential growth in information technology. The Law of Accelerating Returns predicts that we will see exponential advancement in almost every technology, and accurately predicted the mapping of the human genome, which was completed on an exponential curve. It's worth noting that any scientific theory is bolstered by making accurate predictions.

What does this have to do with the technological singularity? A singularity is an event horizon beyond which we cannot see. Technology is advancing at a rate where we cannot predict what the outcomes will be and how the world will be changed by it. The terminology of the singularity was co-opted by transhumanists to describe this anomaly. Our world will be profoundly changed by the advancements in technology. In fact, the post-singularity world will be unrecognizable to anyone born prior to the singularity. Imagine traveling back in time 10,000 years and trying to explain in a meaningful way the steam engine to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. An impossible task. Now, imagine traveling back in time 100 years and trying to explain in a meaningful way the Internet to our industrial ancestors. An equally impossible task. Now, imagine traveling back 10 or 15 years and trying to explain in a meaningful way Siri on the wireless-web-enabled iPhone 5. A nearly impossible task. Who would believe you? Now, try to imagine what kind of a world we will be living in 10 to 15 years from now, 100 years from now, 10,000 years from now. You can ONLY imagine. We, as transhumanists, can only speculate. I can only write a fiction novel to try to illustrate what that future MIGHT be like. We can only be certain that the future will be radically different from what most people can imagine. We don't know exactly what new technologies will emerge. We only know that technology will continue to develop along that exponential growth curve.

There are some who predict a 'soft take-off', while others predict a 'hard take-off'. This is really just a prediction about how gradual or sudden this progress will be. For example, will we develop the next computer processing technology before the end of Moore's Law or the other way around. While technology is progressing on an exponential growth curve, there have always been ups and downs, peaks and valleys, along that curve. Will we wake up one morning unable to adapt to how changed the world was one day to the next? Probably not. I lean on the soft take-off side. I'm not as optimistic or devout as Ray Kurzweil. I also don't think the terminology of or dogma surrounding the technological singularity is very helpful or important. It remains that tomorrow will be different than today as today was different from yesterday. The idea, of the singularity at least, is that tomorrow will be more different from today than today was from yesterday.

Transhumanism 101: Lesson 2 - Trans-human
I would be remiss if in a series of primers on transhumanism I didn't define transhuman. And, this is where it gets tricky. If there is an agreed upon standard of what transhumanism means, I've never heard it. Like religion, there may be as many ideas of what it means as there are people who identify as transhumanist. I will attempt to keep it basic and brief.

The word transhuman as I understand it comes from the words transcend human. When we talk about transhumanism, we are talking about transcending human biology. There are many implications to that phrase, 'transcending human biology'. Transcending human biology takes many forms. Humans have already transcended their evolved biology. We have extended natural life-span several times over. We have developed vaccines and eradicated pandemics. We have adapted eyeglasses and artificial limbs. We do 'routine' surgeries. I recently took my first major step towards transcending my own biology, having LASIK surgery to correct my vision. Many of us take pharmaceuticals to reprogram our biology.

Being transhuman does not a transhumanist make. Transhumanism as a philosophy predicts that this transcending of human biology will continue and accelerate in the future. Moreover, transhumanism argues that it is a good thing, something we all should be working actively towards, and a moral imperative. Why? Because people still get sick, people are born with disabilities, and people die. These are medical problems with medical solutions. We do not today have the medical technology to overcome all of these medical problems, but we may in the future have that medical technology. There is a moral imperative to use this technology to alleviate suffering.

Most transhumanists, although some preferring the label posthuman, argue for the need to go beyond curing cellular senescence, age-related diseases, infections, and disorders of the human body. Most argue for the need to enhance human biology using technology, merging with it. Humans have already begun the process of merging with machines and enhancing human biology with technology. How many of us have smartphones with us at all times? We all carry around with us an external brain, a communication enhancement device, that allows us to connect wirelessly with the whole of human knowledge. How long will it be before this technological brain is inside our bodies? And, it could not happen soon enough, because whether or not we merge with the machines and evolve beyond our biology, our technology will evolve beyond human biology, beyond human neurology. If we do not evolve with it, we will indeed be post-human, post alive.

Transhumanism 101: Lesson 1 - Unpossible
When I tell people what my upcoming novel is about, even if it is just my elevator pitch, I usually get a glazed over stare. I thought it would be helpful to create a primer for the core concepts of transhumanist philosophy and other philosophical precepts behind my novel.

There are things said to be impossible. That is, they are things, which are not possible, ever, under any circumstances. The list of things that are truly impossible is shrinking. Human flight was impossible until it was proven otherwise. Until Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, it was impossible. For these things, a better word might be unpossible. That is, things, which are not possible until they are brought to pass. Things that might make this list would be indefinite human lifespan, interstellar travel, non-lethal chronic cancer, human-level artificial intelligence, rapid vaccine prototyping, near-perfect resource efficiency, and mind uploading.

In 1983, the internet and phones were wired. Wireless was unpossible. Today, wireless internet and phones are ubiquitous. In thirty years, the world was transformed. In the next thirty years, the world will be transformed twice as much. Twice as many things that are unpossible today will be commonplace in thirty years as were unpossible then and commonplace today. This is what is referred to as exponoential progress, and it is one of the core transhumanist concepts. In order to understand transhumanism, you must first acknowledge that things thought to be impossible today, will be made reality tomorrow.


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