Monday, April 21, 2014

Transhumanism

Does anybody else get tired of the trend for most movies smacking of transhumanism to be some sort of horror-fest where transhumanism turns out to be the big threat of the movie. The concept of the digital uploaded mind is under attack in the upcoming Johnny Depp movie. Admittedly, it's not my favorite branch of transhumanism, because I'd want us to know more about the way the human mind works and have much better computers first. Ideally, I'd like a true AI to occur before we even think about trying it.

That and I'm fond of my flesh.




I certainly don't think there's much difference between a chemically driven carbon-based machine and an electrically driven silicon and circuitry based machine. My body is just a container for my soul as far as I'm concerned, whether that's a divinely created immortal existence or simple a massively complex system of self-aware programming as some others might believe. Or both at the same time (as I think might be possible).

There are people who would disagree with me, of course, citing various reasons ranging from God's plan to just simply arrogance. But I've already cited the reasons that make the most sense: we're simply not ready to make any sort of attempt.

For my mind, I prefer to think about genetic modification since we're a whole lot closer to being able to develop safe modifications for human use than we are to having the working knowledge of both psychology and the raw engineering of the human mind to be able to hit the digital upload thing.

Now some of the arguments I've heard against this include:

What if people try to use genetic engineering to alter people so that a specific ethnicity dies out?

What if people engineer a slave race?

What if it causes a new disease?

What if it causes cancer?

What if it is used to determine what a person is at birth?

The first two are possible but rather far-fetched, at least in our culture. Editing out a ethnicity doesn't provide any sort of benefit to the species, if anything we should be trying to broaden the variability.
The next two shouldn't occur if proper testing is done and would be the result of reckless, impatient and sloppy science. Which is what the public seems to think all science is, unfortunately.

The last has been a problem for humanity for all of its history, genetic modification doesn't really change the problem any. People are always looking for ways to explain why someone shouldn't have some opportunity, and, unfortunately any advancement could have that use.

There was a rather famous instance where Bush supposedly declared that human-animal hybrids would never be a thing. This immediately made me think that someone had freaked out about the possibilities of real life furries. Which boggles my mind.

A lot of the stuff we could get from animals isn't really that useful when you take into account our technology. Animal weapons and senses are all trumped by our tech. Some of the regenerative factors or resistance to cancer or other defects are certainly some of the things I could see, but for the most part, animal hybrids would mostly seem cosmetic to me.

Attractive as more humanoid hybrids are in fiction (I pretty much prefer ears, tails and possible teeth over full anthropomorphic animals), I have a feeling meeting one in real life would thoroughly be into uncanny valley territory for the first couple of generations where it was possible. Plus cosmetic modifications like that would be the last thing that we should look to. It is almost impossible that we will ever see anything like it in our life-times.

The sort of genetic mods I'd like to see:

improved bone density retention for astronauts

other general mods towards the problems faced by space exploration

further improved life spans

improved immune systems

improved quality of life, extended youth and such

an improved off-switch for hunger (we're still pretty heavily steered toward the eat-whenever-wherever-possible instinct)

 And then there's stuff we're actually close to successfully implementing:

Cloned replacement organs (there have already been experiments that created specific organs out of stem cells.

Cloned "humane" meats (if we can do the above, we can do this)

One thing that the movies imply and that opponents might think is that those of us that want transhumanism to happen somehow expect it and demand it to happen in our life times.

I'm not going to say it can't, given the tendency of human science to make sudden quantum leaps, but I highly doubt any human-safe, useful mods are going to show up in our lifetimes. I expect us to make slow progress, but still faster than evolution alone would produce.

All of this is a way to make sure we stave off extinction that much longer.

Transhumanism to me is something like the effort to go into space and find other planets to colonize. This planet will eventually die, and if we haven't spread off of it by then, then so will we. Likewise, if we allow ourselves to stagnate evolutionarily speaking, we'll go extinct just the same. For those that worry about going extinct and being replaced by the transhumans, that's already happened in the past and it is already happening now. It's just moving at such a slow pace you don't see it.

Modern humans are a subspecies of Homo sapiens referred to as (get ready for the originality) Homo sapiens sapiens. Our subspecies dates back to 200,000 years or so and even back to 10,000 years when we switched from hunter-gatherer to farming traditions significant changes to the species resulted. Further changes are going on now as a result of our change from a labor-intensive culture to one of sedentary work.

In addition, our current average life-span is more than double what it was in the early 20th century. Yes, within 100 years we've doubled life-expectancy. This is mostly medical knowledge, lifestyle and nutrition. The much, much lower infant and child death rate is also a huge impact on that average.

Still it is having an impact on the species as a whole. For one thing, I'm still being called a young man who has plenty of time to get a family when I'm 5 years older than the average life-expectancy of a man at the beginning of the 20th Century.

A lot of the reason we have cancers and other defects now that we didn't before is because most people died before they got a chance to live long enough to develop them. The traits resulting in the vulnerabilities were never chosen against because they didn't show up early enough to prevent reproduction. It has been said that death is a side effect of reproduction because the stuff that eventually shuts us down (short of injury and illness) is stuff that we inherit which didn't interfere with us having children.

An extinction where we are replaced by a better species descendant from us should be the goal.
That's not an extinction in any way that matters, that's a metamorphosis. That's a potentially peaceful transition to an improved way of life.

Unfortunately, the way is mired with a lot of our imperfections. We're likely to stumble and fall several times before we move forward, but we have to keep moving forward.

Cybernetics. (you realize they've successfully tested a replacement eye, right...and cybernetic limbs that allow you to feel what the replacement fingers are touching).

 Genetic therapies and modifications.

These are technologies we should persist in pursuing because it will take life-times to perfect and when the time comes that we NEED this ability, we won't have lifetimes to pursue it. When the need comes, we'll be lucky to have decades.

Transhumanism is very much an ounce of prevention.

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