April 29, 2013

How do I know this isn't a mind control device?

I have seen a few forum strings with people discussing concerns about brain computer interfaces. Mainly
people asking if they are safe. will extended use cause any side effects or even if they are mind control devices or if someone can read your mind with them.

Any time radically new technology is introduced  there are concerns about its safety like cell phones causing brain tumors. Its impossible to tell any long term side effects but there are many people that have been using them for decades without any health issues related to eeg use. sometimes when using mine for hours i have experienced a sore scalp due to the eeg sensors rubbing against my scalp caused design issues but nothing related to reduced cognitive ability or headaches.

I found a good FAQ page for the muse by interaxon you can find here. They even address concerns about it stealing your mind ;-)

April 26, 2013

Carbon Copies

I recently found a site devoted solely towards research as substrate independent minds or mind uploading or whole brain emulation. A little similar to the 2045 project.

Carboncopies.org is a nonprofit organisation with a goal of advancing the reverse engineering of neural tissue and complete brains and to reproduce the functions thereof, creating what we call Substrate-Independent Minds (SIM).

Here is a video presentation of Randall Koene of the Carbon Copies Project

Interview with Ramez Naam on his new book

Brain tech, telepathic drugs, and ass-kicking Buddhists: a fascinating talk with Ramez Naam about his new transhuman science fiction novel "Nexus". 

Wired says “Good. Scary good… stop reading now and have a great time reading a bleeding edge technical thriller that is full of surprises.”  

Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing says “Nexus is a superbly plotted high tension technothriller… full of delicious moral ambiguity… a hell of a read.”  

The Wall Street Journal says “Provocative… a double-edged vision of the post-human.” 
Ars Technica says “Nexus is a lightning bolt of a novel… with a sense of awe missing from a lot of current fiction.”
Booklist says “Starred Review. Naam turns in a stellar performance with his debut SF novel… What matters here is the remarkable scope of the story and its narrative power.” 
Publisher’s Weekly says “Mesmerizing”.
SFX Magazine says “Naam displays a Michael Crichton-like ability to explain cutting-edge research via the medium of an airport techno-thriller.”
Ben Goertzel at HPlus Magazine says “speculative yet impressively plausible… Nexus, as well as being a fun read, has something to contribute to the dialogue that humanity is now having with itself” 
WTF Are You Reading? says “the perfect blend of “The Matrix” and “War Games”… I would recommend this book to  anyone who has ever sat in from of the glow of their computer screen and wondered “what if”…”
Katherine McCarthy at the IEET says “If it isn’t the cinematic handling of some very futuristic images or the curious immersion of cybernetic pondering into the narrative flow; Ramez Naam’s Nexus will impress a reader” 
PageOfReviews says “Nexus is a fascinating study into how technology might inform human evolution. At times it is also a scathing commentary on the United States’ “War on Drugs” and “War on Terror”.” 
Timothy Ward says “Ramez writes excellent action sequences, incorporating his technology well, and the lives at stake are more than just cardboard cutouts. No one in this story is “as meets the eye,’” 
Trevor Hogg at Flickering Myth says ““Naam has a visual style with his words which leads to one experiencing cinematic scenes rather than being swamped with textbook exposition.” 
Bookworm Dreams says “Five Stars. Nexus by Ramez Naam reminds me of my favorite science fiction authors: Cory Doctorowwith dystopia/government conspiracy theme, Michael Crichton with unexpected twists and action/adventure, Arthur C. Clarke because everything Ramez Naam described has a scientific background.” 

April 22, 2013

Ridiculous Argument Against the 2045 Project

i just wanted people to know of the ignorant view points of those that are against teh 2045 project which I
am invested in. This article goes on to compare iphones to an immorality vessel as another piece of disposable consumer technology.

Ive asked myself many times why anyone wouldnt want to live as long as possible. There are many reasons but one could debate but because it would create an environmental hazard is a very poor arguent. If you have time read this article and knock some sense into its writer.

Its people like this that are spreading seeds of doubt that need to be educated.

Immortality through robotics ignores concerns about environment, economic privilege, humanity

“Man is a rope stretched between the beasts and the Superman — a rope over an abyss. A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal.”


Human is a step in evolution, not the culmination.

 -Sarte. Danaylov 

April 19, 2013

Samsung Demos a Tablet Controlled by Your Brain

Thought launch: A Samsung researcher
tests an EEG-controlled app on a tablet.
The number of ways to interact with your mobile devices.
One day, we may be able to check e-mail or call a friend without ever touching a screen or even speaking to a disembodied helper. Samsung is researching how to bring mind control to its mobile devices with the hope of developing ways for people with mobility impairments to connect to the world. The ultimate goal of the project, say researchers in the company’s Emerging Technology Lab, is to broaden the ways in which all people can interact with devices.

In collaboration with Roozbeh Jafari, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas, Dallas, Samsung researchers are testing how people can use their thoughts to launch an application, select a contact, select a song from a playlist, or power up or down a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. While Samsung has no immediate plans to offer a brain-controlled phone, the early-stage research, which involves a cap studded with EEG-monitoring electrodes, shows how a brain-computer interface could help people with mobility issues complete tasks that would otherwise be impossible. 

Brain-computer interfaces that monitor brainwaves through EEG have already made their way to the market. NeuroSky’s headset uses EEG readings as well as electromyography to pick up signals about a person’s level of concentration to control toys and games (see “Next-Generation Toys Read Brain Waves, May Help Kids Focus”). Emotiv Systems sells a headset that reads EEG and facial expression to enhance the experience of gaming (see “Mind-Reading Game Controller”).

To use EEG-detected brain signals to control a smartphone, the Samsung and UT Dallas researchers monitored well-known brain activity patterns that occur when people are shown repetitive visual patterns. In their demonstration, the researchers found that people could launch an application and make selections within it by concentrating on an icon that was blinking at a distinctive frequency.

Robert Jacob, a human-computer interaction researcher at Tufts University, says the project fits into a broader effort by researchers to find more ways for communicating with small devices like smartphones. “This is one of the ways to expand the type of input you can have and still stick the phone in the pocket,” he says.

Finding new ways to interact with mobile devices has driven the project, says Insoo Kim, Samsung’s lead researcher. “Several years ago, a small keypad was the only input modality to control the phone, but nowadays the user can use voice, touch, gesture, and eye movement to control and interact with mobile devices,” says Kim. “Adding more input modalities will provide us with more convenient and richer ways of interacting with mobile devices.”

Still, it will take considerable research for a brain-computer interface to become a new way of interacting with smartphones, says Kim. The initial focus for the team was to develop signal processing methods that could extract the right information to control a device from weak and noisy EEG signals, and to get those methods to work on a mobile device.

Jafari’s research is addressing another challenge—developing more convenient EEG sensors. Classic EEG systems have gel or wet contact electrodes, which means a bit of liquid material has to come between a person’s scalp and the sensor. “Depending on how many electrodes you have, this can take up to 45 minutes to set up, and the system is uncomfortable,” says Jafari. His sensors, however, do not require a liquid bridge and take about 10 seconds to set up, he says. But they still require the user to wear a cap covered with wires.

The concept of a dry EEG is not new, and it can carry the drawback of lower signal quality, but Jafari says his group is improving the system’s processing of brain signals. Ultimately, if reliable EEG contacts were convenient to use and slimmed down, a brain-controlled device could look like “a cap that people wear all day long,” says Jafari.

Kim says the speed with which a user of the EEG-control system can control the tablet depends on the user. In the team’s limited experiments, users could, on average, make a selection once every five seconds with an accuracy ranging from 80 to 95 percent.

“It is nearly impossible to accurately predict what the future might bring,” says Kim, “but given the broad support for initiatives such as the U.S. BRAIN initiative, improvements in man-machine interfaces seem inevitable” (see “Interview with BRAIN Project Pioneer: Miyoung Chun”).

April 18, 2013

Could Brain Computer Interfaces be used to Hack our Mind?

Consumer grade EEG-scanners used in mind-controlled games can be turned against their user to extract private information, research shows.

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are gaining popularity as prices drop and the technology develops. The gaming industry, always ahead of the curve when it comes to innovative interfaces, already embraces the devices as game-controllers. The multiplayer online game Throw Trucks With Your Mind measures brain activity with an affordable EEG-headset to integrate parameters like focus and calm into the game. 
But hooking up your brain to a computer linked to the internet –although extremely fascinating- unfortunately also has its disadvantages. A team of researchers from  the University of Oxford, UC Berkeley and the University of Geneva are the first to examine the security risks involved in using such technology. From a series of experiments they concluded it is possible to collect private and secret information from unsuspecting users. Their findings were published in the paper On the Feasibility of Side-Channel Attacks with Brain-Computer Interfaces (link below).
In order to recreate a realistic test environment the researchers used the EPOC neuroheadset made available to the consumer market by the company Emotiv Systems. The EPOC, like most BCIs, uses EEG (electroencephalography) to measure brain wave patterns by recording the electrical fields produced by neuron activity.
For their research the team made use of a phenomenon that shows up on EEG read-outs called event-related-potential (ERP). An ERP is a change in the voltage pattern a short time-interval after the subject is presented with a certain stimulus. For instance, when a person is shown a series of pictures of people she doesn’t know the EEG-signal stays fairly constant but when a familiar face flashes by there is an amplitude peak 300 milliseconds after the event.
ERP graph
In theory ERPs can reveal secret knowledge of the user to an attacker who is in the position to ask the right questions. To test the hypothesis the team set up an experiment where 30 students were asked to wear the EPOC while watching a computer screen. In one test they were asked which month they were born and then names of the months were randomly shown on the screenIn another test designed to filch the PIN code of the subjects no questions were asked but numbers were randomly presented to them.

The results of the tests varied. The success rate of data extraction was measured against a random guess attack. Attacks using the EEG data were 10 to 40 percent more successful than random guesses. That may seem modest but BCI technology is still in the early stages of its development cycle and is expected to improve significantly.
The experimental set-up the researchers used in which they were in the position to pose questions to the users can also be found in the wild. Companies selling neuroheadsets like Emotiv and its competitor Neurosky allow third parties to develop applications for their products. That is understandable since the EPOC wouldn’t be much fun if there weren’t games available to use it on. But developers have full access to the EEG data and the applications have complete control over the stimuli presented to the user. Both conditions are necessary to develop applications like Throw Trucks With Your Mind. But in the hands of a malicious developer it could lead to dark scenario’s.
Ryan Calo, an academic who combines his law degree with an expertise in emerging technologies,advises brain app stores should be heavily curated to prevent brain spyware from being released. He also points out that the technology might be to good for overzealous law enforcements agencies to resist. He gives the example of an Amber alert in which the picture of a missing child is distributed online. BCI wearing gamers could find themselves on the suspects list based merely on their brain response.
On the Feasibility of Side-Channel Attacks with Brain-Computer Interfaces  (link to PDF at the bottom of that page).
Images: Drawing:  Mynameiskavi, ERP graph:  Neurofeedback.visaduma.info


April 17, 2013

How AI and Virtual Sex May Be a Driver of the Coming Singularity

The sex industry has always been a big one. Its well over the billion dollar mark. It will likely evolve along
with technology as it evolves.

Internet and Porn Industry

Societal and technological changes have set the commercial sex industry on a trajectory to become more conventional and normalized. Below are five trend clusters shaping the future of the commercial sex industry:

1. The commercial sex industry will expand the definition of sex. Augmented reality coupled with advances in robotics will allow sex add-ons to supplement traditional offerings. Future of Sex editor Meg White points to three emerging areas of commercial sex including virtual sex worlds, remote sex and robot sex. For instance, online sex workers increasingly will link their movements to remote sex toys or even robotic look-alikes. In effect, these new areas may reduce the risks associated with sex workplace violence and STIs, modernizing the online sex marketplace globally.

On the other hand, artificial intelligence capabilities may add heightened levels of social interactions with non-human machines. As our non-sexual needs are increasingly fulfilled by robots, avatars or digital communities, our sexual needs may follow along. Further, distinctions between virtual and real interactions will blur in the future. The accessibility of technology will create a greater demand for sex-based products and services. “Sex-ond” lives will redefine what it means to be in a relationship, have sex, and be in love. Couples will seriously discuss whether sex with robots constitutes cheating; and policy makers will debate what rights exist for sex workers in online communities.

2. Tech innovations will raise the intimacy level of commercial sex. Passive sex industry consumption will be replaced by greater sex intimacy in the future. Successful sex workers from prostitution, pornography and adult entertainment will integrate technology into their workplaces in order to differentiate themselves. An actress in adult entertainment could create a realistic "girlfriend" add-on experience complete with anniversary gifts and love letters.

A high level of personalization would be achieved by monitoring how a user acts in both sexual and non-sexual spaces throughout the virtual and real world. According to a study conducted by UK researcher Jon Millward, the “girlfriend experience” -- the sense that the client has a personal, ongoing emotional relationship with the sex worker -- ranks above the “porn-star experience” in online escort advertisements and ratings. As technologies advance, sex workers may sell not only traditional sex, but also value-added services such as personal relationships with levels of sociability that transcend machines.

Sex-based technologies already intersect with the dating industry. Long-distance couples use technology to create remote sex lives for themselves. One start-up company appropriately named Pillow Talk simulates the intimate experience of lying in bed with a partner by mimicking a heartbeat in a large pillow. Another tech application known as Pair allows couples to share pictures, messages, videos, sketches, and locations privately. FakeGirlfriend invites male singles seeking female companionship to create a unique “girlfriend.” Men using FakeGirlfriend receive computer-generated text messages to fool others into thinking they are in a serious relationship.

Innovations such as these will create new types of commercial sex intimacy that use technology, yet are still personal and customized. Sex workers will borrow from relationship innovations to enhance their own client interactions. For instance, sex workers may offer their regulars a paid personalized video or text service option in addition to a monthly romp. These personalized tech-driven services will make consumers believe they are engaged in actual relationships rather than economic transactions with sex workers.

3. Commercial sex will converge with pop-tech. Currently, the commercial sex sector is repurposing pop-tech (mainstream tech ideas) to make it sex-specific. Innovators within commercial sex are connecting current platforms to sex in everyday life. For instance, Offbeatr is a crowd-funding platform akin to Kickstarter, a funding company for adult projects. Snatchly, recently launched, is the adult pornographic version of Pinterest, a virtual pin board that allows for the social sharing of content. Both ideas evolved because mainstream platforms currently reject adult content. Popular technology will adapt to accommodate commercial sex needs that are not currently being met.

In the future, the line between mainstream and underground sex work will blur to the point of non-existence. Personalization technologies, artificial intelligence and privacy settings will make it easier for users to apply pop-tech platforms to meet their sexual needs. In fact, mainstream pop-tech will partner with sex- based services in order to create alternative revenue streams. Ratable and shareable online content available through popular technology will allow users to customize their own sex-based content. Individuals will get increasingly enhanced user experiences and personal security. At the same time, they will be able to see and store all of their favorite NSFW material on one platform that's accessible from anywhere.

4. Sex work will be dependent on region. Even though technology has created digital bridges across the globe, sex-based services will continue to be different in the developed and developing regions of the world. In developed nations, technology will move sex work off the streets and into entrepreneurial ventures. This change will provide a safer and more stable work environment for sex workers, who will be empowered by technology to take ownership of their careers by using collaborative networks and online promotion for personal marketing. Sex workers will use tools to position themselves as businesswomen. They'll be able to personally connect with potential clientele in a specific niche, instead of relying on a third party. By cutting pimps out of the loop, the sex workers will make more money -- and increase their own freedom and safety as well.

Conversely, in developing regions such as Southeast Asia, men will continue to travel abroad to leave traditional Western “female empowerment” behind. The inequities between the developed and developing world that fuel the dark side of global sex tourism are unlikely to change any time soon. According to the Commission on AIDS in Asia, men who buy sex are driving Asia’s HIV epidemic. As a result, Asia stands to be the first region in the world in which governments will get serious about regulating working conditions for sex workers; and international organizations will make AIDS and STI prevention in developing regions such as Asia a priority.

5. Mainstream organizations will realize the economic value of commercial sex. Mainstream brands, governments and investment firms are aligning with commercial sex to not only attract consumer attention, but also to raise revenue. In 2011, PETA announced plans to launch an .xxx site to promote vegetarianism. In the past, the organization commissioned porn stars to film racy advertising segments about “Veggie Love." Actresses were filmed engaging in naughty behavior with an assortment of veggies from celery to beets. Though the short was banned from the Super Bowl, the campaign went viral online.

Recently, Sony Entertainment partnered with Playboy’s Cybergirl Jo Garcia to launch its new PlayStation Vita, which is a handheld gaming device that can be used in conjunction with a PlayStation 3. Sex-specific investment firms like Ackrell Capital will continue to attract investors who want to reap the financial rewards associated with the commercial sex industry.

The International Labor Organization reports that the sex industry accounts for 2% to 14% of economic activity in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. It also estimates commercial sex is worth 4.4% of Korean GDP -- which is more than forestry, fishing and agriculture combined. In the early 1990s, tax revenues from phone sex calls in San Tome increased so significantly that the government was able to construct a new telecommunications system with the funds. In addition, private and public organizations of all types will openly support or engage with the commercial sex industry to increase revenue and gain attention.

In the future, the public face of the commercial sex industry will change dramatically. The traditional definition of sex will be redefined by not only technological innovation that expands the ability to create intimacy online, but also by popular technology platforms that will help users meet their sexual needs. Sex work will be dependent on region with developed nations accepting sex work into the mainstream, while developing nations will continue to accommodate the darker side of the industry. Mainstream organizations will seek economic growth through commercial sex affiliations and governments will realize more tax revenue from these pursuits.

With or without mainstream support, the commercial sex industry will move ahead as an established and essential industry because of these technological and societal trends. As a result, sex work is already beginning to move out of the back alleys and onto Main Street. Views towards sex, specifically toward the sex industry, will be debated instead of ignored, stigmatized or generalized by the global masses. The implications of commercial sex will be considered alongside the complex web of faces and experiences associated with sex work.

Technology won’t replace sex workers; but it looks like it's leading to the creation of a new industry that augments our current experiences with sex, and could eventually take us to new and fantastic places where no human has gone before.

Foreword by J5un and article by Emily Empel (@localrat) is a trend spotter, marketing disciple and futurist.

April 16, 2013

When Wheelchairs Become Obsolete-Thought Controlled Exoskeleton Availble By 2015?

At the world cup of soccer summer of 2014 Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis expects to unveil to
the world his thought controlled robotic exoskeleton. Back in 2011 he went on The Daily Show and told Jon Stewart that he would develop a robotic body suit that would allow paralyzed people to walk again simply by thinking about it — and he’d do it in just 3 or 4 years.

Some neuroscientists in the field of Brain computer interfaces think his claim is premature and fear that if it fails it could hurt funding for other BCI projects by promising too much too soon. There is also the issue of safety for the user of the device. 

On the other hand if he does pull it off he would cause a lot of attention to this field and attract tons of research funds or even private money.

If history is an indicator the scientists who promote their inventions the most successfully have enjoyed the most success financially.  compare Tesla vs Edison and you'll get an idea. BCI researchers who fear Nicolelis failing should maybe lend a hand too make sure he succeeds then the whole field in general would benefit.

If you think that he is bonkers then you should consider that right now there have been many successful projects with Brain computer interfaces  that allow paralyzed humans to move a computer cursor or even use a robotic arm to pick up a piece of chocolate or touch a loved one for the first time in years. In another recent example In December, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh published a case study in The Lancet of a 53-year-old woman named Jan Scheuermann who was paralyzed from the neck down by a genetic neurodegenerative condition. Scheuermann learned to control a nearby robotic arm after surgeons implanted a small grid of electrodes in her brain.

A recent video on 60 minutes show here moving the arm in 3 dimensions and uses it to grasp and move objects, stacking several plastic cones. It cost DARPA more than $100 million to develop, and its hand and fingers can do almost everything the real deal can. Scheuermann’s movements are slow and sometimes faltering, but they are astonishing nonetheless. After all, she’s controlling the arm just by thinking about it. And she’s making the most sophisticated movements yet made by a human being with a brain-controlled prosthetic.

Recently this year in an interview with a wired magazine reporter he stated that "“We’re getting close to making wheelchairs obsolete,” 

Nicoleius speculated that the next big leap in BCI performance will come from 2 kinds of advances:

1)Being able to gather information from a larger number of neurons. The researchers at Duke currently have the highest amount at around 500 neurons. With great numbers of neurons being read they can acheive greater fluidity of movements.

2)incorporating tactile feedback.In 2011, his team broke new ground by demonstrating a neural prosthesis with an artificial sense of touch in monkeys. Electrodes implanted in a brain region responsible for the feeling texture enabled the monkeys to identify different virtual objects by “feel.”
Sensors on the exoskeleton will eventually feed directly into the brain in a similar manner to provide crucial feedback on the position of the limbs and when the feet hit the ground, Nicolelis says. “None of these robotic devices will work for real without tactile feedback,” he said. “You can’t walk without knowing where the floor is.“ The extent to which sensory feedback will be ready for the World Cup demo remains to be seen.
Nicolelis’ team is currently training the two monkeys to sit in the harness and let their legs go limp so the exoskeleton can do its thing. A few months from now the whole system will be subjected to a sterner test: Researchers will temporarily paralyze the legs of a monkey with an injection, and the primate will then try to transfer what it’s learned from playing with the avatar to control the exoskeleton with its thoughts. If it goes according to plan, the monkey will walk on the treadmill.
Gordon Cheng, the roboticist who is developing the physical exoskeleton at the Technical University of

Munich in Germany admits that the deadline is tight. “We have bits and pieces of different prototypes being built and tested, we even have a complete mockup built,” he said. “We’re pushing it.”
By design, the exoskeleton will use a mix of signals. “If the signal from the brain is very good, the brain will take control. If the signal from the brain is not so reliable, the robot can take over more of the control,” Cheng said. “This is mainly to guarantee safety.”
Nicolelis says his colleagues in Brazil are currently combing a database of thousands of patients to identify 10 for initial training. Their ideal profile: a smallish young adult, no more than 70 kilograms (roughly 150 pounds), whose injury isn’t too new or too old. Like the monkeys in the lab at Duke, the trainees will start by learning to control an avatar on a computer screen, but with brain signals recorded by non-invasive EEG electrodes to start. Then, if the plan stays on track, one brave recipient will go under the knife to receive electrode implants in his or her motor cortex.
Article by Dave Drinkwalter for Emerging Tech Trends for Transhumanism
Based on article form wired magazine

April 15, 2013

Common Misconceptions about Transhumanism

Transhumanism is often misunderstood and maligned by who are ignorant of it – or those who were exposed solely to detractors such as John Gray, Leon Kass, and Taleb himself. This essay will serve to correct these misconceptions in a concise fashion. Those who still wish to criticize transhumanism should at least understand what they are criticizing and present arguments against the real ideas, rather than straw men constructed by the opponents of radical technological progress.
After the publication of my review of Nassim Taleb’s latest book Antifragile, numerous comments were made by Taleb’s followers – many of them derisive – on Taleb’s Facebook page. (You can see a screenshot of these comments here.) While I will only delve into a few of the specific comments in this article, I consider it important to distill the common misconceptions that motivate them. Transhumanism is often misunderstood and maligned by who are ignorant of it – or those who were exposed solely to detractors such as John Gray, Leon Kass, and Taleb himself. This essay will serve to correct these misconceptions in a concise fashion. Those who still wish to criticize transhumanism should at least understand what they are criticizing and present arguments against the real ideas, rather than straw men constructed by the opponents of radical technological progress.
Misconception #1: Transhumanism is a religion.
Transhumanism does not posit the existence of any deity or other supernatural entity (though some transhumanists are religious independently of their transhumanism), nor does transhumanism hold a faith (belief without evidence) in any phenomenon, event, or outcome. Transhumanists certainly hope that technology will advance to radically improve human opportunities, abilities, and longevity – but this is a hope founded in the historical evidence of technological progress to date, and the logical extrapolation of such progress. Moreover, this is a contingent hope. Insofar as the future is unknowable, the exact trajectory of progress is difficult to predict, to say the least. Furthermore, the speed of progress depends on the skill, devotion, and liberty of the people involved in bringing it about. Some societal and political climates are more conducive to progress than others. Transhumanism does not rely on prophecy or mystical fiat. It merely posits a feasible and desirable future of radical technological progress and exhorts us to help achieve it. Some may claim that transhumanism is a religion that worships man – but that would distort the term “religion” so far from its original meaning as to render it vacuous and merely a pejorative used to label whatever system of thinking one dislikes. Besides, those who make that allegation would probably perceive a mere semantic quibble between seeking man’s advancement and worshipping him. But, irrespective of semantics, the facts do not support the view that transhumanism is a religion. After all, transhumanists do not spend their Sunday mornings singing songs and chanting praises to the Glory of Man.
Misconception #2: Transhumanism is a cult.
A cult, unlike a broader philosophy or religion, is characterized by extreme insularity and dependence on a closely controlling hierarchy of leaders. Transhumanism has neither element. Transhumanists are not urged to disassociate themselves from the wider world; indeed, they are frequently involved in advanced research, cutting-edge invention, and prominent activism. Furthermore, transhumanism does not have a hierarchy or leaders who demand obedience. Cosmopolitanism is a common trait among transhumanists. Respected thinkers, such as Ray Kurzweil, Max More, and Aubrey de Grey, are open to discussion and debate and have had interesting differences in their own views of the future. A still highly relevant conversation from 2002, "Max More and Ray Kurzweil on the Singularity", highlights the sophisticated and tolerant way in which respected transhumanists compare and contrast their individual outlooks and attempt to make progress in their understanding. Any transhumanist is free to criticize any other transhumanist and to adopt some of another transhumanist’s ideas while rejecting others. Because transhumanism characterizes a loose network of thinkers and ideas, there is plenty of room for heterogeneity and intellectual evolution. As Max More put it in the “Principles of Extropy, v. 3.11”, “the world does not need another totalistic dogma.” Transhumanism does not supplant all other aspects of an individual’s life and can coexist with numerous other interests, persuasions, personal relationships, and occupations.
Misconception #3: Transhumanists want to destroy humanity. Why else would they use terms such as “posthuman” and “postbiological”?
Transhumanists do not wish to destroy any human. In fact, we want to prolong the lives of as many people as possible, for as long as possible! The terms “transhuman” and “posthuman” refer to overcoming the historical limitations and failure modes of human beings – the precise vulnerabilities that have rendered life, in Thomas Hobbes’s words, “nasty, brutish, and short” for most of our species’ past. A species that transcends biology will continue to have biological elements. Indeed, my personal preference in such a future would be to retain allof my existing healthy biological capacities, but also to supplement them with other biological and non-biological enhancements that would greatly extend the length and quality of my life. No transhumanist wants human beings to die out and be replaced by intelligent machines, and every transhumanist wants today’s humans to survive to benefit from future technologies. Transhumanists who advocate the development of powerful artificial intelligence (AI) support either (i) integration of human beings with AI components or (ii) the harmonious coexistence of enhanced humans and autonomous AI entities. Even those transhumanists who advocate “mind backups” or “mind uploading” in an electronic medium (I am not one of them, as I explain here) do not wish for their biological existences to be intentionally destroyed. They conceive of mind uploads as contingency plans in case their biological bodies perish.
Even the “artilect war” anticipated by more pessimistic transhumanists such as Hugo de Garis is greatly misunderstood. Such a war, if it arises, would not come from advanced technology, but rather from reactionaries attempting to forcibly suppress technological advances and persecute their advocates. Most transhumanists do not consider this scenario to be likely in any event. More probable are lower-level protracted cultural disputes and clashes over particular technological developments.
Misconception #4: “A global theocracy envisioned by Moonies or the Taliban would be preferable to the kind of future these traitors to the human species have their hearts set on, because even the most joyless existence is preferable to oblivion.
The above was an actual comment on the Taleb Facebook thread. It is astonishing that anyone would consider theocratic oppression preferable to radical life extension, universal abundance, ever-expanding knowledge of macroscopic and microscopic realms, exploration of the universe, and the liberation of individuals from historical chains of oppression and parasitism. This misconception is fueled by the strange notion that transhumanists (or technological progress in general) will destroy us all – as exemplified by the “Terminator” scenario of hostile AI or the “gray goo” scenario of nanotechnology run amok. Yet all of the apocalyptic scenarios involving future technology lack the safeguards that elementary common sense would introduce. Furthermore, they lack the recognition that incentives generated by market forces, as well as the sheer numerical and intellectual superiority of the careful scientists over the rogues, would always tip the scales greatly in favor of the defenses against existential risk. As I explain in “Technology as the Solution to Existential Risk” and “Non-Apocalypse, Existential Risk, and Why Humanity Will Prevail”, the greatest existential risks have either always been with us (e.g., the risk of an asteroid impact with Earth) or are in humanity’s past (e.g., the risk of a nuclear holocaust annihilating civilization). Technology is the solution to such existential risks. Indeed, the greatest existential risk is fear of technology, which can retard or outright thwart the solutions to the perils that may, in the status quo, doom us as a species. As an example, Mark Waser has written an excellent commentary on the “inconvenient fact that not developing AI (in a timely fashion) to help mitigate other existential risks is itself likely to lead to a substantially increased existential risk”.
Misconception #5: Transhumanists want to turn people into the Borg from Star Trek.
The Borg are the epitome of a collectivistic society, where each individual is a cog in the giant species machine. Most transhumanists are ethical individualists, and even those who have communitarian leanings still greatly respect individual differences and promote individual flourishing and opportunity. Whatever their positions on the proper role of government in society might be, all transhumanists agree that individuals should not be destroyed or absorbed into a collective where they lose their personality and unique intellectual attributes. Even those transhumanists who wish for direct sharing of perceptions and information among individual minds do not advocate the elimination of individuality. Rather, their view might better be thought of as multiple puzzle pieces being joined but remaining capable of full separation and autonomous, unimpaired function.
My own attraction to transhumanism is precisely due to its possibilities for preserving individuals quaindividuals and avoiding the loss of the precious internal universe of each person. As I expressed inPart 1 of my “Eliminating Death” video series, death is a horrendous waste of irreplaceable human talents, ideas, memories, skills, and direct experiences of the world. Just as transhumanists would recoil at the absorption of humankind into the Borg, so they rightly denounce the dissolution of individuality that presently occurs with the oblivion known as death.
Misconception #6: Transhumanists usually portray themselves “like robotic, anime-like characters”.
That depends on the transhumanist in question. Personally, I portray myself as me, wearing a suit and tie (which Taleb and his followers dislike just as much – but that is their loss). Furthermore, I see nothing robotic or anime-like about the public personas of Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey de Grey, or Max More, either.
Misconception #7: “Transhumanism is attracting devotees of a frighteningly high scientific caliber, morally retarded geniuses who just might be able to develop the humanity-obliterating technology they now merely fantasize about. It's a lot like a Heaven's Gate cult, but with prestigious degrees in physics and engineering, many millions more in financial backing, a growing foothold in mainstream culture, a long view of implementing their plan, and a death wish that extends to the whole human race not just themselves.
This is another statement on the Taleb Facebook thread. Ironically, the commenter is asserting that the transhumanists, who support the indefinite lengthening of human life, have a “death wish” and are “morally retarded”, while he – who opposes the technological progress needed to preserve us from the abyss of oblivion – apparently considers himself a champion of morality and a supporter of life. If ever there was an inversion of characterizations, this is it. At least the commenter acknowledges the strong technical skills of many transhumanists – but calling them “morally retarded” presupposes a counter-morality of death that should rightly be overcome and challenged, lest it sentence each of us to death. The Orwellian mindset that “evil is good” and “death is life” should be called out for the destructive and dangerous morass of contradictions that it is. Moreover, the commenter provides no evidence that any transhumanist wants to develop “humanity-obliterating technologies” or that the obliteration of humanity is even a remote risk from the technologies that transhumanists do advocate.
Misconception #8: Transhumanism is wrong because life would have no meaning without death.
Asserting that only death can give life meaning is another bizarre contradiction, and, moreover, a claim that life can have no intrinsic value or meaning qua life. It is sad indeed to think that some people do not see how they could enjoy life, pursue goals, and accumulate values in the absence of the imminent threat of their own oblivion. Clearly, this is a sign of a lack of creativity and appreciation for the wonderful fact that we are alive. I delve into this matter extensively in my “Eliminating Death” video series. Part 3 discusses how indefinite life extension leaves no room for boredom because the possibilities for action and entertainment increase in an accelerating manner. Parts 8 and 9 refute the premise that death gives motivation and a “sense of urgency” and make the opposite case – that indefinite longevity spurs people to action by making it possible to attain vast benefits over longer timeframes. Indefinite life extension would enable people to consider the longer-term consequences of their actions. On the other hand, in the status quo, death serves as the great de-motivator of meaningful human endeavors.
Misconception #9: Removing death is like removing volatility, which “fragilizes the system”.
This sentiment was an extrapolation by a commenter on Taleb’s ideas in Antifragile. It is subject to fundamentally collectivistic premises – that the “volatility” of individual death can be justified if it somehow supports a “greater whole”. (Who is advocating the sacrifice of the individual to the collective now?) The fallacy here is to presuppose that the “greater whole” has value in and of itself, apart from the individuals comprising it. An individualist view of ethics and of society holds the opposite – that societies are formed for the mutual benefit of participating individuals, and the moment a society turns away from that purpose and starts to damage its participants instead of benefiting them, it ceases to be desirable. Furthermore, Taleb’s premise that suppression of volatility is a cause of fragility is itself dubious in many instances. It may work to a point with an individual organism whose immune system and muscles use volatility to build adaptive responses to external threats. However, the possibility of such an adaptive response requires very specific structures that do not exist in all systems. In the case of human death, there is no way in which the destruction of a non-violent and fundamentally decent individual can provide external benefits of any kind worth having. How would the death of your grandparents fortify the mythic “society” against anything?
Misconception #10: Immortality is “a bit like staying awake 24/7”.
Presumably, those who make this comparison think that indefinite life would be too monotonous for their tastes. But, in fact, humans who live indefinitely can still choose to sleep (or take vacations) if they wish. Death, on the other hand, is irreversible. Once you die, you are dead 24/7 – and you are not even given the opportunity to change your mind. Besides, why would it be tedious or monotonous to live a life full of possibilities, where an individual can have complete discretion over his pursuits and can discover as much about existence as his unlimited lifespan allows? To claim that living indefinitely would be monotonous is to misunderstand life itself, with all of its variety and heterogeneity.
Misconception #11: Transhumanism is unacceptable because of the drain on natural resources that comes from living longer.
This argument presupposes that resources are finite and incapable of being augmented by human technology and creativity. In fact, one era’s waste is another era’s treasure (as occurred with oil since the mid-19th century). As Julian Simon recognized, the ultimate resource is the human mind and its ability to discover new ways to harness natural laws to human benefit. We have more resources known and accessible to us now – both in terms of food and the inanimate bounties of the Earth – than ever before in recorded history. This has occurred in spite – and perhaps because of – dramatic population growth, which has also introduced many new brilliant minds into the human species. In Part 4 of my “Eliminating Death” video series, I explain that doomsday fears of overpopulation do not hold, either historically or prospectively. Indeed, the progress of technology is precisely what helps us overcome strains on natural resources.
The opposition to transhumanism is generally limited to espousing some variations of the common fallacies I identified above (with perhaps a few others thrown in). To make real intellectual progress, it is necessary to move beyond these fallacies, which serve as mental roadblocks to further exploration of the subject – a justification for people to consider transhumanism too weird, too unrealistic, or too repugnant to even take seriously. Detractors of transhumanism appear to recycle these same hackneyed remarks as a way to avoid seriously delving into the actual and genuinely interesting philosophical questions raised by emerging technological innovations.
These are questions on which many transhumanists themselves hold sincere differences of understanding and opinion. Fundamentally, though, my aim here is not to “convert” the detractors – many of whose opposition is beyond the reach of reason, for it is not motivated by reason. Rather, it is to speak to laypeople who are not yet swayed one way or the other, but who might not have otherwise learned of transhumanism except through the filter of those who distort and grossly misunderstand it. Even an elementary explication of what transhumanism actually stands for will reveal that we do, in fact, strongly advocate individual human life and flourishing, as well as technological progress that will uplift every person’s quality of life and range of opportunities.
Those who disagree with any transhumanist about specific means for achieving these goals are welcome to engage in a conversation or debate about the merits of any given pathway. But an indispensable starting point for such interaction involves accepting that transhumanists are serious thinkers, friends of human life, and sincere advocates of improving the human condition.

Article by Gennady Stolyarov II who is an actuary, science-fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, and composer. Mr. Stolyarov is Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress.

April 13, 2013

Neil Harbisson is a cyborg who hears more of the world than we see

Neil Harbisson was born with achromatopsia, a rare condition that causes complete colour blindness. In 2004, Harbisson and Adam Montandon developed the eyeborg, a device that translates colours into sounds. He has been claimed to be the first recognized cyborg in the world, as his passport photo now includes his device.

Video by FocusForwardFilms

April 12, 2013

Talking Transhumanism With Novelist Ramez Naam

I’m really excited to bring you a great interview with a brilliant writer. Ramez Naam is the author of Nexus by Angry Robot and a professional technologist. He was involved in the development of widely-used software products such as Microsoft Internet Explorer and Microsoft Outlook and has a keen interest in human evolution and transhuman technologies.
Without further ado, on to the interview.
1. In your book, Nexus, you explore transhumanism through the lens of a government/public struggle for technology. In Kade and his friends we have the altruistic view of transhuman technology, and with the various government agencies they represent a more militaristic view of the technology, seeking to keep it out of the hands of the public. Do you think going forward, the governments of this world will stifle transhuman progression, or like Kade, do you think independent entrepreneurs and scientists will be able to develop this technology themselves?
Ramez: My best guess is that consumer demand is going to drive this, and governments are going to have to bow to that.  People have pretty baked in desires to live longer, be healthier, have greater capabilities, etc… In most cases, governments are going to bow to that.  That’s going to mean change.  Today there’s no mechanism in the world to approve a drug or genetic tweak that makes you smarter.  We don’t have a way to approve enhancements – only to approve things that cure diseases or heal injuries.  That’s likely to change as the technology matures.
Now, the wild card is terrible things happening.  9/11 shocked this country, and led to the reversal of what had been a long-term trend towards greater and greater civil liberties. If the technologies I’m writing about – biotech, nanotech, neurotech – get used in major terrorist attacks, or are central in terrible accidents, you may see society recoil away from them, and governments lock them down.  That’s the backstory of the world in Nexus – that between now and 2040 there have been some terrible things done with these technologies, and that’s part of why they’re so restricted.
2. My personal belief is that transhumanism, or posthumanism, is our likely next evolutionary step, but given the increasing burdens on our liberty by government and religious organisations do you think we’ll actually achieve that evolutionary path? Do you see a place in this progression for religion and government?
Ramez: There’s a lot of legitimate roles for government, to be sure. Safety testing. Funding basic research. Shutting down frauds and hucksters.  All of that is quite helpful.
As for religion, it doesn’t have to be at odds with biotechnology at all.  Within the US you see a wide spectrum of beliefs.  Some churches are adamantly opposed to embryonic stem cell use, for example.  But some are okay with it.  I think going forward the religions and churches that survive and thrive are going to be those that are a little flexible, that adapt to the changes in technology and the human condition that we’re going to be seeing.
3. A lot of transhuman tech is coming from the medical research sector; everything from 3D printed organs, ear and eye prosthesis and implants, all the way up to brain modifications. What do you think will likely be the ‘singularity’ within this field, and given the pharmaceutical companies corporation mindset, will it ever make it out of the labs and into the hands of the public? Would it create a new elite, with only the mega-wealthy having access to such technology, thus having a society of altered and non-altered people?
Ramez: The scenario where only the rich can afford new technologies is one of the most worrisome ones.  If it costs a lot of money to buy enhancements, and those enhancements increase your ability to earn more money, then you could have a runaway feedback loop, and a real pulling away of one layer of society from the rest. That’s definitely something to keep an eye out for.
But so far, it doesn’t seem to be happening. With technology that’s sold on the open market, what we see instead is incredible declines in price that are putting it into the reach of more and more people. There are around 5 billion cell phones in the world today. Tribesman in Africa and poor farmers in India have smart phones.  Each of them has more computing power and more access to information in their pocket than the President of the United States had twenty-five years ago. People who are, by our standards, incredibly poor still have capabilities that the richest man alive in the 1980s didn’t have.  That’s because of the incredible rate of innovation in bringing prices down in those technologies.
So that’s what we want to see in enhancement tech. Is it guaranteed to happen?  Absolutely not. We need to watch for it and encourage it. But is it guaranteed to go the other way, with a permanent over class that can afford the tech and no one else? That seems even less likely to me.
4. A lighter question this time. Given the current level of tech available, or perhaps what will likely be available say in the next 5 years, what’s the one modification/alteration that you would choose for yourself? And an extrapolation of that question, if it were possible, would you upload your own brain into a computer entity?
Ramez: Medical tech moves slowly. The tech itself can come along fast. But the process of experimentation involves human beings. The first rule of human trials is the same as in the rest of medicine – ‘do no harm’. That means that we’re extremely conservative.
As a result, I think 5 years from now is likely to look an awful lot like today. Will we have some new things on the market? Probably. If I had to hope for one or two, I’d say there’s a chance we’ll have a drug therapy that just barely retards the aging process in animals.  And we may have a next generation of drugs – aimed at people with Alzheimer’s and senile dementia – that just slightly enhance the rate of learning in healthy normal people. So those are two I’d look at.
Would I upload, if it were possible? Absolutely. I wouldn’t be the first. I’d want to see it proven out. But once it was, I’d be right there in line for it.
6.Following on from the ideas of individuals creating this new tech as opposed to corporations, what are your views on the ‘grinder’ subculture where people experiment on themselves and perhaps stretch the boundaries of legality?
more-than-human-cover-smallerRamez: People are going to experiment. There are always going to be some – usually young people – who want to explore the edges of what’s possible. You have to be safe, though. You need to be careful. The more powerful a technology is, the greater the chance of hurting oneself accidentally.
7. As I got thinking about all this tech it occurred to me that hardwire aside, we’re going to need a revolution in software to make the most of the technology. Do you see this happening now, or will it take a while for universities and other research centres to take experimental ideas and put them into a curriculum?
Ramez: We’ll definitely need new software.  As far as I can tell, though, the hardware is the limiting factor.  How do we get data in and out of the brain?  The more data you have, the more readily you can analyze to find patterns and learn to decode it.  And ultimately you can experiment with software far faster than you can with hardware.  So if the hardware is there, we’ll quickly develop software to use it.
8. On the subject of evolution, ageing seems to be one of the potential singularities in this march towards transhumanism. This could cause a population problem if people continue to live much longer lives. Can you see a solution to the resource issue of an essentially immortal race?
Ramez: I think we’re a pretty long way from having to worry about this. But even if we did have a complete cure for aging, that would put less of a strain on resources than you might expect. The real variable in population growth rate is the fertility rate – how many children does the average woman have? In the 1970s, around the world, this was over 5. Now it’s about 2.5 children, worldwide, that an average woman will have in her lifetime.  Once it gets to 2, you have a steady state population.
Now, if no one ever dies, you have to go lower than that. But that’s happening. In Japan the fertility rate is 1.4 children per woman. In Germany it’s the same. In Iran, it’s dropped from more than 7 children per woman in the 1980s to 1.7 today. These are all countries where the trends are towards a smaller population instead of a larger one. So I think we can figure it out.
I’m also an optimist about our ability to use natural resources wisely. I have a non-fiction book that just came out, called The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet, that talks about how vast the energy, food, water, and material resources on the Earth are, if we use them wisely. We have the raw resources to use 100 times more energy, grow food for 100 times as many people as we have today, etc.. IF we make the right decisions.
9. A couple of questions on your fiction now. You have an impressive professional background within IT, how did you come to write fiction? Is it something you’ve done much of before? Any particular authors that influenced you?
infinite-resource-final-cover-96dpiRamez: I’ve always been a huge sci-fi fan, and I sort of dreamt of writing sci-fi myself, without ever really believing it would happen. Among my influences, I’d say, two of the greatest and least sung science fiction authors of the last 20 years: John Barnes and Ian McDonald. They’re both incredible wordsmiths with really unique and complex world building.  Alastair Reynolds is another influence. And I’ve been a huge fan of Iain Banks, and his ability to write these dark, compelling, page-turning tales that happen on the edge of what is essentially a utopia. It’s incredible sad to learn of his cancer, but my life – and a lot of lives – are a lot richer because of him.
10. Nexus has proven to be quite a well-regarded and popular book, and I was pleased to see you have a follow-up coming out. Could you tell us a little bit about it, and when we might look forward to reading it?
Ramez: Thanks! I’ve been incredibly gratified by the reception. It’s gone better than I had any right to expect. The sequel, Crux, comes out this summer. It’s set a few months after Nexus. The events that happen at the end of Nexus have changed a lot of things around the world. More people have access to the Nexus technology. The governments of both the US and China have reacted to the events of the first book. And a lot more conflict is brewing, inside of both countries. There will ultimately be three books in the story, and Crux is sort of the Empire Strikes Back of the three. It’s a little darker. Some bad things happen. And, while it’s a stand-alone book, it doesn’t end quite as cleanly as Nexus. It definitely sets the reader up for the third book, where a number of these conflicts will come to a head.
Here’s the official plot synopsis:
Six months have passed since the release of Nexus 5.  The world is a different, more dangerous place.
In the United States, the terrorists – or freedom fighters – of the Post-Human Liberation Front use Nexus to turn men and women into human time bombs aimed at the President and his allies. In Washington DC, a government scientist, secretly addicted to Nexus, uncovers more than he wants to know about the forces behind the assassinations, and finds himself in a maze with no way out.
In Thailand, Samantha Cataranes has found peace and contentment with a group of children born with Nexus in their brains. But when forces threaten to tear her new family apart, Sam will stop at absolutely nothing to protect the ones she holds dear.
In Vietnam, Kade and Feng are on the run from bounty hunters seeking the price on Kade’s head, from the CIA, and from forces that want to use the back door Kade has built into Nexus 5.  Kade knows he must stop the terrorists misusing Nexus before they ignite a global war between human and posthuman. But to do so, he’ll need to stay alive and ahead of his pursuers.
And in Shanghai, a posthuman child named Ling Shu will go to dangerous and explosive lengths to free her uploaded mother from the grip of Chinese authorities.
The first blows in the war between human and posthuman have been struck.  The world will never be the same.
I’d like to thank Ramez for taking the time for this interview, it was a fascinating discussion. Ramez’s links: