Transhumanism and radical nanotechnology

It’s obvious that there’s a close connection between the transhumanist movement and the idea of radical nanotechnology. Transhumanism is a creed which believes that human nature can and should be transcended with the aid of technological change, effectively leading to salvation both for individuals and society. Together with an expectation of the forthcoming singularity, a trust in cryonics (preservation of corpses at very low temperatures to await future revival) and an enthusiasm for radical life extension, the Drexlerian view of nanotechnology forms part of a belief package held by many transhumanists. The two main organisations devoted to promoting the radical view of nanotechnology, the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology and the Foresight Institute, are explicitly listed in a directory of transhumanist organisations from Michael Anissimov, of the Singularity Institute, who has also written a helpful overview of the transhumanist movement in his blog here.

Is this connection any cause for concern? Transhumanism as a movement has a fairly low profile generally, though blogger John Bruce has recently been exploring the movement and some of its supporters from a critical perspective (this link via TNTlog). But a very negative view of this relationship is presented by Joachim Schummer, a German philosopher now working at the University of South Carolina’s centre for nanoScience & Technology Studies: in an article “”Societal and Ethical Implications of Nanotechnology”: Meanings, Interest Groups, and Social Dynamics in the journal Techné.

Schummer, at the outset, insists on the quasi-religious character of transhumanism, characterising its creed as a belief in “futuristic technological change of human nature for the achievement of certain goals, such as freedom from suffering and from bodily and material constraints, immortality, and “super-intelligence.” He summarises its dependence on the Drexler vision of nanotechnology as follows:

“First, they foresee the development of Drexler’s “assemblers” that should manufacture abundant materials and products of any kind to be made available for everybody, so that material needs will disappear. Second, they expect “assemblers” to become programmable tool-making machines that build robots at the nanoscale for various other transhumanist aspirations—a vision that has essentially fuelled the idea of “singularity”. Thus, they thirdly hope for nanorobots that can be injected into the human body to cure diseases and to stop (or reverse) aging, thereby achieving disease-free longevity or even immortality. Fourth on their nanotechnology wish list are nano-robots that can step by step redesign the human body according to their ideas of “posthuman” perfection. Other nano-robots shall, fifth, make “atom-by-atom copies of the brain”, sixth, implement brain-computer-interfaces for “mind uploading”, seventh, build ultra-small and ultra-fast computers for “mindperfection” and “superintelligence”, and, eighth, revive today’s cryonics patients to let them participate in the bright future.”

Because of the central role to be played by nanotechnology in achieving personal and/or societal salvation, Schummer argues that transhumanists have an existential interest in nanotechnology; and are thus likely to much more accepting of the risks that nanotechnology might bring, on the grounds that the rewards are so great. He singles out the writing of Nick Bostrom, Chairman of the World Transhumanist Association, whose views he summarises thus: “In that mixture of radical utilitarianism and apocalyptic admonition, risks are perceived only for humanity as a whole, are either recoverable for humanity or existential for humanity, and only the existential ones really count. The risks of individuals, to their health and lives, are less important because their risks can be outweighed by steps towards transhumanist salvation of humanity.” Schummer comments that it is this “relative disregard for individual human dignity in risk assessments, i.e. the willingness to sacrifice individuals for the sake of global salvation, that makes transhumanism so inhumane.” Not that advanced nanotechnology is without risks; on the contrary, in the wrong hands it has the potential to destroy all intelligent life on earth. But since in the technologically deterministic view of transhumanists the development of nanotechnology is unavoidable, responsible people must rush to develop it first. Thus, “advancing nanotechnology is not only required for Salvation, but also a moral obligation to avoid Armageddon. “

It’s not surprising that transhumanists find it difficult to take an objective view of nanotechnology and the debates that surround it – to them, it is a matter whose importance, quite literally, transcends life and death.

53 thoughts on “Transhumanism and radical nanotechnology”

  1. Thanks for the link. I agree that transhumanism is a form of religion, though nominally both an atheistic and a materialist one (I think you could say, though, that the Artificial Intelligence that’s going to straighten everything out after the Singularity is a form of god). On the other hand, I think that the millennarian predictions of a Singularity within the next two or three decades is self-limiting, and the internal contradictions in transhumanist assertions is unsustainable. As a result, I don’t think it’s productive to refute them in detail.

  2. Transhumanists philosophy is basically Sci-Fi futurism about ‘The Singularity’. What is the singularity!

    If the singularity is that we will have amazing technologies in the future, which are disruptive well that is of course passé, think industrial revolution everyone. Only if that future has molecular assemblers is things get interesting!

    Forget Drexlerian machines for a moment. What about Nanobiotech! Is not conceivable that radical life enhancements could occur in the next 20 years? Remember that NATURE HAS ALREADY CREATED MOLECULAR ASSEMBLERS. Maybe playing with this machinery will lead to greater than incremental improvements.

    In short, I believe that the Transhumanists are a important part of the debate about Nanotech. Infact, they are the ONLY ones seriously debating Nanotech impact on society. Sure, I do not believe in EVERYTHING that they say, but they sure have some interesting ideas about tech ethics and economics!

  3. I very much agree that it is nanobiotech and soft nanotech that is likely to deliver results in medicine. But one has to be realistic about timescales and outcomes; on a twenty year timescale I would hope that this kind of nanomedicine would have made a substantial impact on things like survival rates for cancers, and would perhaps be contributing significantly to regnerative medicine, but I’d be surprised if this was anywhere close to leading to radical enhancements in longevity.

  4. I participate in H+ discussions because there are conversations about the future of technology and society that simply aren’t occuring anywhere else. For me it is about finding the safest quickest path to industrial productivity gains (so more people can contribute towards advanced service-economy fields). Of course nanotechnology and the limits to our mastery over atoms figures prominently in this regard.
    About Drexler: I have yet to hear his diamondoid systems thoroughly refuted. Smalley point out steric hinderance issues, but I expect future chemical treatments customizing the geometry of carbon nanohorns and CNT endcaps along with nested CNT abstraction tools, to mitigate this concern. Th Phoenix-Moriarty debates on this site outlined the issue of diamond surface reconstructions. This may severely limit the library of diamond products, but also seems a tractable concern as long as mechanosysthesis is attempted under UHF low-temp conditions. Diamond surface reaction sites won’t reconstruct to sp2 bonds at 12K in vacuum, will they?

  5. I would argue that the developments from soft nanotech and nanobiotech and their impact on healthcare and medicine are far more important goals to strive for that the obession with longevity, which I have never ever been able to understand.

  6. I think the main interest in longevity is to assure that people alive today can live to see this bright tomorrow. I don’t think anyone in the transhumanist movement is interested in long life for long life’s sake.

    The concept of singularity is essentially from science fiction. If you are writing a story about the future you try to project forward from trends in the present. When you do that to AI it appears that in the not to distant future AI will outstrip the intelligence of Man. Writing a story with a protagonist with an IQ a million times that of the author is fundamentally impossible. How could you begin to understand its motives, or the technology it creates. A dog can not understand our world and machines, how can we understand its. This is the opaque scenario known as the singularity. The field of SF has fractured since Vernor Vinge’s observation of this trend, you either have relatable human or semi-transhuman characters watching the action on the sidelines, or you ignore super AI and write another Star Wars rip-off. That is how seriously many science fiction authors treat the idea. SF authors have predicted nuclear power, the moon landing, cloning, and genetic engineering. Just because something is science fiction does not mean that there is nothing to it.

    As to the religious angle, it does seem naive to assume that a super-human AI will take you under its bosom and fix all your problems. This misses the point, you can’t fathom what a being like that will do. I do however think it is important to talk about these ideas to make sure nobody tries to create such a thing. I also strongly suspect that a lot of the skepticism surrounding AI and radical nanotechnology, can be said to stem from religious beliefs as well. If you believe that the machinery of your body and you mind were created by God, you would never accept that those designs can ever be eclipsed by man-made machines. Indeed this is the crux of the debate surrounding both AI and MNT, how much different, stronger, faster, and better can we make both molecular machines and intelligences. If we are indeed the products of random mutation and natural selection, then perhaps there is plenty of room for improvement. It is a question of how large is the design space.

    Richard Dawkins compared evolution to a blind watchmaker, since many see plenty of money to be made in nanotechnology let’s call evolution a blind miner. The miner lands on a planet and stumbles around for millions of years, finally you get a call and the miner has found gold. He has many tons of gold already extracted sitting on the ground. You race to the surface to start collecting you prize making sure to patent every nugget. You also begin to wonder, if the man is blind, just how much more gold is still in that mine? Meanwhile your competitors wonder, if the man is blind, just how many more deposits are on that planet? Perhaps the one you are drooling over is just the low hanging fruit, the only fruit that the blind man could ever stumble upon no matter how much time you gave him. Maybe there are deposits thousands of times larger that can only be found by men who have eyes that can see.

  7. Phillip, I agree that some limited version of MNT may be possible at cryogenic temperatures in ultra-high vacuum. There’s probably some very interesting science to be done here, possibly some applications in areas like materials and structures for quantum computing, but I don’t see it being economically viable for large scale manufacturing. Actually I’m puzzled as to why you think this is of such primary importance – manufacturing already accounts for a very small fraction of people employed in Western economies (of order 15% in the UK, less in the USA, I’d imagine the figure for Canada being in much the same ball park), and this is going to drop further as a result of ever increasing automation, naturally freeing up even more people for work in service-economy sectors. I see the main applications of nanotechnology (in the wider sense) as being in medicine, information and energy rather than manufacturing.

    Deepak, I agree entirely with what you say.

  8. I would like to see nanotechnology be applied to all the transhumanist ends listed, but am open to considering the technical feasibility of each proposal on its own grounds. My thought process is not influenced irrationally by the possibility of transcension. The possibility of transcension through nanotechnology may be an objective fact – or it might not – the point is that the possibility has no influence over the physical viability of the technology. That is a matter of physical law, which has a history of operating independently of human desires.

    It’s amazing – I am a Singularitarian, but yet I can look that the promise and peril of nanotechnology objectively. So can Chris and Mike at CRN, though they are both transhumanists. So can Eliezer Yudkowsky, who came up with the idea of nanoblocks. If you don’t have the mind of a child, you can look at a technology objectively despite what the benefits might be.

    Superintelligence is just the idea that there exist potential species smarter than us, including artificial ones. Anyone says otherwise implicitly thinks that humans are the smartest physically possible beings, a belief that should be laughed at.

    Nanotechnology not being used for manufacturing? I strongly doubt it. You have to note that the advantages of scaling laws will prompt manufacturing devices to keep miniaturizing until no amount of money or research will lead to anything smaller. If nanotechnology is not the end of the road, then advanced microtechnology will be. Hands and today’s robotics are just too big and clumsy to persist for very long.

    Again, transhumanism does not necessarily denote irrational assessment of a technology. If nanotechnology turns out to be too dangerous, then I would advocate that it be banned. If it turns out to not help with transhumanist aims, then I would merely turn my attention towards available alternatives.

    The problem with nanotech is that its development does indeed seem to be unavoidable. So many technological tracks point towards it. The only way to prevent it would be through a worldwide police force capable of shutting down research.

  9. Western economies have grabbed all of the easy fruits in pursuing societal efficiencies. Most of our future productivity gains will be a function of how quickly developing regions can reach an information economy from their present agriculture/manufacturing base.
    If you want medicine, information and energy, there are more minds in China alone than in all the Western nations combined, that could potentially be attaining PhDs.

    Exponential MNT at STP requires probe tips and an actuator as products. At UHV cryogenic temps, all the components of the UHV equipment and the cooling process must be products. Also need solar cells or wind turbines as a product. Diamonds may just be versatile enough to effect all this. Certainly by including other carbon allotropes in the product library, I don’t see a problem.

  10. Transhumanism a Religion?? Hardly. There are individuals who display … fanatical qualities, I grant you that. The majority of those I talk to on a daily basis however, are much more concerned with the transitional phase and the risks associated with them and how to navigate them safely. One reason why we do not concern ourselves with the “small” risks associated with those technologies are simply because there are many more people already concerned and debating this issue in Neo-Green circles(of whom, many call themselves Transhumanists as well). I wouldn’t dismiss the claims of the movement offhand simply because it sounds “Sci-Fi.” Many things we take for granted today were predicted by futurists like Drexler in the past, in fact, the vast majority of the technologies today were predicted in some shape or form by futurists either through Sci-Fi or Non-Fi novels. Most of us consider Moderate Transhumanism as a Rationalistic approach towards talking and debating the ethics and risks associated with the technologies we talk about. Keep that in mind before cherry picking the radical few who think they “speak” for all of us.

    In other news, the Extropian Institute has been disbanded. They were the sources of a great many “extremists” in this philosophy. Hopefully in the near future, we can take back the debate from the fringes and bring it squarely back into the center where it belongs, that is Speculating what would happen if we were to have Cryo-stasis technologies, or Molecular Fabrication devices guided by super intelligent Artificial intellects, rather then waiting with baited breath for the day of “reckoning” to come.

  11. Richard,

    I entirely agree with your comments about “drexlerian” or dry nanotech. Try as I might, I simply cannot bend my head around how it could work.

    I partially agree with your comments about manufacturing. Its actually about 11% of the U.S. workforce that is in anything related to manufacturing (this includes sales, marketing, and finance people who work for manufacturing companies).

    The reason why nanotech for manufacturing is significant and beneficial is that most service jobs pay less than the manufacturing jobs they replaced. The only way for these people, especially the people at the lower end of the economic ladder, to enjoy increased material standard of living is for the cost of manufactured goods to decrease relative to wages of people in the service economy.

    I think of “nanotech” as simply an advanced form of automation, with regards to manufacturing. In this, it is more incremental than revolutionary.

    I disagree with you and Deepak about radical life extension. I view aging as a disease state to be eliminated as it is a constraint on individual and lifestyle liberty. I like freedom and openess. “Drexlerian” nanotech or even “wet” nanotech is not needed to accomplish this. This is simply biotech and nanobiotech (or bionanotech, whichever you prefer) stuff.

    Whether this is can be done in 20 years (i.e. Aubrey de grey’s SENS or the like) is an open question that can only be answered by doing it or not doing this. Like starting a business, you only know if you will make it by making it. There is no other way to answer the question.

    As for the movement called transhumanism, I can only tell you that any movement or religion that exists has its flakes and twits. Judging from the internet (I never met any of these people personally), transhumanism has more than its share of flakes and quacks. However, I do find myself in much agreement with many of its ideas, the flakes not-withstanding.

  12. Richard,

    I think everyone here pretty much agrees that “drexlerian” nanotech is not possible. Since all of the transhumanist stuff is based on the feasibility of “drexlerian” nanotech, would not this mean that all of the fear mongering on the part of the transhumanists AND their detractors is completely irrelevant?

    In other words, the appropriate “public” policy for the development of nanotech is the same as that for semiconductor ICs. Have the necessary safety regulation in place, but allow the scientists, engineers, and entreprenuers to freely innovate and sell whatever products they want.

    This is the most sensible “public” policy with regards to nanotechnology.

  13. “I think everyone here pretty much agrees that “drexlerian” nanotech is not possible.”

    Just because mostly everyone here agrees doesn’t make you correct. Only time will tell.

    “Since all of the transhumanist stuff is based on the feasibility of “drexlerian” nanotech”

    It is? You don’t seem to be very well versed in the Philosophy of Transhumanism or you wouldn’t be painting it with such wide sweeping judgements.

    To me, Transhumanism is more about taking Evolution into our own individual hands and molding it to our egalitarian or selfish ends.

    Things like the Singularity and Hard/Soft Molecular Nanotechnology are just three aspects of what is a vast and multifaceted movement. Already the movement is splintering into various groups like Anarcho Transhumanism, Socialist Transhumanism, Moderate Transhumanism, Singularitarian, etc.

    You do it a disservice by dismissing it as irrational simply due to the fact that some view it as their own “Rapture of the Nerds,” or some such nonsense.

  14. Schummer: message seems to be one against vision and higher goals.

    “Visions about artificial intelligence (AI), which were circulated since the 1950s, slowly died in the face of technical problems and misconceptions of human intelligence, without preventing people from, say, using computers.”

    “From the chemical industry, who promised a perfect world made of new materials or unlimited food from crops that are immune against pest either by pesticides or genetic modification, to nuclear engineers, who promised unlimited energy by atomic fission or fusion—each time the visionary propaganda downplayed any possible problems or risks, denounced critical voices, caused fears and hostility, and frustrated all those who were naive enough to believe in the recurring visions.”

    Schummer left some out some other visions that have largely failed over the last few decades. The vision of conquering cancer. That has not happened despite billions.

    the vision of world peace has also not happened. by Schummers analysis, the vision of peace between Isreal and the Palestinians is one example that is clearly doomed. The promoters of this goal are clearly just trying to pump up the Isreali stock market. World peace is clearly a quasi-religious goal.

    Shcummer espouses the Homer Simpson view. Homer: Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.

    Don’t have big goals…Goals which have not be solved yet. Anyone who says you can try for a big goal is selling snake oil. Don’t believe them we are at best ordinary. Just try and help your employing company hit its quarterly financial guidance. Concentrate on the the financial overshoot of the internet and the engineers who helped create it. Forgot about the fact that we are using it to communicate now. Keep the status quo, where 60 million plus die every year.

    ======On Schummers quote about sacrificing human dignity

    In that mixture of radical utilitarianism and apocalyptic admonition, risks are perceived only for humanity as a whole, are either recoverable for humanity or existential for humanity, and only the existential ones really count. The risks of individuals, to their health and lives, are less important because their risks can be outweighed by steps towards transhumanist salvation of humanity.” Schummer comments that it is this “relative disregard for individual human dignity in risk assessments, i.e. the willingness to sacrifice individuals for the sake of global salvation, that makes transhumanism so inhumane.”

    Excuse me is not humanity made up of individuals.

    By turning this around Schummer and those who promote his view are clearly against humanity. Willing to sacrifice civilization for some individuals.

    By his logic those who have pursued the goal of stopping nuclear armageddon are similarly inhumane.

  15. Phillip, if some form of MNT is possible at UHV and cryogenic temperatures, the question remains, what products would it be economical to make that way? Both UHV and cryogenic temperatures impose huge overheads; look, for example, at how few commercial applications of superconductivity there are.

    Moderate TH: of course transhumanism isn’t a religion in the sense of having formal doctrines, priesthoods etc. But let me put it this way. Although now I would describe myself as being somewhere between agnostic and (non-evangelical) atheist, I had a fairly religious (Christian) upbringing. And when I was first exposed to the full force of transhumanist views, by reading Broderick’s book, The Spike, I was really struck by how familiar this conceptual framework was – it’s an eschatology with a great deal in common with various religious precursors. This point is nicely brought out, I think, in the (generally sympathetic) discussion of Kurzweil’s views in Joel Garreau’s book Radical Evolution.

    As for dismissing claims out of hand, the basis of my scepticism about Drexlerian nanotechnology, which is the subject of most interest to me, is based on a lot of very detailed thought about technical aspects of the proposals. See for example this post. Of course, many things predicted by science fiction writers and futurists have come true, but many more have not.

    Kurt (1): I agree that no-one now knows whether radical life extension is possible in principle or not. There are two questions we need to answer about the subject; firstly, if it were possible, is it right in principle to do it, and secondly, is it right at the present time to make it an immediate goal? I, like many others, have views on the first question. But since I think the answer to the second question is resoundingly “no” they aren’t really relevant. The point is that we have to make choices about where to concentrate our scientific and technological efforts, because we live in a world of limited resources (limited money, obviously, but probably more fundamentally, limited scientific talent). At a time when so many die prematurely in very unpleasant ways those are the problems that we should attempt to address first. In the UK 26% of all deaths are caused by cancer (and the intractability of this disease, despite all the money and effort spent on it should make us very sceptical of de Grey’s breezy assurances of how easy it will be to cure aging). I don’t think we should even think about curing ageing until people are assured of getting old in the first place.

    Kurt(2): is it true that everyone agrees that Drexlerian nanotech won’t be possible? That’s probably close to being true in scientific and policy circles, but discussion here and elsewhere on the net suggests that plenty of people still disagree. But I don’t disagree with your conclusion from the policy point of view, except only to point out that there is one other place where the government does intervene, and that this intervention is probably unavoidable, that is in funding basic science. There is a policy dimension to the question of how you set funding priorities.

    Brian, it is, I think, significant that Schummer is German. There is a very perceptive discussion in a recent book by Jasanoff (Designs on Nature), about the way the historical experience in Germany has shaped discussions about technology policy. To put it at its most succinct, “transhuman” is a pretty good translation of “übermensch”, so you shouldn’t be surprised that the former word attracts some of the historical and cultural baggage of the latter one. Obviously every society has to work out how best to balance the rights of individuals against the broader interests of the community as a whole. Europe saw, in the 20th century, two systems in which the balance shifted, in an extreme way, away from individual rights towards the perceived interests of the community as a whole, with consequences that mustn’t be repeated, and this experience very much colours the thinking of many European, and especially German, thinkers.

  16. this doesn’t quite follow from other entries on this thread, but just wondering what people think about this / whether it is even an issue:

    does nanotechnology still uses digital computers – and consequently binary code systems 0-1 – to calculate the organization of matter on the nanoscale? i mean, nanotech uses artifical DNA to grow material, so it is not just a simulation – as for example artifical life – but actually grows something in say the physical world. but in order to calculate the organization of the nanoscale does it still use digital binary – or analog computers or quantum computers? i am thinking about this as the nanoscale may need a calculation of order that is on a scale below the digital and i guess a different mathematics / concept of information from that of the drexlerian movement which seems to see matter as essentially computable in a digital form.

    what do people think?

  17. “Drexlerian” nanotechnology may or may not be feasible. Should people stop exploring it completely? Not at all, but as I have said here and in other avenues, the public perception (and as a result in Congress, etc as well) of nanotechnology is the hard nanotech/molecular manufacturing world view, which is unfortunate. Nanotechnology has so much more to offer, and a lot of that is within reach. A stronger emphasis on those aspects of nanotechnology that Richard and others favor would, IMO, improve public perception of nanotechnology, while doing a lot of good in the process

    On the subject of transhumanism, it is a fact of life that the loudest voices often tend to be the ones at the extreme edges. But the premise of cheating biology itself is one that I do not subscribe to. First of all, most people completely underestimate biology and its machinery. Second, if there was a way to supercede that machinery, what purpose can it serve? I have yet to hear a cohesive argument that makes me remotely think that it is a worthwhile pursuit.

  18. I agree longevity-extending technology costs must come down before being feasible for implementation.
    If UHV cryogenic MNT can create more UHV cryogenic systems, the technology can replicate exponentially. After scale-up this would eventually allow for any products made of plastic and/or diamonds, to approach the costs of the raw materials (which may be high for plastics if they are still petroleum-based in the future). The killer app may be solar panels. If metals are required, some sort of desalination technology will also be required. The net effect is to floor the raw materials price of some carbon allotropes.

  19. Mr Huggan,

    “What happened in Germany in the 20th Century that was such a big deal?”

    What a quote! That is what I like about the Nanotech debate, it is REALLY RADICAL.

    The problem is trying to understand what you mean! I assume you are refering to the fact that various communities in the 20th century committed genocide aka Cambodia and Rwanda. Therefore your point is that violence is part of the human condition?

    Let me answer that hypothetical question. To dismiss Germany’s 20th century past of Nazism because humanities proclivities is to miss the point. Fundementally IMHO, Nanotechnology is about the future evolution of humanity! True, humamity will continue to be violent into the near future, but maybe directed evolution will lead to a future humanity without the worst tendencies toward violence!

    If this is possible, then we need to be debating the NECESSITY of violence or not. This will of course lead to the Nazi era as only the Nazi justified their actions via (admittedly naive) evolutionary terms.

    So what it going to be? Should Humanity keep it violent tendencies or should we as a species accept the occasional genocide?

    An amateur mathematician

  20. Richard,

    “The point is that we have to make choices about where to concentrate our scientific and technological efforts, because we live in a world of limited resources (limited money, obviously, but probably more fundamentally, limited scientific talent)”

    This is a very important point, but the constraints are not as severe as you think! If the cost of computing comes down (relative cheap terahertz computing), then small oscillation approximations of even million atomic systems is availiable to the entire plantary engineering community! Also, if AFM / STM could be made by amateurs for say $5,000 – $10,000, this will increase DRAMATICALLY the talent pool!

    I think there is a tendency for Science to be to defensive regarding the so called ‘failures of 20th century science’. Electricity is CHEAP for the 500 million middle class people of the west. The genetic revolution has indeed grown enough food to feed the planet SEVERAL times over. Lifespans have DOUBLED during this century.

    Why is it that we cannot repeat those same achievements in say the next fifty years?!!!

    An amateur mathematician.

  21. Deepak and Richard,

    I have to say that I totally disagree with your positions on radical life extension, particularly with regards to the cost/benefit analysis of curing aging. Aubrey has a very good presentation on the economic returns (and they are enourmous) to curing aging, particularly in the U.S. where 95% of all health-care costs are associated with the aging process. “Youthful” healthy people are a net asset to an economy. Old and frail people are not. Therefor, it makes sense, from the standpoint of promotint economic dynamism, to cure aging at the soonest possible period. Aubrey outlines a very plausible argument for using public finance to do the R&D to cure aging.

    In any case, most transhumanists are libertarians and, as such, do not advocate using public finance for anything. More and more private finance with go into this kind of research, particularly from all of the techno-geeks that made money in the 90’s. Staying alive is a very powerful motivator which can lead to serious finance (private, of course) to make it happen.

    As far as “cheating biology”, I’m not sure what is ment by this expresion. If you mean hokey stuff like “uploading” and the like, I agree with you. If you mean the conquest of aging and death through biotechnological means, I could not disagree with you more.

  22. It still sounds like that Richard, you are agreeing with Schummer. Your statement, “Europe saw, in the 20th century, two systems in which the balance shifted, in an extreme way, away from individual rights towards the perceived interests of the community…” This as part of argument against what ? The funding of research towards diamond mechanosynthesis and what might result if that were successful ?

    Basically this seems to be saying, Germans have to err against Nazism and Europeans against Communism. Therefore, let us not fund an approach to science and technology that is different from the version that I want funded. Because that other approach will not work and if it did then it will lead to something like nazism/communism. Curious, this is supposed to be the more “objective” side of a debate on technology policy.

    I think that this is taking a scientific, potential technology and technology management discussion/debate away from objective discourse.

    I think Molecular nanotechnology will work. I think potential radical technology should be funded as part of about 20% of an overall R&D budget. Useful models are the NASA Institute for Advanced concepts.
    and the Xprize awards programs. Help boost projects that get certain results, regardless of how they do it.

    As you have noted, we do not know what might work. There should be more programs for supporting the exploration of what seem like longshots that are potentially very disruptive.

    Google allows each employee to spend 20% of their time on their own projects. Which resulted in google news and other successful new innovations and services.

    Europe could still be the source of technological success (the next big thing), but it seems that capitalizing on it in business would have to overcome excessive individual protections. Like European employment law. (

    French employment riots.

    Slow German reforms

    Technological funding politics is screwed up most everywhere. So it is in places where some technological research chaos is encouraged where something radically different could emerge.

  23. Kurt

    Unfortunately, I find it amusing that the techno-geeks that made a lot of money seem to be more interested in transhumanism than trying to spend that money on fighting third world diseases, hunger, etc, but that’s a different discussion.

    I think we have a fundamental disagreement. You use the word “cure” as if aging was a disease. Aging to me is a fundamental biological process and the goal should be to maximize the lifetime we have, make it disease free and productive, rather than trying to extend it. That’s also the origin of my “cheating biology” comment. By extending aging by the means transhumanists talk about, I believe we are cheating evolution, which I find troubling to say the least.

  24. Phillip, I’m wondering if your question is ironic, but I’m going to answer anyway. Germany was, in the first part of the 20th century, arguably the most scientifically and technologically advanced nation in the world. It came in the grip of an ideology that (a) denied that all men were created equal, and (b) regarded the interests of the state as a whole as being much more important than the rights of the individual. In this regime, many scientists and doctors condoned, and some actively participated in, systematic programs in which people with disabilities were subject to “involuntarily euthanasia”, and people who were socially “deviant” (e.g. homosexuals) or from racial groups deemed substandard (e.g. Jews) were murdered on an industrial scale. My point, Zelah, is not that violence is part of the human condition, it is that there is a tragic history of pseudo-rational and pseudo-scientific reasons being advanced to justify this violence, a history which in Europe is within living memory.

    Kurt, the best thing from an economic point of view would be for everyone to live in perfect health until they were 90 and then drop dead. I’m entirely in agreement, then, that big efforts should be made to combat diseases of old age, like Alzheimers – but I think these efforts are already being made, and lack of faster progress is some indication of the intractability of the problem. I probably agree with Deepak that the reification of ageing as a “disease” to be cured is problematic, and leads to what I suspect is a vain hope that some single factor, or a few factors, will be found, like an ageing gene or the development of extracellular crosslinks, that can easily be picked off. I think it’s much more likely that humans are like the famous “one horse shay”, in which all components simultaneously fail at the end of the design life (this is obviously the evolutionary optimal strategy). But no one knows for sure.

    With regard to using only private finance for science, I don’t begrudge the 90’s techno-geeks their fortunes, but I can’t help noting that most of them wouldn’t have made them without the help of lots of money from US and European taxpayers, for example through DARPA (whence came arpanet and thus the internet) and CERN (whence the WWW).

  25. this doesn’t quite follow from other entries on this thread, but just wondering what people think about this / whether it is even an issue:

    does nanotechnology still uses digital computers – and consequently binary code systems 0-1 – to calculate the organization of matter on the nanoscale? i mean, nanotech uses artifical DNA to grow material, so it is not just a simulation – as for example artifical life – but actually grows something in say the physical world. but in order to calculate the organization of the nanoscale does it still use digital binary – or analog computers or quantum computers? i am thinking about this as the nanoscale may need a calculation of order that is on a scale below the digital and i guess a different mathematics / concept of information from that of the drexlerian movement which seems to see matter as essentially computable in a digital form.

    what do people think?

  26. James, sorry, lost track of your post first time. I think it is really significant that biology does computing and information processing in a quite different way from that we’re used to in our digital computing. I’ve written about this here and here; ultimately I think we’re going to need to learn some of these tricks rather than, (as Drexlerians tend to do) assume that we can use the techniques we’re used to in our digital computing.

  27. thanks v. much for the links etc.. richard,

    just wondering if, rather than understanding the realm of biology / wet nanotech as essentially divorced from mathematics as is traditionally understood, does the work of gregory chaitin provide something of a model for this kind of work? in particular, chaitin has theorised the irreducibility of number in which certain parts of reality / matter cannot be computed, and, as such do not exist as eternal truths — a much more ‘biological’ or complex understanding of maths.

  28. You know those Germans. If you don’t join their party, they’ll come get you…

  29. Now that I think about it, it was the Halifax to England supply line that kept UK in the war early on. Been 60 years and I still don’t see any decent hockey leagues in England. Some gratitude.

  30. Cheating Evolution…..

    That sounds like a statement made out of Faith. What makes you so sure that Natural Selection applies to Humanity now? Those with weaknesses, from birth, are now kept alive by technology, they then go on to pass on their “faulty” genes to future generations thusly completely negating the process of Natural Selection(the process of the Strong surviving and the Weak perishing, sort of similiar to the Social Darwinist ideology currently popular with Neo-Conservatives atm). Our society is weakening our Gene pool and if we continue down the road we are currently going down, we could end up making our species sterile and unable to reproduce via natural means.

    Extreme Longevity…..

    I know not wether it is possible or not, but I do see aging as a disease, as every age related dealth is usually caused by some sort of disease wether it is Cancer or Heart Disease(Two of the most common causes of death). If we should eliminate those two factors along with Telomere regrowth and organic printing or vat grown organs, what effect do you guys think will be the effect on our longevity? The limiting factor I see is the regenerative capabilities of our Brain.

    Here are a couple of links for your consideration…,1286,68962,00.html

    If we can actually reverse aging in Middle Aged Mice and it’s applicable to humans, the arguments against the feasability against Extreme Longevity become moot and the debate turns from a feasibility argument, to a ethical and moral argument.

    Most Sci-Fi predictions were incorrect….

    Please show this to me. I make it a point to go back into the vaults of older sci-fi and futurist literature and I find that most of the predictions turn out to be correct, maybe not in the timeframe predicted, but they were ultimately correct.

    I think this is the most iffy “extreme” prediction of Transhumanism in the short term. In the long term, I see it as inevitable as it’s really only a software problem.

    I know you guys are most interested in Nanotechnoloy and to paint Transhumanism as a Philosophy that NEEDS Drexlerian Nanotech(of which I too think is implausible), really should do their homework. I just had to reiterate that.

  31. Deepak,

    The problem with your attitude about not defining aging as a disease is that it sets us up with a defeatist attitude that we cannot solve the problem. Progress has always been achieved by those who stood down the common wisdom of the time (think of the Wright brothers) and did what it took to make their objectives a reality. I see the aging problem no different from this.

    You want to make our lives healthy and disease-free. Is not the elimination of the aging process the most effective way to accomplish this objective?


    I do not believe that the so-called diseases of aging can be considered and effectively treated as something independent of the aging process, as they are manifestations of the aging process. The fact that old people tend to look alot alike, even across racial groups, in and of itself suggests that aging is caused by a relatively small number of molecular-biological processes. You are correct that not a whole lot of research has been done in this area. However, funding (much of it private) is increasing in this area because people are motivated to stay alive. Human motivation is a very power force, as past human events can testify to. The reason why I am actually optimistic in this area is because, more than most, biotechnology is tool-driven. The performance/cost of those tools (I know, I work in this field) is increasing at a rate greater than that of semiconductor manufacture. As you know, science is entirely tool-driven.

    As to the benefit of DARPA and government funding of science in general, there have been some benefits. However, I think you overstate the useful benefits of much of government funding in this area. It is true that the internet can out of the DARPA net. However, much of the technology relative to it (for example, semiconductor process technology and the GUI) came from entirely private sources. Also, the costly boondoggles of government funding (such as NASA, the Tokamak fusion program, and Carter’s Synfuels program) far exceed the payoffs that have come from government funding. Much of the problem originates with the nature of bureaucracy and behavioral patterns that make up bureaucratic behavior.

    This is the primary reason why I do NOT advocate public finance for anti-aging research. It would simply become another NASA or Tokamak fusion program.

    For another discussion but I will say it here: Any political philosophy (like socialism, facism, and the like) that is based on the efficacy of bureaucracy, by definition, cannot work. The last 20 years of my professional and adult life have convinced me of this reality.

  32. James, I simply don’t know whether Chaitin’s mathematics is important here.

    MTH: on evolution, I think it is clear that humans are still evolving (see ,a href=””>here, for example. This shouldn’t be surprising; just because some genetic “faults” are no longer fatal doesn’t mean there isn’t any selection pressure. Your caricature of evolution as being “the process of the Strong surviving and the Weak perishing” is very misleading – the “fit” survive but what defines fitness isn’t something fixed, and can depend on the environment, which changes with time and which the organism can itself modify.

    I’d be very happy if all cancers and heart disease could be cured, and if regenerative medicine became a reality. But I think this wouldn’t cure aging, it would simply give everyone the chance to get old, and would raise the average lifespan without substantially changing the maximum lifespan.

    Kurt, I think your argument that because old people look similar there are only a few causes of aging is very odd. I don’t think there’s necessarily a lot of correlation between the outward signs of aging and biological senility; when I go out running I’m often overtaken (usually on the uphills) by extremely fit old men who look like wizened prunes, while one too often, tragically, meets people who look no more than in late middle age whose minds have badly deteriorated.

    As regards private finance for research, actually I think there is substantially less of this than there used to be, because of the demise of the great corporate laboratories, like Bell Labs (the last vestige of which has just passed into French ownership). But these, effectively, were redirecting monopoly rents, which are less common in today’s competitive environment (except, perhaps, Microsoft). I don’t actually agree with you that science is tool-driven. Important though tools are, talent, creativity and imagination come first, in my view.

  33. Wow Richard!

    I think that your last comment about tools is quite provocative!

    Do not get me wrong, it is obvious that there is talented ‘Geniuses’ out there. who achieve alot with peanuts, Mr Kroto is a exempletary example.
    However, note that Mr Kroto university lab has now been closed down! My point is that Life in general is directed towards output/comsumer choices, over input/creativity. This means that Science IMHO is driven by technological needs of the age.

    So ‘driven by tools’ really should mean that Science experiments with modern technology. Sure, Science does now and then create novel technologies like AFM / Bose Condense states / Lasers, but these marvels were only possible because the general technology was availiable. Einstein when he thought up Lasers in 1917 could not build one as the technology was not availiable, even though the THEORY for Lasers was known! Also Einstein GR was not properly tested until 1960’s when atomic clocks first appeared on the scene!

    Put another way, if most of the nobel prize winners had been born in Africa, they would never have won the nobel prize!

    An amateur mathematician

  34. An interesting question occurs to me on reading Michael Anissimov’s comment. Michael writes that, though he is a transhumanist, he is “open to considering the technical feasibility of each proposal on its own grounds”, and he goes on to observe, entirely reasonably, that physical law “has a history of operating independently of human desires”.

    This all sounds very reasonable, but when I read his comment “I am a Singularitarian, but yet I can look at the promise and peril of nanotechnology objectively. So can Chris and Mike at CRN, though they are both transhumanists. So can Eliezer Yudkowsky…” it occurs to me that, if transhumanists were objective about assessing nanotechnology, then we’d expect about the same proportion of transhumanists who accept the claims of molecular nanotechnology, in its full-blown, Nanosystems, form, as we’d find in any sample of similarly technically educated individuals. And yet, now I think of it, to my knowledge, I know no supporter of Drexlerian molecular nanotechnology who is not a transhumanist, and nobody who is not a transhumanist who is a supporter of MNT. Of course, my knowledge of people’s beliefs is limited, and the sample of people I know is small, so I certainly can’t claim this as a general rule, but I’d like to see the counter-evidence.

    So my question is this, and it is a real question, not a rhetorical one. Who is there, who is a proponent of Drexlerian molecular nanotechnology, but who is not a transhumanist?

  35. I support many H+ technologies, contribute to H+ mailing lists and consider WTA to have strong present leadership, but I don’t consider myself a Transhumanist simply because I know human development is a little more efficient than is medical sciences R + D. Once they humanist part is taken care of I might consider myself H+.

    I would weight the evidence that Drexler MNT is engineerable assuming this century’s extrapolated technology as: 1/3 odds at room temperature and 2/3 under cryogenic conditions. I dunno if that makes me a proponent or not. It’s certainly caused me to split my economic studies in half between diamond surface chemistry and clunky exponential manufacturing systems.

  36. I would consider myself a proponent of MNT but not a Transhumanist. Politically I am a Progressive, religiously I was raised Catholic, thought about it a great deal and became an atheist thought about it a lot more and settled on Pantheism.

    Although my thoughts on nanotechnology have been evolving with time. Lately I have been playing around with idea: What if Richard and Philippe are correct about Drexlerian MNT? Short answer, most of the benefits are still there and many of the same dangers but things would happen slower and the technical capabilities would not be as extreme.
    ( I am starting to hope that Richard is correct, but hoping that something is true does not make it so.)

  37. Richard, perhaps some people’s interest in transhumanism goes in the opposite direction. Take the subject of cryonics, before being introduced to the idea of nanobots working in the body, the prospect of reanimation of frozen people didn’t seem possible even conceptually. How could you repair the cellular damage done by ice crystal formation? It is interesting to note that, I didn’t know this at the time, the people of the cryonics movement had imagined nano-machines made of proteins would be used for this purpose years before Drexlerian nanotechnology was conceived.

    p.s. Submiting this agian using a different email adress, if this gets through your spam filter please delete previous post.

  38. I want to respond to Richard’s comment, “it occurs to me that, if transhumanists were objective about assessing nanotechnology, then we’d expect about the same proportion of transhumanists who accept the claims of molecular nanotechnology, in its full-blown, Nanosystems, form, as we’d find in any sample of similarly technically educated individuals.”

    I think this is an excellent point, and I agree with Richard that this is almost certainly not the case. The correlation between transhumanism and belief in Drexlerian nanotech certainly calls into question the objectivity of believers in both.

    Richard goes on, “And yet, now I think of it, to my knowledge, I know no supporter of Drexlerian molecular nanotechnology who is not a transhumanist, and nobody who is not a transhumanist who is a supporter of MNT.”

    I have two small problems with this. First, despite the grammatical parallelism, I think both clauses are logically identical, and both are equivalent to saying that the set of Drexlerian MNT believers is a subset of the set of transhumanists. Perhaps Richard meant to say that he knew of no transhumanists who were not believers in MNT, in other words that the two sets are identical.

    But second, unfortunately this is the only part of Richard’s comment that people have responded to. A few people who speak up and say “what about me, I’m an exception” don’t go to the main point, which is the first comment I quoted above. By extending his claim in this rather strong and unsupportable form, Richard has weakened his overall point, which I think was a very good one.

    The bottom line remains that there are far too many transhumanists among believers in MNT. If this technology were really convincing in its own right, we should see many more people accepting it who didn’t have any connection to transhumanism.

    Now, I’ll mention a possible counter-argument. It could be that transhumanists fastened onto MNT early on, and then this association gave it a “kooky” image that drove respectable people away. Cryonics in particular, reviving frozen dead people, is extremely disreputable and Drexler’s discussion of this potential in Engines of Creation might have impaired acceptance of his ideas among the majority who find the concept distasteful. So it’s possible that the correlation between MNT and transhumanism is due more to the larger society’s emotional refusal to consider a technology with these kinds of associations.

  39. I was away from the computer for a few days, so missed some of the debate.

    Kurt .. I agree that there is a gray area there. After all, immune system breakdown, weakened bones and a weaker mind are often signs of aging. I think anti-aging efforts should focus on those areas. Life would be prolonged and healthy. What I have problems with is the obsession with living forever. While that might be a minority view, it is a view that I just cannot understand, despite having read every argument that people bring forth. That’s independent of whether it is feasible and if it has anything to do with nanotechnology. To me it is a misplaced sense of priorities.

  40. “It is interesting to note that, I didn’t know this at the time, the people of the cryonics movement had imagined nano-machines made of proteins would be used for this purpose years before Drexlerian nanotechnology was conceived.”

    NanoEnthusiast is correct. All transhumanists may be hardcore Drexlerians, but this is not the case for cryonicists. The association between cryonics and transhumanism is quite unfortunate because cryonics is conservative in nature.

    What cryonicists say is this: life is not equivalent to metabolism, many individuals are pronounced “dead” on cardiac- or non-rigorous “brain death” criteria that make sense now, but may not make sense in the future.

    We attempt to vitrify (not freeze!) the brain in a viable condition. If this doesn’t work, there is always Drexler *or* Jones and this *might* work. No empty promises, or wishful thinking.

  41. Hal, I did mean exactly what I said and you gave the correct set theory interpretation. You are right in a sense that this lessened the impact of the first point, but I really did mean it in the spirit of a call for more data rather than as a debating point, and I am very interested to hear about the exceptions. I suspect I shall return to this point, whose importance I have perhaps belatedly realised.

    It is certainly true that people sometimes judge ideas by the company they keep; perhaps that’s important too. I sometimes wonder whether, here in Europe, there is at the same time less visceral opposition to Drexler and less enthusiastic support, simply because here, for all sorts of cultural reasons, these ideas of transhumanism and cryonics seem rather distant and remote, and less likely to provoke strong emotions one way or the other.

  42. There is one point about this that I am not sure of, what makes someone a transhumanist? If you did accept everything written about in “Engines of Creations”, (namely the parts about medical applications) would that not make you *by definition* a transhumanist, or at least someone who believes in the basic technologies behind transhumanism? So the chain of logic that a desire to transcend your biological limits makes one believe in Drexlerian nanotechnolgy, therefore ones believe in MNT is suspect; is to me unsound. How are you supposed to believe in radical MNT without accepting some transhumanist ideas? Should you divorce the idea of UHV daimonoid mechanosynthesis from all medical applications to be considered serious? In particularly I would like to know the answers to the last two questions.

    This is of course separate from the issue of whether someone finds the idea of radical body modification appealing. Many of the opponents especially John Bruce (that was liked to) apparently believe in all this stuff too or they would not protest so much. Many of these ideas I find very troubling myself.

    At any rate, I don’t see how catching someone by definitions proves anything. Let me just say this, the various proposed technologies of tranhumanism by necessity work at the nano scale, of course somebody’s assessment of their plausibility would go up in they independently researched and accepted the proposals in “Nanosystems” and “Engines of Creation”.

  43. George Bush and other republicans who are anti-science and religiously conservative (a book on this topic)
    are against transhumanism, stem cells etc…

    None of those who are fundamentalist christian are pro-transhumanism.

    No Amish are pro-transhumanism.

    I think these kind of demographic conclusions are not that productive.

    Especially since part of the assumption is that transhumanism is bad.

    Plus a fair amount of transhumanism can be achieved without molecular nanotechnology.

    Gene Therapy
    Which will probably be widely used to cure or treat muscular dystrophy.
    more effective than steroids without the downsides.
    Millions will use it.


    Robotics- Bleex and other exoskeletons are working now. They will be used to help the elderly and for military purposes.

    Assuming Moore’s law holds there will be in about 30 years, cheaply implantable petaflop computers.

    So where is the cutoff proposed?
    In 20 years, Granny is wearing an exoskeleton and outperforming the ESPN2 world’s strongest man without a suit.

    Bans on gene therapy ? Force those that want it to buy that $800 ticket to China and thailand.

  44. Super-granny with an exoskeleton. Maybe that’s OK cause it is a tool on the outside. Hip replacement is under the skin.
    Well that’s OK, it is just restoring some function. But if we combine some exoskeleton function with Hip replacement ? Is that banned ? Is it because granny is hiding enhancement under her skin ?

    Lasik eye surgery ? Usually it is just restoring up to human level function. Well some get better than 20-20. what if they make it better. Everyone can have 20-5. 20-2. Have we crossed a line ? Is it only OK to have inferior Lasik?

    Richard, said that “I don’t think we should even think about curing ageing until people are assured of getting old in the first place.”

    Should we help people with any treatment when they are older than life expectency ? Should we research ways to help older stroke victims or heart disease patients ? Maybe we should cut off that research and those treatments until we cure diseases and causes that hit earlier. Too bad for Granny and Grandad. They only thought they were lucky to live older.

    Should all the money go to pre-natal diseases and aid for babies dieing in Africa ? You had mentioned 27% dead in the UK from Cancer. So is that the logical top priority for UK government funds? How about private donations. If they want to donate to curing aging…should they be banned ?

    Traffic deaths. Suicide. Those hit younger people.

    Is it only OK to replace failed parts. A heart, a lung or a blockage. If you actually have systemic fixes then is that bad ? Estrogen replacement ? Calcium supplements ?

    Making something better than what is replaced? OK or not OK
    Making something better than a healthy human? OK or not OK
    Making something better than the current record holder? OK or not OK
    Fixing all over not just a part? OK or not OK
    Research on helping older people? OK or not OK
    Inside or outside the skin? Factor ?
    Permanent part of the body? Factor?
    Genes? Ok or not OK?
    More specific bans? In combination?

  45. Nanoenthusiast, it seems to me that the key words in your post are “desire” and “believe”. It would be perfectly possible to accept that the proposals in Nanosystems were workable, even if you didn’t desire any kind of human transcendance. That’s just a matter of assessing technical feasibility. The problem would arise if your conviction that these proposals were feasible was driven, not by rational calculation, but in response to your desires.

    Brian: of course religious conservatives and fundamentalists will be opposed to transhumanism; you should recognise, though, that this opposition is likely to come not just from fundamentalists but from a very wide cross-section of practising Christians (and probably Jews and Muslims too). On the face of it, that’s more of a problem for transhumanists in the pious United States than in cheerfully heathen Britain, but my experience with the public engagement things I’ve done is that many “ordinary” members of the public aren’t particularly attracted by transhumanist ideas either.

    Undoubtedly many pointed dilemmas are going to be brought out by the human enhancement debate, which is in the UK at least now entering the mainstream. But you should recognise that the kinds of dilemmas you talk about in your second post are already being confronted and dealt with on a daily basis. In the UK, in the context of a socialised medical system, a statutory body (NICE – National Institute for Clinical Excellence) explictly decides what therapies are cost effective, and thus permitted, based on an explicit algorithm that computes the return on pounds invested in terms of expected years of enhanced quality of life per unit pound. And, to be brutal, this will quite explicitly favour treatments that benefit young people over older ones. In the USA these matters may be less openly talked about, but there is no doubt that insurance companies and health maintenance organisations will be operating a pretty similar (and probably, since it arises in the private rather than the public sector, an even more brutal) calculus.

  46. In relation to private funding of medical research, of course already a great deal of such research is privately funded through the big research charities like Cancer Research and the British Heart Foundation (in the UK, I’m sure you have equivalents in the USA). Due to the way research funding works here, these private contributions are effectively supplemented by additional public funds, and this seems quite appropriate to me – it’s a pretty democratic way of setting research priorities.

  47. Most “ordinary” members of the public do not like calculus. Most “ordinary” members of the US public could not locate the UK on a map. Sometimes we need to take some care in what is left for the “ordinary” members to decide.

    If we poll the “ordinary” members on scientific facts or scientific research. Do you think the majority will be right ?
    If we asked them to rank the causes of death, will they get that right?

    You are in favor of centralized planning for medical research and decisions.

    But are those decisions being made where people really know with any confidence what is going to work ?
    Business week discusses that this week that we do not know how effective many treatments are.

    Well if you do not want life extension then you are probably right to let decisions rest with an HMO or insurance company on whether you get a treatment. That will help ensure that people do not live too long. Just the rich who do not depend on that method of funding.

  48. It seems as though there is a fundamental bias, if you want to believe the future will look much like the present or some preferred past, no one questions your belief. If you think that radical change will occur in the next 50 or 100 years, you are put under a microscope. Transhumanism has been compared to a religion. Is it not possible that the skeptics are motivated by religious, or quasi-religious beliefs? The belief in the supremacy of the human mind, or the wet nanotechnolgy paradigm of life, could be described as a sort of neo-vitalism. Such a charge makes about as much sense to me as comparing transhuman ideas to Christian eschatology. It was said in this thread that the universe does not have to exist is accordance with human desires, but which desires? The desire to live (or for your grandchildren to live) forever in a perfect body, or the desire to not be made obsolete by future technologies? It would appear the latter desire has more weight with the general public.

    In the absence of evidence, one way or the other on a topic of science, it is often nesacarry to make a best guess. One principal that usally does not fail is the principal of medicroty. Our sun is not the largest or oldest of the stars, but only a medicore one. We are not a the center of the galaxy, nor are we at its outskirts. Guessing that we are medicore is usally the best bet. It seems as both sides are doing just that.

    When determining how much room for improvement there is to nanotechnolgy, we can look to nature and wonder if it is already at, or near what is optimal. If it is not near optimal, and our cells are mediocre, then something as powerful or better than what is described in Nanosystems should be possible. What this will specifically look like however, is anyone’s guess. When we apply the principal of mediocrity to our position in history, we conclude that it is unlikely that we live in extremely interesting times, such that fate of the human race should depend on the actions of the generations alive today. This makes the short millenarian-like timelines seem untenable. That ship may have sailed though, when the first atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Every generation since then has lived with the possible destruction of the world as we know it, there is no sign the existential risks of technology are going to stop multiplying. If any of these things are possible; it will be us, or a generation not too far removed from us, that will have the responsibility to make this radical future as positive as possible.

  49. Brian, in addition to religious people there may be another source of opposition to transhumanist technologies, the people that you are trying to help. There are people in the deaf community who see cochlear implants as a form of genocide, that is to say giving people the choice to hear is some kind of act of violence against them. You would think that technology that gives people normal abilities would be easily accepted, this does not bode well for enhancements. The main sticking point here is using the technology on children. It may be to get benefit from these technologies, you have to start young.

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