Friday, August 20, 2010


i once had a good friend who was hospitalized for surgical repair of her achilles tendon. being the  kind of person i am, i showed up at the hospital and on days thereafter at her home to entertain her. to improve my entertainment quotient, i purchased the latest copy of the magazine Cosmopolitan for her reading pleasure. in my brief foray into Cosmo magazine, the most obviously entertaining part were the quizzes...are you this? are you that? do you like this? does he like that?

the quizzes were inane but also amusing.

so imagine my delight when, upon first gazing upon FM-2030's Are You Transhuman? (1989), i find that it is chock full of quizzes (called "monitors") to help me figure out whether my "rate of personal growth" is high enough to lead me into a transhuman future.

now FM-2030 (ne feridouin esfandiary) was a bright guy who wrote a couple of early transhumanist books (Optimism One and Up-Wingers) in the 1970s and in his early works you can see a sort of proto-Singularity thesis, a proto-Law of Accelerating Returns, and other transhumanist elements later popularized by Kurzweil and others. so i do not want anyone to come away with the idea that FM-2030 was a nitwit. he definitely was not.

on the other hand, Are You Transhuman? is a pretty amusing mess of transhumanist enthusiasm, Cosmopolitan magazine, and, well, just plain foolishness. my favorite quiz is the very last one: "How Transhuman Are  You?" (this after taking quizzes on how immortality oriented you are, how ritualistic, power-oriented, emotional, rich, fluid, etc.). the final quiz asks the following (in brief):

1. do you have implants, transplants, etc.
2. does your brain have a pacemaker, electrodes, etc.?
3. have you had major body reconstruction?
4. are your body processes (including moods) telemonitored and regulated?
5. are you teleconnected to people via portable telecom?
6. are you androgynous?
7. do you reproduce only through new collaborative asexual methods?
8. are you the product of asexual reproduction?
9. are you postterritorial: free of kinship ties, ethnicity, nationality?
10. have you been to space?
11. have you ever died and been resuscitated?

according to FM, if you answered "yes" to 7 out of these 11, you're a full-fledged transhuman.

so i immediately imagined a geriatric, epilectic, hospitalized former astronaut with a cell phone who could fulfill numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, and 11 right off the bad. if or she has given sperm or ova, that would get 7 or a car accident could result in credit for 3, and then it's just a hop skip and a jump (perhaps an androgynous one?) to transhumanism.

not exactly the poster boy that FM and his so-cal crowd were shooting for...but it might make for an amusing new angle in Cosmopolitan.  :)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

everyone loves the singularity

one of the key issues in my book and in an article to be published in Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science this december is the public significance of ideas like the Singularity and mind uploading. these days, it seems like i cannot turn around without having that thesis confirmed.

for example:

giulio prisco just pointed me at a Forbes magazine article which, rather surprisingly, concludes with the statement: "Now if other venture capitalists would only adopt the firm’s willingness to back wild new startups, we’d soon be commuting to work with jet-packs, uploading our consciousness to the internet and cloning dinosaurs from DNA." obviously, this is a bit tongue in cheek but it is still fundamentally encouraging transhumanist technologies.


Singularity University sent me an e-mail last week announcing that NASA's chief technologist came to SU to tout the University's work in the local community and that SU's director was invited to a conference hosted by the U.S. State Department's USAID development arm. the policy groups' love of SU is something that the Singularity folks will continue to push for and appreciate.

the only thing that pains me about the persistent emergence of these things is that i cannot put them back into work that's already published. someday, when all the books are electronic, i suppose i'll be able to do that. perhaps that will help mollify me when i cannot hold paper books anymore.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

floating to the top

i must report that I'm already going back on my word: i'll be mentioning the lifeboat foundation, of which i am a board member, soon. i'm working on a paper about transhumanism in pop science and science fiction (it's been accepted, i'm just revising) and i have occasion to mention david brin's comments in the lifeboat listserv. so, while i said i wouldn't be mentioning them in my work, i will be. ;)

in further lifeboat related news, they've cheerfully pointed out to me that they've made it into the new york times. the times seems committed to singularity and futurism talk these days (see my prior post about the recent essay on kurzweil and co.), so it's not too surprising that they've featured lifeboat also. nevertheless, it's certainly a measure of the foundations growing public presence that they made it in. i do wonder how many people the times pushed to lifeboat and whether that was successful in gaining members and donors.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Singularity Summit 2010

Next weekend transhumanists, futurists, and interested parties will converge on San Francisco for the Singularity Summit, an event founded by the Singularity Institute. Speakers include familiar standards (e.g. Ray Kurzweil, Greg Stock, Ben Goertzel) and some other, newer figures. The most exciting of the newer folks looks to be magician and paranormal researcher James Randi, whose abstract says:

"We can trust our perceptions, or so we like to believe. But James Randi knows better. Randi, who for half a century traveled the world as a celebrated conjurer and escape artist, takes the stage to demonstrate how human beings fool each other and themselves. Drawing on his extensive experiences as an investigator of paranormal, supernatural, and generally weird claims, Randi will argue that the inhabitants of the modern world are not as rational as they appear -- and that as our technologies become ever-more potent, our hidden penchant for unreason becomes commensurately more dangerous. In singular times, it is the ethical responsibility of every thinking being to become an agent for the promulgation of critical thought, skepticism, and humility."

This reveals two serious problems:

1) getting all people to promulgate critical thought, etc. is, well, impossible. As evidence, witness the fact that poll numbers continue to indicate that Republican voters don't think that President Obama is a natural born citizen of the  U.S. and that a stunning 24% of them think he's the Antichrist while their leaders seem to think that the war in Afghanistan began in the Obama presidency

2) what if the thing we're all getting fooled about is that current technological trends are doing us any good? There'd be no way of figuring this out until far too late, as we have already discovered with the massive overuse of antibiotics and might be discovering with respect to things like pesticides and GMO crops. The humility that Randi mentions is in short supply, I'm afraid.

I'm on Randi's side. I'm a big believer that we can thoughtfully, ethically move forward technologically; and I definitely believe that this could include some (though probably not all) of the items on the transhumanist agenda. But I also wonder whether Singularity hype helps us toward this end; it all too often falls short of all three of Randi's concerns.