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The Case for Life Extension – Article by Arin Vahanian

The Case for Life Extension – Article by Arin Vahanian

Arin Vahanian


“I wish I could live 10 to 20 years less,” said no one ever. In fact, I have never met anyone who didn’t want to live at least a few more years of a healthy, active life. Yet, incredibly, there appears to be some controversy about the topic of life extension. Specifically, there seems to be some pushback from critics, who have attacked life extension as “irresponsible” and “harmful,” cite overpopulation and resource constraints, and in turn paint doomsday scenarios that would occur if human beings were to live longer lives.

With this article, I hope to begin a discussion to eventually lay this controversy to rest, as well as assuage any concerns the general public may have about the growing life-extension movement. For the desire to live longer and healthier is not only natural to the human condition, but I believe it is one of the noblest goals for human beings to strive for.

There are many good reasons to support life extension, but here I shall provide a few reasons why, just to get the conversation started. Firstly, many people already support life extension. Anti-aging products as well as hormone replacement products and therapy generated about $50 billion of revenue in 2009 in the United States alone, according to the American Medical Association. If this isn’t an indication that people are very interested in life extension, I don’t know what is. While the efficacy of some such products and therapies has come into question, that in itself would be a good reason to develop this field so that more efficacious and better products could be developed. This would ensure that we adequately address the enormous demand for life-extension products and therapies.

Not only are many people already interested in life extension, but extending the human lifespan is something we have been working on for quite a while. In fact, the global average life expectancy has more than doubled since the year 1900. This necessarily raises the question,”Why should we stop now?” It seems illogical, unreasonable, and, in fact, inhumane to me to stop working on something so crucial – increasing life expectancy so that more people can have more of what is the most beautiful experience on Earth, the human experience. Therefore, why not dedicate more resources and funding to something that most people are already interested in, consider to be a huge priority in their lives, and which we have already been working on for a very long time?

Also, as I pointed out in a previous article on aging, there are practical reasons why we would want to support life extension. Making progress in life extension means each of us will have additional time with which to do things that are important to us. Imagine if you had an additional 10 to 20 young years of life. Think about all that could be accomplished during this time. The additional time you have in your life might help you come up with a cure for cancer, help eliminate poverty, or fulfill some other important accomplishment that humanity would benefit greatly from. As I mentioned in my article on aging, extending the human lifespan would result in us being able to work on other things that are important to the human race, thereby creating a virtuous cycle of improvement and progress. Imagine the number of world-changing ideas and products that never came to fruition because someone passed away. Let’s make sure that humanity is never robbed again of something it needs, just because of the untimely end of people who could have made a positive contribution.

In addition to logical and practical reasons why we should support life extension, it turns out that concerns about overpopulation and resource scarcity have been overblown. According to biologist Dr. Aubrey de Grey, life-extension therapy could postpone or eliminate menopause, thereby allowing women to space out their pregnancies over more years. What this would do is decrease the yearly population growth rate.

Further, according to Dr. Max More, CEO of Alcor, not to mention numerous other reputable sources, including The World Bank and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, the worldwide population growth rate is slowing down and is projected to eventually stabilize and begin falling. Nowhere is this more apparent than in countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain, China, Russia, and even the United States, where birth rates are below the 2.1 live births per woman required to just maintain population equilibrium. Additionally, even countries such as India, which used to have a very high birth rate, have seen huge declines in birth rates in recent years.

In terms of resource scarcity, according to the World Food Programme, while it is true that an estimated 124 million people in 51 countries are facing food insecurity, this is due to reasons such as conflict and political instability, rather than food shortages. In fact, according to a study published in Environmental Science & Technology, the problem of malnourishment is a distribution problem, rather than a production one. Indeed, India actually has a food surplus, but wastes an extraordinary amount of food, leading to a large number of undernourished people. Therefore, the problem is a supply-chain and political problem, rather than a resource problem, and we are not running out of food, as some people have claimed.

Finally, according to the World Health Organization, worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. No matter where you might live, taking a quick glance around you will likely reveal that this is indeed the case. While there are a litany of causes of obesity, lack of food is not one of them. Thus, we actually have too much food around the world, rather than not enough. Indeed, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations demonstrated, in a landmark study, that per capita food availability for the world as a whole has risen in recent decades, and the number of chronically undernourished people has been cut by more than 50 percent in just a few decades. Therefore, we have more than enough food to feed everyone.

The same exaggerated fears have been stoked about other resources, such as energy, water, and land, and all have been overcome or handled over the course of human history. It turns out that human beings have been remarkably successful at coming up with solutions to these challenges over the years, and I do not think that we will, all of a sudden, lose this resourcefulness, dedication, and ability to master our environment.

Naturally, over the last few decades, not to mention centuries, doomsday prognostications by people such as cleric and scholar Thomas Malthus, biologist Paul Ehrlich, and economist Stephen Leeb, have not come true, and in fact, in many cases, have been utterly debunked.

Finally, on a moral, ethical, and indeed, human level, it seems cruel to inhibit human beings to living a certain amount of time, and no more. To this end, I have a simple question for those who are opposed to life extension based on the idea that there is a predetermined amount of time that all humans are supposed to live.

Would you tell a parent being ravaged by stage 4 cancer or a sibling suffering from cystic fibrosis that they do not deserve to live any longer because their time is up and that this is the “natural order of things”? Everyone deserves to live a dignified, healthy, and fulfilling life, and it is cruel for us to appoint ourselves judge, jury, and executioner.

So I ask people who are vehemently against life extension, “Do you believe that we are qualified to decide how long others should live?” Further, if you support cancer treatment that would prolong the life of a loved one by a few months or few years, why would you not support treatment that would prolong their healthy life for a few more years?

Since the beginning of time, humans have always strived to improve their lot in life, to seek growth in many aspects of the human experience, and to overcome challenges and hardships. Just as it would be absurd for someone to say that they want to regress, devolve, and live a shorter life, it would be equally absurd for us to say we would not want to live longer, healthier lives. Thus, it is natural for humans to support life extension, if not for themselves, then at least for others who desire it, because to reject it would be equivalent to rejecting life, and rejecting the experience of being human.

Anyone who truly cherishes life and how valuable it is, should at least consider the vast number of possibilities that life extension would bring. Of course, it is up to each person to decide for themselves whether they would want to live healthier and longer lives, and we are not the decision-makers for everyone else. This is a personal decision that must be explored by each individual. I am confident that the more we communicate our message that life extension is natural as well as desirable for the development of human beings and the planet, the more people will be on board with something that is frankly very obvious: life extension is a noble cause, and one that is very much worth exploring.

Arin Vahanian is Director of Marketing for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.

Why Toyota Is a Transhumanist Company – Article by Arin Vahanian

Why Toyota Is a Transhumanist Company – Article by Arin Vahanian

Arin Vahanian


When people think about the company that most embodies Transhumanism, Google certainly comes to mind. With subsidiaries such as its R&D facility Google X (dedicated to launching ambitious technologies that aim to make the world a better place), and its biotech company Calico (dedicated to combating aging and associated diseases), not to mention other projects it is involved in, Google seems to be well-poised to carry the Transhumanist torch.

However, one company that I believe has been flying under the radar in this regard, but also embodies Transhumanism, is Toyota. While it might not be the first organization many people think of when they think about Transhumanism, and while its products are not nearly as revolutionary as Google’s, it would be unfair to not also include Toyota among the firms most responsible for spreading the values of Transhumanism.

The main reason why I believe this to be the case is related to the Japanese art and science of continuous improvement, called Kaizen. As I wrote in my book Kaizen for Men, the philosophy of Kaizen assumes that our way of life, which includes our work life, social life, and home life, should be constantly improved. We do this by taking small steps toward improving processes, products, services, habits, and actions. In essence, the spirit of Kaizen is that there should be some sort of improvement every day.

There are many ways in which Toyota uses Kaizen, but here I shall specify a few ways the firm approaches continuous improvement, and then relate it to the philosophy of Transhumanism.

First, the Toyota Production System is dedicated not only to improving products and processes, but also to eliminating waste and inefficiencies in an organization. Just as Toyota uses PDCA, an improvement cycle methodology to solve problems found on the shop floor, and just as Toyota seeks to eliminate different types of waste in its manufacturing process (such as defect correction, inventory, and overproduction), Transhumanists seek to find ways every day to improve the human condition, and to eliminate waste and inefficiency from our lives. An example of this would be the Transhumanist pledge to improving the quality of life through increased funding for science and technology, as well as support for inventions such as bionic prostheses, which now allow people who previously lost limbs, to live more productive lives, and to better function as members of society.

Next, Toyota’s dedication to finding the root cause of problems (through tools such as the 5 Whys method and the Cause and Effect diagram), rather than just addressing the symptoms, is similar to the way Transhumanists are addressing the challenges brought forth by aging, cancer, and rare diseases. The hope is that by finding the root cause of these issues, as opposed to just prescribing medication and hoping for the best, that we can eradicate illnesses that have been plaguing humanity for centuries.

Further, at Toyota, the practice of Hansei, or self-reflection, involves acknowledging one’s own mistakes and pledging improvement. For instance, at Toyota, even if a task is completed successfully, teams hold a self-reflection meeting, whereby team members help identify failures experienced along the way and create a plan for future efforts. This insistence on acknowledging current limitations and stressing improvement in order to build a better future is exactly what Transhumanists have been dedicated to since the very founding of the movement.

Finally, Toyota is not just Transhumanist in the way that it builds products or helps its employees improve. It is also Transhumanist in the way that it communicates its values and markets its products. The slogan for Lexus, Toyota’s luxury line of automobiles, is “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.” What could be more Transhumanist than this? When most people think of Toyota, they think of high-quality, reliable, well-designed products sold at a reasonable price. For better or worse, the automobile has become a staple of modern living for many decades now, and few things seem as normal to us now as getting into a car and driving away to some destination, be it our workplace, a friend’s house, or a vacation destination.

Therefore, just as the automobile has become commonplace in our lives, and just as Toyota has become known as a reputable company releasing quality products that meet the needs of many people, so Transhumanism must become the most popular philosophy when it comes to improvement and self-actualization. Transhumanism isn’t a fringe movement, it’s the human movement.

After all, I imagine that almost all people would consider improvement to be quite positive, and would consider actualizing oneself to be one of the most rewarding and valuable goals in the human condition.

This is the promise of Transhumanism. Just as Toyota seeks to be better every day, and to release better products every day, so we must all decide to be better every day, and to seek continuous improvement. This is why I believe that Kaizen and Transhumanism are linked at the core. Because just as we must take steps every day toward releasing better products and services, we must work every day toward being better human beings and building a future our children would want to live in.

Arin Vahanian is Director of Marketing for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.

 

 

The Case for Reversing Aging – Article by Arin Vahanian

The Case for Reversing Aging – Article by Arin Vahanian

Arin Vahanian


As incredulous as it may seem, I have had numerous people ask me why I support research and funding for reversing the aging process.

The usual arguments against stopping or slowing aging are that there is some sort of natural process or natural order of things, and that human beings shouldn’t be “playing God.”

In this short article, I would like to present my personal views on aging and why I believe it is perfectly natural, and in fact, desirable, for human beings to want to overcome this limitation, or at least, slow it down.

We humans have a very peculiar relationship with aging and death. On the one hand, people spend rather large sums of money on products or services that help them look and feel younger and healthier. In essence, what these people are communicating through their spending habits is that they have a desire to slow down the aging process. Yet any talk of actually reversing the aging process is met with puzzled looks or even dismissal by the very same people. On the other hand, most people dread the condition of death but have resigned themselves to the idea that there is nothing we can do about it. So while we tend to believe that death is unavoidable, we somehow also think that it won’t happen to us for a while longer, and so we put these very important topics on the back burner and refuse to think further about them or consider how to overcome them.

My personal viewpoint is that nothing gets solved without there being some sort of action toward solving it. Problems do not normally resolve themselves.

To those who ask why we should spend money, time, and effort on reversing aging, I shall present three reasons why I believe it is beneficial for us to do so.

Firstly, human beings have always wanted to improve, to grow, and to overcome hardships and challenges. Saying that there is some natural order of things is not a valid argument against reversing the aging process.

Imagine if we had, in the past, accepted a shortened lifespan as the natural order of things. It’s good that we didn’t, because global average life expectancy has more than doubled since the year 1900.

Imagine if we had, in the past, accepted a chaotic, uncomfortable, and dangerous life as the natural order of things. It’s good that we didn’t, because we came up with inventions such as electricity, the Internet, the X-ray, indoor plumbing, heating, and so forth.

Imagine if we had, in the past, accepted our young sons and daughters having their precious lives cut short by illness as the natural order of things. It’s good that we didn’t, because we now have cures for dysentery, malaria, and tuberculosis.

The fact is that the human condition involves us progressing, overcoming limitations, and being better human beings. Hence, it is natural for human beings to want to overcome undesirable situations, and I would imagine that most people would state that poverty, disease, and aging are undesirable.  

Next, reversing the process of aging will give each one of us additional time that we need in order to accomplish other lofty goals. Imagine if you had an additional 10 or 20 young years of life. How much more could you accomplish during that time? We could spend more time on goals such as eliminating poverty, coming up with a cure for cancer, working toward world peace, and so forth. I find it hard to imagine that someone could argue against having more time in life to work on their personal purpose, vision, and mission. Therefore, reversing the process of aging would result in us being able to work on other things that are important to the human race, thereby creating a virtuous cycle of improvement and progress.

Finally, perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the human condition is having a human experience. The human experience includes things such as building relationships with other people, enjoying the splendors of a warm summer afternoon with friends or family, and partaking in any number of stimulating and rewarding activities, such as reading, exercising, and doing charity work.

To those of you who are in a romantic relationship, I ask, wouldn’t you want more time and more opportunities to be with your spouse or partner? Imagine never hearing your partner whisper sweetly in your ear again, or forever losing the overwhelming pleasure of making love to them, or no longer experiencing the rewarding growth you’ve experienced with them since you became a couple.

To those of you who are parents, I ask, wouldn’t you want to ensure that your children live long, happy, and productive lives? Imagine if your son or daughter could have more time and more opportunities to become the person who will finally find a cure for depression, or start a movement that helps brings us closer to world peace, or become a source of inspiration for many people around the world through starting an organization, but they won’t, because we have accepted a “natural order of things.”

To those of you who are actively involved in an ambitious project or important cause that means a lot to you, I ask, wouldn’t you want more time and more energy to work on these things that are meaningful to you? Imagine never being able to work on fulfilling your purpose or vision in life.

There are many more reasons why I believe we should focus on reversing aging, but the three reasons above are a good starting point for us to more seriously consider this most important of issues.

Let’s even assume for a moment that implausible scenarios such as reincarnation and life after death are real. Why wouldn’t we want to live this current life better? I do not believe it is mutually exclusive to believe in life after death and also want to live our current lives better. Throwing up our hands in defeat and accepting things as they currently are does not lead to progress and growth; it leads to atrophy.  

So before we give up the good fight and resign ourselves to an old and decrepit future, we must ask ourselves what we are living for.

If I had to give just one reason for wanting to reverse aging, it would be pretty simple: I love life too damn much.

What’s your reason?

Arin Vahanian is Director of Marketing for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.

Why I Believe in Transhumanism – Article by Arin Vahanian

Why I Believe in Transhumanism – Article by Arin Vahanian

Arin Vahanian


Someone asked me why I decided to join the Transhumanist Party, and indeed, why I support a movement, which, at first glance, appears to be a fringe movement with members who are out of touch with the needs of the general public.

The truth, however, is far different from what is reported in the media, in books, or even in scholarly articles. Because Transhumanism is the only movement that cares enough about improving the human condition and about building a better future to dedicate itself completely to these monumental tasks. Being human, the human condition is all that we have, and as such, we should cherish and treasure it. Further, the future will be built, but unless we build it in such a way that reflects our values and ethics, we may not be happy with the outcome. This is far too important an outcome to leave to chance, and that is why Transhumanists are so passionate about building a better future.

Going back to the topic of this article, the reason I joined the Transhumanist movement is simple: I love life, and I am dedicated to helping increase the quality of life for every human being on Earth. This is the single most important purpose for me to be working on right now.

Despite what you may have heard, Transhumanism isn’t about becoming a machine; it’s about becoming a better human being.

Since joining this movement, I have been struck by how optimistic, open-minded, and welcoming everyone has been to me. I’ve been accepted with open arms, and people have gone out of their way to help me. It’s a tight-knit community full of passionate, intelligent, and dedicated people who want to work on resolving problems that plague humanity. What could be a more noble purpose?

Despite the negative coverage our movement has received in the media and books, one characteristic that is so consistent across our movement is that our members absolutely adore the sanctity of life. When someone asks me why I am so obsessed with goals such as reversing aging, increasing the human lifespan, dramatically increasing investment in medicine and science, and expanding the human consciousness and intellect, I reply that I am completely and utterly in love with the human experience.

But why do we Transhumanists persevere with such goals?

Because it is cruel and dishonest to say to a person with Stage 4 cancer that soon they will no longer be able to hold their son or daughter in their arms, nor hear their sweet laughter, ever again.

It is cruel and dishonest to tell a quadriplegic that they will never walk.

It is cruel and dishonest to tell someone suffering from severe depression that they should accept a dark, brooding cloud of misery hanging over their head for the rest of their life.

It is cruel and dishonest to tell a child born with a birth defect that they will never live a normal life.

It is cruel and dishonest to tell a student with a learning disability that they should make do with what they have and call them a “special needs” student.

It is cruel and dishonest to tell someone they will never make love to their spouse again, nor hear their voice, nor feel their touch, due to a rare illness that will claim their life far too soon.

In short, I believe it is wrong to be so utterly pessimistic about life and about improving the human condition.

We believe in values such as pacifism, expanding the intellect through increased investment in education, improving the quality of life through science and technology, and improving health services and increasing the human lifespan. How on Earth is any of this fringe?

We must have the courage to proclaim our convictions in front of the rest of the world, because these goals are far too important to leave to chance, and because people all over the world genuinely do want to see progress in these areas.  

The fact is that Transhumanism is the movement that is most in touch with the needs of the general public, because most people, unless they are completely insane, would want to live healthier, be disease-free, increase their intelligence, and build a better future for their children. No, we are not a fringe movement. We are the human movement. After all, Transhumanism has the word “human” in it. And that to me means being a better human.

It is wrong to be defeatist and throw our hands up in resignation, because nothing of significance was ever accomplished by being pessimistic, capitulating, or quitting prematurely. Amazing inventions, advances in medicine, and improvements in quality of life came about precisely because we, as humans, did not give up, but rather, fought for what was right. And increasing the quality of life for all humans is right.

I am a Transhumanist because I am a human being, and because I love the human experience. And this is something I will never apologize for. In fact, this is something I will continue to fight for as long as I am alive. Which, hopefully, will be for a very long time.

Why am I a Transhumanist? Because simply put, I love life too damn much.

Arin Vahanian is Director of Marketing for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.

Is the Soul Digital or Analogue? – Article by C. H. Antony

Is the Soul Digital or Analogue? – Article by C. H. Antony

logo_bgC. H. Antony


I am probably not the ideal Transhumanist; I do believe that I have a soul, that it is more the essence of me than the sum of my neurons and how they interact with each other to create my thoughts, and that it is an extremely fragile thing. Should I die and preserve myself to be revived at a later date, I fear that I would never know of the success or failure of that endeavor. That a living breathing thinking person who acts like me and reasons like me will rejoin society is not in question; I only wonder that I might miss it as my essence passes on into some other form of existence… or worse – not. I do not believe that a digital substrate will, in fact, carry my soul on uninterrupted.

I want to explore the question of the soul for a moment. In The Singularity is Near (2005), Ray Kurzweil stated that the Calculations Per Second of the human brain are in the vicinity of 10 to the 14th power, based on the assumption, and rightly so, that each neuron in the brain could be considered a digital on/off or 1/0. Around six years ago, we began seeing articles describing microtubules in the axons of the neuronal cells that seemed to have quantum properties I freely admit to not understanding. I cheerfully invite anyone to correct me on this, but it seems that while the neuron either fires or doesn’t as it communicates with the neighboring cell, the microtubule seems to exist in a sort Schrödinger-like state of possibilities – like a multiplexing wire that might convey one piece of information by doing so at a particular combination of wattage, voltage, and resistance, then convey a completely different set of instructions with another combination of the same. It seems to me that if every neuron is operating in a digital on/off state, then 1014  computations per second (CPS) are likely given the average number of neuronal cells in the human brain, and if that number might be horribly wrong because of what we now know of the activity within the axon – then this suggests that superposition state of neural activity might very well be the essence of our consciousness and, if interrupted, could be lost and what remains would be something else only a comfort to those we would have left behind.

I agree that an entirely biological existence is not only a seriously limiting factor in our future development, but also something we are destined to outgrow and will do so. However, I would say that my ideal manifestation of this is a seamless combination of man and machine. Medical technology could eliminate all the senescence we suffer to the point where the next logical step is enhancement over a timeless organic form. I, for one, would hate to live for hundreds of years and gather all the knowledge and experience of those times only to die because of some future equivalent of a drunk driver. That in itself is good enough reason to fortify my existence any way I can. If that means that my body must be replaced with an artificial one, so be it. But, I want to keep my squishy, limited, fragile brain! I want my cake and to eat it, gleefully, with a nearly indestructible form that doesn’t need the cake, won’t get fat from it, and still let’s me enjoy the flavors and textures as I do now. I want to enjoy all the many hedonistic joys freely and with only greater precision than my limited biological form can experience.

I believe we’re seeing this very trend emerge and that the collective instinct of man is far more ready to accept an enhanced human/cyborg than uploading oneself to a purely artificial substrate. Evidence of this can be seen in the amazing promise of Elon Musk’s Neuralink project, the recent X-Prize challenge for a robot avatar, and the many amazing advancements in prosthetic limbs and organs. As I previously stated, medical technology will soon overcome senescence, allowing our tissues to go on indefinitely, so to essentially cure our brain of degeneration, enhance it with a neural mesh, and go about our lives in a perfected cybernetic body akin to Ghost in the Shell: Altered Architecture is probably a pretty good direction to be steering ourselves as Transhumanists. It’s also the most likely Next Step, if you will, considering how well society is conditioned for these themes. I would certainly feel more comfortable with my own enhanced mind in a perfect and durable body that can be easily upgraded and modified as the centuries pass.

So now I ask the members of this community to bring their thoughts here. What is your ideal existence?

C. H. Antony is a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party. He may be contacted here

Will We Build the Future, or Will the Future Build Us? – Article by Arin Vahanian

Will We Build the Future, or Will the Future Build Us? – Article by Arin Vahanian

Arin Vahanian


There is an idea or perception bandied about the general public that unstoppable technological forces are already upon us like a runaway train, threatening to derail our way of life and everything we have ever known, and that there is nothing we can do about it.

However, I would like to offer some hope and at the same time dispel this seemingly apocalyptic scenario.

There appear to be two main schools of thought when we discuss the future; the Ray Kurzweil school of thought, which states that the future will evolve as it will and that we will reach Singularity by a certain date, and the Peter Thiel school of thought, which says that the future won’t be built unless we build it.

I would like to add upon Mr. Thiel’s idea by saying that the future will indeed be built, but unless we, as a society, a human race, and a world, join forces to build a future we would like to live in and which reflects our values, we will indeed have a future, but perhaps not one we are completely comfortable with.

Thus, this is a call to action for not only those who are actively involved in the fields of technology, science, and engineering, but all people around the world, because the sum of our collective actions will decide the fate of the world, and the future we live in. Whether we want to admit it, all of us are, on some level, responsible for how the world develops every day.

I urge those of you who may have resigned yourselves to the idea that there is nothing you can do to help change the trajectory of the world to take a look with new eyes. There is always something all of us can do, because every day we are interacting with others, building relationships, helping to create products, working on resolving problems that affect humanity, contributing to the success of an organization, company, or family, and performing actions that help the world develop, no matter on how small a scale that might be.

Everyone on Earth has a role to play in the creation of our future. That is what you are here for – to help fulfill your personal vision and mission while also contributing to the development of the world. That is how important you are.  

So the next time someone remarks that the writing is on the wall and that we should just accept that we have no say in how the world evolves, please remember that we are all architects of our own future, which hasn’t even been written yet. How it will be written depends on the actions every one of us takes every day. Therefore, the question we should be asking ourselves every day is, what kind of future will we build? And then, of course, after answering this question, we should not waste any time in building that future we have envisioned.

Arin Vahanian is Director of Marketing for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.

Thoughts on North Korean Diplomacy – Article by R. Nicholas Starr

Thoughts on North Korean Diplomacy – Article by R. Nicholas Starr

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R. Nicholas Starr


Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this perspective from R. Nicholas Starr in accord with our strong opposition to weapons of mass destruction and to the threat of nuclear war – as, for instance, expressed in Section IV of our Platform. The U.S. Transhumanist Party thus welcomes the progress of negotiations that could considerably reduce the probability of a nuclear conflict between the United States and North Korea. 

~ Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party, June 13, 2018

I don’t like, trust, or support Trump. But his approach with North Korea might just work.

From 2004 to 2011 I was an intelligence analyst for the USAF. As such I spent a lot of time reading and briefing about North Korea, especially during my time stationed at Kadena AB, Okinawa, Japan. While most of my knowledge was focused on specific aspects and activities, if you spend enough time reading about a regime, you begin to get a sense of their point of view.

The US military spends a lot of time and money on preparing for a North Korean threat. Constant simulations on how to destroy the North are a provocation. How would you feel if someone was practicing the best way to destroy you, every year, for decades? Not only does it present a clear military threat, we must remember that there are innocent lives at risk – innocent people that live completely in the dark and don’t really know why these exercises happen, Just extremely limited information, often paired with editorial fear mongering, that is distributed through Rodong Sinmun. Any objective observer would notice that the years of sabre-rattling have not created peace, but exacerbated the issue. A promise to limit or completely end these exercises seems like a rational decision.

Treating Kim Jong-un as an equal also seems like the right thing to do. After all, he is the leader of his country, a country tired of fighting to justify its mere existence, regardless of how he stepped into the role. He isn’t his father or grandfather, even though there is significant pressure to be so. He is only playing the hand he was born into. So coming into a summit with a positive attitude towards Kim just might do the trick into diffusing international tension.

From Kim’s point of view, he likely feels weakened now that seismic activity, caused by his underground testing, has made his nuclear program unsustainable, and so he is looking to come out of the situation in the best way possible. He may also see that the work of his predecessors has not had the desired effect. Kim, much like Trump, might believe that a new course of action is necessary. So if Trump needs to lose some military and political leverage to make it happen, then fine.

HOWEVER, if Trump steps out of the strict lines of total peace toward North Korea, we risk a swift decline into war. And let’s face it, Trump has a history of saying one thing and doing the opposite. He also tells people exactly what they want to hear and does what he wants anyways. So the risk of breaking whatever agreement was made is high and very real. If ever there was a time for Trump to be honest, it is now, because Kim Jong-un will hold him to it. The fate of peace stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little, and it will fail, to the ruin of all. I can’t imagine a better time for Tolkien’s wisdom than right now. This is the closest we have come to resolving the issue, and previous methods have proven ineffective. So maybe it’s worth a try.

Ryan Starr (R. Nicholas Starr) is the is the leader of the Transhumanist Party of Colorado and founder of the Transhumanists of the Sierras

What It Will Be Like to Be an 85-Year-Old in the 2070s – Article by Scott Emptage

What It Will Be Like to Be an 85-Year-Old in the 2070s – Article by Scott Emptage

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Scott Emptage


I will be 85 sometime in the early 2070s. It seems like a mirage, an impossible thing, but the future eventually arrives regardless of whatever you or I might think about it. We all have a vision of what it is to be 85 today, informed by our interactions with elder family members, if nothing else. People at that age are greatly impacted by aging. They falter, their minds are often slowed. They are physically weak, in need of aid. Perhaps that is why we find it hard to put ourselves into that position; it isn’t a pleasant topic to think about. Four decades out into the future may as well be a science-fiction novel, a faraway land, a tale told to children, for all the influence it has on our present considerations. There is no weight to it.

When I am 85, there will have been next to no senescent cells in my body for going on thirty years. I bear only a small fraction of the inflammatory burden of older people of past generations. I paid for the products of companies descended from Oisin Biotechnologies and Unity Biotechnology, every few years wiping away the accumulation of senescent cells, each new approach more effective than the last. Eventually, I took one of the permanent gene therapy options, made possible by biochemical discrimination between short-term beneficial senescence and long-term harmful senescence, and then there was little need for ongoing treatments. Artificial DNA machinery floats in every cell, a backup for the normal mechanisms of apoptosis, triggered by lingering senescence.

When I am 85, the senolytic DNA machinery will be far from the only addition to my cells. I underwent a half dozen gene therapies over the years. I picked the most useful of the many more that were available, starting once the price fell into the affordable-but-painful range, after the initial frenzy of high-cost treatments subsided into business as usual. My cholesterol transport system is enhanced to attack atherosclerotic lesions, my muscle maintenance and neurogenesis operate at levels far above what was once a normal range for my age, and my mitochondria are both enhanced in operation and well-protected against damage by additional copies of mitochondrial genes backed up elsewhere in the cell. Some of these additions were rendered moot by later advances in medicine, but they get the job done.

When I am 85, my thymus will be as active as that of a 10-year-old child. Gene and cell therapies were applied over the past few decades, and as a result my immune system is well-gardened, in good shape. A combination of replacement hematopoietic stem cells, applied once a decade, the enhanced thymus, and periodic targeted destruction of problem immune cells keeps at bay most of the age-related decline in immune function, most of the growth in inflammation. The downside is that age-related autoimmunity has now become a whole lot more complex when it does occur, but even that can be dealt with by destroying and recreating the immune system. By the 2030s this was a day-long procedure with little accompanying risk, and the price fell thereafter.

When I am 85, atherosclerosis will be curable, preventable, and reversible, and that will have been the case for a few decades. There are five or six different viable approaches in the marketplace, all of which basically work. I used several of their predecessors back in the day, as well. Most people in the wealthier parts of the world have arteries nearly free from the buildup of fat and calcification. Cardiovascular disease with age now has a very different character, focused more failure of tissue maintenance and muscle strength and the remaining small portions of hypertension that are still problematic for some individuals. But that too can be effectively postponed through a variety of regenerative therapies.

When I am 85, there will be an insignificant level of cross-linking in most of my tissues, as was the case since my early 60s. My skin has the old-young look of someone who went a fair way down the path before being rescued. Not that I care much about that – I’m much more interested in the state of my blood vessels, the degree to which they are stiff and dysfunctional. That is why removal of cross-links is valuable. That is the reason to keep on taking the yearly treatments of cross-link breakers, or undergo one of the permanent gene therapies to have your cells produce protective enzymes as needed.

When I am 85, I will have a three-decade patchwork history of treatments to partially clear this form of amyloid or that component of lipofuscin. I will not suffer Alzheimer’s disease. I will not suffer any of the common forms of amyloidosis. They are controlled. There is such a breadth of molecular waste, however: while the important ones are addressed, plenty more remain. This is one of the continuing serious impacts to the health of older individuals, and a highly active area of research and development.

When I am 85, I will be the experienced veteran of several potentially serious incidences of cancer, all of which were identified early and eradicated by a targeted therapy that produced minimal side-effects. The therapies evolve rapidly over the years: a bewildering range of hyper-efficient immunotherapies, as well as treatments that sabotage telomere lengthening or other commonalities shared by all cancer cells. They were outpatient procedures, simple and quick, with a few follow-up visits, so routine that they obscured the point that I would be dead several times over without them. The individual rejuvenation technologies I availed myself of over the years were narrowly focused, not perfect, and not available as early as I would have liked. Cancer is an inevitable side-effect of decades of a mix of greater tissue maintenance and unrepaired damage.

Do we know today what the state of health of a well-kept 85-year-old will be in the 2050s? No. It is next to impossible to say how the differences noted above will perform in the real world. They are all on the near horizon, however. The major causes of age-related death today will be largely controlled and cured in the 2050s, at least for those in wealthier regions. If you are in your 40s today, and fortunate enough to live in one of those wealthier region, then it is a given that you will not die from Alzheimer’s disease. You will not suffer from other common age-related amyloidosis conditions. Atherosclerosis will be reliably controlled before it might kill you. Inflammatory conditions of aging will be a shadow of what they once were, because of senolytic therapies presently under development. Your immune system will be restored and bolstered. The stem cells in at least your bone marrow and muscles will be periodically augmented. The cross-links that cause stiffening of tissues will be removed. Scores of other issues in aging process, both large and small, will have useful solutions available in the broader medical marketplace. We will all live longer and in better health as a result, but no-one will be able to say for just how long until this all is tried.

Scott Emptage is an anti-aging activist in the United Kingdom. 

Contra Robert Shiller on Cryptocurrencies – Article by Adam Alonzi

Contra Robert Shiller on Cryptocurrencies – Article by Adam Alonzi

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Adam Alonzi


While warnings of caution can be condoned without much guilt, my concern is critiques like Dr. Shiller’s (which he has since considerably softened) will cause some value-oriented investors to completely exclude cryptocurrencies and related assets from their portfolios. I will not wax poetically about the myriad of forms money has assumed across the ages, because it is already well-covered by more than one rarely read treatise. It should be said, though it may not need to be, that a community’s preferred medium of exchange is not arbitrary. The immovable wheels of Micronesia met the needs of their makers just as digital stores of value like Bitcoin will serve the sprawling financial archipelagos of tomorrow. This role will be facilitated by the ability of blockchains not just to store transactions, but to enforce the governing charter agreed upon by their participants.

Tokens are abstractions, a convenient means of allotting ownership. Bradley Rivetz, a venture capitalist, puts it like this: “everything that can be tokenized will be tokenized the Empire State Building will someday be tokenized, I’ll buy 1% of the Empire State Building, I’ll get every day credited to my wallet 1% of the rents minus expenses, I can borrow against my Empire State Building holding and if I want to sell the Empire State Building I hit a button and I instantly have the money.” Bitcoin and its unmodified copycats do not derive their value from anything tangible. However, this is not the case for all crypto projects. Supporters tout its deflationary design (which isn’t much of an advantage when there is no value to deflate), its modest transaction fees, the fact it is not treated as a currency by most tax codes (this is changing and liable to continue changing), and the relative anonymity it offers.  

The fact that Bitcoin is still considered an asset in most jurisdictions is a strength. This means that since Bitcoin is de facto intermediary on most exchanges (most pairs are expressed in terms of BTC or a major fiat, many solely in BTC), one can buy and sell other tokens freely without worrying about capital gains taxes, which turn what should be wholly pleasurable into something akin to an ice cream sundae followed by a root canal. This applies to sales and corporate income taxes as well. A company like Walmart, despite its gross income, relies on a slender profit margin to appease its shareholders. While I’m not asking you to weep for the Waltons, I am asking you to think about the incentives for a company to begin experimenting with its own tax-free tokens as a means of improving customer spending power and building brand loyalty.

How many coins will be needed and, for that matter, how many niches they will be summoned to fill, remains unknown.  In his lecture on real estate Dr. Shiller mentions the Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto’s observation about the lack of accounting for most of the land in the world.  Needless to say, for these areas to advance economically, or any way for that matter, it is important to establish who owns what. Drafting deeds, transferring ownership of properties or other goods, and managing the laws of districts where local authorities are unreliable or otherwise impotent are services that are best provided by an inviolable ledger. In the absence of a central body, this responsibility will be assumed by blockchain. Projects like BitNation are bringing the idea of decentralized governance to the masses; efforts like Octaneum are beginning to integrate blockchain technology with multi-trillion dollar commodities markets.

As more than one author has contended, information is arguably the most precious resource of the twenty first century. It it is hardly scarce, but analysis is as vital to making sound decisions. Augur and Gnosis provide decentralized prediction markets. The latter, Kristin Houser describes it, is a platform used “to create a prediction market for any event, such as the Super Bowl or an art auction.” Philip Tetlock’s book on superforecasting covers the key advantages of crowdsourcing economic and geopolitical forecasting, namely accuracy and cost-effectiveness. Blockchains will not only generate data, but also assist in making sense of it.  While it is just a historical aside, it is good to remember that money, as Tymoigne and Wray (2006) note, was originally devised as a means of recording debt. Hazel sticks with notches preceded the first coins by hundreds of years. Money began as a unit of accounting, not a store of value.

MelonPort and Iconomi both allow anyone to start their own investment funds. Given that it is “just” software is the beauty of it: these programs can continue to be improved upon  indefinitely. If the old team loses its vim, the project can easily be forked. Where is crypto right now and why does it matter? There is a tendency for academics (and ordinary people) to think of things in the real world as static objects existing in some kind of Platonic heaven. This is a monumental mistake when dealing with an adaptive system, or in this case, a series of immature, interlocking, and rapidly evolving ecosystems. We have seen the first bloom – some pruning too – and as clever people find new uses for the underlying technology, particularly in the area of IoT and other emerging fields, we will see another bloom. The crypto bubble has come and gone, but the tsunami, replete with mature products with explicit functions, is just starting to take shape.

In the long run Warren Buffett, Shiller, and the rest will likely be right about Bitcoin itself, which has far fewer features than more recent arrivals. Its persisting relevance comes from brand recognition and the fact that most of the crypto infrastructure was built with it in mind. As the first comer it will remain the reserve currency of the crypto world.  It is nowhere near reaching any sort of hard cap. The total amount invested in crypto is still minuscule compared to older markets. Newcomers, unaware or wary of even well-established projects like Ethereum and Litecoin, will at first invest in what they recognize. Given that the barriers to entry (access to an Internet connection and a halfway-decent computer or phone) are set to continue diminishing, including in countries in which the fiat currency is unstable, demand should only be expected to climb.

Adam Alonzi is a writer, biotechnologist, documentary maker, futurist, inventor, programmer, and author of the novels A Plank in Reason and Praying for Death: A Zombie Apocalypse. He is an analyst for the Millennium Project, the Head Media Director for BioViva Sciences, and Editor-in-Chief of Radical Science News. Listen to his podcasts here. Read his blog here.

Review of Frank Pasquale’s “A Rule of Persons, Not Machines: The Limits of Legal Automation” – Article by Adam Alonzi

Review of Frank Pasquale’s “A Rule of Persons, Not Machines: The Limits of Legal Automation” – Article by Adam Alonzi

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Adam Alonzi


From the beginning Frank Pasquale, author of The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information, contends in his new paper “A Rule of Persons, Not Machines: The Limits of Legal Automation” that software, given its brittleness, is not designed to deal with the complexities of taking a case through court and establishing a verdict. As he understands it, an AI cannot deviate far from the rules laid down by its creator. This assumption, which is not even quite right at the present time, only slightly tinges an otherwise erudite, sincere, and balanced coverage of the topic. He does not show much faith in the use of past cases to create datasets for the next generation of paralegals, automated legal services, and, in the more distant future, lawyers and jurists.

Lawrence Zelanik has noted that when taxes were filed entirely on paper, provisions were limited to avoid unreasonably imposing irksome nuances on the average person. Tax-return software has eliminated this “complexity constraint.” He goes on to state that without this the laws, and the software that interprets it, are akin to a “black box” for those who must abide by them. William Gale has said taxes could be easily computed for “non-itemizers.” In other words, the government could use information it already has to present a “bill” to this class of taxpayers, saving time and money for all parties involved. However, simplification does not always align with everyone’s interests. TurboTax’s business, which is built entirely on helping ordinary people navigate the labyrinth is the American federal income tax, noticed a threat to its business model. This prompted it to put together a grassroots campaign to fight such measures. More than just another example of a business protecting its interests, it is an ominous foreshadowing of an escalation scenario that will transpire in many areas if and when legal AI becomes sufficiently advanced.  

Pasquale writes: “Technologists cannot assume that computational solutions to one problem will not affect the scope and nature of that problem. Instead, as technology enters fields, problems change, as various parties seek to either entrench or disrupt aspects of the present situation for their own advantage.”

What he is referring to here, in everything but name, is an arms race. The vastly superior computational powers of robot lawyers may make the already perverse incentive to make ever more Byzantine rules ever more attractive to bureaucracies and lawyers. The concern is that the clauses and dependencies hidden within contracts will quickly explode, making them far too detailed even for professionals to make sense of in a reasonable amount of time. Given that this sort of software may become a necessary accoutrement in most or all legal matters means that the demand for it, or for professionals with access to it, will expand greatly at the expense of those who are unwilling or unable to adopt it. This, though Pasquale only hints at it, may lead to greater imbalances in socioeconomic power. On the other hand, he does not consider the possibility of bottom-up open-source (or state-led) efforts to create synthetic public defenders. While this may seem idealistic, it is fairly clear that the open-source model can compete with and, in some areas, outperform proprietary competitors.

It is not unlikely that within subdomains of law that an array of arms races can and will arise between synthetic intelligences. If a lawyer knows its client is guilty, should it squeal? This will change the way jurisprudence works in many countries, but it would seem unwise to program any robot to knowingly lie about whether a crime, particularly a serious one, has been committed – including by omission. If it is fighting against a punishment it deems overly harsh for a given crime, for trespassing to get a closer look at a rabid raccoon or unintentional jaywalking, should it maintain its client’s innocence as a means to an end? A moral consequentialist, seeing no harm was done (or in some instances, could possibly have been done), may persist in pleading innocent. A synthetic lawyer may be more pragmatic than deontological, but it is not entirely correct, and certainly shortsighted, to (mis)characterize AI as only capable of blindly following a set of instructions, like a Fortran program made to compute the nth member of the Fibonacci series.

Human courts are rife with biases: judges give more lenient sentences after taking a lunch break (65% more likely to grant parole – nothing to spit at), attractive defendants are viewed favorably by unwashed juries and trained jurists alike, and the prejudices of all kinds exist against various “out” groups, which can tip the scales in favor of a guilty verdict or to harsher sentences. Why then would someone have an aversion to the introduction of AI into a system that is clearly ruled, in part, by the quirks of human psychology?  

DoNotPay is an an app that helps drivers fight parking tickets. It allows drivers with legitimate medical emergencies to gain exemptions. So, as Pasquale says, not only will traffic management be automated, but so will appeals. However, as he cautions, a flesh-and-blood lawyer takes responsibility for bad advice. The DoNotPay not only fails to take responsibility, but “holds its client responsible for when its proprietor is harmed by the interaction.” There is little reason to think machines would do a worse job of adhering to privacy guidelines than human beings unless, as mentioned in the example of a machine ratting on its client, there is some overriding principle that would compel them to divulge the information to protect several people from harm if their diagnosis in some way makes them as a danger in their personal or professional life. Is the client responsible for the mistakes of the robot it has hired? Should the blame not fall upon the firm who has provided the service?

Making a blockchain that could handle the demands of processing purchases and sales, one that takes into account all the relevant variables to make expert judgements on a matter, is no small task. As the infamous disagreement over the meaning of the word “chicken” in Frigaliment v. B.N.S International Sales Group illustrates, the definitions of what anything is can be a bit puzzling. The need to maintain a decent reputation to maintain sales is a strong incentive against knowingly cheating customers, but although cheating tends to be the exception for this reason, it is still necessary to protect against it. As one official on the  Commodity Futures Trading Commission put it, “where a smart contract’s conditions depend upon real-world data (e.g., the price of a commodity future at a given time), agreed-upon outside systems, called oracles, can be developed to monitor and verify prices, performance, or other real-world events.”  

Pasquale cites the SEC’s decision to force providers of asset-backed securities to file “downloadable source code in Python.” AmeriCredit responded by saying it  “should not be forced to predict and therefore program every possible slight iteration of all waterfall payments” because its business is “automobile loans, not software development.” AmeriTrade does not seem to be familiar with machine learning. There is a case for making all financial transactions and agreements explicit on an immutable platform like blockchain. There is also a case for making all such code open source, ready to be scrutinized by those with the talents to do so or, in the near future, by those with access to software that can quickly turn it into plain English, Spanish, Mandarin, Bantu, Etruscan, etc.

During the fallout of the 2008 crisis, some homeowners noticed the entities on their foreclosure paperwork did not match the paperwork they received when their mortgages were sold to a trust. According to Dayen (2010) many banks did not fill out the paperwork at all. This seems to be a rather forceful argument in favor of the incorporation of synthetic agents into law practices. Like many futurists Pasquale foresees an increase in “complementary automation.” The cooperation of chess engines with humans can still trounce the best AI out there. This is a commonly cited example of how two (very different) heads are better than one.  Yet going to a lawyer is not like visiting a tailor. People, including fairly delusional ones, know if their clothes fit. Yet they do not know whether they’ve received expert counsel or not – although, the outcome of the case might give them a hint.

Pasquale concludes his paper by asserting that “the rule of law entails a system of social relationships and legitimate governance, not simply the transfer and evaluation of information about behavior.” This is closely related to the doubts expressed at the beginning of the piece about the usefulness of data sets in training legal AI. He then states that those in the legal profession must handle “intractable conflicts of values that repeatedly require thoughtful discretion and negotiation.” This appears to be the legal equivalent of epistemological mysterianism. It stands on still shakier ground than its analogue because it is clear that laws are, or should be, rooted in some set of criteria agreed upon by the members of a given jurisdiction. Shouldn’t the rulings of law makers and the values that inform them be at least partially quantifiable? There are efforts, like EthicsNet, which are trying to prepare datasets and criteria to feed machines in the future (because they will certainly have to be fed by someone!).  There is no doubt that the human touch in law will not be supplanted soon, but the question is whether our intuition should be exalted as guarantee of fairness or a hindrance to moving beyond a legal system bogged down by the baggage of human foibles.

Adam Alonzi is a writer, biotechnologist, documentary maker, futurist, inventor, programmer, and author of the novels A Plank in Reason and Praying for Death: A Zombie Apocalypse. He is an analyst for the Millennium Project, the Head Media Director for BioViva Sciences, and Editor-in-Chief of Radical Science News. Listen to his podcasts here. Read his blog here.