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Near-Term Improvements to Cities to Combat COVID-19 – Article by Pavel Ilin

Near-Term Improvements to Cities to Combat COVID-19 – Article by Pavel Ilin

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Pavel Ilin


While we are still on lockdown and there is no certainty about when we can safely reopen everything, it is worth reflecting on how we organize our living spaces. COVID-19 is not the first and not the last virus-caused pandemic humanity will have to encounter, and we should be prepared.

Especially we should focus on what improvements can be implemented right away. But first, let’s analyze how the novel coronavirus is spreading.

Virus transmission

It appears that viruses travel inside of droplets. Virus particles can’t travel far just in the air. If that were the case, and the virus could be distributed by the ventilation system within the buildings or in public transportation, then the infection rate would be much higher. We don’t see that yet, and therefore we can conclude it is not happening, and we are very fortunate in that case.

It seems that the virus can be transmitted through close contact (3-4 feet, 1-2 meters away) from person to person. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions. Spread.) Also it can be transmitted through surfaces. It has been observed that the virus can live on surfaces in some cases between a few hours and few days. (Source: CDC updates COVID-19 transmission webpage to clarify information about types of spread.)

The challenge is that in a lot of cases, people carry the virus asymptomatically, and they have no idea that they carry a potential threat to the lives of others.

How can we reduce spread?

I can identify 4 levels of control where we can intervene and stop or reduce spread of the virus:

1. Eliminating the source of infection

Efforts could be devoted toward implementing automated virus checks while people come into buildings. We can do automated temperature screens, measure oxygen level in the blood, and implement more potential technologies powered with artificial intelligence (AI) systems to come, which can help with automated and non-invasive testing.

Of course this raises big questions about surveillance, collecting data without people’s consent, and potential discriminatory practices. This is another big conversation we should have.

2. Administrative control

Social distancing – it’s what we are doing right now. And it’s not only a stay-at-home solution. We can also make public spaces less dense. We can put fewer chairs from conference rooms, fewer desks in the offices. Most of the office jobs do not require physical presence. And many manual-labor jobs can be automated.

Of course if we ask people to stay at home, they have to be able to stay at home. First, people should have a home to stay in. To ensure that everyone has a place to stay, we can use rapid 3D printing of the houses and give them to the people who cannot afford to take out a house loan or make a rent payment. 

We can see how job markets have shrunk during recent the pandemic, and many people simply cannot afford to stay at home. Pandemic or not, you have basic needs such as food, hygiene, communication, and healthcare. And these needs must be met in order to keep people in a good physical and mental state. I believe that introduction of some form of basic income would be a good solution.

3. Engineering controls

Through engineering tools we can upgrade our spaces without fundamental rebuilding of the infrastructure.

Increasing ventilation rates in the rooms allows one to bring in more outdoor air,  and the implementation of personalized ventilation and a personalized exhaust system for airborne infection control can reduce the risk of airborne infection significantly. (Source: Ventilation control for airborne transmission of human exhaled bio-aerosols in buildings. Hua Qian, Xiaohong Zheng. J Thorac Dis. 2018 Jul; 10(Suppl 19): S2295–S2304. doi: 10.21037/jtd.2018.01.24)

Installation of the UV-C light within the ventilation system can clear the airflow from any germs and viruses. (Source: Aerosol Susceptibility of Influenza Virus to UV-C Light. James J. McDevitt, Stephen N. Rudnick, Lewis J. Radonovich, Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 Mar; 78(6): 1666–1669. doi: 10.1128/AEM.06960-11)

As was mentioned before, viruses can survive on the surfaces for some time and can be transmitted while people touch the surface. Through remote-control technologies we reduce interaction with surfaces to minimum. Light switches, elevator buttons, doors, and other aspects of a building can be controlled through the phone or other devices without direct interaction.

4. Personal protective equipment

This level is especially important during an active pandemic situation. Masks, gloves, and face-protection shields, should be produced in advance, stockpiled so they can be available for the people, especially for essential workers when they need this equipment.

Conclusion

To implement all these preventive measures, we don’t have to invent anything and completely rebuild cities’ infrastructure. All technologies are there; we just need to use them rationally and be willing to invest some time and effort into implementation. In the next article we will look into the future and talk about more radical city planning approaches,  such as 3D cities and Arcologies.

Pavel Ilin is Secretary of the United States Transhumanist Party.

Generating Transhumanist Enlightenment in Nigeria: Reflections from a Transhumanist Presentation at the 2017 Convention of the Atheist Society of Nigeria – Report by Ojochogwu Abdul

Generating Transhumanist Enlightenment in Nigeria: Reflections from a Transhumanist Presentation at the 2017 Convention of the Atheist Society of Nigeria – Report by Ojochogwu Abdul

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Ojochogwu Abdul


The Atheist Society of Nigeria (ASN), an organization with the groundbreaking record of being the first secular group to achieve official registration in Nigeria, recently recorded another first by hosting the ASN Convention on 11th November 2017, the first event of its kind in Nigeria. Among the guest speakers featured at the Convention were Bill Flavell, Vice President of the Atheist Alliance International (AAI), Roslyn Mould, Chair of the African Working Group, International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organization (IHEYO), and Leo Igwe, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria (HAN). Also featured as speaker was myself, Chogwu Abdul, Co-Founder of the Transhumanist Forum of Nigeria (H+FN) and United States Transhumanist Party (USTP) Foreign Ambassador for Nigeria, and I eventually presented a talk on the topic: “Merging the Human Brain with Computer: Implications for the Future of Humanity.” The talk focused primarily on the rising phenomenon of Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs), but also broadly on the movement and philosophy of transhumanism as the general idea within which BCIs are contained.

As a transhumanist with a manifest interest in promoting the philosophy across Nigeria, and hopefully, throughout the African Continent, the presenter took the lecture as an opportunity to introduce the concept of transhumanism to a broad audience and initiate a discourse on the cultural, scientific, and philosophical movement within the public space of Nigeria. The reception given to the presentation at the Convention was seemingly warm, and some good interest was generated and expressed. But the work, realistically, is only just beginning, and practically speaking there is still so much to be done and perhaps millions of miles to go before transhumanism can go mainstream in Nigerian society – although it is the personal and sincere hope of this writer that the turn of events prove such a prediction wrong and the changes get to happen faster than expected.

At present, however, transhumanism is simply much of an unknown idea in Nigeria, with very few in the country having heard about the word or even knowing what it means. And even when some technologies or practices related to transhumanism, for example genetic engineering and biomedical engineering are proposed or seem to gradually find a way into Nigerian society, much resistance is witnessed, especially as presented by religious conservatives. Nigeria, if it must be said, is at it stands a very religious environment, and so far religious beliefs and attitudes indisputably hold much sway over the thought and lives of multitudes across the country, at least for the time being. Religious conservatism is at present therefore rife, and a lot that goes with scientific thinking still struggles from the margins, faced by challenges in trying to reach wider acceptance and influence.

However, there is, at least as perceived and discerned by some trend observers, something of a silent revolution gradually taking place across the country. Some have called this the slow dawning of a long-awaited mental awakening, one in which an increasing number of Nigerians, especially the current youth generation, are gradually becoming more embracing of critical thinking, science, rationalism, and secular reasoning. Much that goes with the manifestation of this trend is to be found on the Nigerian social media, where a secular community has been emerging and becoming increasingly vocal in challenging dominant conservative religious beliefs and practices, while at the same time promoting science, rationalism, and critical thinking. Secular humanism could be perceived as having found something of a confident foothold in Nigeria, and this gradual mental shift provides cause to hope that transhumanism could find a springboard and fertile ground from which to launch, grow, and spread across the country.

And then there is also that stubborn challenge of technological backwardness suffered by the country and much of Africa, which is yet another impediment that cannot be ignored in evaluating the transhumanist promotion task and prospects in this part of the world. The state of scientific and technological development in Nigeria is relatively (and realistically speaking) poor. Investments in research and development for science, technology, and even health have so far remained floated and struggling at very low points; technological infrastructure across the country is either absent, degrading, or fails to meet up with global standards, and much of the country’s finest minds in science, technology, and medicine are either already resident in foreign countries or are seriously working towards joining the exodus and brain drain flowing in the direction of the Nigerian Diaspora. For reasons as these, much that exists as a technological presence in the country mostly is available as a result of technology transfer, imported into Nigeria from foreign climes, and with quite a number of them arriving at the nation’s shores not as state-of-the-art, cutting edge innovations, but more as outdated technologies which represent a stage, away from which the exporting country has made or is already making noticeable progress.

Technological development therefore remains a key factor to be addressed in Nigeria for the transhumanist vision to gain foundations upon which to thrive, and this was highlighted in the presentation at the Convention. As a matter of encouragement though, there are, however, indications which give cause to expect some coming changes in the technological condition and fortunes of the country and Africa generally as a Continent. These indications derive from the growing number of tech-themed workshops, seminars, conferences, innovation hubs, and tech start-ups that are gradually but steadily exploding across Nigeria and a number of African countries. The Continent’s youths are becoming audaciously innovative and entrepreneurial, and more are doing so through developing homegrown technological solutions as responses to local problems. Such interventions are giving rise to a movement of indigenous innovation, and if this trend continues and gains sufficient support, then one could be cautiously optimistic enough to anticipate that it should only be a matter of time before versions of a host of emerging and converging technologies (nanotech, biotech, infotech, cognitive science and neurotech, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, robotics, biomedical engineering, etc.), get developed within local African contexts and as best suited for the African condition.   Moreover, interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education and STEM-related enterprise is gaining a fresh boost, the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation unveils very talented engineers and innovations from across sub-Saharan Africa yearly, and a very unique project by the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) known as the Next Einstein Initiative (NEI), which has been on course for over a decade now and has among its objectives the actualization of a scientific revolution in Africa, further provides a great vista for reasonable hope. Several young, bright Nigerian (male and female) scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, among their counterparts from other African countries, are seriously involved in this AIMS-NEI programme, undertaking research, and pleasantly enough, are breaking new grounds in several STEM-related fields.

The combination thereof, of a fledgling secularism and rational thinking culture with an emerging consciousness and demonstration for scientific and technological development in contemporary Nigeria, can be leveraged upon by transhumanists as strategic factors making for a more possible environment, as that opportunity of a slight opening in the door which could and should be seized upon to kick the doors open even wider for transhumanist thinking, technologies and practices to pour in and ubiquitously find their way into the Nigerian space.

The presentation on BCIs made at the 2017 ASN Convention was meant to create an awareness among Nigerians with regards to the state of movements in transhumanist thought, and to stir the people into action in connecting the now helpfully available threads of rational thinking, creative imagination, science, technology, and enterprise into the fabric of a transhumanist culture which would yield much progress for Nigerian society and human life. The response to this nudging – though it is yet early in the day to clearly tell – has so far been encouraging.

There are some of us here in Africa who believe that the Continent is currently going through an African Renaissance and as well stands at the thresholds of a Scientific Revolution. Some of us are also plugged in to other parts of the globe enough at least to be aware that there is present talk of a Second Enlightenment and a coming Fourth Industrial Revolution, aspects of an emerging, global transhumanist civilization, and to which bringing Africa up to speed should be a major concern. There are indeed several stages in the march of human civilization (for example, the European Enlightenment Era and the First and Second Industrial Revolutions) which Africa neither “positively” nor “proactively” participated in, and for which Africa can no longer afford the luxury of time in going through them again at this point in history, for what the Continent currently pragmatically needs is nothing short of a giant leap through the aid mostly of technology, if it must, as it obviously has to, catch up with the rate of advancement of the rest of the world.

Connecting the trajectory of Africa’s unfolding Renaissance and burgeoning scientific revolution to the dimensions of the Second Enlightenment, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and generally the transhumanist civilization through technology, education, enterprise, and any other agency necessary, thus should become the logical cause and big picture inspiring the transhumanist project in Nigeria and Africa within the 21st Century. For this objective then, and in these parts of our planet, the adoption and indigenous innovation of emerging technologies associated with and promoted by the transhumanist movement are to attract deliberate emphasis as the core of this vision and narrative. This is pertinent, for should humankind eventually evolve into a new, posthuman species, then the peoples of the continent from which Homo Sapiens originated, Africa, need not, and must not be left behind in this great transformative event.

The group currently known as the Transhumanist Forum of Nigeria (H+FN), or by any other name with which it shall be formally recognized in the near future, has therefore set out on the task of spreading transhumanist enlightenment and engaging the Nigerian public with transhumanist discourse, and from this to hopefully progress into helping forge a strong and effective transhumanist network across the African Continent. The work, we can say, has sincerely begun.

Chogwu Abdul

Co-Founder, Transhumanist Forum of Nigeria

USTP Foreign Ambassador for Nigeria

November 2017