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Breaking the Bottleneck: A Synergy of Technology and Medicine – Article by Zach Richardson

Breaking the Bottleneck: A Synergy of Technology and Medicine – Article by Zach Richardson

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Zach Richardson


In March of 2019, I began to have a very strange problem. I was breathing normally, but felt like I was suffocating. The problem became much worse when lying down, but seemed to come and go arbitrarily. Some days it would be really bad, and on others I didn’t even notice it. This happened twice in a week, and I checked with a doctor. He assured me I had anxiety and gave me a prescription for some anxiolytic medicine. I couldn’t breathe, and his solution was Xanax. I stupidly trusted him.

In May 2019, I ended up in the hospital. My body was turning yellow, and my liver, kidneys, and heart were failing. The cause was idiopathic; none of the 7 specialists knew why I was having congestive heart failure. A couple of drugs were tried, but in the end the only solution they said would save my life was the implantation of a mechanical device that would help my heart pump: a Ventricular Assist Device, or VAD.

I was lucky enough to be selected as a perfect candidate for a clinical trial, partially due to being particularly young for having Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). A new version of an already cutting-edge technology would be tested on my body, and the results would be recorded for their study. The machine they implanted was called the Heartmate 3, and it saved my life.

The VAD is currently used either as “bridge” or “destination” therapy, with “bridge” meaning that it is used only temporarily until one can get a heart transplant, and “destination” meaning that one is ineligible for transplant at all, and will have the VAD for the rest of one’s life. Some of the contraindications for VAD implantation being bridge therapy include being obese or over 65 years of age. Luckily, I am not either of those two, and therefore am eligible for a transplant. However, there are two factors that are going to lead to it likely being an extremely long time before a donor heart is available. One is that I am a larger man, standing at 6 feet tall, meaning I require a larger-than-average heart. The other is that I have Type O blood, which is the hardest from the standpoint of receiving an organ donation.

This puts me in a very interesting situation, where I am a young man who may have many years still ahead of him with an implanted device. It may be 7 years from now when I get the call for transplant, or it may be tomorrow. If it happens 7 years from now, there may be therapies that will have been developed that would allow me to regrow my heart, or clone one from my stem cells, and thereby avoid having to be on a cocktail of immunosuppressants indefinitely. Unfortunately, even Athersys only has CHF treatments in the preclinical stage, which means I may have to wait a while. I intensely wish those trials weren’t being constrained like they are.

Having set significant life extension towards the very top of my hierarchy of values, I am extremely grateful that I live in a society where these technologies are available to me. I have a highly personal interest in seeing a society of scientists and biomedical engineers emerge to help develop these technologies! However, part of my situation was just me getting lucky: I had the treatment I needed approved just months before receiving it, and happened to have top-notch insurance.

One unfortunate side effect of having a centralized regulatory system is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is only held responsible for what are known as “Type I Errors”. A Type I error is where the FDA passes an unsafe drug or treatment, leading to harm to an individual or group. Unfortunately, this means that FDA officials do not seem to care at all about “Type II Errors”, where they do not pass a life-saving treatment or drug in time to save someone’s life. The FDA is so terrified of having another Vioxx incident, that FDA officials are overly cautious in approving the use of radically innovative and breakthrough technologies. The fact that these technologies carry some risk is something of no worry to someone who is going to die if they don’t get the treatment. It is much harder to blame the FDA for being too safe than it is to blame them for being reckless.

This is why I am proud to be a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party (USTP), where science and technology are put at the forefront of American politics. The current bottleneck those like me with CHF face is regulatory hurdles. Article VI, Section VI, of the USTP Constitution states: “The United States Transhumanist Party upholds morphological freedom—the right to do with one’s physical attributes or intelligence whatever one wants so long as it does not directly harm others.” Right now what I and others with CHF would like to do is to get a stem-cell heart. We are being hindered not by direct legislation restricting morphological freedom, but by the far more pernicious hindrance of excessive regulatory burden. The treatments we want are being developed exponentially slower than they could be, because each step of the way has to adhere to draconian testing standards. This means a lot of Type II errors are being committed. We are not being told, “You cannot get this treatment.” Providers are being told, “You cannot provide this treatment.”

In my ideal world, regulatory agencies would work more like Underwriters Laboratories or Quality Assurance International. Leaving regulatory activity to the market, far from the fearmongering of producing dangerous and shoddy drugs and treatments, would instead invigorate the institutions as they would compete to certify the best products and treatments for consumers, since their names and reputations would be on the line.

I believe there needs to be a much stronger focus in regulatory institutions toward the elimination of Type II Errors, because there are a lot of sick people going untreated.

Zach Richardson is a Certified Supply Chain Professional and small-business co-owner producing respirator-style masks to help stem the tide of COVID-19’s spread. His website is isgmanufacturing.com. He is a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party.

Persecution of Science: A Lesson from the 20th Century – Article by Benjamin Locke

Persecution of Science: A Lesson from the 20th Century – Article by Benjamin Locke

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Benjamin Locke


Editor’s Note: The United States Transhumanist Party publishes this guest submission by Benjamin Locke to bring attention to the important issues it raises regarding how irrational prejudice against science, as well as against human beings based on circumstantial attributes more generally, can be prevented and diminished, to avert the kind of terrible toll that transpired in the mid-20th century from being inflicted again.

~ Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party,
July 18, 2020


Throughout the course of human history, there has been a struggle between rationality and antiscience. This struggle also grips the United States. The U.S. Transhumanist Party is a rarity in the American political atmosphere. There is admiration for seeing an American political party dedicated to reason, scientific advancements, and improving life for all of humanity. So, I started wondering: what would happen if parties like us were too afraid to exist? What would happen if people dedicated to reason and science were too afraid to speak? I found my answer in one of the most infamous, cruelest governments ever to taint the face of Earth.

During the reign of the Nazi Fascists, there was a mass scientific exodus from Germany because the Nazis valued nationalism and “racial pride” over brilliant minds like Albert Einstein, Hans Bethe, Leo Szilard, and many others who fled to the United States. Two years before the Nazis consolidated power in 1933, a journalist asked Adolf Hitler who would be the brains of Germany if the Nazis took over. Hitler responded: “I’ll be the brains!” By 1945, Hitler’s “brains” deepened Germany into a system of hate and genocide. He pushed Europe into a brutal world war, and he oversaw the largest persecution of logic and reason. 

Many people wonder: “Why wasn’t an atrocity like the Holocaust prevented?” While many are quick to solely place blame on the actions of Hitler and his unfortunately large amount of monstrous followers, a large portion of the blame falls on those who remained silent and indifferent. In the spring of 1933, a few protested the expulsion of great scientists (like Max Born, James Franck, and many more) from Gottingen University. Even famous scientists like Werner Heisenberg voiced dissent. Despite the calls for reason, Hitler and his companions were deafened by their own tune of hate. 

By the end of 1945, when the hatred of the Nazis was finally stomped out by the Allies, 6 million Jews and 5 – 6 million members of other groups had been murdered. We will never know the number of future Albert Einsteins, Hans Bethes, and Leo Szilards buried because of systematic hatred. 

So that raises the question: why were high-ranking Germans so blinded by antiscience and racism that they could not see reason? When World War One concluded, the once-powerful German Empire was replaced by a weak nation called the Weimar Republic. It was a nation which, many claimed, was unnecessarily weakened by the victorious powers of the First World War through articles like the Treaty of Versailles (signed 1919). This infuriated World War One veterans (Hitler himself was one) and many patriotic Germans. A wave of fervent nationalism arose and demanded an answer to Germany’s failures. This is why groups like the Nazis assembled in 1920. Instead of utilizing reason and using it as a tool to rebuild their national pride, they settled on scapegoats and pseudoscience. The Jews were quickly targeted. Their shops were vandalized, they were beaten in the streets, and German doctrine declared them “subhuman”. By 1933, the Nazis were so entrenched in their hatred that their misguided beliefs became their reason. 

Some may argue that Hitler’s Nazi Party is the reason why Germany rose out of a broken and impoverished nation like the Weimar Republic. However, in the span of less than 20 years, Germany went from the forefront of the scientific world back to a devastated, impoverished nation… a nation in a worse state than that after the infamous signing of the Treaty of Versailles. 

We have to wonder: What if the flames of bitter hate were stomped out early before it blazed into an uncontrollable forest fire? What would happen if Germany had, instead of persecuting their most brilliant minds, let them live and work? How much further would science be today? What responsibilities do we, as Americans dedicated to defending life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, hold so a terrible system of hatred never burns down our country? 

 

Stablecoins: The Next Gold Rush? – Article by Adam Alonzi

Stablecoins: The Next Gold Rush? – Article by Adam Alonzi

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Adam Alonzi


What money should be has been explored by more than one economist. What it is, strange as it may sound, is also up for debate. Yet amidst these disputes, practical and abstract, there is consensus.

At this time the entire crypto market is valued between 380 and 560 billion USD. The value of all the world’s stocks is around 70 trillion USD. The daily volume of the Forex is 5.1 trillion USD. Despite the excitement it periodically sparks in mass media and high finance circles, crypto is barely a drop in the bucket.

As I stated in my response to Robert Shiller’s critique of Bitcoin, tokenization is a means of dividing an asset. Tokenization, easily dividing an asset among stakeholders, is a strength of blockchain technology. Tokens can represent abstract entities issued on the blockchain, but they can also be tethered to a piece of real estate, a work of art, a trademark, or a freighter of Chilean copper.

A Stablecoin is related to this concept. A Stablecoin (SC) is a cryptocurrency that is pegged to fiat currency or a commodity in a fixed ratio. Stablecoins are being developed by massive corporations like JPMorgan Chase and are being looked into by governments around the world. The backing of mature institutions, whatever your opinion may be of them, can give crypto credibility and capital to move forward.

At this time cryptocurrencies are for the most part speculative toys or safe havens for those expecting for the fiat system to implode. In any case, common use remains elusive. While milk and eggs can be bought with crypto, it is not a normal occurrence. The major barrier to this is volatility.

Stability could come after a stampede into crypto by a reasonable percentage of the world’s population. Some authors have claimed an economic catastrophe could precipitate an exodus from fiat, but this seems to spring from wishful thinking – the same sort gold bugs have been indulging in for the last half century.

This is not meant as disparagement of gold or its advocates. Gold is a fine investment, but the issue at hand here is common use, something gold is not likely to readily lend itself to ever again – at least not in its most familiar forms. Several Stablecoins are currently backed by gold. By doing so, they combine the benefits of crypto with the timeless tangibility of precious metals.

Stablecoins are digital representatives of an item that may not be readily divisible and therefore inconvenient or impossible to use for daily transactions. Very few shoppers would want to overnight a tiny gold nugget to an eBay seller. Those hoping for a speedy ingress of users should consider that an equally rapid egress could follow.

Slow and steady wins the race?

While more users and more merchants could curb price swings, how and when this will happen remains an open question. If stability is not established, at least for long enough to secure investor confidence, conventional cryptocurrencies will never outgrow their reputations as dangerous playthings.

Some members of the crypto community are philosophically opposed to Stablecoins because they betray the vision of total decentralization. High ideals can clash with reality. Decentralization is not a strong selling point for most folks. It is not easy to explain beyond “no one controls it”, which is as likely to make them feel uneasy as it is to instill confidence.

It’s not as though Stablecoins are taking anything from the crypto community. Aside from bringing in new converts, they also add diversity to the cryptosphere. An orchard of identical apple trees is doomed when the right pest arrives. Monocultures are inherently weak. A diverse financial ecosystem is a resilient one. The proliferation of new blockchain projects, as overwhelming as it may be, is good for all of us.

There are a plethora of cryptocurrencies aiming to be “just” mediums of exchange. Monero (XMR), Ripple (XRP), and Dash (DASH), for all their differences, are innovating and are finding their niches. Anonymity, speed, and low transaction fees are attractive, but is it enough to convince Uncle Fred to begin buying his sweaters with them?

Although some have nuanced algorithms managing their supply, Stablecoins make crypto more understandable to the average person. Finance and technology are boogeymen to most consumers; there is no need to make either more arcane or frightening than necessary.

Adolescence is difficult because we feel pressured, from within or without, to choose a path. We are under the impression that our choices are final and our one-dimensional trajectories are set. Whether Stablecoins are a passing phase or a critical bridge to the materialization of Satoshi Nakamoto’s original vision, they seem poised to become permanent fixtures in high finance and daily life.

Adam Alonzi is a U.S. Transhumanist Party member, 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.

Transhumanism: The Important Gray Area Between the Madness of the Two-Party System in America – Article by C. H. Antony

Transhumanism: The Important Gray Area Between the Madness of the Two-Party System in America – Article by C. H. Antony

logo_bgC. H. Antony


What’s missing from politics today? Some will leap to simple responses like “integrity”, “honesty”, “education”. But I say it’s worse than all that. However, I will not spend paragraphs going into the various conspiracies and fear-mongering – that is behavior more fitting for the main two political parties. What I would like to accomplish here is to propose the values and intentions of the United States Transhumanist Party (USTP) as solutions. 

To begin, we must examine the current most pressing issue, that of human rights. As you read this, many thousands have taken to the streets in every major city and 18 countries around the world to scream at their governments that enough is enough – that they will not be duped into economic caste systems, race wars, or trafficking schemes. Whether the battle cry is “Black Lives Matter” or whether it is a cry against manufactured poverty, or a call to defund the police and reallocate resources toward fundamental solutions over enforcement, the message is clear: humanity is ready to move on. Here at the USTP, we have assembled a comprehensive Platform and identified areas for reform such as sentient rights, improved economic policy, medical technology and accessibility, and, of course, the imperative to recognize death as a limitation to overcome. While those are just some examples of the body of work offered by the USTP, I believe they are the most important foundations, as from them, all other potential improvements for the human condition are possible. 

We Transhumanists are the gray area in between the madness that is the two-party system in America. We unfortunately inhabit the very system we were warned about in our earliest days as a country. We offer rational and compassionate alternatives to the systems Americans have been repeatedly manipulated into accepting. Where other parties seek to polarize the citizenry, we seek to unite it with scientific and technological solutions to the issues that have us at each other’s throats. With respect to urgency, I will only illustrate existing or easily obtainable technologies here. Consider, for example, the abortion issue. To us, it is no issue at all, as there already exist ample resources for preventing unintended pregnancy. The education and social studies are there to better inform young people of the consequences of irresponsible behavior.  We are steady in our call that life is the most important argument and support those approaches which lengthen the lives and improve the health of all humankind, regardless of any differences. If a few more million dollars were devoted to the works of visionaries like Aubrey de Grey, aging and disease could be eradicated in a few short years. With some more million dollars, we could eliminate the arguments regarding abortion by making the practice obsolete with technologies such as indefinite stasis and ectogenesis. Such advances would render divisive moral arguments moot. 

The incorporation of artificial narrow intelligence (ANI) assistance and oversight  into governance and healthcare could virtually eliminate malpractice and marginal qualification in both fields. Justice can be free of bias with ANI incorporated into the process; lawyers and judges and even jurors can be in complete understanding of the law and precedents in question. This could shrink the margin for abuse and error to nearly null in real time. With medical assistance ANI, doctors can access the diagnostic power of the sum total of human medical knowledge instantaneously, never leaving a patient undiagnosed or misdiagnosed until it’s too late to save that individual. In matters where interaction is the essential element, such as international relations, local law enforcement, or conveying your symptoms to your doctor, language and communication need no longer be a divider riddled with misunderstanding and lost cultural context. Imagine how these three simple applications of technology could change the fabric of society, and it is ready and applicable right now. Right now, humans are fighting in the streets for equal justice, equal access, and equal treatment; the wise application of artificial intelligence systems can deliver on those demands and act as a safeguard against those that currently engage in the manipulation of those systems or underperform and cost lives. How many loved ones are in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, but hadn’t the resources to fight the argument the state was infinitely capable of delivering? How many loved ones are dead because the doctors in the local hospital were either prevented from accessing other techniques or unaware of them? How many people are dead under the knee or boot of a government that has no meaningful oversight or accountability to the people it was constructed to serve?

We at the USTP believe that human suffering must end, but moreover, it can end if we begin actively applying the advancements we have right now. This isn’t some far-flung future fiction we’d all like to see someday; indeed, “someday” for much of this was ten years ago. So while we are out there advocating for rights and justice, let’s begin to embrace the tools that can ensure the equal application and universally competent execution of these goals. Let us be the tool users that we’ve evolved to be. 

C. H. Antony is Vice-Secretary of the United States Transhumanist Party.

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.

Review of Jamie Metzl’s “Hacking Darwin” by Dan Elton

Review of Jamie Metzl’s “Hacking Darwin” by Dan Elton

 

Dan Elton


Our inaugural  book review of 2020 covers Hacking Darwin by Jamie Metzl. As a  happy coincidence, David Wood of the London Futurists recently had Metzl speak to his group, and you can watch a recording of the event here.  This book is an exploration of how we might genetically engineer our children, why we might want to do so, and what the consequences might be.

The fact is, some people are already “hacking Darwin”. The first “test-tube baby” was born in 1978. This set the stage for preimplantation genetic testing, which became popular in the 1990s and widely used today. But “hacking Darwin” had already been occurring earlier due to genetic testing. A striking example Metzl discusses is the rapid decrease in Tay-Sachs disease in the  Ashkenazi jewish community.  Tay-Sachs is a genetic disorder which has devastating effects on the nervous system. By age 2, children with Tay-Sachs start to experience seizures and decline in mental functioning. Sadly, most die in agonizing pain by the age of five. About one in twenty seven Ashkenazi Jews carry the Tay-Sachs genes. Remarkably though, since the 1980s, the prevalence of the disease among Ashkenazi Jews has been very low, due to extensive genetic testing and family planning. Marriages between people who have tested positive for the disease were discouraged, and when they do occur, the couples tended to adopt rather than risk having a child born with the disease. The result was a great reduction in needless suffering, which is hard to argue against.

One of the major objections to genetic engineering is that it is “unnatural”. Metzl points out that a better term is “unfamiliar”. He points out that many things that seem natural are actually very “unnatural” – for instance, if you went back a few thousand years, you wouldn’t find anything resembling today’s corn or bananas – they are human concoctions from centuries of selective breeding. It seems that the queeziness people feel, which they label as due to “un-naturalness” is actually just due to unfamiliarity, which naturally invokes anxiety. History shows us that any radical technology or new idea naturally experiences widespread pushback. But history also shows that acceptance of a radical new idea or technology can be remarkably fast notwithstanding.

In-vitro fertilization provides an interesting case study of how public opinion can shift. Initially it was demonized, but public acceptance of it rapidly changed over the course of only a few years.

The next technology that will come down the pipeline, according to Metzl, is iterated embryo selection. Embryos are already inspected visually to select the one that is least likely to result in a miscarriage, and as noted in some cases preimplantation genetic testing is performed to check for a few genetic illnesses. This process can be scaled up and improved dramatically. Instead of having 10-15 eggs fertilized, a hundred might be, and instead of just doing visual checks, the genome of each embryo might be sequenced to screen out certain genetic disorders and select for certain traits. The process could also be “iterated”, using induced pluripotent stem cells (IPCs) from the embryos to create new gametes (eggs & sperm) which could be combined to create new embryos.

Fig. 1 – The Cost of Sequencing a Human Genome.

Source: National Human Genome Research Institute

 https://www.genome.gov/about-genomics/fact-sheets/Sequencing-Human-Genome-cost

The benefits of expanding IVF and embryo selection could not only eliminate unnecessary suffering but also result in large financial savings which will allow money to be redistributed elsewhere in our healthcare system. The current cost of taking care of the current number of people born with genetic diseases each year was roughly estimated by Metzl to be $48 billion, spread over 37 years into the future.

The cost of sequencing is dropping dramatically (see Fig. 1). This is allowing for larger genome-wide association studies (GWASs). Using big data, statistical methods, and machine learning, many outcomes can be predicted by analyzing the many genes which can influence most traits. Already, the height a child will grow to can be predicted to within an inch (assuming they get adequate nutrition) by analyzing thousands of genes.

Two major types of enhancements which will benefit our offspring are discussed in length by Metzl – increased intelligence and increased healthspan, and it’s worth discussing some of his main findings here. (Other possible enhancements he notes are increased empathy, supersensory capabilities, increased physical stamina and strength, increased beauty, increased ability to extract nutrition from foods, and better ability to tolerate mircrogravity and  radiation.)

Regarding intelligence, the Minnestota Family Twin study found that 70% of IQ is genetic. More recent works put the number somewhat lower (about 50%), but a surprising amount is hereditary, and the variance due to genetics is significant (about 15 points of IQ in each direction). The rest seems to be largely due to things like childhood nutrition and having a rich environment as a kid. Higher IQ provides many benefits. Among them is a better ability to adapt to change and work in a dynamic environment where you constantly have to learn new skills. Statistically, people with lower IQ tend to work jobs with a regular routine, such as service positions. Currently, those with low IQ can still have a great life (there’s no evidence IQ correlates with happiness), and low-IQ people can learn a trade where there is reliable demand, become very good at it, and be valued by society. With the advent of AI and robotics, this is rapidly changing, and the risk of large-scale technological unemployment is real. Metzl asks, in light of this, is it really fair that we are trusting the economic wellbeing of our children to the genetic lottery of sexual recombination? It’s already not easy to compensate for a bad draw in the genetic lottery. Additionally, if other parents are doing it, why would any parent want to risk their child being far behind their peers? According to Metzl, the choice will be clear for parents in the future.

The second major area where genetic engineering will have an effect is aging. The diseases of aging were not something evolution cared much about, so there are likely genetic hacks that are possible but were just never selected for – it’s an area ripe for optimization.  For a glimpse of what is possible, Metzl has us consider the naked mole rat, a species which is remarkable in many ways (click here for a  full list of ways this species is special). Most notably, naked mole rats don’t exhibit the normal signs of aging, and they don’t get cancer. Thus, as odd as it may seem, the naked mole rat is the subject of intense research, and this humble species even serves as a sort of touchstone increasing the confidence of venture capitalists investing in longevity biotech startups in Silicon Valley. According to Metzl, “Calico, Google’s San Francisco–based life-extension company, maintains one of the world’s largest captive colonies of naked mole rats to see if it can uncover biomarkers of aging and unlock the secrets of naked mole rat longevity.”

It seems that genetic engineering will eventually be accepted as the ethically superior way of creating children – no one will want to leave something as important as the health and economic wellbeing of their children to blind chance. Human beings naturally crave control and certainty where possible — that’s why we give our kids vaccines and parents spend thousands of dollars on prophylactic dental procedures such as orthodontics or the removal of wisdom teeth. Yes, there will always be some hold-outs who will want to stick with “traditional conception”, but after reading Metzl’s book I can’t help but think that eventually the numbers will be quite small. Consider, for instance, that even the Amish use modern medicine.

The scientific and technological path to a much more healthy world, with much less suffering and longer, healthier lives is clear. There are straightforward steps we can take to reduce congenital ailments, for instance. However, there’s a real chance we may delay even this for decades, causing much needless suffering. Part of the reason is that any discussions of the subject immediately bring up a lot of cultural baggage from the horrible legacy of eugenics. The horrors of eugenics form an unfortunate negative emotional halo around any discussion of genetic engineering. While the eugenics movement is largely dead, the subject is so important that Metzl rightly devotes a large part of the book to it. Concerns about a re-emergence of the horrors of eugenics are legitimate, but conflation of what is being proposed with those horrors is not. Eugenicists advocated forced sterilization, whereas nobody is proposing that today. Instead, all that is being proposed is that parents have a choice in how their children are conceived. However, there is a real concern that parents will voluntarily choose children with certain biases, such lighter skin and heterosexuality. There are also concerns that the creation of genetically engineered “super children” would lead to a caste system of some sort, leading to a highly in-equitable society where the non-genetically-engineered are constantly discriminated against and made to feel unworthy. Metzl acknowledges each of these risks as real, but he also points out that none of the scenarios are inevitable and asks the reader to consider the benefits of genetic engineering as well, some of which we previously discussed. He notes that our current world is already very unequal in terms of genetics. Might a bit more genetic inequality be acceptable, Metzl asks, if the children created make enormous contributions to the arts and sciences which benefit all of humanity? Regarding whether a caste system might form, Metzl suggests that we must work to ensure the technology is widely distributed (at one point I recall he suggests insurance companies might have an incentive to provide genetic engineering as it would reduce health costs later on). A bigger horror, Metzl suggests, is not genetic inequality, but perfect genetic equality – the creation of a uniform generation of cookie-cutter children, where misfits and non-neurotypicals (which have historically contributed so much) have been selected out.  Each of these concerns are real, and Metzl doesn’t try to argue otherwise.

While ethical concerns may stifle the development of genetic engineering, a different scenario is a genetic arms race. In other areas such as AI, China is making more aggressive investments in genetic technology – a “$9 billion, fifteen-year investment to improve national leadership in precision medicine”. Metzl points out that the Chinese seem to have far fewer hang-ups around the subject and are blazing full steam ahead.

While the author is sympathetic to genetic engineering, the book presents a balanced treatment and never waxes too polemical. The first part of the book is mostly about the science. The later sections, on the ethical concerns and the genetic arms race scenario, are the most thought-provoking and are parts I may re-listen to at some point. Overall, this book is a very timely and thought-provoking introduction to the subject.

Dan Elton, Ph. D., is Director of Scholarship for the U.S. Transhumanist Party. 

Othering: The Ultimate Challenge of Sentient Life – Article by Pavel Ilin

Othering: The Ultimate Challenge of Sentient Life – Article by Pavel Ilin

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Pavel Ilin


We come to the point in history when compassion and belonging become not only a necessary part of building inclusive culture, but the practices which determine the survival of sentient life as we know it. 

Most of us are locked in our local tribes – national, ideological, corporate, and so on. Living in different tribes is a way to establish one’s own subjectivity and identity. Most of the time we are part of the different tribes at the same time. The problem comes when we are not engaged in cross-tribal dialog and consider members of other tribes as “Other”. That’s how othering happens.

Most commonly, othering expresses the boundaries between “we” and “them”. “We” belong; “they” are Other and cannot belong. Those who are “them” can be described in the negative language of disgust.

When people say “they are barbarians”, they deny the right of the other to belong. When Ancient Greeks called slaves “speaking tools”, or they allowed only males to vote, they denied the others’ humanity and right to belong. When Romans expand their empire, they called other nations they conquered barbarians, unless they adapted the Romans’ culture – and by doing so the Romans othered these peoples. We can go on and on. The history of sentient life as we know it is full of othering.

When we deny the opportunity for the other to belong, then the other is not a person anymore in our eyes. You are allowed to do things to an “Other”, which would be unthinkable to do to one of “Us”. It’s very easy to deny access to resources, deny rights, deny compassion, and deny life to the “Other”. Taking away life is an extreme form of othering.

Personal-Level Othering

On the personal level othering happens very often. Susan Fiske from Princeton University shows in her “Stereotype content model” how othering works on neurological level. Studies show that when we see other people, there is a part of our brain that lights up when we see another human being. It’s an interesting authentication mechanism which allows us to identify our own species. But when we see, for example, homeless people, or undocumented immigrants and refugees, this part of the brain doesn’t light up. Instead, there lights up a part of the brain responsible for fear and disgust. 

Studies also show that if we put different people in situations when they have to work together to achieve a common goal, othering tends to diminish. When people engage in dialog, when people communicate and coordinate, people start to see each other, and neural activity gets changed. The person who previously provoked a fear response becomes a human again.

The moral here is that in order to overcome othering on a personal level, we should collaborate with as many people as we can.

Structural-Level Othering

But it’s not enough to deal with othering on a personal level. We live in social structures which determine our behavior and our identity. 

For example, the US government calls all immigrants “Alien”. And by doing that on a structural level, the government said to the immigrants that “you do not belong”. 

When police profile people based on how they look, it’s othering on a structural level.

When we allow such a huge level of income inequality, it’s a structural problem. The whole system of resource distribution is organized in a way that it others the poor and favors the rich.

What to do with structural othering? Create an inclusive structure which allows people to belong. It sounds easier than it is, but this way we can upgrade our culture.

Implementing basic income, removing immigration barriers, providing access to educational resources to all are all important steps. It is also vital to create organizations within which belonging is cultivated. The USTP is a great example of such an organization. Everyone is welcome to participate regardless of residence, income level, and a variety of other circumstances or attributes. You are welcome in the USTP even if you are not human or not an organic-based form of sentient life.

The Future

Why is it important to talk about othering in the context of the building of transhumanists’ future?

In context of the COVID-19 situation, it’s become very clear that we can’t hide inside our small narratives. It’s impossible to stay away from the pandemic situation. In order to get over this pandemic with minimal loss of human lives, we have to work together. It’s not going to be the last pandemic, and in order to prepare for future threats, we have to cooperate more closely. A virus is only one of the potential existential threats. What about climate change, bio-terrorism, asteroids, and destructive AI? We have to work together to survive!

As transhumanists we should prepare ourselves to face the “other” and to become “other” in certain situations as well. I think we need to create structures which can be inclusive not only for humans but for all sentient beings.

Other Modified Beings

There are millions of people around the world with artificial body parts and this number will keep growing. How will the culture react when organization goes from regaining physical ability to enhancing ability? We can face creating a new other and potentially new discrimination. 

Uplifted Animals

Recognizing that animals are living beings with feelings and thoughts is pretty new phenomenon. And mostly right now animals are considered commodities. We will have to have a very difficult dialog about humans behavior with animals uplifted to human-level intelligence.  

Other AI Entities

While we create Artificial Intelligence, we should remember that creating tech slaves is not going to end anywhere good. We should create colleagues with whom we are going to work to build a transhumanist future. We might even become artificially intelligent forms of life ourselves. 

Conclusion

But race is the child of racism, not the father. – Ta-Nehisi Coates

I believe that othering is an existential issue. If we keep dividing people and other beings into “us” and “them”, then we will keep facing discrimination, conflicts, and wars. This is extremely concerning for me because we have now a lot of technological power at our disposal, and it keeps growing – and with great power comes great responsibility. What I mean is that we can easily destroy our planet by just pressing the nuclear button. And if we consider people in other countries or in other social groups as Others, if they are outside the circle of our concern, then it’s very easy to deny help and start wars.

We have built virtual walls between us, and I think it’s time to tear them down by reclaiming and living and practicing belonging where no beings and lives are outside of the circle of concern.

Pavel Ilin is the Secretary of the U.S. Transhumanist Party. 

The U.S. Transhumanist Party Proposal for Widespread Hospital Construction: Now Is the Time to Act – Article by Mike Diverde

The U.S. Transhumanist Party Proposal for Widespread Hospital Construction: Now Is the Time to Act – Article by Mike Diverde

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Mike Diverde


When U.S. Transhumanist Party (USTP) Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II proposed widespread hospital construction in the United States, I thought it was a good idea, but I felt that it was unlikely to become reality, due to the incredible costs involved. I didn’t think that there would be much political support for that effort. I didn’t see any way to make progress on this, primarily because the USTP is a very small party. However, this pandemic has sharply focused attention on the dearth of hospital capacity in the United States. The USTP led the way in March 2020 with Article VI, Section XCVIII, of the Constitution of the United States Transhumanist Party. Naturally, motivating both the Democrats and the Republicans to support our plan is going to be necessary.

I have recently heard two Democrats expounding at length about the need to spend more money in bolstering our healthcare system. (I’ll include extensive quotes later on.)

In addition, I have recently heard Trump at his press conference stating that he is having discussions with the Democrats on infrastructure spending. Constructing hospitals definitely falls in the category of infrastructure improvement.

So at least as long as this pandemic has the attention of the American people, there is a possibility – a realistic possibility – that our platform plank could be adopted by both the Democrats and Republicans and be implemented.

First, I went and looked for some background facts. I don’t have any idea what’s going on in American hospitals. But I knew that there had to be some relatively basic data on hospitals and the American population. (I’m going to state the round numbers here. I will include details and web links later.)

Consider the time period basically between 1980 and 2020: 40 years in America. The total number of hospitals in the United States in 1980 was approximately 7,000. Today the number of hospitals is approximately 5,500. So there has been an elimination of 1,500 hospitals over the 40-year period under consideration. The population of America in 1980 was 220 million. The population of America in 2020 is 330 million. America has increased in population by 50%, but the number of hospitals to care for those people has declined by 20%.

Now this does not indicate whether or not there is a sufficient number of hospitals to have a surge capacity for an epidemic. This just indicates that we have far fewer hospitals per capita than we had 40 years ago. The real question is: how many should we have?

Now I want to draw a parallel with a completely different item. When the Army Corps of Engineers started working on controlling American rivers to prevent the catastrophic flooding that had occurred from time to time, they developed a yardstick in which they estimated a 500-year flood, and a 200-year flood, and a 100-year flood, and a 50-year flood. And they use those estimates of some worst-case scenarios to properly design the dams and levees for the rivers in America.

I’m going to suggest that we need similar yardsticks for American hospitals. Now these yardsticks would take experts years of study to prepare properly. I’m going to make one up for illustrative purposes and then compare it to the yardstick in the USTP platform. The USTP used this yardstick in Section XCVIII: one new hospital per 50,000 people. This yields 6,600 new hospitals as a goal in the US today. There are about 5,500 hospitals in the US today, which means that we would have a total of 12,100 hospitals if this plan were implemented. Alternatively, I am going to speculate that at a minimum we need to have the same quantity of hospitals per capita that we did in 1980. That may not be sufficient but let’s use that as a yardstick to continue this discussion. If I use the same per capita ratio as 1980 that calculation yields 10,000 hospitals. There are about 5,500 hospitals in the US today, which means that we would need to build 4,500 new hospitals. This indicates that the range of construction in the US may be between 4,500 and 6,600 new hospitals.

And a side note here: when I talk about hospitals, the discussion must include surge capacity for beds, and ventilators, and test kits, and personnel, etc. The plan needs to include everything that supports the hospital. This is not just a construction project. This is a plan to protect Americans in the event of an epidemic.

The goal here is to propose to Democrats that the health and welfare of the American citizens is at risk without more hospitals, and it is clear that low-income minority populations not only have been underserved by the quantity of hospitals, but are also more at risk of being seriously ill during epidemics due to the lower quality of healthcare that they can avail themselves of currently.

The goal here is to propose to Republicans that the way to get the economy revved up is to do infrastructure spending, and that the construction of hospitals across America will be good for all businesses.

The goal here is to indicate to both Democratic and Republican Senators and Representatives that they would be able to provide to their local citizens thousands of excellent construction jobs and healthcare positions, while also delivering 10 new hospitals per Representative and a variable number of hospitals per Senator. (I can already hear the screaming from some libertarians about pork-barrel wasteful government spending, but perhaps others will be more far-sighted.)

I believe that this is an investment not only in the American economy but also an investment in our health and longevity.
—————–
Here are some very recent comments from prominent politicians on these critical issues.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday, April 24th, 2020:

“Plan on a reopening and not just reopening what was. We went through this horrific experience. It should be a period of growth. It should be a period of reflection. If we’re smart, and we use it that way, there are lessons to learn here. If we’re smart, and we have the courage to look in the mirror. We went through 9/11. We were the smarter for it. We went through World War II. We were the better for it. We went through superstorm Sandy. We learned. We grew. We were the better for it. We should do the same thing here. People are totally changing their lifestyle. What did we learn? How do we have a better health care system that can actually handle public health emergencies? How do we have a better transportation system? How do we have a smarter telemedicine system? How do we use technology and education better? Why do some children have to go to a parking lot to get Wi-Fi to do their homework? How do we … learn from this, and how do we grow?”

On Friday, April 24th, 2020, Larry Summers, former Treasury Secretary, appeared on the Wall Street Week program on Bloomberg TV, and he had this to say about how the American federal government is spending money:

“The really important thing that we need to spend macro money on is the micro health issues. This thing is costing us 80 billion dollars a week – more than 10 billion dollars a day. Anything that we do that accelerates the pace at which the economy can reopen, that creates some more normal environment more quickly, will pay for itself many times over. But we’re not throwing money at every possible approach to testing. We’re not simultaneously building the manufacturing capacity for tests or vaccines that might work, but we don’t know yet. What we need to do is spend money that we know some of it will end up being wastefully spent, so that we’re ready to go with anything that works: a vaccine; a treatment; a test for evaluating. And we’re just not spending money in that kind of way. We’re throwing infinite amounts of money at leveraged firms that are overlevered and are having a tough time right now, but we are underinvesting on a very large scale in the health investments. The truth is the highest payoff health investments in moving the economy forward aren’t in stimulating the economy – they’re in bringing forth the necessary health infrastructure in terms of tests, contact tracing, treatments, and ultimately vaccines. And that’s where we should be heavily investing and concentrating, and we’re not just we’re not doing it. It’s business as usual. It’s the fact that we underspent on pandemic preparation. That is why we’re in this catastrophic mess, and we still haven’t gotten past the error of underinvesting in health relative to other things. Think about it this way. If we move this forward by one day, the extra tax revenue that will feed into the government budget will be more than $3 billion dollars. At that price, how could we not be investing in every possible experiment and parallel processing everything, knowing that even if we have some redundancy, even if we have some waste, it will be small compared to the benefits.”

—————-

If there are some Transhumanists who see merit in the approach that I have outlined, I would like to discuss how this USTP platform plank can actually be implemented. We should engage the dominant political parties to get them to do what we know we need.

I believe that this is an investment not only in the American economy, but also an investment in our health and superlongevity.

Weblinks

U.S. Transhumanist Party Website: https://transhumanist-party.org/

American Hospital Association. Fast Facts on U.S. Hospitals, 2020: https://www.aha.org/statistics/fast-facts-us-hospitals 

John Elflein. Number of all hospitals in the U.S. from 1975 to 2017. https://www.statista.com/statistics/185843/number-of-all-hospitals-in-the-us-since-2001/

Erin Duffin. Resident population of the United States from 1980 to 2019. https://www.statista.com/statistics/183457/united-states–resident-population/

Notes

1. Number of hospitals in 1980: 6965.
Number of hospitals in 2016: 5534.
6965 – 5534 = 1431 fewer hospitals. 1431/6965 = 0.205 = 20.5% decrease in hospitals in the US.
{Source: John Elflein 2019 on statista.com}.

2. US population in 1980: 226,500,000.
US population in 2019: 328,200,000. 328,200,000 – 226,500,000 = 101,700,000 more Americans. 101,700,000 / 226,500,000 = .449 = 45% increase in the US population.
{Source: Erin Duffin 2020 on statista.com}.

3. Per capita hospital ratios.
1980: 226,500,000 people / 6965 hospitals = 32,500 p/h 2020: 328,200,000 people / 5534 hospitals = 59,300 p/h.
Find number of hospitals needed in 2020 to have same p/h ratio as 1980. 328,200,000 p / 32,500 p/h = 10,000 hospitals. 10,000 required – 5500 existing = 4500 new hospitals required.

Transhumanism and the Promise of Being More Human – Article by Arin Vahanian

Transhumanism and the Promise of Being More Human – Article by Arin Vahanian

Arin Vahanian


Human beings have had an interesting relationship with technology. On the one hand, nearly everyone rightfully applauds and appreciates technology’s ability to make life more convenient, help us save time, and generally improve the quality of life and standard of living on Earth, among many other benefits. On the other hand, there are some people out there who believe that technology somehow threatens to rob us of our humanity.

However, I shall not attempt to argue with those who feel that technology is inherently detrimental to the human condition. Indeed, no matter how many benefits technology brings us, and no matter how much it improves our lives, there are no doubt people out there who will lament the time when technology was less ubiquitous.

While I fully recognize that runaway technology left in the wrong hands poses a danger to humanity, debating the pros and cons of an increasing technological future is not the focus of this article, though it is a very worthy (and necessary) discussion in its own right.

Rather, today I shall present an entirely different argument: that technology, and, in a narrower sense, Transhumanism, can accentuate the aspects and characteristics that make us human, and indeed, allow us to better enjoy the experience of being human.

At first glance, this may appear to be a controversial argument. After all, as some critics ask, aren’t developments like robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence at odds with being human? And, according to some detractors, isn’t Transhumanism a movement that will lead to people becoming less human and more machine-like?

Of course, both statements above are absurd, and complete red herrings. If we accept the fact that Transhumanism is a movement and philosophy focused on improving the human condition, then we must also accept the premise that Transhumanism strives to use technology to improve the human condition.

What makes we humans special is not just our ability to communicate deeply using language, but also, traits such as empathy, reason, and logic, as well as the ability to love. I would argue that we will be able to leverage future improvements in technology to improve all these areas.

While one could come up with a near-endless list of ways technology could help improve the human condition, I will offer just a few here, to spur discussion.

One way that comes to mind immediately is using technology to help the countless millions of people who are suffering from physical disabilities, and as a result, are unable to live a productive, normal life. The robotic limbs and exoskeletons you have heard and read about would go a long way toward allowing people to be mobile again, and would emancipate people from being bound to a bed or a wheelchair.  Imagine the happiness on the face of a child who is able to walk for the first time thanks to a robotic limb. One of the most heart-wrenching things for us to see is children who are suffering from physical disabilities. In reality, being disabled is an undignified way to go through life, no matter what one’s age. But not only would such technologies drastically improve the quality of life for people suffering from physical disabilities, they would also benefit humanity on an economic level, allowing people to be more productive members of society. It is for this reason that Transhumanists support unequivocally technologies that help people make full use of their physical, mental, and emotional faculties.

But if that example was too obvious, let’s take conditions such as autism and social anxiety disorder, for instance. While current treatments include behavioral therapy and medication, neither one of those has been very effective, and at best, neither is a cure. On the other hand, a technological solution would likely be much more efficacious. One such example of a potential solution that does not currently exist, but might be developed in the future, is the Computer-Assisted Social Interaction Enhancer, or CASIE, as introduced in the video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution. A real-life use case for such an enhancement could be to allow people who suffer from autism to have improved social interactions, not to mention vastly improved communication skills. The implications of having good social and communication skills are enormous, not just in one’s career, but in one’s social life in particular. Part of what makes us human is the ability to connect with and relate to others. When we are robbed of this most human quality, this threatens to impact our quality of life quite negatively. What is most interesting is that it was a Transhumanist video game that proposed a potential technological solution to such social disorders.

And how about curing diseases through gene therapy? While some people are frightened of the prospect of gene modification, I imagine very few people would reject a cure for dementia, cystic fibrosis, and leukemia, especially if they and/or their loved ones were suffering from any one of these horrible conditions. To go further, I would venture to say that nearly no one in their right mind would argue that we should not cure devastating conditions such as dementia, cystic fibrosis, and leukemia, never mind the biggest killers, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Transhumanists have been campaigning for improving the human condition and curing disease through gene therapy and similar technologies. I would argue that there are few endeavors in life that are more humane than working on curing disease.

However, despite the fact that Transhumanist causes such as curing disease and improving the human condition are among the most noble causes we as humans can work on, detractors may respond with the objection that the requisite technologies do not currently exist, and that even if they did, they would be used for harm rather than good.

My response to this is quite simple: electricity did not exist, until it did. Vaccines did not exist, until they did. Many things we take for granted now did not exist until someone or some people worked together to create them. There is no reason why we cannot leverage science and technology to provide a cure for many of the conditions that afflict us today. At the very least, we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to try.

And although a technology such as CASIE does not yet exist, imagine the implications if such technologies did exist. While these technologies could no doubt be used for nefarious means, we cannot simply deny billions of people the possibility of having improved relationships, better health, and a better quality of life, just because the possibility exists of a few unscrupulous people using technology to hurt others.

Equally important, technologies such as life extension, gene therapy and anti-aging medicines will allow people to spend more time with loved ones by granting them healthier, longer lives. I would imagine that living more years of a healthy life is an outcome nearly everyone would want.

As computer scientist Dr. Kai Fu Lee says in his monumental book AI Superpowers, “we must forge a new synergy between artificial intelligence and the human heart, and look for ways to use the forthcoming material abundance generated by artificial intelligence to foster love and compassion in our societies.” One could replace the term “artificial intelligence” with “technology”, and it would be just as true.

Technology can and must be used as a force for good. Similarly, Transhumanism, which promises to improve the human condition, can help make us be even more human by accentuating our human qualities, thus elevating us to be even greater than we are right now.

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

Why Aren’t We Afraid of Death?: The First Step Toward Defeating Aging – Article by Alex Kadet

Why Aren’t We Afraid of Death?: The First Step Toward Defeating Aging – Article by Alex Kadet

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Alex Kadet


The pain of those fighting to extend human life expectancy

Science articles frequently mention the search for the “elixir of eternal youth.” What a pleasant thought! While we are busy living our lives, the science of extending them is moving at a dizzying pace, and we need only to wait until the international science community plates the solution, ready to serve, right? This statement illustrates how perceptions of reality are skewed toward desired outcomes.

Ask any reputable scientist, activist, or entrepreneur interested in extending human life about the subject, however, and you will learn that the reality is very different. For instance, here is a quotation from Aubrey de Grey, founder of the SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) Research Foundation and pioneering researcher in the science of aging:

Aubrey de Grey

“. . . if I got a billion dollars today, we would probably bring forward the defeat of aging by about ten years. And it’s a lot of lives, maybe four hundred million.”

I suppose we all understand how insignificant one billion dollars is compared with the global annual expenditures on health care and science. The cost of health care in the United States alone exceeded 3.3 trillion dollars in 2016 and is growing rapidly.

What do these numbers mean? That, without a doubt, humanity is not even close to curing aging, even in the twenty-first century.

Longevity advocacy

At a glance, it seems odd that the idea of extending human life needs advocacy, but longevity scientists and advocates understand that the only obstacle to the development of a cure for aging is a lack of resources: time and money. The dollar has strong voting power, and human lifespan extension is not at the top of the ballot.

For some reason, not enough people are willing to do what objectively seems rational, to overcome the obstacles and diseases that aging causes. What appears to transhumanists, scientists, and researchers to be an undeniable benefit for humankind seems unimportant or even detrimental to others. Dying of old age seems dignified to some people, but in truth it is honorable only in the movies. Therefore, advocacy needs to be prioritized over seemingly more practical immediate problems.

Many people who work in the field of longevity studies are tormented by a fundamental question: If one acknowledges one’s mortality, isn’t working toward radical life extension a most rational use of one’s time? After all, millions of people, with trillions of dollars combined, have a nonzero chance of radically extending life expectancy within the next ten years.

A primary goal of longevity advocates is to attract investments and endorsements from international organizations, including scientific foundations and businesses, and increase the visibility and appeal of research on anti-aging therapy. We aim to market anti-aging science effectively, and raise the prestige of working in our industry to that of working for a venture-capital or tech startup.

Large-scale work must begin now, for a simple reason.

The population of the planet is rapidly aging.

The average age of the world populace is increasing at an alarming pace. Globally, the demographic comprising people aged sixty years or older is growing faster than any other group. If this trend continues, by 2050 the number of seniors in the world will more than double, from 962 million to 2.1 billion. Such a significant change in the composition of the population will inevitably affect economies and societies.

Throughout the history of humankind, aging has been viewed as an inevitable process, leading not so much to illness and suffering (which have always been treated as if separate from aging) but rather to physical death.

Let me draw your attention to the importance of distinguishing between improving the quality of life of the rapidly aging population and developing a treatment for aging.

It is also important to understand that when we talk about defeating aging, we do not put it as equal to immortality. Extending longevity will largely take the form of increasing productive life span and preventing suffering — not only fatigue, reduced physical strength, and impaired memory, but also the internal conflict of remaining young at heart and full of ambition in an aging body. Longevity specialists believe that victory over suffering is achievable and will be a victory over an absolute evil.

Why do we work so hard to treat the effects of aging while doing almost nothing to slow aging itself? Aging is literally a matter of life and death, and yet it commands almost no attention.

Life-Extension Myths

The vast majority of people and organizations (including the World Health Organization, billionaire entrepreneurs, the United Nations, and entire nations) do not include addressing the problems of aging in their short- or long-term agendas. They do not consider aging to be a real and distinct problem. Why not?

Maybe extending human life would be unnatural?

The answer is no.

  • Self-preservation is characteristic of all organisms and is one of the so-called “basic instincts” [1]. All organisms achieve self-preservation by purposefully reducing their own entropy (that is, using external resources to compensate for inevitable energy loss) and maintaining homeostasis (steady internal conditions).
  • People tend to consider aging and age-related diseases to be separate and distinct phenomena, as if aging is different from other abnormalities of the human body. Such thinking is fundamentally flawed. Most people do not have ethical problems with using medicine to treat suffering, but cognitive dissonance often produces ethical objections to therapies designed to treat aging, which is widely treated with dignity and respect, even viewed as sacred.
  • As the seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza wrote in his Ethics, “The mind, both in so far as it has clear and distinct ideas, and also in so far as it has confused ideas, endeavors to persist in its being for an indefinite period, and of this endeavor it is conscious” [2]. It is human nature to attempt to survive as long as possible.

[For the interested reader: philosophical and ethical issues that inevitably arise in the fight against aging are discussed in detail in Steven Horrobin’s The Future of Aging, chapter three, “Towards Naturalistic Transcendence: The Value of Life and Life Extension to Persons as Conative Processes.”]

Perhaps the problem is that it is simply impossible to stop the human body from aging?

I don’t think so.

Gerontologists (people who study the science of aging) agree that slowing or preventing aging (that is, eliminating the faults of and repairing the accumulated damage to the body) is a purely technological problem and can be solved. Additionally, the existence of several animal species that are closely evolutionarily related to humans but live much longer than we do demonstrates that extended longevity is possible.

A “road map” for achieving longevity escape velocity has already been developed in the form of a series of specific steps and studies [4], [5]. We cannot predict which research will result in the elongation of the human life span, as there are multiple hypotheses to be tested, but if any current or future research yields actionable results, our most daring imaginings could be surpassed.

But what if we succeed in extending longevity and the resulting future is undesirable?

No, we will not die due to overpopulation.

  • The world’s human population has increased almost fourfold in the past one hundred years, and far from suffering as a result, we now live longer and enjoy greater quality of life than ever before. In fact, natural population decline is causing its own problems in several countries. In the 1970s, adherents of Thomas Malthus’s belief that unchecked population growth inevitably exhausts resources and yields poverty and degradation predicted a worldwide famine and demographic catastrophe by the year 2000. Their predictions did not come true, as they hadn’t taken into account the rapid expansion of agriculture and food production that did occur [6].

Decades will pass before the demographic consequences of victory over aging begin to impact our lives significantly. We will have enough time to adapt to the new circumstances [7].

No, the secret world elite cannot capture the “philosopher’s stone” and enslave the rest of us.

  • In the first years after antibiotics were discovered, they were available only to the rich. Similarly, today such complex and expensive medical interventions as organ transplantation are not widely available, but this is not a reason to ban them [7]. The treatment of aging will likely be very expensive initially, but as soon as the technology becomes known, endeavors to optimize it and expand its availability will inevitably begin. This is an axiom in modern society. It is already impossible (sometimes frighteningly) to keep significant information secret, and in the case of longevity studies, humanity will benefit.

In view of the preceding, we have no reason to doubt that victory over aging is achievable and will be favorable for humanity.

[For the interested reader: you can find more debunked myths here.]


Scientists and science advocates are working to dispel the above myths, but unfortunately their work has not yet produced the desired outcomes. Although it would seem that the possibility of a cure for aging would attract large amounts of resources and greatly impact human worldview and actions, we simply haven’t seen such an effect.

What if the motivation for our inaction doesn’t come from a rational place?

I believe that the general lack of interest in treating aging comes from a lack of fear of aging, as humans tend not to be consciously afraid of death. Where there is no fear of a phenomenon, there is no aim to eliminate it.

So, why aren’t we afraid of death?

  • Fear is a basic emotion based on the self-preservation instinct. It precipitates as a sudden cognitive and behavioral change stimulated by imminent danger [8].
  • Fear can reinforce social connections, such as when an escape for help calls for collective defense [9]. There are many threats in the world, and fear encourages us to change our behavior and unite in order to protect ourselves against them.

Cancer, terrorism, war, air crashes, environmental degradation, global climate change: these and many other dangers have been accounted for in the multibillion-dollar budgets of individual countries, international organizations, private foundations, and nonprofits. Aging is not on the list. I believe I know why.

In his Pulitzer Prize–winning book The Denial of Death, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker explored the hypothesis that civilization is based not on the suppression of sexuality, as Sigmund Freud believed, but on the suppression of the inherent human fear of death.

Becker argued that at one extreme, civilization is a way for humankind to contain the anxiety of death, and at the other extreme, an individual’s character can be viewed as a complex of defenses against fear of death. In other words, all of our motivation, the whole set of human cognitive attitudes and emotional experiences, is aimed at avoiding the awareness of our own mortality [10].

Despite the fact that we will die someday, few of us think about mortality on a regular basis. In one way or another we become acquainted with death while still children, but our psyche is unable to process the phenomenon fully. Consequently, according to Becker, the unconscious mind forms a complex of balances and defenses that prevent contact with the horror of death.

The existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom holds a similar point of view on the structure of the human psyche. In his book Existential Psychotherapy, he explores in detail how fear of death permeates the whole being, and how much of human activity implicitly results from this fear.

Mental defenses allow us to maintain mental health and keep from sliding into madness. On the other hand, the same defenses limit our freedom and program our reactions. Dependencies, workaholism, daily rituals, narcissism, anxiety, depression . . . The list of such defenses is long, and we utilize them to reduce our fear of death [11]. Becoming aware of one’s own defense strategies is the first step toward freedom from the limitations of the psyche and cognitive distortions.

Ernest Becker’s theory has been further developed and experimentally confirmed in the framework of terror management theory (TMT) [12]. For the first time in psychology, the horror of death has been studied as an experimental variable. In one study, researchers effected a horror of death in participants, activated their awareness of the inevitability of death, and studied the resulting defense mechanisms. Having experienced the anxiety of facing their own mortality, participants were asked to evaluate punishments for violators of cultural norms; these participants chose far more severe punishments than did the control group [13].

After thirty years of research, terror management theory maintains that the most basic reason death is upsetting and motivating is because it undermines the most basic motive of all, which is a prerequisite for all other need satisfaction — staying alive. More specifically, death is a unique motivator because (1) most of an organism’s biological systems function to keep the organism alive, thus averting death; (2) death must be avoided to enhance opportunities for reproduction and care of offspring, both of which are essential for gene perpetuation; (3) death is the only absolutely inevitable future event; and (4) death threatens to undermine all desires, whether for pleasure, belonging, certainty, meaning, control, competence, self-actualization, or growth [14]. I will discuss these facts in more detail in forthcoming articles.

Cultural worldview (religion, nationalism, etc.) and self-esteem are two common buffers that protect our unconscious from the anxiety of death. Almost every religion is predicated on a belief in an afterlife, thereby allowing adherents to control fear by ignoring or denying death. Also, self-esteem and culture fill life with value, helping us to surpass death symbolically by creating the illusion of continuing to exist through the contributions we make that will outlive us or because the community we identify with will continue to exist after our personal death [15].

Cognitive distortions, such as magical thinking or the denying to believe in our own mortality, push out existential questions from our conscious mind, gently urging us to concentrate on the less painful questions of being [12].

To begin truly active work on increasing human life expectancy and defeating age-related diseases, humankind needs to realize the finiteness of life.

Demystifying common defense mechanisms and the tricks our minds play to make us disregard our own mortality will be necessary in the fight against aging. Increasing awareness is often enough to motivate people to examine their defense mechanisms and resolve the cognitive distortions that make work on aging so unapproachable.

Right now, with modern science making possible technologies that had not even been imaginable before, it’s time to face our fear — to recognize the problem of human aging, and frame it not as a philosophical question of being but as an engineering challenge.

Readers of this article will probably not instantly become gerontologists (scientists specializing in the biology of aging) or sponsors of fundamental scientific research; however, an awareness that aging and death are real can only increase mindfulness for anyone who dares to face it, thus making them happier in the long run [16].

P.S.: Become a Radical Life Extension Hero! Support my research on the Patreon!

I am open to any discussion on the topic of longevity studies. Also, I am preparing a speech on the psychological effects of suppressing the fear of death. Experience shows that even a brief overview of this topic stimulates interest in the treatment of aging.

Furthermore, I am beginning research in the field of experimental social psychology and plan to use TMT techniques to identify optimal ways for delivering the message of longevity activists. If you are interested in collaboration of any kind, feel free to contact me here.

I’d like to thank Ekaterina Gorbacheva and Zachary Vigna for their editorial help.

Alex Kadet is a transhumanist, longevity activist, entrepreneur, and expert in death studies. He is also a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party.

Sources:

[1] Pavlov I. P. “Twenty years of experience in the objective research of the higher nervous activity.” Science, Moscow, 1973: p. 237.

[2] Spinoza, B. Ethics. Part 3, proposition 9. 1677.

[3] Vishnevsky, A. G. “Reproduction of the population and society.” Мoscow, 1982: p. 110.

[4https://www.lifespan.io/the-rejuvenation-roadmap/

[5https://www.ted.com/talks/aubrey_de_grey_says_we_can_avoid_aging

[6] Trewavas, A. “Malthus foiled again and again.” Nature, 418 (6898), September 2002: pp. 668–670

[7] Sethe, S. & de Magalhaes, J. P. “Ethical Perspectives in Biogerontology.” In: Ethics, Health Policy and (Anti-) Aging: Mixed Blessings, ed. Schermer, M. & Pinxten, W. Springer, Dordrecht, Netherlands, 2013: pp. 173–188.

[8] Izard, I. The Emotions of Humans. Мoscow, 1980: p. 52–71.

[9] Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. Ethology: The biology of behavior. Oxford, England, 1970

[10] Becker, E. The Denial of Death. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1973.

[11] Yalom, I. D. Existential Psychotherapy. Basic Books, New York”, 1980.

[12] Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T. & Solomon, S. “The causes and consequences of a need for self-esteem: A terror management theory.” In: Public Self and Private Self, ed. R. F. Baumeister. Springer-Verlag, New York, 1986: pp. 189–212.

[13] Rosenblatt, A., Greenberg, J., Solomon S., Pyszczynski, T. & Lyon, D. “Evidence for terror management theory: I. The effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who violate or uphold cultural values.” J. Pers. Soc. Psychol., Vol. 57, 1989: pp. 681–90.

[14] Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., & Greenberg, J. L. “Thirty Years of Terror Management Theory: From Genesis to Revelation.” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 52, 2015: pp. 1–70.

[15] Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., & Greenberg, J. L. (2015). Thirty Years of Terror Management Theory: From Genesis to Revelation. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 52, pp. 1–70): Psychological Mechanisms Through Which Thoughts of Death Affect Behavior

[16] Killingsworth, M. A. & Gilbert, D. T.. “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind.” Science, Vol. 330, issue 6006, 2010: p. 932.