IMPORTANT SKYWATCH NOTICE: This series is being offered in tandem with THE UNVEILING—an urgent Defender Virtual Conference event (streaming now) wherein experts from around the world are updating the public on (among other things) swiftly developing Human Enhancement / Hybrid Age advances directly tied to ancient prophecy and a coming seven years of Great Tribulation. Are you aware governments are enacting legislation NOW to protect the rights of the coming Human-Non-Human genetically engineered entities?
If the U.S. [today] has a national religion, the closest thing to it is faith in technology.
—Scott Keeter, director of survey research for the Pew Research Center
Yet again humankind seems ready to plunge headlong into another human, or demonic, contrivance promising salvation and eternal happiness for all. This time the Faustian bargain is being struck with technology, what John McDermott referred to as the “opiate of the intellectuals.”
—C. Christopher Hook, MD
When the stars align, Cthulhu will rise again to resume His dominion over the Earth, ushering in an age of frenzied abandon. Humankind will be “free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and reveling in joy.”
—Transhumanist Mark Dery, celebrating the rise of H. P. Lovecraft’s cosmic monster
On July 20, 2010, the New York Times ran a feature article introducing a new nonprofit organization called the Lifeboat Foundation.[i] The concept behind the group is simple yet disturbing. Protecting people from threats posed by potentially catastrophic technology—ranging from artificial intelligence running amok to self-replicating nanobots—represents an emerging opportunity for designing high-tech “shields,” and lots of them, to protect mankind this century.
“For example,” the article says, “there’s talk of a Neuroethics Shield to prevent abuse in the areas of neuropharmaceuticals, neurodevices, and neurodiagnostics. Worse cases include enslaving the world’s population or causing everyone to commit suicide.
“And then there’s a Personality Preserver that would help people keep their personalities intact and a Nano Shield to protect against overly aggressive nanocreatures.”
If the Lifeboat Foundation sounds like a storehouse for overreacting geeks or even outright nut jobs, consider that their donors involve Google, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, and an impressive list of industry and technology executives, including names on their advisory boards like Nobel laureate and Princeton University Prof. Eric Maskin.
What the development of such enterprising research groups illustrates is that even if one does not believe speculation from the previous entries in this series suggesting mind-bending concepts like Nephilim being resurrected into posthuman bodies via GRIN technology, all of society—regardless of religious or secular worldviews—should consider that what we are doing now through genetic modification of living organisms and the wholesale creation of new synthetic life-forms is either a violation of the divine order (biblical creation, such as the authors of this series believe) or chaos upon natural evolution, or both. The road we have started down is thus wrought with unknown perils, and the Lifeboat Foundation is correct to discern how the transhuman era may abruptly result in the need for “shields” to protect earth species from designer viruses, nanobugs, prion contamination, and a host of other clear and present dangers. Part of the obvious reasons behind this is, in addition to the known shortcomings of biotechnology corporations and research facilities to remain impartial in their safety reviews (they have a vested interest in protecting approval and distribution of their products), futurist think tanks such as the Lifeboat Foundation understand that the phrase, “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is axiomatic for a reason. Human nature has a clear track record of developing defense mechanisms only after natural or manufactured threats have led to catastrophe. We humans seem doomed to learn from our mistakes far more often than from prevention. Consider how nuclear reactors were forced to become safer only after the Chernobyl disaster, or how a tsunami warning system was developed by the United Nations following 230,000 people being killed by a titanic wave in the Indian Ocean. This fact of human nature portends an especially ill wind for mankind when viewed against the existential threats of biological creations, artificial intelligence systems, or geoengineering of nature, which carry the potential not only of backfiring but of permanently altering the course of humanity. “Our attitude throughout human history has been to experience events like these and then to put safeguards in place,” writes Prof. Nick Bostrom. “That strategy is completely futile with existential risks [as represented in GRIN tech]. By definition, you don’t get to learn from experience. You only have one chance to get it right.”[ii] Because of the truly catastrophic threat thus posed by mostly unregulated GRIN advances this century, Richard Posner, a US appeals court judge and author of the book Catastrophe: Risk and Response, wants “an Office of Risk and Catastrophe set up in the White House. The office would be charged with identifying potentially dangerous technologies and calling in experts to inform its own risk assessment.” The problem right now, Posner adds, “is that no single government department takes responsibility for these kinds of situations.”[iii] Not surprisingly, many transhumanists contest Posner’s idea, saying it represents just another unnecessary bureaucracy that would stand in the way of scientific progress.
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Yet of greater significance and repeatedly missing from such secular considerations is what the authors of this book believe to be the more important element: supernaturalism and spirituality. Beyond the material ramifications of those threats posed by the genetics revolution is something most scientists, engineers, and bioethicists fail to comprehend—that man is not just a series of biological functions. We are spirit and soul and vulnerable to spiritual, not just environmental, dangers. Thus the “shields” that the Lifeboat Foundation is working on will only protect us so far. We will need spiritual shields too as GRIN raises those bigger issues of how human-transforming enhancements may alter our very souls (says Joel Garreau) as well as hundreds of immediate new challenges that Christians, families, and ministries will be facing.
It is an understatement to say that technology often works hand in hand with unseen forces to challenge our faith or open new channels for spiritual warfare. This has been illustrated in thousands of ways down through time—from the creation of Ouija boards for contacting the spirit world to online pornography gateways. But the current course upon which GRIN technology and transhumanist philosophy is taking mankind threatens to elevate the reality of these dangers to quantitatively higher levels. Some of the spiritual hazards already surfacing as a result of modern technology include unfamiliar terms like “i-Dosing,” in which teens get “digitally high” by playing specific Internet videos through headphones that use repetitive tones to create binaural beats, which have been shown in clinical studies to induce particular brain-wave states that make the sounds appear to come from the center of the head. Shamans have used variations of such repetitive tones and drumming to stimulate and focus the “center mind” for centuries to make contact with the spirit world and to achieve altered states of consciousness.
More broadly, the Internet itself, together with increasing forms of electronic information-driven technology, is creating a new kind of addiction by “rewiring our brains,” says Nora Volkow, world-renowned brain scientist and director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse. The lure of “digital stimulation” can actually produce dopamine releases in the brain that affect the heart rate and blood pressure and lead to drug-like highs and lows. As bad, the addictive craving for digital stimulation is leading to the electronic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) among a growing population in which constant bursts of information and digital stimulation undermine one’s ability to focus—especially in children, whose brains are still developing and who naturally struggle to resist impulses or to neglect priorities. A growing body of literature is verifying this e-connection to personality fragmentation, cyber relationships over personal ones, and other psychosocial issues. Volkow and other researchers see these antisocial trends leading to widespread diminished empathy between people—which is essential to the human condition—as a result of humans paying more and more attention to iPads, cell phones, and computer screens than to each other, even when sitting in the same room. New research shows this situation becoming an electronic pandemic as people escalate their detachment from traditional family relationships while consuming three times as much digital information today as they did in 2008, checking e-mails, texting thirty-seven times per hour, and spending twelve hours per day on average taking in other e-media.
How brain-machine interfacing will multiply this divide between human-to-human relationships versus human-machine integration should be of substantial concern to readers for several reasons, including how 1) the Borgification of man will naturally exasperate the decline of the family unit and interpersonal relationships upon which society has historically depended; 2) the increase of euphoric cybernetic addiction will multiply as cerebral stimulation of the brain’s pleasure centers is added to existing natural senses—sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch; and 3) the threat of computer viruses or hijackers disrupting enhanced human neural or cognitive pathways will develop as cyber-enhanced individuals evolve. To illustrate the latter, Dr. Mark Gasson, from the School of Systems Engineering at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, intentionally contaminated an implanted microchip in his hand that allows him biometric entry through security doors and that also communicates with his cell phone and other external devices. In the experiment, Dr. Gasson (who agrees that the next step in human evolution is the transhuman vision of altered human biology integrated with machines) was able to show how the computer virus he infected himself with spread to external computer systems in communication with his microchip. He told BBC News, “With the benefits of this type of technology come risks. We [will] improve ourselves¼but much like the improvements with other technologies, mobile phones for example, they become vulnerable to risks, such as security problems and computer viruses.”[iv]
Such threats—computer viruses passing from enhanced humans to enhanced humans via future cybernetic systems—are the tip of the iceberg. The real danger, though it may be entirely unavoidable for some, will be the loss of individuality, anonymity, privacy, and even free will as a result of cybernetic integration. Dr. Christopher Hook contends, “If implanted devices allow the exchange of information between the biological substrate and the cybernetic device,” such a device in the hippocampus (the part of the brain involved in forming, storing, and processing memory) for augmenting memory, for instance, “would be intimately associated with the creation and recall of memories as well as with all the emotions inherent in that process. If this device were¼to allow the importation of information from the Internet, could the device also allow the memories and thoughts of the individual to be downloaded or read by others? In essence, what is to prevent the brain itself from being hacked [or externally monitored]? The last bastion of human privacy, the brain, will have been breached.”[v]
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Despite these significant ethical and social dangers, industry and government interest in the technological dream of posthumanism, as documented earlier in this book, is more than laissez-faire. The steady migration toward the fulfillment of biologically and cybernetically modified humans combined with corporate and national investments will predictably fuse this century, ultimately leading to strong cultural forces compelling all individuals to get “plugged in” to the grid. Whoever resists will be left behind as inferior Luddites (those who oppose new technology), or worse, considered enemies of the collectives’ progress, as in de Garis’ nightmarish vision in the Artilect War or former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clark’s Breakpoint, which depicts those who refuse technological enhancement as “terrorists.”
According to the work Human Dignity in the Biotech Century, this pressure to become enhanced will be dramatic upon people in all social strata, including those in the middle class, law, engineering, finance, professional fields, and the military, regardless of personal or religious views:
Consider whether the military, after investing billions in the development of technologies to create the cyborg soldier would allow individual soldiers to decline the enhancements because of religious or personal qualms. It is not likely. Individuals may indeed dissent and decline technological augmentation, but such dissenters will find job options increasingly scarce.
Because the network of cyborgs will require increasing levels of cooperation and harmonious coordination to further improve efficiency, the prostheses will continue to introduce means of controlling or modulating emotion to promote these values. Meanwhile, the network is increasingly controlled by central planning structures to facilitate harmony and efficiency. While everyone still considers themselves fully autonomous, in reality behavior is more and more tightly controlled. Each step moves those who are cybernetically augmented toward becoming like the Borg, the race of cybernetic organisms that inhabit the twenty-sixth century of the Star Trek mythology. The Borg, once fully human, become “assimilated” by the greater collective mind, losing individuality for the good of the whole.[vi]
Lest anyone think the writers of Human Dignity in the Biotech Century are overly paranoid, consider that NBIC (Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology, and Cognitive Science) director Mihail Roco, in the US government report, Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance, wrote:
Humanity would become like a single, distributed and interconnected “brain” based in new core pathways in society. A networked society of billions of human beings could be as complex compared to an individual being as a human being is to a single nerve cell. From local groups of linked enhanced individuals to a global collective intelligence, key new capacities would arise from relationships arising from nbic technologies. Far from unnatural, such a collective social system may be compared to a larger form of biological organism.¼ We envision the bond of humanity driven by an interconnected virtual brain of the Earth’s communities searching for intellectual comprehension and conquest of nature.”[vii]
NEXT: The Struggle To Resist Biological Alteration And Machine Integration
[i] Ashlee Vance, “The Lifeboat Foundation: Battling Asteroids, Nanobots and A.I.” New York Times (7/20/10) (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/20/the-lifeboat-foundation-battling-asteroids-nanobots-and-a-i/).
[ii] Ian Sample, “Global Disaster: Is Humanity Prepared for the Worst?” Observer (7/25/10) (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/jul/25/disaster-risk-assessment-science).
[iv] Rory Cellan-Jones, “First Human ‘Infected with Computer Virus,’” BBC News (5/27/10) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10158517.
[v] Hook, 92.
[vi] Ibid., 93.
[vii] Mihail Roco and William Sims Bainbridge, ed. Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance (New York: Kluwer Academic, 2003) emphasis in original.
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