Monsanto, the megalithic corporation responsible for Agent Orange and for inundating the planet with noxious PCBs for years with full knowledge the horrific damage the substances cause to the planet and its inhabitants, finds itself in hot water, again, thanks to a poorly-delivered smear campaign against organic, healthy food — that is, food growing from the ground unassisted by its chemical pesticides and herbicides. Just as many advocates of untreated food have suspected, Monsanto was caught red-handed disguising its own anti-organic propaganda — dangerously misleading and false information warning of supposed damage wrought to the environment through non-chemical growing methods — as valid scientific opinion pieces in major news outlets whose audience reach comprises millions of readers… (READ MORE)
EDITOR’S NOTE:In the countdown to the release of the highly anticipated documentary “INHUMAN: THE NEXT AND FINAL PHASE OF MAN IS HERE”(scheduled for release August-September), SkyWatch TV is running this exclusive online series on transhumanism and the dawn of the Human Hybrid Age.
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 was 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 said, “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.”
The Lifeboat Foundation is very involved with the future as we move through the year 2015, and if they sound 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 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, the wholesale creation of new synthetic life-forms, and now gene-editing human embryos at the germline level is either a violation of the divine order (biblical creation, such as the authors of this book 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 INHUMAN advances this century, Richard Posner, a U.S. appeals court judge and author of the book Catastrophe: Risk and Response, wanted “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 contested Posner’s proposal, saying it represents just another unnecessary bureaucracy that would stand in the way of scientific progress.
Yet of greater significance and repeatedly missing from such secular considerations is what the producers of the upcoming documentary INHUMAN 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, cyberrelationships 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, iPhones, 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—is 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 were to 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]
Despite these significant ethical and social dangers, industry and government interest in the technological dream of posthumanism, as documented in the upcoming film INHUMAN, 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 U.S. 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.¼ Far from unnatural, such a collective social system may be compared to a larger form of biological organism. 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]
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WATCH THE INHUMAN TRAILER
Nowhere will the struggle to resist this human biological alteration and machine integration be more immediate than in those religious homes where transhumanism is seen as an assault on God’s creative genius, and where, as a result, people of faith seek to maintain their humanity. Yet the war against such believers is poised to emerge over the next decade as much from inside these homes and families as it will from external social influences.
As a simple example, flash forward to the near future when much of the technology previously discussed—factually based on emerging technologies and anticipated time frames—is common. Your tenth-grade daughter, Michelle, walks in from a first day at a new school.
“Well, how did it go, Honey?” you ask with a smile.
“It was okay,” she says, “though the kids here are even smarter than at the last school.” But then she pauses. She knows begging to be enhanced like most of her classmates will only lead to more arguing—common between you two on this subject. How can she make you understand what it’s like even trying to compete with the transhumans? The fact that most of the student body, students who are half her age, will graduate from college summa cum laude with IQs higher than Einstein’s by the time she even enters is a ridiculous and unnecessary impediment, she feels. She can’t understand it. You’ve seen the news, the advertising, the H+ magazines articles and television specials outlining the advantages of enhancement. Even the family doctor tried to convince you. But it will probably take a visit from Child Welfare Services, which in the U.S. is soon to follow the European model where, starting in 2025, parents whose children went without basic modifications were charged with neglect and had their kids put in foster homes. She just wishes it wouldn’t come to that. If only you could be like those Emergent Christians 2.0 whose techno-theology arose during the early enhancement craze of 2018–2020, based on a universalist imperative for “perfectionist morality” and the Christian duty to be “healers and perfecters” as opposed to the “bio-Luddite theology” of your outdated religious “divine order” concept, which only serves to keep people like her at disadvantage. That’s why she gave you the school report compiled by Prof. Joel Garreau describing the average high school pupil today, so you could understand how her classmates:
Have amazing thinking abilities. They’re not only faster and more creative than anybody she’s ever met, but faster and more creative than anybody she’s ever imagined.
They have photographic memories and total recall. They can devour books in minutes.
They’re beautiful, physically. Although they don’t put much of a premium on exercise, their bodies are remarkably ripped.
They talk casually about living a long time, perhaps being immortal. They’re always discussing their “next lives.” One fellow mentions how, after he makes his pile as a lawyer, he plans to be a glassblower, after which he wants to become a nanosurgeon.
One of her new friends fell while jogging, opening up a nasty gash on her knee. Your daughter freaked, ready to rush her to the hospital. But her friend just stared at the gaping wound, focusing her mind on it. Within minutes, it simply stopped bleeding.
This same friend has been vaccinated against pain. She never feels acute pain for long.
These new friends are always connected to each other, sharing their thoughts no matter how far apart, with no apparent gear. They call it “silent messaging.” It seems like telepathy.
They have this odd habit of cocking their head in a certain way whenever they want to access information they don’t yet have in their own skulls—as if waiting for a delivery to arrive wirelessly¼which it does.
For a week or more at a time, they don’t sleep. They joke about getting rid of their beds, since they use them so rarely.[viii]
Even though these enhanced students treat her with compassion and know that she is biologically and mentally handicapped by no fault of her own, she hates it when they call her a “Natural.” It feels so condescending. And then, at the last school, there was that boy she wanted to date, only to discover it was against the informed-consent regulations passed by the Department of Education two years ago restricting romantic relationships between “Naturals” and the “Enhanced.” She could have crawled into a hole, she was so embarrassed. But she’s decided not to fight you anymore about it. Next year she will be eighteen years old and has been saving her money. With the federal Unenhanced Student Aid programs administered by the U.S. Department of Education and the United Naturals Student Fund (unsf) that provides financial assistance and support for “Disaugmented American Students,” grades pre-kindergarten to twelve, whose motto is “An augmented mind is a terrible thing to waste,” she’ll have enough for Level 1 Genetic Improvement plus a couple of toys like Bluetooth’s new extracranial cybernetic communicator. It’s not much, but it’s a start, and though you will tell her that her brain-machine interface, and especially her genetic upgrade, makes her—as well as any kids she has in the future—inhuman, according to the school’s genetic guidance counselor, there will be nothing you can do to legally stop her.
TO B E CONTINUED…
[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.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In the countdown to the release of the highly anticipated documentary “INHUMAN: THE NEXT AND FINAL PHASE OF MAN IS HERE”(scheduled for release around August 15), SkyWatch TV is running this exclusive online series on transhumanism and the dawn of the Human Hybrid Age.
While positive advances either already have been or will come from some of the science and technology fields we examine in the upcoming documentary INHUMAN, learned men like Prof. Francis Fukuyama, in his book, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, warn that unintended consequences resulting from what mankind has now set in motion represents the most dangerous time in earth’s history, a period when exotic technology in the hands of transhumanist ambitions could forever alter what it means to be human. To those who would engineer a transhuman future, Fukuyama warns of a dehumanized “hell scenario” in which we “no longer struggle, aspire, love, feel pain, make difficult moral choices, have families, or do any of the things that we traditionally associate with being human.” In this ultimate identity crisis, we would “no longer have the characteristics that give us human dignity” because, for one thing, “people dehumanized à la Brave New World¼don’t know that they are dehumanized, and, what is worse, would not care if they knew. They are, indeed, happy slaves with a slavish happiness.”[i] The “hell scenario” envisioned by Fukuyama is but a beginning to what other intelligent thinkers believe could go wrong.
On the other end of the spectrum and diametrically opposed to Fukuyama’s conclusions is an equally energetic crowd that subscribes to a form of technological utopianism we will call the “heaven scenario.” Among this group, a “who’s who” of transhumansist evangelists such as Ray Kurzweil, James Hughes, Natasha Vita More (both Hughes and More are in the upcoming documentary INHUMAN), Nick Bostrom, and Gregory Stock see the dawn of a new Age of Enlightenment arriving as a result of the accelerating pace of GRINS (Genetics, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Nanotechnology, Synthetic Biology), technologies. As with the eighteenth-century Enlightenment in which intellectual and scientific reason elevated the authority of scientists over priests, techno-utopians believe they will triumph over prophets of doom by “stealing fire from the gods, breathing life into inert matter, and gaining immortality. Our efforts to become something more than human have a long and distinguished genealogy. Tracing the history of those efforts illuminates human nature. In every civilization, in every era, we have given the gods no peace.”[ii] Such men and women are joined in their quest for godlike constitutions by a growing list of official U.S. departments that dole out hundreds of millions of dollars each year for science and technology research. The National Science Foundation and the United States Department of Commerce anticipated this development over a decade ago, publishing the government report Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance—complete with diagrams and bullet points—to lay out the blueprint for the radical evolution of man and machine. Their vision imagined that, following the year 2012, the “heaven scenario” would begin to be manifested and quickly result in (among other things):
The transhuman body being “more durable, healthy, energetic, easier to repair, and resistant to many kinds of stress, biological threats, and aging processes.”
Brain-machine interfacing that will “transform work in factories, control automobiles, ensure military superiority, and enable new sports, art forms and modes of interaction between people.
“Engineers, artists, architects, and designers will experience tremendously expanded creative abilities,” in part through “improved understanding of the wellspring of human creativity.”
“Average persons, as well as policymakers, will have a vastly improved awareness of the cognitive, social, and biological forces operating their lives, enabling far better adjustment, creativity, and daily decision making.
“Factories of tomorrow will be organized” around “increased human-machine capabilities.”[iii]
Beyond how human augmentation and biological reinvention would spread into the wider culture following 2012 (the same date former counter-terrorism czar, Richard Clark, in his book, Breakpoint, predicted serious GRINS rollout), the government report detailed the especially important global and economic aspects of genetically superior humans acting in superior ways, offering how, as a result of GRINS leading to techno-sapien dna upgrading, brain-to-brain interaction, human-machine interfaces, personal sensory device interfaces, and biological war fighting systems, “The twenty-first century could end in world peace, universal prosperity, and evolution to a higher level [as] humanity become[s] like a single, transcendent nervous system, an interconnected ‘brain’ based in new core pathways of society.” The first version of the government’s report asserted that the only real roadblock to this “heaven scenario” would be the “catastrophe” that would be unleashed if society fails to employ the technological opportunities available to us now. “We may not have the luxury of delay, because the remarkable economic, political and even violent turmoil of recent years implies that the world system is unstable. If we fail to chart the direction of change boldly, we may become the victims of unpredictable catastrophe.”[iv] This argument parallels what is currently echoed in military corridors, where sentiments hold that failure to commit resources to develop GRINS as the next step in human and technological evolution will only lead to others doing so ahead of us and using it for global domination.
Not everybody likes the “heaven scenario” imperative, and from the dreamy fantasies of Star Trek to the dismal vision of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, some have come to believe there are demons hiding inside transhumanism’s mystical (or mythical?) “Shangri-la.”
“Many of the writers [of the government report cited above] share a faith in technology which borders on religiosity, boasting of miracles once thought to be the province of the Almighty,” write the editors of The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society. “[But] without any serious reflection about the hazards of technically manipulating our brains and our consciousness¼a different sort of catastrophe is nearer at hand. Without honestly and seriously assessing the consequences associated with these powerful new [GRINS] technologies, we are certain, in our enthusiasm and fantasy and pride, to rush headlong into disaster.”[v]
Few people would be more qualified than computer scientist Bill Joy to annunciate these dangers, or to outline the “hell scenario” that could unfold as a result of GRINS. Yet it must have come as a real surprise to some of those who remembered him as the level-headed Silicon Valley scientist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems (sm) when, as chief scientist for the corporation, he released a vast and now-famous essay, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us,” arguing how GRINS would threaten in the very near future to obliterate mankind. What was extraordinary about Joy’s prophecy was how he saw himself—and people like him—as responsible for building the very machines that “will enable the construction of the technology that may replace our species.”
“From the very moment I became involved in the creation of new technologies, their ethical dimensions have concerned me,” he begins. But it was not until the autumn of 1998 that he became “anxiously aware of how great are the dangers facing us in the twenty-first century.” Joy dates his “awakening” to a chance meeting with Ray Kurzweil, whom he talked with in a hotel bar during a conference at which they both spoke. Kurzweil was finishing his manuscript for The Age of Spiritual Machines and the powerful descriptions of sentient robots and near-term enhanced humans left Joy taken aback, “especially given Ray’s proven ability to imagine and create the future,” Joy wrote. “I already knew that new technologies like genetic engineering and nanotechnology were giving us the power to remake the world, but a realistic and imminent scenario for intelligent robots surprised me.”
(article continues below video)
WATCH THE INHUMAN TRAILER
Over the weeks and months following the hotel conversation, Joy puzzled over Kurzweil’s vision of the future until finally it dawned on him that genetic engineering, robotics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology posed “a different threat than the technologies that have come before. Specifically, robots, engineered organisms, and nanobots share a dangerous amplifying factor: They can self-replicate. A bomb is blown up only once—but one bot can become many, and quickly get out of control.” The unprecedented threat of self-replication particularly burdened Joy because, as a computer scientist, he thoroughly understood the concept of out-of-control replication or viruses leading to machine systems or computer networks being disabled. Uncontrolled self-replication of nanobots or engineered organisms would run “a much greater risk of substantial damage in the physical world,” Joy concluded before adding his deeper fear:
What was different in the twentieth century? Certainly, the technologies underlying the weapons of mass destruction (wmd)—nuclear, biological, and chemical (nbc)—were powerful, and the weapons an enormous threat. But building nuclear weapons required highly protected information; biological and chemical weapons programs also tended to require large-scale activities.
The twenty-first-century technologies—genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics¼are so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of accidents and abuses. Most dangerously, for the first time, these accidents and abuses are widely within the reach of individuals or small groups. They will not require large facilities or rare raw materials. Knowledge alone will enable the use of them.
Thus we have the possibility not just of weapons of mass destruction but of knowledge-enabled mass destruction (kmd), this destructiveness hugely amplified by the power of self-replication.
I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil, an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to the nation states, on to a surprising and terrible empowerment.[vi]
Joy’s prophecy about self-replicating “extreme evil” as an imminent and enormous transformative power that threatens to rewrite the laws of nature and permanently alter the course of life as we know it was frighteningly revived not long ago with the creation of J. Craig Venter’s “self-replicating” Synthia species (Venter’s description). Parasites such as the mycoplasma mycoides that Venter modified to create Synthia can be resistant to antibiotics and acquire and smuggle dna from one species to another, causing a variety of diseases. The dangers represented by Synthia’s self-replicating parasitism has thus refueled Joy’s opus and given experts in the field of counter-terrorism sleepless nights over how extremists could use open-source information to create a Frankenstein version of Synthia in fulfillment of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, which Joy quoted as, “the first moment in the history of our planet when any species, by its own voluntary actions, has become a danger to itself.” As a dire example of the possibilities this represents, a genetically modified version of mouse pox was created not long ago that immediately reached 100 percent lethality. If such pathogens were unleashed into population centers, the results would be catastrophic. This is why Joy and others were hoping a few years ago that a universal moratorium or voluntary relinquishment of GRINS developments would be initiated by national laboratories and governments. But the genie is so far out of the bottle today that even college students are attending annual synthetic biology contests (such as the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition, or igem) where nature-altering witches’ brews are being concocted by the scores, splicing and dicing dna into task-fulfilling living entities. A growing list of such dna sequences are readily available over the Internet, exasperating security experts who see the absence of universal rules for controlling what is increasingly available through information networks as threatening to unleash a “runaway sorcerer’s apprentice” with unavoidable biological fallout. Venter and his collaborators say they recognize this danger—that self-replicating biological systems like the ones they are building—hold peril as well as hope, and they have joined in calling on Congress to enact laws to attempt to control the flow of information and synthetic “recipes” that could provide lethal new pathogens for terrorists. The problem, as always, is getting all of the governments in the world to voluntarily follow a firm set of ethics or rules. This is wishful thinking at best. It is far more likely the world is racing toward what Joel Garreau was first to call the “hell scenario”—a moment in which human-driven GRINS technologies place earth and all its inhabitants on course to self-eradication.
Ironically, some advocates of posthumanity are now using the same threat scenario to advocate for transhumanism as the best way to deal with the inevitable extinction of mankind via GRINS. At the global interdisciplinary institute Metanexus, Mark Walker, assistant professor at New Mexico State University (who holds the Richard L. Hedden of Advanced Philosophical Studies Chair) concludes like Bill Joy that “technological advances mean that there is a high probability that a human-only future will end in extinction.” From this he makes a paradoxical argument:
In a nutshell, the argument is that even though creating posthumans may be a very dangerous social experiment, it is even more dangerous not to attempt it.¼
I suspect that those who think the transhumanist future is risky often have something like the following reasoning in mind: (1) If we alter human nature then we will be conducting an experiment whose outcome we cannot be sure of. (2) We should not conduct experiments of great magnitude if we do not know the outcome. (3) We do not know the outcome of the transhumanist experiment. (4) So, we ought not to alter human nature.
The problem with the argument is.¼ Because genetic engineering is already with us, and it has the potential to destroy civilization and create posthumans, we are already entering uncharted waters, so we must experiment. The question is not whether to experiment, but only the residual question of which social experiment will we conduct. Will we try relinquishment? This would be an unparalleled social experiment to eradicate knowledge and technology. Will it be the steady-as-she-goes experiment where for the first time governments, organizations and private citizens will have access to knowledge and technology that (accidently or intentionally) could be turned to civilization ending purposes? Or finally, will it be the transhumanist social experiment where we attempt to make beings brighter and more virtuous to deal with these powerful technologies?
I have tried to make at least a prima facie case that transhumanism promises the safest passage through twenty-first–century technologies.[vii]
The producers of the upcoming documentary INHUMAN believe the “brighter and more virtuous beings” Professor Walker and others are arguing for possess supernatural elements and that the spirit behind the transhumanist nightmare will put the “hell” in the “hell scenario” sooner than most comprehend.
TO BE CONTINUED…
[i] Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (New York: Picador, 2002) 6.
[iv] “Carried Away with Convergence,” New Atlantis (Summer 2003) 102–105, http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/carried-away-with-convergence.
[v] (Summer 2003 issue of The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/carried-away-with-convergence)
[vi] Bill Joy, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us,” Wired (April 2000) http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html), emphasis added.
[vii] Mark Walker, “Ship of Fools: Why Transhumanism is the Best Bet to Prevent the Extinction of Civilization,” Metanexus Institute (2/5/09) http://www.metanexus.net/magazine/tabid/68/id/10682/Default.aspx.
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