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Archive for the ‘philosophy’ category

Oct 1, 2014

The Abolition of Medicine as a Goal for Humanity 2.0

Posted by in categories: aging, biological, bionic, biotech/medical, ethics, futurism, genetics, homo sapiens, human trajectories, life extension, medical, philosophy, policy, transhumanism

What follows is my position piece for London’s FutureFest 2013, the website for which no longer exists.

Medicine is a very ancient practice. In fact, it is so ancient that it may have become obsolete. Medicine aims to restore the mind and body to their natural state relative to an individual’s stage in the life cycle. The idea has been to live as well as possible but also die well when the time came. The sense of what is ‘natural’ was tied to statistically normal ways of living in particular cultures. Past conceptions of health dictated future medical practice. In this respect, medical practitioners may have been wise but they certainly were not progressive.

However, this began to change in the mid-19th century when the great medical experimenter, Claude Bernard, began to champion the idea that medicine should be about the indefinite delaying, if not outright overcoming, of death. Bernard saw organisms as perpetual motion machines in an endless struggle to bring order to an environment that always threatens to consume them. That ‘order’ consists in sustaining the conditions needed to maintain an organism’s indefinite existence. Toward this end, Bernard enthusiastically used animals as living laboratories for testing his various hypotheses.

Historians identify Bernard’s sensibility with the advent of ‘modern medicine’, an increasingly high-tech and aspirational enterprise, dedicated to extending the full panoply of human capacities indefinitely. On this view, scientific training trumps practitioner experience, radically invasive and reconstructive procedures become the norm, and death on a physician’s watch is taken to be the ultimate failure. Humanity 2.0 takes this way of thinking to the next level, which involves the abolition of medicine itself. But what exactly would that mean – and what would replace it?

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Sep 29, 2014

Towards a ‘Right to Science’

Posted by in categories: ethics, genetics, government, law, philosophy, policy, science

In 1906 the great American pragmatist philosopher William James delivered a public lecture entitled, ‘The Moral Equivalent of War’. James imagined a point in the foreseeable future when states would rationally decide against military options to resolve their differences. While he welcomed this prospect, he also believed that the abolition of warfare would remove an important pretext for people to think beyond their own individual survival and toward some greater end, perhaps one that others might end up enjoying more fully. What then might replace war’s altruistic side?

It is telling that the most famous political speech to adopt James’ title was US President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 call for national energy independence in response to the Arab oil embargo. Carter characterised the battle ahead as really about America’s own ignorance and complacency rather than some Middle Eastern foe. While Carter’s critics pounced on his trademark moralism, they should have looked instead to his training as a nuclear scientist. Historically speaking, nothing can beat a science-led agenda to inspire a long-term, focused shift in a population’s default behaviours. Louis Pasteur perhaps first exploited this point by declaring war on the germs that he had shown lay behind not only human and animal disease but also France’s failing wine and silk industries. Moreover, Richard Nixon’s ‘war on cancer’, first declared in 1971, continues to be prosecuted on the terrain of genomic medicine, even though arguably a much greater impact on the human condition could have been achieved by equipping the ongoing ‘war on poverty’ with comparable resources and resoluteness.

Science’s ability to step in as war’s moral equivalent has less to do with whatever personal authority scientists command than with the universal scope of scientific knowledge claims. Even if today’s science is bound to be superseded, its import potentially bears on everyone’s life. Once that point is understood, it is easy to see how each person could be personally invested in advancing the cause of scientific research. In the heyday of the welfare state, that point was generally understood. Thus, in The Gift Relationship, perhaps the most influential work in British social policy of the past fifty years, Richard Titmuss argued, by analogy with voluntary blood donation, that citizens have a duty to participate as research subjects, but not because of the unlikely event that they might directly benefit from their particular experiment. Rather, citizens should participate because they would have already benefitted from experiments involving their fellow citizens and will continue to benefit similarly in the future.

However, this neat fit between science and altruism has been undermined over the past quarter-century on two main fronts. One stems from the legacy of Nazi Germany, where the duty to participate in research was turned into a vehicle to punish undesirables by studying their behaviour under various ‘extreme conditions’. Indicative of the horrific nature of this research is that even today few are willing to discuss any scientifically interesting results that might have come from it. Indeed, the pendulum has swung the other way. Elaborate research ethics codes enforced by professional scientific bodies and university ‘institutional review boards’ protect both scientist and subject in ways that arguably discourage either from having much to do with the other. Even defenders of today’s ethical guidelines generally concede that had such codes been in place over the past two centuries, science would have progressed at a much slower pace.

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Sep 18, 2014

Why Superintelligence May Not Help Us Think about Existential Risks — or Transhumanism

Posted by in categories: alien life, biological, cyborg, defense, disruptive technology, ethics, existential risks, futurism, homo sapiens, human trajectories, internet, military, philosophy, policy, posthumanism, science, singularity, transhumanism

Among transhumanists, Nick Bostrom is well-known for promoting the idea of ‘existential risks’, potential harms which, were they come to pass, would annihilate the human condition altogether. Their probability may be relatively small, but the expected magnitude of their effects are so great, so Bostrom claims, that it is rational to devote some significant resources to safeguarding against them. (Indeed, there are now institutes for the study of existential risks on both sides of the Atlantic.) Moreover, because existential risks are intimately tied to the advancement of science and technology, their probability is likely to grow in the coming years.

Contrary to expectations, Bostrom is much less concerned with ecological suicide from humanity’s excessive carbon emissions than with the emergence of a superior brand of artificial intelligence – a ‘superintelligence’. This creature would be a human artefact, or at least descended from one. However, its self-programming capacity would have run amok in positive feedback, resulting in a maniacal, even self-destructive mission to rearrange the world in the image of its objectives. Such a superintelligence may appear to be quite ruthless in its dealings with humans, but that would only reflect the obstacles that we place, perhaps unwittingly, in the way of the realization of its objectives. Thus, this being would not conform to the science fiction stereotype of robots deliberately revolting against creators who are now seen as their inferiors.

I must confess that I find this conceptualisation of ‘existential risk’ rather un-transhumanist in spirit. Bostrom treats risk as a threat rather than as an opportunity. His risk horizon is precautionary rather than proactionary: He focuses on preventing the worst consequences rather than considering the prospects that are opened up by whatever radical changes might be inflicted by the superintelligence. This may be because in Bostrom’s key thought experiment, the superintelligence turns out to be the ultimate paper-clip collecting machine that ends up subsuming the entire planet to its task, destroying humanity along the way, almost as an afterthought.

But is this really a good starting point for thinking about existential risk? Much more likely than total human annihilation is that a substantial portion of humanity – but not everyone – is eliminated. (Certainly this captures the worst case scenarios surrounding climate change.) The Cold War remains the gold standard for this line of thought. In the US, the RAND Corporation’s chief analyst, Herman Kahn — the model for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove – routinely, if not casually, tossed off scenarios of how, say, a US-USSR nuclear confrontation would serve to increase the tolerance for human biological diversity, due to the resulting proliferation of genetic mutations. Put in more general terms, a severe social disruption provides a unique opportunity for pursuing ideals that might otherwise be thwarted by a ‘business as usual’ policy orientation.

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Aug 6, 2014

Reengineering Strategies & Tactics

Posted by in categories: business, complex systems, disruptive technology, economics, education, innovation, open source, philosophy, policy

I am very pleased to announce the publication of my book “Reengineering Strategies & Tactics”.

The book is based on more than 2 decades in manufacturing & management consulting, and presents the new business model, the Holistic Business Model, that ties together operations, revenue generation and business strategy. It also enables one to do strategy sensitivity analysis, and much more. Watch the video. Buy the book & enjoy rethinking & re-strategizing your company.

I might add that this is much better than anything you can get out of McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, Booz Allen Hamilton or Bain Capital.

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Jul 22, 2014

‘A struggle between humans and nature’

Posted by in categories: biological, entertainment, philosophy, transhumanism
. @IEET. @HJBentham. @ClubOfINFO. #nature. #philosophy. #ebook.

There is often imagined to be a struggle between humans and nature. How does this struggle originate, and what is its resolution? Such a question is central to some religious traditions, and has much room to be explored in literature.

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Jul 15, 2014

Political futurism, ethics energized by sci-fi

Posted by in categories: entertainment, ethics, existential risks, philosophy, transhumanism
.@hjbentham . @clubofinfo. @dissidentvoice_ . @ieet. #scifi. #philosophy. #ethics.
Literature has served an indispensable purpose in exploring ethical and political themes. This remains true of sci-fi and fantasy, even if there is such a thing as reading too much politics into fictional work or over-analyzing.


Since Maquis Books published The Traveller and Pandemonium, a novel authored by me from 2011–2014, I have been responding as insightfully as possible to reviews and also discussing the book’s political and philosophical themes wherever I can. Set in a fictional alien world, much of this book’s 24 chapters are politically themed on the all too real human weakness of infighting and resorting to hardline, extremist and even messianic plans when faced with a desperate situation.

The story tells about human cultures battling to survive in a deadly alien ecosystem. There the human race, rather than keeping animals in cages, must keep their own habitats in cages as protection from the world outside. The human characters of the story live out a primitive existence not typical of science-fiction, mainly aiming at their own survival. Technological progress is nonexistent, as all human efforts have been redirected to self-defense against the threat of the alien predators.

Even though The Traveller and Pandemonium depicts humanity facing a common alien foe, the various struggling human factions still fail to cooperate. In fact, they turn ever more hostilely on each other even as the alien planet’s predators continue to close in on the last remaining human states. At the time the story is set, the human civilization on the planet is facing imminent extinction from its own infighting and extremism, as well as the aggressive native plant and animal life of the planet.

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Jul 11, 2014

Making opinions matter: making headlines

Posted by in categories: internet, journalism, media & arts, philosophy

.#democracy. #you. #indie. #webcontent. #contentmarketing. @HJBentham.

Ever wanted to be the subject of international news, or to be recognized as an expert in your field? In the age of the web, both are relatively easy for anyone to accomplish – and it really matters. Thanks to digital culture, equal opportunity is becoming an unstoppable reality rather than an empty promise from ultimately self-centered authorities and companies.

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Jun 30, 2014

New book: The Beginning and the End by Clément Vidal

Posted by in categories: alien life, complex systems, ethics, philosophy, physics, posthumanism, singularity

By Clément Vidal — Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium.

I am happy to inform you that I just published a book which deals at length with our cosmological future. I made a short book trailer introducing it, and the book has been mentioned in the Huffington Post and H+ Magazine.

Inline image 1
About the book:
In this fascinating journey to the edge of science, Vidal takes on big philosophical questions: Does our universe have a beginning and an end, or is it cyclic? Are we alone in the universe? What is the role of intelligent life, if any, in cosmic evolution? Grounded in science and committed to philosophical rigor, this book presents an evolutionary worldview where the rise of intelligent life is not an accident, but may well be the key to unlocking the universe’s deepest mysteries. Vidal shows how the fine-tuning controversy can be advanced with computer simulations. He also explores whether natural or artificial selection could hold on a cosmic scale. In perhaps his boldest hypothesis, he argues that signs of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations are already present in our astrophysical data. His conclusions invite us to see the meaning of life, evolution, and intelligence from a novel cosmological framework that should stir debate for years to come.
About the author:
Dr. Clément Vidal is a philosopher with a background in logic and cognitive sciences. He is co-director of the ‘Evo Devo Universe’ community and founder of the ‘High Energy Astrobiology’ prize. To satisfy his intellectual curiosity when facing the big questions, he brings together many areas of knowledge such as cosmology, physics, astrobiology, complexity science, evolutionary theory and philosophy of science.
http://clement.vidal.philosophons.com

You can get 20% off with the discount code ‘Vidal2014′ (valid until 31st July)!

Jun 19, 2014

Mind uploading won’t lead to immortality

Posted by in categories: aging, bionic, biotech/medical, evolution, futurism, human trajectories, life extension, neuroscience, philosophy, posthumanism, robotics/AI, singularity, transhumanism

Uploading the content of one’s mind, including one’s personality, memories and emotions, into a computer may one day be possible, but it won’t transfer our biological consciousness and won’t make us immortal.

Uploading one’s mind into a computer, a concept popularized by the 2014 movie Transcendence starring Johnny Depp, is likely to become at least partially possible, but won’t lead to immortality. Major objections have been raised regarding the feasibility of mind uploading. Even if we could surpass every technical obstacle and successfully copy the totality of one’s mind, emotions, memories, personality and intellect into a machine, that would be just that: a copy, which itself can be copied again and again on various computers.

THE DILEMMA OF SPLIT CONSCIOUSNESS

Neuroscientists have not yet been able to explain what consciousness is, or how it works at a neurological level. Once they do, it is might be possible to reproduce consciousness in artificial intelligence. If that proves feasible, then it should in theory be possible to replicate our consciousness on computers too. Or is that jumpig to conclusions ?

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Jun 12, 2014

Could a machine or an AI ever feel human-like emotions ?

Posted by in categories: bionic, cyborg, ethics, existential risks, futurism, neuroscience, philosophy, posthumanism, robotics/AI, singularity, transhumanism

Computers will soon be able to simulate the functioning of a human brain. In a near future, artificial superintelligence could become vastly more intellectually capable and versatile than humans. But could machines ever truly experience the whole range of human feelings and emotions, or are there technical limitations ?

In a few decades, intelligent and sentient humanoid robots will wander the streets alongside humans, work with humans, socialize with humans, and perhaps one day will be considered individuals in their own right. Research in artificial intelligence (AI) suggests that intelligent machines will eventually be able to see, hear, smell, sense, move, think, create and speak at least as well as humans. They will feel emotions of their own and probably one day also become self-aware.

There may not be any reason per se to want sentient robots to experience exactly all the emotions and feelings of a human being, but it may be interesting to explore the fundamental differences in the way humans and robots can sense, perceive and behave. Tiny genetic variations between people can result in major discrepancies in the way each of us thinks, feels and experience the world. If we appear so diverse despite the fact that all humans are in average 99.5% identical genetically, even across racial groups, how could we possibly expect sentient robots to feel the exact same way as biological humans ? There could be striking similarities between us and robots, but also drastic divergences on some levels. This is what we will investigate below.

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