….in a post-Singularity society the key concern becomes the protection of individual identity, because infinite access to information tends to make everything bleed into everything else. — The robot threat: In the long run, we are telepathic androids | The Economist (via wildcat2030)
A Momentary Flow: Where Thomas Nagel Went Wrong-The philosopher's critique of evolution wasn't shocking. So why is he being raked over the... -
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Thomas Nagel is a leading figure in philosophy, now enjoying the title of university professor at New York University, a…
neuromorphogenesis: What does it mean to be posthuman?
Bioscience and medical technology are propelling us beyond the old human limits. Are Extremes and The Posthuman good guides to this frontier?
HOW would you like to be a posthuman? You know, a person who has gone beyond the “maximum attainable capacities by any current human being without recourse to new technological means”, as philosopher Nick Bostrum of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford so carefully described it in a recent paper.
In other words, a superbeing by today’s standards. If this sounds like hyperbole, bear with me. Behind the jargon lies a fascinating, troubling idea. We’re not just talking about someone like Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, who is augmented with technology to compensate for his disabilities and thus can outrun many able-bodied Olympians.
No, we mean people who, through genetic manipulation, the use of stem cells, or other biointervention, have had their ability to remain healthy and active extended beyond what we would consider normal. Their cognitive powers (memory, deductive thought and other intellectual capabilities, as well as their artistic and creative powers) would far outstrip our own.
Is it possible to imagine such humans without recourse to science fiction clichés? And if we can, how would they affect how we see ourselves – and each other? Would they change how we treat each other? Or create a society you would actually want to live in?
If this seems a stretch, consider this: preimplantation genetic diagnosis already lets us screen out some genetic abnormalities in our IVF offspring. And as evidence mounts for genetic components to the physical and cognitive traits we consider desirable, “designer” babies are surely plausible.
Then again, imagine if you were alive 150 years ago, and someone described life as it is today. Life expectancy then was a mere 40 years on average, with a few lucky individuals making it to 75 or more, though they would likely have succumbed to the first harsh illness they faced. Today, average life expectancy in rich countries hovers around 80; death and disease have all but disappeared from view, mostly into hospitals and hospices.
Our expectations of our bodies, their functional capacity and their term of service, are profoundly different from those of people living in the mid-19th century and, in the great scheme of things, that is a mere blink of an eye.
Have we reached a natural limit, or is there further to go? In his new book,Extremes, Kevin Fong, anaesthetist, part-time TV presenter and science cheerleader, recounts how maverick doctors exploring the extremes of our physiology have produced some amazing medical advances, giving us powers to suspend, control and augment life in ways that would have looked miraculous to our 19th-century counterparts.
Take one of Fong’s examples, the practice of controlled cooling of core body temperature before certain types of surgery. In heart surgery, it prolongs the time surgeons have to operate before brain damage is irreversible. The patient’s heart is stopped, they are not breathing: to all intents and purposes, they are dead. Yet if reheated in the right way, with appropriate life support, they will awake as if from a deep sleep.
Just a few decades ago, a cold, pulseless, breathless body would be considered dead immediately, let alone after 45 minutes of suspended animation. Yet now we can snatch the patient back from the brink, blurring the line between life and death.
Advances in intensive care medicine, too, have endowed doctors with spectacular powers that effectively allow them to take complete control of the most fundamental parts of a patient’s physiology: their breathing, heart function and the chemical composition of their blood. Fong eloquently outlines the history of such advances, reminding us how experiments by plastic surgeons on second world war burns victims effectively paved the way for the first full-face transplants earlier this century.
He ends by devoting a couple of chapters to his other love, space exploration and the fate of the body out there. Astronauts, for example, lose muscle bulk and bone density in the gravity-free environment, and protecting them against this is no mean feat. Then there’s the even greater problem of protecting the body from cosmic radiation – a role Earth’s natural magnetic field does for us quite nicely.
The book is a heady ride through a cherry-picked crop of impressive discoveries in science and medicine, all of them made when the human body was pushed to what we now think of as its limits. And Fong weaves in his own personal experiences so that in places it feels like a thinly veiled autobiography. He’s had an impressive career so far (he’s only just 42), working for NASA on space medicine, and as medic to a diving expedition. But you do occasionally wonder if some of this was written to impress his mates from university: it can all seem very Boy’s Own.
He does admit, however, that most of the improvements in life expectancy have been due to public health measures rather than high-tech medicine. His claim that the war between bugs and humans is won seems premature, especially in view of the growing disquiet among experts in infectious diseases that epidemics caused by antibiotic-resistant bugs are imminent: in the case of gonorrhoea it may already have begun.
Extremes is entertaining, informative, but intellectually lightweight. While Fong does attempt to draw together some of the threads in his book, instead of deep analysis of these undeniably revolutionary changes, we find trite comments about the human imperative to explore both outer space, and the inner space of our bodies “because we must”.
At the opposite end of the intellectual spectrum is The Posthuman, by philosopher and cultural theorist Rosi Braidotti. She could never be accused of triteness: her charge is one of incomprehensibility, since her language is dense and littered with allusions that make sense only to social science cognoscenti. It can sometimes sap the life out of what should have been a fascinating read.
That said, when clear, Braidotti is bracing. Her central argument is that medical science and biotechnology are fast remaking how we view our bodies, that they are becoming commodities to be traded. This matters greatly because it affects what we think is possible and reasonable to do to a person/body, and therefore has deep consequences for the moral and ethical dimensions of our choices in life. Poor women in India who rent their wombs out to rich families from developed countries are one manifestation; egg and sperm donors another.
Whatever your views on this, these practices can only increase. If you accept that our moral codes reflect to a fair degree the depth of our knowledge of contemporary issues at any one time, then just as our view of homosexuality morphed from repugnance to acceptance in under a century, so the multiple ways in which we can meddle with the body are likely to become the norm in the near future.
But there’s an important proviso: these changes are happening dangerously fast, and will revolutionise all our lives, for good or ill. From Fong’s “extreme bodies” to Braidotti’s “bodies in extremis”, the discussion is too important to be left to academics. To get the right briefing for this new frontier, we need someone with Fong’s communication skills and Braidotti’s intellectual insight and gravitas to write a book to enlighten the rest of us.
This article appeared in print under the headline “What’s death got to do with it?”
The Case for Evolution -
evilzezao: Roger Darlington argues about evolution and why it’s a evident FACT. Creationists should just accept reality and start to contribute to the knowledge gathered after so many years of evidence gathering and analisys.
Even if there may be some shady points in this huge and complex scientific theory, one can contribute do debunk still unnacurate data and boost areas in need of this revealing theory, such as medicine, pharmacy, physiotherapy and so on.
The Man Behind the Google Brain: Andrew Ng and the Quest for the New AI
There’s a theory that human intelligence stems from a single algorithm.
The idea arises from experiments suggesting that the portion of your brain dedicated to processing sound from your ears could also handle sight for your eyes. This is possible only while your brain is in the earliest stages of development, but it implies that the brain is — at its core — a general-purpose machine that can be tuned to specific tasks.
About seven years ago, Stanford computer science professor Andrew Ng stumbled across this theory, and it changed the course of his career, reigniting a passion for artificial intelligence, or AI. “For the first time in my life,” Ng says, “it made me feel like it might be possible to make some progress on a small part of the AI dream within our lifetime.”
In the early days of artificial intelligence, Ng says, the prevailing opinion was that human intelligence derived from thousands of simple agents working in concert, what MIT’s Marvin Minsky called “The Society of Mind.” To achieve AI, engineers believed, they would have to build and combine thousands of individual computing modules. One agent, or algorithm, would mimic language. Another would handle speech. And so on. It seemed an insurmountable feat.
When he was a kid, Andrew Ng dreamed of building machines that could think like people, but when he got to college and came face-to-face with the AI research of the day, he gave up. Later, as a professor, he would actively discourage his students from pursuing the same dream. But then he ran into the “one algorithm” hypothesis, popularized by Jeff Hawkins, an AI entrepreneur who’d dabbled in neuroscience research. And the dream returned.
It was a shift that would change much more than Ng’s career. Ng now leads a new field of computer science research known as Deep Learning, which seeks to build machines that can process data in much the same way the brain does, and this movement has extended well beyond academia, into big-name corporations like Google and Apple. In tandem with other researchers at Google, Ng is building one of the most ambitious artificial-intelligence systems to date, the so-called Google Brain.
This movement seeks to meld computer science with neuroscience — something that never quite happened in the world of artificial intelligence. “I’ve seen a surprisingly large gulf between the engineers and the scientists,” Ng says. Engineers wanted to build AI systems that just worked, he says, but scientists were still struggling to understand the intricacies of the brain. For a long time, neuroscience just didn’t have the information needed to help improve the intelligent machines engineers wanted to build.
What’s more, scientists often felt they “owned” the brain, so there was little collaboration with researchers in other fields, says Bruno Olshausen, a computational neuroscientist and the director of the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley.
The end result is that engineers started building AI systems that didn’t necessarily mimic the way the brain operated. They focused on building pseudo-smart systems that turned out to be more like a Roomba vacuum cleaner than Rosie the robot maid from the Jetsons.
But, now, thanks to Ng and others, this is starting to change. “There is a sense from many places that whoever figures out how the brain computes will come up with the next generation of computers,” says Dr. Thomas Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health.
awe man, I knew it. Make an AI and make the internet its brain o.O
ikenbot: The Super Massive Black Hole of Sagittarius A*
Astronomers using Herschel have spotted a cloud of incredibly hot gas very close to the supermassive black hole that lies at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy.
The supermassive black hole goes by the name of Sagittarius A*, and weighs in at 4 million times the mass of our Sun. It is nearly 30,000 light years away at the very centre of our galaxy, but is still hundreds of times closer than other such black holes, which are usually found at the centres of large galaxies.
Its relative proximity makes it the ideal target for studying these extreme environments in detail, though our view is often obscured by dense clouds of dust draped throughout the Milky Way. By studying it in far-infrared light, Herschel can see through this dust and examine the surroundings of the black hole itself. The black hole is surrounded by a ring of gas around 30 light years across, but right in the centre is a mini spiral of gas flowing inwards.
Herschel observations taken in 2011 and 2012 allowed astronomers to examine the region within around a light year of the black hole itself. The data showed the presence of elements such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, as well as simple molecules including water, carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide.
By and large, we accept the use of animals as objects and tools. Sixty-two percent of Americans surveyed in a Gallup poll, for example, deemed it “morally acceptable” to use animals for medical research, and despite the growth of the animal rights movement, there aren’t many vegetarians. And what does a T-bone steak represent if not a reduction of an animal to parts, to its instrumental value? There are issues with farming, of course, especially the industrial-scale factory farming that is the norm today. But whatever our objection to the system itself, the truth is that most of us accept the idea that we can use an animal’s body to nourish our own.
For most of us, then, the real ethical question surrounding [genetically engineered] pharm animals comes down to the genetic engineering itself. Is there something about editing DNA and remixing biological material that is just inherently wrong? …critics of biotechnology worry that breaching species barriers violates the rules of God or nature or both.
…These interspecies combinations can raise unfortunate existential questions, threatening our sense of uniqueness. If we can make our cells spring to life in a sheep or make a piece of our biological code work in a beady-eyed little rodent, what is it, exactly, that separates man from beast? —
Emily Anthes, pondering several questions about what really bothers people about genetic engineering. We live in a world where we can make goats that can produce antimicrobial milk, clone farm animals and pets, buy aquarium fish that are part jellyfish, and raise genetically-mutated mice to model our own medicine.
If you’re interested in the technology, ethics or future questions and answers surrounding genetically engineering animals, I highly recommend checking out Emily’s new book, Frankenstein’s Cat.
A Momentary Flow: Complexes: New Paper: The Dynamically Extended Mind -- A Minimal Modeling Case Study -
wildcat2030: spaceweaver: See on Scoop.it - Global Brain
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The extended mind hypothesis has stimulated much interest in cognitive science. However, its core claim, i.e. that the process of cognition can extend beyond the brain via the body and into the…
(Source: britneysunicorn, via gno-sis)