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Monday, April 22, 2013

Ask Ray: Transhumanism and Immortality

The "Ask Ray" reproduced below prompted my own. I hope Professor Kurzweil responds.

Dear Professor:

I am a great admirer of your work and how it has brought to light a central ethical/political issue for thought and action. I consider myself a transhumanist. But what the nature of the new humanity shall be I think is not inevitable, ordained by Moore's or anyone else's law, but the result of many choices guided hopefully by thought and certainly by our actions. It is in that vein I ask my question. 

Our bodies with their brains are the base of our consciousness--personally and collectively.  Working together they are the source of new science and technology which can be gathered, preserved, critiqued, and advanced by the developing human community . But why must or should individual bodies endure (i.e. not die) to advance humanity? Indeed might not immortality be a deterrent to advancing humanity. (Think of Gulliver's encounter with the Struldbrugs!)

Also if I understand consciousness (the "I" or the self) correctly, it is not a kernel (the Cartesian "ego') with wrappings of knowledge, but a process, a developing intentionality, a relational pattern, even a strange loop as Doug Hofstadter finds. So as the body is constantly changing most of its cells, even neurons we are now realizing, so the "I" that went to sleep last night is not exactly the "I" that woke up this morning. Don't get me wrong.  I am all for extending my life with quality.  But I am also for turnover in our organizations, laboratories, and politics. I know we are wired to fear and shun death; but I also think we are crosswired to accept and let go.

Why does transhumanism need to go hand in hand with immortality? Or, better, the ethical question: should it?


Ask Ray | Potential for elitization of the Singularity

Dear Professor Kurzweil,
I was hoping for your views on the potential elitization of Singularity that could lead to exacerbation of class/opportunity/economic division.
The ongoing quest for extending human life and artificially enhancing its quality testifies to our instincts for permanence and survival at all cost.
Technologically acquired supremacy breaks the well accepted paradigm that improved life span, physical and cognitive performance is possible only with practice, studious effort and a healthy lifestyle.
Enhancement made accessible to all holds potential to eliminate interpersonal rivalry, covetousness and even war, by equalizing life span and quality. All of us would be “first (beings) among equals.”
However, the more likely scenario is trenchantly divisive, with those who cannot afford such impressive enhancements being at risk of being outdone, outlived, if not exploited, by enhanced beings. A brave new world where talent and effort becomes obsolete and perfection is for sale is morally transgressive.
— Joseph

There is an approximately 50% deflation rate for all information technology. That is why mobile phones were only affordable by the wealthy 15 years ago and now are dramatically better yet very inexpensive, so much so that there are approximately six billion cell phones in the world and about a billion smart phones.
Technology starts out affordable only by the rich at a point where it does not work very well. By the time a technology is perfected it is almost free. Even physical devices will become almost free with the advent of 3D printing.
Ray Kurzweil
National Nanotechnology Initiative | “Ethical, legal and societal issues”