Author Archives: Prometheus
The ethics of human enhancement are tricky and often the first objection that I hear to technologically improving our minds and bodies is one of morality: why should some people get to become smarter and stronger while others do not? is it right to try to improve our god-given body? isn’t it dangerous to allow such technologies to develop?
Despite these objections the human race seems to be eager to step into this next phase. take exoskeletons for example. a couple of years ago I saw a video of an exoskeleton being tested for military use. Recently a paraplegic woman was able to walk a marathon using an exoskeleton (over the course of 17 days but hey, she can’t move her legs). I also saw that a little girl with a muscular disorder was given a 3d printed pair of arms to help her move. and here’s another suit made by the Tokyo university of science which allows a person to carry substantially more weight.
No one’s asking if we should be doing this, and no one’s saying this isn’t right or natural. Of course, disabled individuals are the first to be helped by enhancement technologies, but not all of these suits are therapeutic. I think that we’ll see many more disabled individuals using exoskeletons to get around, and factory workers using suits and gloves.
If you’ve looked at some of these links you may have noticed that everyone but the story about the little girl references iron man. I’m not really going anywhere with that point, I just think it’s interesting.
Anyway, human enhancement is normal in our culture and I think there is good reason for this. We’ve really been enhancing ourselves ever since we could make tools and talk to each other, all technological progress has been human enhancement and what we are doing now feel in line with that process. I only wonder when we will reach the point when we realize that our enhancement is now actually radically changing who we are, and our tools are significantly more powerful and worrisome than what’s come before.
I personally experience the normality of enhancement in my own college environment. Study drugs (mostly aderall, coffee too) are widely used by college students to help focus and be more productive. The hyper-competitive academic environment encourages students to find ways to get an edge, and drugs are one of the easiest ways to do this. Students take these drugs without thinking about the moral implications for such actions, how such actions unfairly advantage the individual over the collective, making it so others have to take these drugs to remain competitive, like in professional sports. Of the dozens of students I’ve talked to about the morality of using study drugs, I’m the only one who feels strongly that taking these drugs is an immoral decision. My stance falls apart when people bring up coffee, a societally acceptable stimulant. Well, life is a sliding scale, what are you going to do about it? I prefer that we not ingest stimulants via pills. drinking bean juice seems better than prescription drugs.
So while I’m encouraged that humanity seems poised to jump into transhumanism and an enhanced existence, I’m also discouraged by how normal it is for my peers to take amphetamines. Perhaps this has not become a big enough issue to address, like doping in sports, but I really don’t want us to get to a crisis point in academia where the only way to make a meaningful contribution to human knowledge is by getting high on speed.
The problems I’ve explained here only really come up in the context of a competitive environment, and perhaps there is hope if capitalism collapses and we reorient our system. After all, learning and exploring should really not be a competition.
On the other hand, perhaps we will find a way to make our brains run faster without negative effects such as coming down from a drug or mental damage. It wouldn’t be so bad if we all just kept thinking faster and faster I suppose, I’m just not sure that amphetamines are a step in the right direction.
For your consideration, should you have 20 minutes to spare to think about consciousness and the singularity: Reality 3.0
I’ll summarize for the lazier readers: Paul Hughes is making an argument that our accelerating intelligence and technology will bring us to significantly altered states of reality. all sensory information is an interpretation of the external world, so altering that interpretation wouldn’t really be departing from reality, it would be simply changing reality, the way that things are experienced. As we are now our interpretation of the universe is very limited, but in the future, Hughes argues, our sensors will be distributed across the universe, we will be able to chose how we feel the information from these sense organs, and we will not be limited to the 5 or so senses we have now.
One cool thing the author mentions is that we will likely have the computational power to simulate the earth in its entirety, including all of us and our brains, by 2060 (assuming Moore’s law holds steady which some might say is not the case). Hughes muses that we will quickly create a simulated star wars galaxy which we can enter and explore, an exciting proposition and only a small part of what is possible with that kind of computational capability.
My favorite part of the essay:
Imagine the possibility of having ‘sexual’ and fully orgasmic experiences while our external exploratory probes map the unique topography of a new planet? I can’t think of a better way to discover the unique nuances of a new geology as one would a new lover.
And honestly I agree. what we could have ahead of us is nothing less than ecstatic, orgasmic exploration of the universe, for billions and billions of years. This is of course a ridiculous idea, many might laugh at the proposition, but I really think it’s going to be a lot less fun sitting back on earth making fun of the universe for having sex with itself than joining in the fun.
I was reading an old article in Time magazine about the singularity and the author made the bold claim that the singularity is the biggest transition in human history since the invention of language. I thought this was kind of a funny thing to say, especially since language has no real beginning point, all life communicates (and I’m sure similar sliding scale arguments can be applied to the singularity).
So, what transition is as big a deal as the singularity? industrialism? agriculture? no, nothing that small. The singularity is a broader event even than human history. it belongs perhaps to a higher class of transitions, such as the transition from simple to complex cells, or cells to multicellular life. I would say it’s even more significant, on par with the beginning of life on this planet, or the beginning of the universe. Is that too far you think?
I’m reminded of the Low Energy Nuclear Reaction technology I talked a bit about. A few people complared such a discovery to the discovery of fire, saying it would bring about explosive possibilities (pun). Seemingly free limitless energy on a small cheap scale, massive amounts of intelligence to create and harness that energy, This situation is far beyond the way that life has worked on this planet for the last 4 billion years.
There is significance here far beyond life on our planet. This is an event of universal significance, this is the time that the universe begins to recognize itself as the universe. Our sense of individuality, our separateness from each other, is completely threatened by our urge to build intelligence and deconstruct our minds into basic replicatable parts, our incessant drive to share our thoughts, feelings, memories, and opinions. when we no longer own all of this information in our brains, when that information is free, your “self” can be distributed everywhere. Any matter can be turned into intelligence and perception, the entire universe is soil for the growth of intelligence. This is why I say this is the time of the universe recognizing itself as the universe. We are the universe, erupting exponentially with intelligence and consciousness, this is the transition toward that realization.
This is the first of a two-part post. This first post will be a more positive discussion of the relationship of video games and our view of life and the technological singularity. The second post will be about how some contemporary games reflect negatively on our social system.
I grew up on video games. My parents were opposed to the idea of console game systems, but they couldn’t help but have computers in the house, so my two older brothers and I would sit around a clunky monitor all day, taking hour long turns playing the original Prince of Persia, The Incredible Machine and so on. Looking back, it would have been nice if my parents had forced me to read a book every once in a while, but I know that was probably a pretty hard battle to fight.
It’s not like I don’t value my time playing video games. There is something spiritually fulfilling about them, something innate to our being. That’s probably why they’re so addictive.
I really enjoy watching commercials for video games. Whenever they come on my girlfriend rolls her eyes and says “we get it! There are guns and explosions in slow motion!” and I rebuke her, telling her in my condescending way that she doesn’t understand what she’s seeing. Take the recent trailer for Max Payne 3 (a bit graphic):
What is being sold in this trailer doesn’t look like a video game as much as an action movie. Actual screen footage of gameplay is seen as detrimental to the effect. Some producers have applied this ideal not only to trailers but to the game itself, with a trend toward having more action in cut scenes than in actual gameplay, as if watching a movie that you can occasionally participate in. The main difference between contemporary high production video games and action movies is the protagonist. A video game must be more like a novel: character driven and approachable. Any given player must be able to see himself in the protagonist, whose struggle is the centerpiece.
These trailers above all sell realism, which is why they want to look like movies. This will change soon, and it relates to the singularity. Very soon computer generated images will look as good as real life: actors will easily be replaced by animations. This point is a sort of singularity for computer generated images. After reality is easily mimicked the next frontier is somewhat unknowable. How can images be more than life-like? When video games no longer have to aspire to the status of movies they will become something much more: a participatory movie, a virtual reality.
While trailers like the one above are pretty common today, they will lose relevance to us after computer generation catches up to reality. There are other ways to advertise that will likely endure this transition, and a couple of the trailers for the recent Deus Ex games are great examples. Along with the normal trailer with the protagonist narrating his struggle over slow action scenes the creators released a couple of live action advertisements, blurring the real world and the game. Deus Ex is great for discussion on this blog because the central issue is human augmentation and enhancement. Here are the two ads I’m talking about (the second one is pretty graphic):
The teaser was followed shortly by this next one:
And if you’re interested, here’s the more traditional trailer they made (also graphic):
Here the video game is, like science fiction, a platform to express fears of the future (which is fast becoming the present). There is so much to discuss here in terms of the singularity, but I think that the teasers speak for themselves. An article on Singularityhub was titled “Awesome Deus Ex Trailer, But Why Does Everyone Hate the Future?” and that pretty much sums it up for me. I would answer by saying that that’s the role of science fiction and video games like these: they are warnings. We all seem to be so pessimistic about the future because we have to warn each other about what could happen. It probably won’t happen, but it especially won’t happen if we make a video game about it. Every time we think up a dystopian future, that particular future becomes unfeasible. If people found themselves living in a future like the world of Deus Ex, they could point to Deus Ex and say “Remember how we didn’t want this? Well this is what we have and we need to change it,” just as people do today with books like 1984.
I’m not sure Deus Ex will be very helpful though. The game presents a strict dichotomy between augmentation and humanity, between evil and good. I hope this does not encourage people to believe that any scenario of human augmentation is negative. There’s a line where pessimism stops becoming valuable.
To wrap things up here’s a video of a simulation room for a video game to show you where video games are going. It’s expensive now but could of course be commonplace in the future. The guy gets so immersed he actually sticks out his hand when he’s dragging a virtual wounded soldier, and began directly talking to other virtual soldiers.