Blog Archives

Human Enhancement is Normal

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.

-Prometheus

Video Games That Make You Realize how Meaningless Life Really is

Recently I’ve found myself wanting video games back in my life. It occurred to me that I didn’t have to get a complicated video game, I could just play one of the many video games available free online. I hadn’t tried out the games on social networking sites yet, so I dove in and started playing Crime City on Google+ (it’s like mafia wars on facebook). What I discovered horrified me.

Crime City is not really a game in the traditional sense. There is no way to lose; it’s all about constant upward progress with no real obstacles, meaning, or end. You are given a certain amount of energy to use, and once you use it up committing crimes and such you just have to wait for it to regenerate. You can’t go to jail or die. Time is the only real commodity, which can be exchanged for money by simply clicking on jobs. You can buy buildings and make your own little crime city, and these buildings will slowly accumulate cash, but they usually don’t pay themselves off for about a year (especially if you upgrade them). The game is a strikingly good example of the nature of capitalism: the constant drive to reinvest, the endless accumulation, and the loss of meaning in life. Looking over the cities of my mafia members, I could see quite clearly the struggle between having a nice looking little town or a cash producing industrial complex. Players are allowed to get two of most every building, a good financial choice but poor aesthetically.  Some players clearly compromised, with a line of meaningless doppelganger buildings on the border of their city and a nicer intentional image in the center. Some just abandoned all hope of a nice town and paved everything over with concrete, shoving all of the buildings to one side.

I struggled with this dichotomy for some time in the game, between making money and having a pretty home, and each time I had this struggle I realized that there was absolutely no point to the game. Was I supposed to make money? Have the best looking city? Have the highest stats? Kill the most people? Every accomplishment became a means to more accomplishments and thus lost value. Eventually I sold all of my buildings and put down grass and dirt where the concrete used to be, and I remade my crime city into Crime Park. The ironic thing about my park is that now that I’m not constantly looking for buildings to reinvest my money I have more money than I know what to do with, and once again I realized how pointless the game is.

Looking around, almost every single game on social networking sites follows this model (even the Real time strategy games and The Sims Social). It’s a good model because it creates an opportunity for the game creators to sell you things in the game for real money. I didn’t think people would fall into the trap, but probably about 20 out of 450 of my mafia members have used real money in the game, and I have seen a person who spent at least $300 on his city. To reiterate, someone spent enough money to feed a starving child for a year on fake buildings in a meaningless game.

The point of the game, in the end, is status. Just as with capitalism. It’s not about what makes you happy, it’s about what makes other people jealous of you; it’s about your jealousy of others. After helping a less powerful mafia member kill a boss he told me “Wow, I’ll be so happy when I can do as much damage as you.” Of course, the game scales up with your power, such that you always feel less than adequate, needing something more. You’ll never be happy in such a perverse system.

Video games don’t have to be this way, and they shouldn’t be this way (and the same goes for real life). This contemporary iteration of meaningless social games is a reflection of our social ills: we are looking for games not to enhance our lives, but to take up time, be addictive, and provide symbols of status. We are looking for games that are trying to sell us something. One mafia member renamed his city “Capitalism is Crime.” I would also say “Crime City is Capitalism.”

-Prometheus