Tag Archives: transhumanism

Richard Jones and soft nanotechnology

One of the first posts on this blog was about Richard Jones’ nanotechnology book, ‘Soft Machines’. I have a ‘soft’ spot for the book which I found to be a good introduction to nanotechnology and well written too.

It’s nice to see the book getting some more attention all these years later as James Lewis notes in his Aug. 31, 2014 posting on Nanodot (Foresight Institute’s blog) that nano manufacturing has not progressed as some of the early thinkers in this area had hoped,

Long-term readers of Nanodot will be familiar with the work of Richard Jones, a UK physicist and author of Soft Machines: Nanotechnology and Life, reviewed in Foresight Update Number 55 (2005) page 10. Basically Jones follows Eric Drexler’s lead in Engines of Creation in arguing that the molecular machinery found in nature provides an existence proof of an advanced nanotechnology of enormous capabilities. However, he cites the very different physics governing biomolecular machinery operating in an aqueous environment on the one hand, and macroscopic machine tools of steel and other hard metals, on the other hand. He then argues that rigid diamondoid structures doing atomically precise mechanochemistry, as later presented by Drexler in Nanosystems, although at least theoretically feasible, do not form a practical path to advanced nanotechnology. This stance occasioned several very useful and informative debates on the relative strengths and weaknesses of different approaches to advanced nanotechnology, both on his Soft Machines blog and here on Nanodot (for example “Debate with ‘Soft Machines’ continues“, “Which way(s) to advanced nanotechnology?“, “Recent commentary“). An illuminating interview of Richard Jones over at h+ Magazine not only presents Jones’s current views, but spotlights the lack of substantial effort since 2008 in trying to resolve these issues “Going Soft on Nanotech

Lewis goes on to excerpt parts of the H+ interview which pertain to manufacturing and discusses the implications further. (Note: Eric Drexler not only popularized nanotechnology and introduced us to ‘grey goo’ with his book ‘Engines of Creation’, he also founded the Foresight Institute with then wife Christine Peterson. Drexler is no longer formally associated with Foresight.)

In the interests of avoiding duplication, I am focusing on the parts of the H+ interview concerning soft machines and synthetic biology and topics other than manufacturing. From the Nov. 23, 2013 article by Eddie Germino for H+ magazine,

H+: What are “soft machines”?

RJ: I called my book “Soft Machines” to emphasise that the machines of cell biology work on fundamentally different principles to the human-made machines of the macro-world.  Why “soft”?  As a physicist, one of my biggest intellectual influences was the French theoretical physicist Pierre-Gilles de Gennes (1932-2007, Nobel Prize for Physics 1991).  De Gennes popularised the term “soft matter” for those kinds of materials – polymers, colloids, liquid crystals etc – in which the energies with which molecules interact with each other are comparable with thermal energies, making them soft, mutable and responsive.  These are the characteristics of biological matter, so calling the machines of biology “soft machines” emphasises the different principles on which they operate.  Some people will also recognise the allusion to a William Burroughs novel (for whom a soft machine is a human being).

H+: What kind of work have you done with soft machines?

RJ: In my own lab we’ve been working on a number of “soft machine” related problems.  At the near-term end, we’ve been trying to understand what makes the molecules go where when you manufacture a solar cell from solutions of organic molecules – the idea here is that if you understand the self-assembly processes you can get a well-defined nanostructure that gives you a high conversion efficiency with a process you can use on a very large scale very cheaply. Further away from applications, we’ve been investigating a new mechanism for propelling micro- and nano-scale particles in water.  We use a spatially asymmetric chemical reaction so the particle creates a concentration gradient around itself, as a result of which osmotic pressure pushes it along.

H+: Putting aside MNT [micro/nanotechnology], what other design approaches would be most likely to yield advanced nanomachines?

RJ: If we are going to use the “soft machines” design paradigm to make functional nano machines, we have two choices.  We can co-opt what nature does, modifying biological systems to do what we want.  In essence, this is what is underlying the current enthusiasm for synthetic biology.  Or we can make synthetic molecules and systems that copy the principles that biology uses, possibly thereby widening the range of environments in which it will work.  Top-down methods are still enormously powerful, but they will have limits.

H+: So “synthetic biology” involves the creation of a custom-made microorganism built with the necessary organic parts and DNA to perform a desired function. Even if it is manmade, it only uses recognizable, biological parts in its construction, albeit arranged in ways that don’t occur in nature. But the second approach involving “synthetic molecules and systems that copy the principles that biology uses” is harder to understand. Can you give some clarifying examples?

RJ: If you wanted to make a molecular motor to work in water, you could use the techniques of molecular biology to isolate biological motors from cells, and this approach does work.  Alternatively, you could work out the principles by which the biological motor worked – these involve shape changes in the macromolecules coupled to chemical reactions – and try to make a synthetic molecule which would operate on similar principles.  This is more difficult than hacking out parts from a biological system, but will ultimately be more flexible and powerful.

H+: Why would it be more flexible and powerful?

RJ: The problem with biological macromolecules is that biology has evolved very effective mechanisms for detecting them and eating them.  So although DNA, for example, is a marvellous material for building nanostructures and devices from, its going to be difficult to use these directly in medicine simply because our cells are very good at detecting and destroying foreign DNA.  So using synthetic molecules should lead to more robust systems that can be used in a wider range of environments.

H+: In spite of your admiration for nanoscale soft machines, you’ve said that manmade technology has a major advantage because it can make use of electricity in ways living organisms can’t. Will soft machines use electricity in the future somehow?

RJ: Biology uses electrical phenomenon quite a lot – e.g. in our nervous system – but generally this relies on ion transport rather than coherent electron transport.  Photosynthesis is an exception, as may be certain electron transporting structures recently discovered in some bacteria.  There’s no reason in principle that the principles of self-assembly shouldn’t be used to connect up electronic circuits in which the individual elements are single conducting or semi-conducting molecules.  This idea – “molecular electronics” – is quite old now, but it’s probably fair to say that as a field it hasn’t progressed as fast as people had hoped.

Jones also discusses the term nanotechnology and takes a foray into transhumanism and the singularity (from the Germino article),

H+: What do you think of the label “nanotechnology”? Is it a valid field? What do people most commonly misunderstand about it? 

RJ: Nanotechnology, as the term is used in academia and industry, isn’t really a field in the sense that supramolecular chemistry or surface physics are fields.  It’s more of a socio-political project, which aims to do to physical scientists what the biotech industry did to life scientists – that is, to make them switch their focus from understanding nature to intervening in nature by making gizmos and gadgets, and then to try and make money from that.

What I’ve found, doing quite a lot of work in public engagement around nanotechnology, is that most people don’t have enough awareness of nanotechnology to misunderstand it at all.  Among those who do know something about it, I think the commonest misunderstanding is the belief that it will progress much more rapidly than is actually possible.  It’s a physical technology, not a digital one, so it won’t proceed at the pace we see in digital technologies.  As all laboratory-based nanotechnologists know, the physical world is more cussed than the digital one, and the smaller it gets the more cussed it seems to be…

… 

H+: Your thoughts on picotechnology and femtotechnology?

RJ: There’s a roughly inverse relationship between the energy scales needed to manipulate matter and the distance scale at which that manipulation takes place. Manipulating matter at the picometer scale is essentially a matter of controlling electron energy levels in atoms, which involves electron volt energies.  This is something we’ve got quite good at when we make lasers, for example.  Things are more difficult when we go smaller.  To manipulate matter at the nuclear level – i.e. on femtometer length scales – needs MeV energies, while to manipulate matter at the level of the constituents of hadrons – quarks and gluons – we need GeV energies.  At the moment our technology for manipulating objects at these energy scales is essentially restricted to hurling things at them, which is the business of particle accelerators.  So at the moment we really have no idea how to do femtotechnology of any kind of complexity, nor do we have any idea whether whether there is anything interesting we could do with it if we could.  I suppose the question is whether there is any scope for complexity within nuclear matter.  Perhaps if we were the sorts of beings that lived inside a neutron star or a quark-gluon plasma we’d know.

H+: What do you think of the transhumanist and Singularity movements?

RJ: These are terms that aren’t always used with clearly understood meanings, by me at least.  If by Transhumanism, we are referring to the systematic use of technology to better the lot of humanity, then I’m all in favour.  After all, the modern Western scientific project began with Francis Bacon, who said its purpose was “an improvement in man’s estate and an enlargement of his power over nature”.  And if the essence of Singularitarianism is to say that there’s something radically unknowable about the future, then I’m strongly in agreement.  On the other hand, if we consider Transhumanism and Singularitarianism as part of a belief package promising transcendence through technology, with a belief in a forthcoming era of material abundance, superhuman wisdom and everlasting life, then it’s interesting as a cultural phenomenon.  In this sense it has deep roots in the eschatologies of the apocalyptic traditions of Christianity and Judaism.  These were secularised by Marx and Trotsky, and technologised through, on the one hand, Fyodorov, Tsiolkovsky and the early Russian ideologues of space exploration, and on the other by the British Marxist scientists J.B.S. Haldane and Desmond Bernal.  Of course, the fact that a set of beliefs has a colourful past doesn’t mean they are necessarily wrong, but we should be aware that the deep tendency of humans to predict that their wishes will imminently be fulfilled is a powerful cognitive bias.

Richard goes into more depth about his views on transhumanism and the singularity in an Aug. 24, 2014 posting on his Soft Machines blog,

Transhumanism has never been modern

Transhumanists are surely futurists, if they are nothing else. Excited by the latest developments in nanotechnology, robotics and computer science, they fearlessly look ahead, projecting consequences from technology that are more transformative, more far-reaching, than the pedestrian imaginations of the mainstream. And yet, their ideas, their motivations, do not come from nowhere. They have deep roots, perhaps surprising roots, and following those intellectual trails can give us some important insights into the nature of transhumanism now. From antecedents in the views of the early 20th century British scientific left-wing, and in the early Russian ideologues of space exploration, we’re led back, not to rationalism, but to a particular strand of religious apocalyptic thinking that’s been a persistent feature of Western thought since the middle ages.

The essay that follows is quite dense (many of the thinkers he cites are new to me) so if you’re a beginner in this area, you may want to set some time aside to read this in depth. Also, you will likely want to read the comments which follow the post.

Human, Soul & Machine: The Coming Singularity! exhibition Oct. 5, 2013 – August 31, 2014 at Baltimore’s Visionary Art Museum

Doug Rule’s Oct. 4, 2013 article for the Baltimore (Maryland, US) edition of the Metro Weekly highlights a rather unusual art/science exhibition (Note: Links have been removed),

Maybe the weirdest, wildest museum you’ll ever visit, Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum opens its 19th original thematic yearlong exhibition this weekend. Human, Soul & Machine: The Coming Singularity! is what the quirky museum, focused on presenting self-taught artists, bills as its most complex subject yet, a playful examination of the serious impact of technology — in all its forms, from artificial intelligence to nanotechnology to Big Data — on our lives, as seen through the eyes of more than 40 artists, futurists and inventors in a hot-wired blend of art, science, humor and imagination.

The show opened Oct. 5, 2013 and runs until August 31, 2014. The exhibition webpage offers a description of the show and curation,

Curated by AVAM founder and director Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, this stirring show harnesses the enchanting visual delights of remarkable visionary artists and their masterworks. Among them: Kenny Irwin’s Robotmas—a special installation from his Palm Springs Robo-Lights display, glowing inside of a central black box theater at the heart of this exhibition; a selection of Alex Grey’s Sacred Mirrors; O.L. Samuels’ 7-ft tall Godzilla—a creation first imagined in response to the devastating use of the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Rigo 23’s delicate anti-drone drawings; Allen Christian’s life-sized Piano Family—a love song to string theory; Fred Carter’s massive wooden carvings—created as a warning of destruction from industry’s manipulation of nature; and much more!

The exhibition media kit features a striking (imo) graphic image representing the show,

American Visionary Art Museum graphic for Human Soul exhibition [downloaded from http://www.avam.org/news-and-events/pdf/press-kits/Singularity/HSM-MediaKit-Web.pdf]

American Visionary Art Museum graphic for Human, Soul, and Machine exhibition [downloaded from http://www.avam.org/news-and-events/pdf/press-kits/Singularity/HSM-MediaKit-Web.pdf]


The list of artists includes one person familiar to anyone following the ‘singularity’ story even occasionally, Ray Kurzweil.

Global Futures (GF) 2045 International Congress and transhumanism at the June 2013 meeting

Stuart Mason Dambrot has written a special article (part 1 only, part 2 has yet to be published) about the recent Global Futures 2045 Congress held June 15-16, 2013 (program) in New York City. Dambrot’s piece draws together contemporary research and frames it within the context of transhumanism. From the Aug. 1, 2013 feature on phys.org (Note: Links have been removed),

Futurists, visionaries, scientists, technologists, philosophers, and others who take this view to heart convened on June 15-16, 2013 in New York City at Global Futures 2045 International Congress: Towards a New Strategy for Human Evolution. GF2045 was organized by the 2045 Strategic Social Initiative founded by Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov in February 2011 with the main goals of creating and realizing a new strategy for the development of humanity – one based upon our unique emerging capability to effect self-directed evolution. The initiative’s two main science projects are focused largely on Transhumanism – a multidisciplinary approach to analyzing the dynamic interplay between humanity and the acceleration of technology. Specifically, the 2045 Initiative’s projects seek to (1) enable an individual’s personality to be transferred to a more advanced non-biological substrate, and (2) extend life to the point of immortality …

Attendees were given a very dire view of the future followed by glimpses of another possible future provided we put our faith in science and technology. From Dambrot’s article (Note: Link has been removed),

… the late Dr. James Martin, who tragically passed away on June 24, 2013, gave a sweeping, engaging talk on The Transformation of Humankind—Extreme Paradigm Shifts Are Ahead of Us. An incredibly prolific author of books on computing and related technology, Dr. Martin founded the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University – an interdisciplinary research community comprising over 30 institutes and projects addressing the most pressing global challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Dr. Martin – in the highly engaging manner for which he was renowned – presented a remarkably accessible survey of the interdependent trends that will increasingly threaten humanity over the coming decades. Dr. Martin made it disturbingly clear that population growth, resource consumption, water depletion, desertification, deforestation, ocean pollution and fish depopulation, atmospheric carbon dioxide, what he termed gigafamine (the death of more than a billion people as a consequence of food shortage by mid-century), and other factors are ominously close to their tipping points – after which their effects will be irreversible. (For example, he points out that in 20 years we’ll be consuming an obviously unsustainable 200 percent of then-available resources.) Taken together, he cautioned, these developments will constitute a “perfect storm” that will cause a Darwinian survival of the fittest in which “the Earth could be like a lifeboat that’s too small to save everyone.”

However, Dr. Martin also emphasized that there are solutions discussing the trends and technologies that – even as he acknowledged the resistance to implementing or even understanding them – could have a positive impact on our future:

The Singularity and an emerging technocracy

Genetic engineering and Transhumanism, in particular, a synthetic 24th human   chromosome that would contain non-inheritable genetic modifications and synthetic DNA sequences

Artificial Intelligence and nanorobotics

Yottascale computers capable of executing 1024 operations per second

 Quantum computing

Graphene – a one-atom thick layer of graphite with an ever-expanding portfolio of electronic, optical, excitonic, thermal, mechanical, and quantum properties, and an even longer list of potential applications

Autonomous automobiles

Nuclear batteries in the form of small, ultra-safe and maintenance-free underground Tokamak nuclear fusion reactors

Photovoltaics that make electricity more cheaply than coal Capturing rainwater and floodwater to increase water supply

Eco-influence – Dr. Martin’s term for a rich, enjoyable and sometimes complex way of life that does no ecological harm

Dambrot goes on to cover day one (I think that’s how he has this organized) of the event at length and provides a number of video panels and discussions. I was hoping he’d have part two posted by now but given how much work he’s put into part 1 it’s understandable that part 2 might take a while. So, I’ll keep an eye open for it and add a link here when it’s posted.

I did check Dambrot’s website and found this on the ‘Critical Thought’ bio webpage,

Stuart Mason Dambrot is an interdisciplinary science synthesist and communicator. He analyzes deep-structure conceptual and neural connections between multiple areas of knowledge and creativity, and monitors and extrapolates convergent and emergent trends in a wide range of research activities. Stuart is also the creator and host of Critical Thought | TV, an online discussion channel examining convergent and emergent trends in the sciences, arts and humanities. As an invited speaker, he has given talks on Exocortical Cognition, Emergent Technologies, Synthetic Biology, Transhumanism, Philosophy of Mind, Sociopolitical Futures, and other topics at New York Academy of Sciences, Cooper-Union, Science House, New York Future Salon, and other venues.

Stuart has a diverse background in Physiological Psychology, integrating Neuroscience, Cognitive Psychology, Artificial Intelligence, Neural Networks, Complexity Theory, Epistemology, Ethics, and Philosophy of Science. His memberships and affiliations include American Association for the Advancement of Science, New York Academy of Sciences, Lifeboat Foundation Advisory Board, Center for Inquiry, New York Futurist Society, Linnaean Society National Association of Science Writers, Science Writers in New York, and Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan.

I have yet to find any written material by Dambrot which challenges transhumanism in any way despite the fact that his website is called Critical Thought.  This reservation aside, his pieces cover an interesting range of topics and I will try to get back to read more.

As for the GF 2045 initiative, I found this on their About us webpage,

The main goals of the 2045 Initiative: the creation and realization of a new strategy for the development of humanity which meets global civilization challenges; the creation of optimale conditions promoting the spiritual enlightenment of humanity; and the realization of a new futuristic reality based on 5 principles: high spirituality, high culture, high ethics, high science and high technologies.

The main science mega-project of the 2045 Initiative aims to create technologies enabling the transfer of a individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality. We devote particular attention to enabling the fullest possible dialogue between the world’s major spiritual traditions, science and society.

A large-scale transformation of humanity, comparable to some of the major spiritual and sci-tech revolutions in history, will require a new strategy. We believe this to be necessary to overcome existing crises, which threaten our planetary habitat and the continued existence of humanity as a species. With the 2045 Initiative, we hope to realize a new strategy for humanity’s development, and in so doing, create a more productive, fulfilling, and satisfying future.

The “2045” team is working towards creating an international research center where leading scientists will be engaged in research and development in the fields of anthropomorphic robotics, living systems modeling and brain and consciousness modeling with the goal of transferring one’s individual consciousness to an artificial carrier and achieving cybernetic immortality.

An annual congress “The Global Future 2045” is organized by the Initiative to give platform for discussing mankind’s evolutionary strategy based on technologies of cybernetic immortality as well as the possible impact of such technologies on global society, politics and economies of the future.

Future prospects of “2045” Initiative for society

2015-2020

The emergence and widespread use of affordable android “avatars” controlled by a “brain-computer” interface. Coupled with related technologies “avatars’ will give people a number of new features: ability to work in dangerous environments, perform rescue operations, travel in extreme situations etc.

Avatar components will be used in medicine for the rehabilitation of fully or partially disabled patients giving them prosthetic limbs or recover lost senses.

2020-2025

Creation of an autonomous life-support system for the human brain linked to a robot, ‘avatar’, will save people whose body is completely worn out or irreversibly damaged. Any patient with an intact brain will be able to return to a fully functioning  bodily life. Such technologies will  greatly enlarge  the possibility of hybrid bio-electronic devices, thus creating a new IT revolution and will make  all  kinds of superimpositions of electronic and biological systems possible.

2030-2035

Creation of a computer model of the brain and human consciousness  with the subsequent development of means to transfer individual consciousness  onto an artificial carrier. This development will profoundly change the world, it will not only give everyone the possibility of  cybernetic immortality but will also create a friendly artificial intelligence,  expand human capabilities  and provide opportunities for ordinary people to restore or modify their own brain multiple times.  The final result  at this stage can be a real revolution in the understanding of human nature that will completely change the human and technical prospects for humanity.

2045

This is the time when substance-independent minds will receive new bodies with capacities far exceeding those of ordinary humans. A new era for humanity will arrive!  Changes will occur in all spheres of human activity – energy generation, transportation, politics, medicine, psychology, sciences, and so on.

Today it is hard to imagine a future when bodies consisting of nanorobots  will become affordable  and capable of taking any form. It is also hard to imagine body holograms featuring controlled matter. One thing is clear however:  humanity, for the first time in its history, will make a fully managed evolutionary transition and eventually become a new species. Moreover,  prerequisites for a large-scale  expansion into outer space will be created as well.

It all seems a bit grandiose to me and, frankly, I’ve never found the prospect of being downloaded onto a nonbiological substrate particularly appealing. As well, how are they going to tackle the incredibly complex process of downloading or is it duplicating a brain? There’s still a lot of debate as to how a brain works (any brain: a rat brain, a dog brain, etc.).

It all gets more complicated the more you think about it. Is a duplicate/downloaded brain exactly the same as the original? Digitized print materials are relatively simple compared to a brain and yet archivists are still trying to determine how one establishes authenticity with print materials that have been digitized and downloaded/uploaded.

As well, I wonder if these grand dreamers have ever come across ‘the law of unintended consequences’. E.g. cane toads in Australia or DDT and other pesticides, which were intended as solutions and are now problems themselves.

Nanotechnology enables robots and human enhancement: part 3

There’s another way of looking at the robot situation. Instead of making machines more like people, why not make people more like machines? That seems to be the subtext when you read about human enhancement and, like yesterday’s discussion about robots, you find yourself talking to a transhumanist or two.

Tracy Picha writing in Flare magazine’s August 2009 issue (The Future of Our Body) starts her article with an anecdote about Aimee Mullins, a record-breaking paralympian (and double amputee), wearing prosthetic legs to an event that boosted her standard height from 5’8″ to 6’1″.

As the story goes, Mullins reconnected with an old friend who had known her only at her shorter height. “Her mouth dropped when she saw me,” recalls Mullins, “and she said, ‘But you’re so tall!'”

“I know, isn’t it fun?” was Mullins’ reply.

“But, Aimee, that’s not fair.”

Picha finishes off the anecdote after a discussion of augmentation and enhancement that includes the story of a guy in Finland needing a prosthetic to replace part of a severed finger and choosing one that has a USB port in its tip. She goes on to discuss a subculture of people who embed magnetic chips into their bodies so they can sense magnetic and electromagnetic fields thereby giving themselves a sixth sense. There’s also a discussion with a transhumanist and a contrasting view from Susie Orbach, author of Bodies. Orbach has this to say,

… the body has become a casing for fantasy rather than a place from which to live.

It’s all becoming a metaphysical question. What is it to be human? I have misgivings about all this talk about enhancement and, as mentioned yesterday, improving the human genome.

Meanwhile, Picha’s article is thought-provoking and it’s in a fashion magazine, which bears out my belief that a lot science communication takes place outside its usual channels.  In one of my papers, I likened science communication to a conversation with several threads taking place.

Government studies such as the one from the UK (July 27, 2009 ETA this should read European Parliament not UK) that Michael Berger on Nanowerk Spotlight recently featured are definitely part of this conversation. From Berger’s article,

The authors of the study do not rely on the still widespread conceptual distinction between “therapy” and “enhancement”, but instead, in line with recent political statements on the issue, adopt a notion of human enhancement that includes non-therapeutic as well as some therapeutic measures.
Defining human enhancement as any “modification aimed at improving individual human performance and brought about by science-based or technology-based interventions in the human body”, they distinguish between
1) restorative or preventive, non-enhancing interventions,

2) therapeutic enhancements, and

3) non-therapeutic enhancements.

Faced with the often highly visionary and strongly ideological character of the debate on human enhancement, one must strive for a balance between advancing a rational discussion through critical analysis of the relevant visions and normative stances, and taking a close look at the diversity of HE technology and their actual social, technological and political significance

Berger’s article is well worth reading and  links to the report itself and other articles that he’s written on the topic. Monday, July 27, 2009, I should be wrapping up this series.

In keeping with today’s ‘fashionable theme, I leave you with something musical from Manolo’s Shoe Blog. The writer who is not The Manolo, recently posted on one of his favourite rock songs (and one I’ve always loved), Runaway by Del Shannon. The posting is poignant and touching. Manolo has included two versions of the song, one sung by Shannon in the 1960s and again in the 1980s (this one includes part of an interview about the song Shannon wrote so many years before). Both are well worth checking out as you can see how an artist matures and develops over time. Seeing both enhances the experience of listening to each one. Go here.

Nanotechnology enables robots and human enhancement: part 2

Mary King’s project on Robots and AI, the one I mentioned yesterday, was written in 2007 so there have been some changes since then but her focus is largely cultural and that doesn’t change so quickly. The bird’s eye view she provides of the situation in Japan and other parts of Asia contrasts with the information and ideas that are common currency in North America and, I suspect, Europe too. (As for other geographic regions, I don’t venture any comments as I’m not sufficiently familiar with the thinking in those regions.)  Take for example this,

South Korea, meanwhile, has not only announced that by 2010 it expects to have robo-cops patrolling the streets alongside its police force and army, but that its “Robot Ethics Charter” will take effect later this year. The charter includes Asimov-like laws for the robots, as well as guidelines to protect robots from abuse by humans. South Korea is concerned that some people will become addicted to robots, may want to marry their android or will use robots for illegal activities. The charter demands full human control over the robots, an idea that is likely to be popular with Japanese too. But a number of organizations and individuals in the West are bound to criticize laws that do not grant equal “human” rights to robots.

Mary goes on to cite some of the work on roboethics and robo-rights being done in the West and gives a brief discussion of some of the more apocalyptic possibilities. I think the latest incarnation of Battlestar Galactica anchored its mythology in many of the “Western” fears associated with the arrival of intelligent robots. She also mentions this,

Beyond robots becoming more ubiquitous in our lives, a vanguard of Western scientists asserts that humans will merge with the machine. Brooks says “… it is clear that robotic technology will merge with biotechnology in the first half of this century,” and he therefore concludes that “the distinction between us and robots is going to disappear.

Leading proponents of Strong AI state that humans will transcend biology and evolve to a higher level by merging with robot technology. Ray Kurzweil, a renowned inventor, transhumanist and the author of several books on “spiritual machines,” claims that immortality lies within the grasp of many of us alive today.

The concept of transhumanism does not accord well with the Japanese perspective,

Japan’s fondness for humanoid robots highlights the high regard Japanese share for the role of humans within nature. Humans are viewed as not being above nature, but a part of it.

This reminds me of the discussion taking place on the topic of synthetic biology (blog posting here) where the synthetic biologists are going to reconfigure the human genome to make it better. According to Denise Caruso (executive director of the Hybrid Vigor Institute), many of the synthetic biologists have backgrounds in IT not biology. I highly recommend Mary’s essay. It’s a longish read (5000 words) but well worth it for the insights it provides.

In Canada, we are experiencing robotic surveillance at the border with the US. The CBC reported in June that the US was launching a drone plane in the Great Lakes region of the border. It was the 2nd drone, the 1st being deplored over the Manitoba border and there is talk that a drone will be used on the BC border in the future. For details, go here. More tomorrow.