James Hughes – History, Politics, Utopia & Transhumanism

This is a video is called James Hughes – History, Politics, Utopia & Transhumanism.  This video was actually my first introduction to James Hughes.  I think he makes some interesting points.  When talking about the future economy and how people will be fed in a post-scarcity world, Hughes says, “To blithely say, oh well, people are going to starve” and not recognize that w e’re setting the preconditions for whether that happens today. That’s the reason they can’t talk about it – because they’re not really thinking in the present tense.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Sure, it’s fun to spend time in speculation, but the future will grow from the seeds we plant today which means that the majority of the time we spend should be spent tending the crops we already have… if we’re wise farmers.  Basically, let’s not get so caught up in imagining the singularity that we forget to plan it.


 

Runtime: 38:56


This video can also be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5NtXTekHac

Video Info:

Published on Jan 23, 2013

James J. Hughes Ph.D. is a sociologist and bioethicist teaching health policy at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut in the United States.
http://internet2.trincoll.edu/facProf…
http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/bio/hu…

Hughes holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago, where he served as the assistant director of research for the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics. Before graduate school he was temporarily ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1984 while working as a volunteer in Sri Lanka for the development organization Sarvodaya from 1983 to 1985.
Hughes served as the executive director of the World Transhumanist Association (which has since changed its name to Humanity+) from 2004 to 2006, and currently serves as the executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, which he founded with Nick Bostrom. He also produces the syndicated weekly public affairs radio talk show program Changesurfer Radio and contributed to the Cyborg Democracy blog. Hughes’ book Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future was published by Westview Press in November 2004.

Rejecting the two extremes of bioconservatism and libertarian transhumanism, Hughes argues for a third way, “democratic transhumanism,” a radical form of techno-progressivism which asserts that the best possible “posthuman future” is achievable only by ensuring that human enhancement technologies are safe, made available to everyone, and respect the right of individuals to control their own bodies.
Appearing several times in Hughes’ work, the term “radical” (from Latin rādīx, rādīc-, root) is used as an adjective meaning of or pertaining to the root or going to the root. His central thesis is that emerging technologies and radical democracy can help citizens overcome some of the root causes of inequalities of power.

“The emergence of biotechnological controversies, however, is giving rise to a new axis, not entirely orthogonal to the previous dimensions but certainly distinct and independent of them. I call this new axis biopolitics, and the ends of its spectrum are transhumanists (the progressives) and, at the other end, the bio-Luddites or bio-fundamentalists. Transhumanists welcome the new biotechnologies, and the choices and challenges they offer, believing the benefits can outweigh the costs. In particular, they believe that human beings can and should take control of their own biological destiny, individually and collectively enhancing our abilities and expanding the diversity of intelligent life. Bio-fundamentalists, however, reject genetic choice technologies and “designer babies,” “unnatural” extensions of the life span, genetically modified animals and food, and other forms of hubristic violations of the natural order. While transhumanists assert that all intelligent “persons” are deserving of rights, whether they are human or not, the biofundamentalists insist that only “humanness,” the possession of human DNA and a beating heart, is a marker of citizenship and rights.” — James Hughes, Democratic Transhumanism 2.0, 2002

 

 

The Social Futurist policy toolkit by Amon Twyman

This is an article by Amon Twyman at the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies (IEET).  The article (called The Social Futurist Policy Toolkit) lays out a basic blueprint for Social Futurist policy.  Basically, it’s a kind of proposal for post-scarcity economics.  


The Social Futurist policy toolkit


Amon Twyman

By Amon Twyman
wavism.wordpress.com

Posted: Apr 27, 2014

In a recent blog post and IEET article, I laid out an extremely general critique of Capitalism’s place within our society, and the barest outline of an alternative known as Social Futurism. The essence of that article was that Capitalism does certain things very well but it cannot be paused or adjusted when its effects become problematic, that rapid technological change appears to be on the verge of making certain alternatives viable, and that unfortunately we may be forced to fight for our right to personally choose those alternatives.

That article was necessarily brief and very broad, which did not allow me the opportunity to address policy details of any sort. It would be unfortunate if people thought that meant Social Futurism has no specific ideas at its disposal, so I want to lay out a kind of “policy toolkit”, here. The following policy categories are not compulsory features of any Social Futurist movement or group, but are more like basic building blocks from which specific policy configurations could be adapted to local conditions. Similarly, the toolkit as it currently stands is in no way considered exhaustive.

It is my intent that this toolkit should form a kind of bridge between the broadest, most general level of political discussion on the one hand, and the development of specific policies for local groups on the other. The six basic policy categories are only very briefly discussed below, but will each soon be analysed fully by the WAVE research institute.

Finally, none of the ideas presented in this article are new (section 6 being my only novel contribution), but this mix is seldom presented in a single ‘chunk‘ that can be easily memorised and communicated. It is my hope that in time the label “Social Futurism” may act as the natural intersection of these disparate-but-compatible ideas, enabling people to refer to an array of possible solutions to major problems in two words rather than two thousand.

1. Evidence, Balance, & Transition

All of the policies in this toolkit should be approached from a pragmatic and flexible (rather than an ideologically constrained) point of view. When trying to be pragmatic and flexible, our main concern is with policies that actually solve problems, so the use of empirical evidence is central to Social Futurism. Policy development and review should emphasise the setting of quantifiable goals and application of empirical evidence wherever that is an option, to encourage policy that evolves to better meet our goals over time.

In this vein, we should seek to find optimal balances between extreme ideological positions, to the extent that any given choice may be viewed as a continuum rather than a binary choice. An extremely important example is the question of transition, which is to say the process of development from our current PEST (political, economic, social, technological) situation to a more efficient and just society. Often political questions are depicted as a false dichotomy, or choice between things as they are and radical utopias entirely disconnected from current reality. What is both preferable and more tractable is an intelligent balance of the past and future, in the form of a pragmatic transition phase.

For example, sections 2-4 below propose a series of economic adjustments to society. From the perspective of someone invested in the status quo, they are extremely radical suggestions. From the perspective of a radical utopian, they are half-measures at best. From a Social Futurist perspective, they are required to maximise the likelihood of a better society actually coming into existence, while attempting to minimise the risk of severe societal destabilisation caused by rapid and untested change. My own vision of a societal transition phase follows an observation from Ray Kurzweil, in which change often takes longer than anticipated, but also ends up being much deeper than anticipated, meaning that focus on a transition phase may allow us to work toward truly radical transformative change in the longer term.

In short, the effectiveness of our methods should be tested by looking at evidence, we should balance our policies in a flexible and pragmatic manner, and we should seek a staged transition toward a better future rather than risk critically destabilizing society.

2. Universal Basic Income & LVAT

A minimal, “safety net” style Universal Basic Income should be established. This is as opposed to putting undue strain on the economy by introducing a basic income larger than is required to satisfy essential living requirements. Where possible, the UBI should be paid for by a combination of dismantling welfare bureaucracies, and Land Value & Automation Taxes (LVAT).

LVAT is the extension of traditional Land Value Tax to include a small tax on every unit of workplace automation equivalent to a single human being replaced. This extension of LVT is intended to harness the economic momentum of workplace automation, which is expected to be the principal cause of technological unemployment in coming decades. The tax should be considerably less than the cost of hiring a human, thus causing no disincentive to automation (some would argue that any tax would disincentivize automation, but our goal is not to encourage automation, and as long as automation is cheaper than human labour it will win out). The LVAT would take the place of increasing numbers of arbitrary taxes on goods and services which are currently being added and increased to shore up Western economies.

Social Futurism is compatible with private property ownership and does not advocate property confiscation. Wealth redistribution is only advocated to the degree that it can be achieved through LVAT & UBI as described above. The extent to which people should be able to choose if, how, and to whom they pay tax is addressed in section 6. It is also worth noting here that where a functional equivalent of UBI exists (e.g. citizen shares in Distributed Autonomous Cooperatives) which is proven more effective, then Social Futurists should favour the more effective solution as per point 1.

3. Abolition of Fractional Reserve Banking

Fractional Reserve Banking is the process by which banks are required to hold only a fraction of their customers’ deposits in reserve, allowing the money supply to grow to a multiple of the base amount held in reserve. Through this practice, central banks may charge interest on the money they create (thereby creating a debt which can never be repaid, across society as a whole) and expose the entire economy to risk when they cannot meet high demand for withdrawals. Fractional Reserve Banking fosters potentially critical risk to the entirety of society for the benefit of only a tiny proportion of citizens, and therefore should be abolished. The alternative to Fractional Reserve Banking is Full Reserve or 100% Reserve Banking, in which all banks must hold the full amount of deposits in reserve at all times.

Full Reserve Banking is much more conservative than Fractional Reserve Banking, and would signal an end to “easy credit”. In turn, it would afford enough stability to see our society through a sustainable transition phase, until technological post-scarcity makes reliance on traditional banking systems and the Capitalist principle of surplus value itself unnecessary.

4. Responsible Capitalism, Post-Scarcity, & Emergent Commodity Markets

Social Futurist policy must favour the encouragement of responsible trade and strong regulation of reckless behaviour, with an eye to making Capitalism an engine of society rather than its blind master. To this end, it should be Social Futurist policy that all companies that wish to operate within any given community must be registered with the appropriate regulation bodies employed by that community. Non-regulation and self-regulation by industries which are not accountable to the communities they affect is unacceptable. (For the purposes of this brief statement I have conflated Capitalism and markets, despite the fact that trade existed millennia before the organization of society around profit based on Capital investment. These issues will be treated separately and extensively, later).

Where possible, Social Futurists should advocate the transition to non-monetary peer-to-peer resource management under post-scarcity conditions. In other words, we should seek to avoid the creation or maintenance of artificial scarcity in essential resources. A continuing place for trade even under post-scarcity conditions is acknowledged and encouraged where it reduces artificial scarcity, promotes technical innovation, and serves the needs and directives of the community. Emergent commodities (e.g. natural artificial scarcities such as unique artworks) will need a framework for responsible trade even under optimal post-scarcity conditions, so it behooves us to develop such frameworks now, in the context of contemporary Capitalism.

5. Human autonomy, privacy, & enhancement

Social Futurism incorporates the transhumanist idea that the human condition can and should be improved through the intelligent and compassionate application of technology. We also strongly emphasise voluntarism, and in combination these things necessitate the championing of people’s rights over their own bodies and information. It should be Social Futurist policy to oppose any development by which people would lose individual sovereignty or involuntarily cede ownership of their personal information. Social Futurists must also defend the individual’s right to modify themselves by technological means, provided that the individual is a mentally competent consenting adult and the modification would not pose significant risk of harm to others.

6. Establishment of VDP (Virtual, Distributed, Parallel) States

The principle of subsidiarity holds that organizational responsibility should be devolved to the lowest or most local level capable of dealing with the situation. In other words, power should be decentralised, insofar as that doesn’t diminish our ability to face challenges as a society.

For example, local governance issues should be handled by local rather than national-level government where possible. Social Futurism takes subsidiarity to its logical conclusion, by insisting that people should have the right to govern their own affairs as they see fit, as long as by doing so they are not harming the wider community. On the other side of the coin, broader (e.g. national and transnational) levels of governance would be responsible for issues that local organizations and individuals could not competently face alone.

Where global governance is needed, the model should be one of cooperating global agencies focused on a specific area of expertise (e.g. the World Health Organization), rather than a single government acting in a centralised manner to handle all types of issue. In this way, decentralization of power applies even when an issue cannot be resolved on the local level.

In order to encourage the development of such a system, we advocate the establishment of communities with powers of self-governance known as VDP States, where VDP stands for “Virtual, Distributed, Parallel”. ‘Virtual’ refers to online community, orthogonal to traditional geographic territories. ‘Distributed’ refers to geographic States, but ones where different parts of the community exist in different locations, as a network of enclaves. ‘Parallel’ refers to communities that exist on the established territory of a traditional State, acting as a kind of organizational counterpoint to that State’s governing bodies. Two or three of these characteristics may be found in a single VDP State, but it is expected that most such communities would emphasise one characteristic over the others. Alternatively, a VDP State may emphasise different characteristics at different stages in its development.

Given Social Futurist emphasis on voluntarism, VDP State citizenship must be entirely voluntary. Indeed, the entire point of the VDP State is to broaden the range of governance models which people may voluntarily choose to engage with, where they are currently told that they simply have to accept a single model of governance.

As this is clearly a new and experimental approach to governance, it is to be expected that many ideas associated with it are still to be properly developed and tested. Some of these ideas may not meet our own standards of empirical review. However, to briefly anticipate some common objections it is worth noting several points. Firstly, decentralization does not imply an absence of social organization. It simply means that people can exercise more choice in how they engage with society. Secondly, yes it is true that all three of the VDP characteristics have limitations as well as strengths (e.g. difficulty in defending isolated enclaves), but that is why any given VDP State would find the mix of features that suits its purpose and context best. Thirdly, as mentioned earlier in this article, different approaches may be mixed and balanced as necessary, such as a single-location VDPS being used as a template for the later creation of a distributed network of communities. Finally, the VDPS idea is not intended to stand alone but to complement any initiatives which have the potential to maximize its value (Open Source Ecology, for example).

Further development of these ideas will be posted on the WAVE movement blog.

Addendum: A note on Marxism

Below I give an example of the point made in section 1 (about balance and transition), which draws upon a Marxist viewpoint because Social Futurist concerns tend to be shared by Marxists, but the logic would equally apply to movements whose long-term ideals and methods are more like our own, such as The Zeitgeist Movement. I have put this note to one side because I do not want to give an incorrect first impression that Social Futurism is Marxist in nature. It is simply intended to address societal problems which have already been comprehensively analysed by Marxists, so it is worth noting the relevance of their point of view to our own.

Marx argued that the root problem with Capitalism is surplus value. This means that Capitalists (i.e. investors) pay workers only a proportion of the value of what is produced by their work, and the remaining (“surplus”) value is taken as profit by the Capital owning class, along with rent and interest on debts. Marxists assert that workers should collectively own the means of production (i.e. factories, machines, resources, all Capital), thereby ending surplus value and phenomena such as problematic banking practices along with it. From this perspective it might be reasonably suggested that “treating the symptoms” rather than the core disorder would be fruitless (or worse, dangerous), and that citizen benefits of any sort should be paid for by distributing all profit from collectively owned means of production equally.

Without wishing to get into a discussion of whether ideal Marxism is possible or doomed to give rise to historical Communist authoritarianism, I would say that even a benign Marxist revolution would entirely destabilize society if it occurred too quickly. Social Futurism does not deny the Marxist analysis of the problem, but seeks a staged transition to a post-Capitalist society which does not attempt to undermine the entire basis of our current society in a single move. Although an optimal, long-term Social Futurist outcome may not be desirable to some Marxists (and certainly not to historical Stalinists or Maoists), it would definitely involve the eventual transition to democratic, decentralised post-scarcity, and removal of Capitalist surplus value as the central organizational principle of our civilization.

Images:
http://www.deviantart.com/art/Machine-263324468
http://www.deviantart.com/art/Vanolose-Capitalist-409983229
http://www.deviantart.com/art/Network-435271187
http://www.deviantart.com/art/Network-101301763


Dr M. Amon Twyman (BSc, MSc Hons, DPhil) is an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET and a philosopher interested in the impact of technology on society and the human condition. Amon was a co-founder of the UK Transhumanist Association (now known as Humanity+ UK), and went on to establish Zero State and the WAVE research institute.


 

This article can also be found at http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/twyman20140427

Transhumanism and Religion by John G. Messerly

Here is an excellent, bite-sized article from John G. Messerly on the IEET website called simply Transhumanism and Religion.  In the article, Messerly presents a case for why he considers religion to be premature transhumanism.  


 

Transhumanism and Religion

 

By John G. Messerly
The Meaning of Life

Transhumanism is: The intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities … transhumanism is a way of thinking about the future that is based on the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase.1<sup< p=””>

Transhumanism appears to have nothing in common with religion, defined as: “the belief in and worship of a god or gods, or any such system of belief and worship…”In transhumanism the gods play no role.

Yet the two are not entirely dissimilar. Religious people generally want to overcome the limitations of the body and live forever, just like transhumanists. Arising before transhumanist ideas were conceivable, religions had no other option but to advise their followers to accept death and hope for the best. Religious beliefs provided comfort in the face of death and natural evils before the advent of science and technology. We might think of religion as premature transhumanism. Religion is not the opposite of transhumanism but a seed from which transhumanism can grow.

However today the comfort provided by archaic religious superstitions impedes advancement and therefore should be set aside. We need to grow beyond religion. But must we relinquish religious beliefs now, before science gives us everything we want? Yes. The most important reason to abandon religious belief is religion’s opposition to most forms of progress. For the most part religion has opposed: the elimination of slavery, the use of birth control, women’s and civil rights, stem cell research, genetic engineering, and science in general. Religion is from our past; it opposes the future.

Can humans function without the old religious narratives? They can, they just need new narratives based on a scientific worldview. Such narratives could be transhumanist, of humans playing their role as links in a chain leading to greater forms of being and consciousness; or perhaps they will focus on the idea that cosmic evolution is the story of the universe becoming self-conscious through conscious beings like ourselves. Whatever shape those narratives take, they must be informed by the belief that humans can evolve into something much more than they are now.

But against this seemingly infinite temporal background, what of the significance of a single, finite human life, and what is the significance of all of cosmic evolution? We are significant if we play our part in advancing evolution, if we accept our role as the protagonists of the evolutionary epic. And if we succeed our post-human descendants will understand these ultimate questions, giving our own lives—by then long past—a significance we can now hardly fathom. For the moment we must take solace in the hope that the better world we imagine is indeed possible.

1. This quote is from the Humanity+ website’s FAQ section.

2. From “The Cambridge International Dictionary of English.”

Having introduced transhumanists ideas to university students over the years, I am familiar with typical objections to transhumanist philosophy: if we don’t die the world will become overpopulated; not having a body would be yucky; this is all science fiction; lots of things can go wrong; technology is bad; death makes life meaningful; immortality would be boring; etc.

So I was surprised after yesterday’s post to receive hostile responses of the “we shouldn’t play god,” or “we should let nature take its course” variety. You can find similar critiques at links like : “The Catholic Church Declares War on Transhumanism”  and “Transhumanism: Mankind’s Greatest Threat.” Here is a statement from the latter:

Various organizations desire to use emerging technology to create a human species so enhanced that they cease to be humans. They will be post-humans with the potential of living forever. If these sciences are not closely monitored and regulated, transhumanists’ arrogant quest to create a post-human species will become a direct assault on human dignity and an attack on God’s sovereignty as Creator. We must decide on an unmovable line now, one that upholds human dignity based on Biblical Truth.

It is no longer enough to be pro-life; we have now entered a time when we must be pro-human. Education about the full implications of these emerging sciences is a key to be able to directly confront these assaults on humanity.

If one truly believes that humans should accept their fate, that they were specially designed and created by the gods, and that the divine plans includes evil and death, then the condemnations of transhumanism are justified. But will this opposition succeed? I doubt it. Most do not desire to go back to the middle ages, when believers prayed sincerely and then died miserably.

Today some still consult faith healers, but the intelligent go to their physicians. Everything about technology plays god, and letting nature takes its course means that half the people reading this article would have died in childbirth or from childhood diseases before the advent of modern medicine.

Still there are good reasons to be cautious about designing and using future technologies, as Bill Joy outlined more than a decade ago in “Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us.”  (Here is my published criticism of Joy’s argument.) Yes, we should be cautious about the future, but we should not stand still.

​Do we really want to turn the clock back 100 years before computers and modern medicine? Do we really want to freeze technology at its current level? Look before we leap, certainly, but leap we must. If we do nothing, eventually we will go extinct: asteroids will hit the planet, the climate will change irrevocably, bacteria will evolve uncontrollably, and in the far future the sun will burn out. Only advanced technologies give us a chance against such forces.

If we do nothing we will die; if we gain more knowledge and the power that accompanies it, we have a chance. With no risk-free way to proceed, we should be brave and bold, unafraid to guide our own destiny.

Perhaps the best way to illuminate the choice is to consider a previous choice human beings faced in their history. What should they do about disease? Should they pray to the gods and have faith that the gods will cure them, or should they use science and technology to find the cures themselves? In hindsight the answer is clear. Praying to the gods makes no difference, whereas using modern medicine has limited death and disease, and nearly doubled the human lifespan in the last century.

When medieval Europeans contracted the plague they prayed hard … and then died miserably. Other examples also easily come to mind. What is the best way to predict weather, harness energy, capture sound, achieve flight, communicate over great distances, or fly to far off planets? In none of these cases is doing nothing and hoping for the best a good bet. All of the above were achieved through the use of science and technology.

These examples highlight another advantage to making the transhumanist wager—the incremental benefits that accrue as we live longer and better lives as we approach the holy grail of a blissful immortality. Such benefits provide assurance that we are on the right path, which should increase our confidence that we are making the correct wager. In fact, the benefits already bestowed upon us by science and technology in the past confirm that it is the best path toward a better future. (Half the readers of this essay would have died from a childhood disease just a century ago.) As these benefits accumulate, and as we become aware of them, our existence will become increasingly indistinguishable from the most enchanting descriptions of any afterlife.

So we should throw off archaic superstitions and use our technology? Yes Will we do this? Yes. I can say with confidence that when an effective pill that stops or reverses aging becomes available at your local pharmacy—it will be popular. Or if, as you approach death, you are offered the opportunity to have your intact consciousness transferred to your younger cloned body, a genetically engineered body, a robotic body, or a virtual reality, most will use such technologies when they have been shown to be effective. By then almost everyone will prefer the real thing to a leap of faith. At that point there will be no need to make a transhumanist wager. The transhumanist will already have won the be

However at the moment the above is science fiction and subject to trillions of variables. Contingent factors beyond our imagination will lead to some unimaginable future, or no future at all. Thus evolutionary progress is not inevitable, and in no way do our views entail technological optimism—technology can be used for good or ill.

But even if our technology can lead to a glorious future, it could be halted by terrestrial or celestial disasters, or by dogmatists, zealots, religious fanatics, and others who oppose progress. The opponents may have legitimate fears about the repercussions of future technologies, but they may also be guided by ignorance and irrationality.

They may long for a past paradise, fear what they don’t understand, believe they possess a monopoly on the truth, or think humans subservient to super beings. But for whatever reasons they oppose change, preferring stasis and stagnation to dynamic, progressive evolutionism. They prefer to prevent the groundswell of initiative, creativity, inventiveness, perseverance, and hope that drive evolution forward. They are fearful that the new world will render them and their beliefs, anachronistic. They are the enemies of the future.

But if the surge of cosmic longing presses forward, then higher forms of being and consciousness will emerge, and the universe will become increasingly self-consciousness. This is the story of cosmic evolution, of a universe becoming self-conscious through the creation of conscious beings. Humans are not an end, but a beginning. They need not fear imaginary gods, but need instead to have the courage to create minds more powerful than the gods. Let the dark ages not again descend upon us—let our most fantastic longings be realized. Let us have faith in the future.


John G. Messerly is an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET. He received his PhD in philosophy from St. Louis University in 1992. His most recent book is The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Scientific, and Transhumanist Perspectives. He blogs daily on issues of philosophy, evolution, futurism and the meaning of life at his website: reasonandmeaning.com.

This article can also be found at http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/messerly20150118