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« Sailing, Sailing | Main | The Latest On Things Nano »

Strange Bedfellows

If this is the next political divide, I know which side I'm on.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 03, 2005 09:03 AM
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Goodness, so do I
Excerpt: Glenn Reynolds links to several articles on transhumanism and how it is "the next big political divide." [It] will between transhumanists and technophiles on one side, and bioconservatives and lefty-Luddites on the other. I join Glenn in hoping that it...
Weblog: D.F. Moore
Tracked: February 4, 2005 07:48 AM
The Turning of the Tide
Excerpt: Glenn Reynolds points to Alyssa Ford's essay on the political realignment likely to follow the rise of genetic engineering, but she's about 3 years too late to the party for this is has been discussed quite frequently on this blog....
Weblog: Gene Expression
Tracked: February 4, 2005 01:12 PM

Robert Zubrin had a similar divide in his novel First Landing. Score another point for science fiction.

Posted by rjschwarz at February 3, 2005 12:26 PM

Interesting. Thanks for the pointer, Rand.

I'll have to look into the transhumanists more. What they are saying sounds quite a bit like what I've been thinking for some time now.

I can also understand some of the fears of the opponents. Working out wonderful new ideas all too often takes longer than the proponents originally think. And the transition can be difficult. Remember L5 in '95? That's 1995, not 2095.

Still, though, I'm clearly on the side of the transhumanists.

Posted by Chuck Divine at February 4, 2005 07:58 AM


Three cheers for stunties and mandatory eugenics.

Posted by Ernest Brown at February 4, 2005 08:00 AM

The key is in the details and implementation. What if we could 'fix' all new babies so they would live to an average age of 200 and have an average IQ 50 points higher, but do nothing for anyone currently alive? What if it cost $1M/baby? Do only the rich western nations get the tech? What if we could do the above only to women but not men (that Y chromosome is not compatible etc)?

You also missed a lot of talk about being able to transcend human foibles, like lying etc. Sounds a lot like thought control to me and I don't trust anyone with that type of power. And the 'marginal beings' comment smacked of the old eugenics programs to rid the race of unwanted/unproductive beings.

I am on the side to move forward on this but the devil(s) are definitely in the details. And the people pushing caution have a good point.

Posted by buffpilot at February 4, 2005 08:30 AM

As I've said before -- the progress side needs to keep in mind that torches and pitchforks may not be high-tech, but they can still cause large amounts of grief. Tread lightly.

Posted by McGehee at February 4, 2005 08:36 AM

Why does everyone speak of infinitely increased longevity in such glowing terms?

Why would I want another 100 years of living in a nursing home ingesting an ever-increasing array of sustaining pills to keep my organs from rotting out from under me? A century of failing to make it to the toilet in time? Thanks a lot!

Has nobody thought of the implications for retirement? You know the AARP would never let anyone raise the retirement age. So now we all have to have 130 years of wages in savings just to retire? If you think social security is in trouble now...

Beyond that, Why would I want to watch the current trends in popular culture carry themselves out to their logical conclusions? (Granted, it might be fun at first once hardcore pron (sic) involving animals, minors and industrial machinery becomes standard saturday morning fare, but by then I'll be too decrepit to enjoy it much.)

And I don't particularly want to live in a world where Ted Kennedy has access to the technology to run for a 100th term in the Senate.

Ugh! Kennedy 2105? No thank you!

Posted by Greg at February 4, 2005 09:07 AM

Why would I want another 100 years of living in a nursing home ingesting an ever-increasing array of sustaining pills to keep my organs from rotting out from under me? A century of failing to make it to the toilet in time?

Who said you, or anyone, should want that? Nice strawman, through.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 4, 2005 09:12 AM

I've often heard folks say, "If it was good enough for Grandpa it's good enough for me," but I'm relatively unused to hearing them say "If it was good enough for Grandpa that's good enough for you."

I don't really intend to force anyone to live for another 200 years nor to improve their baby's health. However, I'm almost 58, and if you told me I'd feel no worse than I do today, I'd gladly live to 200 just to see what happens. And I could have avoided some of my children's problems I certainly would have, as well as my wife's cousing who has cystic fibrosis.

It's odd to see both lefties and righties basically saying they should get to decide how we treat our bodies.

Posted by JorgXMcKie at February 4, 2005 09:17 AM

Why would I want another 100 years of living in a nursing home ingesting an ever-increasing array of sustaining pills to keep my organs from rotting out from under me? A century of failing to make it to the toilet in time?

This, of course, assumes that longevity is taking more time onto 'decripitude' instead of putting off decripitude even longer. The Nursing home set are far older now then they used to be on average. What makes you think this trend will change?

Personally, I have no problem with 'stretching' my 20's - 50's for a couple hundred years. You?

Posted by Michael at February 4, 2005 09:21 AM

Does the fact that both of the lenses
in my eyes are artificial mean that I have already chosen? Because everything comes with
side-effects. My eye-lens are truly transparent
and have no true color, unlike normal living lenses do. This means that I see slightly better
at night, and require sunglasses when it is really bright. I also miss the deepest red colors - they appear black to me, but what some peope call black. I see as a deep violet...
Have I chosen, or have my choices been made for me?

Posted by Bill Morrison at February 4, 2005 09:44 AM

What if it cost $1M/baby? Do only the rich western nations get the tech? What if we could do the above only to women but not men (that Y chromosome is not compatible etc)?

What if it did cost a million dollars a baby you would be able to take out a loan of 100 years. Also if you choose not to enhance your children they will be at a disadvantage when competing for jobs. Normal kids will endup with the jobs no one else wants.

Posted by Martin at February 4, 2005 09:52 AM

I'm not sure which choice was made. I know of a guy who's livedunder blacklight so long he can see speed traps, as his vision adjusted.

Hell, I'll take the decrepitude. I've nearly been dead before. Alive beats dead, any day.

Posted by Russ at February 4, 2005 09:54 AM

So since I have a pacemaker, I must be a transhuman. Works for me.

Posted by Rex at February 4, 2005 10:53 AM

The comments on this blog are interestingly mature (no pun intended). On blogs I normally read, the first or second post would have read "Resistance is futile."

Posted by me at February 4, 2005 11:04 AM


100 year loan would be great! But what if I didn't qualify? I was just pointing out that it will be very tough to get this stuff going do to "fairness" issues. The Organ Banks scenarios from the Niven stories anyone. Right now there are people who are against pre-natel testing (and fixing) babies with horrible, but not-life threatening disabilities. They argue that they shouldn't be the last of their type.

The 'normal' kids would quickly find themselves in a situation like downs syndrome children are today - and may be looked at like that - crippled. Would they be suing there parents for child abuse? If it became fairly universal would you even be given the choice?

In many ways the social upheaval may be a tougher nut to crack than the technological, especially if there is some kind of barrier to entry for some minority or even majority of the population. For example, what if only 'left-handers' can get the genetic uplift? Would the right-handers let them?

Posted by buffpilot at February 4, 2005 11:46 AM

Most scenarios like the $1 million a baby bit above posit the eventual development of a genetic underclass. Call me weird, but that does not sit too well with me. The horrors wrought by people who falsely believed they were superior to others are bad enough. What will happen when it's true?

Posted by SparcVark at February 4, 2005 12:04 PM

They already have $1 million babies. They're called premature preemies, and everybody including you is paying for them. But they won't live to 200 nor have IQs above 100. So if you're gonna have $1 million babies anyway, why not have the ones who'll take the race forward, instead of back?

Posted by galactic warrior at February 4, 2005 01:28 PM

Every horror scenario I ever heard regarding genetic engineering of human beings made one assumption -- that there will be a single standard of what is "better".

I think it is completely false. A lot of different things can be improved in a human body -- better oxygen absorbtion, more elastic joints, greater tolerance to food poisoning, ability to digest cellulose, wider vision spectrum, etc. -- and I'd be amazed if they did not interfere with each other. As Bill Morrison pointed out, more of something means less of something else. What I suspect will happen in reality is differnt parents will choose different traits for their children, and over generations human race will split not into "enhanced" and "unenhanced", but into hundreds of different strains, each with its own unique set of abilities.

As for AARP never allowing retirement age to increase, sorry but that is silly. If retirees outnumber workers, the retirement system will collapse and no amount of voting will save it. But increases in lifespan have been accompanied by increases in productive span, and there is no evidence of that changing. Retirement at 65 will be neither possible nor particularly desirable if you can stay healthy until 110.

Posted by Ilya at February 4, 2005 01:31 PM

I want to live long enough to retire on the moon where the low gravity will help ease my aching joints and the strain on my heart, and just because it's there and I want to see it up close before I go.

Posted by rjschwarz at February 4, 2005 02:09 PM

I'd be happier to pick the "transhuman" side if I didn't have to side with so many religious zealots.

Let's consider embryonic stem cells. We don't know sh!t about how to properly use them. Some researchers tried just putting them into people's brains, and discovered that "pluripotent" stem cells are a bug, not a feature (it really sucks when they turn into hair, or muscle, in your brain).

What we need right now is lots of animal research, and no more screwing around with humans until we have a clue about what we're doing. It is trivial to create brain damaged animals, and you can do a lot of experiments on them that you just can't do on humans (for example, cutting open their skulls, implanting embryonic stem cells, then leaving the skull open so you can monitor what's happening).

The Bush Administration is entirely willing to fund animal embryonic stem cell research. People who care more about increasing our knowledge base, rather than merely pushing their political / religious agenda, will applaud the Bush Administration for doing that, and encourage scientists to take advantage of that money to learn how to cure broken necks and Parkinsons.

Religious zealots who can find no higher goal in life than attacking Christians will scream about how horrible it is that the Administration isn't paying for (mostly useless) experiments involving human embryonic stem cells.

Unfortunately, I see a lot more of the later than the former.

If you think I'm being too harsh, answer this question: The Bush Administration has been funding human embryonic stem cell research since 2001, others have been doing it since,IIRC, 1998. What successful experiments have been carried out in that time period? What has been accomplished that couldn't have been accomplished in animal tests?

(Curing even one human of Parkinson's, paralysis, Alzheimer's, would count as such an accomplishment.)

Posted by Greg D at February 4, 2005 03:14 PM

The question, at bottom, is how inhuman we're willing to become in order to become superhuman. These technologies, once feasible, will become the central focus of human society. The potential dire consequences of that are innumerable and lie in every direction, no matter the details.

You will not escape death through technology. You will not make yourself more fulfilled by making yourself less human. Our emphasis should not be on denying such truths.

Posted by Justin Katz at February 4, 2005 10:47 PM

Well, speaking only for myself, I'd LOVE to see us beat aging. I'd love to be able to grow new organs to order. I'd love to be able to start w/ my DNA, improve the hell out of it (better eyesight, stronger, better muscles, taller, better immune system, smarter, and so on), grow a clone from that (without a functioning brain, I'm not into suicide, or murder), and then transfer me to that new me. I'd love to be able to "upload" myself to a computer (but only if I was certain that I would be controlling the computer).

I dont' have a lot of problems with the "transhuman" ideals.

I have a big problem with the snake oil salesmen who are hyping things far beyond our present capabilities, and with the people who are falling for the hype.

Posted by Greg D at February 5, 2005 01:40 AM

You realise that, once technology brings us close to corporeal immortality, not only are you never going to retire, you're never going to get *promoted* either, 'cos that old fart ten years ahead of you is never going to retire either.

Posted by Chris Burd at February 5, 2005 04:09 PM

You realise that, once technology brings us close to corporeal immortality, not only are you never going to retire, you're never going to get *promoted* either

So what? Just statistically, most of us will never be middle managers anyway.

Posted by Ilya at February 5, 2005 09:04 PM

I wasn't thinking Borg; I was thinking Butlerian Jihad but over genetics.

I'm with Greg D, although I'd go one further. Even if embryonic SC research was perfect, I'd still oppose it.

Posted by David Ross at February 6, 2005 12:31 AM

You will not escape death through technology. You will not make yourself more fulfilled by making yourself less human. Our emphasis should not be on denying such truths.

I guess we know which side Justin is on too.

Let's take this twaddle one piece at a time:

I have no idea how old you are Justin, but if you are anywhere near my age (53) I would guess you have probably "escaped death through technology" many times. I know I have. Were you vaccinated against smallpox? How about polio? How about the flu? Ever get a tetanus shot after stepping on a nail? Ever taken an antibiotic? Ever have a tonsillectomy? An apendectomy? Any kind of surgery for anything that used to kill pretty regularly?

As for "fulfilled," being dead is also a considerable impediment. Why would leaving my physical shortcomings further behind be unfulfilling?

Truths? I don't think so.

What possesses you to write such nonsense?

Posted by Dick Eagleson at February 6, 2005 12:23 PM

David, indeed. The Butlerian Jihad will be over genetics if IA (intelligence augmentation) LEADS AI, as I think likely, at least at first.

Someone (Nigel Merrick, maybe) once said something like "Armageddon, if it happens, will be between the forces of 'good' and the forces of 'good-and-evil-at-the-same-time.'" When I first encountered that formulation, I thought he was talking about something like Sowell's "Conflict of Visions"--unconstrained vs. constrained; and indeed he probably was.

But it can also be read as "...the forces of {those who [think they] know what's God's Will} and the forces of {those whom the former believe are in league with The Evil One}."

And that maps directly to the unfortunate idea, popular in some segments of both Lefty and LIbertarian circles, that someday (the more florid correspondents would say "now"), Salafists will join cause with people in The 700 Club in opposing personal choice.

Blimey, this self-determination is trickier than I thought.

Enhancements that are relatively invisible are probably more able to weather that storm, if it rises. But then again, brush up against the wrong assay machine, wielded by some guy in funny clothes with a cudgel at hand, and...

Nortius Maximus

Posted by at February 9, 2005 06:21 AM

OK, so I take it that no one knows of any successful experiments using human embryonic stem cells?

So could someone explain to me the reason why people are bitching about the Federal government not currently funding this useless line of research? Because I don't get it. It's all snake-oil and hype, and will be for a while. We need to do a lot of research using animal models (which the Federal Government is funding) before we'll know enough to do useful human experiments.

So why all the whining about the government not wasting money?

Posted by Greg D at February 16, 2005 04:41 PM

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