Artificial Wombs & Virtual Childhood

About a month ago, transhumanist Zoltan Istvan – who created a bit of an unrelated bruhahaha in my Feedly – wrote about artificial wombs, saying they were inevitable and would do a lot of good for society:

Of all the transhumanist technologies coming in the near future, one stands out that both fascinates and perplexes people. It’s called ectogenesis: raising a fetus outside the human body in an artificial womb.

It has the possibility to change one of the most fundamental acts that most humans experience: the way people go about having children. It also has the possibility to change the way we view the female body and the field of reproductive rights.

Naturally, it’s a social and political minefield.

The whole article is a fascinating read. I don’t really have a stance one way or another towards it. I think many women would be happy to have their biological offspring be raised outside their body, if only because of the physical strain that takes place. Others (both women and men) probably would find that very notion offensive and decline to partake. Whatever. But I’m not here to really critique Zoltan’s particular view of transhumanism (other than I think his timetable is way too short.)

It was just, looking at this article, it made me think of another idea of transhumanism that has long bounced around inside of my brain. In a fictional form, it would go somewhat like this:

Ectogenesis was the first step towards radical reproductive liberation. The first two generations of ectogenesis children – derogatorily called the “pod people” by many – suffered social ostracism and persecution, but within fifty years roughly two thirds of all children were born in pods and the stigma disappeared.

But it wasn’t enough.

Ectogenesis was still time consuming, and you still had to raise the child after decanting. Studies in virtual brain emulation had long ago bore fruit, to the point where a identical simulation was possible. Scientists began a brave experiment where they took the genetic samples of two volunteers, combined it to form a zygote in a pod, then simultaneously created a virtual copy in a virtual environment. The virtual brain developed while the physical brain was not allowed to develop consciousness; the virtual brain was then, through nanoprobes, downloaded into the fetus after nine months of development.

That didn’t really change anything, but it did prove that virtual brain development was possible. The next generation of experiments went farther. Incorporating growth acceleration technology that had originally been perfected for orbital agriculture habitats, scientists were able to take the zygote straight to twenty years of age in only nine months. They also sped up the virtual environment, creating an entire society (complete with eidolons of the parents and relatives and real world people) that would be an effective “proving ground” for the growing mind. When all was said and done, the body and mind that emerged from the pod was chronologically only nine months old, but had twenty years of subjective physical and mental experience, and was ready to enjoy real life society immediately.

Of course, there were criticisms. More biological, “natural” humans saw this as too much of an aberration; the virtuals scoffed at the notion anyone would want to live in meatspace. Yet over time this mixed virtual-biological lifestyle took hold. Within six generations, roughly 85% of all humans had spent their first twenty subjective years in a virtual simulation before being downloaded into a specially grown body, derived from the genetic samples of two or more “parents.”

However, now the definition of human had changed dramatically. No longer were the “naturals” considered “natural,” they were merely “full-stack biologics” living mostly in segregated neighborhoods and even in some cases reservations. The virtual born – or “Virtborn” – became natural, but with it was a loss of emotion, a growing collective mindset, and a subsequent decline and fall in the arts and science. The “biologics,” in turn, began to develop increasingly eccentric cultural traits in order to “prove” they were the true humans, including bringing up ancient human practices such as zoot suits, black coffee, and a particularly brutal form of physical competition designed to identify “manly” qualities among males called “hockey.”

Okay, so I kinda let myself go at the end there. But the idea has been in my head for some time. I don’t know if it’s feasible – though it probably is. I’m also certain I didn’t come up with it and read about it elsewhere, though I can’t find anything about the topic at the moment.

I thought about it again when I attended a event on Sam Harris’ book tour. He was asked a question about computers and ethics, and he stated that (and here I must paraphrase for my memory is terrible) that, if we could replace a malfunctioning neuron in our brain with an artificial neuron that completely replicates the replaced neuron’s behavior, why not over time gradually replace all of them? And in that case, would we not have a fully artificial brain? And would not that brain be conscious?

That idea of just gradually replacing all our biology until we’re completely metal fascinates me. I mean, if that’s not “transhumanism,” I don’t know what is. Instead of an apocalyptic war between humanity and the machines, we instead have a gradual evolution from biological to synthetic life. Aside from the fascination, I’m not sure how I should feel about that. Is it a good thing? What will we give up to do that? But, since I’m a libertarian transhumanist, as long as it’s voluntary, it should be okay. I think most aspects of transhumanism are glorious and want to see them come about, to alleviate suffering and create more enjoyment. So long as we don’t have early adopters and retros blowing each other up…

2014 Predictions Part 3: Everything Else

With little over 24 hours left in 2013, it’s time for my last predictions for 2014. I couldn’t be arsed to do two more bits, so I’m just doing one more blog post, and hopefully will keep this short.

Without further ado:

We’re gonna get dumber next year

2013 was the year of stupidity, or just another year of it. We also had a lot of internet hoaxes (hoaxi?), ranging from a stupid spat on an airplane which turned out to be completely false, a story about how Iron Maiden followed it’s music pirates, and a few others. Over the past year, the credibility of online sources went really downhill.

While part of me wants to lay it at the feet of outlets such as Buzzfeed, Upworthy, ViralNova, and Breitbart, in reality the problem is really us, the consumers. We simply do not take the time to examine what we hear or read critically. Mainly, this is because we don’t have the time, nor the resources, to do so. But still, people can and should be raising their eyebrow in a Spock manuever more often. It’s a shame we don’t.

I honestly expect it to get worse. People are offloading so many cognitive functions to others–hoping for experts and the “news” to tell them everything–that they just won’t think about things.

Also, in a related vein, I see the phenomenon of trying to create viral posts by outfits like those mentioned above increasing dramatically, before suffering some sort of backlash and dying…only to be replaced by something even more grotesque. You know what I’m talking about: “This Guys Had A Great Plan Going, But What Happened Next Changed Everything.” It’s a technique that has annoyed a lot of people, though nowhere near enough to actually change things.

So that’s depressing.

Quality of discourse will suffer

Ever had socio-political, economic, theological, or any other debate online? Yeah. They’re gonna get worse next year. More ad hominem, more fallacies, more refusal to even research their own opinions (and probably demand you to do it for them), more just plain stupidity.

How do I know? Call it an educated guess. The longer I’ve lived, the worse and worse these discussions have gotten.

No significant change in religion

Dunno if anyone’s said there’s going to be an uptick in atheism next year, but I’m calling it now: there won’t be any significant change in anything religious next year. Maybe a point or two fewer Christians calling themselves evangelical, but probably not even that.

Cable companies will continue to suck (your money)

So I bought my parents a Google Chromecast for Christmas so they could watch their ABC shows online without having to physically plug in the laptop to the TV. (They’re old, you know.) However, we just discovered that starting Jan 6th, they’re going to need a provider code from their TV provider in order to watch ABC shows online.

They don’t have a “provider.” They get their shows over the air, via digital broadcast.

This is the way of the cable companies twisting the arms of the networks to force consumers to buy hideously expensive cable/satellite packages instead of just cutting the cord and using Roku (or a Chromecast). This will continue throughout 2014. My question is when it actually ends; when will the jig be up? 2015? 2016? 2020? Later? I don’t know. But it seems to me that it will happen sooner or later. Probably sooner. Then people will watch what they want online, including with all the ads.

Just not soon enough, unfortunately.

Kansas City Chiefs Crush The Seattle Seachickens To Win Super Bowl XLVIII

I’m calling it now. I’m also calling my bank to reassure myself I have enough money to cover my losses.

2014 Predictions Part 1: Politics

Recently, a friend of mine noted that not enough people–mainly pundits–actually put their reputation (and even money!) on the line and make hard predictions. He admired a lefty blogger for doing so last year when said blogger made a line-in-the-sand prediction that everyone would be sold on Obamacare by today. (Naturally, my friend disagrees with this lefty blogger on several issues, though not all.) That got me thinking to what predictions I would make, so, well, at the end of 2013, here are a few.

I’m probably not going to make anything definite, or super-hard; I always try to hedge my bets as there’s always a degree of uncertainty. You can never be 100% certain about something; if you are, you’re probably wrong. But then I’m not sure about that either.

And also, because this turned out to be longer than I expected, I’m breaking it up into parts. Part 1 is politics; part 2 will be science & technology; I may be a part 3 for society; with part 4 a catch-all for anything miscelleanous, if I get to that.

So, here are some predictions I have for 2014, along with some that go a little beyond that…

Continue reading 2014 Predictions Part 1: Politics

2012 Predictions

Since a couple of my friends are posting their predictions for 2012, I figured I would get in on it too:

Political

  • Ron Paul wins Iowa and New Hampshire, has not terrible but not great either performances in South Carolina and Florida, and then flames out afterward (but sticks around until the convention)
  • Gary Johnson wins the Libertarian Party nomination and goes on to receive 3-7% of the popular vote in the general election but no electoral votes (or maybe 1-2 at the most from faithless electors)
  • Republicans hold the House and take the Senate
  • Mitt Romney wins the GOP nomination and the presidency
  • Battles begin over public sector pensions as states and local governments cannot pay them all; Democrats start cutting Big Labor loose, seeing it more as a liability than an asset
  • The Eurozone and the European Union break up
  • Widespread civil unrest in China
  • The Middle East explodes, as if it were punched by the holy fist of Chuck Norris
  • Kim Jung-Un is disposed and North Korea gets taken over by a junta, which later collapses due to factional infighting
  • Russia finally becomes a parafascist state and just gets on with it
  • Civil liberties across the world take a beating, especially in the United States
  • Simulatenously, “social democracy” around the world takes a beating of its own, as entitlement and welfare programs are simply unsustainable
  • I become a Canadian to get away from it all
Economics
  • Keynesianism gets kicked in the face (I wish)
  • China’s economy begins to implode, though not completely
  • Entitlements are not reformed, debt is not tackled, and the Federal Reserve continues to exist, which sets the stage for the economy to end in 2013

Technology

  • They fail to introduce an Android phone that doesn’t suck ass
  • They finally release a version of the iPhone for prepaid carriers
  • RIM (makers of the Blackberry) go bankrupt; nobody in the United States cares
  • Research into cold fusion technology (AKA this guy) proves fruitful, and while not leading into “proven!” territory, dispels the stigma around it and opens up new doors
  • Drones take over most combat operations in the US military
  • AI are not developed
  • Cloud computing takes a hit as more and more regulations over the Internet (think SOPA) are debated and some passed, encouraging people to stop using the web so damn much
  • On the other hand, “hacktivists” become more prominent, and governments around the world start seeing their control over the web slip away, giving credence to “crypto-anarchist” movements

Science

  • More experiments involving FTL neutrinos (and/or other particles) are confirmed, radically changing our understanding of physics
  • A prototypical form of the Grand Unified Theory is discovered, but not confirmed; everyone argues over it
  • More evidence concerning multiple universes is acquired

Personal

  • I fail to play or GM a pen-and-paper RPG adventure (at least one!) due to various reasons
  • After a four-year hiatus, I publish a short story, though I do not publish a novel