Internet Security Is Our Responsibility

By William Sheppard
As we learn more and more details regarding government spying, it seems more and more foolhardy to trust our security to third party businesses.The state requires information on its subjects to be effective. From the first census in Egypt more than 5000 years ago, states have sought personal information on their citizens, especially in tyrannical states, where informants and secret police gather information on any and all potentially subversive activities.

In the age of the Internet and the surveillance state, spy agencies collect information on us that would make Stalin’s NKVD green with envy — much of it naively handed over via social media. When the surveillance state will be dismantled is anyone’s guess, but, in the meantime, the less useful data that can be collected on us the less effective the state’s control of us. For activists, use of private or anonymous communication in first world countries could be key to avoiding pre-emptive arrest, In places like Syria, it becomes a matter of life and death.

Initially, I had hoped companies like Google would come to the rescue by implementing powerful encryption systems; unfortunately it seems less and less likely that corporations beholden to shareholders and intertwined with government can effectively and securely create these services. While these big companies with their large profits and lobbying budgets are probably in the best position to fight back against the surveillance state, they  also have the most to lose if they don’t play along.

Ladar Levison’s Lavabit was a semi-secure email service. In August, Levison shut down Lavabit citing government threats and interference. Observers speculated that Levison had received a National Security Letter demanding customer data, likely that of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Recently unsealed court document show that a warrant was issued for the private SSL key for the Lavabit service. This key allows a secure encrypted connection between user and server. Having access to this key would give the government real time access to information being sent by users to the site. This in turn would allow them to scoop up log-in credentials and access the encrypted emails of any of Lavabit’s 400,000 customers.

Much to his credit, Ladar Levison decided to shut down Lavabit — denying access to the privately stored communications of its customers. This sort of principled stance is unexpected. Levison didn’t have shareholders to answer to. He answered to himself and his customers. We cannot expect large tech corporations like Google, who put forth the public image of being on our side and actually attempt to publicize government intrusion, to actually defy the government when compelled by law. Other players, such as Microsoft, appear to be enthusiastic in their collaboration with the NSA and other 3 letter agencies.

So what does this all mean for us? Is it all doom and gloom? No! We have to take this into our own hands. There are a multitude of free and open source projects and open standards for encryption. From what we understand, the NSA has broken encryption through coercion and subversion, not by raw attempts at bashing away at the numbers and cracking the codes. Most likely, we can still trust the mathematics.

When a project is open source its code is open to scrutiny. It can be vetted and we can know exactly how it does what it does. While the majority of us do not have the technical know-how to look through the code of a specific program to vet it before compiling it,  trusted researchers and academics can and do vet these for us. Thus we can be aware of potential vulnerabilities of encryption software and know the limits of its capabilities. When we communicate with PGP, for example, we are using an open standard. We do not need to trust our communications to a company that may have been coerced by government to compromise our privacy. With PGP, you are  in possession of your private key and no one else can be made to hand it over. The Tor project, due to its complexity, is not so clear cut. Because of its distributed nature, there are more opportunities for exploitation, but the project is open source and these potential exploits are documented so we are able to understand its limits.

The conclusions we must draw is that we are in this together. If we decide to use corporate service that claim to be secure, we must be aware that they could be compromised at any time — not through brute force, but coercive force. With closed source encryption software, there is no way to evaluate or trust the developer’s claims. When we use open source encryption software we must make ourselves aware of its limitations and use it accordingly.

Internet security is our responsibility.

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The Antispeciesist Revolution

By David Pearce

When is it ethically acceptable to harm another sentient being? On some fairly modest assumptions, to harm or kill someone simply on the grounds they belong to a different gender, sexual orientation or ethnic group is unjustified. Such distinctions are real but ethically irrelevant. On the other hand, species membership is normally reckoned an ethically relevant criterion. Fundamental to our conceptual scheme is the pre-Darwinian distinction between “humans” and “animals”.

Speciesism.

In law, nonhuman animals share with inanimate objects the status of property. As property, nonhuman animals can be bought, sold, killed or otherwise harmed as humans see fit. In consequence, humans treat nonhuman animals in ways that would earn a life-time prison sentence without parole if our victims were human. From an evolutionary perspective, this contrast in status isn’t surprising. In our ancestral environment of adaptation, the capacity to hunt, kill and exploit sentient beings of other species was fitness-enhancing(2). Our moral intuitions have been shaped accordingly. Yet can we ethically justify such behaviour today?

Naively, one reason for disregarding the interests of nonhumans is the dimmer-switch model of consciousness. Humans matter more than nonhuman animals because (most) humans are more intelligent. Intuitively, more intelligent beings are more conscious than less intelligent beings; consciousness is the touchstone of moral status.

The problem with the dimmer-switch model is that it’s empirically unsupported among vertebrates with central nervous systems, and probably in cephalopods such as the octopus as well. Microelectrode studies of the brains of awake human subjects suggest that the most intense forms of experience, for example agony, terror and orgasmic bliss, are mediated by the limbic system, not the prefrontal cortex. Our core emotions are evolutionarily ancient and strongly conserved. Humans share the anatomical and molecular substrates of our core emotions with the nonhuman animals whom we factory-farm and kill. By contrast, distinctively human cognitive capacities such as generative syntax, or the ability to do higher mathematics, are either phenomenologically subtle or impenetrable to introspection. To be sure, genetic and epigenetic differences exist between, say, a pig and a human being that explain our adult behavioural differences, e.g. the allele of the FOXP2(1) gene implicated in the human capacity for recursive syntax. Such mutations have little to do with raw sentience(1).

Antispeciesism.
So what is the alternative to traditional anthropocentric ethics? Antispeciesism is not the claim that “All Animals Are Equal”, or that all species are of equal value, or that a human or a pig is equivalent to a mosquito. Rather the antispeciesist claims that, other things being equal, equally strong interests should count equally. Experiences that are subjectively negative or positive in hedonic tone to the same degree must count for the same. And conscious beings of equivalent sentience often have equally strong interests, which (other things being equal) we must care for and respect equally – though other animals who may be less sentient can also have important interests as well. A pig, for example, is of comparable sentience to a prelinguistic human toddler. As it happens, a pig is of comparable (or superior) intelligence to a toddler as well(5). However, such cognitive prowess is ethically incidental. If ethical status is a function of sentience, then to factory-farm and slaughter a pig is as ethically abhorrent as to factory-farm and slaughter a human baby. To exploit one and nurture the other expresses an irrational but genetically adaptive prejudice.

On the face of it, this antispeciesist claim isn’t just wrong-headed; it’s absurd. Philosopher Jonathan Haidt speaks of “moral dumbfounding”(6), where we just know something is wrong but can’t articulate precisely why. Haidt offers the example of consensual incest between an adult brother and sister who use birth control. For evolutionary reasons, we “just know” such an incestuous relationship is immoral. In the case of any comparisons of pigs with human infants and toddlers, we “just know” at some deep level that any alleged equivalence in status is unfounded. After all, if there were no ethically relevant distinction between a pig and a toddler, or between a battery-farmed chicken and a human infant, then the daily behaviour of ordinary meat-eating humans would be sociopathic – which sounds crazy. In fact, unless the psychiatrists’ bible, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is modified explicitly to exclude behaviour towards nonhumans, most of us do risk satisfying its diagnostic criteria for the disorder. Even so, humans often conceive of ourselves as animal lovers. Despite the horrors of factory-farming, and in general of slaughterhouses where all farmed animals perish, most consumers of meat and animal products are clearly not sociopaths in the normal usage of the term; most factory-farm managers are not wantonly cruel; and the majority of slaughterhouse workers are not sadists who delight in suffering. Serial killers of nonhuman animals are just ordinary men doing a distasteful job – “obeying orders” – on pain of losing their livelihoods.

Should we expect anything different? Political theorist Hannah Arendt spoke famously of the “banality of evil”(7). If twenty-first century humans are collectively doing something posthuman superintelligence will reckon monstrous, a crime against sentience akin to the [human] Holocaust or Atlantic slave trade, then it’s easy to assume our moral intuitions would disclose this to us. Our intuitions don’t disclose anything of the kind; so we sleep easy. But both natural selection and the historical record offer powerful reasons for doubting the trustworthiness of our naive moral intuitions. So the possibility that human civilisation might be founded upon some monstrous evil should be taken seriously – even if the possibility seems transparently absurd at the time.

One possible speciesist response is to raise the question of “potential”. Even if a pig is as sentient as a human toddler, there is a fundamental distinction between human toddlers and pigs. Only a toddler has the potential to mature into a rational adult human being.

The problem with this response is that it contradicts our treatment of humans who lack “potential”. Thus we recognise that a toddler with a progressive disorder who will never live to celebrate his third birthday deserves at least as much love, care and respect as his normally developing peers – not to be packed off to a factory-farm on the grounds it’s a shame to let good food go to waste. We recognise a similar duty of care for mentally handicapped adult humans and cognitively frail old people. For sure, historical exceptions exist to this perceived duty of care for vulnerable humans, e.g. the Nazi “euthanasia” program, with its eugenicist conception of “life unworthy of life”. But by common consent, we value young children and cognitively challenged adults for who they are, not simply for who they may – or may not – one day become. On occasion, there may controversially be instrumental reasons for allocating more care and resources to a potential genius or exceptionally gifted child than to a normal human. Yet disproportionate intraspecies resource allocation may be justified, not because high IQ humans are more sentient, but because of the anticipated benefits to society as a whole.

Practical Implications.
1. Invitrotarianism.

The greatest source of severe, chronic and readily avoidable suffering in the world today is man-made: animal agriculture, most notably factory farming. Humans currently slaughter over fifty billion sentient beings each year. One implication of an antispeciesist ethic is that factory farms should be shut and their surviving victims rehabilitated.

In common with most ethical revolutions in history, the prospect of humanity switching to a cruelty-free diet first strikes most practically-minded folk as utopian dreaming. “Realists” certainly have plenty of hard evidence to bolster their case. As English essayist William Hazlitt observed, “The least pain in our little finger gives us more concern and uneasiness than the destruction of millions of our fellow-beings.” Without the aid of twenty-first century technology, the mass slaughter and abuse of our fellow animals might continue indefinitely. Yet tissue science technology promises to allow consumers to become moral agents without the slightest hint of personal inconvenience. Lab-grown in vitro meat produced in cell culture rather than a live animal has long been a staple of science fiction. But global veganism – or its ethical invitrotarian equivalent – is no longer a futuristic fantasy. Rapid advances in tissue engineering mean that in vitro meat will shortly be developed and commercialised. Today’s experimental cultured mincemeat can be supplanted by mass-manufactured gourmet steaks for the consumer market. Perhaps critically for its rapid public acceptance, in vitro meat does not need to be genetically modified – thereby spiking the guns of techno-luddites who might otherwise worry about “FrankenBurgers”. Indeed, cultured meat products will be more “natural” in some ways than their antibiotic-laced counterparts derived from farmed animals.

Momentum for commercialisation is growing. Non-profit research organisations like New Harvest(8), working to develop alternatives to conventionally-produced meat, have been joined by hard-headed businessmen. Visionary entrepreneur and Stanford academic Peter Thiel(9) has just funnelled $350,000 into Modern Meadow, a start-up that aims to combine 3D printing with in vitro meat cultivation. Within the next decade or so, gourmet steaks could be printed out from biological materials. In principle, the technology should be scalable. While work on in vitro meat continues, rapid advances are being made in the development of so-called plant meats. Beyond Meat(10), for example, has already brought to market the first plant-based meat with a texture almost identical to chicken flesh.

Tragically, billions of nonhuman animals will atrociously suffer and die this century at human hands before the dietary transition is complete. Humans are not obligate carnivores; eating meat and animal products is a lifestyle choice. “But I like the taste!” is not a morally compelling argument. Vegans and animal advocates ask whether we are ethically entitled to wait on a technological fix. The antispeciesist answer is clear: no.

2. Compassionate Biology.
If and when humans stop systematically harming other sentient beings, will our ethical duties to members of other species have been discharged? Not if the same ethical considerations as apply to members of other human races or age-groups apply also to members of other species of equivalent sentience. Thus if famine breaks out in sub-Saharan Africa and young human children are starving, then we recognise we have a duty to send aid; or better still, to take proactive to measures to ensure famines do not arise in the first instance, i.e. to provide not just food aid but family planning. So why not assist, say, starving free-living elephants? Until recently, no comparable interventions were feasible for members of other species. The technical challenges were insurmountable. Not least, the absence of cross-species fertility control technologies would have often made bad problems worse. Yet thanks to the exponential growth of computer power, every cubic metre of the planet will shortly be computationally accessible to micro-management, surveillance and control. Harnessed to biotechnology, nanotechnology and robotics, such tools confer unprecedented power over Nature. With unbridled power comes complicity. Ethically speaking, how many of the traditional cruelties of the living world do we wish to perpetuate? Orthodox conservation biologists argue we should not “interfere”: humans can’t “police” Nature. Antispeciesists disagree. Advocates of compassionate biology argue that humans and nonhumans alike should not be parasitised, starved, disembowelled, asphyxiated, or eaten alive.

As always, bioconservatives insist such miseries are “natural”; status quo bias runs deep. “”Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity””, observed George Bernard Shaw. Snuff movies in the guise of Nature documentaries are quite popular on Youtube, a counterpoint to the Disneyfied wildlife shows aired on mainstream TV. Moreover even sympathetic critics of compassionate biology might respond that helping free-living members of other species is prohibitively expensive. An adequate welfare safety-net scarcely exists for humans in many parts of the world. So how can we contemplate its extension to nonhumans – even just to large-brained, long-lived vertebrates in our Nature reserves? Provision of comprehensive healthcare for all free-living elephants(11), for example, might cost between two or three billion dollars annually. Compassionate stewardship of the living world would be technically daunting too, entailing ecosystem management, cross-species fertility control via immunocontraception, veterinary care, emergency famine-relief, GPS tracking and monitoring, and ultimately phasing out or genetically “reprogramming”(12) carnivorous predators. The notional bill could approach the world’s 1.7 trillion-dollar annual arms budget. But irrespective of cost or timescale, if we are to be consistently non-speciesist, then decisions about resource allocation should be based not on species membership, but directly or indirectly on sentience. An elephant, for example, is at least as sentient as a human toddler – and may well be as sentient if not sapient as adult humans. If it is ethically obligatory to help sick or starving children, then it’s ethically obligatory to help sick or starving elephants – not just via crisis interventions but via long-term healthcare support.

A traditional conservation biologist might respond that elephants helped by humans are no longer truly wild. Yet on such a criterion, clothes-wearing humans or beneficiaries of food aid and family planning aren’t “wild” humans either. Why should this matter? “Free-living” and “wild” are conceptually distinct. To assume that the civilising process should be confined to our own species is mere speciesist prejudice. Humans, transhumans and posthumans must choose what forms of sentience we want to preserve and create on Earth and beyond. Humans already massively intervene in Nature, whether though habitat destruction, captive breeding programs for big cats, “rewilding”, etc. So the question is not whether humans should “interfere”, but rather what ethical principles should govern our interventions(13).

Speciesism and Superintelligence.
Why should transhumanists care about the suffering of nonhuman animals? This is not a “feel-good” issue. One reason we should care cuts to the heart of the future of life in the universe. Transhumanists differ over whether our posthuman successors will most likely be nonbiological artificial superintelligence; or cyborgs who effectively merge with our hyperintelligent machines; or our own recursively self-improving biological descendents who modify their own genetic source code and bootstrap their way to full-spectrum superintelligence(14). Regardless of the dominant lifeform of the posthuman era, biological humans have a vested interest in the behaviour of intellectually advanced beings towards cognitively humble creatures – if we survive at all. Compared to posthuman superintelligence, archaic humans may be no smarter than pigs or chickens – or perhaps worms. This does not augur well for Homo sapiens. Western-educated humans tend to view Jains as faintly ridiculous for practising ahimsa, or harmlessness, sweeping the ground in front of them to avoid inadvertently treading on insects. How quixotic! Yet the fate of sentient but cognitively humble lifeforms in relation to vastly superior intelligence is precisely the issue at stake as we confront the prospect of posthuman superintelligence. How can we ensure a Jain-like concern for comparatively simple-minded creatures such as ourselves? Why should superintelligences care any more than humans about the well-being of their intellectual inferiors? Might distinctively human-friendly superintelligence turn out to be as intellectually-incoherent as, say, Aryan-friendly superintelligence? If human primitives are to prove worthy of conservation, how can we implement technologies of impartial friendliness towards other sentients? And if posthumans do care, how do we know that a truly benevolent superintelligence wouldn’t turn Darwinian life into utilitronium with a communal hug?

Viewed in such a light, biological humanity’s prospects in a future world of superintelligence might seem dire. However, this worry expresses a one-dimensional conception of general intelligence. No doubt the nature of mature superintelligence is humanly unknowable. But presumably full-spectrum(15) superintelligence entails, at the very least, a capacity to investigate, understand and manipulate both the formal and the subjective properties of mind. Modern science aspires to an idealised “view from nowhere”(16), an impartial, God-like understanding of the natural universe, stripped of any bias in perspective and expressed in the language of mathematical physics. By the same token, a God-like superintelligence must also be endowed with the capacity impartially to grasp all possible first-person perspectives – not a partial and primitive Machiavellian cunning of the kind adaptive on the African savannah, but an unimaginably radical expansion of our own fitfully growing circle of empathy.

What such superhuman perspective-taking ability might entail is unclear. We are familiar with people who display abnormally advanced forms of “mind-blind”(17), autistic intelligence in higher mathematics and theoretical physics. Less well known are hyper-empathisers who display unusually sophisticated social intelligence. Perhaps the most advanced naturally occurring hyper-empathisers exhibit mirror-touch synaesthesia(18). A mirror-touch synaesthete cannot be unfriendly towards you because she feels your pain and pleasure as if it were her own. In principle, such unusual perspective-taking capacity could be generalised and extended with reciprocal neuroscanning technology and telemetry into a kind of naturalised telepathy, both between and within species. Interpersonal and cross-species mind-reading could in theory break down hitherto invincible barriers of ignorance between different skull-bound subjects of experience, thereby eroding the anthropocentric, ethnocentric and egocentric bias that has plagued life on Earth to date. Today, the intelligence-testing community tends to treat facility at empathetic understanding as if it were a mere personality variable, or at best some sort of second-rate cognition for people who can’t do IQ tests. But “mind-reading” can be a highly sophisticated, cognitively demanding ability. Compare, say, the sixth-order intentionality manifested by Shakespeare. In Othello, for example, Shakespeare intends his audience believe that Iago intends that Othello imagines that Desdemona is in love with Cassio and that Cassio reciprocates Desdemona’s amorous feelings(19). Thus we shouldn’t conceive superintelligence as akin to God imagined by someone with autistic spectrum disorder. Rather full-spectrum superintelligence entails a God’s-eye capacity to understand the rich multi-faceted first-person perspectives of diverse lifeforms whose mind-spaces humans would find incomprehensibly alien.

An obvious objection arises. Just because ultra-intelligent posthumans may be capable of displaying empathetic superintelligence, how do we know such intelligence will be exercised? The short answer is that we don’t: by analogy, today’s mirror-touch synaesthetes might one day neurosurgically opt to become mind-blind. But then equally we don’t know whether posthumans will renounce their advanced logico-mathematical prowess in favour of the functional equivalent of wireheading. If they do so, then they won’t be superintelligent. The existence of diverse first-person perspectives is a fundamental feature of the natural world, as fundamental as the second law of thermodynamics or the Higgs boson. To be ignorant of fundamental features of the world is to be an idiot savant: a super-Watson(20) perhaps, but not a superintelligence(21).

High-Tech Jainism?
Jules Renard once remarked, “I don’t know if God exists, but it would be better for His reputation if He didn’t.” God’s conspicuous absence from the natural world needn’t deter us from asking what an omniscient, omnipotent, all-merciful deity would want humans to do with our imminent God-like powers. For we’re on the brink of a momentous evolutionary transition in the history of life on Earth. Physicist Freeman Dyson predicts we’ll soon “be writing genomes as fluently as Blake and Byron wrote verses”(22). The ethical risks and opportunities for apprentice deities are huge.

On the one hand, Karl Popper warns, “Those who promise us paradise on earth never produced anything but a hell”(23). Twentieth-century history bears out such pessimism. Yet for billions of sentient beings from less powerful species, existing life on Earth is hell. They end their miserable lives on our dinner plates: “for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka”, writes Jewish Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer(24).

In a more utopian vein, some utterly sublime scenarios are technically feasible later this century and beyond. It’s not clear whether experience below Sidgwick’s(25) “hedonic zero” has any long-term future. Thanks to molecular neuroscience, mastery of the brain’s reward circuitry could make everyday life wonderful beyond the bounds of normal human experience. There is no technical reason why the pitiless Darwinian struggle of the past half billion years can’t be replaced by an earthly paradise for all creatures great and small. Genetic engineering could allow “the lion to lie down with the lamb.” Enhancement technologies could transform killer apes into saintly smart angels. Biotechnology could abolish suffering throughout the living world. Artificial intelligence could secure the well-being of all sentience in our forward light-cone. Our quasi-immortal descendants may be animated by gradients of intelligent bliss orders of magnitude richer than anything physiologically feasible today.

Such fantastical-sounding scenarios may never come to pass. Yet if so, this won’t be because the technical challenges prove too daunting, but because intelligent agents choose to forgo the molecular keys to paradise for something else. Critically, the substrates of bliss don’t need to be species-specific or rationed. Transhumanists believe the well-being of all sentience(26) is the bedrock of any civilisation worthy of the name.

NOTES

1. How modest? A venerable tradition in philosophical meta-ethics is anti-realism. The meta-ethical anti-realist proposes that claims such as it’s wrong to rape women, kill Jews, torture babies (etc) lack truth value – or are simply false. (cf. JL Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, Viking Press, 1977.) Here I shall assume that, for reasons we simply don’t understand, the pain-pleasure axis discloses the world’s inbuilt metric of (dis)value. Meta-ethical anti-realists may instead wish to interpret this critique of speciesism merely as casting doubt on its internal coherence rather than a substantive claim that a non-speciesist ethic is objectively true.

2. Extreme violence towards members of other tribes and races can be fitness-enhancing too. See, e.g. Richard Wrangham & Dale Peterson, Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

3. Fisher SE, Scharff C (2009). “FOXP2 as a molecular window into speech and language”. Trends Genet. 25 (4): 166–77. doi:10.1016/j.tig.2009.03.002. PMID 19304338.

4. Interpersonal and interspecies comparisons of sentience are of course fraught with problems. Comparative studies of how hard a human or nonhuman animal will work to avoid or obtain a particular stimulus give one crude behavioural indication. Yet we can go right down to the genetic and molecular level, e.g. interspecies comparisons of SCN9A genotype. (cf. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/02/23/0913181107.full.pdf) We know that in humans the SCN9A gene modulates pain-sensitivity. Some alleles of SCN9A give rise to hypoalgesia, others alleles to hyperalgesia. Nonsense mutations yield congenital insensitivity to pain. So we could systematically compare the SCN9A gene and its homologues in nonhuman animals. Neocortical chauvinists will still be sceptical of non-mammalian sentience, pointing to the extensive role of cortical processing in higher vertebrates. But recall how neuroscanning techniques reveal that during orgasm, for example, much of the neocortex effectively shuts down. Intensity of experience is scarcely diminished.

5. Held S, Mendl M, Devereux C, and Byrne RW. 2001. “Studies in social cognition: from primates to pigs”. Animal Welfare 10:S209-17.

6. Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Pantheon Books, 2012.

7. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Viking Press, 1963.

8. http://www.new-harvest.org/

9. “PayPal Founder Backs Synthetic Meat Printing Company”, Wired, August 16 2012. http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/08/3d-printed-meat/

10. Beyond Meat: http://www.beyondmeat.com/

11. http://www.abolitionist.com/reprogramming/elephantcare.html

12. http://www.abolitionist.com/reprogramming/index.html

13. The scholarly literature on the problem of wild animal suffering is still sparse. But perhaps see Arne Naess, “Should We Try To Relieve Clear Cases of Suffering in Nature?”, published in The Selected Works of Arne Naess, Springer, 2005; Oscar Horta, “The Ethics of the Ecology of Fear against the Nonspeciesist Paradigm: A Shift in the Aims of Intervention in Nature”, Between the Species, Issue X, August 2010. http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/bts/vol13/iss10/10/ ; Brian Tomasik, “The Importance of Wild-Animal Suffering”, http://www.utilitarian-essays.com/suffering-nature.html ; and the first print-published plea for phasing out carnivorism in Nature, Jeff McMahan’s “The Meat Eaters”, The New York Times. September 19, 2010. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/the-meat-eaters/

14. Singularity Hypotheses, A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment, Eden, A.H.; Moor, J.H.; Søraker, J.H.; Steinhart, E. (Eds) Spinger 2013. http://singularityhypothesis.blogspot.co.uk/p/table-of-contents.html

15. David Pearce, The Biointelligence Explosion. (preprint), 2012. http://www.biointelligence-explosion.com.

16. Thomas Nagel, The View From Nowhere , OUP, 1989.

17. Simon Baron-Cohen (2009). “Autism: the empathizing–systemizing (E-S) theory” (PDF). Ann N Y Acad Sci 1156: 68–80. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04467.x. PMID 19338503.

18. Banissy, M. J. & Ward, J. (2007). Mirror-touch synesthesia is linked with empathy. Nature Neurosci. doi: 10.1038/nn1926.

19. see “The Social Brain Hypothesis and its Relevance To Cognitive Psychology by R.I.M. Dunbar, published in Evolution and the Social Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and Social Cognition, Forgas, J.P; Haselton, M. G.; von Hippel, W. (Eds) Psychology Press 2007.

20. Stephen Baker. Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2011.

21. Orthogonality or convergence? For an alternative to the convergence thesis, see Nick Bostrom, “The Superintelligent Will: Motivation and Instrumental Rationality in Advanced Artificial Agents”, 2012, http://www.nickbostrom.com/superintelligentwill.pdf; and Eliezer Yudkowsky, Carl Shulman, Anna Salamon, Rolf Nelson, Steven Kaas, Steve Rayhawk, Zack Davis, and Tom McCabe. “Reducing Long-Term Catastrophic Risks from Artificial Intelligence”, 2010. http://singularity.org/files/ReducingRisks.pdf

22. Freeman Dyson, “When Science & Poetry Were Friends”, New York Review of Books, August 13, 2009.

23. As quoted in Jon Winokur, In Passing: Condolences and Complaints on Death, Dying, and Related Disappointments, Sasquatch Books, 2005.

24. Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Letter Writer, 1964.

25. Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics. London, 1874, 7th ed. 1907.

26. The Transhumanist Declaration (1998, 2009). http://humanityplus.org/philosophy/transhumanist-declaration/    

U.S. plan to give some higher consciousness species personhood rights: Personhood Beyond the Human Conference

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Abolition is Imperative in Kurzweil’s Sixth Epoch Scenario

By Jønathan Lyons

Consider the Abolition Society, the Abolitionists Against Suffering group on facebook, and the philosophy of Dr. David Pearce, who is “a British utilitarian philosopher and transhumanist, who promotes the idea that there exists a strong ethical imperative for humans to work towards the abolition of suffering in all sentient life.

His internet manifesto The Hedonistic Imperative details how he believes the abolition of suffering can be accomplished through ‘paradise engineering.’ He co-founded the World Transhumanist Association in 1998, and the Abolitionist Society in 2002.”

He discusses and takes questions on Abolition philosophy here:

When I first encountered Pearce’s Abolition philosophy, I was fascinated. But, as happens more often than I’d like with Big Ideas in philosophy, the sheer scope and audacity of Abolition philosophy was at first difficult for me to process credibly. I mean, really? Paradise engineering? Re-engineer all life to eliminate unnecessary suffering?!

As a fellow vegan, Pearce walks the walk on minimizing the suffering and costs his actions — and his diet — demand from the world. That gave me another reason to consider his positions, particularly as a transhumanist myself. If one wishes to pursue the abolition of unnecessary suffering, veganism is a powerful place to begin in the here and now.

(The IEET is currently conducting a poll on the dietary attitudes and practices of its readership. An earlier such poll found that a whopping 12.31% of respondents described themselves as vegan. Wikipedia cites (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veganism) varying numbers from different sources, generally between about .5% and 3%.)

Consider the seventh point on the Transhumanist Declaration:

“We advocate the well-being of all sentience, including humans, non-human animals, and any future artificial intellects, modified life forms, or other intelligences to which technological and scientific advance may give rise.”

This was updated slightly in Transhumanity.net’s Transhumanist Declaration 2.0, penned by Dirk Bruere, to include Pearce’s Abolition specifically:

“We advocate the well-being of all sentience, including humans, non-human animals, and any future artificial intellects, modified life forms, or other intelligences to which technological and scientific advance may give rise. This is to be seen as a consequence of the adoption of Abolitionism, defined by philosopher David Pearce, as our core ethic.”

Indeed, in the Singularity 1-on-1 interview with Zero State founder Amon Kalkin, he also advocate ending unwanted suffering as part of Zero State’s mission. Zero State is an online, grassroots community which advocates “the establishment of a trans-national, virtual state — the Zero State.”

The transhumanist community embraces the basic principle of eliminating unnecessary/unwanted suffering, however varying the degrees. (And whoever determines what “necessary” suffering is, at that.)

Then I began considering Ray Kurzweil’s Six Epochs.

If we are indeed on course toward his predicted Sixth Epoch, when What We Become could begin to appropriate and put to use all resources it encounters in the universe in a quest to bring about the waking up of said universe, then we had better have Abolitionist philosophy as one of our core guiding principles. Otherwise, What We Become would likely be no less heartless than, say, Star Trek‘s the Borg: A marauding technological maw, consuming all that it encounters that it deems useful, never sated, never pausing to consider the desires of individual beings.

The Sixth Epoch scenario seems to lack specifics on what becomes of Luddites, religious outliers who eschew technologies, and those who just plain don’t want to become part of that project. (But perhaps that has to do with the difficulties of seeing past a technological Singularity.)

In fact, in a Sixth Epoch scenario, that grisly bloodbath would most likely begin here, on an unthinkable scale, resulting in the slaughter, repurposing, or extinction of virtually every living creature on Earth.

But if we transhumanists cement Abolition as a core, foundational part of our overall philosophy, then What We Become will be much better prepared to avoid the whole gruesome affair. We will have installed part of the philosophy futuristic beings will require to avoid forcing all of humankind, and all life on the planet, to become a part of the overall project, willing or not; and should be able, as a core portion of What We Become’s mission, to leave the choice of whether to become part of it up to each individual. Individual choice could still become an important part of What We Become’s quest to fulfill the forecast of the Sixth Epoch — assuming such a scenario ever comes even partly true. It will give What We Become a shot at not simply ignoring the wills and wishes of other beings, and may just leave behind a paradise engineered for those who wish to be part of such a creation, as What We Become branches out into the universe.

I know that this essay, teleological in nature, leaves aside important questions, such as:

  • Is Kurzweil’s Sixth Epoch vision a good thing? Is such a telos a worthy one?
  • Can paradise engineering — or any form of uplift of nonhuman animals — ever ascertain consent from nonhuman animals? Is paradise engineering a worthy telos?

I’m thinking about these questions, and I look forward to hearing and reading others’ thoughts on them.

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How can Workers of the World Really Unite?

by Kris Notaro

Social Darwinism, Ayn Rand’s objectivism, capitalism and eugenics are all catastrophes of human thought: How to create a federation of anarchist-socialist / anarchist-syndicalist workers. Warning: This is a techno-optimist and “politically”-positive article.

Workers of the world will unite, I hypothesize under several conditions.

A. Enhancement and “upgrading” brain/mind under the current system is available to everyone.

B. Unconscious robots replace human labor.

C. Current brain/mind renders capitalism as destructive, useless, and corrupt while embracing future technology and science.

D. A mix of the above happens before the wealthy upper class gets their hands on powerful brain/mind enhancements.

A diverse anarchist federation where technology (almost instantly) collects votes from informed, educated, healthy communities so that the “government” is the vote, and the ‘minds’ ‘who’ keep it going are simply robots, supercomputers and/or anarchist computer technicians. The vote would be as consensus like as possible abiding by traditional anarchist ideals. They would be collected on the supercomputers, hourly, daily, weekly, etc, and output immediately, perhaps after being run through a kind of ethical theory algorithm(s) before being presented to the conscious minds of the world.

Robots will replace human labor, leading to types of structural unemployment. Under this condition the robots must NOT be “conscious” not even as conscious as a mouse, or a worm. They have to be completely run by unconscious computer algorithms. If they are even conscious at the level of a mouse there will be protests for their liberation, leaving a post-work society to give up on robots bit by bit all around the world.

The federation of anarchist-socialist workers in a human-working society can have a number assigned to them very much like that of the numbers and letters assigned to every Ethernet/Network card on the planet, simply for voting purposes.

This will allow the rational human-working being to vote for such and such on the local to global level. However this is assuming a post-capitalist society, post-religion, and the lack of hackers and old government trying to hack the anarchist system of voting to implement capitalism again.

Power corrupts most people, historically, therefore the computer technicians (if needed) that run the the consensus worldwide voting system must be elected by the people and any corruption must be delt with. However, if we actually have this scenario play out, the workers of the world would be “brain/mind enhanced”. The likelihood of an enhanced conscious mind beyond the human to be corrupted enough to believe in the catastrophe known as capitalism, in my opinion, would be slim.


The techno-optimist and political-positive outlook on upgraded brains/minds assumes that A. We will live in a post-capitalist world. B. Everyone in the world who wants to be “upgraded” can be. C. After the upgrade, without anything but more knowledge and awareness of that knowledge leads the worker to accept anarchist-socialism out of awareness that this kind of social “structure” makes the most sense given the historical implications of other “ideologies”.

This does indeed assume that with a brain/mind upgrade people get the same kind of knowledge of political theory as everyone else. If education is the key to unlock the potential of mind, why not take an upgrade? Because this is in the anarchist context, the upgrade itself would not force the critical thinking brain to accept anarchist-socialism as fact, but a concept to consider. If it is the case, and I believe it is, that the upgraded mind will accept anarchist-socialism as the ultimate “structure” of society, then after thinking about their upgrade, they will indeed accept it.

If upgraded critical thinking leads to a new kind of social structure outside the realm of anarchism then so be it, however, that “structure” would most likely reject top down political power. In my opinion it will be, if different from what we know now, very close to anarchism, which was in the spotlight of political theory hundreds of years ago during the Enlightenment, the Spanish civil-war, the modern day globalization movement, and recently the Occupy movement to name a few.

Another likely condition is the lack of work because robots have replaced human-labor. In this case, we must have a guaranteed “income”: housing, healthcare, education, access to resources, etc. The anarchist-technoprogressive stance would be that EVERYONE who is replaced by an unconscious robot is given the resources for an anarchist-socialist society. Can science figure this out? Can an unconscious supercomputer figure out how to use the resources of the earth to have unconscious robots replace our labor, upgrade the human mind, and give people a life of happiness instead of wage slavery and the “race to the bottom” under capitalism?


In conclusion I feel that all these positive anarchist-socialist scenarios should happen, but we must have the technology to fix the ecosystem if the current ecosystem is indeed the best system for future life, etc – we can’t live in a dystopian junk yard. I hope that people accept the upgrade, and I also hope that before we get to upgrading brains via computer, nanotechnology, and biotechnology that we can agree that the ultimate way to “structure” society is indeed anarchist-socialism.

The acceptance of anarchist-socialism under the human condition would eradicate any need for a “vanguard party”, dictatorship, or a war to destroy capitalism. We must create a future where the rich do not enhance and upgrade their minds before the working class.

This, in my view, that of the rich enhancing their minds before the working class can lead to un-fairness if they use the upgrade, extra memory, and awareness to their benefit – only making the “1%” that much more powerful.

Enhancing the mind, upgrading brains, and replacing labor with unconscious robots will happen, but how, and in which social order? It is up to you!

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No Dystopian Future For Me!

By Kris Notaro: How can we save our planet, ourselves, and increase the quality of life world wide?

The new Total Recall movie is centered around a grim outlook of the future. It takes place in a metropolis – over populated, affected by global warming, under a totalitarian State, after World War 3. This sci-fi picture of the world takes place at the end of the 21st Century where the “United Federation of Britain” and the “Colony” are at war.

The only interesting things about the dystopian city is the use of anti-gravity and what seems to be magnetics in various technologies such as transportation and elevators. The use of a robot army is also, of course interesting to say the least.

I am not writing a review of the movie however, instead I want to focus on some concepts that have come into play in several dystopian movies recently. Some major taken-for-granted issues is that there will be overpopulation, a smoggish underworld, and an acceptance that global warming has melted the icecaps and all of Al Gores predictions have come true.

Indeed, we are living during a time in which the above dystopian future seems inevitable – the U.S. uses drones, though not autonomous (yet) in war (the DOD and DARPA have many more ideas for future robot warfare) the icecaps are indeed melting from global warming and population continues to skyrocket.

We do have many alternatives however, and this is where I want to take a brief look at the future in a Utopian fashion instead of dystopian. The above image, in reality cannot become true everywhere. If we take the picture on the left we see trees and a dirt road, where the picture on the right (from Total Recall 2012) shows a city after global warming, in a totalitarian State, with overpopulation, etc. Both realities are unattainable and/or catastrophic in nature to humans and posthumans.

In reality we live somewhere in the middle of each image, and the future just might, if we do it right, combine the beautiful image of a biological future mixed with a metal and concrete technological one. In academia, government, and the private sector we see many examples of people trying to save this world.

In China we see the population increasing, but we also see the government working on improving higher education and living standards for college educated youth. If the trend continues we should see more educated people whom, world wide, tend to have less children, not to mention China’s one child policy. These factors should lead to the actual decrease in the population of China by 2030.

In India, we continue to see the population rise, a clear difference between the education of women and men, men having higher education, and poverty scattered throughout the country. The people of India have to take it upon themselves to see that they are educated and not rely on the current government or on the private sector. Three examples that seem somewhat promising is the outlawing of child labor by the ILO and India’s government (cough!), distance learning, and semi “progressive” political groups fighting for womens rights, worker’s rights and against the caste system. Again, in a fair world the only thing that makes sense to me is the increase in education and prosperity to lead to a better tomorrow for India where population is concerned.

However if the solution to overpopulation is prosperity and education, one huge concern is that people will want more stuff. Simply put, more stuff tends to equal more green house emissions. If we want the world to patch up the ozone layer, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and fix the emergent complex system known as the ecosystem we will have to use radical new technology. Supertrees are currently being genetically engineered for the use of lumber and replacement of our shameful destruction of forests. Garbage eating nanotechnology, including genetically engineered bacteria are being designed as I write this. New “green” technologies are on the rise, and with a simple Googling, you can find Time Mag’s list of the top 20 green tech ideas, including Recycling e-Waste, Algae Biofuel, Algae food, Thin-film Solar, Molten Salt Storage, Solar Tower, Custom Biofuels, Electric Cars, Smart Meters, Lithium-ion Batteries, Fuel Cells, Rooftop Wind Power, Tidal Power, Green IT, Green Concrete, Green Building Materials, Modular Nuclear Power, Artificial Photosynthesis, Waste to Energy and “Biochar”.

We have to decrease carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides, and fluorinated gases through public policy, education, and technological advances like the ones mentioned above, various new concepts to increase rain, because rain does not have salt in it, and if it can be increased over the arctic ocean, some scientists believe it will increase ice, but we have to figure out exactly how to make it rain where it is supposed to rain, a challenge of mega proportions but one in which academic and private sector scientists are ready to take on. Geoengineering may just be the future of saving our ecosystem from catastrophic climate change. Summits have been hosted, scientists have come up with answers, and if a Manhattan Project style of organizing becomes a reality to come up with positive geoengineering we just might beat global warming.

The dystopian future of Total Recall also involved a resistance to totalitarianism, which is very important to say the least. Working people need to get organized and educated so that they can have a leading voice in a direct democracy technoprogressive future to push scientists towards the right kind of life saving, ecosystem fixing science. As long as “the rise of the machines” is not a reality, as long as computers are not conscious, we are going to have to rely on ourselves to come together and save the ecosystem. Instead of modeling nuclear blasts on supercomputers we need to model the ecosystem and take appropriate action, etc.

I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t want to live in a totalitarian, overpopulated, icecap and tree depleted future. Human, posthuman life is not just about existing and quantity of lifespan, it is most definitely also about quality.

References:

http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,2030137,00.html
http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100502/full/news.2010.213.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/16/global-warming-extreme-rain_n_824184.html
http://yosemite.epa.gov/R10/airpage.nsf/webpage/Repairing+The+Ozone+Layer
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/26/science/earth/26ozone.html
http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/newton/askasci/1995/environ/ENV084.HTM
http://phys.org/news4533.html
http://planetearth.nerc.ac.uk/news/story.aspx?id=800
http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/
http://geography.about.com/od/populationgeography/a/chinapopulation.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overpopulation
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_decline
http://www.algore.com/
http://www.nps.gov/pete/forteachers/life-in-an-ecosystem.htm
http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1731606,00.html
http://www.comicbookmovie.com/news/?a=65105
http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/445/green-jobs.html
http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/5-green-future-cities2.htm
http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/complexsystems/introduction.html

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Transhumanism contains the essence of the revolutionary spirit

By Summerspeaker

Drawing on Marx, I define the revolutionary spirit as the belief that we can and should radically transform the world for the better. It spurns compromise and necessary evils, opting instead for creative solutions and consistent morality. It ever struggles against restraints and limitations. The revolutionary saves both the spider and the butterfly or dies in the attempt. “We’ll have both equality and plenty,” say the communists. “We’ll have both freedom and order,” say the anarchists. “We have both longevity and happiness,” say the transhumanists. This mindset motivated Ricardo Flores Magón to dream of a Mexico without the state, bourgeoisie, or clergy. It caused Howard Scott to struggle for an economy of equally distributed abundance and Shulamith Firestone to advocate cybernetic communism. The same impulse drives Eliezer Yudkowsky to push problem-solving superintelligence and Aubrey de Grey to stump for the defeat of aging.

This spirit is not universal within the movement but it is prominent and important. Internally, it stands beside millennialist notions of utopia unfolding from historical processes regardless of our involvement. Externally, it contrasts with the reformist and conservative positions, which argue dramatic change to be impossible, undesirable, far off, or some combination of the three. Transhumanism contributes to the revolutionary discourse by expanding the conceptual territory subject to transformation. In the sense that anarchism addresses social relationships, communism the economy, and feminism the home and family, transhumanism looks to the body and mind as sites for improvement. Additionally, it encourages ambitious scientific investigation specifically targeted to enable transformation. Optimistic futurism sets no boundaries beyond the known laws of physics, which themselves are written in clay rather than stone.

While I favor revolution over reformism in the abstract and thus have a natural affinity for the movement, radical change can be employed by most any value system. My assessment of transhumanism in this respect by no means implies an endorsement of the goals and methods of current leading figures. Moreover, the whole transformative project lends itself to the traps of hubris and self-righteousness. Any would-be revolutionary need proceed with circumspection and caution. Yet, with those dangers in mind, I perceive vast potential in synthesis between the technological and political visionaries. Our stated core values overlap more than not. At present, the transhumanist program exists at grave risk of enshrining in diamond the oppressions of het white male supremacy and economic inequality.

Together, we just might have chance. Our shared commitment to making things better from the roots and denying all but the most adamant of limitations will unite us. The odds of successful transformation may be small, but I guarantee they are smaller still if you discard the possibility.

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The Singularity and the Future-Human under Capitalism

By Wes Strong

The Technological Singularity, referred to as “the singularity” by transhumanists, signifies a point in time where self-aware self-improving artificial intelligence that could surpass the intelligence of the human brain manifests.

The Coming Singularity

The prior may seem more threatening to most, however artificial intelligence may pose a more immediate risk to humanity.

The singularity culminates a reach towards “smarter systems,” a point where advanced intelligences are able to replicate and improve on each generation quicker than humans. The singularity would be the entry into a new era of transhumanism and transhumanist development. This new intelligence can be human based, relying on improvement technologies to enhance cognition, or machine based, relying on advanced computing devices. This new intelligence would take over production of future advanced intelligences, making enhancements on each generation. Multiple unpredictable outcomes could arise from such transformation, as well as many ethical dilemmas.

Advanced intelligences could take several paths, They might annihilate humanity to eliminate threats to their superiority. They may radically transform social systems on the basis of equity and democracy. They may just sit around making lolcats memes. They could do an unending number of things. It is unpredictable given that we have no experience with advanced, self-replicating intelligences other than our own. This unpredictability can be incredibly dangerous in a world of mechanized nuclear weapons, epidemic diseases held back by computerized security systems, and almost exhaustive Internet access, specifically in industrial and post-industrial capitalist nations.

Capitalism and Singularitarianism

Power determines the distribution and use of technology. The ethics of a technology are dependent upon its use, largely determined by powered classes. Social, political, and economic structures define the relationship between humanity and technology. Corporations, states, and the powered classes control the flow of commodities in a capitalist society. Profit is the first motive of capitalism. Advanced intelligences are likely to be used to forward the search for profit under capitalism, expanding exploitation and oppression.

Human-improving technologies, guided by the capitalist ethics of profit, could be used to speed up production in jobs that must be filled by humans, mechanizing the production line to a greater extent. This would further separate producers from the fruits of their labor and alienate humanity from itself and its value even more. We could be programmed – and I mean this in the literal sense – to accept oppression and believe it as standard.

Some Transhumanists seem very interested in using transhuman technology to improve profit lines. Peter Thiel is a sponsor of the Singularity Institute, one of the major singularitarian organizations. Theil made millions as co-founder and CEO of PayPal and now spends his time managing hedge funds and financially supporting singularitarian and transhumanist causes. Thiel was recently in the news for funding Blueseed – a company that aims to bring workers into international waters where they are not bound to workers’ rights laws and can ignore influences by local populations as well as state and federal governments.i

Theil supports other “seasteading” projects similar to this, with the hopes of establishing a libertarian paradise, inspired by his objectivist idol Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged. Seemingly positive promises of lower cost living hide the reality of the workers who will run the infrastructure of such projects and the massive exploitation and oppression they will face without any protections.ii

Faulty Assumptions

Assuming the singularity will inevitably change humanity for the better is ignorant and arrogant at best. Singularitarians must be blind to history if their sole focus is to expedite the singularity. Large cataclysmic events occurred throughout history from pre-history to the so-called “civilized” era. There are positive and negative effects of each event, the value determination often dependent on the subjective view of the observer in that time. The advent of capitalism in Europe presents an excellent example.

Capitalism had positive benefits over feudal systems. Capitalist republics brought a greater access to influence power through democratic rights, even though they are moderated and controlled by the bourgeois state. Working people went from being voiceless serfs to attaining some albeit small voices in the democratic process, unless you were female, unpropertied, or a slave/indentured – which still hold true today. Overall, serfs became workers and together they could and do have a collective voice that would not have flourished under the absolute monarchs of feudalism. Together they had and have a power to affect the political positions of the bourgeois state, something unheard of under feudal rule.

The rise of capitalism had negative impacts as well. The rise of capitalism sparked a massive urbanization that continues in burgeoning markets to this day. The factory and production line model of capitalism puts hundreds if not thousands of workers at risk under oppressive conditions. The factory fires in Bangladeshiii and the worker suicides at FoxConn plants in Chinaiv are certainly not a new phenomenon under capitalism and exemplify my point quite well.

The singularity is likely to have similar dichotomous or multichotomous – good, bad, and otherwise – effects on society should it occur as predicted. Singularitarians believe that there can be “perfect conditions” under which the singularity will benefit all of humanity. Such an assumption is based more on their point of view than any historical reality. The oppressed bourgeois in Europe saw the advent of capitalism as beneficial to all of humanity. Singularitarians see the singularity in the same light. They are both subjective assumptions based on the desires and wills of these collective groups and nothing more.

This fanaticism, this arrogance and ignorance of history and the faults of making grandiose assumptions about the future based on a limited and subjectively marginal reality is tantamount to religious proclamations of impending rapture and has similar effects on its followers. The void of self-criticism and lack of understanding the political realities will put the empowered classes at an advantage to capitalize – quite literally – on a possibly world changing event. Singularitarians apotheosize an historical event which may or may not do any good for the majority of humanity, and in doing so may actually make us less prepared to deal with such an event, putting marginalized populations at greater risk of exploitation and oppression.

Artificial intelligences cannot dismantle systems of power through mere existence as their material form can easily be dismantled or destroyed, human or otherwise. It should be no surprise that capitalists like Peter Theil find the singularity desirable as they are likely to profit off such a transformation, to the detriment of most of humanity, workers, and the poor.

Science and technology does not inherently progress towards one point of revelation, bringing the argument behind the inevitability of the singularity into question. It is often a battle between paradigms and models, often swayed by powered interests and structures, and entirely encapsulated within social structures, well illustrated in the works of Thomas Kuhn.v Capitalism is in a serious point of crisis with massive austerity and impending ecological collapse. Drastic impacts on economic markets are likely to affect scientific advancement. Popular movements may also have an impact on the use of technology in society as well as the macro-level ethical principles that guide human interaction with technology.

I am become Death.

The technology we are devising today can be more dangerous than nuclear weapons. Human-improving technologies can also be used as human-controlling technologies. Humanity can be condemned to millennia of techno-slavery under the iron fist of ruling-class technocrats, without awareness of our collective power. We can live on for centuries, maybe forever, but will be devoid of our humanity as long as we are alienated from the fruit of our productive and creative means. We will be alienated from ourselves and each other.

The historical arrogance of singularitarians, the objectivist libertarianism of capitalists like Peter Theil, and the crisis state of mainstream capitalism may combine to form a perfect storm, conceive the singularity, and maintain systems of oppression while numbing working people to their own plight. Theil would likely welcome this outcome. Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity is Near, promotes a more ethical approach to the possible singularity. Kurzweil takes the time to at least recognize the downside of such technologies, the risks posed by the singularity, and the ethical dilemma we are situated in.vi Advanced intelligences can be incredibly beneficial, but they do not exist in a bubble, they are prone to social, political, and economic forces.

We can look to the future with understanding eyes, seeing both our history, present, and future together. Futurism and Transhumanism is about a greater understanding of our history, society, and future possibilities. We can’t ignore historical oppression and inequities. We need to develop better methods of understanding the ethics behind advanced technologies and be willing to challenge power structures that seek to use them for oppressive means.

Capitalism will influence every major social event as long as it is the dominant social form. The singularity is not immune to this. No intelligence can out-think the destructive military power of the state. Singularitarians are selling snake oil, just in a shinier container with more free gadgets. The singularity, and advanced intelligences, will not and cannot be a panacea for the systemic oppression and exploitation inherent in capitalism, and as such will never benefit all of humanity.

References

i http://techli.com/2011/11/bluseed-silicon-valley-on-a-boat/

ii http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/18/peter-thiel-seasteading_n_930595.html

iii http://news.yahoo.com/112-killed-fire-bangladesh-garment-060756696.html

ivhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/16/foxconn-suicide-china-society

vhttp://turkpsikiyatri.org/arsiv/kuhn-ssr-2nded.pdf

vihttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uIzS1uCOcE

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Transhumanism and the Radical Left

By Summer Speaker

What is transhumanism?

This techno-futurist movement stresses the possibility and desirability of innovations such as lifespan extension and cognitive enhancement. Transhumanists seek to transcend unpleasant aspects of the human condition and cultivate our positive qualities through technological intervention. While the movement tends to support established military and corporate interests through uncritically trumpeting the progress narrative, it simultaneously contains a revolutionary élan devoted to reshaping society. Transhumanists eagerly entertain ambitious projects, rejecting traditional limits on individual and social change.

Shulamith Firestone’s Transformative Vision

Published in 1970, Firestone’s socialist-feminist manifesto The Dialectic of Sex demands the abolition of gender, the biological family, childhood, and toil. Firestone advocates women seizing control of reproductive technology, employing artificial wombs to separate procreation from body, and creating an egalitarian automated economy based in cybernetics. Firestone’s thought resonates with transhumanism and particularly connects through transsexual inventor and entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt’s 1994 transgender manifesto The Apartheid of Sex. Rothblatt later became a notable figure in the transhumanist movement, making an explicit connection between it and transgenderism.

The Primitivist Critique

Where transhumanism and Firestone show the liberatory potential of technology, primitivism exposes the horrors of the existing techno-industrial system. Iconic modern technologies such as electronics, industrial machines, and powered vehicles come directly out of European imperialism and require resources extracted through exploited labor on stolen lands. The human suffering and environmental damage involved can hardly be exaggerated. We need not embrace the complete indictment of civilization and science, but considering technological progress as a simple positive becomes untenable in this light.

Critical Engagement with Technology

Radical left politics demand a nuanced position toward the artifacts and social structures we lump together as technology. Speaking of these things on the aggregate often rings nonsensical. Laptops and nuclear bombs have decidedly different implications for our struggle. We all want clean air and water; nobody wants to be poisoned by industrial chemicals. Systems of production and the material goods they generate both oppress and empower, harm and comfort. Instances of this vast thing technology should prompt a variety of responses depending on the affected community. Primitivist dreams of driving civilization from the Earth and transhumanist ones of endlessly extending progress across the universe share totalitarian overtones. Outside of hierarchy, a diversity of legitimate life arrangements exist. We need a radical coalition capable united action against the oppressors and a future vision that embraces both reaching for the stars and returning to the woods.

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Depression and Suicide Amongst Radicals and Anarchists

By Nihilo Zero

“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.” — William Gibson.

The Problem of Suicide: You Are Not Alone

As the survivor of an arduous suicide attempt I’ve subsequently come to contemplate this subject a bit more than most.  Throughout the years I’ve seen friends, family, and loved-ones take their own lives.  Each time I hear of another suicide I am reminded not only of my own attempt, but also the attempts by those I’ve known.  To be perfectly honest… my response is probably indicative of some PTSD.  But I’m more than a decade removed from my major depressive episode and I feel that the subject of depression and suicide ought now be addressed.

It should be pointed out that suicide is now a leading cause of death in the United States.  Amongst the young adults it ranks as the second or third leading cause of death (depending upon the specific age range examined).  In other segments of populations around the world  it is also a primary cause of death.  Economic factors seem overtly connected with suicide in many nationsCertain professions have a higher rate of suicide than others.  And, for U.S. soldiers, suicide has proven to be more deadly to them than combat.  This problem of suicide could accurately be described as a public heath crisis or an epidemic.

While a variety of factors contribute to individual instances of suicide and the overall suicide rate, I believe that progressive radicals, anarchists, and social justice activists have somewhat unique psychological factors that can also come into play.  Although they are probably just as likely to suffer from problems like social isolation or drug dependency,  I believe that those who are informed about the myriad of crises that humanity currently faces are given an extra punctuation in terms of reasons to be dismayed.  So, in addition to any personal problems they may have, they are also aware that the world seems to be going to hell in a proverbial handbasket.  And while I personally believe that’s a fairly accurate assessment of things, I don’t advocate suicide as a response to this reality.

Life Under Siege

Particularly for younger radicals, as well as for younger people in general, I think the idea that things can suddenly and dramatically change is forsaken.  Since they haven’t experienced as much of life, it may not be as clear to younger people that situations can, and do, often change.  The world is not static and, as terrible as things may be overall, or as bad any particular personal situation may be, it’s bound to change — even if we’re just talking about gaining a different personal perspective on things.  We are all bound for new experiences, new insights, and new ways of looking at things.  And, in your darkest hour, it should be remembered that the next hour may serendipitously be your brightest.  Life undoubtedly can be, and often is, a struggle.  However, as a radical, as a person who has a conscience and is informed, it behooves us all if you keep up the struggle.

In a seeming paradox, life in nations under siege actually see suicide rates drop (WWII Britain, for example).  And, if it might help you, perhaps you should consider that the entirety of the world today is somewhat under siege.  I won’t go into detail here again about the numerous problems that humanity collectively faces — suffice it to say that there are serious problems in this world and each of us has our own thoughts about what needs to be changed and how that can happen.  Life and truth and beauty are constantly under attack, and these are things worth fighting for — things worth living for.

When a progressive radical commits suicide it’s equivalent to a fascist putting another notch in his rifle.  It is equivalent to the war machine rolling its tank treads over another freedom fighter.  This, I hope, is reason enough for many to avoid death at their own hands.

Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down

As radicals, people are often subjected to mockery and derision.  Expressing concerns about the state of the world can often lead to plain ridicule.  This mockery and scorn can come from any number of sources — friends, strangers, family, or the media.  And this derision can be, without a doubt, depressing.  But while some individuals should perhaps to be held accountable for their ignorant insensitivity, I’d suggest that this phenomena of callous ignorance is just a subtle part of the system’s overall psychological warfare — which it wages every day on every front.

The underlying nature of the system is to reduce empathy within the general population so that it can produce more mindless workers and consumers.  It’s subtle, but this is what allows modern society to continue down the unsustainable path that it is on.  This is what allows bona fide psychopaths to attain the highest positions within the highest offices of the land — be those governmental or business.  The value-free attitude of a twisted post-modernism scoffs at sincere concerns about the world and it perpetuates more business as usual.

And make no mistake… whatever the cumulative cause, psychological testing does show that empathy levels in the United States have dropped dramatically.  Young people today, in general, are actually less empathetic than they were a generation ago.  One can only imagine the social and psychological difficulties that a truly concerned bright young person must have today when dealing with a growing number of sociopathic peers!  But these decent young people need to be aware that the problem is not with them.  The problem is really not even the fault of their cold-hearted peers — the problem is with the system that creates and rewards sociopaths.  This is what needs to be recognized and this is why good-hearted people should not give up.  Merely the continued existence of thoughtful and intelligent people is a strike against the system — and that is why they should persist in an effort to undermine that system.

For radicals though, the problem of persecution on a psychological level goes beyond just merely the day to day interactions with any numb or cold peers.  Martin Luther King himself was famously sent a letter urging him to commit suicide.  And although I don’t specifically know how common this particular sort of tactic is… from personal experience I can tell you that such things still happen.  When I was an outspoken young radical (with an overt tail) I had leaflets left on my doorstep promoting suicide “for the sake of the environment.”  And while I can’t say for certain that this played a direct role in my own suicide attempt after the fact… it’s possible that I may have missed similar psychological attacks directed towards me.

This also relates to government infiltration and surveillance.  It is clear that infiltration of activist circles continues today (perhaps more commonly than ever).  But what subtle psychological effects does this infiltration have upon people?  Consider that you are likely to pick up on some level of insincerity amongst your peers.  If you begin to tolerate insincerity, or dismiss it, you may come to consider it a relative norm.  Or, on the other hand, you may avoid common social situations where you’ll have to deal with insincere individuals.  Either way… this is likely to have an negative effect on you.  And consider that it’s not just you who is being subjected to this but, also, other sincere individuals will be subjected to the same situation and may respond by altering their normally good-natured manner of associating with people.

In the 1960’s some radical organizations had some of their meetings populated primarily by undercover agents.  Now, 50 years later, I see little reason to doubt that this may still often be the case.  In fact, the problem may be much more acute.  Infiltration and surveillance works as a psychological attack upon progressive radicals.  It’s psychological warfare.  Psy-ops.

I preceded this article with a quote from Willam Gibson, the dystopian science fiction writer, and I believe his quote has particular relevance to anarchists and other social justice advocates.  If you fall into those categories, and if you are feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts, consider that this may be exactly what was intended for you… by design.  And, so, then, you should rethink your position.  If this sort of thing makes you feel paranoid, well, that may be for the best if it keeps you alive.  Besides, being paranoid in this world may often be the sanest frame of mind to have.  But is it really paranoia if they want you dead?  And do you really think that the government and corporate interests never want any activists dead or that they don’t work toward those very ends?

You Are Empowered To Live And Control Your Own Life

If your life has gone to shit and doesn’t seem worth living… think again.  You can actually be part of something bigger and better.  You can change your personal life (habits, diet, “friends”) and you can work toward being healthier and having a healthier world overall.  Even simple changes in your life can alter your perspective and give you reason to live.  Your depression may persist… but don’t let it dominate you and control your life.  I don’t mean this all to sound like some hackneyed self-help cliche, but if that’s what it takes to keep a few radicals alive… I don’t care if that’s how it sounds.  There are simple truisms that remain true even if they are repeated a million times.

I don’t want any more sincere and good-hearted people to kill themselves.  And, at the rate which we are losing them, and at the rate which they are being outnumbered, the world can’t afford to lose any more.  If you are contemplating suicide… use your intellect to contemplate something else.  You are in control of your own life, your own mind, and your own activities — you can make a positive difference in this world by staying alive.  Even if you’ve never met them… there are people in this world who want you to be happy and want you to live.

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Transhumanism and Anarchism

A short and simple overview of how anarchism relates to transhumanism by Kris notaro

Libertarian socialism The first anarchist journal to use the term “libertarian” was La Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social and it was published in New York City between 1858 and 1861 by French anarcho-communist Joseph Déjacque.“The next recorded use of the term was in Europe, when “libertarian communism” was used at a French regional anarchist Congress at Le Havre (16–22 November 1880). January the following year saw a French manifesto issued on “Libertarian or Anarchist Communism.” Finally, 1895 saw leading anarchists Sébastien Faure and Louise Michel publish La Libertaire in France.”

The word stems from the French word libertaire, and was used to evade the French ban on anarchist publications. In this tradition, the term “libertarianism” in “libertarian socialism” is generally used as a synonym for anarchism, which some say is the original meaning of the term; hence “libertarian socialism” is equivalent to “socialist anarchism” to these scholars. In the context of the European socialist movement, libertarian has conventionally been used to describe those who opposed state socialism, such as Mikhail Bakunin. (Who I am not a big fan of) The association of socialism with libertarianism predates that of capitalism, and many anti-authoritarians still decry what they see as a mistaken association of capitalism with libertarianism in the United States. As Noam Chomsky put it, a consistent libertarian “must oppose private ownership of the means of production and wage slavery, which is a component of this system, as incompatible with the principle that labor must be freely undertaken and under the control of the producer.”

Anarcho-syndicalism is a branch of anarchism which endorses syndicalism. Syndicalism is an alternative co-operative economic system. Adherents view it as a potential force for revolutionary social change, replacing capitalism and the state with a new society, democratically self-managed by workers. Anarcho-syndicalists seek to abolish the wage system, regarding it as wage slavery, and state or private ownership of the means of production, which they believe lead to class divisions. Anarcho-syndicalist theory generally focuses on the labour movement.

Anarcho-syndicalists regard the state as a profoundly anti-worker institution. They view the primary purpose of the state as being the defence of private property and therefore of economic, social and political privilege, even when such defence denies its citizens the ability to enjoy material independence and the social autonomy which springs from it. In contrast to other bodies of thought (Marxism–Leninism being a prime example), anarcho-syndicalists deny that there can be any kind of workers’ state, or a state which acts in the interests of workers, as opposed to those of the powerful. Reflecting the anarchist philosophy from which it draws its primary inspiration, anarcho-syndicalism holds to the idea that power corrupts.(1)(2)

Technology: Technology is the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, machinery, modifications, arrangements and procedures. Technologies significantly affect human as well as other animal species’ ability to control and adapt to their natural environments. The word technology comes from Greek τεχνολογία (technología); from τέχνη (téchnē), meaning “art, skill, craft”, and -λογία (-logía), meaning “study of-” (3)

Noam Chomsky on Technology: “technology can be compared to a hammer. “It doesn’t care if you use it to build a house or crush someone’s skull. The Web is valuable if you know what you’re looking for, if you have a framework of understanding. But you always have to be willing to question whether your framework is the right one.” He compared simply browsing the web for information to pointing a student at the library knowing they had no idea what they were looking for. “Exploring the internet can just be picking up random factoids that don’t mean anything”, he said. “The person who won the Nobel prize in biology isn’t the person who read the most journals. It was the person who knew what to look for,””(4)

Transhumanism: is a intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of science and technology to improve human mental and physical characteristics and capacities. The movement regards aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death as unnecessary and undesirable. Transhumanists look to biotechnologies and other Emerging technologies for these purposes. Dangers, as well as benefits, are of concern to the transhumanist movement. (5)

Reality of the Production of Technologies Under Current Capitalism: “On the surface, companies like Jabil [HP, IBM, Intel, Cisco, AT&T, Motorola, Wal-Mart, Foxconn, Apple ] look clean and high tech.  It seems well-run.  But people looking in from the outside do not realize that the workers at Jabil are not treated like human beings.  The workers must obey all demands from the factory and have absolutely no right to express disagreement.  The workers are seen as components of a machine.  During the entirety of their 12-hour shift, they are stripped of their humanity.  They are not allowed to have their own personalities, feelings, desires or needs-even using the bathroom.  For every second of every minute, they are controlled and ruled over by a prison-like management system.”(5)(6)(7)(8)

Capitalism and Working During the Human Condition: “To move beyond Marx and Anarchism in our current paradigm of the human condition may be an actual fallacy, an over criticizing of theory by intellectuals [including transhumanists] or Anarchists which have, out of awareness, a desire to move on past Marx and anarchism out of [the knowledge] of the dangers of simplifying the way people are supposed to be.  Progress seems to come out of paradigmatic crisis, and this intuition may lead some to the point of over analyzing, yearning to either create crisis or move beyond crisis to a new paradigm because of authentic intuitive feelings of the yearning for progress and egalitarianism which many intellectuals experience and write about through out their lives.” (10)

“Though capitalism is meant to be based on competition, those at the top of the food chain have also shown themselves to be capable of inclusiveness and solidarity. The great Western Capitalists have done business with fascists, socialists, despots and military dictators. They can adapt and constantly innovate. They are capable of quick thinking and immense tactical cunning.But despite having successfully powered through economic reforms, despite having waged wars and militarily occupied countries in order to put in place free market “democracies”, Capitalism is going through a crisis whose gravity has not revealed itself completely yet.” (11)


Long story short: For all you republican, libertarian, and liberal capitalists out there that want to see a transhumanist future, the evidence is clear: you will have to abide by a broken system under the human condition. This includes capitalist free trade, unnecessary war, and wage slavery – are you really prepared to see transhumanist gadgets be set in stone within the history books as a time like that of apartheid or European and American slavery of the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries?

Is your wealth, or dedication to the government and corporations that lead the way towards a transhumanist future really what you are all about? Transhumanists know that the future will include technologies that will replace government – worldwide. Transhumanists also know that democracy and/or singularity like computer intelligence will dictate our existential, utilitarian, and categorical imperative future. We will be networked together to feel and think as one via brain to computer interfaces. Whatever the means for higher critical thinking may be, rather morality drugs, nano-blood-bots, brain to computer interfaces, gene therapy, etc, the outcome will be socialized anarchism. Critical thinking does not lead the mentally “enhanced” individual or super-computer to be selfish, indeed just the opposite. Let’s take what we have so far as examples of critical thinkers who have come to the same conclusion but under the human condition. The list is long, but a few major examples are Marx, Einstein, Hawking, Chomsky, Russell, Arundhati Roy, most philosophers, anthropologists, and sociologists.

If we base human intelligence, logic and critical thinking on examples like these we are left with one conclusion: The mentally enhanced will be socialist anarchists, regardless of what kind of technology they may be – for universal health care, anti-war, anti-authoritarian, anti-discrimination, pro-democracy, pro-choice, anti-racism, and even anti-speciesism will be regarded as the highest value system ever pondered by the brain/mind.

Scientific inquiry, the scientific method, and scientific revolutions will bring the enhanced mind together. Scientific discoveries and theories, in my opinion will bring brain/mind together like that of the social theory of Anarcho-syndicalism. Science however does not need a State, government, or leaders to be accepted as the truth – the scientific method speaks for itself.

In conclusion, we have several things going on here: Transhumanism being State and corporate funded under a “race to the bottom” wage slavery economic system. But, we also have the claim that transhumanism will increase intellectual thought and compassion towards brain/mind. I personally would rather see the compassion come before transhumanism so that history doesn’t reflect that of our ancestors. Anarchism also allows the free-thinker some time to ponder what is right and wrong without an authority figure proposing and in some cases forcing concepts and theories on them.  The scientific method, revolutionary liberal universities, colleges, and peer-reviewed journals will be of the utmost valued way of learning what is true and real – morally, ethically, and scientifically.

References:

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_socialism
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarcho-syndicalism
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology
(4) http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-01/25/noam-chomsky-at-learning-without-frontiers
(5) http://ieet.org/index.php/tpwiki/Transhumanism/
(6) http://www.globallabourrights.org/reports?id=0602
(7) http://www.globallabourrights.org/
(8) http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/2012/03/27/addressing-abuses-at-apple-facilities-in-china/
(9) http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/1886043/nlc_usowned_hitech_jabil_factory_in_china_run_ like_minimum/
(10) http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/notaro20101114
(11) http://www.zcommunications.org/capitalism-a-ghost-story-by-arundhati-roy

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