Conundrum Pt. 3

So, part 3, a conclusion of sorts I guess. I mean if humans are these insane flawed monkey creatures that can’t be logical or rational for an entire day, let alone an epoch, what in the name of ancient divine coping mechanisms do we do about it? Sounds like something easily reached before we plunge the planet into a state that all but confirms our own extinction and at the very least the mass extinction of this crop of genetic lineages alive today. Sure the planet will live on, hell Venus does fine all on its own (we have trouble landing probes on Venus because they melt in midair, but hey, it still exists!), mass extinctions have occurred before, and will again. Sun has a few billion years of go left in it, next lot of species will have to try and escape the rock before the suns surface extends out towards, well… Venus again.

How to plug the hole in our brains before we glass the place? Not a simple task many experts agree. Some even go as far as to espouse the virtues of machine intelligence as a way to stem the tide of our madness.

Enter the transhuman.

Importantly, the next stage of human evolution will undoubtedly be driven by technology. It’s kind of impossible to put the technology toothpaste back in the tube. In the last 100 years, we have already vastly outstripped the pace of natural selection in the way can modify ourselves.

Is that the way we leave the confines of our first home to look for another? Is the only way to save the human race to merge with an intelligence totally foreign to our own?

For this season of Trending Human, I want to explore these themes. What are the implications of human-ai hybridization, what are the roadblocks and dangers? Is it needed? Will we find a solution before it becomes necessary?

Let’s see what we can find out.

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Conundrum Pt.2

This is not a post about President Trump

He is merely a symptom

… a fairly terrifying symptom, but one nonetheless

Humans have created things of immense beauty, of scale, of vast emotion and meaning. Constructions of material and thought to beggar even the gods of old.

We have also been idle, easily led, foolish and corrupt, short sighted, cruel and manipulative.

Evolution saddled our species with strength and passion, but reason does not come naturally to us. For many thousands of years, sages of all cultures have found ways (or tried to) to create reason within us, to quiet the tide of emotion that we have yet to learn how to control and direct. Greek philosophers, Hindu gurus, Buddhist sages, and modern thinkers, many hundreds of methods and creeds. That reason, or critical thinking, remains a task, rather than intuitive, is the conundrum at hand.

If we look at the gap between cognitive bias and critical reasoning, we notice a blind spot in human thinking. The list of cognitive flaws and bias are long, information bias, Outcome bias, Stereotyping, Bandwagon effect, and much more. The point is not to explain them, some are simple, some are complex, and we have barely scratched the surface with many. What is important is that this blind spot exists, and is known and understood for what it represents.

A reason why we are still children with too much power in a world that cannot defend itself from us any longer.

Editorialising aside; neuroscience tells us that our minds don’t often do what we think they do. Studies in the last handful of years have raised doubts about our much-vaunted sense of free will, that in reality our brain runs on autopilot most of the time, and merely allows our sense of self to rationalise the various decisions we make in a day. Remember the last time you drove home from work or did some other repetitive task you have to do but would rather not. How much attention were you paying? Even driving, where you engaged with the process or let your years of driving experience take the wheel? Did you really want that brand of butter or is it just the one you have always bought and haven’t re-thought the decision-making matrix in some time. Oh, sure we are capable of change, of inputting new information. Apparently, according to the man on the TV, cholesterol is bad, so I’d better buy margarine instead of butter, less fat and all that. (Not even launching into the charade of FAT BAD of the last half of the 20th century).

The point of this and the conundrum as it continues is where does the autopilot start and finish? Trump rails against Mexicans, calling them rapists, and American Mexicans then vote for Trump. A world of scientists say you must pay attention to health and eat fewer carbs, the world aggress, when a similar group of lab coats say you must vaccinate your children, everyone loses their minds.

Welcome to crazy town, population, all of us.

Conundrum

(photo credit sciencenews.org)

(July 2017)
A distressingly large part of the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica finally broke away from the mainland and became one of the largest icebergs seen in the last century.

While immense, this is not unheard of and can be considered a natural event.

(June 2017)
Xinmo, in the Sichuan province of China, completely gone. Rainfall registering in the unheard of category loosened material enough to cause a landslide that was feared to claim the lives of 100 people. a 7.3 earthquake in 1933 set the stage, but the recent rainfall created the disaster. Miami will cease to exist with rising sea levels, scientists still trying to warn.

Still, earthquakes are natural, and even the man-made ones register nowhere near 7.3 on the Richter scale. Rainfall is more difficult to attribute.

(May 2017)
Floods and landslides kill 150 in Sri Lanka. 13 dead in Moscow after what was described as freak winds. Winds in the UK and US cause millions in damage. Scientists continue to warn about sea level rise.

(April 2017)
Sea level rise will be much worse, claim scientists. City of Rockhampton flooding at nearly 9m, millions in damage as residents flee homes. Cyclone Debbie in Queensland, damage in billions

(March 2017)
Cyclone Debbie smashed Australian NE coastlines. Avalanche in Japan kills seven students and their teacher. Global temperature maps are showing odd patterns of warming and cooling, in places not known for it at this time of year.

(February 2017)
Floods in Chile leave million without civil infrastructure and potable water. Torrential rains and fatal floods in California, India, Russia. Australia under record breaking heatwave and bushfires in NSW wipe towns off the map.

“Natural disasters”

Three earthquakes, 2 in Japan, 1 in Ecuador, cost the world a mere $35 billion in 2016.

How does it relate? The conundrum lies in why there is an absence of political will in some of the worlds largest nations, to address a problem that strikes at the heart of the paradigm that same leadership swears by.

Short answer, climate change caused by humans, humans rely on economics to fuel society, climate change threatens economics, humans willfully deny the existence of climate change, the human economy collapses.

Hence conundrum, why are we so shortsighted and bloody-minded idiots. Short term thinking, for short term gains, gains that may not exist in a year let alone a lifetime. This, again, is the failure of the human condition.

 

We begin again

End times

Life is hard enough without having to consider the ethics of technologies that only barely exist today. Technologies that are so primitive in comparison to the dreams and expectations of our imagination, as to be banging two pieces of plutonium together to keep warm. But the ideas and concepts of human augmentation, futurism, transhumanism and others, inveigle themselves into your life in surprising ways, and present unique challenges to our reality as we understand it.

Over the course of this work we have looked at many different ways in which we might tinker with the human condition, our bodies and minds, our paths and ventures. But it all pales in comparison to what we need now.

The world is changing, and not for the better. What methods and paradigms worked for our species in the past, do so no longer. What change we can muster, when it comes to us to allow it, is never enough, never prompt, and never complete.

We are challenged now, the future is uncertain, only through knowing ourselves, and our follies, can we hope to prosper

This ends this current theme of Human Augmentation for Trending Human; I will continue to blog, but on a much broader theme.

Thank you for reading

Time

How you perceive time is wrong

Well, since temporal relativity has yet to be married to its quantum cousin, let’s say how you perceive time is, at best, massively unrelated to it.

Your eyesight evolved to make use of the visible light spectrum, as it did in every other creature that uses vision. No such mechanism exists for your concept of time. The brain uses complex (and fucking hard to learn about) tools to stitch together your sensory information to create the sensation of continuity. Basically what we think is the present is your brain creating 3-second bursts of continuity and stitching it to the next 3 seconds, on and on. There is no master clock in the brain that tells you what time it is, your sense of time passing is merely your brain creating a sense of continuity for you so that you can interact with the world.

Unlike eyesight, which made use of light to see, there is nothing in your sense of time that is intrinsically linked to the concepts of time. The universe could operate on a level entirely unknown to us and we would be utterly unable to notice.

…and it does.

I have trouble conceptualising some of the more… esoteric principles of quantum mechanics, and I’m not alone. There is a reason it is nearly impossible to describe the state of quantum matter in ways that we easily understand; there is no analogue. Our civilisation and perceptions contain almost no analogues for the way quantum particles behave. These particles act so strangely that we at a loss to communicate their behaviour effectively. In no meaning way can your brain interpret or makes use of the quantum realm, it is too strange to our continuous existence. Even relativity, the macro-scale theory of the universe suggested by Einstein, is hard for us to conceptualise, we can manage it because it is analogous, but it can be tough.

So what does this mean? We are violent, kind, insane, brain driven mortals who are constantly lied to by their brain.

Awesome…

But that’s the important part, we are a process, we are evolving, we can see where we came from and can guess where we are going. We can see what lies beneath the surface of our minds, understand the mechanisms of the brain controlling how we think and act. In the grand cosmic dance, there are not only literal new worlds to explore but figurative ones as well. What could be more exciting than playing with our perceptions, changing how we think, seeing the complexity of the universe with both eyes open. Of course, it could drive us all insane and destroy us, or at the very least make humanity unrecognisable, and, therefore, dangerous. But the potential is there, the infinite is within our grasp, and we need only grab it.

Strength and weakness

Remember rage, remember strength, glory and victory, remember the rush of blood as you defeat your fear and exult in pure, unadulterated anger. Stand atop the crushed body of your kill and roar to the heavens of your absolute strength over your enemy.

We are absurd creatures most of the time. With one instinct telling us to go this way and explore, and another telling us to rip the freaks head off. There is a very particular reason human history (well, and now) is chock full of meaty, and horrific, violence, the brain, and our evolved past. Our brain is a chemist with a perchance for urges and fears, all chemically induced, desires and emotions that bring us into conflict with each other in an elaborate dance of neurons.

We are programmed to defend territory, mates, and food.

But we are bold, passionate, loving, and kind. We show tenderness to those weaker than us. We are charitable, and forgiving, and all the beautiful things in the world.

We are programmed to form communities, to show tenderness for defenceless babies so as to protect them.

I’m not trying to suggest that the entire human experience is out of our hands, a hidden background process that dictates our every move. But it is from a particular perspective, and it puts doubt into the idea of free will. What saves us from this automatic process is our sentience, for the purpose of this discussion, our will. “You’ve heard of animals chewing off a leg to escape a trap? There’s an animal kind of trick. A human would remain in the trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he might kill the trapper and remove a threat to his kind.” – Dune. We are complex creatures, capable of immense feats of emotion led conquest and art. But where is the line between pre-programmed evolutionary responses and the human quality we all so think we are?

It’s much closer to the animal than man; that’s for damned sure. While it’s still incredibly controversial in our society to think that our choices aren’t free will, but programming, it doesn’t make the perspective less valid. Some don’t believe it, and there is science that defines ‘a’ line, but there is science that defines a different line.

We are strong and frail creatures, merciful and merciless, with a wizard hidden behind the robe pulling the levers of our perceptions.

This is not a strictly augmentation post; it is the opening process to the next post where I will talk about how our brain fails us, and how the universe might be a closed book to us.

The metabolic conundrum

I stand up, sit down, put my hands in… wait. So the mechanical act of movement is oh so critical, mostly because the pizza/remote is all the way over there and I have yet to evolve Jedi powers… sadly. So I have to get up and go and get it.

Also, you know, run away from predators, breed (Giggity), find nutrition, grow said nutrition, go searching for communities, and non-verbal communication. All crucial things that don’t at all relate to #firstworldproblems.

It all exceedingly complicated, the Krebs cycle, ATP, electrical force, and so on (ATP being metabolic energy). But that’s jut moving your arms and legs and head, how do we go about getting energy into us? Food, glorious foo… SUGAR!!!!

It’s all about the glucose folks while a full diet is needed for a healthy life, what makes you go, whether that sporting, fucking, or working, is a series of complex reactions to the intake and digestions of sugars. Sure you need other stuff, but glucose is the important one, so much so that individuals with diabetes and other diseases that muck up the pancreas lose much of their available energy.

The need for glucose is so strong it defines a large part of our psychology, not just humans but also all other mammals. We go to great lengths procure foods, and the desires that define our eating are mostly automatic, we often have no conscious control of what we crave, how much we crave, or when to stop. This has caused a great many problems in a society where food is so easily found.

How does this relate to augmentation? Bring it back to our psychology, and the mechanism of glucose. We are pre-programmed to desire foods that support our metabolism, the brain short circuits our extremely limited ability to choose and desires what it wants; there are few cognitive processes involved. So if we are looking at avenues of humanity that are maybe unhelpful is a modern society, is this one of them?

Assuming civilisation doesn’t crash (big if), and our food, economic, and social structures are maintained to provide easily attainable food, we would be a good place to change the brain in this way. Food is great, I love it, would never want to turn it away, but what if we could change the brain so it stopped wanting certain things and wanted others. What if we could consciously, or at least regulate drugs, the way our bodies stored fat, how much of our food we processed. With a fine level of control, it would be possible to tell the body consciously to stop desiring food for a short time, or even better, short circuit the natural insulin response so that dramatically less food is laid down as body fat.

How about them apples eh.

I am me, and at this rate, will only ever be me

My meat suit is me.

When I die, the energy holding my memory together will dissipate.

When my brain stops, the fundamental forces that create my personality will evaporate like it was never there.

I can make no claims as to where the energy goes; some people have… fervent beliefs on the topic, I, however, do not If there is an alternate dimension out there, the personality does not visit it.

Nor does my personality visit anywhere else during my life, sure I can imagine anything and anyone I want. However, the hard, cold fact of life is that everyone dies alone in their meat suit, unable to reach outside our senses and preconceptions to truly meld with another. While there are huge levels of commonality between individual humans, I cannot describe what yellow looks like to me, cannot explain how bad my 8/10 level of pain is compared to another persons 8. There is a boundary to our experience of reality, and the mechanisms we use to reach across the void between minds such as language while being the best we have, are pitiful in comparison to our own internal monologue.

I have commented on this briefly before in this blog, and this is the final series of posts for the human augmentation series of trending human, so I want to end with the issue I find the most interesting.

When most people imagine future human capacity, they think cyborgs, mecha suits, robotics, technological implants. Those are the least of what we can imagine, in advancing the baseline status of human we first have to look at the nature of the human condition. In this last series, I will analyse a part of being human in each post. Ranging from the physiological aspects of our existence, to how we succeed, and how we fail, and finally how we are lied to by our very existence.

I am human, this fact is immutable, but on the day that I can interface with another mind, see that the pain and joy of the world are shared by everyone, even though we can’t feel it, on that day something of the old human will step aside for the new.

That is human augmentation. Sure we can invent faster legs or more accurate eyes, chips in our brains that make learning a snap, but that’s not the goals we should be aiming for.

We should change the way we think.

A pale blue dot, suspended in a beam of light

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

So often quoted to show the beauty and frailty of life on Earth, Sagan’s quote as Voyager left the solar system resonates with not only me but many people. We are a mote of dust floating in a cosmic breeze, unaware of the immensity of the blackness around us, and how inhospitable it is to us. Unaware, or perhaps oblivious to the damage we do to the world around us, and to ourselves, fighting meaningless battles over the minutiae of our lives while the world burns.

In the end, human augmentation, enhancement, transhumanism, posthumanism, futurism, all of these things are about the future and hope.

Hope that we can rise above our petty differences, our entrenched dogma, and our insanity. Hope that we can overcome the bonds of our cradle and reach a distant star, hope that we as a species can evolve, and change.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation” – Henry David Thoreau

Life can so easily become a prison, what artifice of society once became the best measure of equality and peace now reduces us, make us nothing but another number, another faceless one. So we find entertainment, find hope, find… reason, anywhere we can. The latest spiritual fad, dieting or exercise as a philosophy, we even identify ourselves what we are against, or oppose. All my life I have remembered that quote from Carl Sagan, and thought of it as a plea for transcendence. Transcendence beyond the mundane and well-worn ruts of life, back to hope, and amazement, and passion, not just in ourselves but the majesty of the universe around us. I’m rambling now, take what of this you will.

Nothing’s the same anymore, and yet everything is familiar. So much has been learned, but little has changed. We are all still afraid, of poverty, of unemployment, death and injury, of elections, of emptiness, of fire.

Change often happens when we aren’t looking; transformation occurs when we follow the path.

How is this rant linked to the topic of this blog? Human Augmentation is the conscious improvement of the human condition through the use of technology. But over the course of this work I have realised it’s not quite that. It’s the conscious transformation of ourselves into something that we want to become. It’s the first step into a larger and more dangerous road. I could yet again quote the challenges of the coming century, or talk about our inherent biases and faulty cognition, but I don’t mean that.

When I read Carl Sagan’s quote about the earth, I feel hope and despair about humanity. The despair that we will always be half what we could be, full of hate and greed. Or hope that the amazing will rise above the mundane, and we discard our weary cynicism for child-like amazement at the wonder of the universe.

Will this generation see the end of human civilisation?

It is conceivable that the current generation of humans could be the last to live in the present civilisation. Aside from planet cracking or a massive cosmic scale events there isn’t much that would wipe humans from the planet in a single event. Even a meteor strike and the ensuing nuclear winter would kill billions, but is unlikely to cause human extinction.

But civilisation, shopping centres, movies, hamburgers and meat pies, tinder, politicians (wait that’s likely to stick alas), all could vanish. The collection of artifice and materials we call the glorious human culture is not greatly permanent, and the ability to work a 9-5 and buy your meat in a wrapped package ready for cooking is a product of the world around us.

Resource depletion, climate change, over population, disease vectors. All of those horrible things exist in the world today, and could if a catastrophic enough event occurs, destabilise our economy/political structure/population to the point of no return.

What if we could engineer greed out of our psyche? Remove the part of us that always wants more. What if we could remove our tendency towards tribal allegiance? Indeed, it would make consensus easier to achieve, even more so if we can educate people past their entrenched ideology. What if we knew something was going to destroy us, and we had the technology to change ourselves to make the threat moot, do we have an ethical obligation to ensure the survival of the human safety net (well, developed nation safety net, doubt Palestinians have the luxury)?

Of course, this conversation was probably also had by the Nazi party about the quality of life of Germans… Bad analogy? As soon as we start saying we can change people based on the available data we run the risk of sliding down to a sort of dystopian eugenics. I read “Brave New World” when I was 8… Jesus…

Well, when the singularity happens I for one welcome our new robot overlords… or the emperor fish man that can survive climate change… ok, this escalated quickly!