Monday, March 25, 2013

Advancing Humanity Symposium: Quantified Self, Space Colonization, and Other Outrageous Ideas

Cosmetic psychopharmacology, space colonization, techno-body modification? Must be a transhumanism symposium. On Saturday, March 23, 2013, The Stanford Transhumanist Association hosted the second-annual Advancing Humanity Symposium. Seven speakers, grouped into three panels, presented their perspectives on how emerging technologies are shaping the near future of humanity.

The Schedule
Defining Human - 1030
Neil Harbisson (Cyborg Foundation) "Life with Extra Senses"
Gregory Stock (Author of Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future) "To Upgrade is Human"
Natasha Vita-More (Humanity+) "Why Build a Better Body?"

Pioneering Ventures - 1345
Stuart Armstrong (Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute) "Space Colonization Made Easy"
Alex Lightman (Author of Brave New Unwired World) "Why Every Stanford Student Should be a Transhumanist"

Representing the Future - 1500
Maria Konovalenko (Russian Longevity Party) "Catalyze or Die Trying"
Micah Daigle (Collective Agency) "Resilient Individuals and Syntropic Systems"

For those who could not attend, here is a brief synopsis and commentary on a few of the presentations.

Gregory Stock (Author of Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future) "To Upgrade is Human"

A theme that wove through all the presentations was that of the quantified self and cosmetic psychopharmacology. The quantified self is systems biology for the home - self monitoring - social, genetic, and cellular. As new health technologies become more accessible and as prices go down, we will be able to track, analyze, and manipulate (from home) the course of our lifespans. Stock suggested that, in a small way, this might help manage privacy issues; We can do techno-medicine in the home on protected networks, uploading information to our primary care physicians (incidentally, will insurance companies get access to this info and use it as a means to deny coverage or charge higher premiums?).

"The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person's daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical). Such self-monitoring and self-sensing, which combines wearable sensors (EEG, ECG, video, etc.) and wearable computing, is also known as lifelogging or sousveillance. Other names for using self-tracking data to improve daily functioning are “self-tracking”, "auto-analytics", “body hacking” and “self-quantifying” (Wiki, 2013).

Some critical questions that Stock proposed to the audience included:

Q - Would you take a pill to give you perfect fulfillment? (for the record, for me the answer is no, would rather experience it through experiences)
Q - What if perfect happiness can be achieved by pharmacology? (see above)
Q - How important are kids and family to the human experience? Is the nature of human procreation fundamentally changing? (yes, absolutely)
Q - Where are the drug miracles? R&D expenditures are going up, yet we have not seen proper gains given the economic output.

Stock explored why life extension processes seem to be expanding at slower rates comparative to other current technologies.
  • human biology is very complex 
  • trial and error - theory, pilot, study, analysis, application, practice, theory 
  • risk aversion (magic has a price) 
  • regulatory constraints 
  • financial constraints 
In the 21st century, medicine is an information science - everything is data - human experiences, cells, bodies, worlds, and universes. To analogize to writing: Words in sentences. Sentences in paragraphs. Paragraphs in sections. Section in Manuscripts. Manuscripts in Libraries. You get the point. 

He called for systems techno-biology; the collective human experience as an integrated network: biannual checkups, self monitoring, 3D medicine printing, personal data, health on the fly, and techno-health in the home.

As we develop more advanced ways to collect and analyze psychophysiological data, we will gain greater abilities to extend lifespans and improve quality of life via techno-medico advances such as nanotech microfluid platforms and implantable pressure sensors to monitor arterial pressure.

Why so long? This shit is complex.

This is big data and small data - the coming together of bioinfomatics and the new biology.

Using new technologies while seeing self as both researcher and participant, we can monitor a ton of health related information including pain levels, sex satisfaction, quality of emotions, concentration, focus, etc.

Curiosity is at the heart of the qualified self movement. We can make tools as add-ons or ad-hoc applications as information collectors. Think mobile markets for your health.

Some benefits to this approach include:
  • less regulations 
  • crowd-source exploration 
  • lower costs 
  • higher volumes of data 
He sees a global brain network that culls information on all human data...sounds a bit like Deep Thought. 

Stock was sharp, energetic, and engaging. 


Natasha Vita-More (Humanity+) "Why Build a Better Body?"

Vita-More's presentation began with an art clip video that covered some of the basic themes in tranhumanism. Her presentation was strongest when she discussed the intersections of technology, design, and art; how explorations at this intersection is free space to explore tranhumanism without constraints: the aesthetics of techno-body modification and the new human design.

Some critical points/questions she explored included (paraphrased):

She argued that transhumanism moves beyond post-modernism, a philosophy that points out change but offers no solutions. 

The central focus of her presentation was on health and design. She noted that ideas of super longevity are still very much on the fringe; in a recent survey only 3.9% of participants reported they would like to live forever. Would you? 
  1. What will we become when we remove barriers on human growth? 
  2. How long do you want to live? 
  3. Are you taking precautions to protect your body? 
  4. How far do we want to go, or are willing to go, when it comes to protecting ourselves? 
  5. What are your "life" numbers? 
  6. What is the place of rules and regulations? Who should decide? bioethicists? lawyers? politicians? religion? citizen X? 
Some things people are tracking in the quantified self movement:
  • muscle building 
  • hair loss 
  • emotional health 
  • task completion 
  • stress levels 
  • eating habits 
  • sexual practices 
  • happiness 
  • levels of optimism 
  • sleep 
  • cognition 
  • introspection 
  • bone density 
  • muscle loss and gain 
  • chemical hormonal levels 
  • vision 
  • brain chemistry 
  • linguistic abilities 
The brain is central to the human experience and offers clues to life progress. As always, there are cost and access issues here. How do we democratize these technologies? 

Not a new notion to the transhumanist crowd, we are increasingly integrating organic and mechanic systems. Vita-More chose cars as an example of the connections between human, machines, and life outcomes - both for good and ill - however you define either.

Design will be at the center of the transhumanist movement; how we design everything: life, family, tech, health, space, buildings...everything. She focused on human computer interfaces, design, and prosthetics. 

She talked about the changes occurring in what we think of as sexual....the "preferred" human body is a contested bio-social space via techno-body modifications.

Vita-More touched briefly on elite athletes who are using technology now to augment human performance. Will there be a bio-tech olympics and a "natural" olympics? Incidentally, this topic falls directly in the field of kinesiology. See Dr. Ted Brutryn's work on cyborg athletes.

An obvious example to draw out the blending of the organic and mechanic is Cyberdyne's robotic suit  - Hybrid Assistive Limb® (HAL). 

Critical Question: If the body is vulnerable and fallible (re: meatsack), how can we protect it to work more efficiently? 

Attention was then placed on the central role of the arts in transhumanism. Art will drive the creative mind of transhumanism, much as science fiction has done for science. A provocative idea she offered was that exoskeletons do not only have to be functional in purpose; prosthetics can be developed for fun, play, and creativity.

Take a look at the works by Marilene Oliver, an artist who works with body images, and Elif Ayiter, an artist who works in Second Life building avatars.

Obviously two critical questions arise: Is it selfish to want more life? What about resources? These are central questions to the transhumanist movement. We will need to develop better minds to develop better bodies and better systems to sustain those bodies.

Plenty here to think about; I will post the second set of notes soon. Stay tuned. 

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