Supra-Universal Consciousness and Better Humans
London, UK - 15 January 2007, 10:31 GMT - The top
global risks and opportunities of the 21st century, depend on 'Disruptive
Innovation' to address and to begin to resolve some of the seemingly intractable
yet interlinked confrontations. As those inherent confrontations accelerate
and feed off each other's momentum they possess the capability to damage
and to disrupt the delicate global dynamic equilibrium. Faced with this
unpalatable prospect for humanity, in the coming two decades or less,
it is necessary to rethink strategically and to come together in joint
action, which is the main aim of the high-level global dialogue established
by organisations such as ATCA and The Philanthropia. We need to be moving
towards a wisdom based global economy, where longevity and sustainability
are at the top of the agenda. Such a push is also bringing about a new
lexicon of terms. What are those must-know terms for the 21st Century
and what do they collectively herald?
ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance
is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex
global challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive
action to build a wisdom based global economy. Adhering to the doctrine
of non-violence, ATCA addresses opportunities and threats arising from
climate chaos, radical poverty, organised crime & extremism, advanced
technologies -- bio, info, nano, robo & AI, demographic skews, pandemics
and financial systems. Present membership of ATCA is by invitation only
and has over 5,000 distinguished members from over 100 countries: including
several from the House of Lords, House of Commons, EU Parliament, US Congress
& Senate, G10's Senior Government officials and over 1,500 CEOs from
financial institutions, scientific corporates and voluntary organisations
as well as over 750 Professors from academic centres of excellence worldwide.
Dear ATCA Colleagues; dear IntentBloggers
[Please note that the views presented by individual contributors
are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral.
ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on global opportunities and
Re: The Supra-Universal Consciousness and Better Humans on the one
hand and Human Extinction and The Post Human Entity on the other
The top global risks and opportunities of the 21st century, depend
on 'Disruptive Innovation' to address and to begin to resolve some of
the seemingly intractable yet interlinked confrontations. As those inherent
confrontations accelerate and feed off each other's momentum they possess
the capability to damage and to disrupt the delicate global dynamic
equilibrium. Faced with this unpalatable prospect for humanity, in the
coming two decades or less, it is necessary to rethink strategically
and to come together in joint action, which is the main aim of the high-level
global dialogue established by organisations such as ATCA and The Philanthropia.
We need to be moving towards a wisdom based global economy, where longevity
and sustainability are at the top of the agenda. Such a push is also
bringing about a new lexicon of terms. What are those must-know terms
for the 21st Century and what do they collectively herald?
The must-know terms are: Accelerating Change, Anthropic Principle, Artificial
General Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Bayesian Rationality, Cosmological
Eschatology (aka physical eschatology), Engineered Negligible Senescence,
Existential Risks, Extended Identity, Fermi Paradox, Friendly AI, Human
Enhancement, Human Exceptionalism (aka human racism), Information Theoretic
Death, Mass Automation, Memetic Engineering, Mind Transfer (aka 'uploading'),
Molecular Assembler, Neurodiversity, Neural Interface Device, Noosphere
(aka metaconsciousness), Open Source, Participatory Panopticon, Political
Globalization, Post-Scarcity Economy, Quantum Computation, Radical Luddism,
Remedial Ecology, Simulation Argument, Soft Paternalism (aka Libertarian
Paternalism), Technological Singularity etc.
Collectively the must-know terms for the 21st Century herald our joint
capacity to give rise to the discovery of The Supra-Universal Consciousness
and Better Humans on the one hand and Human Extinction and The Post
Human Entity on the other.
We are grateful to George Dvorsky for his submission to ATCA, "The
Must-know terms for the 21st Century."
George Dvorsky serves on the Board of Directors for the Institute for
Ethics and Emerging Technologies. George is the Deputy-Editor of Betterhumans,
co-founder and President of the Toronto Transhumanist Association, and
the producer of the Sentient Developments blog and podcast. Mr Dvorsky
served on the Board of the World Transhumanist Association from 2004-06
and as conference chair for TransVision 2004, the WTA's annual conference.
Dear DK and Colleagues
Re: The Must-know terms for the 21st Century
I am trying to come up with a list of the most fundamental and crucial
terms and trends that are coming to define and will soon re-define the
human condition. The zeitgeist is quickly changing. To me a distinguished
ATCA member is an expert generalist -- a polymath who sees and understands
the Big Picture both past, present and future. While I value and respect
the work of specialists, they can be frustratingly out of touch with
other disciplines and some of the more broader applications of science,
technology and philosophy. Given the obvious truism that nobody can
know everything, there is still great value in having individuals understand
a diverse set of key principles. I have made a conscious effort to be
as cross-disciplinary as possible. There are terms from computer science,
cosmology, neuroscience, environmentalism, sociology, biotechnology,
philosophy, astrobiology, political science, and many other fields of
interest to distinguished ATCA members. Here is my revised list:
Accelerating Change: The pace of technological development is
accelerating is now undeniable. The steady onslaught of Moore's Law
and its eerie regularity is the most profound example. As thinkers like
Ray Kurzweil and others have shown, the onslaught of accelerating change
throws commonly held time-frames out the window. And that this rate
of change is exponential implies radical social disruption around the
mid-point of the 21st Century.
Anthropic Principle: Once considered a philosophical lark, the
anthropic principle has become an integral methodological tool with
which to best analyze the extreme unarbitrariness of the Universe's
parameters. The AP, which suggests that our Universe's qualities are
unavoidable in consideration of the presence of observers, has helped
cosmologists, astrobiologists and quantum physicists as they work with
such related concepts as the fine-tuning hypothesis, string theory,
and various multiverse theories.
Artificial General Intelligence: This isn't your daddy's AI. Rather,
AGI describes the kind of intelligence that you and I have -- the commonsense
know-how we have when we're put into unfamiliar situations. Once developed,
artificial agents endowed with AGI will be non-specialized intelligent
entities that will come to represent the bona fide synthetic equivalent
to human intelligence, and then move beyond.
Augmented Reality: AR describes the fusion of the real world
with the virtual. By using eyetaps, eartaps and implants, individuals
will be able to filter unwanted information from their sensory fields
(such as annoying advertising and sounds). Alternately, users will have
new information virtually inserted into their environment, including
descriptions of landmarks, maps, or even an alert notification that
a familiar person is approaching. Imagine the gaming possibilities...
Bayesian Rationality: Bayesian rationality is a probabilistic
approach to reasoning. Bayesian rationalists describe probability as
the degree to which a person should believe a proposition. They also
apply Bayes' theorem when inferring or updating their degree of belief
when given new information. Some scientists and epistemologists hope
to replace the Popperian view of proof with a Bayesian view.
Cosmological Eschatology (aka physical eschatology): CE is the
study of how the Universe develops, ages, and ultimately comes to an
end. While hardly a new concept, what is new is the suggestion that
advanced intelligence may play a role in the universe's life cycle.
Given the radical potential for postbiological superintelligence, a
number of thinkers have suggested that universe engineering is a likely
activity for advanced civilizations. This has given rise to a number
of theories, including the developmental singularity hypothesis and
the selfish biocosm hypothesis.
Engineered Negligible Senescence: Aging is increasingly coming
to be regarded as a disease, and as such it is privy to treatment and
therapies leading to outright eradication. Indefinite lifespans may
be as little as 50 years away.
Existential Risks: The development of nuclear weapons marked
a disturbing turning point for the human species: we are increasingly
coming into the possession of apocalyptic technologies. Soon to join
the list are such problems as a malevolent superintelligence, deliberate
or accidental misuse of nanotechnology, runaway global warming, a killer
artificial virus, an antimatter holocaust, or a particle accelerator
disaster. Read more here and here. Adding insult to injury is the Doomsday
Extended Identity: Human activity is increasingly migrating to
the digital realm. The rise in popularity of MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer
Online Role-Playing Games) such as Second Life and World of Warcraft
show that the self can, to a non-trivial degree, be transferred to an
alternative medium. With the maturation of these technologies will come
distributed personhood and new legal protections to guarantee safe and
ubiquitous online activity.
Fermi Paradox: The FP is the disturbing realization that, given
the extreme age of the galaxy and the radical potential for post-Singularity
intelligences (including their ability to disseminate Von Neumann replicators),
our galaxy should be saturated with advanced civilizations and megaprojects
by now. Yet, we see no signs of ETI's. Consequently, any predictions
about the future of human intelligence must seek to reconcile this observation.
Key theories to date include the Great Filter hypothesis, the migration
hypothesis, and the transcension hypothesis (the idea of inward migration
into increasingly sophisticated and complex MEST (Matter, Energy, Space,
and Time) space).
Friendly AI: If we are going to survive the Singularity and the
onset of greater-than-human AI, it had better be friendly. And if it
turns out to be friendly, it won't be by accident. Computer science
theorists such as Eliezer Yudkowsky and Ben Goertzel are already working
on what may ultimately prove to be an intractable problem. A poorly
programmed, malevolent, or misguided SAI could destroy all of humanity
with a mere thought. Asimov's Three Laws will do little against incomprehensibly
powerful autopotent entities (a term coined by Nick Bostrom indicating
total self-awareness and ability to self-modify).
Human Enhancement: Humans are about to decommission natural selection
in favour of guided evolution. Darwinian processes gave humanity a good
start, but Homo sapiens can be improved. Owing to advances in genetics,
cybernetics, nanotechnology, computer science, and cognitive science,
humans are set to redefine the human condition. Future humans can look
forward to longer lives, enhanced intelligence, memory, communication
and physical skills, and improved emotional control. Humans may eventually
cease to be biological and gendered organisms altogether, giving rise
to the posthuman entity. Human enhancement will irrevocably alter social
arrangements, interpersonal relationships, and society itself. And there's
also the added potential for non-human enhancement.
Human Exceptionalism (aka human racism): Not everyone is in favour
of human enhancement and the prospect of greater-than-human intelligence.
Nor is everyone in favour of extending personhood outside the human
sphere. These 'human exceptionalists', a group that includes anti-transhumanist
Wesley Smith, argue that being human is what matters, and that to give
equal moral currency to non-humans is a violation of human dignity and
worth. The opposing viewpoint to this is that of Non-Anthropocentric
Personhood -- the notion that nonhumans, be they animals, robots, or
uploaded minds, have the potential for personhood status, and by consequence,
are worthy of moral consideration.
Information Theoretic Death: New technologies will soon demand
that we redefine what we mean by death. It is becoming increasingly
unsatisfactory to declare death when the heart stops. As long as the
information within the brain can be preserved and restored, a person
should not be considered irrevocably dead. Given the potential for molecular
nanotechnology and other future biotechnological advances, it is reasonable
to suggest that most cognitive impairment will someday be repairable.
Consequently, we will need to reconsider the status of persons frozen
in cyronic stasis or hooked up to life support systems.
Mass Automation: The robotic revolution has only just begun.
Robots, AI and automated systems are poised to dramatically reduce the
amount of manual labour performed by humans. For example, we are less
than 10 years away from the advent of self-driving cars. What will that
mean for taxi and bus drivers? Checkouts at grocery stores are already
becoming automated as are a significant number of factory jobs. The
good news is that a lot of demeaning, difficult and dangerous work is
about to be eliminated, the bad news is that it will likely cause serious
Memetic Engineering: This is the radical and controversial idea
that the propagation and quality of information should be monitored
and managed. Memetic engineering is a term coined by Richard Dawkins,
and has been elaborated upon by such thinkers as James Gardner, Robert
Wright, Daniel Dennett (who calls for increased cultural health) and
William Sims Bainbridge (to enhance group and societal outcomes). For
example, advocates of ME would argue that some religious memes are viral
and and need to curbed. I have also argued along these lines. On a related
note, a burgeoning movement is afoot to help people overcome their biases.
Mind Transfer (aka 'uploading'): Uploading is the theoretical
prospect of transferring cognition and consciousness to a digital medium,
namely supercomputers. Recent advances in neuroscience are increasingly
coming to re-enforce functionalist interpretations of mind. Given the
Church-Turing theory of universal computational compatibility, there
is strong reason to suspect that the mind's processes can be duplicated
in computers. This has led to speculation about massive societal uploads,
entire civilizations living within massive supercomputers, extreme life
extension, and entire lifespans lived in open-ended virtual reality
environments and simulations. A number of thinkers, including roboticist
Hans Moravec, have outlined various uploading techniques. Personally,
I believe the jury is still out on whether or not we will be able to
code an algorithm for consciousness.
Molecular Assembler: If you're familiar with a Star Trek replicator
you know about molecular assemblers. These devices could take a clump
of matter and reconstitute it into anything we desire, so long we have
the molecular schematics. The device would work in a similar manner
to the way in which genes and ribosomes function to produce protein.
Needless to say, the impacts of an assembler would be monumental. The
humanitarian impact would be great, creating unprecedented material
wealth and access to resources. At the same time however, it would be
the most dangerous invention ever devised, capable of creating any kind
of apocalyptic device and even self-replicating entities that could
cause global ecophagy.
Neurodiversity: Pending biotechnologies will create a multiplicity
of psychological modes of being. Today, recreational drug users and
the autistic rights community contend that the obsession with maintaining
'neurotypicality' is a form of oppression. In the future, technologies
such as neuropharmaceuticals, cybernetics and other cognotech will offer
individuals an unprecedented opportunity to experience alternative subjective
mental states. Like anything, however, neuroenablement and cognitive
liberty are rights that will have to be fought for.
Neural Interface Device: An NID is any device that enables the
brain to interface with a computer. Today, paraplegics use NID's to
move computer cursors with their thoughts alone. Eventually this will
lead to advanced prostheses, novel remote control concepts, and even
the almighty brain-jack as portrayed in such sci-fi films as The Matrix.
Noosphere (aka metaconsciousness): Human communication and interaction
may eventually advance to the stage where even conscious thought may
be globalized and massively shared. This will lead to the rise of the
Open Source: This is a term that most people are familiar with,
but it's worth re-stating. The open source revolution, where information
is freely distributed and editable, is already reshaping a number of
industries and upsetting traditional economic and intellectual property
models. Wikipedia has very quickly become the world's largest repository
of encyclopaedic information. Linux and other open source software continue
to rival the big players. And looking further down the line, there's
the potential for open source science, culture, and the disturbing potential
for open source warfare.
Participatory Panopticon: An offshoot of David Brin's transparent
society, Steve Mann's sousveillance, and Charlie Stross's panopticon
Singularity, the Participatory Panopticon is a proposed strategy for
dealing with the onset of ubiquitous surveillance. Coined by environmentalist
and forward thinker Jamais Cascio, the PP is the suggestion that all
citizens will soon have the tools with which they can watch each other
and keep themselves accountable for their actions.
Political Globalization: Though it lags behind economic and cultural
globalization, political globalization and the thrust towards world
federalism is happening nonetheless. While it may be a while before
borders completely dissolve, nations and institutions are already developing
co-operative and positive-sum arrangements. This process may unfold
quicker than expected. It was only 60 years ago that Europe tore itself
apart; today Europe forms the world's most powerful economic and political
Post-Scarcity Economy: A post-scarcity economy is a hypothetical
form of economy or society in which things such as goods, services and
information are free, or practically free. Such a future could come
about due to abundance of fundamental resources (think nano, AI, alternative
energy, etc.), in conjunction with sophisticated automated systems capable
of converting raw materials into finished goods (namely by molecular
assemblers). In such a world, manufacturing would be as easy as duplicating
Quantum Computation: Today's computers run on what's called a
Von Neumann architecture. This basic idea has existed for decades, but
there is a new concept under development -- an idea for computation
in which bits (or qbits) are stolen from alternate universes. Seriously.
The basic principle is that the quantum properties of particles can
be used to represent and structure data, and that quantum mechanisms
can be devised and built to perform operations with this data. The long-and-the-short
of this means that future computers running on such a platform would
be ludicrously powerful and fast. As an example, some modern simulations
that are taking IBM's Blue Gene supercomputer years would take a quantum
computer only a matter of seconds. The prospect of quantum computers
throws projections of an upper bound on computation out the window.
Thinkers like David Deutsch have suggested that our universe may be
a kind of quantum computer, while Stuart Hameroff notes that brains
may also be a type of quantum machine.
Radical Luddism: Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski may have been the
first of a new breed of radical anti-technology terrorists. In his manifesto,
titled Industrial Society and Its Future, he argued that his actions
were a necessary (although extreme) ruse by which to attract attention
to what he believed were the dangers of modern technology. Given the
extreme and disruptive potential for biotechnology, AI, nanotechnology
and cybernetics, it is safe to assume that a fringe segment of society
will take it upon themselves to prevent their development by any means
Remedial Ecology: Humans have really messed up this planet, but
that doesn't mean we can't fix what we've broke. Remedial ecology is
the notion that with the right tools and know-how we can repair the
damage that's been done. By using bioremediative processes, for example,
we can use genetically engineered microorganisms to remove toxic or
unwanted chemicals from the environment, or break down hazardous substances
into less toxic or nontoxic substances in soil, groundwater, sludge
and sediment. And looking further into the future there's the added
potential for not just repair but also redesign. Bruce Sterling's Viridian
movement is a step in this direction.
Simulation Argument: The SA, which suggests that we may be living
inside a computer simulation, is important from metaphysical, cosmological,
and philosophical perspectives in that it sweepingly upsets conventional
notions of existence and our place in the Universe. It also gives us
a potential glimpse into the activities of superintelligences. The SA,
aside from its Cartesian epistemological implications, gives rise to
a host of ethical issues, including the ethics of simulating conscious
beings and their potential moral worth. This has already given rise
to the reactionary concept of substrate chauvinism, which is the conviction
that only biological matter can carry moral worth. Substrate chauvinism
is also used to dismiss the idea that self-aware robots could ever be
regarded as persons.
Soft Paternalism (aka Libertarian Paternalism): States are increasingly
working to protect their citizens from themselves. People have bad habits,
are prone to ignorance, and are often capable of self-destruction. Instead
of using coercion, however, states are softly encouraging their citizens
to take better care of themselves and their affairs. For example, in
such an "avuncular state" employees would be signed up for
company pension schemes by default. Freedom of choice is maintained,
but default policies protect the ignorant and lazy from the consequences
of their mistakes.
Technological Singularity: Accelerating change may lead to an existential
paradigm shift for the human species. How this will look like and how
it will come about is still a mystery, giving rise to a social event
horizon known as the Technological Singularity. In all likelihood it
will come about through the advent of superintelligence. It has also
been referred to as a potential 'intelligence explosion,' or a time
when the speed of technological development reaches maximal levels.
Such an event could lead to human extinction or the advent of posthuman
We look forward to your further thoughts, observations and views.
For and on behalf of DK Matai, Chairman, Asymmetric Threats Contingency
ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance
is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex global
challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive action
to build a wisdom based global economy. Adhering to the doctrine of non-violence,
ATCA addresses opportunities and threats arising from climate chaos, radical
poverty, organised crime & extremism, advanced technologies -- bio, info,
nano, robo & AI, demographic skews, pandemics and financial systems. Present
membership of ATCA is by invitation only and has over 5,000 distinguished
members from over 100 countries: including several from the House of Lords,
House of Commons, EU Parliament, US Congress & Senate, G10's Senior Government
officials and over 1,500 CEOs from financial institutions, scientific corporates
and voluntary organisations as well as over 750 Professors from academic centres
of excellence worldwide.
Intelligence Unit | mi2g | tel +44 (0) 20 7712 1782 fax +44 (0) 20
7712 1501 | internet www.mi2g.net
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