Immunology & Uploading / Empiricists vs. Rationalists

Crosby_M (
Fri, 17 Jan 1997 12:40:14 -0500

Elyse Tanouye writes about a "Long Shot: A few AIDS Vaccines Are Ready
for Testing; Now, Who Goes First?" in today's Wall Street Journal. It
seems like there are several pithy issues in here that Extropians
might want to chew on.

The article notes that the fields of AIDS research and treatment are
polarizing between "'empiricists,' who take a 'learn as we go' tack
and urge the start of wide-scale human tests now," versus "the
'rationalists,' [who argue] that to begin human testing would be
unethical and a waste of scarce resources until researchers discover
far more about the interaction of HIV and the immune system."

This polarization further affects the economics: Such vaccines are
incredibly expensive to produce; the majority of people suffering from
AIDS can't afford the treatments; yet, once vaccines are produced,
everyone will claim a right to be treated. While governments have
poured billions into research, only minimal progress has been made.
Meanwhile, commercial pharmaceutical firms have no incentive to throw
their full resources into the effort.

AIDS vaccines are, perhaps, one of the most complex areas of
scientific (and social) research because HIV is such a special virus:
it doesn't just attack any old organ, it attacks the human immune
system itself. So, researchers "must tackle the seemingly impossible
task of inducing an immune system response that works better than the
natural one."

We sometimes assume that if we can just upload our minds, we'll be all
set for immortality. Besides issues of memetic propagation, as well
as concerns about 'computer' bugs and viruses in an uploaded society
of minds, or runaway nano-goo plagues in the physical substrate,
mental plasticity and intelligence augmentation may also need to
borrow heavily from immunology and what we're currently learning in
the battle against AIDS. Even, for those who will prefer to download
into a fresh organic body when they reach a new planet somewhere,
being able to resist any local pathogens may be an even bigger initial
concern than establishing an industrial base.

Mark Crosby