Re: Extropian bodies

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Mon Jul 23 2001 - 14:12:24 MDT

I'll comment on Helen's queries.

Helen asked:
> Part of my work concerns the preachings of people who argue about the
> ethics of combining the human body with machine parts.

The problem is those "preachings" fail to recognize that the body
*is* already a collection of machine parts. I like to point out
to people that since every human has on or in them ~40 trillion
bacteria, each "body" hosts more copies of programs for autonomous
self-replicating machines than copies of its own genetic program
(i.e. the bacterial cells outnumber our cells). A mitochondria
is a machine. A cell is a machine. A heart is a machine.
We are machines (bodies) made up of machines (organs) made up
of machines (cells) made up in part of machines (mitochondria)
made up in part of machines (proteins) made up of atoms.

The problem arises from a mistaken concept that you can only build
machines out of steel. If I build a machine out of plastic is
it any less of a machine? What about nanotechnology research
being done at Cornell or the University of Washington where the
"machines" that are used in the experiments as "motors" are
the very same proteins our own body uses?

> What are your responses to these attacks on human enhancement.

We are already enhanced. My face would have to be ~3 inches from
my computer screen for me to read the text without my "enhancements".
Someday, I'll get that enhancement made permanent with laser surgery.

> What are your feelings regarding what 'human' actually is?

Human is a "suitcase" term, its used to describe both our biological
bodies as well as the way we interact with each other as well as
our intelligence. If you want to explore the topic, one way to
start is to start with a definition of 'human' straight out of
the dictionary and then start to break it down into its
different meanings.

> Is it really possible to compare the human body to a mechanical system,

Ask almost any doctor, esp. for example, surgeons. It *is* a mechanical
system. There is an entire scientific field called "biomechanics".
The field of "biopysics" explains how our cells work on the basis of
physical laws while "biochemistry" explores how our cells function
according to chemical laws.

> and if so, then what's so important about enhancing as humans,

Human longevity is fundentally limited by the hazard function
(our exposure to things that kill us). Unenhanced humans have
a higher hazard function (shorter life-span) than enhanced
humans who would be more resistant to diseases, automobile
accidents, gunshot wounds, etc.

A fundamental principle, spoken by a Rabbi at the Templeton
Foundation "Extended Life, Eternal life" conference,
"Life is GOOD. Death is bad."

> shouldn't we try to enhance beyond the human state?

I may not understand this part of the question. I believe that
enhancing beyond the currently evolved human state is what
we are heading towards. The difference is that in the past
the evolution was done by natural selection, in the future
it will be done by design and intent. The problem is that
people have never had this capability before so it scares
some people.

> What do you think will happen to people's identity as 'humans' once
> they have been so integrated with technology that they physically
> no longer resemble the human bodily form?

We *are* already integrated with the pre-evolved technology,
so you have to mean "engineered" technology. Further you have
to imply that "engineered" technology would somehow make us
appear "different" from the way we appear now. Engineereed
technology does not have to necessarily make us look different.
I could completely replace my bio-brain with a much better nanobot
derived brain and still have the same geeky look I have today.
I suspect you will see women making much more radical alterations
to their appearances than men, because they are either genetically
wired to do so and/or have much greater societal training for that.

Now, assuming you mean that people evolve in the direction
of radically different appearances, one thing that may be
needed is some brain engineering to dampen our fight-or-flight
response and/or "tribal" instincts. As people become increasingly
different those deeply rooted emotional survival strategies
are likely to be less benificial, perhaps even becoming harmful.
You don't want people crashing their cars because a human who
has adopted the form of a gorilla jumps out into the middle
of the street. A fully engineered "nanobody" can certainly
withstand the impact of a moderately fast automobile, so the
presumably adolescent, "human" can probably do this relatively
fearlessly just to jerk around the car driver. Not unlike
behaviors you see today where teenagers driving by in cars will
unexpectedly scream at a pedestrian just to make them jump.

There may need to be some legal or societal restrictions
placed on the modifications you are allowed to make to
oneself if only for reasons of public safety. An alternative
would be the developement of "zones" where specific
modifications were permitted (and so can crank up
the volume on your way to the nightclub).

People's pre-programmed concept of "humans" which presumably
is linked to a number of pre-wired brain "features" -- face
recognition, hard-wired emotional expressions, nurturing triggers,
companionship needs, soothing voices, etc. is going to have to
expand (A LOT!).

We might, in the long run speciate into a number of new and
different species adapted to certain specific environmental
niches. But my money is on everyone deciding to upload.
At that point appearance is entirely virtual and therefore
serves only as a form of entertainment. You can explore
the world of "avatars" to see what that is like.

For an interesting view of what humans are, one of the
finest I've ever seen, see Ka-Ping Lee's explanation:
which is part of his documentation on his "Shad Valley" experience.
Hope that helps,

Refs for Avatars:
For the Templeton conference:

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Oct 12 2001 - 14:39:55 MDT