Could Public Opposition to Life Extension become Lethal?

I have managed to find 3 polls querying people on their attitudes towards radical life extension. By far the most comprehensive one is PEW’s August 2013 Living to 120 and Beyond project. The other two are a poll of CARP members, a Canadian pro-elderly advocacy group, and by Russia’s Levada Center. While PEW and Levada polled a representative sample of their respective populations, the average age of the CARP respondents was about 70 years.

On the surface, public opinion is not supportive of life extension. 38% of Americans want to live decades longer, to at least 120, while 56% are opposed; 51% think that radical life extension will be a bad thing for society. Only 19% of CARP responents would like to take advantage of these treatments, and 55% think they are bad for society. Though a somewhat higher percentage of Russians, at 32%, want to live either “several times longer” or “be immortal” – as opposed to 64% who only want to live a natural lifespan – their question is phrased more positively, noting that “youth and health” would be preserved under such a scenario.

For now, these figures are a curiosity. But should radical life extension cease being largely speculative and move into the realm of practical plausibility – Aubrey de Grey predicts it will happen as soon as middle-aged mice are rejuvenated so as to extent their lifespans by a few factors – public opinion will start playing a vital role. It would be exceedingly frustrating – literally lethal, even – should the first promising waves of life extension break upon the rocks of politicians pandering to the peanut gallery. This is a real danger in a democracy.

Still, there are three or four strong arguments for optimism in those same polls:

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“Transhuman Visions” Conference @SF, Feb 1, 2014

RosieTheRoboteerThis conference is organized by brain health and IQ researcher Hank Pellissier, and its aim is to bring all kinds of quirky and visionary folks – “Biohackers, Neuro-Optimists, Extreme Futurists, Philosophers, Immortalist Artists, Steal-the-Singularitarians” – together in one place and have them give speeches and interact with each other and the interested public.

One of the lecturers is going to be Aubrey de Grey, the guy who almost singlehandedly transformed radical life extension into a “respectable” area of research, so it’s shaping up to be a Must-Not-Miss event for NorCal futurists.

Also in attendance will be Zoltan Istvan, bestselling author of The Transhumanist Wager, and Rich Lee, the famous biohacker and grinder. The latter will bring a clutch of fellow grinders and switch-blade surgeons with him to perform various modification procedures on the braver and more visionary among us.

Your humble servant will also be speaking. The preliminary title of my speech is “Cliodynamics: Moving Psychohistory from Science Fiction to Science.” Other conference speakers include RU Sirius, Rachel Haywire, Randal A. Koene, Apneet Jolly, Scott Jackisch, Shannon Friedman, Hank Pellissier, Roen Horn, and Maitreya One.

Time/Location: February 1, 2014 (Saturday) from 9:30am-9:30pm at the Firehouse, Fort Mason, 2 Marina Blvd., in San Francisco.

Buy Tickets:

Tickets are on sale from November 1-30 for $35. Only 100 tickets are available due to limited seating. In December tickets will cost $40 (if they’re still available). In January they’ll cost $45, with $49 the at-the-door price.

To obtain a ticket, PayPal $35 to account # [email protected] – include your name. You will quickly receive a receipt that you can print out as your ticket, and your name will be added to the guest list.

Below is a photo gallery of everyone on the lecture list and some further details:

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A Meeting with Hank Pellissier

This Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting up with Hank Pellissier, who used to work for the IEET, a futurist/transhumanist institute, and is now a blogger-journalist and amateur researcher at the Brighter Brains blog.

2013-09-15 16-59-15 - meeting with Hank Pellissier

As one may glean from the title of that blog, his current area of major interest lies in IQ and how you can bolster (or deflate) it. His most recent book is 225 Ways to Elevate or Injure IQ, the product of four years of research consisting of trawling through and summarizing the existing academic literature on the topic. In the meetup, he expounded upon his work.

Much of it was commonsense, or otherwise of no surprise to people who take an active interest in the topic. Some it was also of doubtful validity, with correlations not always being substantiated by a solid case for causation. But some of it was also new, counter-intuitive, even surprising. Certainly all this material is well worth publicizing and pushing into the public debate because quite apart from the intrinsic individual benefits of higher IQ’s it also leads to more efficient economies, higher technological growth, lower crime rates, etc.

Here is a list of most of these 225 IQ factors from Pellisier’s website. Below is a rough classification and brief discussion of some of the most important and interesting points from his research.

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Navigating The Collapse Map – Transhuman On The Dark Mountain

Heard of the political compass? Well, one enviro person compiled something similar for those who seriously entertain the possibility that industrial civilization will collapse. (H/t Mark Sleboda for pointing me to it.)


Needless to say, the “deniers” are almost as absurd as the “rapturists.” All the business as usual scenarios lead to collapse by mid-century.

“Deep green activism” of the Derrick Jensen variety is not only negative but profoundly futile. Not to mention rather clownish (“Every morning when I awake I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam”).

Neither “elites” nor “communities” can have anything to do with “salvation”, which in this context is bringing humanity back within global limits. That is because people are short-sighted and myopic, and the elites – be they democratic or authoritarian – have to cater to their tastes to remain in power.

As regards communities in the context of transition/”resilience”, an elementary consideration of human psychology and the history of state formation will show that to be a BS prospect. It just won’t work. Either you have to settle in remote places at the end of nowhere, or you will have to deal with the local warlords, “zombies” (climate refugees), and the harsh realities of a technologically regressed environment itself. In this climate, the most viable and “resilient” political units will be highly militarized, patriarchal, and probably led by strongmen (“He who doesn’t feed his army, will feed another” – Napoleon).

So by the process of exclusion we are only left with (D) Technoutopians, (J) Dark Mountaineers, and (K) Neo-Survivalists.

Neo-survivalism just makes sense at any level be it individual, familial, or local; it’s always a good idea to hedge against catastrophic outcomes. Even if we magically solve the AGW and general sustainability crisis there will still be the prospect of economic depressions, or Yellowstone erupting, or air force base commanders obsessed with precious bodily fluids going a “little crazy” in the head… In short, there is no point even arguing against it.

Transhuman on the dark mountain - Romanticism.

Transhuman on the dark mountain – Romanticism.

While it might sound contradictory, I am also both a Dark Mountaineer* (cool name!) – a Technoutopian.

In the sense while that I am convinced “business as usual” will lead to collapse, there is a significant chance that civilization will develop real technological solutions to the sustainability crisis, such as effective geoengineering, ubiquitous self-assembling nanotechnology, or the technological singularity.

There is nothing far fetched or historically unprecedented about this. Historically, some societies solved their Malthusian crises and continued steamrolling ahead (e.g. mid-period Song China, early medieval England when its wood ran out and it seized on the idea of using coal instead, or the biggest example of them all – the Industrial Revolution in Europe). In fact, the new science of cliodynamics suggest that when a society encounters ecological stress, it tends to redouble investments into finding ways of further increasing the carrying capacity (this can be called the “Boserupian Effect“). Of course for every success story there were multiple failures: The Roman Empire, all the Chinese dynasties prior to the current Communist one, the Mayans, the Easter Islanders, etc.

The 21st century is as I’ve remarked a few times basically dominated by a “race of the exponentials” between technology and ecological/civilizational collapse.

And if technology fails, then one must face the spreading desert, the Olduvai Gorge, the Dark Mountain… Here is what its founder wrote:

For fifteen years I have been an environmental campaigner and writer. For two of these years I was deputy editor of the Ecologist. I campaigned against climate change, deforestation, overfishing, landscape destruction, extinction and all the rest. I wrote about how the global economic system was trashing the global ecosystem. I did all the things that environmentalists do. But after a while, I stopped believing it.

There were two reasons for this. The first was that none of the campaigns were succeeding, except on a very local level. More broadly, everything was getting worse. The second was that environmentalists, it seemed to me, were not being honest with themselves. It was increasingly obvious that climate change could not be stopped, that modern life was not consistent with the needs of the global ecosystem, that economic growth was part of the problem, and that the future was not going to be bright, green, comfy and ‘sustainable’ for ten billion people but was more likely to offer decline, depletion, chaos and hardship for all of us. Yet we all kept pretending that if we just carried on campaigning as usual, the impossible would happen. I didn’t buy it, and it turned out I wasn’t the only one.

That’s pretty much the exact realization I reached a year ago. The scenario in which the tossed coin lands on the other side to the technological silver bullet.

But whatever happens there’s no point in worrying about it or emotionally overinvesting oneself into it. That is why the Dark Mountain is so appealing. After all does the beer yeast worry that the booze generated by itself and its fellows will eventually doom them all? Of course not. And you are presumably far more intelligent than a beer yeast.

ARCS Of Progress – The Arctic World In 2050

Editorial note: This article was first published at Arctic Progress in February 2011. In the next few weeks I will be reposting the best material from there.

The Arctic to become a pole of global economic growth? Image credit – Scenic Reflections.

Behold! Far north along the shores of the Arctic a quiver of upspringing settlements fringes the coast. Boats swarm around canning factories, smoke flutters above smelters, herds of reindeer dot the prairies… And here or there, on every street-corner, glimmer out the lights of theaters where moving-pictures entertain white people through the sunless weeks of the midwinter dancing-time, the singing-time, the laughing-time of Eskimo Land.

– Northward ho!: An account of the far North and its people.

In 2003, Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill wrote the now famous paper Dreaming with BRIC’s, predicting that Brazil, Russia, India and China would overtake the developed G8 nations within a few decades and make astounding returns for faithful investors. The BRIC’s concept entered the conventional wisdom, spawning a host of related acronyms (BASICBRICSA, etc) – and if anything, realizing its promise well ahead of schedule. Last year, China’s real GDP possibly overtook America’s, and Russia’s approached Germany’s.

Yet for all their successes, the BRIC’s may not fulfill their expected roles as the stars of the global economy in the 21st century. The level of education is horrid in Brazil and atrocious in India; without the requisite human capital, these two countries will find it difficult to rapidly “converge” to developed world standards. China is much better off in this respect, but its high growth trajectory may in turn be disturbed by energy shortages and environmental degradation. China produces half the world’s coal, which is patently unsustainable given its limited reserves. But since coal accounts for 75% of China’s primary energy consumption and fuels the factories that keep its workforce employed, there is little it can do to mitigate this dependence. Meanwhile, China’s overpopulation, pollution and climate change predicament is so well known as to not require elaboration. Many other countries flirting around the edges of BRIC status – Indonesia, South Africa, Vietnam, etc. – face serious challenges in the form of low human capital, uncertain energy and food supplies and a rising incidence of AGW-induced droughts, floods and heatwaves.

There is one global region that may hold the key to resolving these intertwined problems – and even to become a major pole of global growth in its own right. For the most part, it is now an empty wilderness, but climate change is opening it up as potential living space. Its exploitation has the potential to halve the length of global freight transport routes while increasing their security, uncover sizable to gigantic new sources of hydrocarbons and minerals, and stabilize global food prices through the expansion of arable land. Its experience of management and conflict resolution may inspire a global model of cooperation – or it may degenerate into an economic, legal, or even military battlefield over shipping routes and sub-sea resources.

This global region is the Arctic Rim, and its adjoining ARCS: Alaska, Russia, Canada, and Scandinavia. The ARCS of Progress in the 21st century.

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The Brave New World Of Dennō Coil

In the Japanese TV series Dennō Coil, people wear Internet-connected augmented reality glasses and interact with a world that is now split between the real and the virtual. Citizens and netizens become one. The story is set in 2026, some eleven years after the introduction of this technology.

Considering that this series was first conceived of in 1997, the dates are remarkable accurate. Recently it was revealed that Google is working on a “Project Glass” that will become available to consumers for a cool $1,500 from late 2013 or early 2014.

Needless to say the usual cynics and technophobes have been making fun of the idea, going on about the ethical problems of facial recognition, announcing they will boycott the technology (yeah right), etc. I am unconcerned with all this. As with other mega-trends like global demography or climate change, contrary opinions are like a flimsy shack against an advancing tide, in other words, irrelevant. Fortunately, for the most part, technological revolutions increase wellbeing and are useful anyway.

In my opinion, the decisive technological development of the 2000’s was the mass proliferation of cell phones. In the late 1990’s, only a small percentage of people in developed countries had access to them, as well as a handful of businesspeople and high officials in the developing world. Today they are ubiquitous with global penetration at over 70%. Apart from making people much more connected – I can barely remember the days when one actually had to make strict appointments in advance – the sector also powered a mini-economic boom for both designers (Nokia, Samsung, etc), their manufacturing contractors in China, and the ecosystem of app developers they spawned in places like the Silicon Valley.

The augmented reality eyeglass revolution will be of similar or even greater scope. What is now almost unheard of outside the techosphere will begin to break out into the public consciousness by the mid-2010’s; substantial numbers of the global middle class will start wearing them by the late 2010’s; and by the mid-2020’s, this will be a thriving global industry with tons of spinoffs and applications. So much so that a proper name will surely have to be found for these glasses. Intelligent glasses? AReyes? Thinking goggles? Denno glasses? I like the sound of the last one so I’ll be using it until the term catches on or another replaces it.

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How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Global Warming

I am an idiosyncratic person. I support HBD, but oppose white (or any other) imperialism. My attitudes towards mainstream liberalism and conservatism is to wish a plague on both their houses. I think we’re in for a world of hurt with Limits to Growth but also buy into “cornucopian” ideas like technological singularity and transhumanism. In personal life, I like to have my guns and hit the bong too. Etc.

I recently drove to the beach with a hipster chick who majored in something involving the environment (nothing technical) and recently found a marketing job with a clean energy start-up in SF. She went on and on about how important it is to buy local, observe Earth Hour, the fucking works. Only problem? She drove a four wheel drive. In one of the very few places in the US where you can get by without a car. It reminds me of an old Guardian story about a Swedish feminist police chief (“Captain Skirt”) who ran prostitution rings on the side… But on second thought all this is entirely normal. After all hypocrisy is the grease that smooths society’s wheels.

The greenies at least don’t force people into these ritualistic observances of Earth Hour, as if there’s some deity that could wave a wand and restore CO2 levels back to 1800. The conservatives tend to simply deny reality, deny AGW, as doing otherwise would make them willing accomplices in an impending global catastrophe. Not only is it dishonest but what’s worse many of them savagely smear and attack AGW’ers for the sin of pointing out the stark truth. They would have felt at home within the ranks of the NKVD.

Only very drastic interventions now stand a chance of averting tipping points that will likely send the Earth into an extreme greenhouse state by the end of the century… interventions that can only be implemented at this late stage of the game by some kind of global dictatorship. Desirable or not, justified or not, is irrelevant… it’s not going to happen, the system isn’t going to change. Furthermore, even individual interventions and lifestyle changes are irrelevant, as the Parable of the Beer Yeast demonstrates.

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Russia Demographic Update VII

It is now increasingly evident that Russia’s population has settled on a small but decidedly firm upwards growth trend. I have been vindicated.

According to the latest data, in the first eight months of the year births fell by 1.4% (12.5/1000 to 12.3/1000) and deaths fell by 6.2% (from 14.6/1000 to 13.7/1000) relative to the same period last year. The rate of natural population decrease eased from -198,3000 to -128,800. The big fall in the death rate is due to two factors: (1) the continuing secular increase in life expectancy, due to decreasing alcohol consumption and more healthcare spending; (2) specific to 2011, the “high base” effect of the mortality spike during the Great Russian Heatwave last year.

This natural decrease was more than compensated for by 200,255 net migrants during the same period, making for a population increase of 71,500 this year to August. This more than cancels out the population decrease of 48,300 for the whole of 2010, and let it be reminded that it rose by 23,300 in 2009. In other words, in stark contrast to the avalanche of doom-mongering articles that continue to be written in the Western press about “dying Russia” – of which two of the most egregious examples are this and this – the reality is that today in net terms Russia’s population is now larger than it was in 2009.

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3000 AD: The Rise Of Polar Civilizations

The river of time flows on, and empires crumble, leaving behind only legend that becomes myth, while new polities arise to take their place. This process of decay and creation is going to receive a boost from “peak energy” and, above all, climate change – which will redraw the maps of power to an extent unprecedented since the end of the last Ice Age. Throughout recorded history, the centers of advanced civilization have seesawed east and west, but remained constrained within a “band of habitability” that did not extend much further north than Oslo, St.-Petersburg, or Harbin. If the pessimistic scenarios of AGW come true, this band will become inverted: the tropics and mid-latitudes will become increasingly drought-stricken, desolate wastelands, perhaps even uninhabitable by 2300, while the Arctic regions, and a thawing Greenland and Antarctica, will become new centers of global civilization.

In this post, with the help of many maps, I will explore what this will mean in more detail than I believe has been done anywhere else on the Web. Needless to say, I am making the assumption that there will be no technological singularity, or other technological breakthrough, that will enable the continuation of modern high-energy civilization. But not will these be any all-out apocalypse. That part of the technological base that does not rely on high levels of energy inputs for its maintenance will survive, that is, railways, electricity generated by hydropower, radios, even elementary computing. So let us venture forth into the brave new world of 3000 AD!

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Future Superpowers – The World To 2100

future-superpowersMost projections of future trends in national power fail to appreciate the importance of three crucial factors: (1) the declining EROEI of energy resources (including, but not limited to, “peak oil”); (2) the importance of human capital to economic growth, especially in developing countries’ attempts to “catch up” to the advanced world; and (3) the impacts of climate change, which are projected to be more and more catastrophic with every passing year. Disregarding these trends produces predictions such as George Friedman’s (STRATFOR) argument that Mexico – a low human capital country experiencing plummeting oil production and growing water stress – will become a superpower by 2100.

Using my current estimates of Comprehensive National Power as a base (an index of power that attempts to express a nation’s economic, military, and cultural power in a single number), I will specially stress the above factors in my analysis of future global power trends. Some results will look plausible and familiar (e.g. China overtaking the US as a superpower by the 2020’s); others will appear utterly bizarre (e.g. Canada becoming a major Great Power in by the end of the century, while India and Brazil plummet back into obscurity). But they are nonetheless all plausible and even likely outcomes, derived from bringing together worlds that all too often are considered independently of each other: the economy; human capital; geopolitics; energetics; and climate change.

There may of course be unexpected discontinuities – popularized as Black Swans by Nassim Taleb – that unravel these projections (the probability of their happening increasing exponentially over time). This will be covered in greater depth below. In the meantime, bear this caveat in mind as you read the rest of the post.

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