Near the beginning of the Vision Working Group’s report readers are reminded that;
This statement might be viewed as simply encouraging the keeping of an open mind but when I have encountered phrases like “scanning the horizon” in government documents of late, it is meant in an active, dynamic sense
I wonder what “permanent truths” we need to be unbound from. Does the evolution of human bodies and societies requires that our sense of morality and ethics too, must evolve?
It bears repeating that NBIC technologies are seen as the tools of transformation. Power tools to be precise.
The idea of converging technologies predicts the entry into a new phase in science and technology that is supposed to result from the integration of biotechnology , information technology, cognitive science and information technology.
From what I gather, the idea is that we have entered “The Age of Transition”, as Newt Gingrich explains in this document, a report devised from a conference held in Dec. 2001-Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance
In 1994 Newt said that he had a goal of “reshaping the entire nation through the news media”
In “Vision for the Converging Technologies” Newt Gingrich proposes to reinvent government for the “Age of Transition” and says that ““If you bring that [nanotech]together with the biological revolution, the next 20 years of computation, and what we should be learning about human cognition, the capability can be quite stunning. For example,there’s no reason to believe we can’t ultimately design a new American way of learning and a new American way of thinking about things”
The Converging Technologies Report, which was published in book form in 2002, explains the premise of the “Convergence” conference;
“It is essential to prepare key organizations and societal activities for the changes made possible by converging technologies. Activities that accelerate convergence to improve human performance must be enhanced, including focused research and development, increased technological synergy from the nanoscale, developing of interfaces among sciences and technologies, and a holistic approach to monitor the resultant societal evolution.” (My emphasis)
Transhumanists engage in interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and evaluating possibilities for overcoming biological limitations. They draw on futurology and various fields of ethics such as bioethics, infoethics, nanoethics, neuroethics, roboethics, and technoethics mainly but not exclusively from a philosophically utilitarian, socially progressive, politically and economically liberal perspective
Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance
NANOTECHNOLOGY, BIOTECHNOLOGY, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCE
The NBIC motto:
If the Cognitive Scientists can think it
The Nano people can build it
The Bio people can implement it, and
The IT people can monitor and control it.
Confident aren’t they?
Rand looked at NBIC Convergence in 2001;
The Global Technology Revolution: Bio/Nano/Materials Trends and Their Synergies with Information Technology by 2015
“The results could be astonishing. Effects may include significant improvements in human quality of life and life span… continued globalization, reshuffling of wealth, cultural amalgamation or invasion with potential for increased tension and conflict, shifts in power from nation states to non-governmental organizations and individuals… and the possibility of human eugenics and cloning.”
The Convergence of NBIC is presented as imminent, if not already reality which puzzled me. I didn’t know we were so far advanced. This also disturbed me because the technologies discussed have enormous implications ethically. The attitude of the presenters though, is not one of caution; actually it is quite the opposite.
“Nanotechnology, biotechnology, electronics and brain research are converging into a new field of science vital to the nation’s security and economic clout.”
Or so say influential research agenda-setters like the National Science Foundation, along with a loose-knit group of government, academic and industry researchers who are trying to accelerate the convergence process.
NYT Feb 2003
This attitude is even more frightening when you consider that this convergence is believed to be the onset of a wild technological ride that will (by most counts) or may lead to something that we don’t know the human race will survive, “The Singularity”
This subject is touched upon in the Vision Working Group Report;
A SPECIAL NOTE ON THE POSSIBILITY OF A TECHNOLOGICAL SINGULARITY BY 2060
The authors of this set of scenarios have intentionally omitted any scenarios driven by what has been dubbed a “technological singularity” or, more grandiosely, “The Singularity.” Several technologists estimate a singularity occurring within the period covered by these scenarios. Although there are many definitions, in general, a technological singularity is said to occur when intentional, intelligent machines take over their own development, and due to their superior memories and processing abilities, quickly advance to states beyond human comprehension. It is hypothesized that such superintelligent entities will reshape the world as they see fit, with or without human input.
The decision to omit a singularity scenario was based on practicality, rather than a determination that such a scenario is implausible.
PNSR Vision Working Group Report
In a paper entitled Designing The Future NBIC Technologies and Human Performance Enhancement
James Canton Ph.D. writes;
“NBIC convergence represents entirely new challenges for scientists, policy makers and business leaders who will have, for the first time, vast new power tools to shape future markets, societies and lifestyles.” (Emphasis mine)
, Designing The Future: NBIC Technologies and Human Performance Enhancement
If NBIC convergence represents “power tools” or “transforming tools” by which the powerful can change the world, I can see why they might be so enthusiastic but the fact that National Security policy is being drawn from these concepts is startling to me. That is exactly what is happening.
“Human Performance Enhancement” as the overarching goal of NBIC Convergence is repeated frequently throughout the 2002 “Convergence Report” I suppose readers are to take it on faith that this is a noble and worthy goal.
What do they mean by Human Performance Enhancement (HPE)? James Canton (who is credited with inventing the whole idea of NBIC convergence) defines HPE like this;
“Human Performance Enhancement, (HPE) refers to the augmentation of human skills, attributes or competencies through the use of technology, medicine or therapy designed to replace or increase performance capability. Examples of HPE run the gamut from restoring sight or hearing to manipulating genetic material with the goal of promoting or preventing a condition. Other examples include augmenting normal capabilities such as intelligence, perception or mobility.”
What is eugenics. Very simply eugenics means “good genes”
Eugenics is the “applied science or the biosocial movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population,” usually referring to human populations. According to Wikipedia
What is “Human Performance Enhancement”?
Human Performance Enhancement entails;
“manipulating genetic material with the goal of promoting or preventing a condition.”
HPE looks for all the world to be the re-branding of eugenics.
The biotechnology spoken of in all of these documents invariably raise the specter of eugenics which is openly acknowledged by even the proponents of the technology.
James Canton, who according to the Lifeboat Foundation is “a renowned global futurist, social scientist, keynote presenter, author, and visionary business advisor. He has advised three White House Administrations, the National Science Foundation, and MIT’s” says:
“I think we will stop short of eugenics. . .”
Eerily Canton writes;
“No doubt there will be countries and cultures that view HPE (human performance enhancement) as a weapon for overt or covert social manipulation. There will be autocratic nations that view the enhancement of their population’s intelligence, mobility or other cognitive and physical capabilities as desirable. Of course there will be abusers of HPE. Planned social evolution based on HPE will be a not-too-distant-future scenario that democratic societies will have to navigate. But at the same time, individual choice will prevail if global social order and democratic values is a desired goal. (Emphasis mine) FISTERA Report
Read that passage carefully. In it Canton sums up the crux of the issue or at least the crux of the issue as far as I’m concerned.
He makes the assumption that the US is immune to the temptations to manipulate their populations unlike some of those less noble governments out there. That is a dangerous assumption and one that history reveals is patently untrue!
Some fans of the Transhumanism openly embrace and defend eugenics. At least this is honest.
See Future Generations at www.eugenics.net
It is difficult for a non scientist like me to separate the hype from reality but there are some elements at play that give even a layman like me a hint as to what this is all about.
Here is one;
While not included in the summary or the main recommendations, the report includes a paper on a proposal for a new science or discipline called memetics (Strong & Bainbridge 2002). This is related to the “human cognomen project”, starting from the assessment that the most valuable resource in the upcoming information society will be culture.
From the FISTERA REPORT 2005
Thankfully, the Convergence Technologies report has been amply mulled over by others with the credentials to make more sense of it than I can.
One of the best critiques of the Converging Technologies Report and the concept of NBIC Convergence is a man by the name of Joachim Schummer. He goes to the heart of it. Is this “convergence” of these technologies really an issue or just hype?
He wrote a scathing dissertation about the NBIC Convergence idea entitled;
From Nano-Convergence to NBIC-Convergence:
Schummer asserts that;
“the concept of convergence of technologies is a teleological concept that does not describe or predict any recent past, present, or future development. Instead it always expresses or attributes political goals of how future technology should be developed.”
The concept was already fully developed as a flexible rhetorical tool by US science administrators to create nanotechnology (as nano-convergence), before it was broadened to invent the convergence of nano-, bio-,info-, and cogno-research (NBIC-convergence).
His scholarly assessment jibes heartily with my very unscientific gut instinct that much of NBIC Convergence is bluster and hooey.
There are many fans and critics of NBIC tech and the promise and perils they portend for the future. Most seem to concentrate on the theoretical rather than the actual. The spiritual and ethical implications get lots of space of course and not surprisingly, many futurists run with visions of utopia. Plenty of critics with a more pessimistic view predict disaster.
If I were to take all of this at face value, frankly it would make me sick. I am doubtful that this grand convergence is all that it is cracked up to be but the fact that we seem to have people in positions to effect policy and funds that treat this concept as gospel and seem intent on forcing it to life with very little attention given to how to navigate it in a way that respects the rights of everyone is what has really got my attention.
As noted by Schummer;
“Although the NBIC-report was no official report and although no official report has ever been commissioned by the NNI on the NBIC issues, it eventually found its way into the official science policy agenda of the US. Supplement to the President’s FY 2007 Budget for the NNI, where all agencies have to explain their activities, the NSF states:”
Special emphasis will be placed on research in the following areas:
- • Merging science and engineering at the nanoscale: the convergence of nanotechnology with information technology, modern biology, and social sciences will stimulate discoveries and innovation in almost all areas of the economy.” (NSTC/NSET 2006, 5)
In case you don’t know, NNI is, The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). The program was established in fiscal year 2001 to coordinate Federal nanotechnology research and development.
“The NNI provides a vision of the long-term opportunities and benefits of nanotechnology.”
More about the NNI
Schummer wrote his paper in 2008. In it he makes note that the idea of NBIC Convergence was being integrated into policy. Since then the NBIC Convergence meme has steadily wormed its way further and further into US policy.
Please Don’t miss my point. I don’t have the resources to dissertate about the myriad of ethical considerations about the technology. The policy that is being founded on the presumption of NBIC convergence and that is obviously infused with an ideological agenda is what I am speaking to. I simply want my government to adhere to the principles that respect our right to self determination and freedom.
The PNSR’s Forging a New Shield and their Vision Working Group Report are evidence of the concept of NBIC Convergence at play at the highest level but it is evident as well in this recent NNI budget supplement
NNI Supplement to the President’s 2011 Budget As indicated in this document, the total investment by NNI member agencies for 2011 is nearly $1.8 billion for nanotechnology R&D. Among other subjects, the document highlights Nanotechnology Signature Initiatives to accelerate nanotechnology development in support of the President’s priorities and innovation strategy. NNI member agencies identified areas for these initiatives ripe for significant advances through close and targeted program-level interagency collaboration.
Schummer also notices the Transhumanist ideological bent that pervades the work on NBIC Convergence;
“Roco found further support for his move from nano-convergence to NBIC convergence in a techno-religious movement called transhumanism. Again that is no coincidence, because his co-editor and NSF fellow Bainbridge is an influential leader of the transhumanist movement.
Transhumanists strive for salvation from world-immanent suffering in a transcendent, so-called post-human, state through step-wise technological transformations. One step is the removal of diseases and aging and the perfection of the human body through some wondrous nanotechnology and genetic engineering.”
Schummer points out that for all the noble talk of curing diseases and expanding longevity, one of the main drivers of Human Performance Enhancement is the military’s desire for a Super Soldier.
“It is no coincidence that this image of the ideal human being almost exactly matches the capacities expected from the perfect soldier in combat. Indeed, many of the enhancement examples are explicitly taken from the military area, like armors that support physical strength and robotic war fighter systems. Moreover, a whole section of the NBIC-report is devoted to “National Security”, with representatives from all major military agencies.
The military seems to be the driving force behind the move from nano-convergence to NBICconvergence. That might be economically justified by the fact that the Department of Defense has had the largest share of the NNI budget thus far. However, binding the community of natural, engineering, and social scientists in an allegedly humanistic vein to a human ideal that is modeled after the perfect warfighter, as Roco did, is a severe intrusion of military values into civic society.”
Race to the Bottom: Information Superiority and the Human Soldier in the NBIC Era
The above presentation addresses the desire for a robo-soldier and gives some attention to managing the discourse surrounding the debate on NBIC in order to improve the chances of public acceptanceBack to Loco Roco-
Mihail Roco is the co-editor of the NBIC Convergence Report which was commissioned by the U.S. National Science Foundation and Department of Commerce. He is the founding chair of the National Science and Technology Council’s subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology (NSET), and is the Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology at the National Science Foundation http://www.nsf.gov/eng/staff/mroco.jsp
Mihail Roco’s slogan is;
“The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create It”
This nifty slogan reinforces my feeling that there is a whole lot of selling going on here.
Since the science of all of this is beyond my expertise to assess, I have spent a little time looking at something I am more qualified to assess, the people.
Looking at who are key players in pushing the idea of NBIC convergence says a lot.
The results of that research are forthcoming….
Here is my cache of documents pertaining to NBIC Convergence and the PNSR