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Jessica Milne – Presentation on Decentralizing Trust at the California Transhumanist Party Leadership Meeting

Jessica Milne – Presentation on Decentralizing Trust at the California Transhumanist Party Leadership Meeting

Jessica Milne


The California Transhumanist Party held its inaugural Leadership Meeting on January 27, 2018.

Jessica Milne, the California Transhumanist Party’s Director of Information Science and Technology, delivered a presentation entitled, “De-Centralizing Trust: A map to a better tomorrow”, on the subject of organizational dynamics and the various roles individuals tend to fall into in today’s organizations (as well as whether there might be a better way). This video includes a recording of the presentation and the subsequent interaction with the audience, including U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II, California Transhumanist Party Chairman Newton Lee, and California Transhumanist Party Director of Networking Charlie Kam.

Watch the first video from the California Transhumanist Party Leadership Meeting, featuring a presentation by Newton Lee and ensuing discussion on Transhumanist political efforts, here.

Visit the website of the California Transhumanist Party:http://www.californiatranshumanistparty.org/index.html

Read the U.S. Transhumanist Party Constitution: http://transhumanist-party.org/constitution/

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free: http://transhumanist-party.org/membership/

(If you reside in California, this would automatically render you a member of the California Transhumanist Party.)

Elon Musk and Merging With Machines – Article by Edward Hudgins

Elon Musk and Merging With Machines – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
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Elon Musk seems to be on board with the argument that, as a news headline sums up, “Humans must merge with machines or become irrelevant in AI age.” The PayPal co-founder and SpaceX and Tesla Motors innovator has, in the past, expressed concern about deep AI. He even had a cameo in Transcendence, a Johnny Depp film that was a cautionary tale about humans becoming machines.

Has Musk changed his views? What should we think?

Human-machine symbiosis

Musk said in a speech this week at the opening of Tesla in Dubai warned governments to “Make sure researchers don’t get carried away — scientists get so engrossed in their work they don’t realize what they are doing. But he also said that “Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.” In techno-speak he told listeners that “Some high-bandwidth interface to the brain will be something that helps achieve a symbiosis between human and machine intelligence.” Imagine calculating a rocket trajectory by just thinking about it since your brain and the Artificial Intelligence with which it links are one!

This is, of course, the vision that is the goal of Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis, co-founders of Singularity University. It is the Transhumanist vision of philosopher Max More. It is a vision of exponential technologies that could even help us live forever.

AI doubts?

But in the past, Musk has expressed doubts about AI. In July 2015, he signed onto “Autonomous Weapons: an Open Letter from AI & Robotics Researchers,” which warned that such devices could “select and engage targets without human intervention.” Yes, out-of-control killer robots! But it concluded that “We believe that AI has great potential to benefit humanity in many ways … Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea…” The letter was also signed by Diamandis, one of the foremost AI proponents. So it’s fair to say that Musk was simply offering reasonable caution.

In Werner Herzog’s documentary Lo and Behold: Reveries of a Connected World, Musk explained that “I think that the biggest risk is not that the AI will develop a will of its own but rather that it will follow the will of people that establish its utility function.” He offered, “If you were a hedge fund or private equity fund and you said, ‘Well, all I want my AI to do is maximize the value of my portfolio,’ then the AI could decide … to short consumer stocks, go long defense stocks, and start a war.” We wonder if the AI would appreciate that in the long-run, cities in ruins from war would harm the portfolio? In any case, Musk again seems to offer reasonable caution rather than blanket denunciations.

But in his Dubai remarks, he still seemed reticent. Should he and we be worried?

Why move ahead with AI?

Exponential technologies already have revolutionized communications and information and are doing the same to our biology. In the short-term, human-AI interfaces, genetic engineering, and nanotech all promise to enhance our human capacities, to make us smarter, quicker of mind, healthier, and long-lived.

In the long-term Diamandis contends that “Enabled with [brain-computer interfaces] and AI, humans will become massively connected with each other and billions of AIs (computers) via the cloud, analogous to the first multicellular lifeforms 1.5 billion years ago. Such a massive interconnection will lead to the emergence of a new global consciousness, and a new organism I call the Meta-Intelligence.”

What does this mean? If we are truly Transhuman, will we be soulless Star Trek Borgs rather than Datas seeking a better human soul? There has been much deep thinking about such question but I don’t know and neither does anyone else.

In the 1937 Ayn Rand short novel Anthem, we see an impoverished dystopia governed by a totalitarian elites. We read that “It took fifty years to secure the approval of all the Councils for the Candle, and to decide on the number needed.”

Proactionary!

Many elites today are in the throes of the “precautionary principle.” It holds that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm … the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those proposing the action or policy. Under this “don’t do anything for the first time” illogic, humans would never have used fire, much less candles.

By contrast, Max More offers the “proactionary principle.” It holds that we should assess risks according to available science, not popular perception, account for both risks the costs of opportunities foregone, and protect people’s freedom to experiment, innovate, and progress.

Diamandis, More and, let’s hope, Musk are the same path to a future we can’t predict but which we know can be beyond our most optimistic dreams. And you should be on that path too!

Explore:

Edward Hudgins, “Public Opposition to Biotech Endangers Your Life and Health“. July 28, 2016.

Edward Hudgins, “The Robots of Labor Day“. September 2, 2015.

Edward Hudgins, “Google, Entrepreneurs, and Living 500 Years“. March 12, 2015.

Dr. Edward Hudgins is the director of advocacy for The Atlas Society and the editor and author of several books on politics and government policy. He is also a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party

Could the Market Really End Meat? – Article by Alex Tabarrok

Could the Market Really End Meat? – Article by Alex Tabarrok

The New Renaissance HatAlex Tabarrok
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Animal rights will be the big social revolution of the 21st century. Most people have a vague feeling that factory farms aren’t quite ethical. But few people are willing to give up meat, so such feelings are suppressed because acknowledging them would only make one feel guilty. Once the costs of giving up meat fall, however, vegetarianism will spread like a prairie wildfire, changing eating habits, the use of farmland, and the science and economics of climate change.

Lab-grown or cultured meat is improving, but so is the science of veggie burgers. Beyond Meat has sold a very successful frozen “chicken” strip since 2013, and their non-frozen burger patties are just now seeing widespread distribution in the meat aisle at Whole Foods. Beyond Meat extracts protein from peas and then combines it with other vegetable elements under heating, cooling, and pressure to realign the proteins in a way that simulates the architecture of beef.

I picked up a two-pack on the weekend. Beyond Meat burgers look and cook like meat. But what about the taste?

The taste is excellent. The burger has a slightly smokey taste, not exactly like beef, but like meat. If you had never tasted a buffalo burger before, and I told you that this was a buffalo burger, you would have no reason to doubt me. A little sauce and salt and pepper, and this is a very good-tasting burger, not a sacrifice for morality.

The price is currently more than beef, $6 for two patties, but that’s Whole-Foods expensive, not out-of-reach expensive. I will buy more.

The revolution has begun.

The second picture is the BuzzFeed version. My burger wasn’t quite so artfully arranged but was still delicious, and I attest to the overall accuracy.

This post first appeared at Marginal Revolution.

Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen.

A Totalitarian State Can Only Rule a Desperately Poor Society – Article by Ryan Miller

A Totalitarian State Can Only Rule a Desperately Poor Society – Article by Ryan Miller

The New Renaissance HatRyan Miller
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I recently finished Anthem by Ayn Rand. In this short novella she tells the story of Equality 7-2521 (later called Prometheus), a man living in a dystopian collectivist society which has eclipsed the individual to such a degree that words such as “I” and “my” no longer even exist. The story is about Prometheus’ discovery of himself as an individual and of the world as it was before.

In this society babies are taken immediately from their “parents”, who were assigned to one another by the Council of Eugenics for the sole purpose of breeding, raised in the Home of Infants and then in the Home of Students, and then finally assigned their life-long profession at the age of 15 by the Council of Vocations. Everything is done for the supposed benefit of your brothers, preference is not allowed, superior ability is not allowed, and back-breaking toil is praised as such and not as a way to improve your own or humanity’s situation.

Dictatorship Means Poverty

But what is striking about this story is how accurately it portrays how the world would look under such life-throttling conditions. The Home of the Scholars is praised for having only recently (100 years ago) (re)invented marvels such as candles and glass. Since the times before the “Great Rebirth” and the discovery of the “Great Truth”—namely, “that all men are one and there is no will save the will of all men together”—humanity has, in reality, lost the progress of thousands of years and has reverted back to a time before even such basic utilities as oil lamps or clocks.

But Ayn Rand’s genius is that this is exactly what would happen to the world should it ever discover and truly act upon this “Great Truth.” Yet this is not typically how dystopian stories portray this type of society. Stories such as Brave New World1984The GiverDivergentEquilibrium, and many others, all love to show some type of ultra-technologically-advanced world in the backdrop of total or near total oppression, suppression of the individual, and enforcement of conformity.

Despite the almost total (and often drug-induced) destruction of individual will, drive, and creativity, these societies have reached unprecedented levels of technological competence. This is especially true when one considers when many of these stories were written.

In Brave New World, written in 1931, everyone has a personal helicopter, science has advanced to such a degree that mothers and fathers are no longer necessary parts of the breeding process, and everyone is kept docile and happy by the apparently side-effect lacking drug Soma.

In 1984 (published in 1949) there are two way telescreens, miniscule microphones and cameras, and speak/writes which turn whatever you say into text. In the other stories technology is advanced enough to, among other things, control weather (The Giver), give kids serum-induced psychological aptitude tests (Divergent), and to completely suppress emotions (Equilibrium). In addition to these there are countless other inventions or practices in these stories and the many others of the dystopian future genre.

Invention Requires Freedom

The question that needs to be asked, however, is who invented all these things? These marvel feats, which in the stories are often used for the end of some malevolent goal, are really all potentially awesome, or at least highly complex and complicated, inventions or innovations. Their conception and ultimate realization would have required years of thought, testing, failure, tinkering, and then success—things which all require individual ingenuity, creativity, and the incentives arising from the prospect of individual pride and gain.

Every great break-through in history was achieved by some odd-ball going against the grain or traditionally accepted view of things in their particular field. If they had done things the way people had always done them, they would never have had the ability to think outside the box and discover or create a unique solution to the problem at hand. Inventors and innovators need their quirkiness, eccentricity, social awkwardness, or will and ability to stand up to the existing order. And they need that coupled with the idea that they have something to gain.

But all of these stories, to different degrees, have built societies that destroy our differences, our emotions, our passions, our ability to think differently, and our incentives to create if were even able to.

So where do these advanced societies come from? Sure they could drink from the well of wealth created by the society that may have preceded it, but only for a while. It would eventually dry up. And without new generations of ambitious and intelligent dreamers, tinkerers, outside-the-boxers, there would be no one around to rebuild the wealth. This is the world that Ayn Rand creates in Anthem. The hopeless world without individuals.

The existence of advanced societies in many dystopian stories is reminiscent of the problem with the thinking in our world today and in the past: the thinking that things “just happen”—that innovation, invention, and progress are phenomena which occur naturally, regardless of conditions. Though the worlds portrayed in these other novels are far from desirable, the progress alone that the societies in them have reached is a reflection of this idea that most people, at least passively or unknowingly, buy into.

In reality the world would look much more like that of Anthem.

 

ryan_miller

Ryan Miller is a University of Michigan graduate, freelance translator, and aspiring blogger. He is also a Praxis participant in the September 2016 cohort.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

How Pokémon GO Brightened a Dark World – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

How Pokémon GO Brightened a Dark World – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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All weekend, I’ve fielded texts from people who are despairing about the state of the country. Is some kind of unsolvable civil war developing between police and people, even between races? And how can politics solve this when the candidates seem to have every interest in actually exploiting and even exacerbating the problem? The opinion pages overflowed with expressions of deep sadness and warnings that, once again, the center is no longer holding. The nation is falling apart.

What could possibly be the solution here? These problems seem so deep as to be insoluble.

Oddly, the answer might be in your pocket. Through our smartphones and the app economy, we are being given tools to allow us to reach the world and connect with others in ways that were previously unimaginable. This is not a political solution; in fact, it might be solution precisely because it is not political.

Pokémon Brings Us Together

Poetically, it was exactly this weekend – following so much terrible news and after a season in which two-thirds of Americans report being alarmed by their coming presidential choices – that millions downloaded and played one of the most delightful digital apps to yet appear: Pokémon GO.

It has broken all records on the numbers of downloads in such a short time. In only a matter of a few days, the mobile app had nearly as many real-time users as Twitter. It now lives on more smartphones that even Tinder. As a term, Pokémon is top trending. If you follow your Facebook home feed, you know all about this. If any application could be described as having swept the nation, this was it.

How can a silly game lift up our hearts and give rise to the better angels of our nature?

That something marvelous had happened was obvious to anyone living in dense population areas. Parks filled up with people playing the game. They were hanging out in public areas around malls, at bus stops, in parking lots, and just about everywhere.

People were holding their phones, playing the game, laughing and moving around. Crucially, people were meeting each other with something in common – people of all races, classes, religions; none of it mattered. They found new friends and came together over a common love.

And there was a common feature to all the people doing this. We smiled. We smiled at each other. Even now, even in the midst of a world in which “the center no longer holds,” we actually found that center again: a heart-felt affection for something we love and an awareness that others share that same aspiration.

It was absolutely beautiful to watch. With an element of fantasy and the assistance of marvelous technology, we experienced the common humanity of our neighbors and strangers in our community. This kind of experience is key for building a social consensus in favor of universal human rights.

Why We Love It

The integration between digital and physical in the Pokémon GO game go beyond anything most people have ever experienced. Turn on your camera and you suddenly find opportunities for catching and collecting pocket monsters all around you. Head outdoors and chase them around, going up level after level and eventually find yourself at a gym where you can digitally battle other players in real space.

Dazzling doesn’t quite describe it. It is fun and imaginative, tapping into the inner kid of all of us. All the technological and intellectual discoveries over the last decades are on display. It all feels so real, all this capturing, collecting, and battling.

The industry calls it “augmented reality.” It’s a new level of gamification, not just something that happens on a screen. It reveals a layer of fantasy within the existing structure of reality itself, meaning that it brings to life the most delightful imaginings of our hearts. It helps us see what we would otherwise not see, and allows us to interact directly with the digitally existing thing.

In this way, Pokémon embodies something that we’ve all begun to intuit but haven’t been able to frame up completely. It is this: there is no longer a separation between what we once called real and what we think of as being a pure Internet fiction. The two are blending in ways that are dramatically enhancing our lives. We are to the point where we can no longer even imagine how the world even worked – and how our minds worked – before market forces blessed humanity with digital innovations.

The Great Blurring

Market-driven technology is not some invading imposition that makes people change the way they live without their permission. Instead it seeks to serve us and make our lives better; that’s its whole purpose and ethos. In the whole course of the digital revolution that began some twenty years ago, we’ve seen the gradual blurring between the physical and digital realms. What was created through code started to become just as substantial and meaningful in our lives as anything that took up physical space and we could touch.

We see this not only in games but also in health care, in finding our way around cities, in opening businesses, in driving, in dating, and in millions of life activities. Crucially, such apps are available to everyone regardless of life station. They spread capital and productivity across all classes of people, and more and more of our lives are migrating to this realm to escape the frustrating limits of physical space.

Of course the doubters have kvetched for two decades now. Old timers have screamed about how all this fascination with the Internet was causing a breakdown in human relationships, how the old-fashioned letter was so much better, why ebooks could never replace the glorious romance of physical books, how online music would kill the industry, how dating apps were killing romance, how time-killing blather on Facebook and Twitter were killing productivity, and so on.

Oh, and remember how video games were going to wreck our health by making us all sedentary? Now we have Pokémon GO players romping over hill and dale to “catch ‘em all.” As a wit on Facebook said, “Pokemon GO has done more for childhood obesity in the last 24 hours than Michelle Obama has in the past 8 years.”

Indeed, none of these fears have panned out. In fact, the opposite has proven true. The digital revolution has connected people as never before and given rise to more of what we love in life, whatever that happens to be.

Such doubters were missing something crucial. The key to the digital realm is its unrelenting adaptability to consumer preferences, thanks to the capacity of innovators to learn from the successes and failures of others. Digital innovation allows the crucial element of discovering and innovating to be crowd sourced, creating an environment of exponentially fast progress.

Market-driven technology is not some invading imposition that makes people change the way they live without their permission. Instead it seeks to serve us and make our lives better; that’s its whole purpose and ethos. Whatever it is we want to do – read, listen, play, study, create – the technology is there to make it easier and more widespread. It democratizes the tools we need to live better lives.

And what does it make possible? Whatever the human mind is capable of creating. And the element of surprise is always there. Just when we think we’ve reached an insuperable limit to the possible, something appears that surpasses that limit.

The individual human mind is not capable of outsmarting the brilliance of a market process that operates without limits.The challenge became very intense when Bitcoin came about in 2009, and the cryptocurrency gradually took on monetary properties. Economists claimed this could never happen, since money absolutely had to originate in a form of real-world scarcity of something you could hold.

I recall a conversation I was having with one skeptic on Skype who kept saying that Bitcoin can’t be money because it doesn’t exist. Frustrated, I asked him if the conversation we were having right then really existed. He said yes. I reminded him that I was not standing next to him and everything we were looking at and hearing was nothing but code.

Our conversation was purely fictional by his standards, simply because its only existence was in the digital realm. And yet it seemed to me to be actually happening. He was speechless.

The lesson here is that the individual human mind is not capable of outsmarting the brilliance of a market process that operates without limits. And within digital spaces today, we experience the closest thing we have to a free market. It is making things no one thought possible, and doing it daily, and doing it for everyone.

Overcoming Power with Humanity

Mobile apps like Pokémon GO can of course be dismissed as just another game, distractions that do not address serious life problems like race conflict and the tit-for-tat killings between police and citizens. But actually there is more going on here.

A few weeks ago, Facebook rolled out its live video functionality for all users – and keep in mind that this is free for everyone on the planet to use. When a police officer shot Philando Castile with four bullets during a routine traffic stop, his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds took out her phone and live streamed one of the most dramatic and powerful moments yet seen on the subject of police power.

It shocked the consciences of millions. Facebook was her 911. Had private enterprise not been there, the world would not have known. Now that we do, change is made more likely.

That’s the serious side of technology while Pokémon GO represents the delightful side. They work together, each making a valuable contribution to enabling a better life. What they have in common is that both are non-state solutions to crying human needs. No politician in history has ever achieved so much for the cause of human rights and human happiness.

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Why Modern Luddites Are Attacking Uber Drivers – Article by Mateusz Machaj

Why Modern Luddites Are Attacking Uber Drivers – Article by Mateusz Machaj

The New Renaissance HatMateusz Machaj
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Earlier this year, a number of Uber cars in Poland came under attack by a group of vandals who were likely taxi drivers. In general, these types of vandalism have a long tradition in human history and have contributed to keeping populations’ general living standards at very low levels.

Attacks on Uber drivers are simply the latest chapter in a long story of efforts to intimidate and destroy innovators who are moving markets and societies in new and unfamiliar directions.

Reactions to Early Machines
For a very long time, separation of grain from the chaff was done in a very primitive manner. The process took weeks, involved hard working men, hard working women feeding them, and also children working as additional helpers. Finally, someone invented a threshing machine that allowed farmers to get rid of all this hard work: the machine could do the job much faster with less physical labor involved.

The change happened contrary to what many historical books claim: the move to threshing machines did not occur because of the patent system put in place 150 years before the change. It happened because social and political forces were too weak to stop it from happening.

Beginning in the eighteenth century in Europe, the entrepreneurial class was growing. They were a group of small profit-driven innovators interested in selling various products, and beating their competitors to markets. This “Great Change” was driven forward by many cultural, religious, political, legal, and technological factors.

At first, threshing machines were very imperfect. They didn’t always work well, and they also were expensive. There was a lot of room for improvements, and for making them better, faster, and cheaper. As they were slowly improved, it quickly became apparent the new machines were more efficient than the old manual methods. It was only a matter of time until someone would realize that steam engines could be combined with the threshing machines.

Not surprisingly, threshing machines were not welcomed by everyone. Swing Riots flared up and the Luddite movement attempted to crush technological innovation. Despite such obstacles, the entrepreneurs won out, paving the way for the future chain of market innovations, well symbolized by the modern farmer sitting in the modern air-conditioned tractor (with a good stereo system). Over the past two hundred years, agricultural workers were reduced from more than 80 percent of workers to less than 5 percent.

Economic Growth and Social Change
One of the big mysteries of human history is the question of why rapid technological and innovative growth started only around the nineteenth century. Many new ideas and technological changes were present for ages (and invented centuries before). Other cultures introduced many new innovative ideas as well.

Some steam engines were even being used in ancient times. They were applied in narrow places, however, due to social and political circumstances.

One early example of political resistance is related to us through the Roman Emperor Vespasian’s opposition to new labor saving innovations. Faced with the prospect of replacing workers with machines, Vespasian reputedly said: “You must let me feed my poor commons.”

Vespasian’s reaction is understandable; it is hard to predict what will happen in response to innovations that make certain job skills obsolete. And it’s not just the workers who fear the change. The ruling class, faced with an idle and unemployed population might also fear social upheaval.

The words of Peter Green summarize many of these concerns:

The ruling class were scared, as the Puritans said, of Satan finding work for idle hands to do. One of the great things about not developing the source of energy that did not depend on muscle power was the fear of what the muscles might get up to if they weren’t kept fully employed. The sort of inventions that were taken up and used practically were the things that needed muscle power to start with, including the Archimedean screw. On the other hand, consider that marvelous box gear of Hero’s: it was never used. That would have been a real conversion of power. What got paid for? The Lagids tended to patronize toys, fraudulent temple tricks in large quantities, and military experiments.

Naturally, human history is complicated and subject to many different factors. Nevertheless, there appears to be some truth in the argument that fixed social and political structure did not favor society open to the widespread adoption of innovation. Otherwise, it is hard to explain why so many new technical discoveries were not applied for so long, even though science and intelligence supplied them centuries before. We had to wait for the new political and social arrangements that either were tolerant of new innovations, or were unable to stop them.

Uber and Beyond
Everywhere we look, we see both the creative and destructive power of innovation. First threshing machine sellers lead to reductions in agricultural employment. Later, tractors killed the threshing machines. Telegraph and railway killed communication systems that relied on horses. Cars destroyed the horse industry. Mass production of textiles destroyed the demand for hand-crafted items. Big stores destroyed smaller shops, now discount shops (in parts of Europe) are destroying big stores. Video rentals hampered the cinema industry, now Netflix and others killed video rentals, while Napster’s success (despite its illegality) predicted a coming end to the old music industry. China’s growth and cheap efficient outsourcing reshaped traditional industries in developed countries. (From an economic perspective there is no difference between hiring cheaper labor or hiring a better machine.)

Dell smashed the traditional computer industry with eliminating many middle men. Ikea did something similar in the furniture industry. The internet destroyed regular newspapers, while Google smashed the marketing industry. Amazon destroys bookstores around the world, while Uber is doing the same with the taxi industry.

Economic progress decreases employments in one place, allows for creation of new ones, even in the service sector. During the process of liquidating employment positions, huge economic development is capable of multiplying per capita production within one generation, positively affecting all social classes.

The current state of affairs is not the end of history. Those companies, innovative today, will be endangered tomorrow. Even Jeff Bezos, creator of Amazon.com, admits Amazon won’t last forever:

Companies have short life spans. … And Amazon will be disrupted one day. I don’t worry about it ’cause I know it’s inevitable. Companies come and go. And the companies that are, you know, the shiniest and most important of any era, you wait a few decades and they’re gone.

Mateusz Machaj, PhD in economics; is a founder of the Polish Ludwig von Mises Institute. He has been a summer fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is assistant professor at the Institute of Economic Sciences at the University of Wroclaw.

This article was published on Mises.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Will Banning Genetic Engineering Kill You? – Article by Edward Hudgins

Will Banning Genetic Engineering Kill You? – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
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One headline reads “British baby given genetically-edited immune cells to beat cancer in world first.” Another headline reads “Top biologists debate ban on gene-editing.” It’s a literal life-and-death debate.

And if you care to live, pay attention to this philosophical clash!

Exponential growth in genetic engineering

Genetic engineering is on an exponential growth path. In 2001 the cost of sequencing a human-sized genome was about $100 million. By 2007 the cost was down to $10 million.

layla-richard-genetic-engineeringNow it’s just over $1,000. Scientists and even do-it-yourself biohackers can now cheaply access DNA information that could allow them to discover cures for diseases and much more.

Recently, for example, baby Layla Richards [at right] was diagnosed with leukemia. But when none of the usual treatments worked, doctors created designer immune cells, injected them into the little girl and the treatment worked. She was cured.

Designer babies?

But there have been concerns about such engineering for decades; indeed, precautionary guidelines were drawn up by a group of biologists at the 1975 Asilomar conference in California. And now, at a joint conference in Washington, D.C. of the National Academies of Medicine and Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of the United Kingdom, a cutting-edge genetic engineering tool known as CRISPR-Cas9 came under attack because it can be used to edit the genomes of sperm, eggs, and embryos.

National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins argued that the children that would result from such editing “can’t give consent to having their genomes altered” and that “the individuals whose lives are potentially affected by germline manipulation could extend many generations into the future.” Hille Haker, a Catholic theologian from Loyola University Chicago, agreed and proposed a two year ban on all research into such manipulation of genomes. Others argued that such manipulation could lead to “designer babies,” that is, parents using this technology to improve or enhance the intelligence and strength of their children.

These arguments are bizarre to say the least.

Damning to misery

To begin with, there is virtual universal agreement among religious and secular folk alike that from birth and until a stage of maturity at which they can potentially guide their lives by their own reason, the consent of children is not needed when their parents make many potentially life-altering decisions for them. Why should this reasonable rule be different for decisions made by parents before a child is born?

And consider that the principal decisions with gene-editing technology would be to eliminate the possibility of the child later in life having Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases, cancers, and a host of other ailments that plague humanity. Is it even conceivable that any rational individual would not thank their parents for ensuring their health and longevity? Isn’t this what all parents wish for their children? Why would anyone deny parents the tools to ensure healthy children? How much continued misery and death are those who would delay genetic research or ban this new technology inflicting on parents and children alike?

And so what if the “slippery slope” is parents ensuring that their children are more intelligent or stronger? Right now such traits are a matter of a genetic lottery and every parent hopes for the best. What parent wouldn’t jump at the chance to ensure such beneficial capacities for their children?

A privileged biological elite?

Some might pull out the ugly egalitarian argument that the “rich” could produce biologically elite “superchildren,” leaving the rest of humanity behind: an inferior, impoverished breed to be exploited. But this is the same spurious argument made about every technology that initially allows more prosperous individuals to better themselves ahead of others. We heard two decades ago that only the “rich” would be able to afford computers and the internet, allowing them to be more informed and, thus, enabling them to oppress the downtrodden masses. But exponential changes in technologies ensure that just as computers and the internet have become inexpensive and available to all, so will genetic enhancements become after the techniques are perfected for prosperous beta-testers.

And in any case, just as it is immoral to deprive those who honestly earn their wealth of the fruits of their labor just because others have yet to earn theirs, so it is immoral to deprive them of the opportunity to provide the best biology for their children just because it will take time for the technology to become available to all.

Precautionary principle or proactionary principle?

Many opponents of genetic engineering fall back on the so-called “precautionary principle.” This is the notion that if products or technologies pose any imaginable risks—often highly speculative or vague ones unsupported by any sound science—then such products or technologies should be severely restricted, regulated, or banned. The burden is placed on innovators to prove that no harm to humans will result from their innovations.

But had this standard been applied in the past, we would not have the modern world today. Indeed, by this standard, precaution would dictate that fire was just too dangerous for humans and that cavemen should have been barred from rubbing two sticks together.

Max More, a founder of the transhumanist philosophy, offers instead the “proactionary principle.” He argues that “People’s freedom to innovate technologically is highly valuable, even critical, to humanity.” And “Progress should not bow to fear, but should proceed with eyes wide open.” And that we need to “Protect the freedom to innovate and progress while thinking and planning intelligently for collateral effects.”

Freedom to progress

Fortunately, more individuals than More reason this way. At the D.C. conference, University of Manchester Professor John Harris argued “We all have an inescapable moral duty: To continue with scientific investigation to the point at which we can make a rational choice. We are not yet at that point. It seems to me, consideration of a moratorium is the wrong course. Research is necessary.” But the opinion of academics one way or another might not matter. Just as it was do-it-yourselfers and innovators in garages that made the computer and information revolution, genetic innovations might well come from such achievers as well. But they won’t do it if they are not free to do so.

If you value your life and the lives and health of your children, you had better work for this freedom to innovate.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

Is the FDA Too Conservative or Too Aggressive? – Article by Alex Tabarrok

Is the FDA Too Conservative or Too Aggressive? – Article by Alex Tabarrok

The New Renaissance HatAlex Tabarrok
September 21, 2015
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I have long argued that the FDA has an incentive to delay the introduction of new drugs because approving a bad drug (Type I error) has more severe consequences for the FDA than does failing to approve a good drug (Type II error). In the former case at least some victims are identifiable and the New York Times writes stories about them and how they died because the FDA failed. In the latter case, when the FDA fails to approve a good drug, people die but the bodies are buried in an invisible graveyard.

In an excellent new paper (SSRN also here) Vahid Montazerhodjat and Andrew Lo use a Bayesian analysis to model the optimal tradeoff in clinical trials between sample size, Type I and Type II error. Failing to approve a good drug is more costly, for example, the more severe the disease. Thus, for a very serious disease, we might be willing to accept a greater Type I error in return for a lower Type II error. The number of people with the disease also matters. Holding severity constant, for example, the more people with the disease the more you want to increase sample size to reduce Type I error. All of these variables interact.

In an innovation the authors use the U.S. Burden of Disease Study to find the number of deaths and the disability severity caused by each major disease. Using this data they estimate the costs of failing to approve a good drug. Similarly, using data on the costs of adverse medical treatment they estimate the cost of approving a bad drug.

Putting all this together the authors find that the FDA is often dramatically too conservative:

…we show that the current standards of drug-approval are weighted more on avoiding a Type I error (approving ineffective therapies) rather than a Type II error (rejecting effective therapies). For example, the standard Type I error of 2.5% is too conservative for clinical trials of therapies for pancreatic cancer—a disease with a 5-year survival rate of 1% for stage IV patients (American Cancer Society estimate, last updated 3 February 2013). The BDA-optimal size for these clinical trials is 27.9%, reflecting the fact that, for these desperate patients, the cost of trying an ineffective drug is considerably less than the cost of not trying an effective one.

(The authors also find that the FDA is occasionally a little too aggressive but these errors are much smaller, for example, the authors find that for prostate cancer therapies the optimal significance level is 1.2% compared to a standard rule of 2.5%.)

The result is important especially because in a number of respects, Montazerhodjat and Lo underestimate the costs of FDA conservatism. Most importantly, the authors are optimizing at the clinical trial stage assuming that the supply of drugs available to be tested is fixed. Larger trials, however, are more expensive and the greater the expense of FDA trials the fewer new drugs will be developed. Thus, a conservative FDA reduces the flow of new drugs to be tested. In a sense, failing to approve a good drug has two costs, the opportunity cost of lives that could have been saved and the cost of reducing the incentive to invest in R&D. In contrast, approving a bad drug while still an error at least has the advantage of helping to incentivize R&D (similarly, a subsidy to R&D incentivizes R&D in a sense mostly by covering the costs of failed ventures).

The Montazerhodjat and Lo framework is also static, there is one test and then the story ends. In reality, drug approval has an interesting asymmetric dynamic. When a drug is approved for sale, testing doesn’t stop but moves into another stage, a combination of observational testing and sometimes more RCTs–this, after all, is how adverse events are discovered. Thus, Type I errors are corrected. On the other hand, for a drug that isn’t approved the story does end. With rare exceptions, Type II errors are never corrected. The Montazerhodjat and Lo framework could be interpreted as the reduced form of this dynamic process but it’s better to think about the dynamism explicitly because it suggests that approval can come in a range–for example, approval with a black label warning, approval with evidence grading and so forth. As these procedures tend to reduce the costs of Type I error they tend to increase the costs of FDA conservatism.

Montazerhodjat and Lo also don’t examine the implications of heterogeneity of preferences or of disease morbidity and mortality. Some people, for example, are severely disabled by diseases that on average aren’t very severe–the optimal tradeoff for these patients will be different than for the average patient. One size doesn’t fit all. In the standard framework it’s tough luck for these patients. But if the non-FDA reviewing apparatus (patients/physicians/hospitals/HMOs/USP/Consumer Reports and so forth) works relatively well, and this is debatable but my work on off-label prescribing suggests that it does, this weighs heavily in favor of relatively large samples but low thresholds for approval. What the FDA is really providing is information and we don’t need product bans to convey information. Thus, heterogeneity plus a reasonable effective post-testing choice process, mediates in favor of a Consumer Reports model for the FDA.

The bottom line, however, is that even without taking into account these further points, Montazerhodjat and Lo find that the FDA is far too conservative especially for severe diseases. FDA regulations may appear to be creating safe and effective drugs but they are also creating a deadly caution.

Hat tip: David Balan.

This post first appeared at Marginal Revolution.

Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen. 
Japan Liberalizes Gene Therapy and Regenerative Medicine – Article by Alex Tabarrok

Japan Liberalizes Gene Therapy and Regenerative Medicine – Article by Alex Tabarrok

The New Renaissance HatAlex Tabarrok
September 17, 2015
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Japan is liberalizing its approval process for regenerative medicine:

Regenerative medicines in Japan can now get conditional marketing approval based on results from mid-stage, or Phase II, human trials that demonstrate safety and probable efficacy.

Once lagging behind the United States and the European Union on approval times, there is now an approximately three-year trajectory for approvals, according to Frost’s Kumar. That compares with seven to 10 years before. …

Around the world, companies have also faced setbacks while pushing such treatments. In the U.S., Geron Corp., which started the first nation-approved trial of human embryonic stem cells, ended the program in 2011, citing research costs and regulatory complexities. …

While scientists globally have worked for years in this field, treatments have been slow to come to market. But there is hope in Japan that without the political red tape, promising therapies will emerge faster and there will be speedier rewards.

Japan is liberalizing because with their aging population treatments for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are in high demand.

Under the new system, a firm with a gene or regenerative therapy (e.g. stem cells) can get conditional approval with a small trial. Conditional approval means that the firm will be able to sell its procedure while continuing to gather data on efficacy for a period of up to seven years. At the end of the seven-year period, the firm must either apply for final marketing approval or withdraw the product.

The system is thus similar to what Bart Madden proposed for pharmaceuticals in Free to Choose Medicine.*

Due to its size and lack of price controls, the US pharmaceutical market is the most lucrative pharmaceutical market in the world.

Unfortunately, this also means that the US FDA has an outsize influence on total world investment. The Japanese market is large enough, however, that a liberalized approval process if combined with a liberalized payment model could increase total world R&D.

Breakthroughs made in Japan will be available for the entire world so we should all applaud this important liberalization.

This post first appeared at Marginal Revolution.

* Editor’s note from the Foundation for Economic Education: There may well by a direct connection here. According to Madden, an early version of his proposal in Free to Choose Medicine was published in a booklet by the Heartland Institute, which was then translated and distributed in Japan by a Japanese free-market think tank.

For more on free markets in medicine, see Bart Madden’s article “The Pathway to Faster Cures” in the autumn print edition of the Freeman and on The Rational Argumentator.

Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen. 

All Food Is Genetically Modified. Now We’re Just Better at It. – Article by Chelsea Follett

All Food Is Genetically Modified. Now We’re Just Better at It. – Article by Chelsea Follett

The New Renaissance Hat
Chelsea Follett
September 11, 2015
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There is huge potential for progress in biotech.

A recent article in Business Insider showing what the ancestors of modern fruits and vegetables looked like painted a bleak picture. A carrot was indistinguishable from any skinny brown root yanked up from the earth at random. Corn looked nearly as thin and insubstantial as a blade of grass. Peaches were once tiny berries with more pit than flesh. Bananas were the least recognizable of all, lacking the best features associated with their modern counterparts: the convenient peel and the seedless interior. How did these barely edible plants transform into the appetizing fruits and vegetables we know today? The answer is human ingenuity and millennia of genetic modification.

Carrot_Comparison(Photo Credit: Genetic Literacy Project and Shutterstock via Business Insider).

Humanity is continuously innovating to produce more food with less land, less water, and fewer emissions. As a result, food is not only more plentiful, but it is also coming down in price.

Tech_Food_Cheaper

The pace of technological advancement can be, if you will pardon the pun, difficult to digest. Lab-grown meat created without the need to kill an animal is already a reality. The first lab-grown burger debuted in 2013, costing over $300,000, but the price of a lab-grown burger patty has since plummeted, and the innovation’s creator “expects to be able to produce the patties on a large enough scale to sell them for under $10 a piece in a matter of five years.”

People who eschew meat are a growing demographic, and lab-grown meat is great news for those who avoid meat solely for ethical reasons. It currently takes more land, energy, and water to produce a pound of beef than it does to produce equivalent calories in the form of chickens, but also grains. So, cultured meat could also lead to huge gains in food production efficiency.

Another beautiful example of human progress in the realm of food is golden rice. The World Health Organization estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 children become blind every year as a result of vitamin A deficiency, and about half of them die within a year of losing their sight. Golden rice, largely a brainchild of the private Rockefeller Foundation, is genetically engineered to produce beta carotene, which the human body can convert into vitamin A. Golden rice holds the potential to protect hundreds of thousands of children in the developing world from vitamin A deficiency, preserving their sight and, in many cases, saving their lives.

Humans have been modifying food for millennia, and today we’re modifying it in many exciting ways, from cultured meat to golden rice. Sadly, it has become fashionable to fear modern genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), even though scientists overwhelmingly agree that GMOs are safe.

Anti-GMO hysteria motivated the popular restaurant chain Chipotle to proclaim itself “GMO-free” earlier this year (a dubious claim), prompted a political movement calling for the labeling of GM foods (a needless regulation implying to consumers that GMOs are hazardous), and even fueled opposition to golden rice. HumanProgress.org advisory board member Matt Ridley summarized the problem in his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed:

After 20 years and billions of meals, there is still no evidence that [GMOs] harm human health, and ample evidence of their environmental and humanitarian benefits. Vitamin-enhanced GM “golden rice” has been ready to save lives for years, but opposed at every step by Greenpeace. Bangladeshi eggplant growers spray their crops with insecticides up to 140 times in a season, risking their own health, because the insect-resistant GMO version of the plant is fiercely opposed by environmentalists. Opposition to GMOs has certainly cost lives.

Besides, what did GMOs replace? Before transgenic crop improvement was invented, the main way to breed new varieties was “mutation breeding”: to scramble a plant’s DNA randomly, using gamma rays or chemical mutagens, in the hope that some of the monsters thus produced would have better yields or novel characteristics. Golden Promise barley, for example, a favorite of organic brewers, was produced this way. This method still faces no special regulation, whereas precise transfer of single well known genes, which could not possibly be less safe, does.

Fortunately, while regulations motivated by anti-GMO sentiment may slow down progress, they probably cannot do so indefinitely. For those who wish to avoid modern GM foods, the market will always provide more traditional alternatives, and for the rest of us, human ingenuity will likely continue to increase agricultural efficiency and improve food in ways we cannot even imagine. Learn more about the progress we have already made by visiting HumanProgress.org and selecting the “Food” category under “Browse Data.”

Chelsea Follett (Chelsea German) works at the Cato Institute as a Researcher and Managing Editor of HumanProgress.org.
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