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Can Toyota and Reason Overcome Blindness? – Article by Edward Hudgins

Can Toyota and Reason Overcome Blindness? – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
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If you’ve shut your eyes at the ugly spectacle of political and cultural decline around you, look in the right direction and you’ll see what’s best in the world, including innovations from Toyota that are helping the visually impaired.

Technology helping the blind see

The research department at the world-class auto maker is doing more than designing Priuses. It recently unveiled Project BLAID, a shoulder and neck-worn device that can help guide visually-impaired folks through building interiors with cameras, speakers and other technology. This is just one nice bit of good news in a world where the media is ruled by “if it bleeds, it leads.” This is one of many innovations in a world that is being transformed by exponential technologies.

For example, in January an Australian research team at Monash University announced development of another system to help the blind that it will test soon. It bypasses the eyeball, which is often damaged beyond use in blind people, and uses a pair of glasses that feeds visual data directly into the brain. At this time that technology at best would give blind people very limited vision, only enough to let them maneuver around like the Toyota technology does. But it’s a start.

Technology helping the deaf hear

Let’s remember that in recent decades, some 190,000 deaf individuals have received cochlear implants. These devises do not simply amplify sound as do hearing aids. They translate sound into electrical impulses that directly stimulate the cochlear nerve in the ear so the individuals can hear. It is estimated that around 150,000 children are born each year with hearing impairment so serious that they could benefit from such implants.

So as the costs of these implants decrease, we will see the gradual elimination of the ago-old scourge of deafness just as the blight of blindness will gradually disappear from list of human woes as companies like Toyota continue their work.

Reason as the cure

The proximate cause of all this good news is the exponential increase in information processing capability, usually called “Moore’s law.” Since the mid-1960s the capacities of semiconductors have doubled every eighteen months. A capacity of 1,000 at that time is 2,000,000,000 today. That means not only the advent of laptops, tablets, and smart phones but also medical devises that would have been thought science fiction decades ago.

But what is really behind these achievements is a moral code that treats rationality as our highest virtue and human achievement as our highest purpose. It is a commitment by individuals to objective reasoning and to understanding the world so that they can control it to enhance human life and flourishing. And it is a joy that individuals take in the process of understanding and creating.

Ayn Rand called machines “the frozen form of living intelligence.” Do you want to live in a world from which blindness and other illnesses or physical defeats are banished? Then fight for this morality of reason.

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.

Will Trump Boycott Grocery Stores for Their Unfair Trade? – Article by Edward Hudgins

Will Trump Boycott Grocery Stores for Their Unfair Trade? – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
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Donald Trump’s stump thump against Mexico is that it runs a $58 billion annual trade surplus with the United States. Trump somehow thinks this leaves America the poorer.

He claims that it is out of that money, presumably sitting in some giant vault in Tijuana, that Mexico will pay for the border fence he wants to build to keep immigrants from entering the United States illegally. Trump’s pronouncements only demonstrate how he keeps facts and reason from entering his thoughts and, how he would keep Americans from making their own free choices in a free market.

International free trade is win-win
Trump’s very language reveals a glaring error concerning trade. Mexico and America do not trade. Mexicans and Americans do. Mexicans have $58 billion more in cash (pieces of paper with George Washington’s picture on them or the equivalent credits on bank ledgers) and Americans have $58 billion more in goods (electrical equipment, Trump-themed apparel).

And Trump doesn’t bother to ask, what are those Mexicans supposed to do with those pieces of paper? If they don’t spend them in America, they’ve got nothing but useless paper. So the Mexican trade surplus also means that Mexicans are investing an equivalent amount in America, helping the U.S. economy grow.

Further, the fundamental nature of trade between individuals is a win-win situation. Someone who buys an orange Donald hat for $20 to show his support for the former host of “The Apprentice” values the hat more than the twenty. And the manufacturer in Mexico who has a warehouse full of said head gear prefers the $20.

If The Donald slaps a 30% tariff on all goods coming from Mexico, maybe his starry-eyed supporters would shell out $26, the higher cost of the hat. But a poor mother with five kids seeing the price of a pair of shoes jump from $20 to $26 might be hard-pressed to afford the extra $30 she’d need to cover the feet of all her five little ones. But Trump doesn’t care. He wants to get rid of that pesky trade imbalance and what better way than to discourage that mom from buying Mexican-made shoes for her family! On the other hand, maybe he will notice when Mexican investors pull out of his latest golf resort or skyscraper projects, because his policies have destroyed their profits.

Trump’s grocery store trade deficit
If Trump is so against trade deficits, he should have a serious problem in his own household. Trump no doubt runs a huge trade deficit with his grocery store. He gives them piles of money when he buys food—no doubt top-priced cuisine—but the store never buys anything from him. Maybe he should boycott it. Maybe we should all boycott our local grocery stores lest we be victims of a trade deficit. Maybe if elected president, Trump will slap a 30 percent “grocery tariff” on everything that those stores try to sell to us poor, exploited schleps until those stores start purchasing stuff from us.

Trumps versus liberty
Trump poses as a friend of the people, but he wants to use government to prohibit the Americans from purchasing goods from whomever they wish—including Mexicans. The Donald presumes to know better what individual Americans should buy with their own money and at what price than they do. He’s determined to drive up the prices for Americans buying from Mexicans to teach those Mexicans a lesson. So what if American consumers and businesspeople are collateral damage.

Trump’s policies would only add more instability to an already unstable world. Ayn Rand explained that “The essence of capitalism’s foreign policy is free trade—i.e., the abolition of trade barriers… the opening of the world’s trade routes to free international exchange and competition among the private citizens of all countries dealing directly with one another. During the nineteenth century, it was free trade that liberated the world, undercutting and wrecking the remnants of feudalism and the statist tyranny of absolute monarchies.”

When governments take away the liberty of individuals to pursue their self-interest by trading freely with other individuals—a win-win situation—they set the stage for conflicts and even wars between countries. Trump’s proposed trade war is really a war on the American people.

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.

Happy Future Day! – Article by Edward Hudgins

Happy Future Day! – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
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Stand up for optimism about the future today!

Transhumanism Australia, a non-profit that promotes education in science and technology, has marked March 1 as “Future Day.” It wants this day celebrated worldwide as a time “to consider the future of humanity.” If all of us made a habit of celebrating our potential, it could transform a global culture mired in pessimism and malaise. It would help build an optimistic world that is confident about what humans can accomplish if we put our minds and imaginations to it.

The Future is Bright

The information and communications technology that helps define and shape our world was, 40 years ago, a vision of the future brought into present reality by visionaries like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. The exponential growth of the power of semiconductors allowed entrepreneurs to create one new industry and cutting-edge good product and service after another.

futureToday, we are at exponential takeoff points in biotech, nanotech, and artificial intelligence. For example, the cost of sequencing a human genome was $100 million in 2001, $10 million in 2007, but it costs only a few thousand dollars today. Steve Jobs created the first Apple computers in his garage. Biohackers similarly housed could transform our lives in the future in ways that still seem to most folks like science fiction; indeed, the prospect of “curing death” is no longer a delusion of madmen but the well-funded research projects in the laboratories of the present.

For a prosperous present and promising future a society needs physical infrastructure—roads, power, communications. It needs a legal infrastructure—laws and political structures that protect the liberty of individuals so they can act freely and flourish in civil society. And it requires moral infrastructure, a culture that promotes the values of reason and individual productive achievement.

Future “Future Days”

We should congratulate our brothers “Down Under” for conceiving of Future Day. They have celebrated it in Sydney with a conference on the science that will produce a bright tomorrow. We in America and folks around the world should build on this idea. Today it’s a neat idea: next year, we could start a powerful tradition, a global Future or Human Achievement Day, promoting the bright future that could be.

Were such a day marked in every school and every media outlet, it could to raise achiever consciousness. It could celebrate achievement in the culture—who invented everything that makes up our world today, and how? It could promote achievement as a central value in the life of each individual, whether the individual is nurturing a child to maturity or a business to profitability, writing a song, poem, business plan or dissertation, laying the bricks to a building or designing it, or arranging for its financing.

Such a day would help create the moral infrastructure necessary for a prosperous, fantastic, non-fiction future, a world as it can be and should be, a world created by humans for humans—or even transhumans!

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.

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.

On Viewing 2001: The First Transhumanist Film – Article by Edward Hudgins

On Viewing 2001: The First Transhumanist Film – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
November 20, 2015
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I recently saw 2001: A Space Odyssey again on the big screen. That’s the best way to see this visually stunning cinematic poem, like I saw it during its premiere run in 1968. The film’s star, Keir Dullea, attended that recent screening and afterward offered thoughts on director Stanley Kubrick’s awe-inspiring opus.

2001-space-odyssey-objectivism-transhumanism

He and many others have discussed the visions offered in the film. Some have come to pass: video phone calls and iPad tablets, for example. Others, sadly, haven’t: regularly scheduled commercial flights to orbiting space stations and Moon bases.

But what should engage our attention is that the film’s enigmatic central theme of transformation is itself transforming from science fiction to science fact.

From apes to man

The film’s story came from a collaboration between Kubrick and sci-fi great Arthur C. Clarke. If you’re familiar with Clarke’s pre-2001 novel Childhood’s End and his short story “The Sentinel” you’ll recognize themes in the film.

In the film we see a pre-human species on the brink of starvation, struggling to survive. An alien monolith appears and implants in the brain of one of the more curious man-apes, Moonwatcher, an idea. He picks up a bone and bashes in the skull of one of a herd of pigs roaming the landscape. Now he and his tribe will have all the food they need.

We know from Clarke’s novel, written in conjunction with the film script, that the aliens actually alter Moonwatcher’s brain, giving it the capacity for imagination and implanting a vision of him and his tribe filled with food. He sees that there is an alternative to starvation and acts accordingly. The aliens had juiced evolution. Kubrick gives us the famous scene where Moonwatcher throws the bone in the air. As it falls the scene cuts ahead to vehicle drifting through space. Natural evolution over four million years has now transformed ape-men into modern technological humans.

From stars to starchild

In the film, astronauts discover a monolith buried on the Moon, which sends a signal toward Jupiter. A spaceship is sent to investigate, and astronaut Dave Bowman, played by Dullea, discovers a giant monolith in orbit. He enters it and passes through an incredible hyperspacial stargate. At the end of his journey, Bowman is transformed by the unseen aliens’ monolith into a new, higher life form, an embryo-appearing starchild with, we presume, knowledge and powers beyond anything dreamt of by humans. He is transhuman!

starchild-2001-space-odyssey

Kubrick and Clarke are making obvious references to Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. In that book Nietzsche offers a vision of a human going through three transformations, ending up as a child. “Innocent is the child . . . a new beginning . . . a first movement . . . a holy ‘Yes’.” The child is the creator and the potential for the creation of new values. And, of course, Kubrick used the introduction/sunrise music from the Richard Strauss tone poem named for Nietzsche’s work in the film’s famous opening; in the scene when an idea dawns in the brain of the ape-man; and at the end, when the human is reborn as the starchild. This is as over-the-top symbolism as there ever was!

From evolution to creation

In 2001 natural evolution and alien intervention transform ape-man, to man, to übermensch. Today, we humans are taking control of our own evolution and are beginning to transform ourselves—but into what?

Futurists like Max and Natasha Vita More and Ray Kurzweil have given us the transhumanist philosophy, the idea that we humans can and should use technology to overcome our biological limits, enhancing our physical and mental capacities. Scientists, researchers, and engineers today are doing just this.

They are creating advanced bionic implants and prosthetics to replace lost limbs or body parts. They are working on brain-machine interfaces that could better merge the two. They are experimenting with actually implanting information into brains. They have genetically engineered certain cells to attack only cancer cells. They are working to program nanobots to do the same. And they are understanding the deep mechanisms that cause cells over time to break down, and are exploring ways to “turn off” this process—that is, to actually stop aging. Could we engineer superbrains for real, eternally young übermenschen in decades to come?

Today, the fundamental theme of 2001, human transcendence, is being made real by we humans rather than by alien monoliths. So when you next see this classic film, you might see still see the starchild as a piece of evocative fiction. But you can appreciate that we humans are putting ourselves on a path to something in the future beyond anything dreamt of by humans.

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.

The Martian – Movie Review by Edward Hudgins

The Martian – Movie Review by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
October 13, 2015
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The Martian, from director Ridley Scott, is an exciting film about an astronaut stranded on the Red Planet. It celebrates the heroism that comes from human reason. And it points to what it will take for humans in coming decades to make Mars a new home for humanity. With the film coming on the heels of NASA’s confirmation of liquid water on the Martian surface, that home could be closer than you think!

“I’m not gonna die!”

The Martian is based on a novel that author Andy Weir originally published himself online and offered as a free download. The author and the film take care to be as scientifically accurate as possible in the context of a fictional offering.

Martian_1The movie opens with the third crew to land on Mars rushing back to their landing craft ahead of a sudden sandstorm that threatens to destroy it and them. (In reality, Mars’s thin atmosphere would mean such a storm would annoy rather than kill. But then there’d be no story!)

Unfortunately, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by debris from some destroyed communications equipment and blown away. Sensors indicate his suit’s seal has been breached, meaning his oxygen has escaped and he’s likely dead. The rest of the crew takes off without searching for his body to avoid being killed themselves.

They begin their sad, year-long journey home after informing the world of the tragedy.

But Watney is alive! The breach in his suit was sealed by blood and the debris lodged in his side. He gets back to the habitat the astronauts had used as their base. But his future still looks grim. He is out of contact with Earth and his shipmates. The next Mars mission is not scheduled to arrive for four years and will land 3,000 kilometers from where he is. He has nowhere nearly enough food rations to survive that long. But he declares, “I’m not gonna die,” and we see his mind at work in the video logs he makes of his efforts.

Intelligence for survival

“Let’s do the math!” he says as he figures out that he must grow three years’ worth of potatoes on a frozen planet where nothing grows and find some way to water and fertilize his crops. But he’s a botanist and he declares, “Mars will come to fear my botany power!” He converts part of the hab into a makeshift greenhouse. Human waste—what the crew left in its short visit and what he will produce in the years ahead—will be his fertilizer. The water will come from a jury-rigged setup that extracts it from other substances at hand in the hab.

Martian_2

Watney contemplates how to get his tractor, which needs batteries recharged every 35 kilometers, to trek a hundred times that distance, how to carry enough supplies for that journey, how to contact Earth, and many other challenges. And he declares, “I’m gonna have to science the s**t out of this!”

Director Scott does not give us wishful thinking, mere muscles, unconvincing machismo, or deus-ex-machina miracles. He gives us intelligence as the key to survival.

Will they succeed?

Meanwhile, back at NASA, satellite photos show activity at the hab, meaning Watney is alive. Scientists on Earth observe him trekking out into the desert and guess, correctly, that he’s searching for a decades-old Pathfinder probe to try to revive its old radio system, which he does. Now they can communicate.

But Watney’s farming efforts are cut short by an accident, and NASA’s plan to send an unmanned resupply ship does not go as planned. The one slim hope, which NASA opposes, is for his shipmates to swing around Earth rather than land as they’re supposed to and return to Mars to rescue him. Will they do so? Will they succeed?

Optimism, intelligence, ingenuity

Many elements of The Martian are familiar from other movies. Gravity (2013) gave us drifting in space, trying to return to a ship. Apollo 13 (1995) was a film version of real-life astronauts with a disabled spacecraft trying to get home safely from an aborted lunar mission. The Martian, like Apollo 13, gives us a vision of the heroic that comes from the same source that allows humans to travel to other worlds to begin with: the human mind.

Some might think that a film about the how hostile Mars is to human life would discourage people from ever wanting to go there, much less live there. I disagree. Humans are explorers and achievers.

In 1996 Robert Zubrin published The Case for Mars, outlining an innovative plan for getting to the Red Planet for a fraction of the cost of a NASA mission. He founded the Mars Society, which runs conferences and simulations of Mars missions in the arctic, in preparation for the real thing. Other groups such as Explore Mars have sprung up in recent years. Other innovative mission models have been proposed, including one from Moonwalker Buzz Aldrin. And Mars One proposes to send settlers to the Red Planet on one-way trips, to be permanent occupants. Private entrepreneur Elon Musk founded his rocket company SpaceX with the goal of establishing permanent settlements on the Red Planet. And NASA’s confirmation of water on the surface of Mars opens further possibilities for future colonies.

The Martian is an uplifting film that does not minimize the challenges of life; indeed, Watney explains that he knew going in that space travel was dangerous and that he could be killed. But he says that once you acknowledge that you might die, you deal with the problem at hand and the next and the next. This is humanity at its best. Damon as Watney gives a fine performance. His character must keep up his optimism—without maudlin emotionalism or self-deceiving bravado. He must demonstrate intelligence and ingenuity. In all this we see the best of the human spirit!

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.

Pope Francis vs. the Cure of Reason – Article by Edward Hudgins

Pope Francis vs. the Cure of Reason – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
September 27, 2015
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A young girl was recently interviewed on TV about her encounter with Pope Francis on his visit to the United States. She cried with joy as she described how he touched her on the forehead and offered a blessing. Now, she said, she might get the miracle she’s prayed for. Maybe someday she’ll be able to walk.

Who could not be moved by a crippled child who wants to be cured? But what is really wrenching is the fact that this child and so many others look to faith rather than science and reason.

Medical breakthroughs

On the same day the Pope was touching the little girl, a news story was circulating about a breakthrough in prosthetics. A brain implant has restored to a man with a robotic hand his sense of touch.

Another story in recent months documented technology that allows individuals to control their artificial limbs with their thoughts.

Some even express fears that bionic legs in the future could be so good that they will be preferred to the natural ones we’re born with.

The sightless have sought divine intersession to cure blindness since before the time of Jesus. A few days before the Pope toured D.C., a breakthrough was announced that involves applying a light-sensitive protein found in algae to the back of the retinas of eyes to, in effect, replace the rods and cones destroyed by certain diseases. The technique has been successful in mice and human tests are now coming.


This restorative treatment has welcome competition. Last month saw a man receive the first bionic eye implant.

And let’s not forget that deafness is in the process of being vanquished thanks to cochlear implants.

Free markets needed

Free markets, of course, if allowed to operate, will make what are now pricey, experimental medical technologies affordable for most, just as markets have allowed entrepreneurs to create and bring down the prices of computers, smartphones, tablets, Wifi, and all the hardware and software of the information revolution.

Handicapped individuals, like the girl who was so happy the Pope touched her, might have bright futures indeed. But they need to recognize that it is not faith that will make them whole. It is reason.

Human reason needed

It is the power of the human mind, especially in science and engineering, that has brought about the benefits of our modern world. Yet where are the parades, the speeches before Congress, and the celebrations that recognize the sources of such benefits and encourage reason and achievement as foundational values in our culture? Why do so many seek hope in faith and otherworldly miracles when real achievements—“miracles” of the human mind—are all around us? Why do so few understand that training minds and encouraging entrepreneurship is the best way to ensure a healthy, prosperous future? With all the enthusiasm we see for the Pope, where is the enthusiasm for the actual creators and achievers in our world?

Ironically, the Pope, in his economic ignorance, denounces the free market system that could cure that little girl. And he promotes draconian economic restrictions to fight hypothesized global warming, restrictions that would ensure that the poor he says he cares so much about will be with us always. The Pope—and all of us—indeed should empathize with that little girl. But he should be touting reason as the cure. This Jesuit Pope needs to read his Thomas Aquinas!

Those who are enthusiastic about the Pope’s visit because he inspires hope for a better world had better look to the real source of all our blessings: the human mind.

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.

How Anti-Individualist Fallacies Prevent Us from Curing Death – Article by Edward Hudgins

How Anti-Individualist Fallacies Prevent Us from Curing Death – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
July 3, 2015
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Are you excited about Silicon Valley entrepreneurs investing billions of dollars to extend life and even “cure” death?

It’s amazing that such technologically challenging goals have gone from sci-fi fantasies to fantastic possibilities. But the biggest obstacles to life extension could be cultural: the anti-individualist fallacies arrayed against this goal.

Entrepreneurs defy death

 A recent Washington Post feature documents the “Tech titans’ latest project: Defy death. “ Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder and venture capitalist, has led the way, raising awareness and funding regenerative medicines. He explains: “I’ve always had this really strong sense that death was a terrible, terrible thing… Most people end up compartmentalizing and they are in some weird mode of denial and acceptance about death, but they both have the result of making you very passive. I prefer to fight it.”

Others prefer to fight as well. Google CEO Larry Page created Calico to invest in start-ups working to stop aging. Oracle’s Larry Ellison has also provided major money for anti-aging research. Google’s Sergey Brin and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg both have funded the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation.

Beyond the Post piece we can applaud the education in the exponential technologies needed to reach these goals by Singularity U., co-founded by futurist Ray Kurzweil, who believes humans and machines will merge in the decades to become transhumans, and X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis.

The Post piece points out that while in the past two-thirds of science and medical research was funded by the federal government, today private parties put up two-thirds. These benefactors bring their entrepreneurial talents to their philanthropic efforts. They are restless for results and not satisfied with the slow pace of government bureaucracies plagued by red tape and politics.

“Wonderful!” you’re thinking. “Who could object?”

Laurie Zoloth’s inequality fallacy

 Laurie Zoloth for one. This Northwestern University bioethicist argues that “Making scientific progress faster doesn’t necessarily mean better — unless if you’re an aging philanthropist and want an answer in your lifetime.” The Post quotes her further as saying that “Science is about an arc of knowledge, and it can take a long time to play out.”

Understanding the world through science is a never-ending enterprise. But in this case, science is also about billionaires wanting answers in their lifetimes because they value their own lives foremost and they do not want them to end. And the problem is?

Zoloth grants that it is ”wonderful to be part of a species that dreams in a big way” but she also wants “to be part of a species that takes care of the poor and the dying.” Wouldn’t delaying or even eliminating dying be even better?

The discoveries these billionaires facilitate will help millions of people in the long-run. But her objection seems rooted in a morally-distorted affinity for equality of condition: the feeling that it is wrong for some folks to have more than others—never mind that they earned it—in this case early access to life-extending technologies. She seems to feel that it is wrong for these billionaires to put their own lives, loves, dreams, and well-being first.

We’ve heard this “equality” nonsense for every technological advance: only elites will have electricity, telephones, radios, TVs, computers, the internet, smartphones, whatever. Yes, there are first adopters, those who can afford new things. Without them footing the bills early on, new technologies would never become widespread and affordable. This point should be blindingly obvious today, since the spread of new technologies in recent decades has accelerated. But in any case, the moral essential is that it is right for individuals to seek the best for themselves while respecting their neighbors’ liberty to do the same.

Leon Kass’s “long life is meaningless” fallacy

 The Post piece attributes to political theorist Francis Fukuyama the belief that “a large increase in human life spans would take away people’s motivation for the adaptation necessary for survival. In that kind of world, social change comes to a standstill.”

Nonsense! As average lifespans doubled in past centuries, social change—mostly for the better—accelerated. Increased lifespans in the future could allow individuals to take on projects spanning centuries rather than decades. Indeed, all who love their lives regret that they won’t live to see, experience, and help create the wonders of tomorrow.

The Post cites physician and ethicist Leon Kass who asks: “Could life be serious or meaningful without the limit of mortality?”

Is Kass so limited in imagination or ignorant of our world that he doesn’t appreciate the great, long-term projects that could engage us as individuals seriously and meaningfully for centuries to come? (I personally would love to have the centuries needed to work on terraforming Mars, making it a new habitat for humanity!)

Fukuyama and Kass have missed the profound human truth that we each as individuals create the meaning for our own lives, whether we live 50 years or 500. Meaning and purpose are what only we can give ourselves as we pursue productive achievements that call upon the best within us.

Francis Fukuyama’s anti-individualist fallacy

 The Post piece quotes Fukuyama as saying “I think that research into life extension is going to end up being a big social disaster… Extending the average human life span is a great example of something that is individually desirable by almost everyone but collectively not a good thing. For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why we die when we do.”

What a morally twisted reason for opposing life extension! Millions of individuals should literally damn themselves to death in the name of society. Then count me anti-social.

Some might take from Fukuyama’s premise a concern that millions of individuals living to 150 will spend half that time bedridden, vegetating, consuming resources, and not producing. But the life extension goal is to live long with our capacities intact—or enhanced! We want 140 to be the new 40!

What could be good evolutionary reasons why we die when we do? Evolution only metaphorically has “reasons.” It is a biological process that blindly adapted us to survive and reproduce: it didn’t render us immune to ailments. Because life is the ultimate value, curing those ailments rather than passively suffering them is the goal of medicine. Life extension simply takes the maintenance of human life a giant leap further.

Live long and prosper

 Yes, there will be serious ethical questions to face as the research sponsored by benevolent billionaires bears fruit. But individuals who want to live really long and prosper in a world of fellow achievers need to promote human life as the ultimate value and the right of all individuals to live their own lives and pursue their own happiness as the ultimate liberty.

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.

“Ex Machina” Movie Review – Article by Edward Hudgins

“Ex Machina” Movie Review – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
July 3, 2015
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ex-machina-review-objectivism

How will we know if an artificial intelligence actually attains a human level of consciousness?

As work in robotics and merging man and machine accelerates, we can expect more movies on this theme. Some, like Transcendence, will be dystopian warnings of potential dangers. Others, like Ex Machina, elicit serious thought about what it is to be human. Combining a good story and good acting, Ex Machina should interest technophiles and humanists alike.

The Turing Test

The film opens on Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) , a 27-year-old programmer at uber-search engine company Blue Book, who wins a lottery to spend a week at the isolated mountain home of the company’s reclusive genius creator, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). But the hard-drinking, eccentric Nathan tells Caleb that they’re not only going to hang out and get drunk.

He has created an android AI named Ava (Alicia Vikander) with a mostly woman-like, but part robot-like, appearance. The woman part is quite attractive. Nathan wants Caleb to spend the week administering the Turing Test to determine whether the AI shows intelligent behavior indistinguishable from that of a human. Normally this test is administered so the tester cannot see whether he’s dealing with a human and or machine. The test consists of exchanges of questions and answers, and is usually done in some written form. Since Caleb already knows Ava is an AI, he really needs to be convinced in his daily sessions with her, reviewed each evening with Nathan, that Nathan has created, in essence, a sentient, self-conscious human. It’s a high bar.

Android sexual attraction

Ava is kept locked in a room where her behavior can be monitored 24/7. Caleb talks to her through a glass, and at first he asks standard questions any good techie would ask to determine if she is human or machine. But soon Ava is showing a clear attraction to Caleb. The feeling is mutual.

In another session Ava is turning the tables. She wants to know about Caleb and be his friend. But during one of the temporary power outages that seems to plague Nathan’s house, when the monitoring devices are off, Ava tells Caleb that Nathan is not his friend and not to trust him. When the power comes back on, Ava reverts to chatting about getting to know Caleb.

In another session, when Ava reveals she’s never allowed out of the room, Caleb asks where she would choose to go if she could leave. She says to a busy traffic intersection. To people watch! Curiosity about humanity!

Ava then asks Caleb to close his eyes and she puts on a dress and wig to cover her robot parts. She looks fully human. She says she’d wear this if they went on a date. Nathan later explains that he gave Ava gender since no human is without one. That is part of human consciousness. Nathan also explains that he did not program her specifically to like Caleb. And he explains that she is fully sexually functional.

A human form of awareness

In another session Caleb tells Ava what she certainly suspects, that he is testing her. To communicate what he’s looking for, he offers the “Mary in a Black and White Room” thought experiment. Mary has always lived in a room with no colors. All views of the outside world are through black and white monitors. But she understands everything about the physics of color and about how the human eyes and brain process color. But does she really “know” or “understand” color—the “qualia”—until she walks outside and actually sees the blue sky?

Is Ava’s imitation of the human level of consciousness or awareness analogous to Mary’s consciousness or awareness of color when in the black and white room, purely theoretical? Is Ava simply a machine, a non-conscious automaton running a program by which she mimics human emotions and traits?

Ava is concerned with what will happen if she does not pass the Turing test. Nathan later tells Caleb that he thinks the AI after Ava will be the one he’s aiming for. And what will happen to Ava? The program will be downloaded and the memories erased. Caleb understands that this means Ava’s death.

Who’s testing whom?

During a blackout, this one of Nathan in a drunken stupor, Caleb borrows Nathan’s passcard to access closed rooms, and he discovers some disturbing truths about what proceeded Ava and led to her creation.

In the next session, during a power outage, Ava and Caleb plan an escape from the facility. They plan to get Nathan drunk, change the lock codes on the doors, and get out at the next power outage.

But has Nathan caught on? On the day Caleb is scheduled to leave he tells Nathan that Ava has passed the Turing Test. But Nathan asks whether Caleb thinks Ava is just pretending to like Caleb in order to escape. If so, this would show human intelligence and would mean that Ava indeed has passed the test.

But who is testing and manipulating whom and to what end? The story takes a dramatic, shocking turn as the audience finds out who sees through whose lies and deceptions. Does Mary ever escape from the black and white room? Is Ava really conscious like a human?

What it means to be human

In this fascinating film, writer/director Alex Garland explores what it is to be human in terms of basic drives and desires. There is the desire to know, understand, and experience. There is the desire to love and be loved. There is the desire to be free to choose. And there is the love of life.

But to be human is also to be aware that others might block one from pursuing human goals, that others can be cruel, and they can lie and deceive. There is the recognition that one might need to use the same behavior in order to be human.

If thinkers like Singularity theorist Ray Kurzweil are right, AIs might be passing the Turing Test within a few decades. But even if they don’t, humans will more and more rely on technologies that could enhance our minds and capacities and extend our lives. As we do so, it will be even more important that we keep in mind what it is to be human and what is best about being human. Ex Machina will not only provide you with an entertaining evening at the movies; it will also help you use that very human capacity, the imagination, to prepare your mind to meet these challenges.

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.

Google, Entrepreneurs, and Living 500 Years – Article by Edward Hudgins

Google, Entrepreneurs, and Living 500 Years – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance Hat
Edward Hudgins
March 29, 2015
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“Is it possible to live to be 500?”

“Yes,” answers Bill Maris of Google, without qualifications.

A Bloomberg Markets piece on “Google Ventures and the Search for Immortality” documents how the billions of dollars Maris invests each year is transforming life itself. But the piece also makes clear that the most valuable asset he possesses —and that, in others, makes those billions work—is entrepreneurship.

Google’s Bio-Frontiers

Maris, who heads a venture capital fund set up by Google, studied neuroscience in college. So perhaps it is no surprise that he has invested over one-third of the fund’s billions in health and life sciences. Maris has been influenced by futurist and serial inventor Ray Kurzweil who predicts that by 2045 humans and machines will merge, radically transforming and extending human life, perhaps indefinitely. Google has hired Kurzweil to carry on his work towards what he calls this “singularity.”

Maris was instrumental in creating Calico, a Google company that seeks nothing less than to cure aging, that is, to defeat death itself.  This and other companies in which Maris directs funds have specific projects to bring about this goal, from genetic research to analyzing cancer data.

Maris observes that “There are a lot of billionaires in Silicon Valley, but in the end, we are all heading for the same place. If given the choice between making a lot of money or finding a way to live longer, what do you choose?”

Google Ventures does not restrict its investments to life sciences. For example, it helped with the Uber car service and has put money into data management and home automation tech companies.

“Entrepreneuring” tomorrow

Perhaps the most important take-away from the Bloomberg article is the “why” behind Maris’s efforts. The piece states that “A company with $66 billion in annual revenue isn’t doing this for the money. What Google needs is entrepreneurs.” And that is what Maris and Google Ventures are looking for.

They seek innovators with new, transformative and, ultimately, profitable ideas and visions. Most important, they seek those who have the strategies and the individual qualities that will allow them to build their companies and make real their visions.

Entrepreneurial life

But entrepreneurship is not just a formula for successful start-ups. It is a concept that is crucial for the kind of future that Google and Maris want to bring about, beyond the crucial projects of any given entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs love their work. They aim at productive achievement. They are individualists who act on the judgments of their own minds. And they take full responsibility for all aspects of their enterprises.

On this model, all individuals should treat their own lives as their own entrepreneurial opportunities. They should love their lives. They should aim at happiness and flourishing—their big profit!—through productive achievement. They should act on the judgments of their own minds. And they should take full responsibility for every aspect of their lives.

And this entrepreneurial morality must define the culture of America and the world if the future is to be the bright one at which Google and Maris aim. An enterprise worthy of a Google investment would seek to promote this morality throughout the culture. It would seek strategies to replace cynicism and a sense of personal impotence and social decline with optimism and a recognition of personal efficacy and the possibility of social progress.

So let’s be inspired by Google’s efforts to change the world, and let’s help promote the entrepreneurial morality that is necessary for bringing it about.

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.