Volume 1, Issue 2 
2nd Quarter, 2006

The Risk/Benefit Yardsticks Were Just Moved Off the Field: How Technological Convergence Renders Current Risk Assessment Models Obsolete, and What to Do About It

Douglas Mulhall

This article was adapted from a lecture given Douglas Mulhall, at the 1st Annual Workshop on Geoethical Nanotechnology on July 20, 2005 at the Terasem Retreat in Lincoln, VT.

Douglas Mulhall is coauthor of “The Calcium Bomb”, a recent book about the link between nanobacteria and many common diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. Mulhall argues that nanotechnology can be used to possibly eradicate these diseases by targeting calcification, their root cause. Posthumans will be in our midst sooner than we think and we might find ourselves on a lower rung of the ladder quite suddenly. Mulhall urges us to address some of the major human-created problems in our world before this happens, in the hope that these posthumans will see the human race as an asset rather than a liability. By using nanotechnology to eradicate disease, we will also help to promote it in the eyes of public opinion.

The following is a little sampling of what is going on in the popular media today regarding post- and transhumanism. 

The Sunday Los Angeles Times recently published an article about enhanced humans entitled “You're Not Good Enough”. The first Mulhallparagraph begins, “The next few years, your child will come home from school in tears. He'll say, once again, that he is unable to compete with the children who are brighter, better behaved, and physically more capable than he is, because their parents have bought them technology enhancements and you have not. What would you do?"

The Financial Times recently published a review of several books on the post-human future: "More Than Human", "Posthuman Future", "Fantastic Voyage", and "Citizen Cyborg". The headline of the review was "Eternal Life: The Most Dangerous Idea on Earth". 

The media is not painting a very positive view of posthumanism, is it?

Superintelligence on the Horizon
Posthumanism is upon us. The biggest benefit and risk – superintelligence - will occur in the next 25 to 35 years. When that happens, it is inevitable that superintelligence will turn around and evaluate us human beings. This is the biggest possible benefit and the biggest risk of posthumanism.

The scientific community and the general population are not aware of how quickly the development of superintelligence is moving and how logarithmic this scale really is. This is significant because when it arrives, our whole perception of everything will change, as well as its perception of us.

Learning from the Past
Just four or five centuries ago, aboriginal cultures were annihilated in both North and South America in a very short time. Settlers invaded two continents and completely erased a series of civilizations. Because they were erased, there is very little written information to show that these magnificent civilizations existed. 

How did this happen in such a short period of time? There is a book entitled, Guns, Germs & Steel[1], which is an extraordinary piece of work because it shows that the people who had the weapons, who unwittingly carried diseases to which they themselves were immune, and who possessed new construction technologies became the dominant ones. They wiped out whole civilizations in a matter of a few decades with guns, germs, and steel. It is very important to understand that literally a quarter of the surface area of the world had all of its populations wiped off the map.

What will happen tomorrow? Engineered germs and intelligence are the guns, germs, and steel of the future. Are humans going to be the next Incas? When superintelligence suddenly emerges and nobody is prepared for it except a select few, are we going to find the conquistadors on our doorstep, our leaders kidnapped and held for ransom? Will we be held in cages like animals, or in ecosystems that are reserved for us?

When I refer to super-intelligent beings, I am not only talking about artificially intelligent systems, but also enhanced humans and variations of both. Thus it might not be a question of machines taking over Homo sapiens. It might be a case of enhanced Homo sapiens who have enhanced brain power and physical capabilities, along with artificially intelligent machines, and various combinations of all of these, taking over.

1. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies, Jared Diamond. W. W. Norton & Company (April 1999)
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