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Future Democracy
Jamais Cascio, 2 Aug 05

Dale Carrico consistently comes up with some of the most perceptive and novel observations about life in the rapidly-evolving 21st century. He's one of the originators of the concept of technoprogressivism, which can best be defined by the subhead of his blog Amor Mundi: "Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All." Dale's critiques of those who wish to shun technologies that might disrupt the social status quo, and of those who wish to shun the social context for the technological endeavors, are both insightful and (for me) compelling. Dale has been an occasional contributor to WorldChanging, and I'm happy to count him as a friend.

His latest essay, Live Long and Prosper: A Program of Technoprogressive Social Democracy, is a challenging foray into what will be, if not the key defining question of the early 21st century, the issue that will underlie our collective responses to the myriad challenges we will face in the years and decades to come. How can democracy, founded on the principle that all people should have equal rights and an equal say in political outcomes, survive the explosion of technologies made to increase personal wealth, knowledge and power? In a world where some people live to be 140 while others barely make 35, is democracy even possible?

Carrico gives a qualified yes, but that the democratic society which will emerge under these conditions could well have some substantial differences from what we see today. The concerns that some have over the potential social threats created by emerging technologies have to be answered:

The most legitimate concern of many bioconservatives (and of those who tend to sympathize with their arguments for now) is that the rich and powerful will enjoy medical enhancement and longevity long before the rest of us do, or that powerful elites will control digital surveillance technologies or unprecedented nanotechnological capacities that will consolidate their power in unimaginable ways. The NBIC convergence of nanoscale technologies, biomedical technologies, information technologies, and cognitive/neuroceutical technologies promises unprecedented human emancipation but threatens no less than the literal rewriting of social injustice as a form of dreadful speciation. [...]

The proper technoprogressive response to concern about conspicuously unequal distributions of emerging technological capacities, then, is to recognize explicitly that this is primarily a worry about the developmental threat of pernicious antidemocratic distributions of power, and to foreground just how eminently sensible a worry this is based on overabundant historical experience.

His answer, which he admits is more properly the beginning of an answer, is to focus our energies on those base underlying conditions that would make a scenario of "social injustice as a form of... speciation" possible. He makes two key proposals:

First: Technoprogressives demand a basic income guarantee as an indispensable complement to any general championing of disruptive technological development. [...] This income (together with a life-long stakeholder grant in education and retraining) would foreground the value of citizen participation in a properly technoprogressive democratic civilization, empowering citizens to contribute free creative content, [and] to participate in new collaborative forms of media oversight and policy deliberation. [...]

Second: Technoprogressives demand universal basic health care provision as well as a stakeholder grant in enhancement medicine as an indispensable complement to any general championing of research, development, and the support of consensual practices of genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive medicine.

He goes into substantial detail on each proposal, and I encourage you to read them before responding. But I can already guess the reaction that many of you will have, particularly to the first. A basic income guarantee coupled with a generous level of universal health care (including consensual enhancement medicine) seems both impossible as a matter of politics as well as untenable economically. And this may be true, for now.

But the forces we've identified as likely to be dominant in this century -- including dense networks, material fabrication, radical health extension leading to greater longevity, increasing object intelligence, and a fundamental transformation of how we use energy and grapple with environmental sustainability, among others -- all point to a world where the rules that dominate now, politically, economically and socially, will be subject to substantive reevaluation. The choice isn't between changes such as Carrico suggests and maintaining the status quo, but between something like Carrico's world and a world where democracy is functionally impossible.

The question that I have for you -- and that I encourage you to discuss politely in the comments here -- is given the radical changes to our environment, to our material surroundings, to our technologies, what are the best ways to make certain that fair and open democracy remains a viable political option?

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I'm afraid that this idea suffers from the same problem as the original ideals for communism and socialism:

A basic income guarantee might be possible mathematically, but as soon as you start trying to allocate it, your economy tanks. This is largely because you're taking money from the people who (A) earned it or (B) know how to invest it and giving it to people who, until recently, had to work for it.

This, in turn, means neither side has to (or wants to) work. You end up with shoddy products, no useful investments, little progress, and a rapidly crumbling economy. Just look at the historical precendents.

Even if this core problem didn't exist, the other core problem is with health care. The medical procedures which insure longer and longer life are usually not available from health care providers, national or otherwise, due to a combination of red tape and concerns about safety. This means that the rich will STILL get the procedures while the rest are stuck with the old stuff for at least another decade.

Even if neither of those problems existed, the idea doesn't address how to insure democracy remains viable, just how to keep life-extending technology from annihilating it. Frankly, there are lots of other kinds of technology which are as likely to threaten democracy.

Sorry if I'm being a spoilsport, but I just felt the need to poke holes.

Posted by: Craig on 2 Aug 05

A basic income guarantee coupled with a generous level of universal health care (including consensual enhancement medicine) seems both impossible as a matter of politics as well as untenable economically

Maybe to an American citizen, but to those of us living in Western Europe, it's been a reality for many years. It's time you guys became a leapfrog nation...

Posted by: Robin Grant on 2 Aug 05

Henry Liu posits the idea that a basic income guaruntee may be needed to keep the economy moving. Could we view it as a wage for being willing to consume?

Scarcity economics and overcapacity
Asia Times 7/27/05

Posted by: Mark on 2 Aug 05

Having read his site frequently, if not always commenting, I think Dale does highlight real problems. He is right to point out that shunning technology won't work and shunning the social consequences of that technology won't work. He's been coming up with attempts to answer these problems.

I don't think his first attempts are going to work politically. The trend since the Seventies, in postindustrial societies, even in the EU, has been to dismantle many of the subsidies and institutions of earlier decades. Having said that, I think he is still right to point out that these problems persist and must be addressed.

The trend has been since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, that technology heavily automates each endeavor in turn forcing huge dislocations of labor. Agriculture now employs a tiny fraction of the populace. The same has happened to the industrial sector. The same is now happening to the service sector: We have burger-bots and programming work sent to countries with highly educated yet cheap labor. This cycle is now glaringly obvious to everyone and seems to be happening faster.

So what's left? How do we preserve a large middle class and the political stability and pluralism that comes with it? Are the power laws of income distribution inevitable or can we moderate them somewhat?

The current chaos in global and national intellectual property law, shows that trusting the market and business as usual is not going to work. This is not just about open source or digial sharing of movies or music. There are real consequences in IP law, as hopeless fight against drug formula piracy indicates. Developing countries need drugs to heal their citizens. If that means that big pharma doesn't get their cut, so be it.

This is just some of the stuff that Dale points out. What do we do about it?

Posted by: Pace Arko on 2 Aug 05

wonderful commentary. Glad to find a spot of civilized society.

Pace Arko wonders "Are the power laws of income distribution inevitable or can we moderate them somewhat?" I remember seeing some time in the past five years some economic theorists who described how there will always be rich and poor but through a variety of means, increase the middle class. I wish I could remember who they were. But it was an interesting paper describing some of the limits of modification of wealth and income.

As for all of the transhumanist fantasy material, the future arrives sooner than you expect and in the wrong order. While all of these techniques are fascinating, we don't know what they will really do and as far as I'm concerned, the rich can go first so they can debug the process for me.

but in my fantasy world, I think one thing that will help is eliminating the concept of personhood from the definition of a corporation. They may be a virtual person in that they can hold assets etc. but they are not people, they do not have a right to speech, they do not have a right to do anything to a person, they just do not have a right.

I would eliminate all "benefits" from the corporate-employee relationship. It should be a strictly cash deal when you work for someone. loading on top of the employment contract a series of services necessary for functioning in society only distorts the value of those services and makes you more vulnerable to corporate pressure.

I would migrate to a combination subsidy and consumption based tax system. If you do not wish to disclose your income, then fine, you don't get any subsidies from the state. But if you are poor or otherwise indigent and you need help, open the Komodo a bit and show your income stream. This combination eliminates the regressive nature of consumption based tax systems.

Make health insurance a requirement of citizenship. If you want to be a citizen, have a drivers license, vote etc., pay into the common pool and show proof of health insurance continuous for the past year. If you don't want to participate in society, don't buy health insurance but do expect to pay the bill if you call 911.

make actuarial data visible but not necessarily actionable. If you're living in a dangerous part of the country, you should know it. It's a debating point whether or not you should be penalized for it. I'm really not sure which way to go on this one but the very least, make the information visible. Learn where the dangerous locations are. Learn who the dangerous employers are.

I have a few other ideas but they are dangerous to both the right and the left. ;-)

Posted by: Mr. Gator on 2 Aug 05


You might be interested to note that a basic income guarantee was originally advocated by (iirc) Milton Friedman. From that libertarian perspective the idea is that the complicated thousands of welfare programs can be summarised under a single payment. This in turn makes recipients less dependant on the state and frees up their time. It's kind of an Alaskan dividend vibe ... a fortnightly stipend, plus a medical safety net, then go sort out your life.

Now technoprogressives might differ on how much of the existing welfare infrastructure could be dismantled in exchange for a basic income guarantee, and choke on supporting a market-libertarian but it's worth considering from other angles.

Posted by: Adam Burke on 2 Aug 05

To a "systems head" like me, this is about feedback. Dale notes that medical enhancements and other technological advances benefit wealthy people first. But if that sets up a reinforcing feedback loop, where new advantages go to the already advantaged, and new wealth goes to the already wealthy, democracy is impossible. Because in essence, democracy is about balancing feedback loops. Reinforcing loops never persist forever; something balances them. To me, Dale's question is about whether the balancing loops will be unplanned, chaotic and violent, or intentional, civilized and constructive.

If "pure" market economics actually existed, they would be a powerful balancing feedback. If "pure" political solutions could be imposed without stifling efficient resource management, we might run the world by committee. But here in the real world, there's no economics, or politics, only political economy, messy and complicated.

I don't have a clue how to foster democracy. I think we'd make progress if we all admitted that, and became focused on actually solving the problem instead of defending our mental models. We just have to hammer it out. In recent history, we had two attempts at democracy. One involved Madison, Franklin, Jefferson and others creating a remarkable system of checks and balances. Another was characterized by Madame Lafarge knitting beside the guillotine. What will we choose?

Posted by: David Foley on 3 Aug 05

First, a quick word about the basic income guarantee (or BIG). It’s true that market libertarian Milton Friedman advocated something like a basic income guarantee in his book Capitalism and Freedom, as have economists of the left like John Kenneth Galbraith. And it is also true that some versions of BIG are more socialist in spirit. The great Erik Olin Wright’s recent essay “Basic Income as a Socialist Project” is a particularly clear and appealing formulation.

But a good candidate for the historical origin of the proposal is Thomas Paine’s Pamphlet “Agrarian Justice,” published, I believe, in 1796 (that is to say, twenty years after “Common Sense,” five years after “Rights of Man”) proposed “[t]o create a Natural Fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of Fifteen Pounds sterling, as a compensation in part for the loss of his natural inheritance by the introduction of the system of landed property. AND ALSO, The sum of Ten Pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they arrive at that age.”

For an abundance of historical analysis, sociological and economic theory and research, and policy discussions related to BIG, check out the USBIG website,

Second, I do want to add that my own proposals that technoprogressives demand both a basic income guarantee and an enhancement stakeholder grant are conjoined to the claim that each of these entitlements would enlist world citizens in incomparable peer-to-peer projects to establish justice, ensure local tranquility, provide global security, and promote general welfare:

1. as citizen-critics on global networks, providing media oversight, free creative content, surveillance/sousveillence, policy deliberation; and

2. as consensual experimental citizen-subjects, "data-points" in global experiments to hasten and regulate emerging rejuvination and enhancement healthcare.

It is the technoprogressive connection of social democracy to peer-to-peer that interests me most here.

Posted by: Dale Carrico on 3 Aug 05

Dale - hey, bringing it back to Tom Paine is great, because both sides of the liberal tradition can embrace him.

Posted by: Adam Burke on 3 Aug 05

I read the post. I combed the NBIC pdf which offers a golden age of worldpeace and universal prosperity, whilst brimming with technologies to "revolutionise the art of war" and nano-bio-info-cogno-enhanced US soldiers (that smacks of dreadful speciation, let's hope they include one of those handy terminator genes).

Citizen-critics on globally connected networks aren't representative of the global population and there are formidable barriers to "establish justice, ensure local tranquility, provide global security, and promote general welfare". Dale you're not presupposing a worldwide level of socioeconomic development that would allow distributed peer2peer participation by every nation, but conceiving a means to assist that end? Would experiments in enhancement healthcare be most likely to assist social democracy or provide additional complex issues for debate?

Representative democracy lets citizens distance themselves from governmental actions (and in many cases, avoid thinking too deeply about the consequences of their actions on policy decisions). Logistical difficulties aside, it's a big jump from representative democracy to active participation in a 'to each person a vote' (on issues, not politicians) democracy that requires willingness and maturity of each individual to share the responsibility of thoughtful, considered governance and accept the decisions of the majority rule (and potential inconsistencies between policy decisions). Perhaps this shift could be accelerated by widespread mental enhancement courtesy of the democratically-inclined technophiles. Look, I'm coming around!

A collective effort to conceive a model for a fair and open democracy should at least try to start with a reasonably representative, heterogeneous group. To move toward that, we should each probe our preanalytical vision. And then... let majority rule or over/undercompensate for minority groups? On what basis?

answer to Jamais: Artificial, peverse feedback loops such as business donations to political parties, hidden subsidies and corporate beneficiaries of government contracts informing govt policy decisions all magnify distortions in representative democracies. Abolishing them would be a solid step to democratic governance.

Posted by: Janelle on 3 Aug 05


I feel your pain concerning the moments of neoliberal/neoconservative awfulness in the NBIC document I reference in my longer post. From my perspective it really is an almost irresistable text despite the dreariness, if only because so many of the texts that take these sorts of connections seriously otherwise are infused with this Ayn Raelian Libertopian Robot Cultishness, and so just having an NSF study to point to does a whole lot of my initial throat-clearing credibility-consolidating work for me, and lets me move on to the stuff that really interests me: throwing out technoprogressive proposals to serious people of good will who would otherwise be likely to dismiss much of this stuff as boys-with-their-toys wish-fulfillment or corporatist/militarist apologia.

That aside, your worries about democracy being real rather than a buzzword, about the global context of development and real-world power/knowledge assymmetries in play being reflected in actual developmental deliberation, are all near and dear to my heart.

Elsewhere, I have written about a proportionate interpretation of the precautionary principle that might provide the beginnings of a democratizing framework for global developmental deliberation. Jamais' writings on leapfrogging are key in my thinking of these sorts of issues (on good days). I am very sympathetic to proposals arising out of the world federalist movement, the fair-trade globalization movement, and other places. I think the puzzle pieces are dispersed and possibly we are working on more than one puzzle at the same time without much sense of what we're doing or what we're going to end up with...

Finally, I don't know if I accept only direct democracy as properly democratic. I advocate a democratic experimentalism in which many different institutions and protocols are tried out to implement what is after all a rather general idea...

Broadly speaking, democracy is simply the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them. Sometimes we will say of an institution or practice that it is democratic because it is directly responsive to the will of majorities, sometimes because it is administered by elected representatives, sometimes because it is accountable to such representatives, sometimes because it is defined by standards and practices administered by these representatives. Democracy takes many forms, and the practical and institutional experiments implementing the democratic idea are proliferating to this day.

I don't want to privilege only one form or one implementation or one experience as always only the authentic democratic one next to which every other is a pale inauthentic imitation or mockery, if you know what I mean. A process is more democratic when and to the extent that more people have more of a say in it. But it is clearly an ideal expressed in different degrees, and with indefinitely many different implementations.

Please don't take that as a stealthy denigration of democracy -- I'm a radical democrat, and if anything I come too close to advocating democratization as a panacea for all ills!

Posted by: Dale Carrico on 3 Aug 05

Thanks for the response Dale. It must gall you to rely on a bunch of dry scientist's moist fancies (NSF in NBIC doc) for credibility! Ha ok, I'm stirring. It is an interesting collection to say nothing else!

Agreed democracy is general concept. That can lead to fuzzy thinking in the context of power differentials and consequences of choices. I suspect that being aware of direct democracy and other areas in which we vote directly (eg through various economic actions) can assist people to think more critically about how they place or transfer their responsibility/power. Applying it at the local level (devolution of governance) can also highlight options in public choice.

Can you clarify what you refer to with "rejuvination and enhancement healthcare"?

Posted by: Janelle on 3 Aug 05

An association with scientists is rarely galling. It is the default political peculiarities of technophilia that are sometimes galling! For what I mean by "rejuvination and enhancement medicine" I try to provide an account of it in a column, "A Dose of the New Medical Reality," and a blog post "Healthcare and Private Perfections," and a few other places.

Posted by: Dale Carrico on 3 Aug 05

I hate to put a damper on everyone, but all of your discussions of technology and medical practice are mute in light of Peak Oil/Energy... only the rich will be able to afford buying the energy/power that drives the technology in the first place, and when the last of the fossil energy is gone and we have to depend on good ol' mother nature to provide us with everything, then we'll all long for having learned the skills of growing our own food and finding our own fuel sources to heat and cook... can you say you know how to live like the Amish?

Posted by: Rich on 4 Aug 05

It is possible to take Peak Oil very seriously indeed without taking from it the lesson that all is lost. Depsair is as destructive to our democratic hopes as is the arrogance of elites. Neither the hype-notized dreams of our technophiles nor the disasterbatory nightmares of our technophobes tell us where we should build the next bit of road together (although both occasionally helpfully let us know when we've gotten off track altogether): our efforts cannot be moot, and our voices cannot be mute. Technoprogressive solidarity, dude!

Posted by: Dale Carrico on 4 Aug 05

"Neither the hype-notized dreams of our technophiles nor the disasterbatory nightmares of our technophobes tell us where we should build the next bit of road together (although both occasionally helpfully let us know when we've gotten off track altogether): our efforts cannot be moot, and our voices cannot be mute. Technoprogressive solidarity, dude!"

See? Now, that's what I'm talking about!

Between the glib smugness of the libertarians and the long-winded gloom of technophobes there is a another way--the technorealist, the technoprogressive way. Keep dropping science Dale!

Posted by: Pace Arko on 6 Aug 05

An essay concerning law, social identity, inequality, conflict, crime, warfare and economic reality at the cusp of humanity’s entry into post-corporeal, post-Darwinian evolution

Introduction—Humanity’s entry into the post-Darwinian era

A draft of the human genome was released in the journal Nature in 2001 [1]. Today, the technology to sequence a human genome from scratch is being reduced to smallish, so-called biochips by companies like Affymetrix. In addition to finding their way into your doctor’s office in the not-too-distant future, such biochips are currently being used with other advanced technologies to study how our DNA circuitry works in real-time [2], as well as to compare how the circuitry changes from youth to old age [3]. Genome therapies, moreover, are currently working their way thru clinical trials, and are about to be performed on the unborn [4]. We have developed genetically modified foods, and have mixed monkeys with jelly fish [5] to name but a few examples of our growing prowess to treat genetic codes as so much software. Humanity, thus, for better or for worse, has entered the era of post-Darwinian evolution, and it will not be long before we begin tinkering with ways to extend our lives and augment our capabilities. Even more profoundly, it is not too far-fetched to imagine humanity entering a post-corporeal as well as a post-Darwinian era. Consider the recent development of neuroelectronic systems in particular [6] and the current clinical work to build direct brain/machine interfaces for paraplegics and quadriplegics [7]. The FDA has, in fact, recently granted approval to allow Cyberkinetics to begin a clinical trial in which small chips will be placed beneath the skulls of paraplegic patients to control computers by thought alone. Further down the line there are ongoing efforts to build brain chips to replace Alzheimer and stroke damaged brain tissue in general by Dr. Berger and colleagues at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Given the above developments and humanity’s propensity for seeking out competitive advantages, it is likely that in the not-too-distant future people will seek out elective, post-Darwinian brain augmentation procedures, and that new kinds of social conflict will arise. In other words, we should be expecting profound changes in social identity, inequality, conflict, crime, warfare, economic and legal reality to come to pass in the not-too-distant future. To this end, many people, several organizations and even the United States government are already beginning to address some of the issues of a post-Darwinian, post-corporeal future. The United States, for instance, under the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant CTS-0128860 cosponsored a large, extensive study entitled, “Converging technologies for improving human performance: nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science.” Additionally, in this case with the support of the Commerce Department, the Converging Technologies Bar Association (CTBA) was recently launched in New York. Please refer to the CTBA at Also recently, Professor George Khushf and several colleagues of the University of South Carolina won a 1.35 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the societal impact of nanotech and related trends such as nano, bio, info and cognitive technology convergence.

This essay will address some of the legal, social, and economic issues of a post-Darwinian future, pose many questions, and try to make the case that now is the time for active discussion regarding the development of legal and economic means to greatly reduce—if not altogether prevent—the dangers and pitfalls of the real future shock about to befall all of us, namely, our entry into a post-Darwinian evolutionary era. It will also touch on the possible natures and physical restrictions constraining a post-Darwinian evolution, and discuss our likely motivations for entry into a post-corporeal era, along with the possible attendant social and economic consequences, such as the possibility of the richest rich, as post corporeal beings, so rapidly consuming the world’s resources, the poorest poor are starved out of existence. It will conclude with a call for simulations of the world in the not-too-distant future along the lines of the popular game SimCity.

1. Post-Darwinian, post-corporeal scenarios

On the good side of the post-Darwinian, post-corporeal brain augmentation era, we can imagine that attorneys and medical doctors, for instance, would find it useful to store all case law and case histories, respectfully, for ready reference inside sophisticated cranial silico-bio-implants. Armies of financial analysts would find it advantageous to have all real-time data streams piped wirelessly into their heads along with all global news feeds. The flood of information would then be filtered and processed in real time by powerful data crunching neuroimplants to extract exploitable patterns in the less than efficient real world financial markets. The same could be said for soldiers, meteorologists, public health officials, and so on, all to humanity’s better good, but there is also a more deleterious side to the technology to consider. Imagine, say, an aggressive financial analyst who, without scruple, would hack into the mental resources of one of his coworkers to steal information, plant a debilitating electronic virus, or even more maliciously, plant a deadly electronic virus that not only kills its intended victim, but, because of an unintended mutation in the wild, ultimately extinguishes humanity. On a larger scale, consider the neuro-embedded spying, mind control, even population control which, enabled by the mass production and mass use of neuroimplants, may be pursued by governments, or by terrorist groups, or even by a powerful, individual industrialist in the business of supplying neuroimplants.

2. Viruses

Given today’s electronic viral instabilities and their ever increasing number and pace, it seems foregone to conclude that if/when humanity begins wide scale use of neuroimplants, the electronic virus problem will grow far worse and far more personal. A brain surgeon for instance, using a neural implant chip to better navigate his telerobotic arm around an MRI-based three-dimensional projection of some lesion might, being infected by some teenager’s electronic virus, snip a wrong section of tissue. Would his or her medical practice insurance cover electronic virus liability? What would be the legal standards required to prove that the severity of the electronic infection was the cause of the error versus the probability of it having been caused by a simple, old fashioned mistake? Would the manufacturer of the neurochip be fair game for a lawsuit, the claim being the manufacturer supplied insufficient or faulty virus protection in its product? Would the neurosurgeon who implanted the chip into the neurosurgeon who snipped the wrong section be sued as well? Where would the liability chain stop? Perhaps instead, either in anticipation, or, more likely, after too much damage has been done, lawmakers might require surgeons (and all other high stakes professionals) to undergo industry regulated virus scans before performing their specialties, cap legal damages, and cut the chain of liability to go no further than the producers of virus scanners. Perhaps lawmakers would relegate the ultimate responsibility of virus scanning to the appropriate government bodies only, say, the Federal Aviation Administration for scanning pilots, and similarly.

3. Cheating

As touched upon in the introduction, a financial analyst, say, with freshly augmented state-of-the-art neuro-implanted capabilities, such as wireless connections to the internet, and new powerful number crunching functions, and so forth, might try to hack in a competitor’s mind, via his competitor’s own older, lesser capable neuroimplants. What combination of legal deterrents would it take to discourage such behavior before it occurs, and what kind of policing methods would it take to enforce anti-hacking laws and/or to detect hacking crimes after the fact? How would the degrees of the severity of the hacking crime be defined, and, for that matter, what legal elements would have to be proved in a hacking case? Moreover, what types of sentencing guidelines should lawmakers set, and would the victim financial analyst and his or her company be subject to legal action from financially hurt clients for not having used the latest neuroimplant and virus scanning technologies?

4. Murder

Through many a Hollywood film, we have been presented with the idea that the internet may be used as an instrument to produce mass murder, e.g., the use of the internet to change airport approach patterns resulting in crashed airplanes for instance. Along this line, future heart rhythm defibrillators, like today’s more expensive automobiles, will likely come built with wireless internet connectivity capabilities to be used to report impending problems to patients and doctors, and even to enable temporary adjustments to be made under more dire circumstances. What is to prevent someone wishing to collect his or her inheritance sooner than later from attempting to kill his or her wealthy, defibrillator using benefactor? Again a whole host of attendant legal and technological questions follow.

5. Post-Darwinian, post-corporeal evolution and ultimate winners

The issues such as those discussed above, and their innumerable variations, have been predicated on human beings remaining, except for their neural implants, essentially as human as our species is today, circa 2004. I, however, very much doubt that once the neuro implant game begins, humanity will remain corporeal for very long afterwards. Research work going back more than a decade and reported in important, peer reviewed journals has demonstrated the joining of neuronal nets with electronics via impaled microelectrodes [8, 9, 10]. More recent research being conducted at the prestigious Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry has reported in Physical Review Letters successful, direct, noninvasive coupling of a silicon chip with the basic element of neuronal learning via electric fields [6]. Along these lines, Dr. Berger at the University of Southern California is attempting to develop a hippocampus brain prosthesis chip for Alzheimer’s disease. Given all this work, I can imagine the eventual development of hybrid silico-bacterial-nanobots designed to directly couple with a person’s brain tissue to (1) absorb and archive all the person’s knowledge in situ, (2) augment the person’s mental capabilities in situ, and (3) connect the person’s mind to the wireless internet. Such a person, much as we are oblivious of which brain cells drive our conscious thought, would, through his or her lifetime, remain oblivious that his or her brain cells, dying of old age, are being replaced by more robust, faster bio-silico replacements. He or she may even remain unaware that parts of his or her consciousness may begin to reside inside wirelessly linked extra-corporeal servers, which I dub IQ mindspace servers. With our frail human bodies being so susceptible to damage from bacterial and viral infections, cancers and accidents, why wouldn’t the natural progression to humanity’s use of neuroimplant technology be to embed itself directly into more robust, redundant IQ mindspace nano/bio-electronic/spintronic-based server farms spanning the Earth in bunkers, or orbiting it, or on the Moon, or beyond. In such an evolved post-Darwinian, post-corporeal world, all necessary interaction with the corporeal world to dig for energy resources, manufacture power plants, produce goods, run laboratories, explore the solar system, etc., could then be done telerobotically using (bio)robots ranging in size from the nano scale and upwards. Clearly, this path, should we take it, will spell the end of evolution by passive natural selection far more rapidly than our current post-genomic tinkering is already doing so. Lifespan lengths will then be indefinite, and humanity, moreover, will have entered the post-Darwinian, post-corporeal evolutionary phase.

5.1 Micro scale conflict, zombies and “unMurder”

In such a post-Darwinian, post-corporeal world, on a smallish, micro scale, a financial analyst might rather infiltrate, overwhelm and ultimately control a competitor’s very IQ mindspace’s will, making the victim an overpowered lackey—read zombie—with the victim’s cohorts, family and friends remaining none-the-wiser throughout some indefinite period. Would it seem reasonable to conclude that the victim would thus be rendered nonexistent, or should he or she be considered murdered and dead? Might it not be possible, the perpetrator having saved his victim’s mental assets in some kind of static memory device, that such a murder could be undone? For the undoing of such type of murder, more akin to a coma, would one have to demonstrate to the court by a preponderance of evidence, from family members, friends and associates, under an extensive psychological examination process, that, more likely than not, the victim’s characteristics have been restored wholly and with little or no significant corruption? Could spouses claim rape? Could employers claim sabotage? Finally, if the victim could not be legally proven to be unmurdered, would the “entity” remaining behind, unless family or friends took him or her in, be left out in the cold, having no access to any of his or her prior possessions or privileges. In such cases, would it be the government’s responsibility to take care of the hapless victims?

5.2 Macro scale conflict and ultimate winners

On a larger, macro scale, the issues of a post-Darwinian, post-corporeal world of competition and conflict would likely acquire a far more ominous tenor. Let us assume that business works as usual, and that the more money one has, the more one could and would use it to augment one’s own brain. Then an empire builder such as Mr. Bill Gates, whose wealth exceeds the first billion or so poorest people, now becoming blessed with an indefinite cyber-based lifespan and controlling an army of employees, agents, as well as an army of semi-autonomous robots could come to dwarf humanity in a way the mortals Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, or Stalin never could. A post corporeal Mr. Bill Gates, occupying one of the world’s largest IQ mindspace server farms, could in principle be running in the background all manner of (bio-molecular manufacturing based) factories, laboratories, fossil fuel extraction operations, and conventional, nuclear, solar or other types of unconventional power plants, with all of these facilities being manned by an army of semiautonomous robots ranging in size from the nano to the macro scale under his direct control, whilst he simultaneously occupies himself with manifold other activities. Moreover, unless he is either forced by some form of economic and/or legal system, or is philanthropically inclined, there is no fundamental reason why he should have to share his advancements with the remainder of humanity. Instead, he would rather likely not share his scientific and technological advancements for fear of giving any advantage to any potential, or real rivals of his own class. The richest rich will thus likely leave the poorer classes commensurately scientifically and technologically behind at an ever increasing pace, and this leads to two worst sub cases for the poorer classes, each of which could spell the end of humanity, save for a few ultimate winners, or even one ultimate winner.

Let me explain what I mean by the phrase one ultimate winner. Let us suppose that we are in that period when the human race is transforming itself into an advanced post-corporeal IQ mindspace society which, for technical and/or economical reasons, remains bound to Earth. To continue to exist, the society must continue to consume resources to extract and use useful energy, with the supply of useful energy being restricted to what can be extracted from the Earth, the moon thru tidal power or lithium mining, and captured from the Sun. These energy constraints, then, would be the physical constraints restricting the initial post-Darwinian, post-corporeal evolution.

Let us consider the worst case. Even if it is the case that the available supplies of energy, and the ability to exploit them with advanced technologies, are, by our present (corporeal) standards, illimitable, there is no apriori requirement that the transformation of humanity into IQ mindspace resources be done so equally or equitably according to current moral standards. At present, the poorest man and the wealthiest man cannot personally consume a significantly disparate amount of food and water on a day-to-day basis. But the wealthiest man, if his wealth be proportionately converted into IQ mindspace server capabilities (to store vast libraries of knowledge and acquire massive amounts of computational power to simulate market behavior, develop even more advanced technologies, and so forth) would dwarf the energy usage of the poorest man (reduced to a small IQ mindspace server if at all) by many orders of magnitude. Then, in much the same way that Earth’s current, most advanced species is using increasingly greater planetary resources at an ever accelerating pace—because its science and technology are accelerating at an ever increasing pace—extinction of the less advanced beings of the future will happen at an accelerating pace in proportion to the rate at which their resources get usurped. That is, the richest rich, by rapidly outpacing the science and technology of the rest of humanity, will rapidly come to consume so much of the energy from the Earth, the Moon and the Sun, to the maximum rate physics allows, that the poorer (lower IQ mindspace) classes will literally be starved out of existence. Then, ultimately, after the sun is no longer useful, the richest rich will either migrate elsewhere in the galaxy, or, should it be the case that for physical reasons interstellar space travel never becomes practicable, the richest rich too will die out when the Sun can no longer be tenably exploited, and the human story ends.

Two notes to the worst case:

(1) Regarding the world’s poorest people being converted into IQ mindspace entities, I wrote above that it might not happen at all to cast doubt that the conversion would necessarily happen to all of us. Not many of today’s billion poorest can readily buy a low-end personal computer, let alone a massive supercomputer server farm. Thus it may be the case that a large fraction of humanity may be dropped off the evolutionary tree, but, as explained in the preceding paragraph, this is not to say that the situation for most of the remainder of humanity, from those with enough assets to purchase entry level IQ mindspace servers up to, but not including the richest rich, is any less dire. As has been argued above, we could all of us, en masse, be starved out.

(2) Nothing so far expressed, including physical limitations, fundamentally precludes the eruption of IQ mindspace class warfare, and the possibility that only one future being might, by quashing out all other life (either directly or by passively starving the rest out) become the ultimate winner of Earth’s four billion year old evolutionary competition, except perhaps the speed of light. It may be the case that the Earth is simply too big (light taking about 0.064 seconds to travel half way around its circumference) to allow a single being to maintain coherence between distant parts of itself, especially if the situation is very fluid. The larger dinosaurs for instance, with long distances between their brains and tails, and slowly traveling nerve signals, likely found it very disadvantageous to only eventually feel their tails being bitten by some rival. Thus, instead of there being one ultimate Darwinian winner dominating the Earth, it may be the case that there will be a multitude of such grand winners, with the “size” of the area of their control being limited to the longest reaction times that still allow them to maintain coherence across their largest dimension within a fluid, competitive environment.

Given the latter case, namely, a population of grand winners, many more complex questions would arise. Among the first questions would concern population dynamics. Would there be tens of grand winners, or thousands, or even larger numbers of winners? Would they reproduce? It seems logical to believe that electronic/quantum computing beings would find sexual or asexual reproduction simple to do, and the process would likely consume little time. Among the winners and their progeny, we might then ask what kind of predator/prey dynamics would prevail. Control and coherence of the society, moreover, would also become an issue as the society spread out further from Earth, first reaching the moon and nearby planets, then venturing further out yet. Two great sources for further reading regarding many possible futures of post corporeal and arbitrarily advance life, each providing many references, are, respectively, Barrow and Tippler [11] and Kurzweil [12].

6. A Different post-Darwinian future—A better case

It is well researched and documented that collections of people working together on a common problem make better collective decisions the majority of the time than individuals themselves do [13]. Perhaps, if it cannot not be rigorously proved by iron clad mathematical argument, it can at least be reasonably demonstrated through various game theoretic studies that the net value of humanity would rise faster in a post corporeal world wherein everyone is allowed to continue to exist in peace, and no one person (or small group of persons) is allowed to dominate the world through unrestricted, electronic post-Darwinian, post-corporeal warfare. Such a demonstration would then provide humanity with a rational motivation for a smooth, controlled, legally regulated, economically constrained transition to post corporeal life. Yet even if the opposite were true according to theoretical modeling—that, in other words, the net value of humanity would grow more rapidly with unrestricted Darwinian warfare being allowed—I can imagine that very few people would willingly give up their existence for some mathematically demonstrable greater, but abstract good. Thus, there will either be a powerful and rational reason, or a powerful, self-preservation-based motivation to seek out a controlled, policy-based transition to post-corporeal life. Two simplistic, first order cases come to mind.

Sub case I: Individuals are not allowed to transfer themselves to superior IQ mindspace servers. Everyone will share equally the fruits of all scientific and technical advances.

Sub case II: Individuals may transfer themselves to IQ mindspace servers with capacities/capabilities commensurate to their wealth. However, most economic relationships existing prior to the post corporeal transformation will remain intact. Mr. Bill Gates will be required to keep his secretary. His secretary however, no longer a corporeal being, will not be required to use the services of a dentist. Dentists will have to find some new role in the post-corporeal world. Again, everyone will share equally the fruits of all scientific and technical advances. This post-corporeal transition will cause economic displacements much like the industrial revolution did. Certain elements of the workforce, as weavers and gun makers were once obviated by machines, will too be obviated, but novel opportunities will likely arise if history is any guide.

Any such physical limits as those expressed above, designed to prevent a single, singular winner (or smallish group of winners) from ultimately usurping all resources would likely then lead to new kinds of legal and economic systems also with novel predator/prey resource relationships quite apart from those of today and yesteryear, or they might lead to a strange admixture of old and new systems.
7. Conclusions and future work

Currently, we are in a period when our sciences and technologies are rapidly fusing together such that an advancement in one field rapidly parlays itself into advances in other fields. Consider as an instance the advancement of DNA biology in part leading to DNA computation, and conversely, the use of advanced robotics, powerful computers, and advanced computational algorithms to decipher our DNA-based genome. It follows then, unless there are limitations we have yet to run into, that the greater our scientific and technological capabilities become, the increasingly faster we develop even more advanced scientific and technological capabilities, including those which enable our fusion with our technologies. Certainly there can be no denying that we have steadfastly, and in my opinion, ineluctably, entered a post-Darwinian era which may rapidly, within a few decades, go post-corporeal. Accordingly, as is the case with the United States Social Security, and its aging population base, we are beginning to face unprecedented social, legal, economic, and political ramifications which need to be addressed now, before all hell breaks loose. If Darwinian evolution is about biological systems exploiting every possible, physically allowed niche and propagating the most fit specimens through natural, passive selection, without moral, man-made considerations, there is no fundamental reason post-Darwinian evolution—with or without a post-corporeal transformation—should, apart from involving active selection, be in any way less indifferent to us, unless we make it so. We need to begin to study these impending possibilities now. Thus again, now—before it is too late and only one, or a few winners walk the Earth—is when we should be asking what means the remainder of us poorer people might use to avoid our passing away into the dying of the light. To this end, I believe it would be not only interesting, but also of the utmost importance, to not only begin to simulate the social, legal, economic predator/prey systems imagined above under various physical limitations, but many more situations so that we may begin to ferret out those solutions we can all of us be reasonably happy with during our post-Darwinian and/or post-corporeal transformation. Perhaps a good beginning would be the use of games such as SimCity, modified to play out various post-Darwinian, post-corporeal scenarios, e.g., stock broker versus stock broker, etc. Along these lines, Professor Ian Lustick at the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, is modeling the social structure of Pakistan with a Sims-like game. Someone out there should seek grant money to do the same thing for post-Darwinian, post-corporeal societies.

PS--My scifi book (ISBN 1419609440) is designed to popularize the notions in this essay. The "Buy it now" link will be added by, BUT for now, the "1 used & new" link works fine. With warmest regards: thanks.


[1] The International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium (IHGSC) , “A Physical Map of the Humane Genome”, Nature 409, 934 - 941 (2001)

[2] Duggan, D. J., M. Bittner, Y. Chen, P. Meltzer and J. M. Trent. 1999. Expression profiling using cDNA microarrays. Nature Genetics 21:10–14.

[3] Ly et. al., “Mitotic Misregulation and Human Aging,” Science 2000 287: 2486-2492
[4] BBC News, “Hope for gene transplants in womb”, ,30 March 2004

[5] A. W. S. Chan, K. Y. Chong, C. Martinovich, C. Simerly, G. Schatten, "Transgenic Monkeys Produced by Retroviral Gene Transfer into Mature Oocytes," Science, Vol. 291, pp. 309-312 (January 12, 2001).

[6] R. A. Kaul, N. I. Syed, and P. Fromherz, “Neuron-Semiconductor Chip with Chemical Synapse between Identified Neurons”, Physical Review Letters, Vol. 92, No. 3, Jan. 2004.

[7] Duke Med News, “Human Studies Show Feasibility of Brain-Machine Interfaces,” 23 March 2004,

[8] D. Kleinfeld, F. Raccuia-Behling, and H.J. Chiel, Biophys. J. 57, 697, 1990

[9] Y. Yarom, Neuroscience 44, 263, (1991)
[10] A. A. Sharp et al., J. Neurophysiol. 69, 992 (1993)

[11] J. D. Barrow and F. J. Tippler, “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle”, Oxford University Press, Walton Street, Oxford OX2 6DP, 1986

[12] R. Kurzweil, “The Age Of The Spiritual Machine”, Viking, Penguin Group, Penguin Putman Books, Ltd., 275 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A., 1999

[13] Heiner R. A., “The Collective Decision Problem, and the Theory of Preference”, Economic Inquiry, 1981, vol. 19, issue 2, pages 297-332

Posted by: Alex Alanz, PhD on 11 Aug 05



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