5 May 2009

Bainbridge, Converging Technologies and Human Destiny

by Corry Shores
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William Sims Bainbridge

Converging Technologies and Human Destiny


Bainbridge believes society is on the verge of collapse. Fertility's dropping. Countries secularize. Families are disintegrating. While at the same time, nanotechnology, biotechnology, information science, and cognitive sciences (NBIB) are all advancing. Some propose that we "converge" those technologies so to accelerate human advancement to a level that is beyond human (that is, to post-humanity).

Also recently there have been historical events that undermine "the entire basis of ethical decision-making." Thus we must "seek a new basis for ethics in the intellectual unification of science and the power to do good inherent in the related technological convergence."

Bainbridge will address these issues:
1) the uneasy relation between science and religion, especially in the context of
2) fertility decline, and
3) the prospects for "a new and self-sustaining civilization" created by NBIC technologies.

Bainbridge concludes that this new civilization should be interstellar.

I Introduction

New nanotechnologies are converging with biotechnologies, information technologies, and cognitive sciences (NBIC). Together they offer humanity the promise to radically recreate itself and its world. These radical changes may come rapidly. Hence some ethical philosophers argue we should proceed cautiously. Bainbridge counters. Actually, we must accelerate these technological developments. Humanity's future depends on it.

There are two possible futures for humanity:
1) Entropy: Society fragments. Religious factions rule. Technology and science become halted.
2) Rebirth: Humanity transcends beyond the traditional human condition. This is made possible by NBIC technologies.

Humanity could populate outer space. And it can transform its own nature.

II The Impending Demographic Catastrophe

Many people worry about the apocalyptic consequences of overpopulation. Really our problem will be extinction. We use birth control too much. The threat is that the number of babies we produce might fall below the number of people dying. Eventually there will not be any humans left, Bainbridge argues.

World population is growing however. We are at above 6.1 billion. And we are growing at a rate of 1.2 percent.

Half the population growth occurs in six countries: India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.

However, in many European countries, populations have begun to stabilize or even shrink. Russia and Ukraine are also losing population. In many other western nations as well fertility isinsufficient to sustain the population over the long term.

III. Family and Aging

Families are disintegrating. Also, our economies will not be able to sustain the elderly as their numbers increase.

Life expectancy continually increases. This is mostly due to improvements in health education and public sanitation. If we really want to increase our lifespan, we do not need advanced medical technologies as much as we need to exercise, reduce dietary fat, and avoid smoking. Our medical advances are too slow to have much of an impact on keeping us alive. Consider the slow progress in cancer treatments.

IV. Secularization and Convergence

Another problem is that religious fundamentalists tend to have more children then secular parents. And yet, "science and rational bureaucracies tend to erode faith in the supernatural."

Brain science tells us we do not need the idea of a soul to explain our mental life.

But the sciences have not eroded the beliefs of the faithful. For, they tend to not be scientifically curious enough to learn new scientific facts.

Bainbridge speaks of the "cosmological challenge" in science that should erode faith in God. The sum of everything in the cosmos might equal zero, because all the positives and negatives cancel out. Thus, no work is needed to create the cosmos. Hence there is no need for a God. Also, if there is infinite variation in the cosmos, then we must expect that somewhere there is law and order and intelligence. So the existence of humanity is purely a matter of probability, and not divine intervention.

NDIC technologies promise to uncover real scientific mysterious that cause the cosmos and us, and not just mythologies.

Nietzsche's over-man crossed a tightrope. He left religion behind. And he carried on to a "new land where we no longer have to live by illusions, where wisdom and procreation are compatible, where truth and life are one." We must not look down as we cross-over.

[The text continues. It is available here.]

Bainbridge, William Sims. "Converging Technologies and Human Destiny." in The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, Volume 32, Issue 3 May 2007 , pages 197 - 216.
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