28.11.03

NANOTECHNOLOGY - Your opinion counts!

The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering want your views on new health and safety, environmental, social and ethical issues nanotechnology might raise, as part of their public consultation on nanotech.

The document produced as part of the nanotechnology consultation is a sober, middle of the road sort of thing, which is fine as far as it goes, especially as it will help nip in the bud any scaremongering from neo-luddite groups. However, from an extropian point of view, it only offers a very limited and unimaginative vision of medium and long-term developments. The grey goo scenario is dealt with by estimating that, if at all possible, it will not be a worry before "perhaps 2080 at least", without a mention of active shields, and the possibility of ever achieving immortality, or a radically increased life expectancy, is not even deemed worth of consideration. The whole thing is dealt with with a single phrase in a "science fiction" section...

In short, we should be glad that this document suggests a pragmatic approach to the short-term development of nanotechnology, as this will eventually lead to the development of the type of transhumanist technologies we are interested in. However, a little injection of futurist comments from the public (i.e. us!) might be necessary...

...but act quickly: the deadline is the 5th of December 2003!

Find out more and download a PDF version of the document "Nanotechnology: view of Scientists and Engineers"

Submit you comments online

20.11.03

ExtroBritannia's December meeting: Transhuman Xmas!

The next ExtroBritannia lunch/get-together is scheduled for Saturday the 6th of December starting at 12,00 noon in London.

We are having an early Xmas event, so let's call it a Transhuman Xmas! ;-)

There is no specific theme to discuss, so all transhumanist-related subjects are welcome. Whether you are interested in the philosophical (extropy, transhumanism, immortalism), or the practical side of things (current life-extension strategies, including cryonics), whether your interest is technological (AI, bio/nanotech) or political (transhumanist activism), you are invited to come along for a chat and/or to ask questions over lunch and/or a drink.

If it's your first time at an ExtroBritannia meeting I'll be the guy clearly displaying a copy of Kurzweil's "The Age of Spiritual Machines" on the table.

We will meet at midday for lunch at "The Plough and Harrow" a Wetherspoon pub in Hammersmith and will be there most of the afternoon. The nearest tube station is Hammersmith (District, Piccadilly and Hammersmith and City lines).

120-124 King Street
Hammersmith
London W6 4QU
Tel: 0208 735 6020

PLEASE NOTE: you will see a Wetherspoon pub just outside the tube station, at the start of King Street, but that's not the right Wetherspoon. You will need to walk five minutes down King Street, past the King's Mall Shopping Centre for the Plough and Harrow.

MAP

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ExtroBritannia meetings are run in conjunction with Alcor UK:

http://www.alcor.org/AlcorUK.html

19.11.03

New facility opens in London with the goal of fostering debate on science and technology

From the Dana Centre website: "The Dana Centre marks a new direction in science communication: to challenge public perception and tackle contemporary science head on. This dynamic events space will bring the hottest themes in modern science to adults-only audiences through a programme of bold and innovative events. It will be a taboo-free centre and the place to talk science. The Dana Centre is a stylish, purpose-built venue, complete with a caf├Ębar, appealing to 18-45-year-olds. It is a place for them to take part in exciting, informative and innovative debates about contemporary science, technology and culture."

Sound like "our" sort of place! Any blog readers that have been there in person? If so, let us know what you think of the place on the mailing list, it could well be an attractive venue for future ExtroBritannia meetings.

12.11.03

Selecting the sex of a child is to be banned in the UK after a consultation exercise found the public outraged by the idea.

A Guardian article on the decision of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (the agency in charge or regulating fertility treatment).

Exceptions will be made for families where one gender would risk inheriting a serious genetic disorder such as haemophilia and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, but so-called "family balancing" will not be allowed, which will inevitably drive some parents to those countries (e.g. the United States) where sex selection is allowed.

There are two problems with this decision:

ONE - as transhumanists, we believe that "parents must be allowed to choose for themselves whether to reproduce, how to reproduce, and what technological methods they use in their reproduction. The use of genetic medicine or embryonic screening to increase the probability of a healthy, happy, and multiply talented child is a responsible and justifiable application of parental reproductive freedom. [...] Only in extreme and unusual cases might state infringement of procreative liberty be justified. If, for example, a would-be parent wished to undertake a genetic modification that would be clearly harmful to the child or would drastically curtail its options in life, then this prospective parent should be prevented by law from doing so." (from the Transhumanist FAQ, Version 2.0)
Sex selection and "family balancing" should not be considered to be extreme and unusual cases.

TWO - The HFEA justifies its decision by saying that the strength of public opinion on the subject left them little choice. However, no evidence that the practice of sex selection would be harmful to society has been presented, and this is what makes the HFEA's decision unacceptable. In an open society, majority-rule should not be allowed to regulate some aspect of individual conduct without a clear demonstration of the threat it poses to society. Sadly, the HFEA's decision is instead based on the general public's knee-jerk, "yuk factor" response to a new technology.