Guest Post: Damien Williams on The Confrontation-of-Ontological-Terror Squad

Posted by on March 14th, 2013

The next in our occasional series of guest posts, Damien Wolven Williams on the maladaptive forces at work in the TranshumanFuturePresent:

The Confrontation-of-Ontological-Terror Squad

The distribution of the future is still uneven, but more shocking than that is the fact that some people are actively working to keep it that way. More than large corporations with billions of dollars in vested interests, grass-roots movements have sprung up which claim to peak for “the people.” Indeed, there are currently groups at work which see themselves as seeking to make this world safe for “normal” humans and “natural” systems, and to keep those people and systems free from the interference of those forces which would augment, mechanise, or otherwise alter them.

Recently a group calling themselves “Individuals Tending Toward Savagery” has claimed responsibility for the 2011 high-profile assassination of a biotechnologist, and the explosion at the Pemex Executive Tower in Mexico, earlier this year. Leaving aside the fact that this latter event was reported to be due to a gas leak, the fact that a group would even lay claim to such activities and events should be the focus of our discussion, and that’s mainly because they’re not alone in their efforts. More and more people are taking to the streets, and the internets and the airwaves to protest the idea of biotechnology, nanotechnology, cybernetics, and other so-called transhumanist ideas. There is even a new group which calls itself (for fuck’s sake) Stop The Cyborgs. That is their actual name.

Now I could go into a very long rant about the nature and use of language and what that reflects about our present mental states as well as what those choices mean for our future stages of perception and our likelihood to accept new things. I could talk about how, if we continually tie the idea of “cyborgs” to the definition of “Non-Human Machine Hybrids Which Must Be Feared,” then the self-fulfilling prophecy of that definition will be harder and harder to escape. I could tell you that if you keep telling people that they should be afraid of something of which they’re already suspicious, then you’re not engaging in anything like critical, thoughtful discourse, or a meaningful engagement with our future-present. But you know all of that, already. If you’re here, reading this, you’re probably well aware of how all of this works. What you may not recognise–in fact what it may be extremely difficult for you to recognise–is that not everyone around you understands that there is a necessary engagement with the complexity of elements which make our world, if we are to do more than run and hide from the scary new technological aspects of our lives.

Groups like ITS and STC are not news. They’re people who feel as though the march of our technological progress is outstripping that of our ethical and moral progress, and that something must be done to prevent us from losing our “real selves,” and maybe they’re right. Perhaps we do need to take a long look at what is we create and become, and make sure that we are aware of the potential for effects we did not intend to cause. But this? Assassinations, bombings, and full-scale bans of technology which they themselves admit they do not yet fully understand in terms of either function or scope of application? That’s just loom-smashing for the 21st century. That Luddites exist isn’t earth-shattering news, by any stretch, but the real issue has never been that people “hate” new technology, for what it does to “humanity.” The problem with Luddism and Neo-Luddism is that it represents a perspective which takes the ever-widening aspects of our emerging future and reacts to them with blanket fear and distrust, rather than a wary hope.

Blind hope is a naive proposition. It is one in which we sit in optimism, absent any evidence that it might actually pay off in that direction. It is one which ignores the very real dangers and pitfalls of new situations, and the opportunities for unintended consequences to rear their heads. However, the fallacious notion of the “slippery slope” of technological progress– that it’ll cause us to descend into a dystopian future where everything we are and do is controlled by corporations, or disassembled into grey goo–is one based in blind fear. These have the same basic components, they’re just pointed in different directions. Blind fear takes something new, something unknown, and says that unknowns are terrifying and should be destroyed before they can destroy us. Blind fear says that there is nothing good which can come from the new. And while the groups in question may not see themselves as reactionary, on an even reading it’s hard to see them as anything but.

What is the nature of technology that we drive toward? Why do we drive toward it, at all? How do we apply that motivation, and what do we value in the mechanisms and effects of our creation? These are the questions that we can ask, if we don’t want to be blindly optimistic or pessimistic about our future. We can ask these questions and then seek to address them, recognising that whatever answers we find may not be–and most likely will not be–permanent solutions to our problems. There are groups working now, in academia, public policy, and practical solution-building to help people think of different things than the utopian promise and the dystopian terror of our current work at building a future for ourselves.

In a forthcoming paper, I write the following:

…the field of cybernetics relies heavily on the notion of an interconnected, reflexive system of interactions. Therefore, any conversations about what the world “actually looks like” when we technologically augment ourselves to remove the factors of mediation from between ourselves, our creations, and the act of their creation will be dependent on humanity’s ability to apprehend whatever perceptual and conceptual changes arise as a result of that reflexive interaction. As we deal with how other people approach our implants, modifications, and appropriations of technology, we have to deal with how that changes what they see of us. In a very real sense, the cyborg’s identity is directly connected to the continuing project of becoming and continuing to be a cyborg. In fact, being a cyborg in the contemporary sense can be said to be entirely about being at least one step “ahead” of the baseline for human technological interaction. What that means is, staying ahead of the curve of whatever it means to be “Human” today—which may, in fact, be what it meant to be a “Cyborg,” yesterday. But this is not new…

…as Donna Haraway noted in her seminal “Cyborg Manifesto,” the language of this cybernetic feedback loop is not one relegated only to humanity and its processes, but is also a framework which can be used to describe the state of nature, as a whole. Taking this tack, we can come to understand that all of nature is involved in an integrated process of adaptation, augmentation, and implementation which, far from being a simple Biological-Or-Technological division is, instead, a process or a system of becoming.

What I mean, here, is that those perceptions of self that are tied to that of which we are “naturally” composed–our biological and “base” components– has been under revision since we have been able to look at it and recognise it as a thing we possess. The questions of “what makes us human,” and “what makes us natural” have been mooted in hundreds of cultures for thousands of years, and we are no closer to a single answer, now, than when we started. Why? Because we keep changing. Everything that we are shifts and alters in reaction to our questions about what we are. Does this mean that we should thus stop seeking answers, and thus stop progressing? Obviously not.

We have a responsibility to approach hard questions while recognising that we may not always like the answers we get, and we have a duty to honestly assess the negative, positive, and unknown consequences of our actions. The philosophical and political aspects of these debates are not merely academic questions, to be tossed about from armchair to armchair; they have repercussions in the everyday lives of individuals and societies, repercussions of an existential and immediate nature. If we don’t do everything we can to engage these concerns and honestly grapple with them, we run the risk of falling headlong into a future where self-styled anarchist terrorists kill scientists who are literally trying to make the world a better place; a future where “Bio-Humans Only” signs adorn establishments to keep out people with any kinds of implanted technology; a future where corporations do use seemingly innocuous people and technology to monitor and record everyone’s every move, and use algorithms to patent and trademark words and phrases in combination, in real time. Because that will be the only future we were able to see for ourselves; the one we talked about and feared and reacted to the strongest.

The self-fulfilling prophecy of the dystopian future isn’t our only option, but first we we have to recognise and address the fact that some don’t even understand that the class “Options for the Future” is a thing which exists.

Damien Patrick Williams is a writer, essayist, autonomous-created-intelligence- and cyborg-rights-advocate, and instructor of philosophy. He has written and presented on the intersections of popular media, politics, philosophy, and future technology, and is currently raising funds to get to his presentation at the 15th International Meeting and Conferences on Virtual Reality and Converging Technologies in Laval France, next week.


Fringe Science posters

Posted by on April 23rd, 2012

These posters are what every young doktor needs for hir lab door / computronic wallpaper:

Click through for higher rez. All these and much more over on The Geekerie etsy site.

via io9


Nanotech-fibre gas mask created at Cornell

Posted by on April 13th, 2011

From PhysOrg:

A new Cornell cloth that can selectively trap noxious gases and odors has been fashioned by a senior into a mask and hooded shirts inspired by the military.

The garments use metal organic framework molecules (MOFs) and cellulose fibers that were assembled in assistant fiber science professor Juan Hinestroza’s lab to create the special cloth.

MOFs, which are clustered crystalline compounds, can be manipulated at the nanolevel to have cages that are the exact same size as the gas they are trying to capture, said Jennifer Keane ’11, a fiber science and apparel design (FSAD) major in the College of Human Ecology.

Keane worked with Hinestroza and fiber science postdoctoral associate Marcia Da Silva Pinto to create the gas-absorbing hood and mask. Some of the basic science behind this project was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

fuckyesnanotechgasmasks

At first the process did not work smoothly. “These crystalline molecules are like a powder that cannot easily become part of cloth,” Da Silva Pinto noted. After months of trying to attach the particles to the fiber, the researchers realized that, “The key was to bring the fiber to the particle … It was a real paradigm shift,” she said.

“Now we can make large surfaces of fabric coated with MOFs, and we are looking at scaling up this technology to nanofibers,” said Hinestroza. “This type of work would only be possible at a place like Cornell where you have this unique merging of disciplines, where a fashion designer can interact easily with a chemist or a materials scientist.”

Though trained as a chemical engineer, Hinestroza said he likes “to work with designers because they think very differently than scientists. I love that because that’s where the real creativity comes, when you have this collision of styles and thinking processes.”

via Alex Vagenas


NanoForest

Posted by on March 4th, 2009

Nano carbon tubes, in many shapes and sizes.

The image above is a composite of many images of carbon nanotubes grown on silicon wafers or in cavities etched in the wafers. Each structure is made up of thousands of nanotubes or more. The catalyst that starts off the nanotubes’ growth is visible under some of them as a dark, shadowlike spot. Structures that appear withered were dipped in liquid after they grew; as the liquid evaporated, the nanotubes shriveled.

Link and photo via nextnature.net.


Tiny Radio Tags Track Bees

Posted by on November 14th, 2008

    - photo via nationalgeographic.com

It’s no mystery to scientists that bees have been disappearing and or dying off in record numbers. Besides contributing billions of dollars to the US economy, they play an important role in the pollination of crops. That apple you are eating? Not possible with out a little help from the honey bee.

Tracking their movement has come one step closer:

In the bee-tracking project, Wikelski and his colleagues are using transmitters the size of three or four grains of rice, powered by a tiny hearing-aid battery and with a crystal-controlled oscillator and an antenna measuring up to an inch and a half.

The transmitters, at a featherweight 0.006 ounces (170 milligrams), are small and light enough to attach to the backs of bees from two relatively hefty species, weighing .02 ounces (600 milligrams), with just a bit of eyelash glue and superglue.

Even loaded up with these backpacks, nearly a third of their body weight, “they fly beautifully,” says Wikelski.

The transmitters allow the scientists to track the insects as long as the bees remain within a few miles of their receiver. So far Wikelski and his team have fitted tags on orchid bees at Panama’s Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and conducted successful indoor tests in a New Jersey lab with North America’s biggest bee species, the carpenter bee.

These early tests are proof of concept. Most bees are much smaller than orchid and carpenter bees. In fact, many wild bee species are the size of just a pine nut.

The tags are tiny, but need to be smaller still for honey bees. Although they have tiny robots, having a camera on a bee would make for excellent surveillance. They would just have to avoid being swatted.

Link and photo via nationalgeographic.com.


Tiny Electric Generator May Replace Batteries in Implants

Posted by on November 11th, 2008

    - photo via medgadget.com

A flexible tiny pump that generates electricity could power future implantable medical devices. Georgia Tech researchers used zinc oxide wires that scratch against an electrode to generate a current, clearly showing potential for use within the constantly moving body.

As the article states, a larger size was chosen for ease of production, but this application can be scaled down for nano applications.


    - photo via medgadget.com

Link and photos via medgadget.com.


Omniphobic Material

Posted by on November 11th, 2008

From newscientist.com, comes video of a new material that is extremely omniphobic, causing even oil to bead up on its toadstool surface like water. The commercial applications are massive, but they are tempered with the ability of the material to survive the rigors of daily work.


Tiny Backpacks for Cells

Posted by on November 6th, 2008

MIT engineers have outfitted B-lymphocytes and T-cells with “backpacks” that could one day allow for direct delivery of drugs to cancer sites or assist in the rebuilding of damaged tissue. The cells can be directed using a magnetic field and the tiny patch doesn’t interfere in the cells normal activities.

Link, photos and video via MIT.


Bio-Computer Created Inside Living Cell

Posted by on October 16th, 2008

Made of pieces of engineered RNA, which was assembled inside a yeast cell:

A newly developed bio-computer allows scientists to “program” molecules to carry out “commands” inside cells.

Such devices could one day allow humans to manipulate biological systems directly, said the California Institute of Technology’s Christina Smolke, who co-authored the study, which will be published tomorrow in the journal Science.

Bio-computers might eventually serve as brains for producing biofuels from cells, for example, or to control “smart drugs” that medicate only under certain conditions.

From nationalgeographic.com.


New Nanotechnology Paints For Hospitals Could Kill Superbugs

Posted by on September 11th, 2008

New nanotechnology paints for walls, ceilings, and surfaces could be used to kill hospital superbugs when fluorescent lights are switched on, scientists heard at the Society for General Microbiology’s Autumn meeting being held this week at Trinity College, Dublin.

Scientists have discovered that extremely small, nanoparticle-sized forms of titanium dioxide can kill bacteria and destroy dirt when they absorb ultraviolet light (UV) energy from the sun. They produce active molecules which clean up the painted surfaces.

The researchers looked at the survival of the food poisoning bacterium Escherichia coli on different formulations of paints containing the titanium nanoparticles under different types and intensities of lights. “We found that paints containing titanium dioxide are more successful at killing bacteria if the concentration of the nanoparticles is stronger than in normal paint. Our best results showed that all the E. coli were killed under ordinary fluorescent lights,” said Lucia Caballero.

Link via sciencedaily.com.


New Disease-fighting Nanoparticles Look Like Miniature Pastries

Posted by on August 16th, 2008

      - photo via sciencedaily.com

The nanobialys are an important addition to the stock of diagnostic and disease-fighting nanoparticles developed by researchers in the Consortium for Translational Research in Advanced Imaging and Nanomedicine (C-TRAIN) at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. C-TRAIN’s “smart” nanoparticles can deliver drugs and imaging agents directly to the site of tumors and plaques.

The nanobialys weren’t cooked up for their appealing shape — that’s a natural result of the manufacturing process. The particles answered a need for an alternative to the research group’s gadolinium-containing nanoparticles, which were created for their high visibility in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Gadolinium is a common contrast agent for MRI scans, but recent studies have shown that it can be harmful to some patients with severe kidney disease.

Link and image via sciencedaily.com.


Nanoscale Light-bending Material Could be the Key to Invisibility

Posted by on August 11th, 2008

The age-old fantasy of rendering objects invisible took a sharp step toward reality Sunday when scientists said they had created a material that can bend visible light in three dimensions.

For now the vanishing act takes place on a nanoscale, measured in billionths of a meter.

But there is no fundamental reason why the same principles cannot be scaled up one day to make invisibility cloaks big enough to hide a person, a tank or even a tanker, the scientists say.

The groundbreaking experiments, led by Xiang Zhang at the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, were reported simultaneously in the British journal Nature and the U.S. journal Science.

From Discovery.com


‘Edible Optics’ Could Make Food Safer

Posted by on August 11th, 2008

Imagine an edible optical sensor that could be placed in produce bags to detect harmful levels of bacteria and consumed right along with the veggies. Or an implantable device that would monitor glucose in your blood for a year, then dissolve.

Scientists at Tufts University’s School of Engineering have demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to design such “living” optical elements that could enable an entirely new class of sensors. These sensors would combine sophisticated nanoscale optics with biological readout functions, be biocompatible and biodegradable, and be manufactured and stored at room temperatures without use of toxic chemicals. The Tufts team used fibers from silkworms to develop the platform devices.

“Sophisticated optical devices that are mechanically robust yet fully biodegradable, biocompatible and implantable don’t exist today,” said principal investigator Fiorenzo Omenetto, associate professor of biomedical engineering and associate professor of physics. “Such systems would greatly expand the use of current optical technologies in areas like human and livestock health, environmental monitoring and food quality.”

“For example, at a low cost, we could potentially put a bioactive silk film in every bag of spinach, and it could give the consumer a readout of whether or not E. coli bacteria were in the bag—before the food was consumed,” explained David Kaplan, professor and chair of the biomedical engineering department.

Link via sciencedaily.com.


Pollen-coated bullet could make its mark on criminals

Posted by on August 2nd, 2008

Pollen and grit are the components of a new coating for gun cartridges that UK researchers hope will help to identify criminals that use firearms.

Under their scheme, batches of cartridges would be labelled with unique “nanotags”, invisible to naked eye, designed to attach themselves to hands, gloves and clothing of anyone that handles a cartridge. Some of the tags would remain on the spent cartridge casing.

The tags could perform a similar, but more authoritative role to the specks of unintended explosives residue sometimes used to tie people to guns or crimes.

The nanotags are made from pollen, and a mix of grains of crystal oxides such as zirconia, silica and titanium oxide. Using varying combinations of crystal and pollen grains, it is possible to make large numbers of unique tags.

“The most challenging part of the project was nanoengineering a coating robust enough to withstand the [high temperatures of] firing and that would still release the tags when touched,” he added.

Sermon says that the tags are designed to be compatible with current cartridge manufacturing processes and could be implemented within 12 months of companies or government supporting their introduction.

In addition to the tags, the researchers are working on a way to have gun cartridges retain skin cells from anyone that handle them, for later DNA-based forensic analysis. Micro-scale grit can effectively trap cells and protect DNA from the heat of firing. Today, cartridges are smooth and rarely retain DNA or fingerprints.

The team is also looking to apply that technique to knives so they retain DNA more reliably.

Link via newscientist.com.


DARPA: Still Building the Future One Supersoldier at a Time

Posted by on July 17th, 2008

Next Big Future has a nice roundup of current DARPA supersoldier projects.  Some of my favourites are:

A major focus is on helping the soldier’s body to better deal with trauma and damage. One such is the “pain vaccines” coming out of a program at Rinat Neuroscience [Pfizer acquired Rinat Neuroscience in 2006]. Researchers are hopeful these “will block the sense of pain for almost a month,” describes DARPA’s Michael Goldblatt.

The substance does is block intense pain in less than 10 seconds. Its effects last for 30 days. It doesn’t stifle your reactions. If you touch a hot stove, you still have the initial shock; your hand will still automatically jerk away. But after that, the torment is gone. The product works on the inflammatory response that is responsible for the majority of subacute pain. If you get shot, you feel the bullet, but after that, the inflammation and swelling that trigger agony are substantially reduced.

And…

The plan is for new body armor that, instead of Kevlar, is filled with nano-materials that are connected to a computer. [Computer controlled liquid armor] It would normally be as flexible as regular uniform made of fabric. But, like how a crash-bag works inside a car, it would activate whenever the system detects a bullet strike and turn as hard as steel in an instant.

Gloves could turn into real-life brass knuckles.

The fabric could even be woven in with “nanomuscle fibers” that simulate real muscles, giving soldiers more an estimated “25 to 35 percent better lifting capability.” So myostatin strength boost to get to olympic athlete strength levels and then 25-35% boost from a soft suit. Use better exoskeletons for more strength enhancement.

From deflecting bullets to powers of invisibility, as military analyst Max Boot writes, such a suit truly “would give ordinary mortals many of the attributes of comic book superheroes.

Head back to Next Big Future for a lot more links and current military enhancement projects.


‘Nanohorns’ used to hack the immune system

Posted by on June 22nd, 2008

From New Scientist Tech:

Alberto Bianco and Hélène Dumortier at the CNRS Institute in Strasbourg, France, in collaboration with Maurizio Prato at the University of Trieste, Italy, gave carbon nanohorns to mouse white blood cells in a Petri dish. The macrophage cells’ job is to swallow foreign particles.

After 24 hours, most of the macrophages had swallowed some nanohorns. But they had also begun to release reactive oxygen compounds and other small molecules that signal to other parts of the immune system to become more active.

The researchers think they could tune that cellular distress call to a particular disease or cancer, by filling the interior of nanohorns with particular antigens, like ice cream filling a cone.

“The nanohorns would deliver the antigen to the macrophages while also triggering a cascade of pro-inflammatory effects,” Dumortier says. “This process should initiate an antigen-specific immune response.”


Nano-tech Process Produces Plastics That Are 10 Times More Stretchable

Posted by on June 9th, 2008

    - image via sciencedaily.com, courtesy of the American Chemical Society

Move over, Rumplestiltskin. Researchers in China report the first successful “electrospinning” of a type of plastic widely used in automobiles and electronics. The high-tech process, which uses an electric charge to turn polymers into thin fibers in the presence of electricity, produced plastic mats that can stretch 10 times more without breaking than the original material and could lead to new uses for the plastic, they say.

Link via sciencedaily.com


Cell ‘organs’ get plastic upgrades

Posted by on May 25th, 2008

Human cells could have their metabolisms upgraded without altering their genes by inserting tiny plastic packages of enzymes, Swiss researchers have shown. They hope the technique could allow advanced cancer therapies, or even upgrade a person’s metabolism.

The cells of multi-cellular organisms and some advanced single-celled organisms have internal compartments called organelles to carry out specialised metabolic functions. Researchers at University of Basel, Switzerland, used artificial polymer organelles to upgrade live human cells in a lab dish.

Meier and colleagues coated their polymer vesicles in a chemical that encouraged human white blood cells called macrophages to engulf them. The small capsules contained enzymes, just like natural organelles. The enzymes chosen produced fluorescent chemicals, signalling they were working without problems inside their new host.

The artificial organelle’s membrane can be chemically tuned to control which chemicals can pass through it and regulate the reactions inside, according to Wolfgang Meier, one of the researchers. “We call it a ‘nanoreactor’,” he says

Link via newscientist.com


Artificial Virus has Theraputic Potential

Posted by on May 21st, 2008

    - photo from io9.com

The first artificial virus was created in 2003 — to cure people, not kill them. A virus can deliver cures to cells just as easily as it delivers death. The problem with artificial viruses is that no one has been able to make them the proper shape to serve as a therapeutic delivery system. But now, Korean scientists have created a virus that could deliver a remedy directly to a patient’s cells with far greater efficiency than past attempts. The key lies in those Lovecraftian tentacles extending from the virus.

The Korean researchers used nanotechnology to build the shape of the virus, then added self-assembling molecules. The result: an artificial virus with the filament shapes seen in the image. Such a shape will allow it to last longer inside a person’s body.

Why is this important? Medication delivered directly to cells with an artificial virus is like using a professional assassin to take out your target. By comparison, conventional medication techniques are more like running around a city firing a shotgun in random directions. The other major bonus? That thing totally looks like some kind of microscopic spawn of Cthulhu.

Link via io9.com

Excellent.


Nanotechnology-Based Biosensor from NASA for Early Detection of Biohazards

Posted by on May 21st, 2008

    - Picture via medgadget.com

This NASA developed nanotechnology-based biosensor, designed to detect trace amounts of specific bacteria, viruses and parasites, has now been tested and licensed for commercialization by biosensor technology company Early Warning Inc., from Troy, N.Y.

From a NASA statement:

This biosensor will be used to help prevent the spread of potentially deadly biohazards in water, food and other contaminated sources.

NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in California licensed the biosensor technology to Early Warning Inc., Troy, N.Y. Under a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement, NASA and Early Warning jointly will develop biosensor enhancements. Initially, the biosensor will be configured to detect the presence of common and rare strains of microorganisms associated with water-borne illnesses and fatalities.

“The biosensor makes use of ultra-sensitive carbon nanotubes which can detect biohazards at very low levels,” explained Meyya Meyyappan, chief scientist for exploration technology and former director of the Center for Nanotechnology at Ames. “When biohazards are present, the biosensor generates an electrical signal, which is used to determine the presence and concentration levels of specific micro-organisms in the sample. Because of their tiny size, millions of nanotubes can fit on a single biosensor chip.”

Early Warning company officials say food and beverage companies, water agencies, industrial plants, hospitals and airlines could use the biosensor to prevent outbreaks of illnesses caused by pathogens – without needing a laboratory or technicians.

“Biohazard outbreaks from pathogens and infectious diseases occur every day in the U.S. and throughout the world,” said Neil Gordon, president of Early Warning. “The key to preventing major outbreaks is frequent and comprehensive testing for each suspected pathogen, as most occurrences of pathogens are not detected until after people get sick or die. Biohazards can enter the water supply and food chain from a number of sources which are very difficult to uncover.”

Early Warning expects to launch its water-testing products in late 2008.

Link via medgadget.com

Interesting this breaks, when the news hits of possible asbestos-like pathogenicity associated with mice and nano carbon tubes.