Category Archives: man has invented his doom

Man, still inventing his doom

At the beginning of the year I started keeping track of certain science stories related to genetics, cybernetics, and artificial intelligence. I wanted to see what developments were out there that might contribute to the following: trends in genetics, cybernetics, and artificial intelligence, each of them accelerating individually and converging collectively, make it very likely that a fundamental transformation of the human species is at hand. This is likely to happen more or less instantly in evolutionary time. Even on the scale of our day-to-day lives, it’s likely to occur well before the end of the century, and is thus something many of us might live to see, especially in as much as these trends involve medical advances as well.

You can see my Q1 and Q2 recaps in previous postings. For Q3, even with me out of the country and not paying much attention for the month of August, several interesting stories have appeared:

Tiny New Battery is Printable

Embryonic stem cells used to create human sperm
Military Develops ‘Cybug’ Spies
Contact lens can dispense drugs to eyes
Gel heals injured brain and bone
Gene Therapy Cures Colorblindness in Monkeys
Brain scan reveals what you’ve seen
Micorsoft researcher converts his brain into E-memory

Even in this few months worth of headlines you can see potential for expanded lifespans, mobile robots powered by lightweight power sources and human brains interfaced with computers. To quote the prophet David Bowie:

Let me make it plain
You gotta make way for the homo superior

Man has invented more doom!

You may have seen my blog from earlier in the year tracking stories that had to do with the gathering forces of genetic manipulation, cybernetics and artificial intelligence that, I would (and d0) content stand to fundamentally transform our species into something new within short order (less than 100 years, quite possibly less than 50 years). That blog was illustrated with stories I’d run across in the first quarter of the year. I thought I’d update it now with some from Q2:

Robot scientists can think for themselves

MIT droids tend plants

Mind-Reading Device Sends Twitter Messages

DNA Nanotechnology making custom shapes

Flesh-eating robot

Genetically engineered monkeys pass on glow to offspring

Human Language Gene Changes the Sound of Mouse Squeaks

Synthetic fiber may cure blindness

Robot displaying emotions unveiled

Robot surgeon finds tiny shrapnel

Australian scientists kill cancer cells with “Trojan horse”

So what do you think? Has man, as Bob Dylan puts it in License to Kill, “Invented his doom”? What does “doom” mean in this context? Unparalleled disaster, or a bold new change?

Man has invented his doom…

Those of you who know me well know that I am a follower of the prophet Bob Dylan. He, of course, hates to be thought of in those terms, and I can entirely see his point vis-à-vis never intending that status for himself or wanting others to see him that way. As any devotee of the Old Testament can tell you, though, prophets are always reluctant. The initial response to the prophetic call (cf. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc.) can be summarized as, “Whoa, hey, wait a minute, I think you’ve got the wrong guy.”

The marker of prophethood is really more the quality of the revelation that demands to be expressed through the prophet rather than the prophet’s giving assent to bear that message. In that sense, I will go ahead and consider Dylan a prophet, and will proceed to cite one of the passages from his 1983 song “License to Kill”:

Man has invented his doom,The first step was touching the moon.

I always found this refrain to be particularly evocative. It brings to mind a consistent theme in classical apocalyptic literature, that a fundamental rearrangement in human affairs is at hand, and that it is augured in by signs in the heavens. It also features one of the motifs of post-modern apocalypticism, that our own technological overreaching is responsible for the setting the final sequence of events in motion.

This is more or less what I think is already occurring: between advances in computers, human-machine interactions and genetic engineering, the seeds are being laid for the creation of a post-human state that will fundamentally change our existence as we know it. Before the end of the century, we will give birth to (or become (or both, simultaneously)) a new species that will exceed us. Our “doom”, if not necessarily in the sense of destruction, then in the sense of “destined end”. And new beginning…

So, inspired by Dylan and in honor of the recent end of Battlestar Galactica, which itself explored this idea of the consequences of a technological apotheosis and riffed off of Dylan, I’d like to share some links I’ve collected from the first quarter of this year that perhaps show our future, even now, taking form:

Brain-computer interface for gaming

Quantum releportation over 1 meter distance

Breakthrough makes human cloning more likely

FDA approves first drugs from genetically altered animals

Contact lens TV

Picture overview of robot developments

Man sees with bionic eye

Quick charging batteries could revolutionize world

Brain Scans Can Read Minds

Sugar-coated nanoparticles find hidden tumors

Robot scientists can think for themselves