H+ Conversation Framework Shifting—Martine Rothblatt’s Book

I’ve just finished reading Martine Rothblatt’s Virtually Human: The Promise—and the Peril—of Digital Immortality. In this post I won’t get into the details or strength of her case that in the next decade or two we will see “mindclones,” digital copies of our identities existing alongside “us”. Stepping back a bit, what struck me about this work, published by St. Martin’s Press, is the ease by which an expert like Rothblatt discusses a variety of issues, all of which assume virtual human existence in the form of “mindclones” coming soon. I am aware that Rothblatt and the Terasem Movement, with which she is associated, is viewed in some quarters as fanciful. But Rothblatt brings credentials to the conversation that cannot easily be dismissed. She has a PhD in medical ethics and is no stranger to the scientific field, having started and served as CEO of a medical biotechnology company, United Therapeutics. Indeed, Rothblatt may be overly optimistic about the technological possibilities and the timeframe for achieving some of them. But I am struck by how ready Rothblatt—and she’s not the only one—is to discuss questions “mindclones” raise about kinship, voting, rights, privacy, sexuality, and, of course, religion. We have moved to an ease with such discussions that is quite different from the conversation framework in place when I started seriously following human enhancement technology and related questions just over a decade ago. One final PS. Despite the subtitle, The Promise—and the Peril—of Digital Immortality, the book is scarce on the “peril” side of the equation. Rothblatt pushes hard for digital immortality, and her book fits well in the tradition established by Ray Kurzweil, who contributes a foreword to the book.

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Human Gene Editing Summit Announced

The US National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Medicine, and counterparts in China and the UK have just announced the date for the much-awaited International Summit on Human Gene Editing.  The gathering will occur in Washington DC on Dec 1-3, 2015.  Details are limited at this point.

The unprecedented gathering is prompted by recent advances in gene editing techniques that allow for greater efficiency and precision, making it possible to edit genomic DNA in human embryos, something that a team of researchers in China announced earlier this year (see earlier post).  The new techniques, usually referred to as CRISPR/Cas9, represent a major advance in the basic technology of genetic manipulation.

The focus of this gathering will be on ethics, regulatory oversight, and the need for a common international standard for research, particularly when the DNA of human embryos is being edited or when modifications might pass indefinitely to future generations.  Many people will see this as having religious implications, and so it will be interesting to see whether religious perspectives are included in the agenda.

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Responsible Use of Human Gene-Editing Technologies

Back in May, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine announced that plans to address the emerging bioethics debate about the use of advanced gene editing technologies to modify the DNA in human embryos.  This technology  Continue reading

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The History of the Word “Transhumanism”

Have you ever wondered where the term transhumanism comes from?  The standard transhumanist literature speculates that it began with Julian Huxley, who published an essay endorsing transhumanism in 1957.

Thanks to some detective work by the distinguished historian Continue reading

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Editing the Human Germline: New Initiative Announced

The National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine just announced a major initiative that should help bring some focus to the international debate about human germline modification.  That can only be a good thing.

Recent advances in gene editing technology are bringing us closer to the day when it may be possible to alter human embryos in such a way that any future generations Continue reading

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The Future of Morality

I have always been fascinated by the future. It is that unknown part of history, a place where we pour all of our hopes, fears, and dreams. The inherent mystery of the future incites us to project our wildest imaginings into it. Yet, unlike pure fantasy or alternative worlds, in theory, we will meet the future someday. It is where our wildest imaginings meets the very real. It is the mystery of today that someday we will live.


Carta Marina, public domain, Wikipedia

Future-talk seems to be on the rise. In past centuries, imaginative obsession with the unknown was often set in geographic terms. Recall those wonderfully ornate Medieval and Renaissance maps replete with sea monsters and other speculative creatures on the fringes of the known world: “Here be dragons!” For them, the unknown was off the edge. For us, it’s out in front, somewhere in the future. Utopias that were once placed beyond the visible horizon are now set beyond the temporal horizon. Continue reading

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Neandertals in the Family Tree: Update on Interbreeding

Fresh evidence now strongly suggests that interbreeding with Neandertals occurred in Europe.

That’s a big surprise.  For several years now, we have known that the evidence supports the idea that interbreeding between Neandertals and “modern humans” occurred about 50,000 or more years ago.  That is well before the modern humans reached Europe.  Recently, in fact, we learned that the earlier breeding probably happened in modern Israel, where populations overlapped.

But now there is new DNA analysis of a 40,000 year old human jaw found in Romania, and it points to the possibility that interbreeding didn’t stop Continue reading

Posted in human evolution, interbreeding, neandertal.

NIH, Human Embryos, and CRISPR

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins has just issued a statement designed to calm any worries people might have about the use of US tax dollars to pay for the latest gene-editing technologies on human embryos.

Collins is responding to a report published last week by researchers in China, claiming success in using a new technique called CRISPR/Cas9 in modifying the DNA sequence in human Continue reading

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Sport, Hope, and Enhancement Technologies: A New Book with Questions

I will soon have a book published with Mercer University Press on the human enhancement question in sport. This book has been in the works for quite a few years. It took me a while before I considered pulling together my interests in human enhancement and how sport functions as a religion. Of course, once I started down that path it seemed like an obvious intersection.
Should high-tech prosthetic limbs be permissible in elite sports competitions? Continue reading

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Human Germline Modification: Coming Soon

A sharp debate has raged in recent months about human germline modification and so-called Three Parent babies. This is a new technique that the UK government is allowing reproductive clinics to offer would-be parents who want to have a child free of serious mitochondrial disorders.  Continue reading

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