This is a speech that Arielle Zuckerberg gave at Slush 2016. I watched it right around the time I was really starting to explore Transhumanism, and actually led me to meeting and befriending the developer of the cochlear implant.
You can find the whole presentation here.
*Transcribed a long long time ago. Any mistakes should be attributed to me.
All right, awesome. I’m Arielle Zuckerberg. I’m a partner at Kleiner. And today, I’m going to talk about overcoming human limitations through emerging technologies.
Here’s a little bit about me. They gave you the intro so I’ll skip this one.
We’re in a post-evolution era. Natural selection has run its course. If you don’t believe me, ask your vegan friends. I believe that we are moving towards a transhumanist future and we always have been. A future in which science and technology will continue to develop and use science and technology to increase human capacity in the mental, physical, and reproductive realms.
So today I’m going to talk about three emerging technologies that I believe will increase human capacity and overcome limitations. And I’m got also going to talk about the ethical conflicts I believe will arise from that.
But first let’s talk about where we are now.
Nootropics, or – people have various ways of pronouncing this but today I’m going to go with nootropics (noah-tro-pics) – or smart drugs, including Modafinil, which is a wakefulness promoting agent which increases alertness, facilitates reasoning.
Modafinil is the only drug that’s approved by the US Air Force for helicopter pilots and extended missions. It’s also clinically prescribed for Narcolepsy. But increasingly, everyday, people are using modafinil and saying that they’re reaping extreme benefits from using this smart drug.
Here’s a quote from the founder and CEO of Bulletproof: “I use smart drugs and have for years. I used modafinil I got my Wharton MBA while working full-time at a startup that sold for $600MM.”
Users claim that Modafinil helps with writer’s block, cramming for exams, cleaning your apartment from floor to ceiling, alphabetizing your bookcase.
So another thing that improves, increases cognitive efficiency is of course mobile phones and the Internet. There’s no excuse not to know anything anymore. This allows us to look up anything, anywhere, at any time.
In addition to extending and expanding our knowledge, mobile phones also serve as an external memory storage for things like our thoughts, ideas, the people we know, our friends’ birthdays. So let’s talk about physical enhancement.
In 2016 we have surgery, orthodontics, corrective lenses, medical devices in general that can improve both cause cosmetic and corrective procedures. One example is vision correction, which is very near and dear to me. I’m basically legally blind without my contacts or glasses.
But in addition to corrections, some people are taking this a step further. Some people are going above and beyond to get beyond perfect vision. For example, Mark McGwire – who also used performance-enhancing drugs to score 70 home runs, which is a record in 1988 – also had custom designed contact lenses to improve his vision, which could definitely make a difference when a fastball is coming at you at 95 miles an hour.
Tiger Woods and other golfers – I think dozens of golfers now do this, but I think he kind of was the first one to lead the charge – lost 16 straight tournaments before getting laser eye surgery. But after upgrading his vision, he won seven of the next ten tournaments.
So the people are already, you know, doing these procedures not just for corrective purposes, but to enhance beyond perfect. And I think we’ll just see more and more of that. And you know, the question of whether or not this is cheating, I feel will definitely come up in the future. And in what context it’s cheating. How far beyond perfect can one go?
We also have artificial limbs and organs, of course, for people who’ve gone through injuries or diseases. Jared Fields is a US Army sergeant, won a gold medal for the hundred meters in a 12.15 second time. Usain Bolt obviously ran it in 9.58 seconds, but there are questions here, as the technology gets better and better you know, we might break the human limit if you have prosthetic limbs. The natural human limit of course.
So reproductive enhancement. So increasingly, women are having children in their 30s and 40s, and a lot of people are questioning whether it is their obligation to go through the invasive prenatal testing called amniocentesis, where a needle is injected into the uterus. I’ll go into that a little later, but there are both invasive and non-invasive methods, and prenatal diagnosis has made it possible for people to have a better understanding of, you know, the condition of their fetus before it’s born.
Contraception, also, here’s where we are today. Obviously, there’s some work to be done on the male side, but there has been progress.
A study was conducted recently to test male contraception and here’s what happened.
An external peer review committee determined that, for safety reasons, recruitment should be stopped.
The adverse side effects included mood changes, depression, pain at the injection site, and increased libido. Women have been dealing with these side effects for a long time but this study was stopped because of those side effects. Hopefully in the future we’ll overcome that, and I think this also brings to light some ethical issues and gender issues.
So let’s talk about emerging technologies. That was where we are today. Here’s where I believe where we’re going.
AI assistance with an AR overlay – an augmented reality overlay – which is a natural extension, I believe, of mobile phones plus the Internet. So this is an example – has anyone ever seen Black Mirror? If you watch Black Mirror, [raise your hand], yeah? Okay, so this is from the episode where everyone has these contact lenses or ocular implants – it’s not exactly clear what it is – but it allows them to see people’s ratings and other information just by looking at someone. This is kind of a dark example, but you’d also see it in a more practical context, like your cooking or you know, you’re looking at a rambutan, which is what that crazy fruit was before, and you can ask your AI assistant: What is this? Or who is that? How do I know this person? And you know, maybe it’s a cochlear implant or just some kind of Q to show you exactly what you want to know when you want to know. And you won’t have to look it up anymore. I think you’ll just ask, and the answer will come. Hopefully like a Jarvis-style sidekick.
We talked about prosthetics before, but prostheses are becoming more and more complex and now you can control them with your mind. And I don’t know if I necessarily have a have a clear opinion on this, but I think I can imagine a future where people choose to get these robotic limbs to replace their natural ones, even if they haven’t had their limb amputated. Or you know maybe people will just want better functionality. And I think that’s definitely possible. You know, maybe people will replace their feet with something that you know, if you’re an ice climber and you want to replace your feet with something it’s better for the things you want to do when you want to do them. Maybe they’ll even be detachable, you know you can have a set of attachments.
Genetic engineering. This is the next step in reproductive enhancements. And this is a clip from Gattaca, in which people, this is a pretty old movie, but it kind of illustrates issues that I think we’ll be dealing with in the future where people will be expected, if they have the means and the ability, to select the best possible you know option from possible embryos. You know, you could pick physical features, metabolic features, you know, understand whether or not your child or potential child is going carry diseases. And the question arises, I mean do people have an obligation to engineer the perfect child, or does, what are the child’s rights or the parents’ rights? And I think as this technology becomes increasingly available, you know, will people have the duties to genetically enhance and modify their offspring?
So, I mentioned a couple of the ethical conflicts as I was going along, but I think the main one is that, and this is so true today, which is you know, a lot of high-medicine is only available to people of a certain wealth. And the wealth concentration is increasing over time, and I feel like this will only further bifurcate humans into two groups: enhanced humans are people who have access to a lot of these improvements, and you know, natural humans or people who don’t have access to the improvements, who don’t have the ability to, you know get an ocular implant so they can have an AR overlay, or people who don’t have the ability to, you know get corrective, or even corrective procedures.
I think, yeah, people who can afford these enhancements will hugely benefit and people who can’t afford them will be left behind. So this is I think a huge issue that you know, we’ll definitely have to think about and address going forward. Also it doesn’t help that a lot of scientific research, most scientific research is privately funded versus safe funded, and a lot of those private funding sources have commercial interests potentially. So I don’t think this is something that can be stopped and, nor would I advocate for this to be something that should be stopped. But I do think reproductive, like what is our duty to you know design the perfect child or select the perfect child from several options, what is the definition of cheating, you know, will we allow athletes to have better than perfect vi-, we’re currently allowing athletes have better than perfect vision, but you know where do we draw the line and in what context is it okay to [yell] these corrective procedures or enhancing procedures and also furthering the wealth divide. The concentration of not just wealth, but also access, intelligence and all these enhancements.
Cool. Thank you.
If you liked this talk, you can find Arielle on Twitter at @ariellezuck.
And as always, you can find me on Twitter at @kevg1412.