Thursday, November 15, 2012

Scientific Illiteracy

The Casual Transhuman

Why doesn’t everyone get excited about transhumanism? Why aren’t all people fascinated by augmented and virtual reality, radical life-extension, brain-uploading, and The Singularity? “The Casual Transhuman” will examine H+ topics from the layman’s perspective and give suggestions on how transhumanists can spread their ideas without looking like crackpots to the world-at-large.

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”   -   Isaac Asimov

“Scientific Illiteracy.” I didn’t come up with the term, but I took it. Illiteracy is a major problem, in every sense of the word. However, studies show that we may be moving toward a “post-literate” society. I’m not going to discuss my thoughts on this right now. Post-literacy may-or-may-not be a good thing, actually, but that is a discussion for elsewhere. The problem is not how the information is being transmitted, it is the ability of the population to understand, comprehend, even grok the information they receive. Watching a film adaptation of Moby Dick will not replace reading the thing, but it allows those who have not read it the ability to understand the material, even if in a different context. Someone who is illiterate would still be able to discuss the plot, even the intent of Moby Dick after seeing one of the films based on it.

But how would you respond to someone who not only didn’t read it, but refused to watch it, saying that it goes against their deeply held belief to know what Moby Dick is about, and that they have been told never to discuss it, think about it or speak to anybody that had read or watched it? That may sound strange, but one can live their entire life unaware of Moby Dick and be just fine.

However, scientific illiteracy is not about Moby Dick. It is not about ignorance of a fictional story or character, and you cannot go through a lifetime ignorant of certain things about the world around you. Just what is Scientific Illiteracy? Here are a few instances…
-          Recently, a group of scientists were charged, tried, and found guilty of manslaughter for failing to predict that a deadly earthquake was about to strike an area of Italy. They are awaiting their appeal, but there is a good chance that these people will serve time in prison for not doing something that it has proven nearly impossible to do.  Here is a more complete write up of the case.
           In certain parts of the United States and Great Britain (and possibly many, many other countries), some children are removed from school and taught at home according to their religious beliefs. Now, that may not sound terrible at first, until you see the textbooks that these children are given, specifically when it comes to science. They are taught that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, that dinosaurs and humans lived together, and that nobody understands electricity, because it is unknowable, just like God. Their proof of these claims? We still live with dinosaurs. The Loch Ness Monster (which is apparently absolutely real) is a plesiosaur and things like radiocarbon dating are frauds committed by evil people who are trying to turn otherwise intelligent people into Satan worshippers. I am not exaggerating. Here are some pages from these textbooks.

-               In September, the Chairman of the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) said that all he had been taught “about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory” are “all lies straight from the pit of Hell.” He goes on to claim that these well-known, researched, peer-reviewed topics are meant to “keep me and other folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a Savior.” Don’t believe me? Look here…  As the fantastic writer David Brin said, “That’s the chairman. Of the Science Committee. Of the House of Representatives. Of the United States of America.” Amen, David.

THAT is Scientific Illiteracy. Hundreds of years of experimentation, questioning, reproducing, publishing, peer review, etc. (you know, the friggin’ SCIENTIFIC METHOD) is completely disregarded by those in authority, who replace it with their personal beliefs, which they present as iron-clad fact, in some cases even legislating their views into law. This whole discussion goes far beyond the evolution/creationism/intelligent design argument and takes a turn into dangerous territory.

I recently saw an argument about global climate change. One person used numerous facts, graphs, extrapolations, quotes from scientists, trends, etc. The other person, when confronted with these facts said “So what?” The first person said “What do you mean `so what?’” The second person responded with “It doesn’t matter, because God will always provide for us. He will never give us any more or any less than we can actually handle. Even if these things you say are true, it won’t matter because God won’t allow me to come to harm.”

America is the most advanced country in the world, depending on your point of view. Yet nearly half of all people in this great country truly, deeply, completely believe that even basic concepts like evolution, the Big Bang and even electricity are entirely fictional, and that those who “believe” in these ideas are lost at best, or at worst pure evil. And, this being America, one of our most cherished ideals is that people in this country are free to believe whatever they choose and are even more free to express their beliefs. So where does the right to freedom of religion and the freedom of speech/expression end and the right to advance the knowledge of our species begin?

This article is not meant to pass judgment on religion or religious people. It is meant to start a discussion regarding how to make science ‘sexy’ again. Go back about 100 years. Who were the heroes in America and around the world in the first half of the 20th Century? Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein. Who are the most discussed people now? The Kardashians, Snooki and Honey Boo Boo. The presidential candidates were asked to openly explain their policies regarding science. Both refused to answer and sent form letters that summed up their respective party views.

When elected officials, the very people we ask to lead our country, are ignorant of how the world works, how can our country be expected to survive much longer? We have congressmen like Todd Akin talking about how women who are being “legitimately raped” being able to shut their reproductive systems off like a light switch. Others, like Richard Mourdock, say that if a pregnancy occurs from a rape, it is a “gift from God.”  Then we have the aforementioned Rep. Broun’s statement. It is time to begin the discussion of making our candidates for public office give their opinions of issues regarding science, religion, biology, geology, climate change, etc. while they are campaigning, publicly and definitively.
     There is some reason to be hopeful for the scientific future of America. The amount of outrage from both sides of the political aisle in response to those comments was encouraging, although I think that some of it may have been just to appease the equally outraged constituents. How many politicians would have even responded if there had been little-to-no outcry from the people?
    Also, there has been a massive amount of exciting science and space news this year. NASA landed an SUV-sized rover on the surface of Mars with pinpoint accuracy. The scientists at CERN announced that they believe they have discovered the existence of a particle that is “consistent” with the hypothetical Higgs-Boson. However, in order to get the average American to even look up at the news, the media insisted on calling it “The God Particle.”
     This year, a privately-owned spacecraft docked with the International Space Station. This means that space is now within reach for everyone, not just the government.
     It was announced in 2012 that nearly every star in the Milky Way Galaxy could potentially have planets. They estimate that the average is 1.6 planets per star. Hundreds of exoplanets have been discovered just this year, many of which are not too far away, relatively speaking. I have noticed that when space makes the news, there is a spike in other science-related news. That is encouraging.
     The most important thing for the future of our nation is to make science education a priority again. How that can be implemented or even acknowledged is a whole other discussion. But I believe that once it is made a significant part of our culture again, our future will seem a whole lot brighter.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Published today via TJL-2080's Facebook

All throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries, many of the biggest celebrities in the world were scientists and inventors. Bell, Curie, Einstein, Edison, Tesla, even Howard Hughes, to an extent. People were excited about new scientific discoveries. It was big news when someone discovered something or made something. Now? There is almost a scientific illiteracy happening, worldwide. Especially here in the United States. But even in other developed "First World" countries.

Take, for example, the absolutely ridiculous story the other day about the group of scientists who were sentenced to 6 YEARS in prison for manslaughter because...they didn't predict a major earthquake. Yes, this happened. Here's the story...

Here in the US, people actively ridicule science, and seem PROUD to not even know the name of the galaxy we live in. The presidential nominees answer all sorts of questions about their religions and base their policies on their religious convictions, but refuse to go on record with their policies on science topics. People are pulling their kids out of school and homeschooling them because they disagree with schools "forcing" their children to learn about Evolution.

This is about to reach epidemic proportions. Any ideas how to stop the bleeding? Please leave comments below if you do...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Transhumanist Heroes: Dr. Manhattan

This is the first in a new series of articles. "Transhumanist Heroes." Originally published at on September 27, 2012.

                Transhumanists as a subculture, are a rather underrepresented group in the media. While we often get transhumanist ideals in films, television, etc., we rarely see someone on the screen that we can look up to as an ideal transhumanist.  So we need to celebrate what few there are, hold them up as heroes. This series of articles examines transhumanists in the media, whether real or fictional. This time, we look at Dr. Manhattan.

                Ah, Dr. Manhattan. We barely knew you. Yet I feel like you have given us so much to remember you by. Your cool nature. Your understanding of the workings of space and time. Your casual nudity. Okay, so people give you a lot of crap about that last one, but I have to give you credit. I am a naturist myself, and whenever possible I am similarly free to be myself. Although I wish I had as much “self” as you do. But I digress…
                For those who still don’t know (shame on you), Dr. Manhattan was one of the main characters in the graphic novel (and film adaptation) of Watchmen, which is considered among the greatest volumes of “comic book” art ever, as much as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series or Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ Marvels. Watchmen was a story of how masked vigilantes in a non-superpowered world would live. Most were portrayed as sad, paranoid, bitter people, most of them older and still trying to live like it was the golden days of their personal (mostly imagined) glory.
                Yet in this alternate 1985, there actually was one and only one superpowered being in the world. Dr. Jon Osterman was a physicist who was horribly ripped apart at the atomic level in a lab accident. Months later, he rematerialized himself as a glowing blue entity, able to do anything he could imagine. He could be in more than one place at the same time. He could make buildings grow with a thought. He could make people explode by pointing a finger at them. Oh yes, how I wanted to be Dr. Manhattan as a teenager.
                Osterman is a walking course in quantum mechanics. His understanding of time allows all things to exist simultaneously. He would often know where a conversation with somebody would lead. He is already there, in the future, finishing the conversation, able to inform his past self what was going to happen, yet that past self would still go through the conversation, even getting surprised by revelations, even though he was already aware of it. Is your brain hurting yet?

                But this is reality, at least according to Alan Moore, the author of Watchmen.  Dr. Manhattan works at a level so far beyond humanity that he is seen as almost a god, even by the other costumed heroes. Of course, Dr. Manhattan doesn’t wear a costume, or much of anything at all really. As he grows more and more out of touch with humanity, he begins to frighten people, to the point where there is eventually a backlash against him, resulting in his self-exile to Mars. He is just as happy there as he ever was on Earth. He builds a huge glass clockwork castle for himself and lives there, occasionally transporting people to him for conversations.
                Dr. Manhattan is mostly interested in his work, creating technologies from his unique understanding of scientific principles. Even though the story is set in 1985, New York is full of electric cars, and we see other anachronisms sprinkled throughout, deftly incorporated by artist Dave Gibbons. He is so single-minded in his work, that even while having some , ahem, alone time with his longtime girlfriend, a second Osterman is in the lab, busy at work.
                As he progresses through the story, he becomes more remote and cold. Dr. Manhattan is locked in his own mind, evolving to the point that he no longer cares when people die. He does not even see the difference between life and death, since these people still exist to him (in the past, where he currently is as well), and in their individual elements, broken down after death.
                Dr. Manhattan is what I would look to as the ideal posthuman. As I wrote in an earlier article, transhumanists need to look into what it is about us that is human, then decide what is necessary, what we can change to make better, and what we can completely get rid of. We need to decide what we want to evolve into. And if the world were populated by seven billion Dr. Manhattans, things would be very different from how they are today. For better or worse remains to be seen. But to date, I believe that Dr. Manhattan, both as he appeared in the graphic novel AND in the movie, is a perfect example for us to look at and emulate.

WHY Dr. Manhattan is a Transhumanist Hero.
-Sees the world from an omnipotent point of view, a non-human intelligence, possibly an artificial intelligence.
-Traditional human values do not concern him. Sexuality, life, death, our place in the world and in the universe are all different to Dr. Manhattan.
-Does work that elevates life, making the world a better place (arguably) for his having been there.
-He is a glowing blue nudist. Just thought I’d throw that in there again. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Posthuman: The Endgame?

This article first appeared on on August 15, 2012.

Why doesn’t everyone get excited about transhumanism? Why aren’t all people fascinated by augmented and virtual reality, radical life-extension, brain-uploading, and The Singularity? This essay is the first in a series of articles, entitled “The Casual Transhuman” - it will examine H+ topics from the layman’s perspective and give suggestions on how transhumanists can spread their ideas without looking like crackpots to the world-at-large.
What is a posthuman being? For years, I have been hearing that we are gradually moving towards a new state. Transhumanism is, by definition, a step between our current human form and what we will become. I see a lot of ideas on how we will merge with our technology, how things will be radically different after the Singularity, how we will be immortal and how human and machine will become one new being in a glorious new world. But one thing I hear very little about is the end product.

It seems to me that there is a lack of focus in the transhumanist community. There is such an emphasis on the process that perhaps the big finale has faded into the aether. I think it is time to draw the focus back – to answer the question “what, exactly, are we trying to do here?” It is time to get a consensus and work back from that. Only then will we know how to proceed.

The word “posthuman” can be a tad polarizing and even frightening. I’m sure that for an audience like the one reading this on IEET or H+ Magazine, I don’t need to break down the parts of the word, like I would to grade schoolers. That would be insulting. Or would it? Hmm. Maybe the crux of the idea is in the word itself.

Post - obviously means “after.” I don’t think we need to dig into that any deeper. But the next part of the word is “human.” This is the hard part. How can we define “posthuman” until we come up with a specific consensus of what it means to be “human.” Let’s look first at a few dictionary definitions.


Adjective: Of, relating to, or characteristic of people or human beings.

Noun: A human being, esp. a person as distinguished from an animal or (in science fiction) an alien.

Synonyms: adjective Human noun man - person - human being - individual - soul – mortal

This one was from Google, which grabbed it from and Wikipedia. Here is the problem though. I was told from day one of kindergarten never to use a word in definition of itself. In other words, you cannot say that a tree is a tree-like object. So how can we stand for saying that the definition of a human is “a human being?”

Natasha Vita-More, one of the founders of the transhumanist movement, has released a few different versions of what she calls the “Primo Posthuman.” It is a graphic of a genderless human form, colored entirely in neon yellow with pointers to different parts of hir body, describing technological enhancements that will be on or in that body. This image has been reprinted numerous times in different articles and media. In fact, it has become one of the most recognizable images related to transhumanism. However, the title is “Primo Posthuman” but it shows a human with cyborg enhancements. I would like to know why this fictional person was labeled a posthuman when they were most certainly born an unenhanced homo sapiens. Shouldn’t she be labeled a “primo transhuman?” As a sidebar, I am a big fan of Vita-More’s work, and she has been very influential to mine. I will be meeting her at a conference in a few months, and I will be sure to ask her more about this at that time.

So we go back to how we define a posthuman. What comes “after human?” Is this a being we would even recognize? How will we evolve biologically in response to our dependence on technology?

The second half of the animated Pixar film Wall*E shows how humans have changed while living for hundreds of years in a massive spaceship after leaving Earth a deserted, polluted wasteland. These people spend their lives in motorized chairs, never walking, never taking their eyes off the computer/TV screens before them. They are depicted as being entirely unable to care for themselves, and are waited on by robots. Although not a hive mind, they are easily swayed. When the computer tells them that red is the new color of choice, they all instantly change their clothes (via a color-changing material they never remove) to red. This movie was meant as a statement on mass consumerism, but it served as an effective argument or allegory for many different subjects, many of which would be of interest to transhumanists.

For the purposes of this article, we are looking at the humans in this film (although the robots are really cool, too). We see through archival footage aboard the spaceship that these pathetic blobs were, in fact, once real humans. We see the president of the Buy’N’Large Corporation, played by Fred Willard, as the only real human being in any Pixar film. Which implies that these pasty, cartoonish blobs are not computer-generated approximations of humans in an animated movie, but rather that this is supposed to be a live-action movie, and that this is how humanity will evolve over the next few hundred years.

This is actually quite frightening.

Think about it for a second.

The implications of this view are quite interesting, really. When we look at science fiction, especially in film, we usually get three different views. The first is that we will, through our technological advances, create a utopian world where all evils have been eradicated. This is prevalent in Star Trek. The second is that we will let our technology rule us, leading us to become monstrous hybrids, like the Borg…also in Star Trek. The third is that the technology will gain sentience, rising against humanity, and eventually causing our extinction. This is like The Terminator and The Matrix (which I believe, as a closet fanboy, take place in the same continuity alongside Dark City and Cube. But I digress…)

This view of the future we see in Wall*E is completely different than those, and in a much more disturbing way. Utopian idealism is fine, and we should try with all our collective might to get there, but nothing will ever be perfect. In fact, we will most likely never get anywhere close to it, unfortunately. The twisted machine men like the Borg or the people portrayed in the fantastic Japanese manga series Gunnm (Americanized as Battle Angel Alita) are frightening, but as unrealistic as the utopian vision. I seriously doubt we will willingly allow ourselves to be perverted into these monsters.

Even the eventual implants and limb replacements will, most likely, be made to seem as humanlike as possible. The third view, of a robot-dominated Earth, where humans are either enslaved or extinct, is often referred to by non-science types. Those films were so well-received that every time a technological breakthrough is made, people post quotes from those movies right below the articles.

Wall*E, however, shows us what may be a more realistic view. We’ve seen how people in industrialized countries have become softer, rounder and more dependent on technology. The United States is often characterized by other nations as being full of fat, lazy, uneducated, rich and obsessed with consumerism. This is a simplistic view, stereotypical at best and offensive to some. Without getting into a bunch of details this generalization does have some basis in fact.

And this is with the current state of technological development. Let’s take this concept out a few hundred years. Those who (and I must sadly add myself to the list) spend most of their time seated, eating, looking at various glowing screens and trusting Siri, Google and iTunes to keep track of our lives are just the vanguard of a brave new world, aren’t they? Imagine what life will be like after a technological singularity. After we discover we can replace limbs or use nanotechnology to obliterate the cancer we get from eating far too many In-Vitro McRibs.

Now, I’m not trying to be all gloom-and-doom here. And this does tie back into my original question. What will be a posthuman being? If we are human now, and we are using our technology to become transhuman, the step between what we are and what we will become, what is our eventual endgame? We should heed the warnings of Wall*E’s filmmakers. If we are going to become more dependent on our technology, we must make sure we don’t become…that. However, this leaves a lot of room to discuss what we should be trying to become. This is exciting. We can take the time - now – on the edge of great breakthroughs, to have a serious discussion of just what the hell we are doing. Although there will likely be many differing, even opposing, opinions of what posthumanity can or should be, perhaps there can be some sort of consensus.

And now, as always, I leave it up to the reader to continue the discussion.

At what point do we no longer consider ourselves human? When do we go from trans to post? Can we define what human is? Do we want to keep some part of it? All of it? Or do we want to toss it all out, start from scratch, define our own selves and our own future and become posthuman by choice instead of evolution? How do we do that? Most importantly, how will we know when we’ve done it?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Extreme Futurist Festival 2012

I'll be there. Getting psyched. From

Extreme Futurist Festival 2012 Trailer from H+ Worldwide on Vimeo.

Extreme Futurist Festival is a 2 day arts and technology festival focusing on radical voices of the new evolution. Last year we had a great event and were called "a TED conference for the counterculture" by the LA Weekly. This year we seek to make XFF an even more epic experience. Terence McKenna predicted that December 21, 2012 would mark a great evolutionary shift in consciousness. It is now up to us to become that shift. We want to make this the 2012 event that people will talk about for years to come. We will be focusing on cutting edge science and technology along with transgressive performance art and music. Showcasing the most innovative and subversive memetics of our time, we see to highlight an extreme future that breaks the formula of modern culture. The future has been commodified by the mainstream in an effort to make revolutionary technologies easy to digest. As a result we are now living in an era of complacency, in which the true leaders and game changers are made to feel like outsiders. It is time to rise against the dominant current of our society and declare that nothing is too extreme. We refuse to be assimilated into a carbon copied version of a new humanity. As evolutionary agents we will push the boundaries of what it means to transform our species. We are looking to raise money to make XFF 2012 a fully immersive experience. We would like to rent out a venue that will hold up to 1000 people, book exceptional speakers and bands, and provide an optimal sound system. Please join us in our quest to push the button for a new era of humankind. [XFF is sponsored by Humanity+] Note: If we do not meet our goal of 20K we still get to keep all of the money we receive on RocketHub and will use it toward Extreme Futurist Festival 2012.

Friday, August 10, 2012

"Singular" Chapter One

I am writing a novel. It's called "Singular," and it is the story of the wold's first true posthuman, and how the world reacts to him. I thought I would post my rough draft of the first chapter here for all my fans, and see how it goes. Drop a comment at the end and let me know what you think. In fact, let's all collaborate. As I write this book, I'll post up sections of it, and you can all give your input. That sounds like fun.

By Travis James Leland


            As the sun set outside his bedroom window, day was breaking in the virtual. He logged in and his avatar was in his meditation space. It was a gazebo on the side of a hill, overlooking a beach. A few people had wandered over to watch the sunrise. There was a robot, a sexy human/fox hybrid, and a couple holding hands: he with laughably exaggerated musculature and she a stick-thin waif with basketball breasts. Alpha was, by default, an 8 foot tall, light blue alien with yellow eyes wearing a white jumpsuit. He was sitting lotus-position on a pillow in the wooden gazebo. Soft meditation music floated in the space, and the sound of nonexistent seagulls could be heard overhead.
            Alpha hit the stand button and his avatar uncrossed his legs, rising to his full height. Heading out of the gazebo he turned to his right, away from the beach, toward the twisting spires of the City Hall tower, glinting reflections of the virtual sunrise.
            Down the boardwalk, clad in a gossamer dress, floated Victoria. Her avatar’s name appeared over her head as “Imogen Palooka,” but they had gotten to know each other well enough to have revealed their legal names.
            “Hi Alpha,” she said by text. They had spoken by voice before, in the early days, when they were getting to know each other - when they wondered if the person behind the avatar was actually the same gender they presented in-world. But voice chat was hard for Alpha. When he had time to think about it, his responses seemed, to him, to be much more eloquent than his speech. So they had gone back to typed communication in-world.
            Her avatar was set to make a gentle swaying motion, shoulders sloped forward, hugging her arms, eyelashes batting. Backlit by the sunrise, it was quite enchanting, and Alpha assumed it was an expensive upgrade. His avatar stood still, by default. He thought it looked rather stupid.
            “Right on time, ‘Loo,” he typed back, using his preferred short version of “Palooka.” At first she hated it, but when he told her it was better than “Vicky,” she relented. “Are you ready to go?”
            “You actually have to ask me that?”
            He hit the shrug button.
            “Come on,” she said. “Lead the way.”

            They stood atop a sheer cliff face that was rezzed to appear roughly eight miles high. Below, white clouds rolled around mixing and pulling apart like cream swirling into coffee. The sky above still had that early morning glow that would only last a few moments longer, and they were both bathed in a gold-and-orange light, turning his jumpsuit into what looked like a prison uniform.
            “I’m ready when you are,” she said, answering his unspoken question. He held out a blue, long-fingered hand to her, and she placed hers - perfectly rezzed, manicured – into his. He pointed to a spot on the ground, and a small beam of twinkling blue light appeared. They stepped into it and suddenly, they were in what appeared to be outer space. Their avatars began to drift as all around them, stars, galaxies, nebulae, spun in a dark expanse. Some streaked by them soundlessly as Alpha and ‘Loo began to dance to a music neither of them could hear.
            They spiraled up, twisting around each other in a vaguely serpentine way, then held hands as they parted, arching backwards in a mirror image of each other. After completing a circuit, they came back, face-to-face, palms pressing together and they pushed apart, floating back, then launching off of two asteroids parked behind them, rushing back to each other to repeat the steps all over again. It was an automated dance. They could actually sit back and let it go, just watching on their screens as they spent the next fifteen minutes together. In silence.
            They didn’t need to speak to each other. This was their time to just exist. Together. As their time in the space dance ended, they floated back down to the cliff top, embracing the whole way. When they landed, they stood for a moment, looking over the edge at the clouds below. She swayed and shrugged, he stupidly stood.
            “Do you think it’s time we finally see each other?”
            “We’re so far apart,” she said, and her avatar made a little pouty face.
            “We’re both in Southern California. It’s not like we are across the country.”
            “That’s true. Let’s talk about that some more, later.”
            “What do you want to do now?”
            “Let’s go back to my place.”

            They had had v-sex before. Quite a few times. At first it was just no-strings-attached fantasy. Two people who didn’t even know each other looking like an alien and a goddess laying on a bed that wasn’t even real and watching their avatars wiggle around on the screen. But the last few times, things had seemed subtly different. They didn’t talk about random things like their favorite TV shows or music during the act. It was quiet, more tender. They didn’t animate their avatars to do anything rough or exotic anymore. They kept their usual looks, not turning into different beings like they used to. They moved slowly. Alpha started watching it from his avatar-eye-view. It seemed more personal, more sensual.
            This time, not a word was exchanged.
            They sat on her balcony. There were two chairs and a table. She had laid out tea and their avatars sipped it as they typed back and forth.
            “It’s been a good day, ‘Loo.”
            “Yes, it has.”
            “Good. I like it when you are happy.”
            He looked over at her. That pout was back, and now she was looking down at her feet, her tea forgotten; her hair giving off a soft golden glow.
            “But you aren’t happy,” he said.
            There was a long moment of silence.
            “It’s something you said earlier. You want to meet.”
            “Do you?”
            “I don’t know.”
            She continued to look at her feet, then raised her head to stare at the pixelated sun. The only sounds were the ambient waves and soft breeze sounds that were standard in this part of the world.
            “I mean, yes, I really do. Unless you’ve been lying to me all this time, we are the same age. I’ve heard your voice, so I know you are a guy. I just…”
            “Go ahead, you can tell me,” he said, turning his head to give her his full attention.
            “Alpha, what we have here in-world is really special.” Rainbows and stars appeared and began to float around her head like a baby’s mobile. “What if we meet and you don’t feel about the real me the way you do about my avatar?”
            “But it’s just a shell, ‘Loo. It’s light on a computer screen. You can change into anything you can imagine here. I’d still feel the same.” She looked up at him. The rainbows disappeared, replaced by bright question marks. “I would, ‘Loo. Because I love you. The real you; whoever you are and wherever you are.”
            Her smooth face stretched into a smile. “You’ve never said it before, Alpha. Do you really mean it? Do you love me?”
            It was his turn to pause and look at the sun, now dipping down into the ocean, turning the whole world into a rose colored paradise. The ambient sounds were beginning to mix with the world’s nighttime mixture of crickets and owls.
            “Yes, Victoria, I mean it. I am in love with you. I have been for a while.”
            “You know what? I was hoping you would say that. Because I feel the same way. I love you too and I do want to meet. I don’t care how far it is.”
            “Do you have a car?”
“When are you free?”
“How’s tomorrow?” She turned around and sat in his lap, leaning her frame back against him, her hand reaching up and stroking his strong alien cheekbone.
“Tomorrow’s fine. I’ll link you the address.”
“I’m happy.”
“Before we meet, I think I need to tell you something about me. About the way I look.”
“Hush. I don’t want to know, Alpha. I love you anyway. No matter what.”
They sat quietly together, watching the sunset. Eventually, she had to leave, saying goodnight and winking out in a splash of faerie dust. He stayed a while longer on her balcony, watching the moonlight bouncing off the waves. The texturing of the water was his favorite thing in-world. That one element made all the difference, and as long as he saw that, he felt truly at home.
Finally, he logged out and shut off the computer, then went to bed, where his dreams were filled with meeting ‘Lou in real life, and she looked exactly like she did in-world. She looked like a goddess.

The first time he answered the door, it was the mail carrier. She looked at him strangely for a moment, then held the mail close to herself.
“So I’m confused,” she spat with no preamble. “I get about 4 different last names at this address. I see a Simmons, a Walker, a Schofield and a MacKenzie. So what’s the deal?”
“Yeah, it’s a big family and there have been marriages and adoptions. All those names are here.”
“Well it’s damned confusing.”
“No, it’s pretty simple,” he said. “If it has this address on it, you put it in that little box over there. It doesn’t matter what name is on it and it isn’t any of your business anyway.”
Actually, he didn’t say that. It was more of a mumbled “Thanks” as she handed him the bundle of envelopes and magazines, then sauntered back to her truck. He was raised to be polite. He was taught that, no matter what, if you are more civilized than the other person, you are the winner. Unfortunately, his politeness was often misinterpreted as a weakness. People seemed to always have their way with Alpha, and he never said what he was really thinking. If he was winning, he wanted to know what the prize was.
The second time he answered the door, it was her. Victoria. Before he swung it open, he took a deep breath, imagining himself to be that tall, blue alien. Of course she loved him no matter what, but it gave him that boost of self-confidence. Much like her avatar, the sun lit her from behind, a golden halo shining through her long, blonde hair.
“Hi,” he said a moment later. Not the most well-thought-out greeting.
He could tell that she was nervous. She didn’t speak for a moment, even after he motioned her inside and she stood in the entryway, clutching her purse.
“You look just like her,” he said. “Just like ‘Loo.”
“Oh… Thanks,” she finally spoke. “You…don’t look like Alpha. I mean, I wasn’t expecting you to look like a blue alien, but…um.”
“Yeah,” he said, then pushed the button that moved his wheelchair next to the couch. She sat down on the center cushion just close enough, but just far away.
They talked about a lot of things, mostly about things in-world. At one point, he reached for her hand. She instinctively pulled it back, before allowing him to hold it for a while. And he knew then that things were not right.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Singularity Is Here... For Some Of Us

This article first appeared at on July 4, 2012.

Why doesn’t everyone get excited about transhumanism? Why aren’t all people fascinated by augmented and virtual reality, radical life-extension, brain-uploading, and The Singularity? This essay is the first in a series of articles, entitled “The Casual Transhuman” - it will examine H+ topics from the layman’s perspective and give suggestions on how transhumanists can spread their ideas without looking like crackpots to the world-at-large.

Is the Future already upon us, but we just don’t see it for what it is? We already have an augmented lifestyle, don’t we?
For years now, I’ve been hearing that “the Singularity is coming” and that soon the world will be changed completely as technology spreads, allowing for great social, economic and political leaps. As long as I have followed futurism and transhumanism, this event has been just beyond our grasp. Kurzweil and others have been looking into the near(ish) future and trying to predict what the Singularity will look like and what the repercussions of this event will be for humanity.
Boiling it down, the Singularity is most often referred to as a time when technology will advance to the point where it will be impossible for the unimproved biological human to keep up with the changes.
From that point on, people’s definitions of what form the Singularity will take are as varied as anything else. What most will agree on, however, is that we are fast approaching a time when what seems improbable today will be commonplace. In other words, we are still looking forward to a great moment when we will be able to say “that was the Singularity.” 
Recently, however, I was thinking of all the changes that have happened in the world in the thirty-two years I’ve been on it. It seems to me that the world is completely different now than it was when I was a child. I recently came across this article and it opened my eyes to a few things. In fact, it brought in to focus a thought I had some time ago. Could the Singularity have already happened? How would we know?

Some believe that the Singularity will be a time when our computers and other devices merge with the biological, making us cyborgs and/or immortal beings. Yet the gradual omnipresence of technology has led to us never being far from a device that will keep us in constant contact with everyone. We are glued to our smartphones, netbooks, desktops, internet-ready Blu-Ray players and other things.
If I want to share the funny video of the young woman waking up from dental surgery with someone, I can call it up on YouTube in moments from any number of devices that are around me. Soon, augmented reality will extend that capability even more. I have an RSS feed that comes to my phone daily, keeping me updated on the latest technological advancements. I read science and technology news every day. Not to toot my own horn, but I am a pretty intelligent being, and even though I am up on the latest, I still feel like it is a full-time job just to know what is going on.

What about those who don’t have the technology obsession? What about people who are unable or unwilling to keep abreast of the specs of upcoming phones, cars, computers, etc.?
I have a friend who, while not a luddite, is of a very low economic status, and therefore had never owned a computer or a cell phone. When he needs to receive important emails from his son’s Cub Scout pack or having to do with his employment, he trusts me to print it out and give it to him personally. When he was finally in a position to get a phone, he found something low-end with few features. He often seems lost and withdrawn when people around him start talking about wi-fi, Skype, touch-screens and so forth. It seems that as
soon as he is able to get something he considers “high tech” he is already far out of date.
He makes up for his lack of knowledge on the topic by laughing off how people like myself “love (our) toys” and that we are addicted to our electronics in a similar fashion to alcoholics and drug abusers. But he does seem to want to be better connected and often remarks how things have moved so quickly that he just doesn’t understand it.
My parents are another example. They have their flat, widescreen HDTV, their desktop computer with which they answer emails, watch YouTube videos and check news headlines. They think they are pretty up to date. When I tell them about 3DTV, Hulu, Netflix, smartphones, RSS news feeds, Twitter, Facebook and the like, they look at me as if I am a strange visitor from another planet.
Recently, my mother admitted that when I talk to her about new or upcoming technologies, her brain tends to shut me off. She goes into “nod and smile” mode to humor me. She tells me she is fine with what she has and has no real need to get anything new. So I got her a Nook for Mother’s Day. She loves it. At first she seemed skeptical, noting how she loved her paper books, and thinking that e-readers were just a fad. Now she says that she can’t imagine not having it. She cites the convenience, cost and the relatively unknown feature of ordering library books on it as being the reason why she will never go back to Books 1.0.
What I mean to say through all this rambling is that the future is already upon us. We just don’t see it for what it is. We are always looking ahead and saying “THAT is when great things will happen” that we don’t stop to look at the world as it stands now. It is so fundamentally changed from how it was just 10-15 years ago that it is almost unrecognizable. Great changes have happened politically,  socially, andeconomically in such a short amount of time that someone who has been asleep since 1999 would not recognize the world we live in today.
For that reason I ask the question, “Has the Singularity already happened?” The 20th century was a time of great change and advancement. We saw humans fly for the first time, and scarcely 50 years later, we were planting flags on the moon. We went from telegraphs and telephones to wireless communication and the internet. At some point in there, did we pass a point that we can definitively look back on and point to as the Singularity? The 21st century is moving exponentially faster, and change is coming much more swiftly.
Unlike many who believe that it will be one moment in time, I believe the case can be made that the Singularity happened not as one moment, but the combination of numerous factors coming together. I believe that the internet itself is just the medium, not the Singularity itself. But the omnipresent access we have to the internet seems to have exploded recently.
With our smartphones, we have all the information in the world literally at our fingertips and we can integrate it into our lives. We already have an augmented lifestyle, don’t we?
My phone awakens me, then reads the news to me (specifically in the subjects I am most interested in), then tells me my calendar for the day, with reminders. My Twitter sends me a constant feed, as does my Facebook. As I write, I am able to get references, articles, news, reviews, commentary, critiques and anything else about any subject I need, instantly. When I talk to people, I can see them face-to-face in real time. My smartphone has completely changed my lifestyle, and I know that there are already better models on the market, though mine is less than a year old.
Therefore, I would like to argue that the Singularity happened with the rise of the smartphone. Before you write a scathing disapproval of this, I’m not sure if I believe it myself. Remember, this series is called “The Casual Transhuman,” and is meant to introduce these concepts back and forth between the hardcore transhumanists and the peopel who are less familiar with these ideas. But I want to open people to the idea that this concept that many people are looking forward to, a major technological breakthrough, may actually be a thing of the past.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Personhood" For Beginners

Originally posted on on May 30, 2012

Why doesn’t everyone get excited about transhumanism? Why aren’t all people fascinated by augmented and virtual reality, radical life-extension, brain-uploading, and The Singularity? This essay is the first in a series of articles, entitled “The Casual Transhuman” - it will examine H+ topics from the layman’s perspective and give suggestions on how transhumanists can spread their ideas without looking like crackpots to the world-at-large.
One of the most difficult and polarizing concepts for my non-transhumanist friends to discuss is non-human personhood.  For those who haven’t kept up on it or need a refresher, here are the basics:
There is a conceit amongst the majority of our population that we humans are the center of our universe. As we have become the technologically superior species on this planet, and as our dominion over the Earth has spread, we have assumed that we are the top dogs - that we are the only sentient beings here. All other animals are beneath us, and we are their masters. It has become so ingrained that the average person does not even question the truth of this kind of thinking.  
But this doesn’t hold up very well under any kind of scrutiny. 
Why do people in the Western world eat the flesh of cows, but not horses? Why do we dote upon dogs and cats, but never show affection for groundhogs and opossums? We can eat tuna and swordfish, but dolphins and sharks? It’s unthinkable. Why do we do this? People would say that it is because the horses, dogs, dolphins, etc. are intelligent and that the others are not. They would say that these animals show certain humanlike characteristics, or that they serve a purpose, and therefore are more evolved and should be protected.
Again, I speak in terms of the general feeling of people I know or speak to about this subject. This is by no means meant to be a blanket statement. Of course there are animal lovers and rights activists who believe the opposite, but they are unfortunately in the minority in the United States.
Well, the concept of non-human personhood grows from this. Some animals are quite intelligent. More highly evolved apes, like gorillas and chimpanzees share all but a miniscule amount of their DNA with homo sapiens and have been shown to make and use tools, to converse with people in sign language and to mourn the passing of a loved one.  Why are homo sapiens considered “people” but Koko the Gorilla is not? Why are we allowed to forcibly move them from their homes into either zoos or labs? Why are we allowed to experiment on them, put them into space, test drugs and other chemicals on them? Would we do these things to our own kind?
Again, I’m talking about the vast majority of humanity. Personhood is a right for humans, not a privilege. Shouldn’t higher apes be considered people, taking into account their mental, physical and emotional complexity? It comes from the fallacy that we are humans and anything not human is automatically lesser than we are. People who believe in the right of personhood for non-human beings disagree and advocate that these apes should be protected and allowed to live as freely as humans.
And what about non-simian species? Dolphins are often set as an example when discussing non-human personhood. They have a highly-developed society and are one of the few species widely understood to engage in sexual intercourse for fun as well as procreation. They also play games, some of which are quite involved and complex. Here is a video about one such game;

As we have studied animals, we have discovered that they are not very unlike us. So now we have beings that share this planet with us, that we know are intelligent, creative, emotional and complex. Now what? Many people just say “Fine, I accept that, but I’m still better than those animals. Now pass the A-1.” Others take this knowledge to heart and adopt a cruelty-free lifestyle - veganism, activism, etc. 
From a technoprogressive viewpoint, that is not good enough. What makes you a person? Your sense of self and awareness of the world and your place in it and in the society of others like yourself. Sentience. What we know of the way some of these more evolved animals think, it is safe to assume that dolphins, dogs, pigs and apes are sentient. Therefore, they could be qualified as people.
So how do we determine which animals deserve personhood? Obviously, a gorilla is closer to humans than ants. But ants have a highly developed social order and society. In fact, one could argue that ants are “more developed” than humans in a lot of ways. Disagree? then read this and report back to me. There is a human-centric bias that things that are more like us (or that are at least cute and cuddly) are more highly evolved. But ants have been around for over 80 MILLION YEARS! Think about that.
As always, I end my article by asking you to pick up the discussion. How do you determine which animals deserve personhood and the rights that go with it? How do we enforce their protection? Do you even think that ANY non-humans deserve to be protected as people?  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

We Are The Borg...And That Is A Good Thing.

Originally Posted on on May 22nd, 2012.

Let’s be real. The majority of transhumanists, scientists, astronomers, computer specialists, etc. became interested in their fields of study through their interest in science-fiction. We know the story of how cellphones were designed with Star Trek‘s communicators in mind, as were tablet computers, ebooks, and other new technologies. That has all been well-documented and I’m relatively certain that it is not news to most of us. Star Trek has been very influential in my life, guiding my thought processes in many areas, like physics, astronomy, quantum mechanics - even politics and economics.

I think that, more so than Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5, the galaxy as envisioned by Gene Roddenberry has inspired people from all walks of life - scientist and layperson, politician and religious leader, male and female - to work toward creating a better future. The idea of this liberal, technologically-advanced, culturally-diverse near-utopia that has no further need for hard labor, resource mining, or even money has given people something to strive toward.

Yet there is a dark side to Star Trek.

 The most feared villains of the 24th Century are a monstrous group of cybernetically enhanced organisms connected to each other through a collective hive-like consciousness. They have lost all semblance of individuality. They are the Borg, and their only desire is to “assimilate” every free being they see into the Collective, “adding their biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.” The Borg are cold, unfeeling drones, who speak as one in a monotonous cacophany. Their limbs are replaced with tools, specially designed for the work that that drone is expected to perform. Most have at least one eye replaced with an implant which allows them to see beyond the visible spectrum, and which also has a nifty heads-up display. When a Borg is killed another appears next to it, removes vital pieces of technology, then walks away. The dead drone then disappears. Beamed? Disintegrated? Who knows? But the other drones don’t seem to care, so neither do we. What people find most disturbing about the Borg is their loss of individuality. They are the zombies of Star Trek, and are popular for the same reasons.

 Pretty terrifying, isn’t it?

 Every time some new piece of technology is invented - every new social network that goes online - every breakthrough in human-computer interface is cause for alarm in many people who feel that we are becoming ever more like the Borg Collective. As is customary for my articles, a quick Google Search will come up with some insight into the thoughts of the non-transhumanists.

 As a rule, when some new gadget is introduced, like say the Oakley’s HUD glasses - a competitor to the Google Glasses, one of the first reader comments will be the familiar “Resistance is Futile.” refrain. It doesn’t even have to make sense to the article. There just has to be a report on a major (or not-so-major) news site about technology, and somewhere beneath it, you will see those words.

 But is it such a bad thing for humanity to want to become a collective? Isn’t one of the main selling points of the internet, social media, etc. the fact that we are all now closer than ever? What I write on my Twitter account can be read by hundreds or even thousands of people instantly. They know what I am thinking, and I can see what is on the mind of all the people I follow. Facebook allows me to share videos, photos, music, status updates and more (although I rarely use Facebook anymore, but I plan on returning to it). Foursquare, Google+, LinkdIn, Skype, and all the other apps and social media are being used to keep us constantly “plugged in” to our peers, our favorite celebrities, causes, politicians, businesses and anyone or anything else we want. Anything I want or need to know can be accessed instantaneously through my various devices. I have been keeping up on the reasearch into Google Glasses, Augmented Reality, implanted microchips, prosthetic limbs, brain uploading and more and I have to say “bring it on!” I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s and have lived on both sides of the technology boom. As a child I listened to vinyl records and now I have hours of music loaded onto my Android phone. I used to go to the corner Blockbuster once a week to rent VHS tapes and now I can instantly Netflix anything I want on my laptop, phone or TV. As I write these articles, or my upcoming novel, if I need specific information about a topic, it is there for me, either online or through a friend or follower, and I find that to be incredibly exciting.

In other words, I grew up “free” and have been “assimilated” into the collective consciousness of humanity, which is increasingly digital. 24 hour news has given rise to instant political commentary, so I know where each side stands on a given situation. People from all walks of life give input on message boards, Twitter and Facebook. CNN often shows viewer Tweets in the scroll at the bottom of the screen. Yet I do not feel like I have lost my individuality, in a Borg-like stupor. I feel much more informed than I would be if I were disconnected. I feel like I am a part of a greater whole. And I feel like I can be heard. I am not a voiceless drone. I am not one of the millions speaking in unison. The technology that connects me to everyone else does not rule me. I rule the technology and I use it to better myself. After all, isn’t that what Transhumanism is all about?

So how do we spread the word? How do we make breakthrough technology “sexier” to the general public? It seems that as long as there is some distance between the person and the product, people aren’t as nervous. Cell phones, tablet computers, iPods and the like are ubiquitous. However, as soon as someone brings up microchip implants, HUD glasses or thought-controlled interfaces - wearable technoloogy - people are upset about the potential consequences. In other words, how do we let people know that can we make “cyborgs” without making “The Borg?”

 This one will all come down to advertising, I think. Take a look at this video...

 And this one…

 These videos show people who are becoming more and more integrated with their technology. The woman in the first video has received an implant that allows her to hear for the first time. Did she immediately lose all her humanity? No. She is now able to participate more in society. To hear music, laughter, and all sorts of other things. Her use of this technology gave her one of the most sincere and wonderful emotional reactions I’ve ever watched. Cyborg? Yes. Borg? Not even remotely. The second video shows how currently developing technologies are going to integrate into the daily lives of people in the not-too-distant future. Do these people seem inhuman? Do they walk around like mindless zombies? No. In fact, they appear to have more time for interpersonal communication and healthy relationships. Of course, this video was created to make everyone appear happy, wealthy and well-adjusted. The truth will probably be a little less pleasant, but the idea remains the same, and it’s a good one. This video shows us that the future can be more like Star Trek, and that that future is not very far off.

A constant influx of these types of images - of happy people and their serene lives made possible through technology - might help to soften some of the Luddite reaction. Although, the comments sections beneath both of those videos on YouTube do feature debates and some very frightened people. We will never make everyone happy about the merger of man and machine, but with continued positive press and cheaper and more powerful devices, we will soon become linked together to spread our ideas, our beliefs, our lives with each other on a global scale, and we will be able to see, hear and do things that no humans in history have ever done. We are a collective species already, living in our big cities and longing to be part of groups with similar interests. We just need to take the next step - together.

The In-Vitro Meat Debate

Originally Posted on on May 7, 2012

Why doesn’t everyone get excited about transhumanism? Why aren’t all people fascinated by augmented and virtual reality, radical life-extension, brain-uploading, and The Singularity? This essay is the first in a series of articles, entitled “The Casual Transhuman” - it will examine h+ topics from the layman’s perspective and give suggestions on how transhumanists can spread their ideas without looking like crackpots to the world-at-large. 

 A few months ago, I was having dinner with some friends at a local diner. The topic of conversation turned to transhumanism and related fields of study. Our talk went into the wee hours of the morning, and we were quite animated in our discussion of life-extension, posthuman economics, religion and so forth. The three of us were like peas in the proverbial pod, but my wife sat quietly for most of the time, sipping her tea and staying as far away from the conversation as possible. She has always had an interest in science, but once we start getting into futurism or H+ topics, she shuts down. When I come home talking about some new concept for human/computer interface, augmented reality, in-vitro meat, etc., she nods her head, saying “uh huh” at every pause in my speech, and generally humoring me as much as possible before changing the subject to something practical.

 Why is that? She is certainly intelligent enough to understand these things. Her comprehension is not in question.

I have come to the conclusion that she doesn’t really think these things are truly possible. And that, if they are, the scientific advances we make are neither desirable nor practical. I ask for her thoughts on in-vitro meat and she shrugs her shoulders, saying “Nobody will eat it because it’s made in a lab. People would be too afraid of it.” Having read the article by Hank Pellissier titled Nine Ways In-Vitro Meat Will Change Our Lives I gave her examples of how it would be cheaper, healthier, even tastier, she still seemed to believe that nobody would be interested because they do not like change.

 This is one of the main problems I see with the H+ “community.” Transhumanists on the “inside,” the admitted science nerds and computer geeks and whatnot, are up to date on current research into these matters. The public, however, is not. The cubicle cowboy who uses the web for email, sports headlines and the occasional escapist pornography has no idea what the majority of the topics of interest to the H+ people are. They could not care less that somebody in a white coat is growing filet mignon in a petri dish. And if they read a short article about it on, say, Reuters, they would likely read the headline, skim the article and go straight to the comments where they will see an assortment of gems like the following…

 “Up Next….How to deal with people who have eaten in-vitro meat and have turned into flesh eating ZOMBIES!!!!” - benjamin81882

 “Great, but no animals lives will be saved. That’s a completely ridiculous and false statement. The animals just won’t be born in the first place. Vegans and veggies should be happy about this though as now more land can be dedicated to exploiting bees for fruits and vegetables and they can have their meat and eat it too. Of course, true vegans will still have to grow their own fruits and veggies and let nature take its course and no test tube meat for you as you cannot exploit animals (which includes humans) for food. LOL.” - Peter666

 And over at the Huffington Post comes one comment to which I give extra points for creativity…

 “I thought they already had this with the McRib…yum yum” - ewalter899

 Aside from this, there are many comparisons to Soylent Green and “Frankenburger” and other frightening ideas. So how does the growing community of transhumanists spread the word that there is absolutely NOTHING scary about this innovation? I have spoken to people who were using the “yuck” factor as a reason to avoid the shmeat. When I tell them (half-jokingly) to compare the slaughterhouse to a clean and sterile laboratory and then tell me which is yucky, they laugh it off and change the subject, like my wife does.

 Which leads me to the following thought. Is there are uncanny valley of sorts at play here? To the average person, is lab-grown meat not real meat? Can it only be considered beef if it actually came from a slaughtered cow? It looks like meat, smells like meat, tastes like meat - but it isn’t meat? Even though the vast majority of people no longer need to hunt for their meals, is there still some embedded need to connect with our food on a primal level? We know that this steak was once alive, and now it is not and it sustains us, so we are still at the top of the food chain. Is that a comforting thought to the carnivorous humans among us? To this I say, go out into the jungles of Africa with no weapons or tools and see how long you last. We have never been the top of any food chain. We are not the masters over most animals - only those our ancestors domesticated and bred.

 So how to change this perception that lab meat is creepy or wrong or ungodly? Well first, the media would have to stop referring to the product as “Frankenfood.” I see that in nearly every article I’ve read on the subject. It doesn’t exactly evoke a Pavlovian response from me, and I doubt it does to most people. In fact, “in-vitro meat,” the technical term for this product, isn’t so comforting either. My wife says the term makes her think of babies and that we don’t want to eat babies. There is an imitation crab meat product on the shelves called Krab and vegetarian meat-substitutes are already labeled Chik’n. In order for people to be less afraid of the product, they need to have a catchy name to call it that is also appetizing and positive. People seem to like seeing that their tuna is “dolphin safe” and that their chicken is “free-range,” meaning that the food company has taken steps to insure that the final product was prepared in a humane way with as little suffering to the animals as possible. So I propose that IVM be given a similar moniker, like “No-Kill Meat.” Nothing about labs, test tubes or petri dishes, and there is the satisfaction of knowing that this meat did not require the death of an animal. It may not be the best, but it sure beats Frankenburger.

 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has given their approval of this research, and that could help the growing population of vegetarians to spread the word about it. I know some people who believe that PETA does more harm than good but to the majority of people, they are the voice of vegetarianism. Other environmental agencies will focus on the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and other ecological benefits to IVM. Getting the vegetarians and the green thinkers on our side, promoting IVM will be sure to bring over a lot of consumers.

 When the product finally hits the shelves, perhaps we could invite our friends and neighbors to a barbecue and only tell them afterwards that their hot dogs and hamburgers were in-vitro. We could support any restaurants that serve IVM by patronizing them frequently (please no KFC jokes, I’m being serious here). In other words, you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. Any form of positive reinforcement is better than negative acts like attacking slaughterhouses and protesting in front of a McDonald’s. That would only serve to frighten away people who might have been vaguely interested. Perhaps some intrepid entrepreneur could open a restaurant that serves popular dishes in which the meat has been entirely replaced with IVM.

 And now I open the floor to all of you. In-vitro meat is on its way, and soon. It can be met with applause and excitement, or with derision and scorn. It is up to those of us who believe that this product will fundamentally change the way we produce and consume our food to spread the word about it. How would you make in-vitro meat more…appetizing…to the common consumer?