Convergence Technologies: NBIC and the Future

If they will not understand that we are bringing them a mathematically faultless happiness, our duty will be to force them to be happy.

– Yevgeny Zamyatin, WE

Dr. Mihail C. Roco Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology at the National Science Foundation tells us that the convergence of knowledge and technology for the benefit of society is the core opportunity for progress in the 21st century, based on five principles:

  1. the interdependence of all components of nature and society,
  2. decision analysis for research and development based on system-logic deduction,
  3. enhancement of discovery, invention and innovation through evolutionary processes of convergence that combine existing principles and competencies, and divergence that generates new ones,
  4. higher-level cross-domain languages to generate new solutions and support transfer of new knowledge, and
  5. vision-inspired basic research embodied in grand challenges. It allows society to answer questions and resolve problems that isolated capabilities cannot, as well as to create new competencies, knowledge and technologies on this basis.

A book that will support this new progressive agenda tell us the convergence in knowledge, technology, and society is the accelerating, transformative interaction among seemingly distinct scientific disciplines, technologies, and communities to achieve mutual compatibility, synergism, and integration, and through this process to create added value for societal benefit. It is a movement that is recognized by scientists and thought leaders around the world as having the potential to provide far-reaching solutions to many of today’s complex knowledge, technology, and human development challenges. Four essential and interdependent convergence platforms of human activity are defined in the first part of this report: nanotechnology-biotechnology-information technology and cognitive science (“NBIC”) foundational tools; Earth-scale environmental systems; human-scale activities; and convergence methods for societal-scale activities. The report then presents the main implications of convergence for human physical potential, cognition and communication, productivity and societal outcomes, education and physical infrastructure, sustainability, and innovative and responsible governance. As a whole, the report presents a new model for convergence. To effectively take advantage of this potential, a proactive governance approach is suggested.  The study identifies an international opportunity to develop and apply convergence for technological, economic, environmental, and societal benefits.

A Progressive Utopia?

Have we seen this before, this notion of the unification of the sciences, a convergence? A few years ago I reread WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin, a parody of the future bureaucratization of Soviet Russia:

“In another hundred and twenty days the building of the Integral will be completed. The great historic hour is near, when the first Integral will rise into the limitless space of the universe. One thousand years ago your heroic ancestors subjected the whole earth to the power of the United State. A still more glorious task is before you: the integration of the indefinite equation of the Cosmos by the use of the glass, electric, fire-breathing Integral. Your mission is to subjugate to the grateful yoke of reason the unknown beings who live on other planets, and who are perhaps still in the primitive state of freedom. If they will not understand that we are bringing them a mathematically faultless happiness, our duty will be to force them to be happy. But before we take up arms, we shall try the power of words.1

Is this not what Badiou proclaims in his apparent affirmation of a return to Galileo and the mathematization of reality in physics:

“This is what Plato had already anticipated,” Badiou explains, “when he indicated that the duty of those who escape from his famous cave, dazzled by the sun of the Idea, was to return to the shadows and to help their companions in servitude to profit from that by which, on the threshold of this dark world, they had been seized. Only today can we fully measure what this return means: it is that of Galilean physics back toward technical machinery, or of atomic theory back toward bombs and nuclear power plants. The return of disinterested interest toward brute interest, the forcing of knowledges by a few truths” (E, 53).2

A return to “disinterested interest toward brute interest”? A “forcing of knowledges by a few truths”? Brute, abstract, disinterested… forcing… reduction to a few simple truths. On another site NBIC Science we see the transhumanist agenda formulated under the banner of these converging technologies as if the enhanced future of the transhuman paradigm of the Neoliberal Cathedral were just a few days a away:

Behind the NBIC convergence, a philosophy in favor of a radical transformation of humanity – transhumanism – is dreaming to change Man. The technological potentialities are unlimited: they result from the debate between the bioprogressives (transhumanists) and biopreservationists that will determine what we shall become. Nanotechnologies, biology, computer sciences and cognitive sciences (artificial intelligence and brain sciences) are progressing and converging, and discoveries in one field will serve for research in another. This synergy will multiply the power of research and enable spectacular advances. Medical warfare using all these NBIC weapons to maintain the factories that constitute our cells is already on the way.

Nietzsche on steroids I presume. And you notice the term bioprogressives as transhumanists – an almost salvic religion of science transforming the humanity into HUMAN 2.0 the next evolutionary step. Should we take such things seriously? If the National Science Foundation is supporting such agendas: What next? We understand this:

Back in 2003 W. S. Bainbridge of the National Science Foundation, Arlington, Virginia, USA had authored a paper in which he stated…”the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science can greatly improve human performance over the next ten to twenty years. The chief areas of application include: expanding human cognition and communication, improving human health and physical capabilities, enhancing group and societal outcomes, strengthening national security, and unifying science and education. Convergence will be based on the material unity of nature at the nanoscale, technology integration from the nanoscale, key transforming tools, the concept of reality as closely coupled hierarchical complex systems, and the goal to improve human performance.

Is their goal the Ubermench or the enslavement of the excluded? One academic institution, Norwich University, received $777000: The Institute for Advanced Sciences Convergence (IASC) has been created to analyze and evaluate basic science advances in nanotechnology, bioengineering, information management, and cognitive sciences (NBIC) and to propose an investment roadmap for the Department of Defense (DoD).” Notice the DoD is involved. They show up quite regularly around technology, which of course is nothing unusual since from what I showed above this is a large part of their current major initiative. The money for this initiative will go for:

The main idea underlying the creation of the IASC is to capitalize on NBIC convergence. In the future novel materials (hardware), biological systems (wetware), and information processing and exchange in the form of computers and cognition (software) will converge leading to integrated systems that incorporate sensing, analysis, and awareness at the nanoscale.

Another God project? Pansychism to the nth degree: an artificial swarm of nanobots fully aware and working in unison, organized for health and war. What a grand vision…. or is this hell in miniature?

The future will incorporate these nanoboat swarms as part of your day to day rejuvenation program. As this article reminds us Swarms of Nanobots for in vivo Diagnosis of Endogenous Diseases:

In swarm of macroscopic robots,  individuals communicate by using appropriate signals. Within this scheme  Reference proposed that each nanobot stores specific chemicals to be  released for detection by other nanobots. Another approach (which, at best of  our knowledge, has not been investigated yet) can be based on the fact that at  the microscopic scale collision is not an issue. Consequently, communication  between nanobots can happen through direct physical     interactions. To show how direct physical interaction can be  exploited, consider the nanobots task of clustering around unhealthy cells. The  usefulness of this task follows from the fact that if this cluster is  sufficiently large, it can trivially be imaged via x-ray computerised axial  tomography. A more sophisticated application exploits the fact that the cluster  may become large enough to behave as an antenna, able to send an  electromagnetic pulse to the central units – the transmission of radiation in  the millimeter band would require the clustering of ∼10 nanobots only. For a  swarm of 106 agents, a nanobot anchored to a capillary wall will on  the mean interact with another nanobot each three days, so that a cluster  suffciently large to inform the central unit will be formed in approximately  one month.

But if these little wiggly subdermal travelers can be used for medical and health reasons, just imagine what the good old boys in green or their black ops buddies have up their military sleeve. Swarms of warbots infiltrating the enemy populace: some communication agents that restructure the brain chemistry to allow for a zombiefication of directed or goal oriented slaves to do the bidding: assassination, infobombs, etc.; or, the slow death of a nanovirus invasion of the enemies cities, automobiles, military equipment that strips the very resources to the bone. Wonders of a marvelous new technology! Shall I shoot myself now? Michael Crichton in Prey had already advanced the nightmare scenario:

Jack is taken to the Xymos research facility in the Basin Desert. Jack is given a tour of the lab and meets the programming team. He is shown a very complicated machine used to make the nanobots from bacteria. Ricky refuses to show Jack the source code for the nanobots, and later Ricky claims that building contractors failed to properly install filters in a certain vent in the building. As a result, hazardous elements such as the assemblers, the bacteria, and the nanobots were blown into the desert, evolving and eventually forming autonomous swarms. These swarms appear to be clouds of solar-powered and self-sufficient, reproducing and evolving rapidly. The swarms exhibit predatory behavior, attacking and killing animals in the wild, using code that Jack himself worked on. Most alarmingly, the swarms seem to possess rudimentary intelligence, the ability to quickly learn and to innovate. Jack also learns that Julia helped teach the swarms to improve their intelligence and become more benign, but regressed when she left. The swarms tend to wander around the fab plant during the day but quickly leave when strong winds blow or night falls.

Intelligent swarms out of control… or, should we listen to that optimistic voice of the new technium, Kevin Kelley:

So what does technology want? Technology wants what we want— the same long list of merits we crave. When a technology has found its ideal role in the world, it becomes an active agent in increasing the options, choices, and possibilities of others. Our task is to encourage the development of each new invention toward this inherent good, to align it in the same direction that all life is headed. Our choice in the technium —and it is a real and significant choice— is to steer our creations toward those versions, those manifestations, that maximize that technology’s benefits, and to keep it from thwarting itself. Our role as humans, at least for the time being, is to coax technology along the paths it naturally wants to go.3

So does technology have its own teleological goals? (“alone paths it naturally wants to go”) Naturally? Is this an artificial naturalism as if technology was part of nature rather than a human apparatus, a set of human made components that make up the artificial helpmeets of our constructed environments? Have we turned nature inside out? Has civilization and technology become naturalized to the point that they have for the most part vanished into the landscapes? Bill Joy the opposite of Kelley once described this naturalization of technology as a nightmare, a luddites hell become real in Why the future doesn’t need us:

If the machines are permitted to make all their own decisions, we can’t  make any conjectures as to the results, because it is impossible to guess  how such machines might behave. We only point out that the fate of the  human race would be at the mercy of the machines. It might be argued that  the human race would never be foolish enough to hand over all the power  to the machines. But we are suggesting neither that the human race would  voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor that the machines would  willfully seize power. What we do suggest is that the human race might  easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the  machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the  machines’ decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more  and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people  will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because  machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually  a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system  running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making  them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control.  People won’t be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so  dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.

Have we reached that stage already? What would you do without your mobile phone, computer, television, lawnmower, washing machine and dryer, air conditioning… otherwise you get such positive feedback from Agribusiness that Biotechnology Can Help Feed an Increasing World Population:

“Biotechnology-derived solutions built into the genotype of plants could reduce use of agrochemicals, thus promoting sustainable yields.” The application of pesticides and fungicides could be reduced through plants with genetic pest resistance. Plants with high tolerance for conditions of salinity  or high iron toxicity could help to improve agricultural production in marginal areas.

Some biotechnological techniques, like in vitro culture, are very helpful for maintenance of germplasm collections of species with low fertility and of species that are hard to keep as seeds or in field gene banks,  according to the FAO report.

“Biotechnology may reduce GENETIC DIVERSITY indirectly by displacing  landraces and their inherent diversity as farmers adopt genetically uniform  varieties of plants and other organisms. At the same time it increases the potential to preserve and sustainably use diversity. In the case of  endangered animal breeds, cryopreservation and somatic cloning can strengthen traditional conservation strategies,” the report said.

You see the neutral tone of the report how it talks of the genocide of plants and animals as the reduction of genetic diversity, as well as the use of “genetically uniform  varieties of plants and other organisms” for the reduction of plants and organisms to laboratory replicants and genetic hybrids to support the monoculture of Agribusiness.

And remember this is just the light side of the Great Convergence… we haven’t even told you of the transformations ahead for politics, governance, the global commons, the replacement of the earth with an artificial noosphere devoid of human life altogether. Oh let us all sing Kumbayah for the last generation of humanity…

… or begin the revolution now! Up to you…

1. Zamyatin, Yevgeny (2013-01-15). We (Momentum Classic Science Fiction) (Kindle Locations 61-66). Pan Macmillan Australia. Kindle Edition.
2. Peter Hallward. Badiou: A Subject To Truth (pp. 138-139). Kindle Edition.
3. Kelly, Kevin (2010-10-14). What Technology Wants (Kindle Locations 3939-3944). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

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