TED Conversations

Erik Richardson

Teacher, Richardson Ideaworks, Inc.


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Aren't transhumanists committing the Jurassic Park fallacy?

Given that even the smallest disruption or perturbation in a complex system can be amplified, and given that there are still so many important aspects of the mind-body interaction in human medicine, it seems like moving forward with the technological enhancement of human beings—ranging from putting computers inside us to putting us inside computers—is to court the same kind of disasters we always get when we tinker with things we don't yet understand.


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  • Apr 23 2011: Complex systems abound. We make changes every day and many of the consequences are unforeseeable. Never the less, most systems rock on... e.g. we alter our body chemistry when we eat and it usually turns out OK.

    Complex systems have emergent properties that often act to help the system adapt to and exploit changes. Its true that you can throw a system out of equilibrium and/or cause a phase change sometimes, but fortunately for us all, that doesn't occur as often. More typically, changes help the system grow and evolve.

    It is inherently impossible to know all the ways any complex system will change as a result of some alteration. Paradoxically, the lack of change also has consequences. Not making a change could turn out to be a kind of sin of omission.

    In theory, we could "leave well enough alone" but, realistically, that just isn't going to happen. Short of global catastrophe, technological innovation will continue apace. In fact, it will continue to accelerate. Failing to adapt socially to this reality posses one of the greatest dangers. We need innovation to cope with the changes we've already made.

    Fear of the unknown is natural ( at least for the time being ), but it is not inherently wise. Caution isn't always advisable. Sometimes, what appear to be risky behaviors are in fact the very things that lead to growth, happiness, and prosperity.

    We must continue to do what we've always done... make educated guesses and try to take some precautions that mitigate anticipated negative outcomes. However, that must occur in parallel with the process of experimentation and discovery. It can not all be done in advance, since we simply can't anticipate every threat.
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      Apr 23 2011: So on your reading, it sounds as if there are no lines too dangerous to be crossed, and never a point that is too soon to cross it. My argument is primarily about the latter, with a weighting of variables based on the first.

      Yes, sometimes what appear to be risky behaviors turn out well, the point is that sometimes they turn out to be absurdly destructive.
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        May 8 2011: However, if we allow ourselves complacency in matters of progress, soon we would be significantly outmatched by those who at the moment have very little to loose and willing to perform high gain research. If you don't follow progress, you will be left behind.

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