Tag Archives: future technology

Deep Fake Technology Can Now Make Tom Cruise Iron Man: Signs And Implications

Certain technology advances slowly and steadily. It’s why we’re still waiting for a cure for the common cold. Other technological breakthroughs advance at such a fast rate it’s hard to keep up with. Anyone who doesn’t regularly upgrade their cell phone understands that.

That brings me to the technology of deep fakes. I’ve talked about them before and the implications this technology has for the entertainment industry. Well, I’m here to report that this technology might be advancing faster than I thought.

Recently, a new deep fake video hit the web. It’s nothing overly nefarious. It’s actually a play on a real story from the mid-2000s. Before Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Tony Stark in the first “Iron Man” movie, Tom Cruise was in the running for that role.

He has since claimed he was never close to getting that role, but it’s still an interesting idea. For most Marvel fans, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than RDJ donning that now-iconic armor. However, there’s no denying that Tom Cruise being Iron Man would’ve changed a franchise, as well as cinematic history.

Well, thanks to deep fake technology, we don’t have to imagine anymore. We can now see for ourselves what it would look like if Tom Cruise had been cast as Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. See for yourself.

Watching this, I have to say it was more than a little jarring. It’s not just that seeing someone other than RDJ as Iron Man is strange. I was genuinely impressed by how real it looked.

Yes, it did become a bit obvious at times that there was some digital trickery at work. I’ve seen enough Tom Cruise movies to know what he looks like. I could tell that the body just did not match the iconic face at times.

However, I’m still impressed at just how seamless it appeared, especially when he was in the Iron Man costume. It really did look like Cruise had embraced the role as much as RDJ had. Even though the voice had to come courtesy of a skilled voice actor, the graphics technology is definitely on pace to cross the uncanny valley sooner rather than later.

The implications here are profound. If the technology is already at this point, then it’s a given that Hollywood and propaganda pushers will start embracing it sooner. For Hollywood, who is reeling in wake of a historic pandemic, they may have more incentives to embrace it than most.

Beyond actors and actresses who get “cancelled” for their behavior, it may start as a cost cutting measure. If it costs too much to put Hugh Jackman or Tom Cruise on a movie set, why not just put a cheaper actor in their place and just deep fake the more iconic figure over it? If the technology is that good and nobody can tell the difference, it almost makes too much sense.

It may get to a point where nobody outside the studio knows whether the figure we see on screen was actually “there” to give that moment life. They may just be a digital scan mixed with digitally audio, which is also advancing.

This has even larger implications with propaganda. If the technology gets to a point where we can make any public figure say or do anything we want, no matter how deplorable, then how can we trust any media image? Would “cancel culture” even be feasible at that point? If people can just claim an embarrassing moment was a deep fake, how would we know?

It’s a distressing thought, but it’s something we’ll have to account for. We may end up having to contemplate it sooner than we thought. This technology can already show us a world in which Tom Cruise was cast as Iron Man. What other worlds will it reveal?

We’ll find out soon enough.

Leave a comment

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, media issues, superhero comics, superhero movies, technology, YouTube

Artificial Intelligence Is Learning Law: Is Government Next?

It’s inevitable. As technology advances, certain industries are going to become obsolete. That’s why the horse-and-buggy industry is incredibly limited. It’s also why companies don’t make typewriters or LaserDisk movies anymore. Once better tech becomes available, an industry either adapts or disappears. Just ask Blockbuster.

Sometimes, it’s obvious that an industry is becoming obsolete. Again, just ask Blockbuster. As soon as something better, easier, and more convenient comes along, it’s only a matter of time before it takes over. However, it’s when things aren’t quite as obvious where more dramatic changes occur.

In terms of dramatic change, few things have the potential to generate more than artificial intelligence. I’ve highlighted that many times before, but a lot of that potential depends on advances that haven’t happened yet. They’re still likely to happen at some point, which may or may not be in my lifetime. They’re just not there yet.

That said, AI doesn’t have to become advanced on the level of Skynet or Hal 9000 to impact and/or disrupt major industries. The AI technology we have now is already having an impact. It may only be a narrow form of AI, which is AI that’s focused on performing a specific task, like playing chess. Its potential is still immense and some fields are feeling it more than others.

One industry that might feel it first is law. Now, at the risk of inspiring one too many lawyer jokes, I’m going to try and keep things general here. I’m also going to try and fit in some personal experience. I know some lawyers personally. I’ve been in law offices and I’ve seen how they work. You don’t have to be that much a visionary to understand how AI could change this industry entirely.

Recently, TechNews did a story on how artificial intelligence is learning basic legal operations and learning it quite well. Given the massive amounts of data and technicalities included in American law, a narrow AI is ideally suited to handle such tasks. However, I don’t think the piece fully grasps the implications.

TechNews: Lawyers Beware: Artificial Intelligence Is Learning Law – And Doing Frighteningly Well

AI or artificial intelligence is starting to find its footing in the legal field. The world is now on the brink of revolution in legal profession spearheaded with the extensive use of AI in the entire industry, specifically by the in-house lawyers.

Just like how email greatly changed the way people conduct their business on a daily basis, AI is also expected to become an ever-present force and an invaluable assistant to almost all lawyers.

But the million-dollar question now is, what does the future look like for AI as far as the legal industry is concerned? A much bigger question is, will AI soon replace real life lawyers?

These are not unreasonable questions. What will happen to the current legal industry if much of the legal grunt-work can be handled by an AI? What will happen to the industry when it’s no longer necessary to have a huge team of overpaid lawyers to conduct competent legal operations?

As someone who has been in his share of law offices, I can make a few educated guesses. I can easily imagine firms shrinking their office space, but expanding their operations. Most of the legal offices I’ve gone to dedicate 80 percent of their office space to storing documents and secure research material. Very little is left or necessary for the actual people doing the work.

The recent pandemic has only revealed that plenty of this work can be done form home or remotely. Some legal proceedings are even unfolding through Zoom calls, albeit with mixed results. It’s a step in that it undermines and disrupts the traditional model for handling the law. It also raises a much larger question that the TechNews article didn’t ask.

Once AI learns the law, then is learning government next?

It’s a natural progression. Governments make and administer laws. An AI that specializes in the law would also have to learn government, as well. A narrow AI might be able to process the general bureaucracy of a government, but what happens when those systems become more advanced?

I’m not just talking about a scenario where an AI becomes the government, which I’ve already speculated on. An AI that has perfect expertise in both law and government operations could have many less obvious effects. Inefficiencies that often go unnoticed in a bureaucracy are suddenly harder to overlook. Inconsistencies that rarely get fixed, due to that bureaucracy, can finally be remedied.

In theory, a sufficiently advanced AI, which need not be as intelligent as a human, could do more than just document legal and government proceedings. It could formulate new laws and policies on its own. Some may seem outrageous from a basic non-lawyer human perspective, but make perfect sense within a functioning legal system or government.

It may still seem like just another tool for lawyers to stay organized, but I think it could be more than that. If an AI makes both legal and government systems more efficient, then what will that mean for those in government? Would politicians be better able to implement their agenda if they have tools like AI at their disposal? Would that necessarily be a good thing?

This is where things get both tricky and political. No matter how confident you are in your political persuasions, the party you favor will not always be in power.

It may seem like politics is trending a certain way, but those trends change quickly. People who think their party is strong now can’t imagine a time when they’ll lose that strength. It happens regularly in any democracy.

Like it or not, your party will one day be out of power. When that happens, do you want the other party having a more efficient means of implementing their policies?

I’m sure everyone’s answer to that question will vary. What no one is certain of is how we’ll keep up with ever-improving AI systems, regardless of what industry they’re in. It’s one thing for a system to make it easier to stream movies or keep track of groceries. It’s quite another when it becomes intimately involved with our laws and our government.

The TechNews article expressed some concern, but only with respect to how it affects the current law industry. I believe AI, even if it’s focused only on law, will have a far larger impact. That’s not to say that AI will render law firms and governments obsolete.

If ever there was one domain in which foresight is critical, it’s this. Some industries can and should become obsolete. Others, like how we govern our society, need a more careful approach. We simply cannot afford our laws and our government to end up like Blockbuster.

Leave a comment

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Current Events, human nature, Neuralink, politics, technology

The “Perfect” Sex Robot Thought Experiment

There’s a good chance that you’ve encountered someone who has a very strange kink. It’s probably not illegal, disgusting, or damaging. It’s just something that would make most people cringe if said out loud with a straight face. I won’t speculate on what that kink might be. I’ll just trust in the lurid imaginations of anyone reading this article to fill in the blanks.

With that in mind, I’d like to add another detail to that concept. Say you know this person’s kink. It rightly disgusts you. You believe it could be harmful to both the person and whoever they’re doing it with. However, you also know that they’ve never acted on this kink with anyone. On top of that, you know they’ll never act on it. Would you still trust them?

I know that last part is a bit of a stretch. We can never truly predict how anyone will act in the future. They could be the most disciplined person who ever lived, exercising restraint every day of their lives for years on end. They would only have to have one lapse to undermine others’ trust in them.

That’s why I’m framing it as a thought experiment. This is the sort of thing that just has no analog in the real world. It’s still important to contemplate because it can provide insights into who we are, who we trust, and how we conduct ourselves as a society.

Now, I want to throw sex robots into the mix. I promise there’s a legitimate point to that. This isn’t me speculating about the future of sex robots and other technology that’ll likely impact our sex lives. In fact, for this thought experiment to work, I’ll have to push the concept of sex robots to an extreme that is probably beyond any technology we’ll see in our lifetimes.

That’s because it requires that we envision the concept of a “perfect” sex robots. Now, I put “perfect” in quotes because perfection is subjective, especially when it comes to complex issues like human sexuality. It’s just a useful way to envision a form of sexual expression that goes beyond just sex with robots.

For the sake of the thought experiment, here’s a quick definition of what constitutes a “perfect” sex robot.

The robot is of a humanoid form and composed of universally malleable matter. It can effectively shape-shift into anyone, taking on any appearance the user desires, including that of celebrities, fictional characters, or private citizens. The robot can also take on inhuman forms. It can have fully functional sex organs of any gender or entirely new genders.

It also has an artificial intelligence that allows it to perfectly mimic any identity, role, or personality the user wishes. There are no restrictions or taboos. The robot is completely obedient, cannot be harmed, and never suffers.

In essence, the perfect robot is like Mystique from the X-Men combined with Rosie from “The Jetsons.” It can look any way a user wants. It does anything the user wants. It’s basically the ultimate sexual outlet. It doesn’t matter how tame or perverse your kink is. This robot will act it out with you whenever you want.

Why does that matter?

Well, it matters because horrible sex crimes and abuse still happen. As disgusting as it is to acknowledge, people do horrific things to other human beings to obtain sexual gratification. While most people aren’t like that, those deviant individuals still exist. These twisted desires still exist. There are those who don’t act on them, but if the desire is there, it’s still worthy of concern.

I think it’s relevant, given how much concerns over sexual assault and sexual abuse have become in recent years. On top of those concerns, there are other taboos and cultural attitudes that have been skewing our collective sexuality for centuries. From organized religion to sexy video game characters, there are many forces influencing our desires.

That brings me back to the essence of this thought experiment. This is where we have to both use our imaginations and speculate on how we conduct ourselves in a society.

Imagine that this perfect sex robot exist.

Now, imagine that everyone has one or several as soon as they reach an age at which they can consent to sex.

Everyone can carry out whatever depraved sex act they wish with this perfect sex robot, even if it’s illegal.

It doesn’t matter what their income is, where they live, or what their background is. Everyone has access to this perfect sex robot.

People can still form relationships with real people. They can still have children and raise families, like they always do.

What would change in this scenario? How would everyone conduct themselves in a world where they always had an outlet for whatever sexual desires they wanted? From decadent billionaires to working class people, they can all live out whatever fantasy they want with whoever they want.

Take it a step further. Imagine you met someone whose predilections you knew. Maybe they share it with you or you find out. Whatever it is, you find it abhorrent. You believe that, if they did this with anyone other than a sex robot, they’d be guilty of a horrific crime. However, they’ve never done it with anyone other than the robot and never would. Would you still associate with that person?

Even if you had a guarantee that nobody ever acted out their perverse desires on anyone other than a sex robot, would you still be comfortable around that person? Hell, flip the roles. Imagine you told someone about your kinks and they found it horrifying. How would you feel if they resented you, even if you never acted on them with real people and never would?

Keep following the possibilities.

Imagine someone uses their perfect sex robot to sleep with your spouse, parent, sibling, or child.

Imagine someone who claims to be heterosexual, but engages in homosexual acts with their sex robot.

Imagine someone who is never abusive with anyone, but horrifically abuses their sex robot.

I’ll stop short of adding more layers to this experiment. I think I’ve gotten my point across. For now, I encourage everyone to contemplate this. Think about how you would conduct yourself around people in this scenario. Think about what it would mean for society, as a whole.

There are no wrong answers, but the possibilities are as profound as they are kinky.

1 Comment

Filed under health, human nature, sex in society, sex robots, Sexy Future, Thought Experiment

Jack’s World: Why Neuralink Might Be The Most Important Venture Of All Time

The following is a video for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. You may recognize the title from an article I wrote years ago in the before times when pandemics were still the subject of bad sci-fi movies. I miss those times too.

The news surrounding Neuralink is still of great interest to me. I still think it’s one of the most important technological advancements of the century. This video simply offers another general overview of why this technology is so important. Enjoy!

Leave a comment

Filed under biotechnology, futurism, health, human nature, Jack's World, Neuralink, technology, YouTube

Customizing Your Junk In “Cyberpunk 2077” And The (Potentially Real) Possibilities It’ll Inspires

Technology has and will continue to affect our sex life, our love life, our social life, and everything in between. It’s unavoidable. Whatever new technology we create will eventually affect or be applied to our sex life. Whether intentional or unintentional, it’ll find a way. Human beings are just too creative, passionate, and horny.

I’ve explored some emerging technologies that could have a significant impact on our sex lives. Many people alive today are likely to feel those impacts at some point. For the most part, it’s difficult to imagine. We can only speculate. However, we may gain unique insights from unexpected places.

Decades ago, shows like “Star Trek” and movies like “Demolition Man” imagined technology like smartphones and tablets. At the time, they didn’t seem like huge leaps, but they still seemed futuristic. They also offered some insight into how technology might find its way into our lives. It may have been innocuous to the story, but it was downright prophetic in envisioning the real-world implications.

This brings me to an upcoming game called “Cyberpunk 2077.” In a year where so many things that we love are getting delayed or cancelled, this had video game fans of all types giddy with excitement. It’s already one of the most anticipated games of the year and I count myself among those who have already made plans to play it for hours on end.

This is no standard Mario game. “Cyberpunk 2077” is “Grand Theft Auto” meets “Skyrim,” with a dash of Keanu Reeves for added awesome. It’s a mature journey into a futuristic world full of cyborgs, outlaws, and bloody brawls. If you can’t find something to enjoy in that, then you’re just being difficult.

However, the appeal of game isn’t the primary issue I want to highlight. Recently, some new details emerged that could offer the kind of futuristic insight that even “Star Trek” was too afraid to address. Specifically, the game revealed an option to customize the genitals of your character. An article in Kotaku went into detail.

Kotaku: Cyberpunk 2077 Has First-Person Sex Scenes, Will Let You Customize Your Genitals

Players can select a gender and customize their character; customization can include depictions of breasts, buttocks, and genitalia, as well as various sizes and combinations of genitals. Players can encounter events where they have the option to engage in sexual activities with other main characters or prostitutes — these brief sex scenes (from a first-person perspective) depict partially nude characters moaning suggestively while moving through various positions.

Now, this feature isn’t exactly new. Other games have played with similar options, such as “Saints Row.” However, “Cyberpunk 2077” promises to take this option even further.

That makes sense in the context of the game. It’s a futuristic world in which the line between technology and our bodies is essentially gone. You can augment limps, organs, and various other features. It makes sense that this extends to our genitals. Conceivably, it means men can have vaginas, women can have penises, and those who prefer a more ambiguous kind of sexuality can mix and match.

The possibilities are vast, as well as sexy. To some, it’ll be disturbing. I’m sure the Rick Santorums and Jack Thompsons of the world won’t sleep well. At the same time, it provides some insight into the future of our bodies, our sex lives, and our love lives.

While the technology in “Cyberpunk 2077” is a long way off, some parts of it are already starting to emerge. From Neuralink to lab grown organs, the principle of creating new body parts and augmenting the ones we have isn’t new. It’s not some magical concept that requires that we break the laws of physics. In theory, this sort of thing is possible. It’s just a matter of time, investment, and development.

What games like “Cyberpunk 2077” promise is the ability to explore how society reacts to having the ability to change, enhance, or adjust their bodies at will. If you can have one set of genitals one day and another by the end of the week, what does that do for people? How does it affect the way they conduct themselves? How does it impact our notions of gender?

It would definitely change. That’s for certain. While it may be a novelty in the game, it could offer some insights for the real world. A while back, a study of players who played “Mass Effect” revealed that the vast majority of them preferred the path of a paragon hero over that of a renegade. Both options were available, but one appealed more.

I find that kind of insight powerful because, unlike TV shows or movies, video games are more engaging. People play an active role in both the plot of the story and how the characters conduct themselves. In games like “Cyberpunk 2077” when there are so many options for customization, the possibilities are even greater.

One day, people in the real world will be able to reconfigure and customize their genitals just like players can in “Cyberpunk 2077.” It’s hard to know what kind of impact that’ll have on the world, but “Cyberpunk 2077” should give us a tantalizing glimpse.

Leave a comment

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, futurism, gender issues, Second Sexual Revolution, sex in society, sex robots, Sexy Future, video games

Study: Men With Bionic Penises Satisfy Their Partners Better (And The Implications)

A while back, I highlighted a recent story about a man who became the first recipient of a “bionic penis.” If I’m being honest, I had a lot of fun writing about that topic. Being a man among many who know the issues, taboos, and anxieties men have about their penises, that story got me contemplating a bold and sexy future.

Since then, other major issues have stolen the medical spotlight, but the sexy prospects of bionic genitals have not disappeared completely. In fact, late 2019 brought us some revealing scientific insights that were published in a peer reviewed journal. I suspect that, were it not for a global pandemic, this would be getting a lot more attention. As a study, it might very well be the sexiest conclusion in the history of science.

Simply put, the study showed that men who received penile implants satisfied their partners better than men with ordinary, non-bionic penises. In terms of raw numbers, it’s not a trivial difference either. The women whose lovers packed a bionic member achieved orgasm at a higher rate than those without one. Given the continued existence of the orgasm gap, this is a big deal with respect to our collective sex lives.

If you want more detail, you can read the abstract of the study below. You can also get a copy of the full paper, but since it was published in late 2019, it’s behind a paywall. Even so, the abstract itself is fairly revealing.

Journal of Andrologia: Post malleable Penile Prosthesis Satisfaction in elderly patients

Abstract: Post penile implant sexual satisfaction in elderly patients is a multi-factorial issue. In the present study, we investigated the possible implication of age on satisfaction after malleable penile implant surgery in elderly patients. We compared post‐operative sexual satisfaction in the elderly with that of a younger age group (reference group). Patients were classified into three groups according to their ages (group I <45, group II between 45 and 65, and group III older than 65 years old). Modified Erectile Dysfunction Inventory of Treatment Satisfaction (EDITS) questionnaire was used at 3, 6 and 12 months after implant surgery. EDITS scores showed statistically significant high satisfaction rates in all age groups. EDITS scores were higher in the early post‐operative period in younger groups compared to elderly patients. However, the difference between groups was insignificant at 12 months post‐operatively (p value = .06). Our results show that elderly patients have a high post‐operative satisfaction rate close to that of younger age groups, and they are suitable candidates for penile implant surgery with good and realistic post‐operative sexual satisfaction expectations.

Beyond the science and the data, let’s take a moment to appreciate the bigger picture. Penile implants have been around for years, but their capabilities and effectiveness had a lot of room for improvement. The implants being developed now may not be a giant leap, but they are a major step forward.

At a time when lab grown body parts, including vaginas, are advancing and biotechnology is becoming big business, this is one of those technologies that’s sure to get more attention than others. Curing diseases and easing suffering is great, but an advance that helps us have better sex and please our lovers is going to make more noise, literally and figuratively.

As any man, and many unsatisfied women, will tell you, the function of a natural penis has its limits. There’s a reason why treating sexual dysfunction is such a lucrative business. Unlike women, men have to deal with long refractory periods in between orgasms. Even when the desire is there, our bodies don’t always cooperate. It can be frustrating and that can ruin any sexy moment.

A bionic penis isn’t subject to those same limits. In theory, a well-designed mechanical member can operate beyond the capabilities of even a seasoned male porn star. The ones used in the study operate by pressing a button that operates an internal pump. It’s basically an erection on-demand, which might as well be a super power for some men and quite a few women.

It’s a good start, but it’s not going to stop there. If nothing else, this study shows that current technology can already meet or exceed the satisfaction achieved with a naturally functioning penis. That’s more then enough reason to keep refining this technology, making it cheaper and more accessible to men everywhere.

It still has a long way to go. Right now, these implants are basically a last resort for men for whom all other treatments have failed. With enough refinement, however, it could become to men what breast implants are to women. When coupled with other advances in biotechnology, they may get to a point where they’re not just marginally better than natural penises. They’re better by an entire order of magnitude.

What that means for men, their lovers, and our collective sex lives is hard to discern. I’ve tried to do my part by writing sexy short stories on such matters, but only time, research, and refinement will reveal how bionic penises will impact our future. This study is just the first of its kind. Given the breadth of our collective libido, I doubt it’ll be the last.

Leave a comment

Filed under biotechnology, futurism, men's issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, Sexy Future, women's issues

How I Would (Most Likely) Use A Self-Driving Car

The future can be scary at times, but the prospect of improved technology helps make it more exciting. I would argue it’s the most exciting part of the future. You see some of the fancy gadgets that tech companies are working on and you want to live long enough to use them, especially the sexy ones.

I’ve talked about emerging technology before. While I tend to be hopeful about the impact of certain technologies, I don’t overlook the existential dangers they pose. Some of those dangers are more relevant than others, but others are less fantastic and more pragmatic. One of those advances is self-driving cars.

Unlike some of the other advanced technologies that are decades away, this one already exists, albeit in a limited form. There are cars on the market today that can drive themselves in certain situations. I even had a chance to ride in one a couple years back. It works remarkably well, albeit it could only function on major highways.

There’s plenty of room for improvement, but it’s a promising start. The fact that it exists and is being refined as we speak means this is happening. It’s at an early stage, but like cell phones before it, the technology will continue to be refined. Eventually, it’ll get to the point where it’s better at navigating traffic than any human.

I honestly look forward to that day because I’m not a big fan of driving. I don’t mind it, but I’ve never been particularly fond of long drives, even if it’s for a vacation. My back gets sore, my arms get stiff, and I just get frustrated after the third hour behind the wheel.

It’s because of my aversion to long drives that I don’t take as many trips as I wish. I believe that if I had access to a perfectly functioning self-driving car, that would change. If the technology were refined to a point that I’d just type in an address and let it do the rest, then I would definitely go on trips. .With that in mind, I’d like to share a brief anecdote for how I would use a self-driving car.

It’s Friday night. I finished my last workout of the week, cleaned myself up, and ate my dinner. I’m tired, but I don’t intend to spend the weekend lounging around the house.

About a half-hour before I usually turn in, I pack my bag. I then put on my most comfortable pair of clothes, take a quick bathroom break, and head to the nearest self-driving car. As soon as I’m inside, I punch in the address to the beach that’s furthest south from where I am, whether it’s Florida, South Carolina, or somewhere in between.

I make sure the car has the range and speed. I then close it up, turn the car on, and let it work. From there, I just lay back in the seat and let myself fall asleep.

If all goes well, I wake up just as the car arrives at the beach. Even if the sun hasn’t risen yet, it’s right there in the nearest parking lot to the shore. I get out of the car, find the best spot I can on the beach, and wait to watch the sunrise. I then spend the rest of the day at the beach, lounging about and hitting up beach bars.

Once the sun sets, I return to the self-driving car, punch in my home address, make sure its charged, and ride it home. If I’ve done everything right, I sleep through the ride and wake up in my driveway. It caps off the end of a nice, relaxing day at the beach in which I slept through the commute.

This is just one idea from the perspective of what I’d do. If you have other ideas on how you’d use a self-driving car, please share them in the comments.

Leave a comment

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, technology

Selling (And Exploiting) Human Enhancement: An Ominous Lesson From “Superior Iron Man”

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_251b2rz5uxz4s4sssw0skg04c_640

How much would you be willing to pay for perfect health, perfect beauty, and a greater capacity to enjoy life as you see fit? This is not a rhetorical question. I would even argue that it’s an increasingly relevant question. In the coming years, answering it might even become more urgent.

I’ve talked about the prospects of human enhancement through emerging technology before. From its impact on our concept of beauty to how our society will function, there are many impacts to consider. Some of those impacts are already manifesting before our eyes. Just last year, the first genetically modified babies were born in China. Like it or not, this is happening.

It’s impossible to overstate the benefits, risks, and upheavals that human enhancement will have on our species and our world. Nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen as this technology matures or how societies, economies, and governments will react to it. Even so, it’s worth contemplating. It’s even worth imagining elaborate scenarios in fictional worlds.

While plenty of noteworthy stories have imagined such scenarios, some more dystopian than others, there’s one in particular I’d like to single out. It’s not entirely dystopian, but it does offer some distressing lessons about the larger economics of human enhancement. It also helps that those lessons come through a forgotten, but criminally underrated Iron Man comic.

Given the rapid rise of Iron Man’s star power over the past decade, his character is uniquely qualified to explore these difficult questions surrounding technology and how we use it. He is, at his core, a visionary who uses technology to solve problems, save lives, and occasionally fight invading aliens. In the series, “Superior Iron Man,” he takes that vision several steps further and cross many lines along the way.

While there are some convoluted circumstances surrounding this series, the ideas it explores are profound, even by the standards of superhero comics. You don’t need to know the specifics of those circumstances. They involve forces like magic and inversion spells, which are far too complicated to explain to those who haven’t followed Marvel comics for more than two decades.

The only detail anyone needs to know about “Superior Iron Man” is that the Tony Stark in this story is not the same lovable character that helped make Robert Downy Jr. one of the most lovable stars in Hollywood. This version of Tony is less bound by concepts of heroism, selflessness, and sobriety. That’s not to say he’s evil, but he’s definitely no hero.

Within this ethically bankrupt state, Tony embarks on a new initiative that’s as selfish as it is lucrative. It revolves around Extremis, an exotic cocktail of nanotechnology and biotechnology that effectively rewrites the blueprint of the entire human body into something better, stronger, and more robust. In essence, it is the ultimate tool for human enhancement.

While the initial version of Extremis was lethal to most people who used it, Tony creates a more commercialized version in “Superior Iron Man” that gives everyone a chance to enjoy its benefits. He calls it Extremis 3.0 and people can access it through a simple smartphone app. With it, people can achieve what Tony describes as physical perfection.

Everyone can be perfectly healthy.

Everyone can be young and beautiful.

Everyone can be functionally immortal.

It sounds like a miracle drug and by every measure, it is. This isn’t some Dr. Oz wannabe pitching vitamins that do nothing other than give you false hope. This technology actually works. With it, Tony gives the entire city of San Francisco a chance to experience the fruits of human enhancement.

Understandably, once people get a taste of what Extremis 3.0 has to offer, they love it. They also take full advantage of it. At one point in the story, Pepper Potts says it’s turning the streets of San Francisco into a non-stop parade of debauchery and self-indulgence. Tony does not see this as a bad thing. If anything, it perfectly complements his plans and his renewed appetite for self-indulgence.

This is where “Superior Iron Man” attempts to answer that question about putting a price on physical perfection. Writer Tom Taylor, alongside artist Yildiray Çinar, doesn’t hide from the disturbing parts of that answer. By the end of the first issue, Tony puts a literal price on that perfection. Needless to say, it causes plenty of conflict and it escalates quickly.

When he initially released Extremis 3.0 onto San Francisco, he gives ordinary people a taste of what it’s like to be as fit as Captain America, as beautiful as Emma Frost, and as physically endowed as Thor. It’s not a drug that just attempts to match that feeling. It physically changes their bodies and their capacity for using them. That taste, however, was just a free sample. To keep enjoying it, they must pay $99 a day.

It’s crude trick right out of the playbook of subscription apps. People get a free trial period that’s just long enough to get them hooked. Then, before they even realize they have to pay anything, they get hit with a paywall. It’s a cruel bait-and-switch, but this isn’t just another streaming video service. This is physical perfection and unlimited self-indulgence. Is $99 a day really that unreasonable?

It certainly rubs plenty of people the wrong way, including many of Tony’s long-time friends and allies. Both Daredevil and Pepper Potts turn against him for such devious tactic. It also has some noticeable effects on the people who use it. By the end of the first issue, a stark class divide emerges between those who can afford Extremis 3.0 and those who can’t.

Naturally, it causes crime and conflict among the residents of San Francisco. Tony, now both feared and beloved by these people, takes it upon himself to manage it. He gains power, wealth, status, and an endless supply of eager party guests for whenever he seeks to indulge. It’s a perfect cocktail of recklessness and irresponsibility.

Without spoiling the rest of the story, which ended too soon, I think it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture that “Superior Iron Man” presented. If you take away the iconic characters and the superhero themes, you get a story about a selfish business tycoon who has sole possession of the ultimate biotech product.

The goal isn’t to heal the sick, ease suffering, or evolve the human species. The goal is simply to make a lot of money, feed an inflated ego, and indulge in every conceivable vice without consequences. It’s a worst-case scenario for liberals and conservatives, alike. At the same time, it makes a compelling case that our current system can’t handle the impacts of large-scale human enhancement.

That doesn’t mean it can’t succeed in our current system. The size of the current biotech industry is already measured in the hundreds of billions. Overpriced drugs are nothing new, either. Just this past year, the FDA approved a drug called Zolgensma, which costs $425,000 a year for five years to treat a rare genetic disorder called spinal muscular atrophy.

By comparison, Extremis 3.0 is a bargain with far greater value. Even at $99 a day, the yearly cost of enjoying that physical perfection amounts to around $36,500 a year. That still takes up a good chunk of the average income for most Americans, but considering all the benefits of having a perfect body, is it still a bargain?

For anyone who has overpaid for inflated medical expenses, I suspect they would gladly pay that high price for Extremis 3.0. Tony Stark banked on that in “Superior Iron Man” and he was right. People did pay and it was very lucrative for him. The population of the San Francisco Bay Area in which he unleashed Extremis 3.0 is around 4.6 million. At $99 a day, that’s a potential annual revenue of $167 billion.

In terms of business ranking, that would put Tony’s venture in the top 20 in terms of largest companies by revenue. If he were to unleash Extremis on the entire United States, the potential annual revenue would be near $11.8 trillion. That’s a little more than half of the entire US economy.

Imagine one company, let alone one person, having that much money and influence over a population. Tony was already a billionaire before “Superior Iron Man,” but Extremis 3.0 rewarded him with more than just money. Tony, being the sole provider, held a great deal of power and influence over San Francisco. As is often the case in superhero stories, that power goes to his head.

That story plays out in the real world just as often. In some cases, it brings out the worst in people. For a product like Extremis 3.0, which provides human enhancement into a simple commercial package that anyone can access through an app, the potential for abuse is much worse.

Beyond the greed it would inspire and the recklessness it fosters, it would also widen and solidify a gap in society that might be impossible to close. The wealth gap is in the non-superhero world is already egregious. Adding something like Extremis 3.0 to the mix would only make it immeasurably worse.

More than a few people has expressed concern about the prospects of such an enormous societal divide. “Superior Iron Man” showed just how bad it could get and how quickly it could escalate. While the series only managed to explore this conflict to a point before it got canceled, Tom Taylor did enough to get a powerful point across.

In a world where human enhancement is real and commercially available, how do we go about distributing it among a population? Should we put a price on it? How high should that price be? Who should be in control of it?

Worst case scenario.

Superior Iron Man” never got a chance to explore the answers, but these are questions that will become increasingly relevant as advances in biotechnology accelerate. We may not be close to having a product like Extremis 3.0 and it’s uncertain whether we’ll even develop something like it in the next few decades.

Even if we do, “Superior Iron Man” made one thing clear. We, as a species and a society, are not ready for it.

Leave a comment

Filed under biotechnology, futurism, health, human nature, Neuralink, Sexy Future, superhero comics

Killer Robots, Drone Warfare, And How Artificial Intelligence Might Impact Both

920x515_charlene

On November 5, 2001, the history of warfare changed forever. On that date, an unmanned Predator drone armed with hellfire missiles killed Mohammed Atef, a known Al-Qaida military chief and the son-in-law to Osama Bin Laden. From a purely strategic standpoint, this was significant in that it proved the utility of a new kind of weapon system. In terms of the bigger picture, it marked the start of a new kind of warfare.

If the whole of human history has taught us anything, it’s that the course of that history changes when societies find new and devastating ways to wage war. In ancient times, to wage war, you needed to invest time and resources to train skilled warriors. That limited the scope and scale of war, although some did make the most of it.

Then, firearms came along and suddenly, you didn’t need a special warrior class. You just needed to give someone a gun, teach them how to use it, and organize them so that they could shoot in a unit. That raised both the killing power and the devastating scale of war. The rise of aircraft and bombers only compounded that.

In the 20th century, warfare became so advanced and so destructive that the large-scale wars of the past just aren’t feasible anymore. With the advent of nuclear weapons, the potential dangers of such a war are so great that no spoils are worth it anymore. In the past, I’ve even noted that the devastating power of nuclear weapons have had a positive impact on the world, albeit for distressing reasons.

Now, drone warfare has added a new complication. Today, drone strikes are such a common tactic that it barely makes the news. The only time they are noteworthy is when one of those strikes incurs heavy civilian casualties. It has also sparked serious legal questions when the targets of these strikes are American citizens. While these events are both tragic and distressing, there’s no going back.

Like gunpowder before it, the genie is out of the bottle. Warfare has evolved and will never be the same. If anything, the rise of combat drones will only accelerate the pace of change with respect to warfare. Like any weapon before it, some of that change will be negative, as civilian casualties often prove. However, there also potential benefits that could change more than just warfare.

Those benefits aren’t limited to keeping keep soldiers out of combat zones. From a cost standpoint, drones are significantly cheaper. A single manned F-22 Raptor costs approximately $150 million while a single combat drone costs about $16 million. That makes drones 15 times cheaper and you don’t need to be a combat ace to fly one.

However, those are just logistical benefits. It’s the potential that drones have in conjunction with advanced artificial intelligence that could make them every bit as influential as nuclear weapons. Make no mistake. There’s plenty of danger in that potential. There always is with advanced AI. I’ve even talked about some of those risks. Anyone who has seen a single “Terminator” movie understands those risks.

When it comes to warfare, though, risk tolerance tends to be more complicated than anything you see in the movies. The risks of AI and combat drones have already sparked concerns about killer robots in the military. As real as those risks are, there’s another side to that coin that rarely gets discussed.

Think back to any story involving a drone strike that killed civilians. There are plenty of incidents to reference. Those drones didn’t act on orders from Skynet. They were ordered by human military personnel, attempting to make tactical decision on whatever intelligence they had available at the time. The drones may have done the killing, but a human being gave the order.

To the credit of these highly trained men and women in the military, they’re still flawed humans at the end of the day. No matter how ethically they conduct themselves, they’re ability to assess, process, and judge a situation is limited. When those judgments have lives on the line, both the stakes and the burdens are immense.

Once more advanced artificial intelligence enters the picture, the dynamics for drone warfare changes considerably. This isn’t pure speculation. The United States Military has gone on record saying they’re looking for ways to integrate advanced AI into combat drones. While they stopped short of confirming they’re working on their own version of Skynet, the effort to merge AI and combat drones is underway.

In an overly-simplistic way, they basically confirmed they’re working on killer robots. They may not look like the Terminator or Ultron, but their function is similar. They’re programmed with a task and that task may or may not involve killing an enemy combatant. At some point, a combat drone is going to kill another human being purely based on AI.

That assumes it hasn’t already happened. It’s no secret that the United States Military maintains shadowy weapons programs that are often decades ahead of their time. Even if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s only a matter of time. Once an autonomous drone kills another human being, we’ll have officially entered another new era of warfare.

In this era, there are no human pilots directing combat drones from afar. There’s no human being pulling the trigger whenever a drone launches its lethal payload into a combat situation. The drones act on their own accord. They assess all the intel they have on hand, process it at speeds far beyond that of any human, and render decisions in an instant.

It sounds scary and it certainly is. Plenty of popular media, as well as respected public figures, paint a terrifying picture of killer robots killing without remorse or concern. However, those worst-case-scenarios overlook both the strategic and practical aspect of this technology.

In theory, a combat drone with sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence will be more effective than any human pilot could ever be in a military aircraft. It could fly better, carrying out maneuvers that would strain or outright kill even the most durable pilots. It could react better under stressful circumstances. It could even render better judgments that save more lives.

Imagine, for a moment, a combat drone with systems and abilities so refined that no human pilot or officer could hope to match it. This drone could fly into a war zone, analyze a situation, zero in on a target, and attack with such precision that there’s little to no collateral damage.

If it wanted to take a single person out, it could simply fire a high-powered laser that hits them right in the brain stem.

If it wants to take out someone hiding in a bunker, it could utilize a smart bullet or a rail gun that penetrates every level of shielding and impacts only a limited area.

If it wants to take out something bigger, it could coordinate with other drones to hit with traditional missiles in such a way that it had no hope of defending itself.

Granted, drones this advanced probably won’t be available on the outset. Every bit of new technology goes through a learning curve. Just look at the first firearms and combat planes for proof of that. It takes time, refinement, and incentive to make a weapons system work. Even before it’s perfected, it’ll still have an impact.

At the moment, the incentives are definitely there. Today, the general public has a very low tolerance for casualties on both sides of a conflict. The total casualties of the second Iraq War currently sit at 4,809 coalition forces and 150,000 Iraqis. While that’s only a fraction of the casualties suffered in the Vietnam War, most people still deem those losses unacceptable.

It’s no longer feasible, strategically or ethically, to just blow up an enemy and lay waste to the land around them. Neither politics nor logistics will allow it. In an era where terrorism and renegade militias pose the greatest threat, intelligence and precision matter. Human brains and muscle just won’t cut it in that environment. Combat drones, if properly refined, can do the job.

Please note that’s a big and critical if. Like nuclear weapons, this a technology that nobody in any country can afford to misuse. In the event that a combat drone AI develops into something akin to Skynet or Ultron, then the amount of death and destruction it could bring is incalculable. These systems are already designed to kill. Advanced AI will just make them better at killing than any human will ever be.

It’s a worst-case scenario, but one we’ve managed to avoid with nuclear weapons. With advanced combat drones, the benefits might be even greater than no large-scale wars on the level of Word War II. In a world where advanced combat drones keep terrorists and militias from ever becoming too big a threat, the potential benefits could be unprecedented.

Human beings have been waging bloody, brutal wars for their entire history. Nuclear weapons may have made the cost of large wars too high, but combat drones powered by AI may finally make it obsolete.

3 Comments

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Current Events, futurism, technology

When Sex Is Divorced From Reproduction: The Possibilities And Implications

virtual-reality-sex-110219

Relatively speaking, it wasn’t that long ago in humanity’s history when finding food was a matter of survival. It wasn’t as simple as walking into the nearest grocery store and buying whatever was on sale. Individuals, governments, and societies dedicated a good chunk of their time and energy into securing a stable food source. Those who didn’t were usually the first victims of the next famine.

These days, getting a meal is less about survival and more about logistics. Thanks to major advances in agricultural science, including those of the late Norman Borlaug, we have so much abundant food that overeating is now a bigger problem than famine. Hunger is still a major issue for certain parts of the world, but it’s more a logistical issue than a resource issue.

Once food was divorced from famine and survival, it changed the way society approached it. Most people don’t even think about where they’re going to get their next meal. Their main concern is whether it’ll be a tasty meal.

With this critical need met, we can focus more time and energy on other matters. Even before science gave us abundant food, sex and reproduction was usually our second most pressing focus. It’s the other powerful drive that unites us all as a species. As a result, it’s subject to all sorts of taboos and has been central to multiple revolutions.

There’s no question that technology has impacted sexuality every bit as much as it impacted food production. Even advances unrelated to sex, especially anti-biotics, affected various attitudes and norms. However, even with these advances, sex maintains much of its primary function in that it’s still necessary for reproduction.

With that in mind, what happens when that’s no longer the case?

What happens to sex when it’s completely divorced from reproduction?

This isn’t another speculative thought experiment. This process is already unfolding. I would argue that it started on July 25, 1978 when the first baby was born from in vitro fertilization. Since then, over 8 million babies have been born through this technology. That is not a trivial number when we’re dealing with human lives.

Just take a step back to appreciate the implications of these lives. They were all conceived and birthed without sex. In centuries past, this was grounds for a miracle that could serve as a basis for a major religion. These days, it’s so routine that it never makes the news. Most people don’t think about it. It helps that these people are just as healthy and prosperous as those who were conceived with sex.

In the near future, this could change as well. Late last year, our technology went a step further beyond conceiving babies through in vitro fertilization with the birth of the first genetically edited babies in China. Now, it’s not just normal babies being born through this technology. Thanks to tools like CRISPR, children born without sex could be healthier and stronger than those conceived through sex.

Again, that is not a trivial detail. It’s one thing for technology to simply match a natural process, especially one as critical as human reproduction. Once it starts doing it better than nature, then that’s a huge paradigm shift. It might even be a point of no return. Having babies through sex is still a thing, but it’s no longer the most effective way to have healthy, strong children.

While this has generated plenty of controversy around topics like designer babies, there hasn’t been as much discussion about what this means for sex. If sex is no longer the primary method for reproduction, or the safest for that matter, what happens to our society? What happens to centuries of taboos, attitudes, traditions, and gender roles?

It’s difficult to speculate, but some have tried. In a recent article with the BBC, author Henry T. Greely laid out a general timeline. It doesn’t rely entirely on huge leaps in reproductive technology. It simply follows the trends that began with in vitro fertilization. In the interview, these are just a few thoughts he shared.

In 20 to 40 years, most people all over the world with good health coverage will choose to conceive in a lab. Like most things, there will be a fair amount of visceral negative reaction initially, but as time goes on and kids prove not to have two heads and a tail, the public will come not only to tolerate but to prefer reproducing non-sexually.

From a logistic and public health standpoint, this makes sense. Any healthy and prosperous society would want to promote the birth of healthy children in a manner that preserves the health of the mother. With technology like in vitro and CRISPR, it might very well be preferable because it means fewer diseases, lower health care costs, and fewer burdens on parents.

That doesn’t even begin to factor in the impact of more advanced reproductive technologies. With advances like artificial wombs in development, sex wouldn’t just be divorced from reproduction. Reproduction might not require any intimate connection whatsoever. At that point, sex for reproduction is akin to drinking unpasteurized milk.

Will people still have sex at that point? I believe they will. Unless we radically change our bodies all at once, the hardware for sex will still be present. The drive to do it will still be there as well, although some might opt to turn it off if that were an option. Regardless of any lingering attitudes and taboos, there’s no getting around it. Sex still feels good. It’s still a profoundly intimate act with many health benefits.

How people go about it will likely change. A great many taboos about sex stem from its role in reproduction. Much of the stigma surrounding promiscuity and traditional gender roles have a basis in highlighting the importance of sex in the propagation of our society and species. If are reckless about it, then that can spread disease, destabilize families, and create unhealthy environments for children.

Going back to the parallels with food, the same logic was once used to discourage gluttony. For much of human history, we had to be careful with how we consumed our food. If people consumed too much and were reckless with our eating habits, then they were ill-prepared for the next famine that inevitably came.

While sex and reproduction are still very different from consuming food, the influence of technology had a major impact on collective attitudes. We don’t look at people who overeat the same way we look at people who have lots of sex. Both may still draw scorn, but few will worry for the survival of the future of their community if a handful of people overeat.

At the moment, there are very real concerns surrounding falling birth rates and people having less sex than ever before. In some countries, the low birth rates are seen as an outright crisis that has also fueled ongoing debates surrounding immigration. Crisis or not, this situation is adding more urgency to the development of reproductive technologies. That, along with the decline in sex, could hasten this pending divorce.

Once it’s finalized, what form will sex take? It could simply become an act of intimacy or recreation. Humans might ultimately treat it the same way Bonobo monkeys treat it. It’s just an intimate activity that people do. Reproduction never even enters the conversation. People save that for when they want to design their baby.

It could also gain another purpose entirely. Maybe sex becomes less an act of intimacy and more an elaborate handshake, of sorts. It could be seen as a way of establishing trust or differentiating between casual acquaintances and close friends. In that world, friends with benefits are just friends. The benefits are implied by the friendship.

There’s also the very real possibility that people will just lose interest in sex. If there’s no reason to do it and it has no bearing on the growth of a society, then it just might be an afterthought. People might still do it, but those who do would be like the people who still have their own gardens in the backyard. It’s a quaint echo of our past that most have moved past.

These are possibilities. For now, there are no inevitabilities with respect to how we’ll approach sex once it’s no longer necessary for reproduction. It’ll likely be several decades before reproductive technology gets to a point where it’s preferable to sex, both for individuals and societies at large. Until then, this lengthy divorce is already at the early stages. It’s just a matter of how messy it’ll get in the coming years.

1 Comment

Filed under biotechnology, CRISPR, futurism, gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, Second Sexual Revolution, sex in society, sexuality, Sexy Future, technology