Tag Archives: futurism

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!

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

Jack’s World: A Balanced Outlook On Artificial Intelligence

The following is a video I posted on my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s my attempt to offer some perspective on artificial intelligence, a topic I’ve covered many times before. I hope you find it informative and engaging. Enjoy!

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, Jack's World, technology, YouTube

How Much Of What We Know Will Be Wrong Years From Now?

Take a moment to consider all the things you think are right, true, and valid. Please note, I’m not referring to opinions. I’m talking about things that are, in your mind, unassailable fact. These are things like certain laws of physics, certain assumptions of politics, and a general understanding of how the world works. To us, they’re both common knowledge and common sense.

Historically speaking, it’s a guarantee that at least some of what you believe to be completely true will one day be proven completely wrong or at least only partially true. It won’t happen to everything you think you know. You may not even live to see it. However, that day will come and you’ll have to consider the painful possibility that you were wrong about something.

I pose this little thought experiment as a means of refining perspective. We like to believe that we live in a time when the great mysteries of the universe are either known, unknowable, or within our grasp within our lifetime. Every generation likes to believe they have a firm grasp of everything they need to know, more so than any generation before them. The idea that another generation might be better than them is untenable.

Again, history says we’re destined to look foolish to the vast majority of people 100 years from now. It’s not just from changing social attitudes. It’s not just in the workplace, either. Rest assured, there are things you accept today that will be wrong, rejected, or scorned in the future.

It’s hard to know what those things are. From a societal standpoint, our current attitudes regarding wealth disparity, the treatment of animals, and how we care for the elderly could be subject to categorical scorn. In some cases, it might just be a product of circumstances, but that wouldn’t make it any less wrong.

In terms of science, it gets even trickier. Over the centuries, there have been a multitude of well-accepted theories that were subsequently proven wrong. If you’re a creationist, don’t get too excited. Those theories were wrong because we uncovered new information that helped us craft better theories that nobody even thought of. It’s how we got things like germ theory, the big bang theory, and quantum theory.

Many of these revelations began with us looking for evidence that we were right. Even though confirmation bias is a powerful force, it can only do so much against an unforgiving reality. Even the likes of Albert Einstein got a number of key issues wrong when seeking to understand the universe.

Years from now, our smartest scientist will seem like a mediocre college student. It’s just a matter of time, effort, and discovery. Every time we think we understand something completely, we uncover information that reminds us just how little we know in the grand scheme of things. It can be frustrating, but it also is what helps us progress as a species.

That doesn’t even begin to factor in the impact of tools like advanced artificial intelligence. Everything humanity knows is limited by how much humanity can collectively understand. Our primate brains are driven by primate instincts. That limits our ability to understand things beyond a certain point. In theory, an advanced artificial intelligence could understand things in ways our brains literally cannot process.

That’s why it’s such an important perspective to maintain. You are going to be wrong about something at some point in your life. Years after you’ve passed away, your children and grandchildren will find out that you were wrong about much more than you thought. It’s inevitable. It’s also humbling and worth embracing.

We’ll never know everything about everything, but knowing more than we used to is always valuable. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s also pretty useless in the grand scheme of things.

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Filed under human nature, philosophy, psychology, technology, Thought Experiment

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.

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

Lab Grown Vaginas Are A Real Thing (And The Sexy Possibilities They Entail)

Good news tends to slip through the cracks, especially in today’s world of misguided hashtags and contrived outrage. It’s unfortunate, but that’s just how people are wired. Bad news gets our attention. That’s just how we’re wired. During times of crisis, such as a global pandemic, good news might as well be an alien concept.

For that reason, and many others, highlighting good news is incredibly important. That’s especially true when it comes to breakthroughs in medical science. As of now, everyone is rooting for doctors, biologists, and researchers to find new breakthroughs in treating diseases like COVID-19. While that effort will likely to dominate headlines for months to come, there is another headline that I feel is worth citing.

It doesn’t involve COVID-19. Instead, it involves vaginas.

I’m assuming I have your attention now.

I promise this isn’t entirely an excuse to write about vaginas. This is a real, legitimate breakthrough with some major implications. Regardless of whether or not you have a vagina, it has the potential to effect you, your loved ones, and future generations. Seeing as how we’re all alive, in part, because of vaginas, those breakthroughs are worth taking note of.

Specifically, this development has to do with lab-grown body parts. It has been an emerging industry in recent years. It’s one of those industries that used to exist on paper, but has since become very real and very promising. Thanks to disease, accidents, and human stupidity, people have a tendency to damage their organs. With this technology, we we’ll be able to swap them out for perfectly functional replacements.

While some organs are much harder to grow than others, a vagina is one of the few we’ve successfully grown in labs and transplanted into actual patients. Like the bionic penis I wrote about a few years ago, this is real. There are currently women in this world who have a lab-grown vagina in them and it works as well as any other. This 2014 article from the BBC nicely documents the science behind this breakthrough.

BBC Health: Doctors implant lab-grown vagina

Doctors at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in North Carolina used pioneering technology to build vaginas for the four women who were all in their teenage years at the time.

Scans of the pelvic region were used to design a tube-like 3D-scaffold for each patient.

A small tissue biopsy was taken from the poorly developed vulva and grown to create a large batch of cells in the laboratory.

Muscle cells were attached to the outside of the scaffold and vaginal-lining cells to the inside.

The vaginas were carefully grown in a bioreactor until they were suitable to be surgically implanted into the patients.

One of the women with an implanted vagina, who wished to keep her name anonymous, said: “I believe in the beginning when you find out you feel different.

“I mean while you are living the process, you are seeing the possibilities you have and all the changes you’ll go through.

“Truly I feel very fortunate because I have a normal life, completely normal.”

All the women reported normal sexual function.

I highlighted that bold part because it emphasizes the current goal of this technology. It’s intended to give women who have developmental issues, such as vaginal aplasia, a chance at normal sexual function. That’s usually how all medical breakthroughs start. It heals patience back to a level of normal functioning.

However, this technology has been working since 2014. It’s still in its infancy, but the reason I bring it up is because we’re currently in a situation where everyone is rooting for medical science to progress faster. This crisis, even though it doesn’t directly involve vaginas, could benefit from our current desire to see medical science progress.

As with the bionic penis, the science of lab grown body parts starts at restoring patients to normal function, but it doesn’t stop there. If anything, that just provides a baseline. As humans, with our wide capacity for kink, we’re rarely satisfied with just normal functionality in our bodies. That’s why breast implants are a multi-billion dollar industry.

Now, I’m not saying lab-grown vaginas will follow a similar path, but there’s definitely a market for them. As I’ve noted before, there’s still a wide orgasm gap between women and men. Some of that is psychological, but there’s also some biology behind it. Most women don’t achieve orgasm through vaginal sex alone and most sex ed classes never teach them that.

Education and insight can help, but that too has limits. As this technology matures, it’ll eventually graduate from simply restoring normal sexual function to enhancing it. That may sound somewhat radical, but it’s not that different from what people do now. People already take drugs, both illicit and prescription, to enhance sexual function. A lab grown vagina could just be a more ambitious effort.

How ambitious could it get? It’s hard to say. I’m not a woman and I can’t speak for women who might contemplate enhancing certain parts of their anatomy. I just know that the desire for a satisfying sex life transcends gender, taboos, and body image. As medical science advances, we have more and more tools with which to achieve that. Lab grown vaginas and bionic penises are just the latest and boldest.

Whatever form they take, they’ll ensure our future is a sexy one.

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Filed under biotechnology, Current Events, futurism, health, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, Sexy Future, technology

Who Will Be The First (Digitally) Immortal Celebrity?

Back in 2012, Tupac Shakur appeared in concert at Coachella in 2012. That’s quite a feat, considering he died in 1996. The Tupac at the concert was just a hologram, but even his digital presence helped make that concert an experience to remember.

In 2019, Samuel L. Jackson played a young Nick Fury in the “Captain Marvel” movie. That too is quite a feat, considering Mr. Jackson was 70 years old at the time. He was able to appear young, thanks to advanced CGI that effectively de-aged him.

Other dead celebrities have shown up in other media. The since deceased Peter Cushing reprised his role as Grand Moff Tarken in “Star Wars: Rogue One” thanks to similar CGI technology. Paul Walker was able to get a proper send-off in “Fast and Furious 7” after his tragic death thanks to this technology. As the technology improves and other famous celebrities pass on, this practice is likely to continue and expand.

That raises some interesting questions that has some profound, yet disturbing implications. Some of those questions are easier to answer than others. This is the easy one.

Will there eventually be a celebrity who becomes digitally immortal?

The short answer is yes.

The long answer is eventually, but there will be some complications along the way.

Modern CGI technology is amazing. We’ve come a long way from the flashy, but wholly unrealistic graphics of “Tron.” Through the development of technology like artificial intelligence deep fakes, which has its own mix of dystopian uses, it’s possible to replicate someone’s appearance, voice, and mannerisms. This replication isn’t perfect, but it’s getting to a point where it’s hard to tell it’s fake.

As this technology improves, it’ll get to a point where a rendering of a celebrity isn’t just indistinguishable from the real celebrity. It’ll be capable of saying, doing, and acting in any way a studio or producer would want. While that has some dangerous possibilities for political ads and porn, it could also completely change the entertainment industry.

That Tupac hologram I mentioned earlier was basically just a recording synched to a projection. Even though Samuel L. Jackson was de-aged in Captain Marvel,” the actor still had to be there to give him the necessary voice, mannerisms, and attitude. He couldn’t have been a hologram and be believable. The technology just isn’t there yet.

It will get there, though. There doesn’t need to be some huge leap in computer technology or artificial intelligence to make an entirely digital celebrity. It’s just a matter of processing power, data crunching, and better hardware. It will happen. It might even happen within the next couple decades. That raises another key question.

Who will be the first digitally immortal celebrity?

By digitally immortal, I don’t just mean recordings set to holograms or faces projected onto body doubles. A truly digitally immortal celebrity will be capable of starring in new movies and TV shows long after their dead. They’ll be able to make new music and perform it, albeit through a hologram. While their bodies might be gone, they’ll never stop contributing to pop culture.

That definitely has some legal implications. I doubt any studio could get away with creating a digital rendering of Carrie Fisher to star in a new movie. However, I suspect one celebrity will eventually license their figure and likeness so that they can keep being celebrities, long after they’re dead. Maybe they’ll do it so their families can be fincianlly set for life. Maybe they’ll do it because they never want to leave the public eye.

Whatever their reasons, someone will eventually do this. It’s just a question of who.

Will it be Taylor Swift?

Will it be Tom Cruise?

Will it be Jennifer Lopez?

Will it be Samuel L. Jackson?

It’s hard to say. If I had to bet money, I’d put it on Samuel L. Jackson. Knowing Disney and their vast resources, I’d be shocked if they weren’t investing in this technology this instant. Bankable celebrities are an increasingly precious commodity in the entertainment world. The incentives are there. It’s just a matter of time and a matter of whom.

Personally, I’d love to hear Samuel L. Jackson call people motherfuckers for generations to come. That’s just me.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, futurism

A Troubling (But Probable) Thought Experiment Involving Sex Robots And Stalkers

It’s an unavoidable rule of technology. Nobody truly knows how a new machine, gadget, or invention will be used in the future. I doubt the person who invented ski masks knew it would be a common tool of criminals. We can try and anticipate how certain technology will affect society, but there will always be unexpected impacts that come from unplanned uses.

When it comes to sex robots, the impacts are far greater in scope and scale than anyone can possibly predict. I’ve made a concerted effort on multiple occasions. I don’t gloss over the more distressing impacts, either. Chances are this technology will effect people, society, and culture in ways nobody will be able to predict, including aspiring writers who use sex robots in multiple short stories.

It’s often through writing sexy short stories and erotica/romance novels that I often come up with ideas I hadn’t previously considered. Some of those ideas lead to larger thought experiments. Since sex robots are making the news more and more often lately, I thought I’d share one.

It goes as follows:

A man or woman meets someone. They immediately fall for them. It’s love, lust, and passion all rolled into one. They become so obsessed with this person that they can’t imagine not being with them in some way.

Naturally, they pursue this person. They try befriending, flirting, and seducing them. It doesn’t work. They get rejected. At first, it’s just a setback. They try harder to win the love of this special someone. It ultimately fails. Eventually, that someone threatens to call the police and put a restraining order on them.

The person is dejected and sad, but not dissuaded. Since they can’t be with this person they love so dearly, they seek the next best thing. When their would-be love isn’t looking, they scan their body. They then send those specifications to a company that makes sex robots.

They request that the company make them a robot that perfectly resembles the love that rejected them. They also request that the robot be programmed to love them unconditionally and obey them. The company agrees. They make a sex robot that looks, sounds, smells, and acts like the lover they couldn’t have.

Naturally, the person is overjoyed. They lovingly tend to the sex robot, treating it like a real lover. They live out the love they wish they’d had. At some point, it becomes so real that they don’t bother with the person who rejected them. They’re content to leave them alone and live out the fantasy for as long as they please.

Take a moment to think about what I just described. I admit it has some disturbing elements. Stalkers who obsess over someone to an unhealthy degree is a real phenomenon. It ruins lives and can be very damaging to both people.

Throw sex robots into the mix and things get more complicated. What I just described is not technically impossible. It probably won’t be feasible for decades, but there’s nothing against the laws of physics that prevent people from creating perfect sex robot duplicates of random people they see on the streets.

All that anyone would need is the right data. Whether it’s done directly with a device or surmised from a collection of pictures, practically anyone can be made into a sex robot. I’ve noted before how this could effect the porn industry with stars and celebrities licensing their bodies as sex robots. However, I doubt it would stop there.

Whereas celebrities might have the money and legal resources to license their bodies and combat unauthorized use as a sex robot, most ordinary people wouldn’t have that luxury. In the same way most people don’t have access to high-powered attorneys that keep celebrities and rich people out of jail, the average person probably wouldn’t have much recourse.

If some random person found out their high school crush made a sex robot of them, how would they combat it? Could they sue them? Could they sue the manufacturer? What if the sex robot came from an illicit source? How they deal with that?

Moreover, would it even be worth the effort? If a would-be stalker is content to make a sex robot of their obsessive crush, which in turn stops them from stalking altogether, then why would anyone care? Who’s being harmed in this situation?

You could argue the would-be stalker is hurting themselves, but how could we possibly police that? We can’t stop people from hurting themselves. Prohibition proved that. However, with sex robots, we essentially give people a way to cling to an obsession and never move on. Is that healthy? Is there any way to stop it? Is it even worth the effort?

Try to put yourself in this scenario. How would you feel about it? How would you go about confronting it, if at all?

This is just one of the many scenarios that may play out once this technology matures. Again, there will likely be other effects I can’t imagine. Unfortunately, not all of those effects will be inherently sexy.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, psychology, sex in society, sex robots, sexuality, Sexy Future, technology

A Comment On Bill Maher’s (Dystopian) Rant About Sex Robots

Remember that time someone old, out of touch, and under-informed made an accurate prediction about the impact of emerging technology? That’s not a rhetorical question. Honestly, does anyone remember that ever happening to a meaningful extent?

I ask because it’s been happening for years. People keep seeing an amazing new technology and assume the worst. In some cases, they’re just dead wrong about trends that will or won’t catch on. Some just made dead wrong assumptions about how technology and society would evolve.

At the end of the day, nobody truly knows for sure. It’s fun to speculate, especially when that technology involves sex robots. I know I’ve entertained some colorful possibilities and potential issues, but I never claim I know for certain. I try not to be overly optimistic, but I don’t try to be downright fatalistic, either.

Then, there’s Bill Maher’s latest rant about the future of sex robots. I could try and break down every flaw in his commentary, but I’ll let the clip speak for itself.

Now, I need to disclose that I’m a fan of Bill Maher. I like his show. I think he’s funny. He’s got a great wit and a dry style that I’ve always found entertaining. When it comes to technology, though, he’s more a chronic whiner than a visionary.

He compares social media to cigarettes and complains about how technology has become too complicated. For a man who’s over 60, that’s not surprising. However, for someone smart enough to stay on TV for over three decades, it’s still absurd.

Deconstructing his rant is not that hard. Maher frames the impact of sex robots as an either/or position. To him, people will either completely reject human intimacy for robots or reject robots in favor of human intimacy. However, he never justifies why people would choose only one or the other.

Would people only interact with a sex robot because they can have sex on a level that humans just can’t match? That assumes people are really basic and would all react the same if they somehow had access to a life-like sex robot. However, people are not basic. People are complicated. They have many different wants, needs, and attitudes. Maher himself has noted this when discussing other issues.

Sex robots will change human dynamics significantly. It won’t destroy them. It won’t completely destroy the whole of society. They’re not nuclear weapons. They’ll just change how things are and for older people, especially in Maher’s demographic, that can be scary. It’s easy to assume the worst, but it’s still an assumption and those are notoriously unreliable for predicting the future. The stock market alone is proof of that.

There are many other things I can say about Maher’s rant, but it would all come back to the same point. It’s just flawed and misguided. It assumes there’s not room for both human connection and sex robots in the future. Considering how adaptive and social humans are, I believe we’ll find a way to incorporate them into a new social dynamic that nobody can predict.

It’ll be nothing like Maher can ever imagine.

It’ll be nothing like I can imagine, either.

The future will still come. It’s just a matter of how we’ll adapt, evolve, and grow with it.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, sex in society, sex robots, sexuality, Sexy Future, technology

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.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, technology

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

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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.

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