The Inertia of Culture

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Recently the Pew Research group did a survey on public views on near future technologies.  Particularly on whether they feel changes will have a positive or negative effect.  While this is a single survey and thus inconclusive I do feel it can help get a rough idea of how the mainstream views  technology.  After all the point of this magazine is ultimately the push of transhumanism and its good to be aware of the current acceptance.

The best news that this survey has to offer is that Americans view over all progress of technology as positive.  Regardless of age, education, income, or sex the majority supports the progress of technology.  This information provides context for the rest.  They are not opposed to specific technologies due to a general fear or apprehension to technology itself but the implications and social mores it affects.

Technologies that directly affect social norms are the ones people are least comfortable with.  Being continually fed information through a device or implant, most (53%) viewed that as a bad thing.  This is unfortunate as its also the technology we are closest to having commercially available.  Fortunately a good number do support the technology (37%) which is hopefully enough for it to gain a cultural foothold.  Like with smartphones I believe people will be more willing to adopt it once they see the advantages of a device.

AI on the other hand is something people seem very distrustful with.  Nearly two thirds of those surveyed were against both commercial flying drones (63%) and robotic caregivers for the elderly (65%). The survey was intended to grasp general feelings towards new technology so it does not address the reason for public resistance.  However it is clear people are resistant to robots having roles that require autonomy, specifically roles where an error could mean injury or death of a human.  Strangely enough the idea of using a driverless car is split almost exactly (50/48%)

The technologies people were most against was altering a child’s DNA (66%), intelligence augmentation through a brain implant (72%), and lab grown meat (78%).  While I personally do not support “designer children” I can understand why other transhumanists do.  The most interesting thing is there was more support for designer children at lower income levels.  You’d assume this would not be true since they would have less opportunity to enhance their children.
As someone that recently wrote about Intelligence Augmentation, I am sad to see such strong opposition to using implants to enhance intelligence and memory.  The question however was phrased “would you get one” so it is possible it was the fear of the surgery.  Regardless most would not get such an implant.
Among all things Americans were most opposed to eating lab grown meat.  A mere 20% saying they would try it.  This is a technology that is objectively good, meat that does not require the death of an animal but also one that goes against very fundamental mores.  It also greatly eases the ability to produce and distribute meat.  Despite this it seems it will be hard to get people to accept such products.
I brought this to everyone’s attention for a simple reason.  The development of transhumanist technologies will do little good if it is not acceptable in our culture.  It is not even a simple matter of ubiquity.  If those that oppose a technology greatly outweighs support we can also see regulations put into place to limit or even outlaw technologies.  Far too many of these technologies show little support.
Often we focus on extreme examples and long term goals such as AGI and immortality.  However it will be very hard to achieve these goals when we are having such a hard time getting people to accept robots tending to the elderly and google glass.  We need more attention to integrating near-term technology into the mainstream if we want transhumanism itself to be desirable.

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2 Comments

  1. the cultural rejection of labgrown meat is only because most people fear it will replace meat with synthetics, and do not understand that 100% pure cow tissue is 100% pure cow tissue. I have dealt with this notion far too often.

    to quote “Then we, of course, have the flip side of the coin, which is the fact that 3d printers are not limited to manufactured products, but can print biological products as well. As a recent commentor screamed: “and if ‘food’ ever does come from a printer, it won’t be food! It will be processed, toxic muck. Processed food is already the #1 cause of disease in the industrial world.”

    The problem with such claims is that it ignores the simple reality that a 3d Organic Printer is not using any of the normal industrial processes that create most of our modern foods. It is merely printing stem cells into a pattern with the needed nutrients to allow those cells to mature and merge to form a complete piece of living tissue. So, if its 100% pure beef tissue, or its 100% pure beef tissue, what does it matter if it came from a cow, or a printer? The tissue is going to be pure cow either way.

    Unlike “processed food,” a stem cell printer would use the exact same biological processes to make beef that Bessie does, it merely removes the need to kill Bessie to do so. As I have pointed out repeatedly, a medically viable, functional heart for transplantation is a far more complex task then simple muscle tissue and fat. It’s not a matter of whether or not it is technically possible, that has already been proven. It’s a matter of taking it out of the lab and creating mass production techniques. Studies already exist showing that printing or growing in vitro meats are capable of reducing the costs of production over 90% compared to traditional cattle farming, and produce 90% less waste products.

    The UK Guardian reported that a recent study calculates “that cultured meat will have 80-95% lower greenhouse gas emissions, 99″% lower land use and 80-90% lower water use compared to conventionally produced meat in Europe. Every kilo of conventionally produced meat requires 4kg-10kg of feed, whereas cultured meat significantly increases efficiency by using only 2kg of feed. Based on our results, if cultured meat constituted half of all meat consumed we could halve the greenhouse emissions, and increase the forest cover by 50%, which is equivalent to four times of Brazil’s current forest area.

    “The measurement of feed for kilogram of meat is for beef.”

    Think about that. For the same “cost to produce” meat via traditional cattle farming, we could produce nine times more beef via in vitro and printed meats. In other words, the meat industry could cut the cattle industry out of the picture entirely, make 90% more profits, eliminate any possible source of “diseased meat” and still produce the exact same end product. That’s one hell of an incentive on the part of “the corporations” to fund research into improvements in 3d printing.

    Extrapolate that to “hard matter” manufacturing, and the ability to use creative engineering to create products that use 90% less material for the same end product, or even a superior product as 3d printers can create items impossible to manufacture traditionally, and you can see why the push to develop is going to be fast tracked from nearly every angle.”

    They fear that printed or invitro meat will be the new soy burger, because they don’t understand the reality.

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