Another Year Around the Sun

"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."
Albert Einstein 

2014 is about to end.

At least that’s what our calendars say. Our clocks have almost ticked away the 31,556,926 seconds it takes for our planet to travel around the sun. This planet-star dance is meaningful to us as humans. We celebrate its end with drink, food and music. In America, 83% of us will spend over $200 each to eat dinner on New Year’s Eve at a fancy restaurant. 1% will spend over $1000.

At this time of the year, we often review the past and set goals to accomplish in the next 31,556,926 seconds our Earth will take to travel her solar journey once more. We make promises, like to write sequels, or screenplays (oh wait, those are my resolutions) and loose some weight (that’s not my resolution, I gave up that battle long ago.)

Since the beginning of time, we’ve honored and celebrated the annual cycle of life. We watch the seasons come and go and we know that as the winter comes and all of nature dies, we too are slowly dying. Thus we make plans that give our lives meaning and make the most of our time on Earth.

Yet lately time has become more irrelevant to me. Yes, I am getting older. I see it in the wrinkles around my eyes and in the fact that I’m the shortest person in the house now that my sons have entered their teens. My eldest just started driving. Sometimes, when I look at him I’m surprised at what I see. Where’s that adorable two-year-old boy who sat on my lap for hours while I read him “The Little Prince” or “The Chronicles of Narnia?” Honestly, it seems like yesterday, and I’m not just saying that. But according to time, it’s been 410,240,038 seconds since those days.

Where does that time go? I see its passing in the changes outside of me, but within all these moments are one. They mush together into one big mess and I understand Dr. Who when he defines it as a, “...big ball of wibbly, wobbly, time-y wimey stuff.”

And it’s not just the past that’s all one for me--at times I sense the future as well. I feel the sequel to my novel is already published, even though we haven’t even begun editing. I think I’m an 80 woman doing the tango on “So You Think You Can Dance” and amazing everyone with my grace at such an old age. Yes, even the future, which only lives in my mind, also feels like it’s happened.

Perhaps this is because I’ve spent the last three years immersed in an immortal world where time exists, but has a much different meaning. If we lived forever, would a simple trek around the sun be worth celebrating? Would we mark off our ages in years, or in events, or at all?

Maybe I’ve been reading too much about quantum physics. I admit it, I’m addicted. What if there are multiple universes? If so, what am I celebrating in those other places? Do we mark our years in the Earth’s solar dance, or in some other way? How can I be me in any other space and time than here? Am I not my experiences? Yet if I’m energy that’s slowed into this form, then where exactly do I actually end?

I don’t have any answers. To satisfy my endless curiosity, I write stories about the things I see in my dreams and in my mind. One thing I do know is that the way time marches forward in the material world is not the same as the way time runs around in my head, or my heart. They are very different things.

So I’ll be celebrating the New Year with my friends and I hope you too are doing the same. At midnight we’ll pause and toast the New Year. I’ll probably ask myself why that moment in time is relevant and if indeed a new year has begun. My dear friend will tell me to stop being so "trippy." And I’ll give thanks once more for all the blessings in my life.

I also give thanks to anyone who’s reading this. I’m grateful for your time and your support, in whatever universe it might exist. May your 2015 be the stuff of dreams for each and every one of you.

How To Survive the Robot Apocalypse

It’s in the air.

It’s in the news.

Our struggling economy. Our struggling democracy. The income gap. Technology and artificial intelligence. At first glance, these things might not seem connected, but upon closer inspection, I find they’re all part of one impulse, and together they create the web of humanity—and our future.

Many would have you believe we’re near the end of civilization as we know it. Their case is quite compelling. Even though our economy is showing signs of recovery, most employment improvements are in low-wage jobs—the very jobs our technology seeks to replace. We might be at a 5.8% national unemployment rate as of October of 2014, yet according to Paul Bucheit in his recent article for Common Dreams, “Nine out of ten of the fastest-growing occupations are considered low-wage, generally not requiring a college degree, including food service, health care, housekeeping, and retail sales.”

Not coincidentally, the job gains that are currently making our employment numbers look good, even though they’re low paying, were found on another list recently—the ones most likely to be replaced with robots in the next twenty years.

The coming “Robot Apocalypse” is such a big deal right now that Standford University has announced a “…century-long study of the effects of artificial intelligence on society, including on the economy, war and crime.”

There are two sides to every coin. One side would suggest that a world of extreme and growing wealth, paired with the technology to free up humans from low-wage jobs, will usher in the long awaited period of “Heaven on Earth.” Others suggest that since those with the wealth don’t want to share, the projected 50% unemployment rate will lead to extreme poverty, uprisings and the deterioration of humanity.

What now lies before us is a choice, which side of the coin do we wish to nourish? The future where technology finally lives up to its promise, or the future where most of humanity lives in dire straights and the elite have to take to the skies, as they do in the movie Elysium? It is a serious choice, and one from which we can't hide.

Here’s the catch, we have to make this choice together. Yet it seems that we're polarized as a people. How in the world can we move forward?

There are many ills in society, but in my observation they all boil down to one—xenophobia.

It’s our fear of others that drives us to let the poor suffer, because they didn’t work as hard as we did. It’s our fear of others that encourages the wealthy to horde their gifts, because no one else deserves them. It’s our fear of others that encourages war, or the withholding of life saving technologies from those who need them, simply because they’re uninsured. It's our fear of others that creates a national budget where 60% of resources are dedicated to the military industrial complex, and a mere 2% is invested in science and technology.

The truth is, until we can look one another in the eyes and see nothing but the dignity of our humanity, the future can and does look dire. For unless we can find compassion and a desire for all of us to thrive on this planet, the replacement of humans with robots in the economy can and will lead to extreme poverty. That is a bleak world for most.

Yet there are things you can do as an individual to choose to thrive not just survive, the Robot Apocalypse, turning the event into the next great leap forward for humanity.

1.     Learn to code. I’ve said this many times before and I’ll say it again: LEARN TO CODE. This is the language of machines, technology and power. Being a mere user makes you vulnerable. At a minimum, schools should be teaching all 7/8th graders basic coding skills and high schoolers should be required to pass a programming class for graduation.
2.     Invest in your creativity. Humans are inventors. Yes, a truly learning machine will be able to create, but we’re unique in the way we see pictures in our minds. It's been said the Nikola Tesla could see his inventions in his imagination and even test them, making sure they worked, before committing to build them in the material world. We are storytellers, dancers, innovators, entertainers...Robots can of course assist us, but we’re the ones who see the world in bigger pictures, stories and humor. I’m not sure Watson could ever be as funny as George Carlin.
3.     Invest in your judgment, aka your thinking skills. Our minds are not merely if-then-else statements, but more like recursive loops calling upon themselves as the states around us change. In other words, we’re not nodes on the network, we are the network. Humans can make decisions by filling in the blanks. No one has to program us, and we can change our minds given new circumstances and situations. The human learning system is truly complex and dynamic. Nourish this by stretching beyond your comfort zone. Study a new language, or an entire field, to keep things fresh. Shake up your life on a regular basis to expand your ability to process information.
4.     Read “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible,” by Charles Eisenstein. Sure, you could read books on the singularity, AI and technology by leading experts, but as long as you still think the future is bleak, grim and full of starving, jobless people, that's exactly what we'll get. We need to open our own hearts and minds to a new possibility, a new story of how humans work, love and live on the Earth. Charles’ book is a fantastic place to start. Better yet, taking the time to read this book is also an investment in your creativity and judgment, making you more competitive in the robot workplace.
5.     Get to know yourself. What do you hate? Whom do you mistrust? What parts of humanity are beneath you? What belief systems do you mock? What do you call evil? We often spend time thinking about what we like and saying that defines us, but in reality it’s the things that make us want to run away that really make the difference. The things we disdain color our ability to co-create. They block us from our potential. Robots and artificial intelligences won’t have this issue. Unless we give them personalities, theirs will be a clean logic. Nothing is loved and nothing is hated. Hate is what makes us act out, hurt and horde. If we want to thrive we’ll need to clean up our emotional state, so that we can join with technology to shape a cleaner, more beautiful world, rather than be dominated by it—and abused in entirely new ways.

The goal here is to become resilient to a changing marketplace that no one entirely understands at this point. But we’ve been here before. In the mid 1800’s no one could truly understand what the invention of the factory would do to shape our world. Entirely new skills and economies were created. It’s about to happen again. Rather than fall into ruin, we can be prepared to take part in the story, in whatever way possible, even if the plot line isn’t yet clear. What is clear is that similar to Charles Dickens’ time, the chance for many to suffer during this change is high. Unlike Charles Dickens’ time, we have the ability to join together and communicate our goals and dreams as one. Let’s use our technology to inspire one another to evolve past our fear and hate, and be worthy of the world we’re building.

Thank You For A Great First Year!

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the US of A, and I’m celebrating by spending the day with my family and giving thanks for my wonderful life. One of the greatest blessings of the past year has been to publish my first novel, eHuman Dawn, with Story Merchant books. Looking back, I can’t believe it’s been one year since I began my official journey as a published author.

Yes, it's true, on November 26, 2013, eHuman Dawn was first published as an eBook on Amazon.

TIME TO CELEBRATE!!! For the next week, in gratitude for all that’s happened and to honor this creative project, eHuman Dawn is FREE on the Kindle. That means if you haven’t read it yet, now is the time. Download and read it. Share it with others. And if you feel so inclined, write a review on Amazon. All of these things keeps the dream alive.

In the year since eHuman Dawn was first published, I’ve launched a blog, a Twitter and Facebook account, written the sequel, presented at Bay Area transhumanist conferences sponsored by the Brighter Brains Institute, joined the advisory board of the Lifeboat Foundation, made several new friends and completed a third novel that has absolutely nothing to do with eHumanity.

I’m not a best selling author yet, but the numbers are climbing. I’d say it’s been a very, very good start, and I want to thank everyone who’s supported me, whether as a reader, a reviewer, online in discussion or at the conferences. All endeavors in life take a village, and a writing career is certainly better when shared with others.

What’s on the agenda for the next year? Well, expect to see more blogging and speaking. I’ve joined the Brighter Brains speaker hub and am available to speak at technical conferences of a variety of topics. Check out my page on their site and share with those who might be interested.

I’ll also be publishing a short story in an upcoming anthology to be published by the Lifeboat Foundation and yes, it will take place in the eHuman world.

Most excitingly, the sequel to eHuman Dawn will hopefully be ready for publication in the late winter/early spring!! I’m also going to begin work on the screenplay for both novels, in hopes of bringing the true dream to life…The eHuman Trilogy on the big screen. Yes, I said trilogy, which means I’ll also begin writing the third and final installment.

And if there’s any time left, perhaps I can get my agent interested in that mysterious novel that has nothing to do with eHumanity one bit. Anything is possible.

So thanks again for all your support. This has been a great start and I owe it all to you. Did I mention eHuman Dawn is FREE on the Kindle until 12/01??? Just want to be sure you saw that.

Here’s to another great year.

Sex is Fun! The Future of Family Planning

"Sex is natural sex is good, not everybody does it, but everybody should..."
~ George Michael

I’ve been thinking lately a lot about sex and family planning in the age of genetic testing, IVF and other advancements. It all started with a conversation I had a few months back with a beautiful, young, Silicon Valley startup founder who is female and fast approaching thirty-six years of age. She told me that she had already frozen her eggs once and was considering doing another round as insurance to her future as a mother. “Right now is not a good time to have a child,” she’d said. “We’re about to consider another round of investment in the company and that means more hours in the office for me.” I thought about it and agreed—to birth a brand new business and a baby at the same time seems like setting yourself up for failure. When I was a young professional though, women didn’t talk like this. We didn’t have the option to freeze our eggs for the future, and even though I’m only five years older than the lovely executive, I entered the realm of professional motherhood long ago, before such technology was considered mainstream. 

Next, I ran across an article about Apple and Facebook, which have begun to offer the benefit of freezing eggs to female employees. Wow! How times change. I began to wonder, what would I have done if this had been an option when I was just getting started? I’m not sure. Would I have saved my eggs for later, in exchange for investing myself in my career back then?

This past week, the idea of saving off your eggs, and sperm, was in the news again. Carl Djerassi, the “father of the pill” has been quoted as saying,

"Women in their twenties will first choose this approach [in vitro fertilization, IVF] as insurance, providing them with freedom in the light of professional decisions, or the absence of the right partner, or the inexorably ticking of the biological clockFor them the separation between sex and reproduction will be 100 percent."

The article continues by giving the reasons for this family planning choice, that both men and women will opt to harvest their eggs and sperm in their twenties, before sterilizing themselves. Then, later in life, they’ll use genetic screening combined with IVF to begin their families when the time is right.

I understand the career aspect for women, but why would men do this? I’ve spoken to several twenty something males who’ve answered in a very similar manner—they really can’t afford children. Combine their high student debt with a poor job market and this generation can’t afford a house, much less a child. So saving off their sperm and getting a vasectomy allows them to have a girlfriend, without the fear of brining a kid along for the very bumpy financial ride called Millennial life after college.

Thus it appears that the current generation is all for this idea. IVF is working fairly well for infertile couples, why not wait and use the technology in this way for fertile couples? I think that this is mostly a good idea, but it also lacks the realities of those who’ve found themselves in their 40’s longing for a child, but unable to conceive. IVF takes a toll on the female body, and it doesn’t always work. Miscarriage is painful to the heart and the entire process can suck the joy of living right out from under you. Until it works, and then the pain was worth it. But sometimes, it doesn't work and the couple finds themselves out $40,000 and looking at other options.

Yet I can still see this as our future. With the technology to screen for disease, we’re already running down the path of normally fertile couples using IVF as a means to conceive. Add the fact that both male and female Millennials are interested in postponing parenthood for financial reasons, and it’s not crazy to imagine a world where sex is 100% for fun.

And here’s one more thing to consider…the ectowomb. As author and Transhumanist Zoltan Istvan wrote in his highly successful article on the subject, “So, here’s a prediction: Instead of adapting our jobs to accommodate the demands of biology, we will adapt our biology to accommodate the demands of our jobs. The fact that only women can give the gift of life is an enviable distinction, yet it is also a burden that can make it harder for working mothers to reach the pinnacle of their professions. One way to ease this burden would be to move away from pregnancy as we know it and toward a reliance on artificial wombs.”

Wow! Can you imagine it? Known as ectogenesis, this technology would allow women to be as old as they wanted when they started their families, and avoid some of the hardships of IVF. In addition, men could start a family with a new sense of freedom as well. This is still in the realm of science fiction, but IVF and designer babies were once myth as well.

Many people are against these sorts of technologies and I understand that. Raising children is seen as sacred, why change the way it’s been done for millions of years? But I’m not in the business of maintaining the current moral standards, instead I’m one who looks into the future, asks “what if?” and follows the line of thinking right down the rabbit hole. I myself will not partake in these family planning adventures. I’ve had my children and am in the homestretch at this point in time. But who knows, maybe my “grandchildren” won’t arrive in the traditional way at the traditional time. Perhaps instead they’ll come from an ectowomb when my son is 60 years old himself? Would I love him, or the child, any less? Hell no! Life is life and precious to me, regardless of the path it has taken to get here.

I Voted Today: Big Fucking Deal

It’s Election Day in good ol’ America. Yippee. Hooray. And yes, I voted, but not because I felt strongly about any one candidate or proposition on the ballot. It was my friend Greg Zerkis’ Facebook status that got me to drag my ass into the polling station.

He wrote, “If you fail to vote then you are failing democracy. If you don't like the options, run for office.”

Well, thanks a lot Greg. Way to guilt trip me. Obviously there are a million reasons why I can’t run for office—I’ve smoked marijuana and enjoyed it, I have no religious affiliation, I have two children so I can be easily threatened by dark operatives if necessary, I’m not afraid to drop the F-Bomb, I don't think sex is dirty and support alternative lifestyles to traditional marriage, I have no political connections, I can’t abide red tape, partisan nonsense, or illogical ideologies even the slightest bit without wanting to strangle someone and most of all, NONE of the parties on the ballot represent my views.

That’s right, NONE of them. I went into the booth today and was disappointed to see only two choices for each office—Democrat or Republican. Really? That’s the best we can do? Vanilla or chocolate? Not a single Independent, Green or Libertarian. Hell, not even a Peace and Unity party candidate. It was bland and dismal. The same names, the same faces. To make matters worse, I’ve watched enough Abby Martin, Jon Stewart, Bill Moyers and even Fox News to know that Democrats and Republicans aren’t really different. Sure, their sound bytes during elections are crafted by their handlers in order to make us believe we have a choice, but in the issues that really matter at this juncture in time, like the military industrial complex, citizen rights, the environment, education and campaign finance, they’re pretty much on the same page.

So I went into the voting booth, which was really just a shaky table with blinders on either side, and cast my votes almost randomly. Well not entirely, I’d investigated the propositions before hand. I left the polling place, holding my “I Voted!” sticker wondering, “If none of the parties really represent my truest values as a human being, what party platform would?”

Dare I ask myself such a question? Yes, I dare, and as I drove home surrounded by redwoods and Santa Cruz Mountain beauty, what I need from my leaders became crystal clear. In an attempt to both celebrate this glorious day that represents all that’s beautiful in democracy, I’ve taken the time to write them down. So Greg, not only did you get me to vote, you also inspired this week’s blog.

A political party that I could get behind with all my heart and mind would have the following platform:

1.    Human and planetary health and wellness are the cornerstones of our strength as a nation.
2.    Investments in technology, engineering and science will create the tools necessary to implement a nation of engaged, vital human beings.
3.    Investments in the arts support our quest for a technically advanced society, for we recognize that art is the vehicle for true innovation and creativity.
4.    The education of every person is guaranteed and educators are supported and rewarded for their work.
5.    Money is a story we have all agreed upon, and we’re willing to change that story for the good of all, regardless of profit margins or long dead economic theories.
6.    Local governments are trusted and empowered to carry out 1-5 to the best of their abilities, for they will have intimate knowledge and understanding of what the people of any given region need to thrive.

Each of these ideas can be worked into more details, but I think this covers what I want from my government. If human and planetary health were the most important goals of our society, we could begin to tackle homelessness, hunger, poverty, environmental destruction, pollution, agriculture, animal husbandry, illness, health care, child care and elder care, to name a few. With the health of every person and the planet guiding our policies, rather than profit or money, the nation would be different. I put it first because then we’d know how to invest in technologies that enable free and clean energy, affordable health care for all, and a chance at a meaningful life. Joblessness and debt would eventually be addressed as well, because we’d be willing to invest in the arts, teachers and education, creating an extraordinary workforce capable of inventing and seeing the solutions of the future.

And most importantly, if we had the courage to rethink the story of our money, and trust to let it go and rewrite a new, more egalitarian and modern version of currency, we’d see local and crypto currencies flourish, and even de-growth policies would be allowed because the stock market and quarterly profits would be declared nonsense, illogical and even dangerous on a finite planet with a growing population.

Lastly, why emphasize local governments? Because I believe that within the community of neighbors, we know how best to use technology, education and currencies to take advantage of our specific location on the planet. The internet has made us global, and that’s a good thing—by combining open sourced technology at a global level with educational, environmental, and humanitarian policies at the local level, we can move towards a place where the terroir of humanity is kept alive and thriving, rather than a complete standardization of what it means to be human. Thus the dance of technology and individualism can be kept alive, rather than one forcing it’s hand against the other.

If these are my values, then what political party choices do I have? I think a blend of The Venus Project, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party and the Transhumanist Party, recently formed by Bay Area local, Zoltan Istvan. I know, I should just pick one, but each individually seems lacking. If I ever ran for office, I'd need a platform founded on the six basic sentiments I’ve listed above. What would I call it? I have no idea.

What I do know is that all of the Third Parties deserve our time and attention, for the bi-partisanship of Washington DC has failed us miserably. Perhaps as some of these independent movements gain steam, I’ll be drawn to support one of them whole-heartedly. Until then, I’ll just keep dreaming.

The Right to Choose

I dedicated my research today to the subject of wearables and was pleased to find that way cooler things than the Apple Watch are out there. From jewelry like objects that can use your body’s energy to recharge your cell phone to the famous magnetic finger implants that are all the rage within the biohacker community, people are obviously interested in manipulating and changing the human body in brand new ways. What impresses me most are the potential implantable technologies of the future. Wearables are really just a stepping stone for bringing the technology outside of us, inside of us, and forever changing the human being.

It got me thinking, is this really a new trend? Humans have been modifying their bodies since the beginning of time. Egyptians removed their body hair, makeup has been a mainstay for both men and women, our founding fathers wore powdered wigs and breast and butt augmentation are becoming the norm. I color my hair differently to pass the seasons and have several tattoos, as well as pierced ears.

Modifying the body is a very human thing to do. We are creating and re-creating constantly.

So the addition of computer interfaces, eye scans, RFIDs and nanobots into our physical being seems like the next step in our evolution. We are a species that takes our technology and experiments upon ourselves. This is the reason we can effect the world the way we do—we’re intrusive in our experimentation.

Yet part of me hesitates, the way I do about plastic surgery or shaving my legs. Why must I change this body? Why can’t I just be happy with what is, with what I am?

I’m caught between the thrill of advancement and wanting to just Be.

I believe very strongly that this next wave of technological enhancements to the human form—by which I mean the point where wearables become implants—will change the entire face of the human race. While it comes from the ancient impulse to change and craft ourselves, it will have the power to create a whole new species. The difference between those who chose to adopt these technologies into their bodies and those who don’t will be much greater than the differences between those who are tattooed and those who aren’t. Famous actresses may change their looks to remain young, but they aren’t really younger. In the future, there is the potential they actually could be younger through technology.

I don’t fear our future and I encourage technological advancement. To stop humans from their path of creativity is wrong. Yet it would be even more wrong to force implants into someone who doesn’t want them. The key is choice. We need to begin to get comfortable with others choosing paths different from ours. Rather than judge that woman for having Botox, respect her decision. Rather than state there’s only one way to love, or one way to be married, or one way to look, or one way to worship God, we need to move into a place where we can just be with ourselves, and one another, without judgement.

If we can’t get over telling others how to live their lives, then the future isn’t so bright. As technology finds its way into our bodies, our xenophobia will turn from the current divisions of race, sex, and religion to those who chose to adopt and the non-adopters. Given that adopters will most likely be more technically advanced, they’ll find themselves in a place of power, which often leads to domination.

If someone doesn’t want to jump on that ship, if someone would like to live a simple life unplugged from the systems, defining technology to their own beat, then they should be allowed to do it. The freedom to chose what goes into our bodies must be held sacred, no matter how far technology advances.

We’re still having a hard time allowing people to chose their path in freedom. Let’s work as hard on the skill of acceptance as we are on our scientific advancements.

Connection, Connection, Connection

I’ve done something horrible—I’ve started reading the news. Actually, I’ve joined a Facebook group where we discuss the news on many levels. In one day I’ll see things about advancements in technologies, the destruction of the ecosystem, the wars in Iran, Syria, and Gaza, the crazy fundamentalism taking over American politics and the rising number of women in college entering the sex trade in order to pay their tuition.
Often, I feel overwhelmed, as if things are speeding into oblivion and I’m just here on the sidelines, watching the ship go down. In my own life, I’m faced with the California drought, and find myself doing rain dances and crossing my fingers that my well won’t run dry. I’m not afraid, but I do wonder, where is this all going?

Why is there strife? Why are we so divided as people? Why is it so hard to understand that we are one race, and the fate of the world affects each of us the same? Right now it seems our xenophobia is about religion and race, and for the most part that’s true. But as I wrote a few weeks ago about artificial intelligence, I think as a people our division is really between those who operate out of scarcity, threat assessment and fear and those who see the connections between the biosphere and our health, between war and endless hate crimes, and between the broken economy and the strife of the poor. Some of us just want to make life harder, and some want to stop the nonsense of killing one another in the name of God, and get down to the business of creating a technologically advanced society alongside the reasonable management of the Earth’s resources.

We’re all part of human history. Our choices matter. Here’s but one example. In the 1950s and 60’s, aboveground testing of nuclear weapons produced large amounts of radioactive carbon that filled our skies. Most of these tests were done on Pacific islands, but we all share the same atmosphere. Thus our air was filled with this radioactive carbon, called C14. So it’s not surprising that one of the places this toxic carbon now shows up is in our teeth! A study in 2005 showed that,

“C14 acts just like regular carbon and can react with oxygen to form carbon dioxide. Plants incorporate the radioactive carbon dioxide by photosynthesis. By eating plants and the animals that feed on plants, the C14 concentration in the human body closely parallels that in the atmosphere at any given time.”

Why do I bring this up? Because I believe that at this moment in history, the most important thing we need to understand is that we’re all connected. Our Earth is everyone’s home, and it isn’t right that our governments have been using it as a testing ground for centuries, without any concern for human health.

I fear that it will only get worse as our leaders give more and more of their power to those who simply don’t understand, or don’t care, that we’re all connected. We’re all one. What happens to you, happens to me. If another man kills you, then part of me is also killed.

There’s a name for killing oneself—we call it suicide.

Philosophically, I sense we’re on the path of suicide as a species, and we seem comfortable taking the rest of the world with us. Never mind that perhaps the other species on Earth don’t want to go down in a ball of flames. Some think technology will save us. I’m no longer sure that it can. It would take an invention so amazing that we not only begin to see one another in a new light, we also feel prompted on a mass scale to do something about it.

In the words of Miracle Max from The Princess Bride, “It would take a miracle.”

Modern philosopher, Charles Eisenstein, says that a miracle is something that would be impossible in the old story, but possible in a new one. The old story is the one we’re watching destroy the Earth right now. One of separation, dominance and competition. The new story is one of connection, care and concern. It’s the More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, which happens to be the title of Charles’ latest book. If this is the case, if the solution really is a miracle, then perhaps we will make it. Perhaps there is hope.

It’s a vulnerable place to be, waiting for a miracle. In the meantime, I’m going to keep doing those rain dances…

Thoughts on Intelligence—Artificial and Human

This past weekend, I had the honor of presenting at a conference hosted by the Brighter Brains Institute and AGI Innovations, in Piedmont, California. The topic was Artificial Intelligence and the Singularity. There were many great speakers, and of course the panel discussions were lively and intelligent. The focus of my part in the day was to discuss how we might influence the morality of Artificial Intelligence.

The answer here seems very clear to me. The only way to influence the morality of anything is to be very clear about your own morality as a creator.

There are many ways to think, but all decisions, programs, and intelligence seem to come down to two very basic algorithms: Threat assessment and connection.

In the case of threat assessment, the thinker sees others in the world as a threat. What constitutes a threat varies from person to person, as it will also vary in computer applications. If you see the need to kill others in order to maintain the life you think you deserve, then kill you will. You’ll also probably invest in or create artificial intelligence to do the deed for you.

Needing to control others also falls in this algorithm of threat assessment. The other is seen as something to be manipulated for various reasons—perhaps to buy something, to believe something, or to vote for something. Again, why you need to control the other may vary, but you can be sure if you think in terms of control and manipulation, you’ll also invest in and create technologies to do it for you.

Regardless of how logically the machine thinks, it will be up to the designers, engineers and customers to give it a morality, which in this case is simply the way it’s used. Will you set it to help find the cure for cancer, or will you set it in a drone and have it hunt out your enemies?

The artificial intelligence, or technology, isn’t destructive. It’s the humans who design it use it that are destructive.

And what about connection? This is also an algorithm of thinking. In this paradigm, we seek to share resources and connect with others in order to be greater. Here’s where the AI in the cancer research lab joins forces sifting through data to help us find the solution. In this sphere AI can help a homemaker run his/her household, or organize data when planning a big event. It could even help guard against fraud in elections. It’s in the realm of connection that the Internet was born, bringing us closer than ever before in ways that were unimaginable just decades ago.

Let's hope that artificial intelligence is also born within the algorithm of connection, because I’m not sure humanity can withstand the technologies of threat assessment for much longer.

Time For An Aging Upgrade

It seems everyone I meet is afraid of growing old. It’s so bad that even thirty-six year old women bemoan that they’re reaching the age of no return, unless they can get married and have a child soon. There’s a race in our society to accomplish as much as we can, as soon as we can, because once we hit forty, we’re doomed.

Doomed from promotion, if you’re a salesperson. Doomed from motherhood, if you haven’t conceived yet. Doomed from starring in a Hollywood movie, if you’re an actress. Even in Silicon Valley, the race continues, and if you haven’t created some new great app and sold your company by the age of thirty, you might as well hang it up old man.

Personally, I think this behavior is incredibly silly. Most would say that our society encourages this insane idea that life is over by forty through advertising, media and entertainment. That advertising never worked on me. Even when I was younger, I wondered why people seemed to give it their all until middle age and then either turn to treatment after treatment to stay “young”, or let it all go and grow unhealthy quickly, as if waiting for Death to knock on their door at any minute.

The truth is, Death isn’t going to knock on our door at forty. Or even fifty. Nor is life even close to being over at middle age. What if our obsession with youth has nothing to do with what’s sold to us? What if instead, it’s an old, biologically based fear that lives within us so deeply, we don’t notice it? 

What if our consciousness hasn't caught up to the fact that humans in the Information Age live much longer than we’re programmed to think?

In the 1900’s, the average life expectancy for a male in America was 46.3. Women got a few extra years, 48.3. As the nation grew, so did the life expectancy, little by little. By 1920, the average male lived to be 53. Slowly the age went up to the 60’s by the late 1940’s and when our fathers were born, the average was at an all time high of 66!

This meant that during the advent of our entertainment, business and advertising sectors, people really did die between 40 – 50 years of age, quite regularly. So it was true back then that if one didn’t achieve their dreams by forty, they only had a few years before Death arrived and it was all over. With time, this sort of thing became the expectation—and our dreams, hopes and visions as a people went with it. But along with the growth of our nation came improvements in health care, vaccinations and medical innovation. Science has changed the game.

Fast-forward to today and you’ll find that life expectancy has gone up, even in the past few years. In 2009 it was 78.6, in 2010 it was 79! This means that we’ve gained an extra 30 + years in a little over a century! And it certainly means that life isn’t over at forty and if you buy into that lie, you have almost forty years of waiting around for a death that just isn’t going to happen as soon as you think.

It gets even better. In my own circle, many of the grandparents are nearing 100 when they die. In our family alone we had a grandmother live to be 92, another almost 97, an uncle who was 96 and a third matriarch who passed at 101!

When I look at these numbers I don’t feel the least bit old at forty-two. Not even close. Hell, I’m not even halfway there. I look back at all I’ve done in four decades with the satisfaction of knowing that I get to do all that, and more, in the four decades to come. Imagine it! All the people I’ve met and all the people I’ve yet to know. All the things I’ve seen, and the big wide world still waiting. All the love I’ve shared, and the intense amount of love I have yet to experience. It’s like I have a second life that's just begun. In many ways, my questions are those of the high school senior. What shall I study? Where shall I live? What's my next step as I venture out once again?

Of course, Death can take anyone at any time. Accidents happen. Cancer, heart attacks and other modern plagues are concerns. But if we’re aging naturally, which is how most of us are going to experience life, then why in the world do we race to get it all done by forty?

Personally, I can’t sit around for the next sixty years assuming I missed my chance. Every precious minute of my life is my chance.

It’s time for us to re-boot our life expectations, embrace our humanity and expect to live much longer than we ever have on this good, green Earth. Life isn’t over at forty, or fifty or even sixty. Life is long and we’re all better for it.

Besides, I haven’t even begun to take into account the Singularity, which we all know is just around the corner…

One Nation, Left Behind

My sister lives in Phoenix, Arizona. This time of the year it’s damn hot. Sometimes it’s 110 degrees. Luckily my sister lives in an apartment that came completely wired to the electrical grid. At no effort on her part, except to work and pay the bill, she can turn on the AC and is able to sleep in what would otherwise be an unreasonable temperature.

Modern life in America is a miracle we often take for granted. But it doesn’t stop with electricity.

Did you know that in my house, at no extra effort on my part, I can make a phone call? This is incredibly handy, especially if it’s my mother’s birthday. Even better, if there’s an emergency, I can dial 911 and instantly be transferred to an operator who’ll send an ambulance.

Again, I did nothing to make this happen. It’s just a part of American life.

As a matter of fact, our nation is one of the few where most people, even the lower class, have access to electricity, roads, hospitals and telephones. Yet this state of commonwealth is not one of mere happenstance. The phones and electrical wires didn’t just install themselves to houses across the nation. In 1910 there were 5.8 million telephone lines in the nation. By 1948, the 30 millionth phone was connected in the United States and by 1980 there were 175 million telephone subscribers.

The same story can be told about electricity. Already in the late 1800’s, cities had begun to install electricity to make life easier for those who could afford it. But by 1910, only about 10% of the farms had electricity. By 1945, after various legislative acts, almost 50% were wired up. Today, 95% of our rural areas have electricity, and more than 50% of the power lines installed rurally were funded by government programs.

Both the phone and electricity were revolutionary. They modernized our nation and gave us opportunities we never thought possible. Access to telephone and electricity, as well as other utilities like sanitation, roads and airports, have made our nation worthy of admiration.

In each case, when the technologies were invented, only the rich and powerful, or those living in cities who could afford the fees, had the opportunity to use them. It was only with legislation that both the telephone and electricity became affordable to the average American. While both were funded and created by the elite, it was our government that made sure that eventually, each of us would have the ability to turn on the AC when it’s hot, or call 911 when there’s an emergency. In short, our government worked for the people, laying down the infrastructure needed to build the next generation of our great nation.

Here we stand, yet again, at a technological crossroads. The digital revolution has changed the entire playing field. This time, we quickly attempted to get everyone online, and almost 78% of our households have internet access. This is incredible, given that it only took about ten years. The rate of implementation seems to be speeding up.

But is it enough?

For us to truly realize the full potential of the digital revolution, and all the technology that goes with it, we need more than just bandwidth to our houses. To have Smart Houses, Cars and Cities, we’ll need major investments in housing, the electrical grid and our roads. We can’t have self-driving cars unless a coordinated effort is made to install our roads and highways with the proper technologies to do such a thing. We can’t move to all electric cars until we organize ourselves to have charging stations, like gas stations, in every town and city across America. We can’t utilize green technologies such as wind and solar without major upgrades to our electrical grid and American houses.

It seems that the technology we need to create a greener, cleaner and more convenient world has been already been invented. The time has come to roll it out to the population at large. Similar to the way our government invested in the electrical grid, airports, roads and telephony, we need our leaders to now fund upgrades to all of those systems, and then some. It’s the only way we’ll continue to grow and be a nation of opportunity.

Yet I don’t see our politicians funding anything of the sort. Contrary to the work done in the 1920’s and 1930’s to regulate telephone and electricity, our current government is ready to sell the internet off to the highest bidder. Rather than a New Deal that would upgrade our roads and electrical grids to be ready for Smart Cars and Smart Houses, money is being pulled from state budgets in order to cover an ever growing debt. This is a very different group of politicians than those who funded the last technological era of our country. Rather than working for the people, our government now spends about 20% of its budget on the military, compared to 3% for transportation and infrastructure. Add another measly 2% that goes towards science and technology and it’s not hard to see that improving our society to meet the digital age is pretty low on the priority list of those in Washington.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not a fan of big government. I’m a fan of efficient government for the people. An inter-state project like the implementation of driver-less cars is a perfect example of how a federal government could serve the people. The militarization of our police force with left-over technologies the Armed Forces isn’t using, not such a good thing.

And while we’re on the subject of the Armed Forces, it seems not all technological advancement is being neglected by Washington. Designing drones to accurately kill others in remote locations is a high priority for our legislators. So are robots used to install land mines. But spend a little more money upgrading the information highway and our roadways so that they can work together seamlessly?

Forget it.

Which makes me wonder, will we be a nation left behind this time? Will Germany, Singapore and South Africa have driverless, electric cars before we do? Will Japan and South Korea install green Smart Grids that power their Smart Houses using solar energy collecting windows, while Washington continues to stalemate on any advancements in this area?

The chances are high. Very high.

Unless Silicon Valley can figure this one out, it’s likely we’ll find pockets of America that move forward in technological advancement, while others are left with nothing but their AC and telephones. On the surface that might seem okay, but history has shown us that when the majority of our citizens have access to the basic utilities needed to be a part of modern society, we all benefit.

Those left behind tend to riot. The new era will be no exception.

The Cultural Commons: From Open Land to the Open Internet

"We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune."  ~ Theodore Roosevelt

I just spent the most amazing weekend in the backcountry of the Klamath National Forest. Located just west of Mt. Shasta, one of the tallest mountains in California, I found myself walking amidst beauty that no words can properly explain. To be out in nature, free from all civilization, is a gift.

Long ago, this was the way of the world. All our land was open and free. Cultures moved from one place to another, following the herds of bison, or the warmth of the sun. Like birds, humans were able to explore, hunt and move with the seasons. All land was shared and the idea of owning a tree or a lake was absurd.

Until approximately 12,000 years ago, when farming began. Soon land became someone’s domain to care for and till. A tribe would share a plot of land, but not with other tribes. This gave way in time to kings owning lands and soon hunting was prohibited to commoners. Only the royals, and their court, could roam the land freely and enjoy its wonders. Where land once was sustenance, killing the animals now became sport. Fast forward to today, where virtually every single piece of land is plotted, owned and private. Walking across the nation without the use of roads is impossible without trespassing in some way. Indeed, what was once considered insane is now our reality: every tree is owned. Every part of nature is a commodity.

None of this was lost on me as I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with my husband, knowing that this part of land was mine to cross, if only for legislation that made it so. I have Theodore Roosevelt to thank for this opportunity to explore the valleys, mountains and rivers of the Mt. Shasta region. In 1883, Roosevelt arrived in the badlands looking for some game to hunt. Unfortunately for him, he was too late. The last herds of bison were gone, having been decimated by hide hunters and disease. As he spent time in the region, he was alarmed by the damage that was being done to the land and it’s wildlife. He also knew that it was only due to privilege that he had access to the most beautiful places in our country. Thus, when he became president in 1901, he used his authority to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the U.S. Forest Service. During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt protected approximately 230,000,000 acres of public land.

Thanks Teddy, I needed that.

In our day, these commons are important. They are places where we can be free with nature and ourselves. They provide a space where all are on common ground and wealth and politics mean nothing. But these are not the only commons worth protecting.

The digital world is also a cultural commons. We’re at the beginning of this age, creating and making a virtual world where at the moment, the playing field is open. All who can gain access to this commons are welcome to express themselves and share their content. The internet is a virtual commons similar to the national forest system, which is our natural commons. At the moment, we’re like natives, roaming freely within the digital world we’re creating.

But our freedom within the digital commons is threatened. Miners, farmers, kings and elites all want a share. They want to own the hardware that provides the broadband, control it, and give it rules and fees that they can make their own. What is now open and accessible to all is slowly being eroded by business interests, not unlike the business interests that cordoned off the land, rendering it unavailable to those who once used it for food and solitude.

The time has come once again for a president to step up and use his power to protect a most glorious heritage. The internet, and all the technology springing forth from it, is an inheritance and we must act to show we’re worthy of it as a nation. Like Roosevelt, President Barack Obama could create legislation that keeps net neutrality in tact. He could protect it from pure economics and instead see the use of the internet as more than yet another aspect of our world to turn into a commodity.

Like nature, the internet surrounds us and provides us with an opportunity to share ourselves with others. It’s a cultural commons, a place where stories live and news is reported. Allowing businesses to own it and turn it into only commerce is like logging a virgin forest—we can do it, but we loose a bit of ourselves in the process. If we had no free, open land, we’d be nothing more than caged animals.

If we have no free, open internet, we’ll loose yet another frontier for human expression. Roosevelt saw businesses in his day ruining the land he so loved, changing its landscape and virtually destroying entire species of animals. I don’t think it’s a leap to say that something similar could happen with the digital landscape if economic needs are the only ones we cater to.

If Roosevelt protected 230,000,000 acres of public land during his presidency, how many gigabytes of public bandwidth could Obama protect?

For the good fortune of our nation, and the cultural commons we need in order to share in our humanity, I think it’s time our leaders stepped up conservation efforts in the digital landscape. For if they don’t, business will claim every byte, and soon trespassing will become a virtual problem for all.

Book Review: The Transhumanist Wager by Zoltan Istvan

Finally, after two months of summer parenting duties, I’ve found time to review another independent author’s work. This time around I’ve chosen, “The Transhumanist Wager” by Zoltan Istvan. I had the pleasure of meeting Zoltan at a Transhumanism conference near Berkeley, CA. In general, he’s a staunch advocate of the Transhuman movement and his blogs on the Huffington Post often get a rise out of people. To put it simply, Zoltan is passionate about his work and he doesn’t mind stepping on a few toes to get his message out there. As a matter of fact, the more toes stepped upon, the more people discuss his blog, which in the end is a good thing when you’re trying to get people to think about the future.

The parallels between Zoltan and his main character, Jethro Knights, are not lost on anyone who’s followed him. Yet Jethro is indeed his own man in many, many ways. A young college co-ed at the beginning of the novel, Jethro Knights prides himself on his perfect ability to reason. His love and devotion to logic are obvious, to the point that any conclusion that considers human emotions is silly and meaningless to him. He views humanity through a lense that makes him an outcast at best. No one could possibly ever understand such a detached human being. Many have compared Istvan’s work to “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand but I would disagree. Jethro Knights is not John Gault at all. “The Fountainhead” would be the more appropriate Rand analogy to "The Transhumanist Wager"-- Jethro Knights is Howard Roark, purely devoted to his craft, without the sado-masochistic love relationship.

Disgusted by the religiously biased current in his curriculum, and the government as a whole, Jethro leaves the university, after pissing off some very important people, and makes his way around the world on a sailboat he’s rebuilt by hand. During his sojourn, the United States government invests in a War on Transhumanism, fighting against science and any gains it might make to improve human life.

While overseas, in a surprising moment of weakness for this otherwise emotionless man, Jethro meets Zoe Bach, and falls in love with her, despite his own war on irrationality that he’s been waging his entire life. Some have said this love story is unreasonable, for nothing is more irrational than falling in love, but I find Zoe, and her relationship with Jethro, to be one of the most delightful, and insightful story lines in the book. While her presence in the story is too short, her impact was lasting for me. It was Zoe’s take on life, which she accurately calls “Quantum Zen,” that showed the most obvious path to immortality. Much more than Jethro’s avid atheism, which is just as narrow-minded as the Christian doctrines his antagonists carry with them, Zoe’s outlook on life, aging and death were engaging, interesting and full of potential.

Which brings me to the narrow-minded Christian antagonists-- they’re developed slowly within the storyline, and we don’t actually get to see them in full action until Jethro returns to the US and takes up his mantle as the new face for the Transhuman Movement. At that point Jethro becomes Enemy Number 1 of the state, and enter Reverend Belinas, your typical sleazy televangelist. The kind of Christian that makes you go, “Yuck.” On many fronts, Istvan is accurate in describing the zealous nature that drives Belinas to commit crime in the name of the Lord. Belinas is exactly the reason we need the separation of Church and State—people like him often throw out Christ’s entire message of peace and love for the one line in the Bible where the prophet declared, “Only through me shall man enter the kingdom of heaven,” thus giving Christians the right to manipulate politics to their dogma, since that’s the only way to get to heaven.

“The Transhumanist Wager” tackles this aspect of our society in a scathingly honest way. I have no doubt that the reason our governments spends .65 of every tax dollar on the war machine rather than on infrastructure, technology and education, is to further zealous idealisms like the ones Reverend Belinas supports. This sort of intrusive thinking is also what limits technological research and fuels the anti-science movement we’re witnessing. From the tone in this novel, I can see that Istvan is very concerned about this religious-political environment and how it will affect his dreams of living forever. Jethro Knights likens it to genocide of sorts-- that denying people the right to radical life extensions due to religious fears is a form of murder on the part of those in power.

Overall, the technology in “The Transhumanist Wager” is fun to think about. Transhumania, the sea city Utopia Jethro is forced to build in order to invest in Transhuman technologies without government intrusion, is every libertarian's dream.

But there’s a glaring hypocrisy I simply cannot ignore-- Jethro Knight’s relentless belief that his way of life is the only way of life feels very similar to Reverend Belinas’ worldview. One places his belief in an unseen God while the other places his in an unproven science. It's ironic when atheists, or those who believe only in science, use the same language as a religious zealot to justify their choices. To be against any way of life other than yours is simply intolerance, whether religious, racial or technical. There’s a scene in the novel where the Reverend is torturing Jethro, ready to kill him, in order to protect the evolution he thinks humanity should take. In that moment I of course sided with Jethro; I don’t believe that killing others to support my way of life is justified. Yet only a few chapters later, when Jethro is released and back on his heavily armed floating city, he issues an ultimatum to the world that is so eerily similar in language as Belinas, I had to laugh at the hypocrisy.

True, Jethro wasn’t calling all Christians to evangelize the world. Instead, he was calling all of those who were willing to produce and work hard for an immortal future to evangelize the world. If you didn’t agree with him, or perhaps were just lazy, then you weren’t needed. You were expendable. Yes, perhaps even murderable. For in the future according to Jethro Knights, only the capable are needed. The rest are nothing to him and taking up resources. Best to simply kill them off.

To me, this is the polarization that has kept humanity back for centuries. As long as we look at one another as either with us or against us, we’ll be limited in our growth. As long as we see our technology as either evil or good, we’ll never make the next great leap. True, we’ll keep inventing interesting stuff to control or kill one another, but to great destruction and unnecessary expense.

In my opinion, “The Transhumanist Wager” let me down at the very end not because it’s written poorly, nor because I don’t agree with the fantastic vision that Istvan has for our future when it comes to technology, but because Jethro Knights is just another bully forcing his philosophy upon the inhabitants of the world. There’s nothing novel about a tyrant. We’ve been there, done that, over and over again.

Life shouldn’t have to be either/or anymore. We can rise up and be both/and. Philosophers call it, “neutralizing the binaries.” I like that idea. When we can move from a binary way of thinking, to a more quantum view of life, then anything becomes possible.

Alas, perhaps Istvan has hidden the key to our future in this book after all, in the form of Zoe Bach’s “Quantum Zen.” Follow her, rather than Jethro Knights, and the singularity, as well as world peace and tolerance, might just be around the corner.