The Extropy Institute's Vital Progress Summit has been underway for a few days now, and some interesting opinions are emerging from the participants. The summit site notes that a modern threat to the advance of medical technology has emerged from bioethical and luddite groups with strong political connections:
The President's Council on Bioethics and its Beyond Therapy report, the forces gathered around The New Atlantis, and the Precautionary Principle, all threaten technological progress especially in the areas of biomedicine and neuromedicine. This means they threaten the integrity of our minds and bodies. They threaten our rights and opportunities to make the most of our life and health.
In short, these groups (along with other general political trends) threaten the foundation stones of healthy life extension. Longer, healthier lives can only come from rapid, efficient, unfettered, new medical research. So what are we going to do about it?
The summit participants - myself included - aim to comprehensively demolish the arguments and positions of those who support current attempts to block and slow the most promising medical progress. This is a necessary job, as the costs of slowing down even the first, crude regenerative medicine on the way to the market are unthinkable. The positions of the bioethicists, luddites, religious conservatives and others have been challenged all too infrequently over the past few years, and have been used to justify the worst excesses of the present US administration regarding therapeutic cloning and stem cell research. We will all suffer the consequences to our future health and longevity, and it will get worse unless we make it get better.
The summit is an all-online affair that anyone can sign up for, and will continue for at least another week. I strongly recommend that you sign up and take a look around. You'll certainly find a lot of thought provoking essays, commentary and other materials.
The core of the summit consists of keynote presentations from notables such as Ronald Bailey, Roy Walford, Ray Kurzweil, Gregory Stock and Aubrey de Grey. Many well connected members of the healthy life extension community are participating as catalysts and discussion leaders. I'm missing out many interesting and worthy folks in giving just this quick summary - Extropy Institute president Natasha Vita-More has a rolodex to die for.
I've listed some of the more interesting points that are arising from the debate surrounding the keynotes:
- Leon Kass and like-minded people are redefining the term "human dignity" into something quite different from the dictionary meaning. In their world, human dignity requires a halt to finding cures for Alzheimer's, and requires forcing people to suffer the degenerative conditions of aging. How is this dignified? To them, human dignity means keeping every part of the human condition unchanged - which to me means suffering, sickness and incapacity...indignity in other words.
- Luddite groups, and many other organizations, have a strangely static view of the world. Many of their assumptions and arguments implicitly assume that people are incapable of changing their mind, or improving their lot - of changing in any way. The world is set in stone in their eyes, and we have to demonstrate that this is dangerous nonsense.
- The precautionary principle is a deeply flawed tool that is almost never used, only misused. Any modern argument for progress, or for anything new, must now first demonstrate that the precautionary principle as espoused by the anti-progress groups is nothing but a mask for other motivations. Any group wishing to stop progress now automatically reaches for the precautionary principle in order to set up impossible hurdles for any new science and medicine.
There's much, much more, but don't let me stand here and ramble about it. Get thee hence and join the discussion in person.