Lifestream, Diigo: SETI Scientist: Aliens Are Likely Robotic Life-Forms

SETI astronomer Shrostak suggests that alien lifeforms are likely to be sentient machines. By extension, if humans were able to transfer their minds/other essential human components to machines (becoming sentient machines), the potential to inhabit planets which do not support human biological requirements is advanced.
Looked at from a different angle, the notion of sentient machine extraterrestrials adds another layer of grey to the application of human rights. Of course, aliens, not being human, would not be entitled to ‘human’ rights. But if humans were to become sentient machines, our definition of ‘human’ would change. Would our rights then extend to all other sentient beings, regardless of their ‘shell’/housing/casing?
from Diigo

Lifestream, Liked on YouTube: If we create female robots as perfect women, how will this affect us?

via YouTube

This video, made for a school project by Eva Oaks (a graduate in robotic facial design at Utwente), asks what the impact of “perfectly” formed female androids will be on women. Oaks highlights the body image anxiety which seems to be a cultural bi-product of our time, and the increasingly young ages and high rates at which many women are undertaking plastic surgery to “improve” their appearance [links to Miller’s (2011) assertion about the increasing plasticity of the body]. Fast forward to a time in which androids exist alongside humans: what is the impact of this on body anxiety? How will definitions of beauty be influenced?

Important questions which lay bare the cultural complexity of ever increasing technologies.

Miller, V. (2011). Chapter 9: The Body and Information Technology, in Understanding Digital Culture. London: Sage.

Lifestream, Diigo: english and tech – Growing and learning in this digital age

from Diigo

Kat Robb reports on a recent trip to Japan, where she spoke with Prof. Ishiguru, director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory in Osaka.

He argues that society itself is responsible for shaping humans, therefore by using a combination of computers, motors, and sensors he is able to create androids that are capable of mimicking humans. So synergistic androids are created, that with exposure to language and HRI, are able to develop a personality, therefore making them as human as any other being that depends on exposure to language, society, others and interaction to shape who they are and who they become.

I wonder what this says of current society/culture, when you consider the fate of AI systems such as Microsoft’s chatbot Tay?

Robb also suggests:

Japanese citizens openly accept robots and autonomous systems into their society so they don’t feel the need to distinguish the differences between them, and humans. Robots are considered beings, just like any other being, and take an active part in society in theatre productions, as caregivers, companions and shop assistants.

Robots are considered beings. “Beings” – not ‘human’ beings, but beings none the less. I wonder – what rights do these non-human beings have in Japan, then?  Further investigations ahead..

Lifestream, Tweets

When I wrote about the body being a site where the search for social distinction plays out, I challenged the notion that concerns for equality would amount to anything substantial politically within transhumanism. However, I underestimated the complexity of the transhumanist movement, perhaps in part to my previous cyberpunk viewing and its focus on a dystopian future.

Amy DeBaets (2011) provides insights into the political alignment and history of the transhuman movement(s) in her article, Enhancement for all? A feminist ethical analysis of the discourses and practices of democratic transhumanism.

Transhumanists are not all the same, and there are a variety of sub-movements that vary substantially based on their respective politics and visions of the future (p. 3).

DeBaets differentiates between libertarian transhumanism or extropianism, and social democratic transhumanists or technoprogressives. Libertarian transhumanism grew out of California in the 1980s and 1990s, consisting largely of men who were the early adopters of information technologies, who took on “cool” high-tech names and strange handshakes (Regis, 1994) and united in Hayekian-libertarian anarcho-capitalist political beliefs (DeBaets, 2011). In contrast, social-democratic transhumanism or technoprogressivism started in Europe, with core values of broad access to technology and a social safety net for all. A further sub-movement is that of Singularitarianism, which claims we are rapidly approaching a period of human history where computers will surpass the capacity of the human brain and become a self-improving superintelligence that forever changes the human condition.
Source: Hughs, J. (2002). Democratic Transhumanism 2.0. Available at

Clearly, of these three sub-groups, the technoprogressives – now active through the Institute for Ethics in Emerging Technologies – are the only group with any level of commitment to principles of equality and justice. However, as DeBaets highlights, technoprogressive perspectives may fall short of ensuring equality and justice through a definition of personhood which may be both:

  1. too narrow, and
  2. too exclusive.

DeBaets suggests that the definition of personhood may be too narrow in that it is reliant on a Lockean perspective, which values reason, reflection and rational thought but ignores the role of embodiment and physicality, which are important to personal and political identity within feminist perspectives.  Similarly, it is too exclusive because historically groups such as women, Africans, and less abled people have been excluded (for example, from political process) on the grounds of not possessing the required rationalism (2011, pp. 6-7).

These are themes I will be watching out for in my viewing this week.