Criminalizing Transhuman Soldiers

biosoldiersIt seems to be the trend these days. You take a predictions that was once the domain of science fiction and treat it as impending science fact. Then you recommend that before it comes to pass, we pre-emptively create some kind of legal framework or organization to deal with it once it does. Thus far, technologies which are being realized have been addressed – such as autonomous drones – but more and more, concepts and technologies which could be real any day now are making the cut.

It all began last year when the organization known as Human Rights Watch and Harvard University teamed up to release a report calling for the ban of “killer robots”. It was soon followed when the University of Cambridge announced the creation of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) to investigate developments in AI, biotechnology, and nanotechnology and determine if they posed a risk.

X-47BAnd most recently, just as the new year began, a report funded by the Greenwall Foundation examined the legal and ethical implications of using biologically enhanced humans on the battlefield. This report was filed in part due to advances being made in biotechnology and cybernetics, but also because of the ongoing and acknowledged efforts by the Pentagon and DARPA to develop super-soldiers.

The report, entitled “Enhanced Warfighters: Risks, Ethics, and Policy”, was written by Keith Abney, Patrick Lin and Maxwell Mehlman of California Polytechnic State University.  The group, which investigates ethical and legal issues as they pertain to the military’s effort to enhance human warfighters, received funding from the Greenwall Foundation, an organization that specializes in biomedicine and bioethics.

In a recent interview, Abney expressed the purpose of the report, emphasizing how pre-emptive measures are necessary before a trend gets out of hand:

“Too often, our society falls prey to a ‘first generation’ problem — we wait until something terrible has happened, and then hastily draw up some ill-conceived plan to fix things after the fact, often with noxious unintended consequences. As an educator, my primary role here is not to agitate for any particular political solution, but to help people think through the difficult ethical and policy issues this emerging technology will bring, preferably before something horrible happens.”

US_Army_powered_armorWhat’s more, he illustrated how measures are necessary now since projects are well-underway to develop super soldiers. These include powered exoskeletons to increase human strength and endurance. These include devices like Lockheed Martin’s HULC, Raytheon’s XOS, UC Berkeley’s BLEEX, and other projects.

In addition, DARPA has numerous projects on the books designed to enhance a soldiers abilities with cybernetics and biotech. These include VR contact lenses, basic lenses that enhance normal vision by allowing a wearer to view virtual and augmented reality images without a headset of glasses. There’s also their Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System (CT2WS), which is a computer-assisted visual aid that instantly identifies threats by augmenting their visual faculties.

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90And in the cognitive realm, there are such programs as Human Assisted Neural Devices (HAND) that seeks to strengthen and restore memories and the Peak Soldier Performance (PSP) program that will  boosthuman endurance, both physical and cognitive. But of course, since post-traumtic stress disorder is a major problem, DARPA is also busy at work creating drugs and treatments that can erase memories, something which they hope will give mentally-scarred soldiers a new lease on life (and military service!)

And of course, the US is hardly alone in this regard. Every industrialized nation in the world, from the EU to East Asia, is involved in some form of Future Soldier or enhanced soldier program. And with nations like China and Russia catching up in several key areas – i.e. stealth, unmanned aerial vehicles and aeronautics – the race is on to create a soldier program that will ensure one nation has the edge.

bionic_handsBut of course, as Abney himself points out, the issue of “enhancement” is a rather subjective term. For example, medical advancements are being made all the time that seek to address disabilities and disorders and also fall into the category of “enhancement”. Such ambiguities need to be ironed out before any legal framework can be devised, hence Abney and his associates came up with the following definition:

“In the end, we argued that the best definition of an enhancement is that it’s ‘a medical or biological intervention to the body designed to improve performance, appearance, or capability besides what is necessary to achieve, sustain or restore health.”

Working from this starting point, Abney and his colleagues made the case in their report that the risk such enhancements pose over and above what is required for normal health helps explain their need for special moral consideration.

These include, but are not limited to, the issue of consent, whether or not a soldier voluntary submits to enhancement. Second, there is the issue of long-term effects and whether or not a soldier is made aware of them. Third, there is the issue of what will happen with these people if and when they retire from the services and attempt to reintegrate into normal society.

It’s complicated, and if it’s something the powers that be are determined to do, then they need to be addressed before they become a going concern. Last thing we need is a whole bunch of enhanced soldiers wandering around the countryside unable to turn off their augmented killer instincts and super-human strength. Or, at the very least, it would be good to know we have some kind of procedure in place in case they do!

What do you think of when you hear the word "super soldier"? Yeah, me too!
What do you think of when you hear the word “super soldier”? Yeah, me too!

Source: IO9.com

The Future Is Here: The EyeTap

There has been some rather interesting and revolutionary technology being released lately, and a good deal of it involves the human eye. First, there was the Google Glasses, then there were the VR contact lenses, and now the new EyeTap! This new technology, which is consistent with the whole 6th sense computing trend, uses the human eye as an actual display and camera… after a fashion.

Used in conjunction with a portable computer, the EyeTap combines the latest in display technology and Augmented Reality which allows for computer mediated interaction with their environment. This consists of the device taking in images of the surrounding area, and with the assistance of the computer, augment, diminish, or otherwise alter a user’s visual perception of what they see.

In addition, plans for the EyeTap include computer-generated displays so the user can also interface with the computer and do work while their AFK (Away From Keyboard, according to The Big Bang Theory). The figure below depicts the basic structure of the device and how it works.

Ambient light is taken in by the device just as a normal eye is, but are then reflected by the Diverter. These rays are then collected by a sensor (typically a CCD camera) while the computer processes the data. At this point, the Aremac display device (“camera” spelt backwards) redisplays the image as rays of light. These rays reflect again off the diverter, and are then collinear with the rays of light from the scene. The light which the viewer perceives is what is referred to as “Virtual Light”, which can either be altered or show the same image as before.

While the technology is still very much under development, it represents a major step forward in terms of personal computing, augmented reality, and virtual interfacing. And if this sort of technology can be permanently implanted to the human eye, it will also be a major leap for cybernetics.

Once again, Gibson must be getting royalties! His fourth novel, the first of the Bridge Trilogy, was named Virtual Light and featured a type of display glasses that relied on this very technology in order to project display images in the user’s visual field. Damn that man always seems to be on top of things!

And just for fun, here’s a clip from the recent Futurama episode featuring the new eyePhone. Hilarious, if I do so myself!

 

 

The Future of Computing

digital_sentienceLook what you started, Nicolla 😉 After talking, at length, about the history of computing a few days ago, I got to thinking about the one aspect of the whole issue that I happened to leave out. Namely, the future of computing, with all the cool developments that we are likely to see in the next few decades or centuries.

Much of that came up in the course of my research, but unfortunately, after thirteen or so examples about the history of computing, I was far too tired and burnt to get into the future of it as well. And so, I carry on today, with a brief (I promise!) list of developments that we are likely to see before the century is out… give or take. Here they are:

Chemical Computer:
Here we have a rather novel idea for the future of hardware. Otherwise known as a reaction-diffusion or “gooware” computer, this concept calls for the creation of a semi-solid chemical “soup” where data is represented by varying concentrations of chemicals and computations are performed by naturally occurring chemical reactions.

Based on the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, a chemical experiment which demonstrated that wave phenomena can indeed take place in chemical reactions, contradicting the theory of thermodynamics which states that entropy will only increase in a closed system. By contrast, the BZ experiments showed that cyclic effects can take place without breaking the laws of nature.

Amongst theoretical models, it remains a top contender for future use for the simple reason that it is far less limiting that current microprocessors. Whereas the latter only allows the flow of data in one direction at a time, a chemical computer theoretically allows for the movement of data in all directions, all dimensions, both away and against each other.

For obvious reasons, the concept is still very much in the experimental stage and no working models have been proposed at this time.

DNA Computing:
Yet another example of an unconventional computer design, one which uses biochemistry and molecular biology, rather than silicon-based hardware, in order to conduct computations. Originally proposed by Leonard Adleman of the University of Southern Calfornia in 1994, Adleman was able to demonstrate how DNA could be used to conduct multiple calculations at once.

Much like chemical computing, the potential here is to be able to build a machine that is not restricted as conventional machines are. In addition to being able to compute in multiple dimensions and directions, the DNA basis of the machine means it could be merged with other organic technology, possibly even a fully-organic AI (a la the 12 Cylon models).

While progress in this area remains modest thus far, Turing complete models have been constructed, the most notable of which is the model crated by the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel in 2002. Here, researchers unveiled a programmable molecular computing machine composed of enzymes and DNA molecules instead of silicon microchips which would theoretically be capable of diagnosing cancer in a cell and releasing anti-cancer drugs.

Nanocomputers:
In keeping with the tradition of making computers smaller and smaller, scientists have proposed that the next generation of computers should measure only a few nanometers in size. That’s 1×10-9 meters for those who mathematically inclined. As part of the growing field of nanotechnology, the application is still largely theoretical and dependent on further advancements. Nevertheless, the process is a highly feasible one with many potential benefits.

Here, as with many of these other concepts, the plan is simple. By further miniaturizing the components, a computer could be shrunk to the size of a chip and implanted anywhere on a human body (i.e. “Wetware” or silicate implants). This will ensure maximum portability, and coupled with a wireless interface device (see Google Glasses or VR Contact Lenses) could be accessed at any time in any place.

Optical Computers:
Compared to the previous two examples, this proposed computer is quite straightforward, even if it radically advanced. While today’s computer rely on the movement of electrons in and out of transistors to do logic, an optical computer relies on the movement of photons.

The immediate advantage of this is clear; given that photons are much faster than electrons, computers equipped with optical components would be able to process information of significantly greater speeds. In addition, researchers contend that this can be done with less energy, making optical computing a potential green technology.

Currently, creating optical computers is just a matter of replacing electronic components with optical ones, which requires an optical transistor, which are composed of non-linear crystals. Such materials exist and experiments are already underway. However, there remains controversy as to whether the proposed benefits will pay off, or be comparable to other technologies (such as semiconductors). Only time will tell…

Quantum Computers:
And last, and perhaps most revolutionary of all, is the concept of quantum computing – a device which will rely on the use of quantum mechanical phenomena to performs operations. Unlike digital computers, which require that data to be encoded into binary digits (aka. bits), quantum computation utilizes quantum properties to represent data and perform calculations.

The field of quantum computing was first introduced by Richard Feynman in 1982 and represented the latest advancements in field theory. Much like chemical and DNA-based computer designs, the theoretical quantum computer also has the ability to conduct multiple computations at the same time, mainly because it would have the ability to be in more than one state simultaneously.

The concept remains highly theoretical, but a number of experiments have been conducted in which quantum computational operations were executed on a very small number of qubits (quantum bits). Both practical and theoretical research continues, and many national government and military funding agencies support quantum computing research to develop quantum computers for both civilian and national security purposes, such as cryptanalysis.

Wearable Computers:
Last, and most feasible, is the wearable computer, which has already been developed for commercial use. Essentially, these are a class of miniature electronic devices that are worn on the bearer’s person, either under or on top of clothing. A popular version of this concept is the wrist mounted option, where the computer is worn like a watch.

The purposes and advantages of this type of computer are obvious, especially where applications that require more complex computational support than hardware coded logics can provide. Another advantage is the constant interactions between user and computer, as it is augmented into all other functions of the user’s daily life. In many ways, it acts as a prosthesis, being an extension of the users mind and body.

Pretty cool, huh? And to think that these and possibly other concepts could be feasible within our own lifetimes. Given the current rate of progress in all thing’s high-tech, we could be looking at fully-integrated computer implants, biological computers and AI’s with biomechanical brains. Wouldn’t that be both amazing and potentially frightening!