Worlds Set Free

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2011 cover of Time…2045 is just about the time in which Ramez Naam’s novel Nexus unfolds.

When NPR made its Best Books of 2013 list, I was happily surprised to find Ramez Naam’s debut novel Nexus on it. Subtitled, Mankind Gets an Upgrade, the book’s back matter describes its author as a “professional technologist,” a former CEO of “Apex Nanotechnologies” who “holds a seat on the advisory board of the Institute for Accelerating Change” and other Silicon Valley-based tech affiliations.

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Naam giving a public talk, 2012.

Given my experience in writing about visioneers, Ramez Naam seemed like my kind of person. Moreover, Naam was born in Cairo before coming to the U.S. when he was three. The visioneers I’ve written about fit a standard (and too restricted) demographic – white males who attended elite American schools – so Naam’s background was all the more intriguing. So – I bought the book and took the wild ride.

The world that Naam constructs in Nexus sits on the verge of a dystopian future. But it never quite falls into the abyss. At its heart is the question of whether humans should be allowed to augment themselves with chemical, nanomachines, computer implants, and so forth. Those who choose to do so will emerge from the crucible as a posthuman. As Naam defines it, via a fictional entry from the 2036 edition of the OED, a posthuman is a “being which has been so radically transformed by technology that it…can no longer be considered human at all.”

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Cover of Naam’s 2013 book

From this stems much of the novel’s tension. On one hand, there those people who wish to hack their own biology (and perhaps that of others around them) so as to transcend their humanity. A few of these characters are unsavory, venal people who only seek profit and power. The majority are well-meaning, good-looking people in their mid-20s with superior intellects who see the passage to posthumanism as a form of evolution, augmented and accelerated to be sure.

Not surprisingly, those opposing them – to the extent of stripping posthumans of legal and human rights – are shadowy government agencies who see people augmented with emerging technologies as an emerging threat. Naam’s exposition reflects current oppositional views toward trans/posthumanism which is, as I’ve remarked, one of the relatively few areas in contemporary science where the left and the right-wing agree.

The basic plot: It’s 2040 and new technologies for human augmentation include cloning, mind control software, nanotechnologies, and drugs that allow the creation of a hive mind. (Naam’s scenes fell somewhere between a vigorous tantric yoga system and a molly-fueled rave at Burning Man). Central to this is the drug Nexus which, thanks to the efforts of Kaden Lane, a smart but naive doctoral student (is there any other kind?), has been upgraded into a form of mind-linking technology. Lane imagines the new Nexus will make a path to enlightenment, societal understanding, human enhancement (and perhaps an enhanced ability to bed sexy nerds)…but the duplicitous Emerging Risks Directorate sees only an unacceptable threat. Add to the mix some omnipresent surveillance, biologically improved martial arts fighters, and a cloned army of elite Chinese soldiers.1 

Nexus isn’t a bad book. Some of the dialogue is quite anodyne and readers might be put off by the level of tech speak that permeates the book. (Others might find this gives an even thicker veneer of verisimilitude.) The plot chugs right along though, enough to entertain me for a flight between JFK and LAX.

At the book’s end, however, what made Nexus worth reading wasn’t so much Naam’s prose but his plumbing of prevailing ideas about technology today. Good sci-fi offers a window into the time in which it’s written and Naam succeeds at this. His exploration of the implications that the technologies undergirding posthumanism might bring were provocative without veering off (at least not too often) into waters that were over-churned with philosophical musings. The plot and characters serve more as vehicles for Naam to put forth his own ideas about the risks and benefits of human enhancement technologies. Not surprisingly, given his profession of technologist and futurist, he is enthusiastic. But it’s an excitement tempered with some severe reservations.

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What Nexus reminded me most of all was H.G. Wells’ classic 1914 book The World Set FreeLike Naam’s book, Wells’ was inspired by rapid advances in technoscience – in Wells’ case, these were the recent discoveries in physics. Wells dedicated his book to British chemist Frederick Soddy who, along with Ernest Rutherford, had discovered atomic transmutation. Soddy popularized his musings on what the new sciences of radioactivity and nuclear physics might be able to do in his 1909 book The Interpretation of Radium. 

Wells’ book was especially prescient for its prediction of the first nuclear weapons. Fueled by something Wells called “Carolinium” these “atomic bombs which science burst upon the world that night,” Wells wrote, “were strange even to the men who used them.” Carnage ensues.2

Like Wells’ The World Set Free, Nexus is a cautionary tale. But what is it cautioning us about? Yes, Naam presents the dangers of rampant human enhancement via chemical, computer, and nanotechnologies are there. Their most damning capacity is not their ability to destroy but to coerce and Naam conjures some chilling scenes to depict this. Naam’s thriller clearly extrapolates existing techno-trends and his depiction of a pervasive and intrusive surveillance state is all the more relevant given the near-daily revelations about years of National Security Agency abuses, on-going debates about autonomous vehicles et al.. One doesn’t have to be some wild-eyed futurist to see some merit in the warnings Nexus sounds. Five years ago, my colleague Michael Bess, a historian at Vanderbilt University, published an excellent article that detailed the challenges that human enhancement technologies pose, not in 2040, but now.3

Naam wrote Nexus a century after Wells’ composed The World Set Free. But what and who is being set free? Wells’ ended his book by having the world spared through the actions of enlightened scientists who form a one-world government. A new social order, an all-encompassing but benevolent one based on technocratic rationalism would free the world from conflict.

At the end of Nexus, however, the techno-geeks – loosely connected members of an atomized society who espouse a pretty standard sort of techno-libertarian-utopianism – appear triumphant. Unfettered to evolve onward and upward, the Nexus-eaters have been set free from themselves. But – more revealing – they have freed themselves from government. They have improved themselves…but did society as a whole benefit?4

  1. Much of the book unfolds in Thailand, an unconventional move in terms of setting that was perhaps inspired by Paolo Bacigalupi’s excellent The Windup Girl. []
  2. Wells’ book is also famous for helping, in 1932, inspire the Hungarian émigré physicist Leo Szilard conceptualize the possibilities and dangers of nuclear energy. []
  3. Michael D. Bess, “Icarus 2.0: A Historian’s Perspective on Human Biological Enhancement,” Technology and Culture, 2008, 49, 1: 114-26. Bess has a new book soon to appear entitled Superhuman Civilization: Justice and Identity in a Bioengineered Society. According to his web site, it “explores the ethical and social implications of new technologies for human biological enhancement. These technologies, which reconfigure or boost our physical and mental capabilities, are developing rapidly in three distinct but interconnected domains: pharmaceuticals, bioelectronics, and genetics.” []
  4. For curious readers, Naam has a sequel. Crux picks up the story roughly where Nexus left us and follows the characters and the implications of their actions. []

You, Me, and Your Avatar Makes Three

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By Ji Lee; from August 9, 2010 New York Times op-ed piece

Like the cylons  – the fictional mechno-human hybrids from Battlestar Galactica – Russian online media magnate and millionaire Dmitry Itskov has a plan for the future. By the year 2045, he hopes to see – indeed he plans to catalyze – the mass production of lifelike, inexpensive avatars. Into such a vessel would be poured the contents of a human mind – its memories, recollections, and experiences.  The result would be an avatar, a robotic version of our sentient selves, a digital copy of our minds encased in a lifelike shell. I attended a Singularity Summit in 2010 and saw one of the robotic protoypes. Creepy? Yes. Liifelike? If this is the superhighway to the future, I’ll take the side road please.  Easily dismissed, stories such as this do provoke valuable consideration of what we want or imagine the future to be.

Itskov is doing more than just speculate though. To accelerate us toward avatar-ness, he started a social initiative called 2045.com. Next week, a cohort of scientific and religious leaders will meet in New York City for the Global Future Conference and discuss the nature of consciousness, robotics, neuroscience, and the reconciliation of transhumanism with spirituality.

Meanwhile, a version of Itskov is already under construction. A company in Texas is making a replica of him, at least from the neck up.

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From caption that accompanied the June 2, 2013 article: “David Hanson, founder of Hanson Robotics, says his robotic model of Dmitry Itskov’s head will use 36 motors to reproduce his facial expressions and voice. “

But this technology would benefit more than Itskov. His creations, he says, would end hunger – who needs to feed an avatar? – and usher in a more peaceful era as the stresses of daily life yield to a more relaxed and spiritual existence. Transcendence through technology – rapture for the nerds.

If none of this sounds new, it’s because it isn’t. 18th century Hindu mythology once used “avatar” to refer to deities which had descended to earth in a physical form. On the cusp of the Space Race, science fiction authors like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Frederick Pohl incorporated the idea of transferring one’s memories and consciousness into a machine. Before Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard left the earth’s atmosphere, medical researchers discussed the possibility of augmenting space travelers’ biological capabilities with machines, coining the word “cyborg” in the process.1

These ideas were taken up again in the late 1980s and 1990 by the nascent transhumanist community.

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Extropy, c. 1993

Extropy magazine, for example, appeared as a “Vaccine for Future Shock” – an inoculation against Tofflerism, I guess – covering the a wide range of technological topics that “promise to radically transform virtually every aspect of our existence.” This list, remarkable in its catholicity, included “intelligence-increase technologies, life extension, cryonics and biostasis, nanotechnology.” To this, they added space colonization, “economics and politics (especially libertarian),” and the “intelligent use of psychochemicals.”

By the late 1990s, some transhumanists began to embrace a radical unifying concept called the “Singularity.” Its proponents gathered together a wide range of technological ideas – space exploration, nanotechnologies, life extension, artificial intelligence, biological enhancement – into a broader vision for the technological future. Although the Singularity began attracting considerable mainstream attention in the early 21st century, it was directly descended from something that appeared decades earlier in the pages of, not surprisingly, in Omni magazine.2

Debated among technological enthusiasts for several years, the Singularity received considerably more attention after Ray Kurzweil began to promote his visions for the merger of people and machines. As a futurist, Kurzweil imagined “our biological bodies and brains enhanced with billions of “nanobots,” swarms of microscopic robots transporting us in and out of virtual reality…Human and machine have already begun to meld.” Kurzweil wasn’t alone in imagining this marriage of silico and vivo. Larry Page, one of Google’s cofounders, described a future where people wouldn’t need an Internet search engine. “Eventually you’ll have an implant,” he mused, “where if you think about a fact, it will just tell you the answer.”3.  I guess Google Glass is the realization of Page’s vision.

Kurzweil based his expectations for the Singularity on exponential growth. Following the example of Moore’s Law, he formulated his own “Law of Accelerating Returns.” Kurzweil’s maxim posited that technological advances in areas such as nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology will occur exponentially until some sort of rupture in the fabric of history occurs. Rooted as it was in selective observations about previous technological trends, critics however saw the Singularity as an “untestable set of assumptions about our near future.”4

What are the common denominator in all of these visions? From visions of science-fiction writers (which I think we can properly consider equivalent to the sociology of the future) to cyborgs to Singularities and now Dmitry Itskov’s avatars – all share a concern and obsession with people’s relationships to machines. The 1950s was the heyday of Norbert Wiener’s cybernetics while the possible automation of heavy manufacturing – in 1952, John Diebold wrote his classic book Automation – stirred interest and concern among business managers and labor leaders.

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 4.49.55 PMBut the Singularity and its cousins presents something different – a secular and technologized version of the Apocalypse. Discussions about the Singularity isn’t just “rupture talk”5 but also “rapture talk.” Contemporary discourse about emerging technologies often is shaded by apocalypticism. Secular in nature but eschatological nonetheless, this “rapture talk” frames emerging technologies as taking humanity and the planet to some unknown edge, a future precipice beyond which is either an existential threat or a transformation so profound that it might challenge the very nature of what it means to be human.

Such ideas about the technological future shouldn’t be trivialized. Yes, Kurzweil has appeared to millions of people worldwide via major magazines and television shows. Transhumanist ideas percolate through TED talks. But, running more deeper than pop culture press coverage, is the ideology underpinning Singularity-speak (and Itskov’s avatars). Silicon Valley is increasingly becoming a cultural, political, as well as economic force in American culture.6 Technologists, Jaron Lanier wrote a few years ago, are perhaps “creating their own ultramodern religion.” Computer scientists are human, Lanier argues, and, as such “are as terrified by the human condition as anyone else.” Avatars and Singularities are their response to pressing existential questions. While hypothetical entities like Itskov’s avatars may provoke bemusement and ridicule – the Comments page on the New York Times web site after it ran the article on Itskov trended toward the critical – such ideas have, Lanier noted, “tremendous currency in Silicon Valley; these are guiding principles, not just amusements, for many of the most influential technologists.” It’s not hard to imagine Silicon Valley’s “rapture talk” finding a greater hold in public discourse and discussion.7

Itskov is a classic visioneer, cut from the traditional cloth of earlier technological utopians. Motivated by a vision of the future, he has invested time, money, and engineering into advancing toward his vision, creating a community of like-minded (or at least curious) people that have coalesced to consider his ideas. Like Gerry O’Neill imagined his space colonies, Itskov has grand imagining for how his particular technological future will alleviate world ills and ameliorate society. Like many of the people pushing ideas about the Singularity and associated “rapture talk,” Itskov made his fortune in the dot.com world where manipulating 0s and 1s give rise to the hubristic belief that matter and memories can be thus controlled.

And even if we assume such a creation is possible, who would Itskov’s avatars be valuable for? Maybe the real hope isn’t for dot-com millionaires afraid of dying but for people with high risk of dementia or people who can’t control their physical bodies. The New York Times paired its article on Itskov with another front-page story on the crazy cost of health care in the U.S.. When new medical technologies were first introduced, the article suggests, engineers and scientists didn’t anticipate how they would drive medical costs. So, how would Itskov’s utopian aspirations (“solve world hunger”) change when it comes down to making money? What happens when the engineering aspirations encounters the market?

Like visioneers who advocated space colonies (O’Neill), better human-computer interactions (Doug Englebart, Ted Nelson), nanotechnology (Drexler), or synthetic biology (Church), visions from Itskov (and Kurzweil) have the potential to stimulate deeper discussions. They can catalyze conversation about the relationships we have with technology, machines, and ourselves and one another. I don’t expect to see Itskov’s avatars anytime soon. But the conversations about what they might mean is absolutely worth having.

  1. Manfred  E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline, “Cyborgs and Space,” Astronautics, 1960, 26-27, 74-75; “Spaceman Is Seen as Man-Machine,” The New York Times, May 22, 1960, 31. []
  2. In 1983, Omni published a short essay by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge that considered a future where technological change accelerated at an increasing pace. “When this happens, human history will have reached a kind of singularity,” Vinge proposed, “and the world will pass far beyond our understanding.” Vinge later acknowledged that the term originated, so far as he knew, with a tribute by mathematician Stanislaw Ulam to John von Neumann. []
  3. James Gleick, “How Google Dominates Us,” The New York Review of Books, August 18, 2011 []
  4. From Susan Hassler. “Un-assuming the Singularity,” p. 9 of IEEE Spectrum, June 2008. []
  5. To borrow a phrase from historian of technology Gabrielle Hecht, who uses it in a much different fashion and context. []
  6. George Packer’s new book The Unwinding of America as well as a spin-off piece in The New Yorker presents this nicely. []
  7. The confluence of high technology with spiritual issues has been a mainstay of films and television shows for years – Spielberg’s AI, Battlestar Galactica, Iain M. Banks’ Culture series, etc. and many many more. There’s a whole Wikipedia page devoted just to the appearance of “mind uploading in fiction.” []

Technological Bi-Partisanship

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There has been a lot of debate and media coverage lately about the potential use of drones to surveil – perhaps even to kill – American citizens located on U.S. territory. The highlight of this was Sen. Rand Paul’s 13 hour filibuster on March 6. Ostensibly, Rand’s speech was to oppose the nomination of John Brennan as the new head of the CIA. He started his “filiblizzard” by stating “that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”

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Rand Paul, looking a little peaked after 12 hours on the House floor

But Rand’s “dumb publicity stunt” (as labeled by a scholar at the Brookings Institution) received some interesting coverage not just for what the senator said but also for the reaction it prompted from both the left-wing and right-wing. As one New York Times headline described it, the current debate over drones “scrambles politics both left and right.” The images Sen. Paul put forth of drones hovering over American backyards and city streets armed and legally permitted to either spy or kill touched nerves across the political spectrum. (However, the legality as well as potential blowback for drone killings in general were not explored nearly enough) “How soon are we going to have drones overhead with tasers on them,” asked the Florida-based owner of the right-wing Liberty.com. Whether one is a civil libertarian or a Tea Partier, images of this possible future stirred fears of governmental overreach and the menace of an unrestrained government. Over on the right, the Times reported, “defenders of the Constitution” welcomed Paul to their “less-is-better government club” while members of Code Pink sent Rand a liberal helping of flowers and chocolate.

This rare and probably short-lived confluence of political agreement made me wonder about other examples of particular technologies eliciting some political agreement from both sides of aisle…

Short for “transitional human,” the word transhuman was suggested decades earlier by Julian Huxley, a British evolutionary biologist and brother of Brave New World’s author, to reflect what would happen when humanity as a whole decided to “transcend itself” through the “zestful but scientific exploration of possibilities.”1 An essential idea among transhumanists is that new technologies might enable individuals to augment their physical and mental powers and thereby transcend inherent biological limitations. As one early advocate told a journalist in the early 1990s, “I enjoy being human but I am not content.”2

Over the next several decades, the valence of the term shifted. A key difference was that a Bernal or a Huxley imagined transformations occurring throughout society or even the entire human species. In contrast, the new transhumanism favored improving the individual via mind and body enhancement (and maintaining a legal right to do so). By the late 1990s, some transhumanists began to embrace a radical unifying concept called the “Singularity.” Its proponents gathered together a wide range of technological ideas – space exploration, nanotechnologies, life extension, artificial intelligence, biological enhancement – into a broader vision for the technological future.

Liberal as well as conservative critics of transhumanism have spoken out against it. Jonathan Moreno examines this in his recent book The Body Politic. Moreno quotes three scholars from the left who argue that the new posthumans will view the old models – that’s us – as “inferior, even savages, and fit for slavery or slaughter.” As a result, transhumanism will open the door to a “genocide that makes species-altering experiments” serve as “potential weapons of mass destruction.”3

Over on the right, as I described in The Visioneers, political philosopher Francis Fukuyama claimed that human enhancement technologies posed a grave threat to democracy – he called it, in one forum, “the world’s most dangerous idea” – while conservative bioethicist Leon Kass warned that “human nature itself lies on the operating table.”4 In response to Fukuyama as well as leftist critics, libertarian writer Ronald Bailey responded by saying “bring on those genetic bulldozers and psychotropic shopping malls to help people live healthier, smarter, and happier lives.”

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Transhumanism as depicted by Time, 2011

I guess the happy news is that much of the technologies central to transhumanism don’t exist yet. This stands in stark contrast to drone technology. However, what’s interesting in both cases is the centrality of democracy and equality. Opponents of transhumanism claim that it will eliminate equality or, as Fukuyama says, “what rights will these enhanced creatures claim and what rights will they possess when compared to those left behind?” The use of the term “left behind” is curious and I couldn’t help but wonder if this might be a reference to the “Left Behind” novels by Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins that are so popular with evangelical Christians. Of course, one can always rebut Fukuyama by asking about the state and distribution of equality in today’s pre-posthumanist world. Hmmm…not looking so good. By the same token, we certainly haven’t needed transhumanism as an excuse or a goad to annihilate tens of millions of our fellow unaltered humans (who presumably were seen as inferior too) in the past century alone. But, as with these left/right critiques of transhumanism, debates about drones revolve around questions of legality, equality, and democracy as well as the potential they have reaping death.

The bipartisan coalescence of support against drones also reminded me of the ways in which the political left and right came together c. 1980 around a different technological issue. Instead of standing together in opposition, however, a small coalition of lefties, libertarians, and conservatives stood together to support an enhanced program of human space exploration coupled later on with calls for the militarization of space.

Stirred by Gerard O’Neill’s ideas for the humanization of space” and his depictions of space colonies free-floating in the inky blackness of space, devotees of O’Neill started the L5 Society in 1975. The name came from O’Neill’s proposal to put a space colony at one of Lagrangian points where gravitational forces are balanced so that objects there remain in relatively stable positions. L5’s membership was relatively small, never more than 10,000 people or so. But it was a vocal – at times argumentative and prone to internal disagreements – group with a strong California-based membership bolstered by local chapters in the Bay Area, San Diego, and Los Angeles. “L5 in ‘95” was an unofficial slogan the group adopted to express its determination to settle space and end their group with a mass disbanding in orbit.

L5 members weren’t shy about getting involved in the political process. During its eleven year existence, L5 members debated a range of space-related topics including lunar mining, space colonies, missions to Mars, and the Strategic Defense Initiative. The group played a role, for instance, in defeating U.S. senate support for the Moon Treaty in 1980.5

Screen Shot 2013-03-14 at 2.44.04 PMThe pro-space movement produced unusual political bedfellows. For example, Republican politician Newt Gingrich displayed considerable support for space, especially its private business opportunities, as did libertarian outlets like Reason magazine. One sign of the pro-space movement’s struggle over its agenda can be seen in a report put together in advance of Reagan’s 1981 inauguration by the “Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy.” This informal group, led by science-fiction writer Jerry Pournelle who served on L5’s board of directors, first met in Tarzana, just outside Los Angeles. It eventually assembled a membership that defied traditional political boundaries – Freeman Dyson (Princeton physicist), Barbara Marx Hubbard (spiritualist and futurist), and Larry Niven (science fiction writer) were on the membership list with former astronaut Walter Schiarra and Lowell Wood (physicist, Edward Teller protégé, and Star Wars advocate). The committee’s report advocated a “vigorous space program” that combined exploitation of space-based resources with entrepreneurial activities in space and space-based weaponry.6

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Article by liberal author/educator John Holt reprinted in the L5 News

Pournelle’s enthusiasm for military and corporate-backed space ventures was resisted by some left-leaning space enthusiasts and L5 members who still supported the original idea of communal space settlements and space-based solar power. Many other space buffs supported the Reagan space agenda in the hopes that military activities might jumpstart more peaceful citizen initiatives, much in the same way that 19th century military forts preceded civilian settlements.

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Image from 1979 L5 News article

These disputes presaged 1990s-era debates about Silicon Valley’s cyberculture and its libertarian leanings when left and right wing writers and political leaders united briefly in support of the electronic frontier’s new opportunities.7 Like space commercialization in the 1980s, enthusiasm for the internet and the World Wide Web a decade later was tinged with similar utopian and libertarian aspirations as well as hopes for profits. Social critics once described the internet and dot-com inspired “California Ideology” as “promiscuously combin[ing] the free-wheeling spirit of the hippies and the entrepreneurial zeal of the yuppies…a profound faith in the emancipatory potential of the new information technologies. In the digital utopia, everybody will be both hip and rich.”8 Where else but in the go-go years Clinton years would you find ex-hippies like Stewart Brand and Timothy Leary sharing bandwidth with Kevin Kelly, Esther Dyson, Newt Gingrich and George Gilder?

What’s interesting in all of these cases is that the discussion and debates didn’t break along traditional party lines. When the smoke and fog from Rand’s filibuster had dissipated, Sen. John McCain dismissed him as just one of the “wacko birds of the right and left that get the media microphone.” I’m curious to see how the drone debate continues and whether any sort of coalition forms around the issue. Perhaps this is all just a flash in the Rand…er, pan. Or maybe we’ll see more cases where a shared political nest is built by other wacko birds.

  1. Julian Huxley, Religion without Revelation. 1967 ed. (London: Harper & Brothers, 1927).195. []
  2. Ed Regis. “Meet the Extropians.Wired, October, 1994 []
  3. G. Annas, L. Andrews, and R. Isasi, “Protecting the Endangered Human: Toward an International Treaty Prohibiting Cloning and Inheritable Alterations.” American Journal of Law and Medicine 28: 2&3, 2002: 162. []
  4. Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2002); Leon Kass. “Preventing a Brave New World: Why We Should Ban Human Cloning Now.” The New Republic, May 21, 2001, 30-39. []
  5. The United Nation’s plan declared that “the moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind” and claimed that “neither the surface nor the subsurface of the moon, nor any part thereof or natural resources in place, shall become property of any State, international intergovernmental or non- governmental organization, national organization or non-governmental entity or of any natural person.” From the “Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.” These phrases struck some private space development enthusiasts possibly preventing opportunities for private space manufacturing and settlement. []
  6. Pournelle later claimed that this group’s activities helped catalyze Reagan’s SDI initiative; see Andrew J. Butrica, Single Stage to Orbit: Politics, Space Technology, and the Quest for Reusable Rocketry (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003). []
  7. My thanks to Peter Westwick for stimulating discussions about places in which the left and right coalesced around particular technologies. Peter also kindly shared a paper he presented at a conference on Envisioning Limits that we attended together last year in Berlin. Titled “From the Club of Rome to Star Wars: The era of limits, space colonization, and the origins of SDI,” Peter’s paper digs deep into some of the left-right space connections I glossed over here []
  8. Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, “The California Ideology,” Science as Culture, 1996, 6, 6: 44-72. []