Human Kinds: Design Issues Concerning Extreme Life Extension–Part 3

The final part of Natasha Vita-More’s talk, together with an audible but hard-to-hear exchange with Nick Agar at the end. Nick is asking about the prototype that Natasha designed 10 years ago, Primo Posthuman. You can get more on Primo, and on Natasha’s work more generally, from her website.

The examples that Natasha provides are provocative, and in the exchange with Nick we’re reminded of the difference between “prototype design” and “industrial design”–design at the planning (detailed as that may be) level, and design at the level of implementation. But even once implemented in some form, there’s the further question of what we might call full-blown implementation, truly industrial design, where we scale up from some kind of implementation to implement the device to realize its full promise.

Example: consider artificial intelligence vs artificial retinae (and related visual prosthetics) or cochlear implants. Artificial intelligence remains, after 70+ years, at the prototype design level, although many models with limited intelligent abilities have been built (e.g., chess programs). Artificial retinae et alia have been designed at the implementational level, but most of these implementations remain what are usually called “experimental”, where they are tried out in limited or special cases, with the idea being to fine-tune the implementation from the experiences gained there. We might think of cochlear implants in the same way, although their use is widespread enough (100 000+ and counting, worldwide) to warrant thinking of them at the truly industrial design level.

One question, then, following, Nick, is where do the technologies that Natasha talks about fit in to this trichotomy? And how does that inform our ideas about radical life extension?

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