More or less human?


Humans have been using technology to artificially enhance their bodies for a very long time. Spectacles, hearing aids, false teeth, wooden legs – when our distant ancestor first used a tree branch to lean on as she walked with an injured leg, she was taking the first (painful) steps towards transhumanism.

So what is transhumanism?   Mark O’Connell, in his book To Be A Machine, writes that it is the “belief that we can and should eradicate ageing as a cause of death; that we can and should use technology to augment our bodies and our minds; that we can and should merge with machines, remaking ourselves, finally, in the image of our own higher ideals.”

Of course, the technology that we have used in the past to augment our bodies has been pretty low-tech: false teeth and hearing aids are certainly useful and have caused us to merge with machines up to a point; but it is the scientific advances of tomorrow and next week that have the potential to remake us into something more than human.

And this brings philosophical and ethical challenges.  Soon athletes in some events such as the 100 meter sprint who run on carbon fibre blades will be faster than those who run on legs.  So what should a surgeon  when approached by a prospective patient who wants him to amputate her perfectly good legs and fit her with the latest blades so she can compete at the top levels of her sport?

Many surgeons would refuse to be involved in such a procedure.  But there are also many health professionals who would be more sympathetic to the idea of exchanging inferior body parts with artificial replacements that could make the patient perform better, or live longer.  Cyberneticist Kevin Warwick is such a man.  He has had a number of  implants: one let him experience ultrasonic waves, which he likens to a “bat sense”. At another time:

“I interfaced my nervous system with my computer so that I could control a robot hand and experience what it was touching. I did that when I was in New York, but the hand was in a lab in England.”

And he is far from alone in his enthusiasm. The idea of transhumanism has sprung onto the stage of public attention recently.  It’s been featured in a number of recent blockbuster Hollywood movies, including Transcendence, Lucy and Her.  The Facebook group Singularity Network, one of the largest of hundreds of transhumanist-themed groups on the web, as seen its membership grow from 400 to over 10,000 in 3 years.  And that is just one of hundreds of transhumanist-themed groups on the web.


cartoon by scott adams – cheers scott!!

Of course there are plenty of opponents to this creeping transhumanism.  “Blogman – Blacksmith of Truth” is one such naysayer.  In he blogs against what he calls the “transhumanist agenda.”  He does not want to have his body altered or invaded by swarms of nanobots, and he doesn’t want other people to go through such procedures either, as he believes transhumans will either imprison “normal” humans on an island or force them to assimilate like the Borg.

It’s true that transhumanists want to convert as many non-believers as possible.  They want to convince the public that embracing the radical science is in the human species’ best interest.  In a religious world where most of society still believes in heavenly afterlives, some people are doubtful if significantly extending human lifespans is philosophically and morally correct. Transhumanists believe the more people that support transhumanism, the more private and government resources will end up in the hands of organizations and companies that aim to improve peoples’ lives and bring mere human mortality to an end.  But some conspiracy theorists would have it that transhumanists are intent on dragging everyone away from their humanity, by any means possible.

Conspiracy nut and talk radio presenter Alex Jones is one such human.  In “Transhumanism: The New Dark Age,” he sets out his stall.  Ray Kurzweil, maybe the best-known long-time transhumanist, has been trying to achieve technological immortality for years.  In this, and in Kurzweil’s popularity among celebrities and executives, he sees proof of a transhumanist elite intent on enslaving human-kind.

“It’s all global government—accept nanotech. Accept wirehead. Accept interfaces, everything’s fine. All of our modern technologies—created by eugenicists. Or farmed out by scientists owned by scientists owned by eugenicists robber barons. The entire society, the whole technotronic plan; robotics, future not needing us, phasing out humanity, all of this, a hellish future, while they’ve been poisoning us and dumbing us down, so we can’t resist their takeover, and then saying we deserve it because all we want to do is watch Dancing with the Stars.

His ranting sometimes suggests lunacy.  But he is popular, so he wields much influence.  And he is not alone in believing in a transhumanist conspiracy.


When does the cyborg become a machine? pic dc comics

Some of the conspiracy theorists’ fears do raise interesting – possibly important – questions.  If people become cyborgs, replacing limbs and organs with mechanical parts and implants, at what point do they become machines rather than human?  If they have their diseased hearts and kidneys and other organs replaced with ones grown in rats, when does their humanity succumb to rat-ness?  If a man uploads his mind and consciousness into a computer, and has his useless body destroyed, is he still a human?  When no physical trace of him remains, can he still claim any humanity, never mind transhumanity.  Rather than a glorious transhuman status, do they instead become low creatures and kitchen appliances and sundry pieces of equipment?


MH370 “murder-suicide”?


The mystery of what happened to Malayian Airlines Flight 370 may be over: an aviation expert believes one of the pilots murdered his fellow pilot and the passengers before ditching deliberately in a murder-suicide.

For four years what happened to MH370 has been a mystery.  The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am on March 8, 2014,  but forty minutes later it vanished from radar.  It continued flying for six hours.  An international search effort tried to find any wreckage on the Indian Ocean bed but fond nothing.  But some wreckage was found off the East coast of Africa.

Larry Vance, a former investigator with the Transportation Safety Board Canada, examined detailed photos of the wreckage and believes it proves his theory that one of the pilots deliberately killed his colleague and everyone in the passenger cabin then crashed down into the ocean to commit suicide.

He claims that the flaps were down, which means the pilot was flying slowly before the crash.

Vance says: “If the flaps were down, then somebody would have had to have put them down, and they had to have put them down intentionally.”

Another expert, pilot and instructor Simon Hardy, believes the plane flew along  the Malaysian/Thai border, avoiding detection by air traffic control radar.  “If you were to commission me to make [a plane] disappear I would do exactly the same thing.”  And he thinks the pilot responsible was Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah.  The course took the plane over his home in Penang where he dipped a wing in farewell before taking the plane and its passengers over the Indian Ocean to their deaths.

The official verdict is that the plane crashed into the sea after running of fuel.  They think there is no proof to back the murder-suicide claim.  But there is nothing to explain why MH370 changed its course and crossed the ocean.

But Vance has an explanation: he thinks the pilot responsible crashed in the ocean far off-course because he did not want the plane to ever be found.

There have been a few cases of pilots deliberately crashing. EgyptAir Flight 990 in 1999, co-pilot Gamil el-Batouty crashed the plane killing 217 passengers.  And Andreas Lubitz, co-pilot of a Germanwings plane crashed into the Alps in 2015.

Still, it is very rare for this to happen.  We’ll have to wait for a comprehensive report on what actually happened.


Policeman with a piece of debris of MH370 on Indian Ocean island of Reunion Picture from

Camover enthusiasts playing in Moscow


Camover is a difficult game to play at the best of times.  In the most relaxed jurisdictions  the authorities take a dim view of players ripping down and smashing the public surveillance equipment.  And in Putin’s police state Russia the authorities are certainly not laid back.

So it’s nice to see that Moscow is still a thriving Camover fixture  Here’s some video of some Russian enthusiasts playing the legendary offlining game!


North Korea has to be offered something substantial to disarm


North Korea has pulled out of talks with Seoul and are threatening to cancel a summit meeting with the USA unless Trump stops talking about total unilateral nuclear disarmament. Which obviously has not gone down too well.


Thing is, the North Koreans do have a valid point.  The USA and its allies have to remember: it doesn’t matter that they think they have right on their side, when you enter into negotiations with someone you need to bear in mind that they think their side is righteous.  You can’t just expect North Korea to give up nuclear weapons because it’s “the right thing to do.”

Trump says that he will enter negotiations with one big precondition: the North Koreans have to agree to disarm.  That is a big ask: as far as Pyongyang is concerned, the nukes are the only reason why the Americans haven’t already nuked them.

The North Koreans believe their nukes give them a place at the big table, so they expect something big in return for any disarmament.  There are lots of carrots the USA could offer: note that cancellation of the talks with Seoul and the statement followed the start of USA-South Korean military exercises.  These exercises involve 100 US and South Korean warplanes including F-22 stealth fighters and B-52 bombers.  Of course the South Koreans say these exercises are purely defensive in nature – Moscow always says the same thing when the US and its European allies complain about Russian exercises.

So cancellation of US military maneuvers would go down well.  And, considering just how much the USA is asking of North Koreans, how about promising something just as huge: like a commitment to the end of American military presence in the Korean peninsula?

Trump would doubtless say that’s impossible, that the USA can’t abandon its ally in the south.  But considering how naked and defenseless Pyongyang will feel after giving up its nukes, maybe that isn’t too much to ask.  Gaddafi got some good stuff in the Libya denuclearisation deal, and he had a much smaller arsenal.

And we have to remember what Trump did to Iran just a few days ago.  Iran made a deal with the USA and friends to stop trying to enrich Uranium to weapons grade and abandon its efforts to create its own nuclear deterrent (the polite way of describing one’s weapons of mass destruction in atomic hell). But Trump has unilaterally cancelled that deal in what some see as a move towards military conflict  Kim Jong-un must have been watching these events unfold on TV with a WTF expression on his face.  He is seeing the lesson writ large, that America makes these deals and breaks these deals – Trump might promise all kinds of stuff, then once the Korean nukes are dismantled and production facilities demolished the USA say “We’e changed our minds” and come bomb Pyongyang.

I’m not actually saying that the USA enters into these deals in bad faith.  But I am definitely implying it.

Kim Jong-un has pledged to close down its nuclear test facility  in the presence of international observers, which is a major concession for them to make before talks, but America wants more.  But if they want the negotiations to even happen they’re going to have to make similar promises.  Or fiery nuclear hell might be in everyone’s near future in the region.



What can we use the telephone for?


Nowadays, that phone you carry round in your pocket has many uses. Yes, there’s the phone call thing – though that’s a bit of a spin-off nowadays.  There’s text messages – the good old SMS – but that’s a comms thing too.  And Messenger, which is text messages and even voice calls, but all mixed up with social networking.

Which brings us to WhatsApp, and Signal… and then Facebook, and SnapChat, and Twitter… and Google+, and then email, and then your good old web browser… and there are the shopping apps, and the takeaway food apps, and the banking apps… and there’s the camera, and the maps, and the astronomy, and the python programming, and the translators, and the ebooks, and and and… please, leave your ideas of other telephone uses in the Comments, I swear each one will be examined and cherished.

But back when ol’ Mr Bell first came out with his amazing telephonic invention, he did’t really know what to do with it.  The first thing he noticed was when he got acid on his trousers and squealed like a little pig for help, his assistant Mr Watson heard him over the telephone and could come rushing to his aid.  But, after touring the country with his stage act, letting the audience hear, over his phone, the sound of Mr Watson playing the organ somewhere else, he was a bit stumped for practical applications.

One of his ideas was to use it as a cable radio service – every evening the family could gather round the phone and listen to live music, or a play, or a sermon, or a presidential address. We may laugh nowadays (even though we use or phones as radios, and tvs, and mp3 and video players) but in Budapest, Hungary, 1893 until after World War I, there was a service called Hirmondo which was essentially Bell’s idea.  It’s dead now, of course, but land-line phones in general are pretty dead now.  And our mobile phones are being used for a whole lot more than phone calls, as I started this post describing.  Who knows what we’ll be using phones for in another 50 years or so?  Tell you what: I bet actual phone calls will be at the bottom of the list!



PGP, S/MIME and email: serious vulnerability


The EFF has warned that a major vulnerability around the use of PGP and S/MIME encrypted HTML email has left users in a vulnerable position.  Sebastian Schinzel, in charge of the IT security lab at the Münster University of Applied Sciences, has said that attacks exploiting the vulnerabilities could make previously-encrypted emails visible as plain text!

The EFF blogged:

The full details will be published in a paper on Tuesday at 07:00 AM UTC (3:00 AM Eastern, midnight Pacific). In order to reduce the short-term risk, we and the researchers have agreed to warn the wider PGP user community in advance of its full publication.

Our advice, which mirrors that of the researchers, is to immediately disable and/or uninstall tools that automatically decrypt PGP-encrypted email. Until the flaws described in the paper are more widely understood and fixed, users should arrange for the use of alternative end-to-end secure channels, such as Signal, and temporarily stop sending and especially reading PGP-encrypted email.

The EFF has also offered guidance on how to remove plug-ins associated with PGP email, which users can find in the blog. Those plug-ins include ones for clients Apple Mail, Thunderbird and Outlook.

Check here for more info.


We’re moving!



I’m currently moving this blog to a new address: Hopefully I’ll get the content and followers moved tonight. Bt for a bit I’ll be posting new content to the new address and the old url, Please change your bookmarks to the new address asap.!!Cheers!


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