The text so far has outlined some of the weaknesses of the nation state model which will cause it to be replaced as the dominating principle in the social consciousness of an individual by an understanding that she exists as a player in infinitely more flexible global surroundings, and how the transition to global scale, far from increasing the distance between the individual and the institutions of governance or rule-setting, will paradoxically have just the reverse effect. The Internet is seen as being a crucial instrument in bringing this about, through its ability to facilitate association – to encourage groups, in other words.
Sitting at her laptop while on holiday in the Cayman Islands, today's (or tomorrow's) economic actor can communicate with a group of the other members of an international share-buying club specializing in feminine health and beauty companies; can organize the participation of one of her children in a summer music camp in New England; can continue an extensive e-mail discussion with a group of intellectual property lawyers (our actor is one such, herself) aimed at influencing the next meeting of a sub-Committee of WIPO to change the wording of a proposed 'fair-use' exemption clause; can visit a user discussion forum to help a decision about whether to change her health insurance scheme; and, exhausted, can close down the miserable machine and thankfully join the rest of her family on the beach, her global credentials well and truly burnished for the day. Of course, she will still have her Blackberry with her, just in case . . .
Nowhere does the nation state feature in this admittedly very partial list of one individual's social and professional involvements. Every one of them is centred around a group of people making their own arrangements within global organizational and cultural structures. But this prescription for added groupishness a la Durkheim does not resolve the impasse caused by the confrontation between modern society and the unconscious, tethered to its collective roots. Spiritually, the lady on the beach is devastatingly alone.
For the moment skirting around the possibility that humans may eventually be able to choose types of psyche which are different from the one we now have (but see below), the options open to a member of contemporary society to resolve this dilemma might be listed as follows:
The first of these leads to lack of moral basis in life, due to the unsatisfactory moral leadership given by the State (it demands moral hegemony, but then behaves completely amorally in relation to its citizens, and fails to provide satisfactory models or moral teaching). The result is hoodies and the rest.
The second is very successful for those individuals who do it, but fails to address the pressing questions that are posed by humanity's progress. Examples of communities that have retreated to (or stayed in) past folkish social models are the Hutterites and the Amish. 'Revivalist' US religious communities probably fall into this bracket, as do activist organizations such as Al Quaede. Scientologists, nuns and monks are other examples of communities that solve the problems of modern society by ignoring them.
The third path seems to be the only possible one for an individual who wishes to be 'saved' from the moral desert of the modern world, while continuing to be a part of that world. It doesn't absolutely require a conscious decision to follow such a path, but is probably much more difficult without awareness of what is going on. It is difficult because it requires acceptance of the unconscious, group-based nature of one's psyche, which cannot easily be accessed by the enquiring conscious mind, but which informs the whole of the structure of the personality, especially as regards social dealings with the outside world.
The 'groupish' unconsciousness carries with it the moral burden of all the groups to which an individual belongs, even if part of this may have been contributed from external sources (from the 10 Commandments to the Code of Practice for Futures Traders to the rules of your golf club). In order for an individual to construct her own independent yet 'groupish' universe, it is necessary for the conscious mind, including the superego, to accept the body of these rules as a real and forceful part of the psyche. In history, few people have achieved this; but it is becoming easier because of better understanding of the workings of the mind and society. Nowadays a reasonably well-educated person is already a few steps up the ladder before they even start.
It needs to become the goal of society that all its members should fit this specification, unless they wish to follow the second path. The cop-out, the first path, should not be a permitted option, because that is what will lead to a permanent underclass, and nightmare visions like H G Wells's Eloi and Morlocks. It is quite surprising how many science fiction writers have imagined a 2-layer society of this kind; it is indeed one of the greatest dangers facing humans, but it can be avoided fairly easily as long as an inclusive agenda is adopted by those people who are in a position to influence the choices of individuals and their organizations.
This is not to say that lager and Little Britain are to be banned in favour of a diet of Chateau Petrus and The Art of Fugue. It is not necessary to be elitist in order to understand and participate in collective, 'groupish' activities and mind-sets.
The goal of a more aware and conscious, a more informed individual, with fewer internal barriers to understanding (of billions of them, indeed) can be approached through self-education and through the development of suitable organizations (clubs, associations, virtual worlds). This process will take place anyway even without a conscious determination to follow it through on the part of a given individual because of the advancing 'groupish' tendencies of globalization and the Internet that have already been sketched.
In addition, as technology advances during the next 100 years, there will also come to be ways of changing the human psyche from the outside, so to speak, alongside the autonomous internal growth processes. This offers the possibility of a redesigned human psyche that is not so imbued with groupish motivations. Whether that could be a good thing or not is difficult to say. It's possible to see groupishness as something that holds back individuals from full independent development. Even now, it is possible for a human, having understood the groupish motivations that press up from the unconscious, to resist them while at the same time making a conscious decision to abide by the rules of society, a moral exoskeleton as opposed to the internal skeleton provided by genetic groupishness. That seems somehow rather contrived, when all you have to do is to listen to your unconscious to achieve the same effect. And what is the point of learning to do without other people when the world is more and more full of them? Surely we need to learn to get better at living with other people rather than walking in the opposite direction?
Changes to society and human consciousness during the last 100,000 years, and perhaps longer, can loosely be characterized as 'cultural' change, contrasted with the preceding 'genetic' evolution of groupish social skills including the facility for language, moral structures, emotional complexity and expanded consciousness. The difference between 'genetic' and 'cultural' aspects of social humans is key to any discussion of how society should be constituted. 'Cultural' traits can be re-engineered; 'genetic' traits cannot, or at least can only be suppressed at great psychic risk, exactly what has in fact happened under the modern State.
If one thing can be said with certainty about the cultures of most societies in the modern world, it is that they are more prescriptive than they used to be. It's true that in the Middle Ages people led highly circumscribed lives; but that was mostly due to lack of opportunity rather than to specific prohibitions issued by the Church or the folk-mote – the only two ethical arbiters at the time. Although the Church has declined in influence, and the folk-mote is just a folk-memory, contemporary society is riddled with prohibitions, guidance, rules, laws, customs, preferences etc, and far from all of them originate from government.
This enveloping apparatus of conformity sits, oddly, alongside a much increased variety of cultural achievement. And there is no reason to think that the trend towards a rule-based cultural environment will abate. Chapter Ten showed how, on the contrary, the regulatory and ethical framework of our society will become ever more complex and sophisticated.
On the bright side, diversity of cultural expression seems welcome in our world. A few years ago, who could have imaged the Guinness Book of Records, the world of beach volley-ball, or MySpace, or Napster, or skate-parks, or Get Me Out Of Here, I'm A Celebrity? And it's not all low-brow: wrapping buildings, performing Bach's cantatas in 380 different churches across Europe on the correct feast-days, Hoffnung's Concerto for Vacuum Cleaners, Dame Edna Everege (OK, middle-brow), Joan Rivers, pickled sharks, the Santa Fe opera festival . . . it's an endless and growing list.
All the faculties of people are being stretched in amazing directions. Instant global communications, intense competition across all or most of humanity, insatiable appetite for sensation and entertainment, and very big piles of money all combine to drive out the boundaries of our culture – it's a kind of cultural Big Bang.
What does this say about human evolution? First of all, it says that individuals wanting to push the boundaries of achievement and experience will want the very best and most elaborated bodily, sensory and cognitive equipment with which to do it, so that they will constitute an unstoppable force towards the development and use of new technological possibilities.
Secondly, it says that there will be pressure for 'standardization' of citizens because of such phenomena as 'political correctness', the desire to control errant behaviour such as violence, racism or paedophilia, and the array of phobias that society is building up directed towards smoking, drinking, obesity and drug-taking. There are already plenty of studies that seek to link such behaviours to chromosomal 'abnormalities' or anyway particular features of a person's dna (see for example Edenberg and Foroud 2006, Greenfield, The Private Life of the Brain, and Goldstein, Addiction: From Biology to Drug Policy), and pressure for behaviour to carry appropriate financial penalties. It will be a short step from refusing free public treatment for smoking-related diseases (already creeping in) to compulsory gene therapy for damaging addictions, and to a generalized pressure on parents to ensure that their children-to-be do not have the propensity to drink, smoke, drug or abuse other children.
The development of technologies permitting intensified communication between people, as outlined below, will also bring a need for improvement, in this case at the cognitive level. Internet-inspired collaborations affecting many aspects of life, some of them currently under nation state control, and the development of direct brain-to-brain or brain-to-robot communication, perhaps in shared cognitive spaces, will generate demand for faster and broader psychological performance. The development of the brain is guided by an intricate interaction between the genome and a child's environment, but beyond question, there will be ways in which dna can be changed to favour desired outcomes.
None of the changes outlined above will require public legislation – although there well may be some. Once the technologies exist, they simply require cultural pressure, which is even more effective. The result will be a further reinforcing of the rightfulness and usefulness of therapies which improve the life chances of individuals in our particular world – and that means eugenic tampering with dna.
Once the Rubicon is crossed in terms of the acceptability of eugenic engineering, culturally-driven 'improvement' of the human genome will surely follow, again starting with free public programmes to improve cognitive functioning, including for instance the teachability of children (no more dyslexia, no more hyper-activity attention deficit – no child left behind!), and ending with major global programmes for the elimination of some agreed-upon undesirable human characteristics and the enhancement of other, more desirable ones.
Perhaps this is a frightening prospect. But is it more frightening than the prospect of more Hiroshimas, Biafras, Darfurs, Gulags or Kristallnachten? This book doesn't have an answer for such questions; but one day they will have to be asked and answered.
Humans will change themselves not just because they can, although that on its own makes it certain that they will, but because evolution hasn't finished with us, and never will, while we exist; because we seem unable to secure the good bits of human nature against the bad bits; because we may destroy ourselves if we don't change; and because we have allowed the Church and the State to relieve our 'souls' – for want of a better word – of moral responsibility.
Apart from changes to the human genome that we may ourselves bring about in a calculated manner, it just isn't true that Darwinian evolution has been somehow turned aside in a more general sense. Study after study shows that taller people are more successful in life, including mating, then shorter people. More than ever, there is a received idea of what constitutes beauty, and how would this not result in a gradual trend towards children who are closer to that ideal?
Resistance to disease has also not gone away as a factor in selection. It is reported that some individuals are resistant to HIV infection, or that, if infected they do not develop AIDS (Bernard, Routy and Bruneau, 2008). This is a classic example of selection at work; those with the genetic factors that predispose towards resistance will survive and breed; others have fewer chances in that direction. This type of selection would appear to be operating in richer societies as well as in poorer ones, although it may be partly negated when individuals are rich enough – or society is rich enough – to pay for drugs which retard or cure HIV or AIDS.
It may be supposed that, towards the middle of the century, as improved medical techniques increasingly offer life chances to everyone regardless of genetic and environmental factors, Darwinian evolution will become less of a factor in pure 'survival of the fittest' terms. There is unlikely to be any cultural resistance to this trend.
Within the lifetime of today's children, there will be no part of the body which cannot be replaced or improved by a bionic or artificial biological or bio-electronic device; and some human faculties will routinely be enhanced by implants shortly after birth – hearing is the most obvious example with major improvements in the perceived frequency range and spatial discrimination. Direct manipulation of the genome will have removed the great majority of genetically-transmitted diseases; and babies will be 'designed' to an extent which would have seemed unacceptable even 20 years ago.
There has been no objection so far (how could there be?) to the use of bionic devices such as contact lenses, hearing aids, artificial hip joints, artificial limbs, artificial hearts, artificial skin or artificial kidneys which make up for accidental damage or age- or disease-related deterioration of the human body, or for birth defects. Every effort is made to repair such individuals unfortunate enough to have such disabilities to give them a reasonable standard of life. There are even Olympic Games and other competitions for paraplegics.
Until now, the technology for the creation of bionic replacement parts has been electro-mechanical, but we are on the verge of being able to 'grow' replacement parts biologically (Silva and Mooney, 2004). A fabricated dog's bladder proved to be viable after successful implantation. Artificial skin has been demonstrated in a technology which blends biological processes with non-biological. The controversy over the use of stem cells will surely be short-lived, and within a very few years an increasing number of human organs and tissues will be produced biologically. Hybrid bio-electronic tissues are also a likely development, initially perhaps for robotic technologies, but later for use in cognitive enhancement.
Genetically engineered drugs are already in common use, although they were controversial at first. Genetically engineered human insulin was approved by the USA's FDA in 1982; genetically engineered human growth hormone as replacement for a drug that was previously extracted from human cadavers was another early use. In 1986 the FDA approved the first genetically engineered vaccine for humans, for hepatitis B. Since these early uses of the technology in medicine, the use of genetic engineering has expanded to supply many drugs and vaccines, as well as its use in the food chain, which remains controversial in many parts of the world, although no longer among scientists.
The techniques for direct interference with the dna of an embryo already exist, and have been tested in animals, but scientists and legislators are hesitating before permitting changes to be made to human embryos. Many of them are completely against it, so that while it seems a certainty that it will come to pass, it is difficult to know the time-scale. The mechanism of expression of the various genes and accompanying 'nonsense' dna, mitchondrial filaments, etc, will have been worked out to a high degree by 2030, at least as regards those attributes which are particularly desirable or undesirable. Given the impossibility of distinguishing between what is remedial and what is 'improvement' it will then be only a matter of time before 'improvement' becomes routine, at least within the parameters of what is normal. Such attributes as height, eye colour, size of organs (you can guess which will be the most popular), propensity to obesity, propensity to drug addiction (these last two presumably remedial), facial symmetry, hair colour and texture, bodily hair growth, length of fingers, width of palm (for pianists), might all be mutable via reasonably straightforward genetic adjustment.
No doubt some form of supervisory body will come into existence which will arbitrate over doubtful cases, and set the limits to what is permissible and what is not; and no doubt over time the boundaries will stretch. It will be hard to prevent people from achieving cheaply through dna manipulation what they could achieve through bionic implantation, although the latter will be ethically much easier to defend. Improved eyesight for instance, could probably be delivered either way, but surely it's cheaper just to tweak the dna than have a US$30,000 operation to instal a corneal implant?
Sooner or later, the line will be crossed (if it has not happened already and we just haven't heard about it) and people with money to spare will start improving themselves in order to be stronger or cleverer or just to live longer. Sportspeople already try to do this with the use of substances such as steroids, many of which are banned. That is quite a primitive approach to the problem. By mid-century we may expect that people who can afford it will have access to a range of bionic implants.
The future for Darwinian evolution of human cognitive faculties is a tougher nut to crack. There certainly is a premium on cognitive ability in the modern world, as there has been for thousands of years if not much longer, and on the conforming, cooperative and communicative behaviours that are required for group success. And no-one could pretend for a moment that the modern world is anything but more complex and more demanding cognitively than it used to be. The cult of individuality might be thought to work in the opposite direction, but that is a superficial view. At almost all points, the individual interacts with the modern world through the agency of groups: at school, in the office, in the army, in sport, in the pub. Even a person working in an intensely individual way, say, a top golfer, cannot succeed without her groupish 'support team', the approbation of her peers, and her fan club. And as pointed out in previous chapters, globalization and the Internet will increase, not reduce the opportunities for people to form like-minded groups.
All of this social complexity could be expected to work for greater cognitive social skills, although its impact on marriage and reproductive chances may be lessened by programmes aimed at reducing social disparities.
Bionic and genetic techniques to improve (artificially – whatever that means) cognitive performance may also tend to reduce the role of 'natural' Darwinian selection, although in terms of genetic results it may be hard to tell the difference between an improvement in neuronal memory functioning brought about by genetic manipulation and one brought about by failure to breed on the part of people whose memory skills are too poor to allow them to perform successfully in the world.
As a generalization, it is probably true to say that Darwinian evolution in the strict sense will have a decreasing impact on human mutability during the second half of the century; but it is not clear that this is a very useful conclusion. What is certain is that the human cognitive apparatus, as well as our physical bodies, is going to change as never before.
It is a not a straightforward question, given the present state of our knowledge, whether the role of dna mechanisms in the formation and expression of social behaviour could or should be directly manipulated. The brains we have got now are of course miraculous, but they are the result of countless tiny improvements to what went before rather than the outcome of one coherent piece of planning aimed at creating a brain for the 21st century – or any other particular moment in time. As is to be expected, each new cognitive faculty required, so to speak, by evolution, has had to be fitted in alongside the existing instrument, or on top of it. The result is a patchwork of areas with overlapping functions and a wiring diagram, once it has been deciphered, that is far more complicated than perhaps it need have been if all had been designed at once.
Examples of bionic cognitive improvements might be:
The bilateral asymmetry of the brain is one candidate for attention. This asymmetry was a response to a particular set of environmental demands (there are conflicting theories about just which demands) but it has led to curious lacunae in human thinking processes. The popular conception of 'right brain' versus 'left brain' (feeling versus ratiocination) is not wrong, and there are many situations in life in which a more even-handed access to the two hemispheres would be adaptive for today's human individuals.
Improving inter-hemispherical communication, which currently takes place mostly through the corpus callosum (a relatively small and limited bundle of neuronal tissue linking the two hemispheres), either through bionic implants, selective dna or drug therapy, or embryonic manipulation, is likely to have a good effect on the cognitive effectiveness of an individual in some situations, at least.
Improved access to memory is another clear candidate for advanced technology. There are already drugs and gene therapies which retard or even cure memory impairment in senile dementia and other conditions. Clearly it will not be long before their use becomes widespread to improve recall. Research work has made progress in locating the 'lexicon' used by the brain to store words and their associated meanings. A joint statement in Nature in December, 2008 by a group of cognitive researchers (Greely, Sahakian, Harris, Kessler, Gazzaniga, Campbell and Farah, 2008) called for society to respond to the growing demand for cognitive enhancement.
Although there doesn't seem to be a capacity problem as such in the brain, it is probable that it will be possible to improve the scale and functioning of memory using either bionic implants or wireless or magnetic access to external stores of data. At present, the brain routinely accesses external linguistic information held in a variety of storage media via at least the three senses of sight, hearing and touch. Pathways from the different sensory areas converge towards areas which receive and process the linguistic data and meld it with related internal data to produce, eventually, linguistic output. The 'melding' area is the point in the brain at which input could be received from additional data stores whether internal or external. That may also be the point from which pathways could be created towards currently 'subsconscious' stores of cognitive data.
One particularly intriguing area is the access of consciousness to 'groupish' segments of the brain, that is the parts of the brain which hold knowledge of group memberships, relationships with other group members, and the sets of rules which govern those relationships. Many researchers have supposed that the enormous volume of this information was one of the main causes of increasing brain-size in early hominids. Although some of this information is available to consciousness, some of the time, most of it is hidden, although of course it is used all the time by the unconscious decision-making cognitive apparatus.
These and other re-engineerings of the internal workings of the brain are likely to be technically feasible by 2050, if not before, and alongside them will be opportunities for enlargement of a human's cognitive space through access to external electronic cognition. External memory (data-bases) was mentioned above, in the sense of a static store of information that would be available to the existing brain through wireless, magnetic or even cable communication.
Whatever communication techniques emerge as the most useful, the boundaries between humans and robotic devices will become blurred, to put it mildly, because of the possibilities (already demonstrated) for mental control of external or artificial devices by the human mind through nerve-like and/or wireless communication.
In 2005, Sony patented an idea for transmitting data directly into the brain, with the goal of enabling a person to see films and play video games in which they smell, taste and perhaps even feel things (Hogan and Fox, 2005). Sony's technique would be surgically noninvasive, but would fire pulses of ultrasound at the head to modify the firing patterns of neurons in targeted parts of the brain. The aim, it says, is to create “sensory experiences”, ranging from moving images to tastes and sounds. A Sony Electronics spokeswoman said that the work was a “prophetic invention” and no experiments at all had been performed on it. “It was based on an inspiration that this may someday be the direction that technology will take us,” she told the New Scientist.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation, which uses magnetic fields to induce currents in brain tissue, is in routine use for neurological research and in clinical practice (Wassermann et al, The Oxford Handbook of Transcranial Stimulation), and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) is used for exploration of neural processing (eg Miyawaki et al, 2008).
Researchers at Duke University Medical Center (Lebedev et al, 2005) taught rhesus monkeys to consciously control the movement of a robot arm in real time, using only signals from their brains and visual feedback on a video screen. The scientists said that the animals appeared to operate the robot arm as if it were their own limb.
The Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Munich has directly interfaced nerves and electronic devices using a chip designed by Infineon which allows neurons to grow in proximity to electronic sensors (Hofmann et al, 2003). And the implants used in Parkinson's disease sufferers communicate with neurons which accept their signals as if they had originated in the original, now-damaged neurons. Control software for these implants is updated from outside the patient.
Based on such evidence, two-way communication between the human brain and external devices (and, indeed, other human brains) in a way that bypasses existing sensory channels seems a near-certainty within twenty years at the very outside, and probably much sooner. Once a human can communicate directly with the cognitive space of a quasi-human external device, or with other human psyches, immense possibilities open up for enhanced group activity. Humans are already well equipped by evolution to handle collective planning, analysis and behaviour; it will no doubt be a stretch for our current brains to encompass a dramatically wider set of cognitive inputs, enabling and even requiring faster mental processing, but there is no reason to suppose that we cannot learn and improve in this direction, as we have done in the past in other respects.
Any development such as those mentioned in the last section raises significant ethical issues. It's not a new worry, of course, that by interfering with the course of nature we are somehow abusing or aborting the natural course of evolution. It can be traced as far back as the Renaissance, and probably further. It may be the case that we are allowing otherwise unviable people to reproduce through supporting them, but then surely that is more than compensated for by the fact that we are increasingly able to remedy any lack of viability, in them or their children, in a variety of ways, including gene manipulation.
It's possible that some or even many countries will legislate to prevent 'self-improvement' and the use of non-organic implants other than in strictly therapeutic situations, but surely this will be a lost cause. Unless legislation applies to all countries, there will always be alternatives for people to go to. In the end, there is no avoiding global legislation, in this sphere as in so many others.
Many people will probably want to make a distinction between 'curative' and 'improvement' uses of bionic technologies. But this is an impossible distinction to sustain. If one person is weaker than another one, is that not, in the language of 'human rights', somehow unfair? (Of God? Of scientists? Of the European Union?) How could you ever deny access by a physically weak billionaire to muscle strengthening drugs and implants, if that is what she wants?
People will argue against interference with the work – variously – of God, evolution and society; but this argument has no clothes any longer, if it ever did. We have comprehensively re-engineered plants and such species as wolves, cats and horses. We go to enormous lengths to educate children to defy their natures. We have an vast and growing tower of ethical rules which constrain humans to behave in prescribed ways in almost every imaginable situation in life – and, very importantly, these rules are increasingly global. These masses of rules are nothing less than an attempt to change human nature by barricading it into a behavioural corner – how much more elegant it would be to change ourselves.
The dark side of humanity (and nature) will remain, of course. Disease, in the sense of transmissible viruses, will presumably have been tamed by 2070, although that will nearly be an irrelevant statement since bodily contact between individuals will no longer be necessary, even if it sometimes takes place. Howard Hughes was right! But the difficulties caused by viruses on the Internet demonstrate the rule that any innovation is more vulnerable to competition or attack from other life forms than an established form which has already erected its defences. No doubt it will be a goal of the authorities (whatever that word may come to mean in 2100) to remove criminal tendencies from the human genome. But that is probably impossible, and anyway would be resisted by whatever (global!) organization emerges to control the onward development of humanity. No doubt some of the causes of criminality can be smoothed away genetically, but as long as jealousy, the competitive instinct, the trading faculty and inequality remain parts of human life, there will be cheaters; and these are not qualities that will find themselves on the bio-engineering hit list. While human nature remains more or less intact, then, there will be criminals; therefore there will also be police, punishment and a judicial process.
Self-deception, which was explored to some extent in Chapter Five, is perhaps another matter. Although there evidently were benefits from the interlocking roles of consciousness and deception in the historical context of human social development, it is not clear that it is necessary or desirable for the situation to continue as it is. Humans seem to be born ready to deceive rather than ready to trust, and each individual goes through a long and difficult process of socialization and personal self-development in order to attain a reasonable level of openness, transparency and honesty in social dealings. Many people, perhaps most, never do.
It would arguably be an improvement to the human psyche to arrange better access for consciousness to those parts of the brain it cannot currently access, and to the processes that take place in them. That could include some parts of what we currently term the 'unconscious'. There may be occasions on which a more sentient human being might still choose to be deceptive – but many people might think it an improvement if hypocrisy, bigotry, snobbery and the like played a much less prominent role in human affairs, which is the likely result if people could be aware of the unconscious processes that cause them to dissemble – both to others and to themselves.
At the physical level, there may well be considerable similarities, at least at first. Although non-humanoid intelligent robots already exist in environments such as automotive manufacturing, it is likely that most robotic development will parallel human forms in its early stages, since robots are most often conceived as machines which will extend the reach of existing humans. That suggests a lot of commonality between the design and control of robotic elements such as fingers, joints, limbs, and of course their sense organs: sight, hearing, touch and taste. It may be expected therefore that where parallels exist, robotic devices will largely mirror biological ones, or vice versa. Robotic joints will look like human ones, especially bionic human joints.
Designing the cognitive equipment of humanoid robots will pose greater challenges. Although much progress has been made already in terms of understanding what one might call the flow charts of human decision-making – the interaction of sensory input with data-bases held in the brain, the carrying out of a decision process, and the implementation of the decisions made through efferent nerves (or through speech – an alternative way of giving commands to an external unit), it would not be right to say that the 'wiring diagrams' of the processes involved in the brain have been deciphered to a point at which they could be copied for robotic purposes.
Nor can it be assumed that they ought to be copied, even if they were known. The human brain is a mish-mash of component sections, many of which came into existence long before primates existed, and some of which have been re-used or developed for newer purposes. Although nature does reach the most efficient solution to cognitive problems, it only does that within the existing structure of the brain. Even if a robotic control function is exactly equivalent to a human control function, it doesn't necessarily follow that it should slavishly follow the neural structure of the equivalent function in a human brain. In addition, robotic control functions will often deliberately not follow human control mechanisms.
Deciding whether to map the groupish skills and attributes of humans onto robots will be a particularly ticklish process! For example, the possibility of damage to conspecifics is merely taken into account in human decision-making as one among a number of factors, whereas robots (according to Asimov's laws) should put the integrity of humans at the forefront of their decision-making. On the other hand, it is easily imaginable that a robotic designer might want to build reciprocal altruism into a robot programmed to deal with children. Even then, of course, filleting out reciprocal altruism in a human brain may or may not ever be possible in neural terms (too early to say). It may be that, once the relationship of such a trait as reciprocal altruism has been adequately mapped in terms of its functional connections to other cognitive attributes, it will be necessary only to duplicate those connections in terms of robotic electronics. On the other hand, it may be simpler to define a trait such as reciprocal altruism in behavioural rather than neural terms, and design it into the robot in that way. For some traits, there may turn out to be no distinction between behavioural and neural mappings, which would be helpful!
Those who fear that robots might 'gang up against us' are probably wide of the mark; but one can see that designers would be tempted to arrange that humanoid robots would view their own conspecifics as 'machines' rather than having humanoid characteristics, and to avoid building affiliative drives into robots.
By, say, 2030, the functional cognitive structure of the human brain will be well understood, although some 'wiring diagrams' will not yet be mapped, not least because they are dynamic. The issue of the extent to which words are stored in terms of related images or non-linguistic patterns will have been resolved, and appropriate results will have followed in terms of robotic and bionic cognitive devices, and the control of them. The main lines of the cognitive structure of 'human-friendly' robots (ie robots which need to communicate in more than a superficial way with humans) will have been laid out.
During the period from 2030 to 2050, it is to be expected that humans will become able to communicate with quasi-human robotic intelligences using wireless or magnetic technologies, or just using a cable link, by-passing their normal sensory channels. It will probably be possible for a human to 'inhabit' a robot's psyche, using its consciousness, its cognitive tools and its sensory equipment as if they were her own. This probably sounds too visionary; but consider for a moment the experience of a surgeon remotely inspecting the inside of a coronary artery with an intelligent micro-camera. This already happens, and it is not such a major step to add further sensory equipment to the camera (heat sensors, say, haptic and olfactory antennae) and then cognitive facilities that would allow the instrument to begin to make its own decisions and carry out its own motor actions within limits set by the surgeon.
In fact it is already commonplace to view through the sensory apparatus of robotic devices. Houston inspects the shuttle for damage through remote cameras or through cameras held by astronauts; pilots have 'head-up' displays of telemetry or targets. The crucial step forward will be for such sensory information (not just visual) to be received directly by the brain. Experimental control of prosthetic limbs by thought processes has already been demonstrated, with a combination of nerve signals and electronic sensors; it is only a matter of time before the brain will be able to receive and work with information transmitted from remote sources – say, 2020. Shortly after that a human will be able to control a robot as if it was an organic extension of the human body; and by adding quasi-human cognitive abilities to the robot, an individual will be able to work in a sentient partnership with the robot. The robot at that point has in a real sense become a partial cognitive clone of the human, and many aspects of a human's daily life could be lived through such surrogate devices. The avoidance of physical risk is one obvious benefit, but there are many others, including that people would no longer need to travel.
Many will still be sceptical; but the direction of much current research, some of it referred to above, and the almost unanimous opinion of technologically expert futurist writers (distinguished from science fiction writers) is indeed that it will be possible to bypass primary sensory input devices (eyes, ears, skin, the afferent nervous system) and for an external cognitive being or device to have two-way interaction with sensory processing modules in the brain or even with purely cognitive sections of the brain by imitating the data-streams the brain expects. See for instance Kurzweil. Various signalling techniques may be used, including wireless or magnetic fields, or even cables. On a mechanical level, nanobots could receive and transmit from within capillaries in the brain.
Apart from the mechanics, two other pre-conditions for brain-to-robot communication are that robots' brains should have sufficient processing capacity to match the human brain, even if only in certain respects, and that the 'wiring diagram' of the brain should have been sufficiently deciphered to allow human thought processes to be recreated or modelled in non-human cognitive assemblies (this last is the province of AI, or Artificial Intelligence). It is not really in doubt any longer that these two conditions will be fulfilled, the only question is when. As to the former, the operation of Moore's Law (the doubling of the number of electronic components on a chip every 24 months), the matching progress of miniaturization, and continuing increases in computation speeds would result in a computer which is smaller, faster and with more computational capacity than the human brain within less than ten years. Artificial Intelligence researchers are busy at work both analyzing the methods of the human brain with a battery of investigative techniques and also constructing equivalent methods of computation which achieve the same results as a human brain without necessarily copying its working methods. 2020 seems to be an outside estimate of the moment at which the Turing test will be satisfied by a computer (that it should be indistinguishable from a human brain to an outside observer).
Robots, currently thought of as tools in industry, medicine, space exploration and so on, even as pets, seem to be far removed from the imaginary play worlds of Virtual Internet Communities. But the truth is that these two apparently disparate sectors will converge, merge, even.
Individuals 'playing' in fantasy worlds or socializing in VICs commonly represent themselves through avatars, which may have human form but may also take other forms, particularly in fantasy worlds. In many VICs there is nothing to prevent a person from representing themselves as closely as they can in their avatar, but normally there is no compulsion for one to do that, except perhaps on sites whose primary purpose is dating, where the organizers will go to some lengths to prevent impersonation, for obvious reasons. On some sites, though, individuals may 'date' each other through their avatars, without any intention that the relationship will come to have a real-world parallel.
It seems likely that there will come to be a cleaner distinction between faithful self-representation and imaginary representations, and not least because cognitive enhancement is going to permit a much wider range of experience while 'on-line'.
Currently, the inhabitant of an avatar does not experience sensory input directly from the avatar. Visual and auditory inputs are of course present, but they are generated by the software running the site. This will change. Just as for robots (described above), people will be able to share the sensory experience of the avatar once direct wireless or cable communication is possible between the brain and the remote device. In the case of VICs and games, it will be the player console or local computer which generates the signals that bypass the sensory interface of the player (eyes, ears, skin etc) and are received directly by the sensory processing module of the brain.
As well as receiving direct input from the 'senses' of her avatar, an individual will also be able to receive input from the senses and cognitive processes of other avatars involved in social interaction (group activity) in the VIC. Currently that information is available only to the limited extent that the avatar can see, hear or touch other avatars (just as in real life). Evidently, it will be easier to receive information from the mental processing of other avatars than it will be to receive such information from conspecifics in real life (because it is already in communicable electronic form), and this is why collective cognitive activity is likely to take place first and by preference in electronic spaces. It will happen between 'real' individuals as well, but considerably more sophisticated technology will be required for that, and may be overtaken by a process of migration of human minds from our heads to computers (which by 2030 will be more powerful, more flexible, faster and better at communicating than we are).
It is more or less straightforward, if you are a believer, to imagine how parts of sensory awareness and certain types of cognitive activity (accessing a lexicon, for instance) could be migrated to an external device, but it requires a further leap of imagination to think that consciousness, based as it is on very deeply rooted representations, could be so migrated. But if sensory processing can be carried out in a remote device, why should not the representations (Edelman's global mappings, for instance) also migrate? Thus, bit by bit, the lower levels of consciousness (somatic responsiveness, categorizing responsiveness, etc, all as described in the early chapters of this book), could be reconstituted remotely and used by the human brain to construct the 'upper' levels of consciousness, culminating in self-awareness. Or it might be that the step-by-step building process might not be needed, and that elegant short cuts might be found towards the re-creation of self-awareness. For the purposes of this chapter, it is not even relevant: what matters is that the creation of remote, communicable, reportable self-awareness will happen; and that is the subject of the final section of this chapter.
Whether or not it does become possible for humans to migrate part or all of their cognitive and sensory apparatus (including levels of consciousness as described in this book), there are difficulties in reaching satisfactory names for such 'remote cognitive representations'. Conventionally they have been called robots; but the more 'human' they become, the less satisfactory that term comes to seem. The word 'avatar' is also not too satisfactory, since it carries with it the sense of being an artificial construct, whereas in most situations what is wanted, and will be provided, is a more or less faithful (if partial) version of the original. The word clone is also overlaid with a lot of extraneous meanings by now. So for the rest of this section, the term Remote Cognitive Representation (abbreviated to RCR) will be used to describe a device or construct which faithfully represents all or part of an individual in a 'real' or virtual environment.
It is important to see that Remote Cognitive Representations (RCRs) will become the preferred method of interacting with other people (other RCRs no doubt) in a wide variety of situations, and to distinguish them from avatars as used in gaming or other imaginary (and often deceptive) situations. Right here we will skip over the difficulties of identification that will be raised by Remote Cognitive Representations. These are not different in kind from those that already exist as regards people, and they will be solved by the same types of method.
Apart their use in Virtual Internet Communities (VICs), Remote Cognitive Representations will be useful for business meetings between robots or in virtual 'rooms', for queuing, for attending conferences, if such still exist, for going to art galleries, concerts, plays, sporting events (and possibly for competing in some of them), for attending educational classrooms or lecture theatres. It will be seen that the Virtual Internet Community is in fact not to be thought of as just a playful Internet social environment – as RCRs become more powerful, the VIC will become the norm for many types of human private or business forum.
It is also clear that VICs allow an individual to become far more efficient, since she can be represented in multiple social settings simultaneously. The RCR which 'powers' the individual in the VIC can of course be given an amount of autonomy appropriate to a particular setting, so that the 'owner' becomes aware of the RCR's sensory and cognitive states only in pre-determined circumstances (quite like consciousness!), or of course at the behest of the owner. 95% of shopping, for instance, does not require a decision process from the owner and could easily be multi-tracked with other activities (child-minding, say).
So far, the RCR has been discussed as if its capabilities merely reflect a sub-set of its owner's chacteristics; but in reality the RCR will soon come to be capable of more, for instance by holding sets of data which cannot be accommodated in (or are not needed by) the owner's 'home' cognitive space. RCRs will also come to be able to pool the experience of groups of other owners and/or their RCRs. For this type of unit, the expression Remote Cognitive Collective (abbreviated RCC) will be employed. Uses might include multi-university research projects, in which a Remote Cognitive Collective could house the current state of research knowledge as held in the personal cognitive spaces of multiple researchers, or business teams, so that a marketing strategy meeting could take place in an RCC, combining the current knowledge and skills of the individual members of the team, together with externally-acquired sets of market data which would be too voluminous to be held individually. Academic references are going to become a nightmare, though: journal articles already often have eight or more authors with unpronounceable names, how will the poor publisher cope when there are fifty on the team?
One way or another, the collective psyche which currently exists among groups of individuals at an unconscious level, as described by Jung and Neumann, will come to exist more transparently in the Remote Cognitive Collective. It's not possible to know, at present, whether Jung's 'collective unconscious' just means an understanding shared by a number of group members, or whether it refers to some sort of buried telepathic ability which humans have lost during the development of speech and visual, especially facial communication. Probably this question will be answered, along with many others, by neuroscientists during the next twenty years.
It is fascinating to speculate on the protocols which would be necessary to govern the awareness by individuals of the state of a Remote Cognitive Collective, and the rules to govern their active participation in what we must still call a meeting, although it wouldn't seem much like a meeting in the 'real world'. From one point of view it would be easier to communicate with the mental states of one's peers in such a meeting, since the RCC would hold data about the current cognitive state of participants in highly organised forms.
Among groups of collaborators who know each other well, it is not clear whether a participant would want or need to receive visual, auditory or tactile sensory input (albeit bypassing the personal sensory interface) from the Remote Cognitive Collective. A meeting might take place on a purely intellectual level – and it might often be very quick! To some extent, the 'rules of engagement' will depend heavily on a resolution of the 'language' issue referred to in earlier chapters. That is to say, if it emerges that all linguistic constructs have (or could have) non-linguistic representations in the brain, then meetings would be silent, or rather, would not employ words at any level. If, as is perhaps more likely, it emerges that certain classes of linguistic concept are dealt with as words even at deeper levels of the brain (this might for instance be true of names, numbers and time) then exchanges at a linguistic level will still be needed.
Remote Cognitive Collectives might develop as purely passive fora, to be inhabited as occasion demands by multiple individuals; but they will also probably come to have initiative and even perhaps personality on their own account. We could call this an 'active RCC', with autonomous tasks ranging from simple activities such as data collection to the representation of the collective will of the group as a quasi-human actor in relationships with other Remote Cognitive Representations, RCCs or individuals. In terms of an on-line gaming environment, a team could have a joint atavar, or a team of atavars communicating through a collective room. RCCs will allow groups of individuals to function together in a way which will be orders of magnitude more effective (faster, more accurate, more intelligent) than one human brain on its own can achieve.
There are no theoretical limits to the 'size' of an RCC, and at the extreme it would be – will be – possible for large numbers of people to express their will (vote, for instance) through an RCC. External cognitive devices with which humans will learn to communicate will include robots, domestic control systems, teaching computers, electronic 'rooms' for group use in, eg, business activity, clubs of all kinds, and family forums.
Cheating is also going to take place through RCRs and RCCs, for instance through the inclusion in an RCR or an RCC of a stolen identity. Criminals could abuse the functioning of a bank's governing RCC (effectively, its senior management), using identity fraud or by bribing software engineers to include illicit code. There are a myriad possibilities.
Legitimate RCCs will have defences against infiltration, but in addition there will also be rogue RCCs, the equivalent of criminal gangs, formed for the purpose of terrorism or plain robbery and which disguise themselves as legitimate RCCs. However, the same techniques that human groups have developed through genetic and social evolution to maintain personal and group integrity will allow society to combat deception even in the very different circumstances of an electronic world.
The importance and effectiveness of reputation and its management were described in Chapter Six: The Internet, and such mechanisms will be just as effective in a world populated by 'cleaned-up' humans, RCRs and RCCs. If anything, communication (electronic gossiping!) will become more thorough and more immediate. Every actor, whether human or robotic, will have access to complete, global information about miscreants. You can sin once, but you are then damaged goods in reputation terms. A criminal RCC would have to spend many years building up a good reputation, including a requirement that its individual human members themselves have spotless records, before it would be sufficiently trusted for the 'sting' to take place. That is an unlikely combination. More probably, there will be individual criminals, but they will be outsiders, surviving through not being known about. Life is going to be hard for them in a data-heavy world. Still, plenty of well-educated people in the early 21st century world get stung on the Internet through a mixture of greed, gullibility and laziness – more characteristics which we won't be engineering out of the genome!
The Internet is changing so fast that it is more vulnerable to fraud, deceit and pure destructiveness than an established technology such as telephone communication. In virtual reality, even with sensory contact, there are multiple ways to be deceived, robbed or killed. Given that direct connection with a Remote Cognitive Representation implies open-ness to any opportunistic virus which has already infiltrated the RCR, protecting oneself against damage is clearly going to be a major issue. A counterfeit thought can't perhaps do organic damage simply by masquerading as a piece of permitted sensory input – or can it? If it cloaks a biochemical recipe for neural poison, then one has subverted the blood/brain barrier, and organic brain death could be instant.
Such thoughts are scary; but in truth they are no more scary than blood transfusion, organ implantation, inoculation, and a host of other widely practiced invasive medical techniques which could have carried (and in many cases did carry) with them mortal dangers until they were fully understood.
The dangers will delay but not stop implementation of direct sensory communication and the use of RCRs or RCCs. Perhaps initially such possibly dangerous and ethically challenging technologies will be used therapeutically in life-threatening or other extreme situations, and only afterwards for more frivolous purposes. But there will always be an individual mad enough to want to try the next thing: once it has worked for Sir Richard Branson, it is OK for you!
And if this book is right in supposing that technology will permit a great expansion of human inter-connectedness through the creation of shared or collective cognitive spaces, then that will force a rapid evolution of the necessary cognitive skills in which Darwinian and 'artificial' influences may be hard to disentangle.
The developments that have been sketched above evidently imply a far greater degree of trust and open communication between individuals than is now or ever has been the case; and this will have substantial implications for the organization of society, in ways which we can hardly begin to imagine. Some directions may be guessed at, though.
'People power'; something which was given a name in Poland as long ago as 1985, will become a forceful reality within the next fifty years. By 2050 it will be a rare event for a national or even an international organisation to be able to take a view which is significantly different from the prevailing, informed and instantly, even continuously available opinion of its constituent members. The logical extension of this is the introduction of real-time, continuous global issue voting using direct brain-to-RCC communication, bringing about the world's first ever truly democratic society.
There will be a ferocious argument over the issue of whether the individual consciousness should preserve its isolation from the deep-rooted collective unconscious when individuals began to take part in collective cognitive activity, or whether it is better to create pathways to the unconscious so that a fuller and more explicit version of each individual psyche could play its part in the collective experience. The issue of deception will play a major role, and the majority opinion will perhaps be that there is little point in recreating the highly deceptive social behaviours that characterize most human social groups in new fora designed to allow closer cooperation between people. It seems likely that a limited set of additional neural pathways, allowing conscious access to major parts of the unconscious, will be incorporated into the standard model of the human brain.
There will be an equally ferocious argument over whether the 'groupishness' of the human brain should be copied over into external brain representations in RCRs. Again, the likely outcome will perhaps be a general understanding that almost all of human society had been built on the basis of 'groupish' psychological mechanisms, and that therefore we should not try to tamper with the collective underpinnings of our psyches. Once it becomes clear that there aren't any technological limits to what a human can become, that immortality is available (at a price), and that people can make choices as to their life-style, appearance, location and psyche virtually at will throughout their lives (all of these things are likely to be true by say 2060), there will come to seem little point in tampering too much with the 'people' we are already familiar with. It will be widely agreed that it is just much safer to stick with what we already know, apart from the modifications to consciousness and some genetic 'tweaking' to reduce the incidence of anti-social and psychotic behaviour. Thus, the set of group-oriented social skills and behaviours which evolved in the early history of hominids, and which this book has constantly insisted lie at the core of our existence, will be preserved.
Needless to say, a global body (in an RCC, naturally) will come into existence to formulate and enforce rules for permitted variations to the human genome, whether expressed in bodily or electronic form. Genetic variation is likely to be prohibited outside the existing genomic range, although some exceptions will be made for robotic, medical and psychosomatic research. And of course there will be a long list of permitted corrective genetic manipulations for the suppression of disease. Codes of Conduct for bionic enhancement and for RCRs will include a very large number of specific exemptions from the basic rules, which will grow in number and complexity year by year. Due to the extreme complexity of genetic evolution, the controlling genetic body will not be a universal body, but will be a delegate assembly, part of the United Nations, which by then will probably consist of more than 300 nations. Any change to the rules will require unanimity; but this will be much more easily achieved in RCCs than in previous types of constituent assembly due to the depth and immediacy of communication that is possible.
Within the regulatory constraints outlined above, a world of RCRs and RCCs will still offer a wild variety of different ways forward for humans, including:
It is fairly obvious that human bodies will never travel to the stars – to other planets outside the solar system. There will just be no point, when all that is necessary is to pack a series of electronic genomes suited to different planetary environments (or just a program to construct a genome in response to any particular environment which might be encountered). If people like us are still around, we will travel with the templates as electronic versions of ourselves, and download into a constructed local life form when it has been grown. Or more likely we will stay on board our mother ship in its brain and watch (control) events on the ground through appropriate robotic agents.
People will probably never want to give up their individuality; it's on a level with expecting nation states to give up their armies. But individuality doesn't have to travel with bestiality – there are acceptable ways of competing with other people short of killing them; and 'suffering enobles' – great art and philosophy has come out of hardship. People will want to retain the ability to suffer as well as enjoy; without personal growth there is just collective stasis.
One of the easiest predictions is that people as individuals will continue to want to have fun, meaning that on-line gaming and social Virtual Internet Communities (VICs) will continue to test the boundaries of what is permissible. Once it is possible for an individual to be a tiger in a virtual jungle, to inflict and suffer injury, to hunt and kill (usually virtual) prey, and even to be (virtually) killed, is there any doubt that sites will provide such experiences? It is already there, in fact, at today's primitive level of technology. What is currently missing is the direct sensory link between the avatar (RCR) doing the experiencing and the owner's mind; and of course the fully-understood wiring diagram for a tiger's mind, or at least the parts of it that are needed for a hunt in the jungle.
People will also presumably be highly reluctant to give up the mating process, although it may come to be rationed in terms of population growth, if economics doesn't get there first, as seems more likely. Collective mating is not a very attractive thought; so we can expect to see the wooing and mating process become (in fact, remain) a prominent feature of VICs. The difference, evidently, will be that physical meeting will not be necessary in order to experience the various stages of a relationship; in fact, it would be possible to explore alternative personalities, not necessarily human, either, before finally adopting a particular personality (or physical form) for a permanent relationship.
It's hard to believe that marriage will survive as an institution. Of course there will always need to be a body of property rights law, matrimonial and other family law, but it will come to look very different from today's law. Polygamy is presumably inoffensive if all parties are willing and if coition is virtual. It feels the same, remember, between Remote Cognitive Representations (RCRs) – but you can't catch AIDS. Perhaps though you could catch something electronic and nasty instead?
While utilization of new cognitive techniques seems a certainty at the level of the individual brain, the energy of the globalisation process will equally not be denied. It is not perhaps quite right to call it a collectivization process, but that is not far from the truth. Chapter Ten tried to show that while the energy of the nation state denies individuality and human-ness, the globalization process, at first sight paradoxically, does the opposite: it enhances individual rights, individual choice and individual achievement, but within a carefully supervized, rule-based framework, which can only be called collective. The nation state makes rules, by all means, but they are rules for suppression of individuality, made in the single interest of the State itself. Its support for individuals is grudging at best.
Thus the globalization process will encourage and facilitate the creation of Remote Cognitive Collectives. They won't look like that at first: they will be 'dispute resolution forums', or 'joint trading rule supervisory bodies' and the like. But of course they will use technology to achieve their aims – the formation of a consensus solution – and little by little, the RCCs will take shape.
So there is a case to be made for each of the possibilities listed above, and absent an ethical or cultural barrier, they will all probably come to be available to people, who will be able to participate in any or all of them.
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