Natasha Vita-More on Whole Body Prosthetic

It has been almost two months since I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Dr. Natasha Vita-More at her family house in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Vita-More has been at the fore-front for several decades and her projects such as Primo Post Human have lead the NY Times to call her “the first female philosopher of transhumanism.” Thus I was very happy to do my first in-person interview with Natasha and discuss her ideas about Whole Body Prosthetic and Substrate Autonomous, Networked Avatar Bodies by Design.

Natasha Vita-More

During our 36 min conversation with Dr. Vita-More we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: her whole body prosthetic project; backing up the body as well as the mind; “back-casting” her vision and ultimate goals; the problem of identity in moving from one substrate to another; the timeline and scientific break-throughs in robotics, artificial intelligence and cognitive neuroscience necessary to make the whole body prosthetic a reality; consciousness and quantum mechanics; the reception of the Transhumanist Reader; dealing with skeptics and whether the world is ready for transhumanism and radical life-extension…

I owe very special thanks to Richard and Tatiana Sundvall for producing this video because without them it would not have happened. I am also obliged to videographer Carl Geers not only for doing a great job behind the camera but also for putting up with my mercilessly caustic sense of humor for three long days.

(As always you can listen to or download the audio file above, or scroll down and watch the video interview in full.  If you want to help me produce more episodes please make a donation)

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Who is Natasha Vita-More?

Natasha Vita-More, PhD is the founder and creative director of esDESiGN and the producer and host of H+TV online. Her research concerns the design aesthetics of human enhancement and radical life extension, with a focus on emerging and speculative sciences and technologies. Her conceptual future human design “Primo Posthuman” has been featured in WiredHarper’s BazaarMarie ClaireThe New York TimesU.S. News & World ReportNet BusinessTeleopolis, and Village Voice. She has appeared in over twenty-four televised documentaries on the future and culture, and has exhibited media artworks at National Centre for Contemporary Arts, Brooks Memorial Museum, Institute of Contemporary Art, Women In Video, Telluride Film Festival, and United States Film Festival and recently “Evolution Haute Couture: Art and Science in the Post-Biological Age” and is the recipient of several awards: First Place Award at Brooks Memorial Museum, Special Recognition at Women in Video, and special recognition for “Futures Podcast Series”.

Dr. Vita-More is a proponent of human rights and ethical means for human enhancement, and is published in Artifact, Technoetic Arts, Nanotechnology Perceptions, Sistemi Intelligenti, Metaverse Creativity, D’ARS, and the Global Spiral. She is co-editor of the forthcoming book The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology and Philosophy of the Human Future (Wiley-Blackwell 2013). For more see Natasha.cc

  • CM Stewart

    Hooray Dr. Nita-More and Nikola! (I’m cheering you both on.)

    Good to hear Vita-More address the human senses, it’s a vital consideration often overlooked when talking about mind-uploading.

    Regarding continuity of selfhood: I know I am notably different now than I was a year ago. I’m also radically different now than when I was 20. So I recognize people become “different” people over time. But regarding the abrupt copying – or splitting – of an individual (for example, yourself): Which one of you would the original you experience? I would say,
    obviously only one, but which one? I don’t believe you can have one single sense of selfhood in more than one body. This question always trips me up.

  • Brad Arnold

    We need a cyborg body for every dying brain. There are over a thousand great minds dying each day due to the lack of a “whole body prosthetic” alternative. The technology to put a human brain into a mobile platform would be significantly less challenging than SENS.

  • http://singularity-2045.org/ Singularity Utopia

    Actually we merely need effective regenerative medicine, which is far closer and easier to achieve than transplanting a brain into a cyborg body. Scientists actually grew mini brains recently via stem cells, and brain cells have been produced from urine.

  • dani pettas

    Awesome interview.

  • Brad Arnold

    Plan B of having a cyborg body ready to support my brain can’t be wrong. Regenerative medicine is Plan A. As far as a scientists being able to “grow” “mini brains” (thank you for the vision you create) from “urine.” Ha ha…but what the heck does that have to do with Plan B, that we can just grow more brains with our urine anyway??

  • http://singularity-2045.org/ Singularity Utopia

    A variety of approaches to immortality is good but it seems odd for cyborg-advocates to ignore, or focus less intensely on, the regenerative medicine approach, which is actually closer, more easily obtainable. Surely if you want to live forever the speediest route to ensuring immortality is wisest, and then if you really think uploading to a cyborg body is wise go for it.

    The ability to grow brains or brain cells shows the potential for indefinitely maintaining the brain-health and perhaps improving on the ability of our brains.

  • Brad Arnold

    I think this “mind uploading” B.S. ought to be tossed in the river. MY brain is going into a mechanical container that will be mobile and give me plenty of sensory data. When SENS matures (quite a bit later than I have to wait), we can think about re-introducing my brain into a normal body.

  • Brad Arnold

    http://www.mnn.com/leaderboard/stories/7-real-life-human-cyborgs

    I want a “full body prosthetic” waiting for me in case I die. SENS would be better, but we need a Plan B.

  • http://singularity-2045.org/ Singularity Utopia

    I think SENS will happen before bio-brains in robot bodies, Whether the issue is total robot body via uploading or everything being robot except the brain, I think these focal points regarding futurology are wasted energy, our energy would be better spent accelerating bio-tech regeneration, which is already very much advanced. Surely if you need a new heart it seems easier to replace the heart instead of replacing the entire body? Entire body replacement seems to carry greater surgical risk then merely replaced the defective body part. Removing the brain from the skull, discovering the technology to ensure the support of the brain in an suitable container, connection the spinal cord to the robot, connecting the sensing faculties, it all seems overly complex compared the regenerative cures in the pipeline. Becoming a robot seems more skin to an adolescent fantasy then are actual valid method for longevity.

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  • Brad Arnold

    While I understand the preference to repair the body you have, that might not be possible when you really need it to avoid the death of your brain. Instead, I advocate “Plan B,” which is having a cyborg body ready. If you think that a “robot body” is more akin to an adolescent fantasy than an actual valid method for longevity, then you need to broaden your mind – you are not a valid Transhumanist if you reject that choice for others without demeaning them.

  • Brad Arnold

    BTW, the technical difficulty of SENS is obviously several orders of magnitude more difficult than designing a functional cyborg body and the accompanying technology to accommodate a human brain. Frankly, I think your belief that SENS will happen first is just the same prejudice that is shown when you are derogatory toward full body prosthesis options.

  • connor1231

    Regarding all of this talk of having amazing super bodies and super minds in the near future, i have a question. I posted it on another thread and haven’t gotten a response yet…maybe some of you can help me out:

    Isn’t it hard to keep motivation in your current form when you know how useless it will be? In 20 or 40 years or whatever, it won’t matter how much you studied in school, because somebody who is lazy but rich could buy themselves some awesome upgrades and become a super genius. It doesn’t matter how much you worked out, how healthy you ate, because somebody who put no effort into their health could be able to afford a new body with immortality and super strength, while maybe you couldn’t. Isn’t that dissatisfying to think about?

    Here’s another problem i have. Right now, if you can’t afford the latest technology, you can still make a good living for yourself. If you don’t have a personal computer, or a cell phone, or anything fancy, you can still be a smart, hard-working guy, get through school, get a good job, and live a good life. You can succeed and climb to the top regardless of the technology you have (although it does help). But in the future you guys are talking about, if you don’t have the latest technology, the gap in intelligence and capability will be so wide that you won’t be able to contribute to society. You won’t be able to climb to the top, or succeed and work your way to a good job, or any of that, unless you have the super intelligence that comes with the latest upgrades. And even jobs set aside, you will be drastically inferior in almost every way to the people who can afford the technology.

    Chris did make the point of saying that his motivation is being able to stay alive and well for the next “bridge”, or advancement to take place. But even this seems a bit depressing. If our only goal is just to stay decent enough until we get the next enhancement, aren’t we never really content with how we are? We would just always be wanting the next thing…and we all know this doesn’t lead to happiness. It also wouldn’t pay to be “the best” or really put hard work into anything, because you could essentially just coast by until you can “buy” the next upgrade. And lastly, let’s say you do make it over the bridge, who’s to say your get the newest upgrade? What if it’s not available to you, or not affordable, or the developers don’t offer it to the public? What if only the rich get it, or maybe only the people who developed it get it, and decide not to release it? or the government is in control of dispersing it? the point is that even if you “make it over the bridge”, there’s no guarantee you’re going to be rewarded with the latest tech.

    The whole mentality just seems like you would never be quite content with how you are, you always feel inadequate compared to how you could be, your destiny lies outside of anything you can do (but rather with technology producers), and it rewards the rich but not the hard workers. I personally lose any motivation to study, workout, develop talents, etc… when I think of that.

  • Steve Morris

    Personally, I find the idea that the future will be better highly motivating. It encourages me to work hard, exercise and watch my diet in the hope of seeing the future unfold.

    Regarding the affordability of technology, the trend is for technology to become more affordable (unless it’s Apple branded, LOL). In Africa, people are bypassing the personal computer stage entirely and moving straight to cell phones. One of the key ideas of the singularity is that technology pervades society more and more as barriers to its availability reduce.

    As for happiness depending on upgrades, etc, you ask a question that has been asked for millenia. How to be content with what you have and avoid the trap of believing that happiness depends on some external or material factor? Don’t want to sound condescending, but many wise people have offered advice on such matters.

  • connor1231

    That all makes sense, thank you for your response!  I have a few more questions then: 

    I understand how your motivation is to be around to see the future, that is exactly what Chris said.  But here’s an example, let’s say a hypothetical guy named John is really passionate about fitness, and he has worked for years to get a great physique and he makes a living off of personal training.  What is his motivation now, knowing that in 20 years everyone will have that exact same body, with literally none of the work put in.  And his livelihood is gone now too.  Same could be said of athletes.  They put in all this hard work, dedicate their lives to something, make money doing it, and then one day anyone who is rich enough can do the exact same thing and 100 times more.  Same with artists.  Musicians.  Really anything…it pretty much takes away anybody’s passion, anybody’s livelihood, anybody’s accomplishments.  

    And mostly for me, that applies to school (which you didn’t mention).  What should be my motivation, or anybody’s motivaion, to study and get an education and accumulate knowledge and critical thinking etc…when some day in my life people will automatically have super intelligence, regardless of how much time or work they put in.  

    To me, the thought of this takes away any motivation to put in hours and hours of hard practice at anything.  This mentality encourages people to just “coast” until one day everything will be available with no hard work required.

  • Steve Morris

    If you are still at school, you have a much better chance than me of witnessing these events unfold. I am 30 years closer to needing a replacement body!

    I would say that it is now more important than ever before to work hard at school, study and educate yourself. That’s because there are so many opportunities available now compared when I was your age. Many of the jobs people do now didn’t even exist a generation ago. That’s one change that accelerating technology is having, and it’s an opportunity for anyone who is willing to learn and adapt.

    At the same time, the pace of change can be a threat. As you say, some kinds of jobs will become obsolete in the coming decades. Machines will do them for us, or will reduce the human effort required. That again should be a motivation to stay ahead of the curve.

    But for every job lost, a new opportunity will open up. Your personal trainer might be ideally positioned to offer advice on how advances in tech can enhance fitness and performance.

    Besides, technology won’t make everyone the same. The opposite, I think, is true. We live in a world where diversity is increasingly valued, not feared. I hope that in the future, technology and moral development will enable us to celebrate and encourage diversity. The possibility of upgrading the mind or body can only accelerate this trend.

    One final thought. Don’t ever believe that life will be easy with no hard work required :) What technology is doing, however, is moving everyone closer to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (google it).

  • connor1231

    Yes I am familiar with maslows hierarchy.  I suppose that’s true.  And you’re right…I guess if everybody had the technology it would just move everybody closer to the top of the triangle.  

    Let’s say everyone doesn’t yet the tech though.  That’s my concern.  Sure if John the trainer gets the tech, he can use it to become even more fit, and help others get fit this way too.

    But what if he doesn’t get the tech?
    He’s left in the dust, nobody needs him, and he gets passed up by people who can simply buy a fit body or the newest gadgets.

    Same can be said of artists, musicians, athletes scholars.  If they all get the new tech, it will simply help them further their passion.  But if they don’t or can’t get it it destroys their passion.  They are useless, left in the dust, at a skill or activity they once loved and excelled at. 

    So I guess my main concern would relate to not everybody having access to the technology.  You assume it will follow the same trend as cell phones and other world technologies right now, but when the technology becomes that great I feel like it might not.  It might stay expensive.  It might not be offered in some countries or cities.  It might be so amazing, and give a few people such an advantage, that they don’t want to distribute it worldwide and give up that advantage.  

    What If you put in all your work to stay alive to see this coming era, and it turned out you couldn’t get the technology anyway?  Life as an unenhanced human at that point would be a sad existence.  How would you deal with that?

    Ps–it seems that with super intelligence and cyborg bodies, it would be hard to find anything that would require hard work!  As long as you could buy the newest upgrades, you would be able to do most things with little effort.

  • Steve Morris

    As long as free market economics operate, everyone will get the tech. A product that everyone is crazy for? Tech companies will be falling over themselves to make it better, make it cheaper, and achieve maximum market saturation.

    My own concern is that we may prevent the free market from delivering this. Then, yes, if you live in the wrong city, or the wrong country, or some other arbitrary factor, you won’t get the tech. After all, these kinds of restrictions have happened before, are happening now, they might happen in the future. Governments always regulate. We are slowing down technological progress right now. That’s my number-one concern. But you can do something about that. After all, you have a voice and you have a vote.

  • connor1231

    So you think if technological progress slows down, then maybe not everyone will have access? How does that follow? Isn’t that kind of a big price to pay for maybe the wrong president being elected, etc… If the wrong politics happen, and you for example couldn’t access the technology, then what? What would you do, how would you look at life as an unenhanced human at that point?

    Also, just read on anther blog that “there has to be a pecking order…if everyone were a genius, society would fall apart.” What would be your response to that?

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    “Pecking order” is a heartless excuse for doing nothing to address injustice in the world and make any progress whatsoever. I get gagging reflexes every time when someone tells me about “the natural order to this world”… In fact, one of the reasons why I absolutely loved Cloud Atlas was its polemic against that vile concept: http://www.singularityweblog.com/cloud-atlas/

  • Steve Morris

    I’m saying that if technological progress slows down, then people living now may not benefit from it.

  • Steve Morris

    Not only is “pecking order” immoral and heartless, but it is manifestly a waste of human potential. If everyone was a genius, society would not fall apart, it would move forward at a vastly increased speed.

  • connor1231

    I am not advocating the view that a pecking order is needed, I just have heard that argument many times and was curious of your response. Thanks for replying.

    Hypothetical scenario: the technology we are discussing comes to fruit, and you were not able to get it for some reason (the government doesn’t distribute it, or it’s too expensive, or the makers decide not to market it), what would you do as an unenhanced human? Where do you derive meaning or feeling of accomoshment or being useful when you are unenhanced in an era of transhumanism? I figure you guys will have an answer considering you are perhaps looking forward the most to these future technologies.

  • Steve Morris

    I just don’t think that scenario will happen. If it did, I would just have to make do with what I had. Comparing yourself with others is always a fast track to unhappiness.

  • connor1231

    What makes you so sure that wouldn’t happen?  Didn’t you just say there are several things like the government and the pace of technology which could cause that to happen?  And my examples of it being too expensive, or not distributed or marketed, seem realistic to me.

    I know comparisons don’t lead to happiness, but it seems with the tremendous advantages that tech would yield, it’d be nearly impossible NOT to compare yourself.  Not to mention you would struggle to find anything you could contribute to society that the new enhanced humans couldn’t.  There’d be no way to “climb the ladder”.  No way to develop a useful skill that new enhanced people couldn’t be 100 times better at.  And it’s been shown that humans who don’t feel useful or have a purpose are very unhappy, live shorter, etc…so while it may be easy in theory to say “just don’t compare yourself and be happy” I think that’d be much easier said than done.

  • connor1231

    What makes you so sure that wouldn’t happen? Didn’t you just say there are several things like the government and the pace of technology which could cause that to happen? And my examples of it being too expensive, or not distributed or marketed, seem realistic to me.

    I know comparisons don’t lead to happiness, but it seems with the tremendous advantages that tech would yield, it’d be nearly impossible NOT to compare yourself. Not to mention you would struggle to find anything you could contribute to society that the new enhanced humans couldn’t. There’d be no way to “climb the ladder”. No way to develop a useful skill that new enhanced people couldn’t be 100 times better at. And it’s been shown that humans who don’t feel useful or have a purpose are very unhappy, live shorter, etc…so while it may be easy in theory to say “just don’t compare yourself and be happy” I think that’d be much easier said than done.

  • Steve Morris

    If you go looking for reasons why something might fail, you will never stop finding reasons.

  • http://singularity-2045.org/ Singularity Utopia

    Perhaps.Only time will tell.

  • connor1231

    Have any of you ever read bill joy’s “why the future doesn’t need us”?  It’s an article I just read and pretty much summarizes exactly how I feel and my concerns about future technology.  He says it better than I can.  Ray kurzweil responded to it, but I think there are still a lot of issues bill raises that should trouble people, or stimulate thought at least.

  • connor1231

    Have you ever read bill joy’s “why the future doesn’t need us”?  It’s an article I just read and pretty much summarizes exactly how I feel and my concerns about future technology.  He says it better than I can.  Ray kurzweil responded to it, but I think there are still a lot of issues bill raises that should trouble people, or stimulate thought at least.

  • Steve Morris

    Like I said, if you go looking for reasons why something might fail, you will never stop finding reasons.

    That’s not intended to be a flippant response. It’s a deep truth.

    But just to counter a few issues raised in the article. The Unabomber’s analysis seems absurd to me – there are so many other, more likely outcomes – and Joy’s statement that “the most compelling 21st-century technologies – robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology – pose a different threat than the technologies that have come before” has been said many times before about other technologies such as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and also about mass production and automation in industry and also about steam power in the industrial revolution and also about the internet. In part, those fears were correct – the threats were different, but the outcome is always the same – change and progress.

    Want a different perspective? I recommend “The Rational Optimist” by Matt Ridley. Or my own modest contribution – http://www.singularityweblog.com/are-we-on-the-brink-of-catastrophe

  • connor1231

    Both good articles, yours as well as Matt Ridleys blog. Thanks for the references. I love your guys optimistic view. As much as it doesn’t seem like it, I’m actually a pretty optimistic guy. I’ve just read and imagined so many dangers of some of this futuristic stuff that Id advocate a view of extreme caution. If people like you and Matt Ridley were at the forefront of the coming technology, I’d feel at ease. I like how you’re determined to solve problems and also recognize the dangers involved. It’s the people who could get their hands on these technologies who don’t share your caution and general helpful spirit that I worry about. But I know there is nothing anyone can say to help with that worry. All we can do I guess is hope that the right people, like you and Ridley, solve any problems and dangers that come with future technology before anything too terrible happens.

    Thanks again for all your replies. You’ve done as good a job as I could have asked for in answering all my questions and dealing with my concerns.

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  • Guest

    Dang it, first impressions are critical. Off the shoulder sends a specific message.

  • Craig DeMartini

    what is with the, off-the-shoulder distraction? Am I really the only one who finds this unprofessional?

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    It is a piece of art that Natasha created herself…

  • Steve Morris

    Would a man receive criticism for his dress sense? I think not.

  • connor1231

    You’ve talked about enhancing human biology rather than becoming machines or having machines do our work for us. This approach is very appealing to me: it solves the problem of malevolent AI, because we’d be superintelligent too. I like the idea of maintaining our “humanness” and also I agree that biology is remarkably resilient and amazing. Lastly, I like the sense of control over my own body that I’d keep, rather than syncing with some machine or being a brain in a box or something. But my question is: how realistic is this? I hear so much about AI and mind uploading, but not nearly as much about simply enhancing our biology. What is the timeline for this? Could we enhance our biology before we create AI, to avoid AI problems? Are people even working on this? Is it way more difficult than creating AI or machine intelligence? I’d be curious how feasible it actually is, because to me it seems a much more preferable option.

  • connor1231

    @SingularityUtopia has talked about enhancing human biology rather than becoming machines or having machines do our work for us. This approach is very appealing to me: it solves the problem of malevolent AI, because we’d be superintelligent too. I like the idea of maintaining our “humanness” and also I agree that biology is remarkably resilient and amazing. Lastly, I like the sense of control over my own body that I’d keep, rather than syncing with some machine or being a brain in a box or something. But my question is: how realistic is this? I hear so much about AI and mind uploading, but not nearly as much about simply enhancing our biology. What is the timeline for this? Could we enhance our biology before we create AI, to avoid AI problems? Are people even working on this? Is it way more difficult than creating AI or machine intelligence? I’d be curious how feasible it actually is, because to me it seems a much more preferable option.

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