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Cyberspace technologies provide new opportunities and questions concerning the spiritual. This paper looks the spiritual in 20th century art and science as the basis for examining the spiritual implications in cyberspace, itself the outgrowth of art and science. This is followed by a discussion of the virtual worlds of William Gibson and Frank Tipler. The emerging discipline of studies in consciousness is introduced as a link between the spiritual and the digital, and the prophetic work of the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin discussed for his concept of the ‘noosphere’. The spiritual implications of a conscious Internet are then examined.
Keywords: spiritual, cyberspace, consciousness, Gibson, Tipler, Teilhard de Chardin, artificial life, virtual cosmogenesis.
The Spiritual in 20th C Art and Science
In this paper I shall use a simple categorisation of the spiritual: a distinction between the religious, the occult and the transcendent. The ‘spiritual’ will be a broad term that covers these three distinct areas. The religious is intended to convey traditional and organised religious spirituality such as Christianity , Islam, or Buddhism; the occult an esoteric preoccupation with such matters as the paranormal, reincarnation, clairvoyance and disembodied beings; and finally the transcendent as dealing with a shift in personal identity from the physical and temporal to the infinite and eternal, or with mystical union, or with ‘nirvana’. Clearly the boundaries between the religious, the occult, and the transcendent (as used here) are blurred, but can be useful in looking at the spiritual in art and science.
The twentieth century has seen the development and promotion of alternative forms of spirituality, some of which have had a significant impact on modern art. The key movements in Europe at the beginning of the century include Theosophy, founded by H.P.Blavatsky and H.S.Olcott, Anthroposophy, founded by Rudolf Steiner, and the work of G.I.Gurdjieff and P.D.Ouspensky. All three movements had explicit teachings on the arts, though Steiner and Gurdjieff made the arts more central to the lives of their students than Theosophy, which focused on the preparation for the new World Teacher (a conflation of the second coming of Christ and the Buddha). There is not space here to even introduce the teachings of these three movements, other than to say that all three have an occult leaning (as defined earlier); Gurdjieff and Theosophy share some transcendental elements, and Anthroposophy and Gurdjieff include strong Christian themes.
In examining the spiritual in 20th century art we are indebted to art historian Roger Lipsey for ground-breaking work in his book An Art of Our Own The Spiritual in Twentieth-Century Art. One of the premises of his work is that the arrival of the abstract in modern art allowed a new exploration of the spiritual; he is also clear that Theosophy was amongst the important spiritual influences of the time. However the tension between the spiritual and artistic is immediately present in his choice of title, for it comes from a quote from Brancusi:
In the art of other times there is a joy, but with it the nightmare that the religions drag with them. There is joy in Negro sculpture, among the nearly archaic Greeks, in some things of the Chinese and the Gothic … oh, we find it everywhere. But even so, not so well as it might be with us in the future, if only we were to free ourselves of all this … It is time we had an art of our own. 
The ‘all this’ we need to free ourselves from, and which 20th century Western artists and writers have done so thoroughly is the religious baggage of previous centuries. In Modernism and later art movements the 20th century does have an art of its own, but Lipsey is interested in where the spiritual lies within it. If the modern artist rejects traditional religion, what is the source of the spiritual? In the first decades of the century the answer, using the terminology of this paper, is in the occult, though 20th century innovation in art also maintained its ancient function: to act as a religious vehicle. This function of art will always remain while mainstream religions are part of mainstream culture, and innovators like Antonio Gaudi simply prove that religious art will always be fertile. However we are interested in new art and spiritualities that arise in conjunction with new thinking in the 20th century (particularly science) and how these meet in cyberspace. Returning to Gaudi: mainstream religion has lost ground to the two other types of spirituality categorised here, the occult and the transcendent. If the occult was the cultural preoccupation in the early part of the 20th century, there can be no doubt that in the latter part it has been the transcendent. We see this markedly with the American Abstract Expressionists after WW2, and I would argue that the transcendent is again the preoccupation with the artists of cyberspace.
The transcendent can show itself as a transcendence of the biological organism; many indeed speak of a post-biological world, or of ‘obsolescence of the body’. This is the theme of the work of performance artist Stelarc. His visually stunning performances raise all kinds of questions regarding transcendence of the body, surrender of personal will, and the acceptance of pain, all of which are traditionally spiritual questions. In interview however he is rather wary of the direct spiritual implications of his work; even though he practised yoga for twenty years he does not want direct parallels to be drawn.
Fakir Musafar is another performance artist, though working without electronics, but is less reticent than Stelarc about the spiritual indeed he criticises Stelarc for his silence on this area. Musafar’s work turns us back to the occult (as defined here): it has its roots in out-of-body experiences, shamanism, and fetishism. An overwhelming spiritual experience at the age of seventeen (after fasting and a form of self-immolation) led to a conviction that he had lived before in a completely different culture and time, and that the erotic and bodily were deeply linked to the spiritual. He comments:
That beautiful experience colored my whole existence. From that day on I wanted everyone to have that kind of liberation. I felt free to express life through my body. It was now my media, my own personal “living canvas,” “living clay.” It belonged to me to use. And that is just what I have done for the past thirty years. I learned to use the body. It is mine, and yours, to play with! I wrote a poem after the experience. It said:
Poke your finger into Red,
Feel the feeling through.
And when the feeling is no more,
Feel no-feeling too! 
Musafar is significant as an artist who occupies the spiritual territory of the fakir (usefully defined for us in the work of G.I.Gurdjieff ), that is one who’s path is through the body rather than through mind or heart. The transcendent implications in his poem, and the occult nature of his out-of-body experiences reminds one again that we cannot apply these categories too strictly however.
An important contemporary piece that has implications for the spiritual in cyberspace is Char Davies’ Osmose, an “immersive virtual space” inspired partly by a mind-altering experience as a deep-sea diver.  The work has transcendent overtones, rather than religious or occult, and operates via interaction with the user’s breathing. Meditation on the breath is one of the fastest routes to transcendence in Buddhism, and in many languages the word for breath has the same root as the word for soul. Davies emphasises both breath (with its transcendent dimension) and balance (with its integrating dimension) in her VR piece, giving osmosis as the metaphor driving its conception: “transcendence of difference through mutual absorption, dissolution of boundaries between inner and outer, intermingling of self and world, longing for the Other.” While transcendence is a theme here, so is integration, particularly of mind and body: “Our culture’s privileging of the mind over matter has contributed to devaluation of the body, as well as women and various ‘others.’  ” Her comment points up one of the paradoxes of the spiritual: transcendence in religious and mystical thinking is as often about integrating mind and body (Yoga, Walt Whitman) as about transcending it (Buddhism, Plato). This paradox is at the heart of spiritual issues in cyberspace; the recent “Religion Issue” of Mediamatic (for example) shows this in a number of essays. This paradox may not go away, but recent developments in science have made great contributions to understanding the issues involved.
Books (mainly by physicists) have appeared in the last four years with titles such as The Mind of God, or The God Particle, or with subtitles such as Science, Religion and the Search for God, or Modern Cosmology, God, and the Resurrection of the Dead. Many more are also in print that relate science, usually the ‘New Physics’ that arises from quantum mechanics, to spirituality. It is a reasonable assertion today to say that the subjective entered science with quantum mechanics (this is enshrined in a minimal kind of way in what is known as the Copenhagen Interpretation). Whether the spiritual does or does not is a question that is highly debatable; the erudite New Age guru and writer Ken Wilber denies it , while a more cautious approach may be to suggest that it gave the scientists the first real excuse to talk about the spiritual. In addition to the approaches based purely on quantum mechanics there is another approach, called the anthropic principle, which finds wider evidence for the central role of human existence or consciousness in the structure of the universe. An example is the ratio of fundamental constants to each other, such as that of the mass to the charge on the electron: the tiniest change in this ratio would mean that the universe as we know it would be impossible. This theme is developed fully in Tippler and Barrow’s The Anthropic Cosmological Principle .
Though many scientists, through the confrontation with quantum theory and other developments in the ‘new’ physics, were having to re-evaluate science itself, and in many cases found parallels in religion or mysticism, it was the physicist Fritjof Capra who first brought the parallels to popular attention in 1975 with his book The Tao of Physics. Gary Zukav, trained in the liberal arts rather than physics, followed with The Dancing Wu Li Masters in 1979. If we relate the works of Capra and Zukav to our simple taxonomy of the spiritual, then the parallels they draw are mainly to the transcendent, with references here and there to the occult.
Roger Lipsey’s thesis in his An Art of Our Own is that the transforming event for the spiritual in 20th century art was the development of abstract art. The transforming event for spirituality in 20th century physics is clearly quantum theory. What then can we say about the spirituality of the late 20th / early 21st century cyber artist, who effortlessly integrates the artistic and scientific progress of the 20th century? Do we agree with Roy Ascott that all art up to and including Modernism and Postmodernism is largely a failure and is both to be swept aside and consummated in cyberspace?  These are difficult questions and rely as much on an understanding of science as they do of culture.
Gibson and Tipler: Jack In / Download
We cannot investigate the spiritual in cyberspace without reference to the man who coined the term: William Gibson. His seminal science fiction novel Neuromancer in fact raises many of the fundamental questions about cyberspace, though they are not in the first instance spiritual questions. One scene that poses the most difficult technical question is on the virtual beach towards the end of the story. If we really wanted to build a virtual reality that imitated beyond any doubt the real world (or a real beach) then we need to use physics right down to the molecular level. The appearance and behaviour of objects depends on this: the exact distribution of momenta and articulations in the suspension of a car determines the way it corners for example; the exact distribution of pigments and carriers in the car’s paintwork determines its finish (and whether the car looks new and expensive or old and cheap). A convincing reality requires modelling at the molecular (or even atomic) level, and for this you would need a processor for every molecule or atom. ‘Molecular computing’ as it is called does look in fact like a possibility, but even if we could build an information processor at the molecular size, we would land up needing one per molecule in our model: in other words you would need a whole universe to model a universe! Think back to Gibson’s beach as Case and Molly survive on washed-up ration tins she comments that it (reality) is ‘seamless’ . Would you need a computer the size of the beach (and the sea and the sky) to simulate it? The grains of sand fall off her ankle, it smells of brine, the teeth on his French nylon zipper are clogged with salt.
There is one escape from this restriction: procedural modelling. This is a technique whereby, for example, cities can be constructed using a rule-based system: by abstracting out the main principles whereby cities grow and their elements are constructed and appear to us, we can generate cities (or beaches) ‘on the fly’. In addition we need (in visual terms) to be able to render any view of these constructed environments on the fly, but this is a separate problem requiring only that there is adequate processing power. An inadequate processing system might result in ‘picture loss’ if turning one’s virtual head rapidly, or when directing one’s gaze beyond the boundaries of the virtual world (what has Wintermute constructed for Case and Molly beyond the bluff at the end of their beach?) There is, sadly, an objection to the procedural modelling let-out: yes, it would require a computer some orders of magnitude smaller than the universe, but it would need to be orders of magnitude faster; and we know that the speed of all interactions are limited by the speed of light.
This objection to Gibson’s vision of cyberspace is only a technical one however. Behind it there is a more fundamental one of cosmogenesis, which is a spiritual one: who or what has put the virtual show together. Before tackling this question, let us look at an even more radical version of cyberspace: that of Frank Tipler.
Frank Tipler is a physicist and author of The Physics of Immortality. Tipler’s ideas can be summarised as follows: modern cosmology predicts the elimination of biological life as we know it, either through the ‘heat death’ (lack of energy in fact) in an ever-expanding universe, or its consumption in the inferno of the ‘big crunch’ (the final singularity of the universe as it contracts again). In any case organic life on Earth has only some billions of years to go before the Sun wipes it out. However, the anthropic principle requires that life (consciousness) is central to the cosmos, and therefore the future evolution of it must be such as to ensure its existence (in some form or other) for eternity. From this premise Tipler deduces that we shall all be resurrected by God to live for ever in the far future: what’s more he claims to have the scientific ‘proof’ for the existence of God and our immortality. Here is the conclusion to his book:
The Omega Point Theory [the name is taken from Teilhard de Chardin’s writings] allows the key concepts of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition now to be modern physics concepts: theology is nothing but physical cosmology based on the assumption that life as a whole is immortal. A consequence of this assumption is the resurrection of everyone who ever lived to eternal life. Physics has now absorbed theology; the divorce between science and religion, between reason and emotion, is over.
I began this book with an assertion on the pointlessness of the universe by Steven Weinberg. He repeats this in his latest book, Dreams of a Final Theory, and goes on to say “… I do not for a minute think that science will ever provide the consolations that have been offered by religion in facing death.”
I disagree. Science can now offer precisely the consolations in facing death that religion once offered. Religion is now part of science. 
To show that his premises lead to his (startling) conclusions, Tipler has to make a number of radical assumptions along the way. Firstly, life, including the personality of every person that ever existed, can exist as a digital simulation; secondly that robot ‘probes’ can colonise the universe (thus disseminating digitally encoded life) and engulf the universe with intelligence before its collapse has gone too far; third that this intelligent life can engineer the final collapse in an asymmetrical way (harnessing the features of chaos theory) in order to provide huge amounts of usable energy; fourthly that this collective intelligence (called the Omega Point) will be benign enough to collect all possible data regarding each one of us and initiate our eternal simulation on vast computers; and finally that the last infinitesimally small period of time before the final singularity will feel ‘subjectively’ to us like an eternity.
Each of these major assumptions then requires another group of assumptions to make them work: for example that colonisation of the universe will be achievable through matter/anti-matter engines (no-one knows at this point how to build one), and that mind is computable so that we can be ‘uploaded’ into computers (Roger Penrose, for one, disagrees with this ). Our resurrection then depends on the fact that living persons now (and in the past) can be photographed billions of years in the future from the light-rays bouncing off the edge of the universe, and that will give the Omega Point sufficient information to run an exact simulation of us, preferably choosing us in our prime.
But what if it would it take a universe to model a universe, as I suggest? Gibson as a fantasy writer does not need to worry about this, and Tipler clearly has not contemplated this possibility, merely extrapolating from the present progress in computer power to the assumption that an infinite computing power will be available in the far future. If my objection is right though, we can only create a virtual universe that is a low-resolution universe: we can only to model the salient features and leave out or fake the rest. (For a further discussion of faking it see my paper on virtual reality Virtual Reality: Give Us a Visual Clue. ) This would mean restricting the possibilities for the virtual inhabitants, not expanding them as Tipler suggests.
While I believe that the anthropic principle deserves a place in modern thought, it is undermined in this work by Tipler’s obviously emotional attempt to avoid his own, and others’, mortality. The really interesting part of his work, and of a growing number of other scientists’, is their willingness to use (some would say hijack) the language of religion. In terms of the categories of spirituality developed above, Tipler’s work is clearly religious (or theological) rather than occult or transcendent.
One of the interesting spiritual implications of Gibson’s or Tipler’s virtual universes lies in their origins. The cosmogonies that we are familiar with from Genesis or Plato’s Timaeus have competed with modern theories of evolution, and we have the same problem in virtual cosmogony. Is our virtual world designed by a person playing as God, is it designed by committee, or does it evolve from an initial set of conditions (a virtual Big Bang)? In religious terms we are confronted with the equivalents of monotheism, polytheism, and Deism. Deism is the late Enlightenment / early Darwinist belief that God created only the starting conditions and then stood back and watched the universe unfold (though according to some he lost interest and got involved in more promising projects).
One way of tackling the cosmogenesis problem is to ask the question of how consciousness enters the virtual universe. For Gibson it is easy: we use the traditional carrier of human consciousness, the human body/brain, and merely connect it electrically with the simulation: we jack-in to the virtual universe. Stelarc and Char Davies show us this technology in its early stage. Tipler poses a much more difficult scenario however, as the body is discarded and consciousness itself is downloaded. To consider this problem we need to take a brief look at our current thinking on consciousness.
It is only possible to give here a brief summary of the positions of the key players and the key debates on consciousness, but the main positions can be usefully categorised as materialist and dualist. Francis Crick, famous for his part in the discovery of DNA, probably best represents the materialist or reductionist view of consciousness, summed up in his “astonishing hypothesis ” that we are nothing more than a pack of neurons, and that all consciousness is merely neuronal activity. He seeks to find the neural correlates of perceptions (he works mainly with the sense of sight), thus tackling the qualia problem (i.e. explaining the ‘redness’ of red), and eventually to find the neural correlate of consciousness. Daniel Dennett, a philosopher, is a more moderate materialist who rejects the Cartesian duality of mind and brain, and wishes to replace the concept of a Cartesian theatre (where all sensory input are ultimately unified into a holistic perception) with the Multiple Drafts Model . This only accepts that perceptions are conscious when ‘noted down’ in memory, and proposes a continual editorial process as a model for consciousness (the “word-processing” model?).
The dualists in some way or other are forced to accept Descartes view of a “ghost in a machine”, or some kind of distinction between brain and mind. Roger Penrose , is not happy with the term dualist, arguing that scientific advances since Descartes, particularly quantum theory, make the term less useful than in an era of Newtonian mechanics. Penrose believes that quantum-mechanical effects in the brain allow for the entry of important aspects of consciousness that cannot be explained by the ‘classical’ science of Crick and Dennett, these being indeterminacy (allowing for free will) and coherence (allowing for the holistic nature of consciousness). Penrose suggests that the transfer of quantum mechanical phenomena into the classical region of the brain is a result of physics that we do not yet understand, and proposes that structures called microtubules are the location for these effects . The basic problem that dualists face is this: how to explain that a non-material entity such as mind can influence the brain as matter (downward causation) and how matter can impinge on mind (upward causation). Downward causation is only a real problem if one privileges free will (most scientists consider this to be something of an illusion) while the problem of upward causation is simply a recasting of the basic problem of consciousness. Another way of putting the classical dualist position is that consciousness ‘accrues’ to organisms under the right conditions, this doesn’t however provide an explanation.
The more engineering-minded of consciousness scientists duck the philosophical issues for the time being and construct machines which could eventually be conscious; then, they say, we’ll cut them up and see what makes consciousness tick. Dennett is pursuing a mild form of this, focusing on cognitive robots that specialise in vision, but the computer scientist Igor Aleksander for example has gone further in deliberately constructing a machine to be artificially conscious. It is called Magnus; it consists of an artificial neural net (ANN) of some 16,000 neuron equivalents, and is designed to tell us what it is like to be Magnus.
Where both materialists and dualists probably agree is that the complexity of an organism, whether biological or technological, has a bearing on the potential for consciousness. Materialists can approach this position via chaos theory, and posit that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon requiring a certain level of complexity within the organism. Dualists also agree that consciousness accrues to organisms depending on their complexity. Let us look at an influential writer on spirituality whose work supports this view: Tielhard de Chardin.
de Chardin and the Noosphere
Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955) was a Jesuit priest and a palaeontologist with a special interest in evolution. His conviction that evolutionary theory was correct and applied to man (at least as far as he was an organism) ran, of course, headlong into his Church training, and hence he struggled with it in a way that a lay scientist would not have had to. The Church prohibited him from publishing his honest and unique attempt to reconcile his science and religion, with the result that his major works were published only after his death. In The Phenomenon of Man he shows how man was not merely the arrival of a new species, but an event for the whole planet: the creation of a new ‘layer.’ The first layer (itself composed of substrata) is the geosphere, the second the biosphere, and with man came the noosphere. Biogenesis gave rise to living organisms, psychogenesis gave rise to an animal with a mind, and noogenesis gives rise to a planetary mind or consciousness. The noosphere arises from us communicating with each other, and as this communication reaches speed and critical mass the noosphere is created. Through this idea de Chardin accommodates both the biologists’ discoveries and the Church teaching of the elevated position of man:
With that it bursts upon us how utterly warped is every classification of the living world in which man only figures logically as a genus or new family. This is an error of perspective which deforms and uncrowns the whole phenomenon of the universe. To give man his true place in nature it is not enough to find one more pigeon-hole in the edifice of systematisation or even an additional order or branch. With hominisation, in spite of the insignificance of the anatomical leap, we have the beginning of a new age. The earth ‘gets a new skin’. Better still, it finds its soul. 
De Chardin could not anticipate the exact nature of future communications systems, but many commentators now think that the Internet is the key structure that allows for the formation of the noosphere. Jennifer Cobb Kreisberg has introduced de Chardin to the Wired readership ; Paul Groot has introduced him to the Mediamatic readership ; both in connection with the Net. So can we conclude, like Kreisberg and Groot, that de Chardin predicted that the planet would ‘finds its soul’ through the Internet? And what could this mean? Let us explore this question through from the perspective of consciousness.
The Conscious Net?
The brain has of the order of 10 billion neurons giving a storage capacity of 10 to the 15 bits of information. The complexity of the brain may in fact be much higher than this if the work of Hammerof is proven correct: he proposes that the microtubules in each neuron interact with those in other neurons throughout the brain, giving a massively higher connectivity. (We may remember that Aleksander’s Magnus has only 16,000 artificial neurons in comparison.) The Internet may have the potential to reach such connectivity, so why should it not eventually become conscious, fulfilling de Chardin’s prophecy of the planetary soul? From both the materialist and dualist understanding of consciousness there are no immediate reasons why not, but I have reservations. Let us look at look at the relationship between consciousness and complexity in terms of what the Artificial Life people call the four F’s: feeding, fighting, fleeing, and reproduction.
In a world of finite resources complexity grows as a survival strategy (according to Darwinian thinking). If you wished to evolve complex life, then a very simple strategy is to make its prime requirement, energy, scarce. The hunt for energy (food) then requires the evolution of complex sensory apparatus, and the ability to model the natural environment in order to anticipate the changing patterns of availability, favouring the development of mind and intelligence. This satisfies chaos theory, but what about dualism? Simply this: it is interesting to have to search or hunt for food. A fine balance then evolves between the anxiety that grows when insufficient food is found to maintain the integrity of the organism, and the delight in its procurement and consumption (energy is delight, said Blake).
As populations increase, and different species evolve different strategies for energy gathering, fighting for food becomes inevitable, but provides another major stimulus for the growth of complexity. Fighting may not always provide ‘delight’, but it always provides drama. A pacifist may find this a hard proposition, but without the possibility for conflict I believe that consciousness would fade and die. Fleeing is a natural counterpart to fighting: if the odds are hopeless then the intelligent thing to do is flee, and in complexity terms this provides stimulus for well-developed motor systems. In terms of dualism we have the introduction of a psychological element that is essential to the drama of life: fear. I believe that fear is another essential component of consciousness.
As organisms of any kind, however good their self-repairing systems are, must die (Plato points this out when he calls the body a “composite thing”), offspring are essential. For all the higher life-forms on this planet sexual reproduction seems to be the norm, despite the biologists’ inability to find a good reason for it. For humans this introduces one of the major complexifying factors in behaviour: love.
From chaos theory we learn that it is not enough that an organism is complex in terms of quantity (in this context the mere number of neurons or interacting elements), but it has to be in structure. Our four F’s show how complex structures arise in life through the pressures on individuals, and the tensions between competition and cooperation in all four aspects. From this perspective we arrive at the first of several arguments against the conscious Net: there is only one Net. With no one to play with, or to fight with, or to mate with how would interest, aggression, fear, or love arise? And how would the necessary complexity for consciousness arise? Remember that quantity is not enough; structure is needed.
A second objection arises from research into synthetic actors by the Thalmann team in Geneva. They encode a virtual universe of sets and actors, and attempt to give the actors personalities through limited autonomy and personal goals. All this information is present within a single computer system, and has to be available to different subsystems at different times; in this respect no different to the Internet. It became a problem to keep the actors ‘interesting’ if they had complete access to the database. How can you make a detective movie with synthetic actors if they know the murderer from the start? How can there be any dramatic tension if a synthetic actor can ‘see’ through a wall to the vicious killer or terrified blonde on the other side? It turned out that the only solution to maintaining any kind of drama in the virtual universe is to keep its actors ignorant to some degree; they do this by endowing them with an artificial vision as an analogue to our own.  For the Net to engage in any of the life-dramas necessary for complexity/consciousness it would have to ‘partition’ itself in a similar way and set parts of itself in competition with other parts quite at odds with the whole origin and ethos of the Net.
The third objection to a conscious Net is the lack of a body, or at least an interesting one: what can you do if your physical manifestation is a sphere? There are no articulations and nowhere to go (except round and round in circles). It would have to find energy of course, but would its search be interesting? Would it have the fun of waiting behind a rock to pounce on a rabbit? Or of wandering like a cow through fields of sweet-smelling juicy grass? Or browsing through the delicatessen counter at the supermarket? None of these I suggest.
For these reasons, I am not sure that the Net, or some equivalent noosphere has the right conditions for consciousness as we know it. However, the inexorable progress towards intelligent robots does satisfy all the conditions for artificial life, and we can empathise with the kind of consciousness they may potentially possess. But the Internet, or any similar monolithic neuronal structure with no body (worth speaking of), or similar companions to interact with, could not have consciousness as we know it. De Chardin was not suggesting this of course: his “confluence of thought” would surely create a unique consciousness; Tipler is moving in the same direction with his “Omega Point”. I think that we are left with two possibilities: firstly that the Net as conscious being would ‘partition’ itself into multiple personalities and act out dramas in a virtual world similar to Gibson’s, but if any of us tried this wouldn’t it be treated as a sign of insanity? The second is that the Net would become God. Though I don’t propose to debate this further, isn’t it perhaps what de Chardin, and countless others perhaps, are looking for? Isn’t it perhaps the driving obsession behind the technology?
The Spiritual in Cyberspace
To sum up: the cyberspace technologies of the Internet and immersive Virtual Realities present us with spiritual possibilities and questions that are not all new, but are sharply accentuated. However the highly speculative work of Gibson, Tipler and Teilhard de Chardin are all amenable to a criticism based in actual research programmes, whether in consciousness, VR, or synthetic cinema; likewise a broad base of spiritual tradition is needed. On a practical note, Web sites like SpiritNet provide a forum for debate and dissemination concerning the spiritual on the Internet, while immersive realities like Char Davies’ Osmose challenge the assumption that mind should be privileged over body. The transcendence of the body is probably the key spiritual question in cyberspace; the question whether God will emerge from a glorified telephone system is attractive, but probably less amenable to proper debate. As electronic artists the immortality of our artefacts may be assured, but isn’t the prospect of our own digital immortality terrifying?
 Lipsey, Roger, An Art of Our Own – The Spiritual in Twentieth-Century Art, Boston and Shaftesbury: Shambhala, 1988, p. 244
 Musafar, Fakir, ‘Body Play’, in ( Adam Parfrey, Ed.) Apocalypse Culture, Portland, Oregon: Feral House, 1990, p. 105
 Ouspensky, P.D. In Search of the Miraculous – Fragments of an Unknown Teaching, Arkana, 1978, p. 44
 Davies, Char, ‘Osmose: Notes on Being in Virtual Immersive Space’, in Proceedings, International Symposium on Electronic Art 1995, Montreal, ISEA’95 Montreal, 1995, p. 53
 Davies, Char, ‘Osmose: Notes on Being in Virtual Immersive Space’, in Proceedings, International Symposium on Electronic Art 1995, Montreal, ISEA’95 Montreal, 1995, p. 55
 Wilber, Ken, Quantum Questions – Mystical Writings of the World’s Great Physicists, Boston and London: Shambhala, 1985
 Barrow, John D. and Tipler, Frank J., The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1986. See also Wheeler, J.A., At Home in the Universe, The American Institute of Physics, 1995
 See for example Ascott, Roy ‘Wormholing in Cyburbia, and Other Paranatural Pleasures’ in Proceedings, International Symposium on Electronic Art 1995, Montreal, ISEA’95 Montreal, 1995, pp. 1- 6
 Gibson, William, Neuromancer, London: Harper Collins, 1993, p. 283
 Tipler, Frank J. The Physics of Immortality – Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead, London: Macmillan, 1994, p. 338
 Penrose, Roger, Shadows of the Mind – A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness, Oxford University Press, 1994
 King, Mike, Virtual Reality: Give Us a Visual Clue Split Screen Conference Proceedings, Chichester, 1996
 Crick, Francis, The Astonishing Hypothesis – The Scientific Search for the Soul, Simon and Schuster, 1994
 Dennet, Daniel C., Consciousness Explained, Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1991
 Penrose, Roger, Shadows of the Mind – A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness, Oxford University Press, 1994
 Some of the most recent developments of this theory, derived from neuroscientist Stuart Hammerof’s work, is to be found in their joint paper: “Conscious Events in Orchestrated Space-Time Selections” in Journal of Consciousness Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1996, pp. 36-53
 Teilhard de Chardin, P. The Phenomenon of Man, Readers Union Collins, London, 1961, p. 182
 Kreisberg, Jennifer Cobb, “A Globe, Clothing Itself with a Brain”, in Wired, June 1995, pp. 108-113
 Groot, Paul, “Teilhard and Technognosis” in Mediamatic, 8 #4, Spring 1996, pp. 37-43
 Noser, Hansrudi, and Daniel Thalmann, ‘Synthetic Vision and Audition for Digital Actors’ in F. Post and M. Gobel Computer Graphics Forum, Maastricht Conference Issue, Eurographics Association, 1995, p. 327
The Coming Technological Singularity:
How to Survive in the Post-Human Era
Department of Mathematical Sciences
San Diego State University
(c) 1993 by Vernor Vinge
(Verbatim copying/translation and distribution of this
entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this
notice is preserved.)
This article was for the VISION-21 Symposium
sponsored by NASA Lewis Research Center
and the Ohio Aerospace Institute, March 30-31, 1993.
It is also retrievable from the NASA technical reports
server as part of NASA CP-10129.
A slightly changed version appeared in the
Winter 1993 issue of _Whole Earth Review_.
Within thirty years, we will have the technological
means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after,
the human era will be ended.
Is such progress avoidable? If not to be avoided, can
events be guided so that we may survive? These questions
are investigated. Some possible answers (and some further
dangers) are presented.
_What is The Singularity?_
The acceleration of technological progress has been the central
feature of this century. I argue in this paper that we are on the edge
of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth. The precise
cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of
entities with greater than human intelligence. There are several means
by which science may achieve this breakthrough (and this is another
reason for having confidence that the event will occur):
o The development of computers that are “awake” and
superhumanly intelligent. (To date, most controversy in the
area of AI relates to whether we can create human equivalence
in a machine. But if the answer is “yes, we can”, then there
is little doubt that beings more intelligent can be constructed
o Large computer networks (and their associated users) may “wake
up” as a superhumanly intelligent entity.
o Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users
may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.
o Biological science may find ways to improve upon the natural
The first three possibilities depend in large part on
improvements in computer hardware. Progress in computer hardware has
followed an amazingly steady curve in the last few decades . Based
largely on this trend, I believe that the creation of greater than
human intelligence will occur during the next thirty years. (Charles
Platt  has pointed out the AI enthusiasts have been making claims
like this for the last thirty years. Just so I’m not guilty of a
relative-time ambiguity, let me more specific: I’ll be surprised if
this event occurs before 2005 or after 2030.)
What are the consequences of this event? When greater-than-human
intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid.
In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve
the creation of still more intelligent entities — on a still-shorter
time scale. The best analogy that I see is with the evolutionary past:
Animals can adapt to problems and make inventions, but often no faster
than natural selection can do its work — the world acts as its own
simulator in the case of natural selection. We humans have the ability
to internalize the world and conduct “what if’s” in our heads; we can
solve many problems thousands of times faster than natural selection.
Now, by creating the means to execute those simulations at much higher
speeds, we are entering a regime as radically different from our human
past as we humans are from the lower animals.
From the human point of view this change will be a throwing away
of all the previous rules, perhaps in the blink of an eye, an
exponential runaway beyond any hope of control. Developments that
before were thought might only happen in “a million years” (if ever)
will likely happen in the next century. (In , Greg Bear paints a
picture of the major changes happening in a matter of hours.)
I think it’s fair to call this event a singularity (“the
Singularity” for the purposes of this paper). It is a point where our
models must be discarded and a new reality rules. As we move closer
and closer to this point, it will loom vaster and vaster over human
affairs till the notion becomes a commonplace. Yet when it finally
happens it may still be a great surprise and a greater unknown. In
the 1950s there were very few who saw it: Stan Ulam  paraphrased
John von Neumann as saying:
One conversation centered on the ever accelerating progress of
technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the
appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the
history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them,
could not continue.
Von Neumann even uses the term singularity, though it appears he
is still thinking of normal progress, not the creation of superhuman
intellect. (For me, the superhumanity is the essence of the
Singularity. Without that we would get a glut of technical riches,
never properly absorbed (see ).)
In the 1960s there was recognition of some of the implications of
superhuman intelligence. I. J. Good wrote :
Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine
that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any
any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of
these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could
design even better machines; there would then unquestionably
be an “intelligence explosion,” and the intelligence of man
would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent
machine is the _last_ invention that man need ever make,
provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to
keep it under control.
It is more probable than not that, within the twentieth century,
an ultraintelligent machine will be built and that it will be
the last invention that man need make.
Good has captured the essence of the runaway, but does not pursue
its most disturbing consequences. Any intelligent machine of the sort
he describes would not be humankind’s “tool” — any more than humans
are the tools of rabbits or robins or chimpanzees.
Through the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s, recognition of the cataclysm
spread    . Perhaps it was the science-fiction writers
who felt the first concrete impact. After all, the “hard”
science-fiction writers are the ones who try to write specific stories
about all that technology may do for us. More and more, these writers
felt an opaque wall across the future. Once, they could put such
fantasies millions of years in the future . Now they saw that
their most diligent extrapolations resulted in the unknowable …
soon. Once, galactic empires might have seemed a Post-Human domain.
Now, sadly, even interplanetary ones are.
What about the ’90s and the ’00s and the ’10s, as we slide toward
the edge? How will the approach of the Singularity spread across the
human world view? For a while yet, the general critics of machine
sapience will have good press. After all, till we have hardware as
powerful as a human brain it is probably foolish to think we’ll be
able to create human equivalent (or greater) intelligence. (There is
the far-fetched possibility that we could make a human equivalent out
of less powerful hardware, if were willing to give up speed, if we
were willing to settle for an artificial being who was literally slow
. But it’s much more likely that devising the software will be a
tricky process, involving lots of false starts and experimentation. If
so, then the arrival of self-aware machines will not happen till after
the development of hardware that is substantially more powerful than
humans’ natural equipment.)
But as time passes, we should see more symptoms. The dilemma felt
by science fiction writers will be perceived in other creative
endeavors. (I have heard thoughtful comic book writers worry about
how to have spectacular effects when everything visible can be
produced by the technically commonplace.) We will see automation
replacing higher and higher level jobs. We have tools right now
(symbolic math programs, cad/cam) that release us from most low-level
drudgery. Or put another way: The work that is truly productive is the
domain of a steadily smaller and more elite fraction of humanity. In
the coming of the Singularity, we are seeing the predictions of _true_
technological unemployment finally come true.
Another symptom of progress toward the Singularity: ideas
themselves should spread ever faster, and even the most radical will
quickly become commonplace. When I began writing, it seemed very easy
to come up with ideas that took decades to percolate into the cultural
consciousness; now the lead time seems more like eighteen months. (Of
course, this could just be me losing my imagination as I get old, but
I see the effect in others too.) Like the shock in a compressible
flow, the Singularity moves closer as we accelerate through the
And what of the arrival of the Singularity itself? What can be
said of its actual appearance? Since it involves an intellectual
runaway, it will probably occur faster than any technical revolution
seen so far. The precipitating event will likely be unexpected —
perhaps even to the researchers involved. (“But all our previous
models were catatonic! We were just tweaking some parameters….”) If
networking is widespread enough (into ubiquitous embedded systems), it
may seem as if our artifacts as a whole had suddenly wakened.
And what happens a month or two (or a day or two) after that? I
have only analogies to point to: The rise of humankind. We will be in
the Post-Human era. And for all my rampant technological optimism,
sometimes I think I’d be more comfortable if I were regarding these
transcendental events from one thousand years remove … instead of
_Can the Singularity be Avoided?_
Well, maybe it won’t happen at all: Sometimes I try to imagine
the symptoms that we should expect to see if the Singularity is not to
develop. There are the widely respected arguments of Penrose  and
Searle  against the practicality of machine sapience. In August
of 1992, Thinking Machines Corporation held a workshop to investigate
the question “How We Will Build a Machine that Thinks” [Thearling]. As
you might guess from the workshop’s title, the participants were not
especially supportive of the arguments against machine intelligence.
In fact, there was general agreement that minds can exist on
nonbiological substrates and that algorithms are of central importance
to the existence of minds. However, there was much debate about the
raw hardware power that is present in organic brains. A minority felt
that the largest 1992 computers were within three orders of magnitude
of the power of the human brain. The majority of the participants
agreed with Moravec’s estimate  that we are ten to forty years
away from hardware parity. And yet there was another minority who
pointed to  , and conjectured that the computational competence
of single neurons may be far higher than generally believed. If so,
our present computer hardware might be as much as _ten_ orders of
magnitude short of the equipment we carry around in our heads. If this
is true (or for that matter, if the Penrose or Searle critique is
valid), we might never see a Singularity. Instead, in the early ’00s
we would find our hardware performance curves begin to level off —
this caused by our inability to automate the complexity of the design
work necessary to support the hardware trend curves. We’d end up with
some _very_ powerful hardware, but without the ability to push it
further. Commercial digital signal processing might be awesome,
giving an analog appearance even to digital operations, but nothing
would ever “wake up” and there would never be the intellectual runaway
which is the essence of the Singularity. It would likely be seen as a
golden age … and it would also be an end of progress. This is very
like the future predicted by Gunther Stent. In fact, on page 137 of
, Stent explicitly cites the development of transhuman
intelligence as a sufficient condition to break his projections.
But if the technological Singularity can happen, it will. Even
if all the governments of the world were to understand the “threat”
and be in deadly fear of it, progress toward the goal would continue.
In fiction, there have been stories of laws passed forbidding the
construction of “a machine in the form of the mind of man” . In
fact, the competitive advantage — economic, military, even artistic
— of every advance in automation is so compelling that passing laws,
or having customs, that forbid such things merely assures that someone
else will get them first.
Eric Drexler  has provided spectacular insight about how far
technical improvement may go. He agrees that superhuman intelligences
will be available in the near future — and that such entities pose a
threat to the human status quo. But Drexler argues that we can embed
such transhuman devices in rules or physical confinement such that
their results can be examined and used safely. This is I. J. Good’s
ultraintelligent machine, with a dose of caution. I argue that
confinement is intrinsically impractical. For the case of physical
confinement: Imagine yourself confined to your house with only limited
data access to the outside, to your masters. If those masters thought
at a rate — say — one million times slower than you, there is little
doubt that over a period of years (your time) you could come up with
“helpful advice” that would incidentally set you free. (I call this
“fast thinking” form of superintelligence “weak superhumanity”. Such a
“weakly superhuman” entity would probably burn out in a few weeks of
outside time. “Strong superhumanity” would be more than cranking up
the clock speed on a human-equivalent mind. It’s hard to say
precisely what “strong superhumanity” would be like, but the
difference appears to be profound. Imagine running a dog mind at very
high speed. Would a thousand years of doggy living add up to any human
insight? (Now if the dog mind were cleverly rewired and _then_ run at
high speed, we might see something different….) Most speculations
about superintelligence seem to be based on the weakly superhuman
model. I believe that our best guesses about the post-Singularity
world can be obtained by thinking on the nature of strong
superhumanity. I will return to this point later in the paper.)
The other approach to Drexlerian confinement is to build _rules_
into the mind of the created superhuman entity (Asimov’s Laws). I
think that performance rules strict enough to be safe would also
produce a device whose ability was clearly inferior to the unfettered
versions (and so human competition would favor the development of the
those more dangerous models). Still, the Asimov dream is a wonderful
one: Imagine a willing slave, who has 1000 times your capabilities in
every way. Imagine a creature who could satisfy your every safe wish
(whatever that means) and still have 99.9% of its time free for other
activities. There would be a new universe we never really understood,
but filled with benevolent gods (though one of _my_ wishes might be to
become one of them).
If the Singularity can not be prevented or confined, just how bad
could the Post-Human era be? Well … pretty bad. The physical
extinction of the human race is one possibility. (Or as Eric Drexler
put it of nanotechnology: Given all that such technology can do,
perhaps governments would simply decide that they no longer need
citizens!). Yet physical extinction may not be the scariest
possibility. Again, analogies: Think of the different ways we relate
to animals. Some of the crude physical abuses are implausible, yet….
In a Post-Human world there would still be plenty of niches where
human equivalent automation would be desirable: embedded systems in
autonomous devices, self-aware daemons in the lower functioning of
larger sentients. (A strongly superhuman intelligence would likely be
a Society of Mind  with some very competent components.) Some
of these human equivalents might be used for nothing more than digital
signal processing. They would be more like whales than humans. Others
might be very human-like, yet with a one-sidedness, a _dedication_
that would put them in a mental hospital in our era. Though none of
these creatures might be flesh-and-blood humans, they might be the
closest things in the new enviroment to what we call human now. (I. J.
Good had something to say about this, though at this late date the
advice may be moot: Good  proposed a “Meta-Golden Rule”,
which might be paraphrased as “Treat your inferiors as you would be
treated by your superiors.” It’s a wonderful, paradoxical idea (and
most of my friends don’t believe it) since the game-theoretic payoff
is so hard to articulate. Yet if we were able to follow it, in some
sense that might say something about the plausibility of such kindness
in this universe.)
I have argued above that we cannot prevent the Singularity,
that its coming is an inevitable consequence of the humans’ natural
competitiveness and the possibilities inherent in technology. And yet
… we are the initiators. Even the largest avalanche is triggered by
small things. We have the freedom to establish initial conditions,
make things happen in ways that are less inimical than others. Of
course (as with starting avalanches), it may not be clear what the
right guiding nudge really is:
_Other Paths to the Singularity: Intelligence Amplification_
When people speak of creating superhumanly intelligent beings,
they are usually imagining an AI project. But as I noted at the
beginning of this paper, there are other paths to superhumanity.
Computer networks and human-computer interfaces seem more mundane than
AI, and yet they could lead to the Singularity. I call this
contrasting approach Intelligence Amplification (IA). IA is something
that is proceeding very naturally, in most cases not even recognized
by its developers for what it is. But every time our ability to access
information and to communicate it to others is improved, in some sense
we have achieved an increase over natural intelligence. Even now, the
team of a PhD human and good computer workstation (even an off-net
workstation!) could probably max any written intelligence test in
And it’s very likely that IA is a much easier road to the
achievement of superhumanity than pure AI. In humans, the hardest
development problems have already been solved. Building up from within
ourselves ought to be easier than figuring out first what we really
are and then building machines that are all of that. And there is at
least conjectural precedent for this approach. Cairns-Smith  has
speculated that biological life may have begun as an adjunct to still
more primitive life based on crystalline growth. Lynn Margulis 
has made strong arguments for the view that mutualism is the great
driving force in evolution.
Note that I am not proposing that AI research be ignored or less
funded. What goes on with AI will often have applications in IA, and
vice versa. I am suggesting that we recognize that in network and
interface research there is something as profound (and potential wild)
as Artificial Intelligence. With that insight, we may see projects
that are not as directly applicable as conventional interface and
network design work, but which serve to advance us toward the
Singularity along the IA path.
Here are some possible projects that take on special
significance, given the IA point of view:
o Human/computer team automation: Take problems that are normally
considered for purely machine solution (like hill-climbing
problems), and design programs and interfaces that take a
advantage of humans’ intuition and available computer hardware.
Considering all the bizarreness of higher dimensional
hill-climbing problems (and the neat algorithms that have been
devised for their solution), there could be some very interesting
displays and control tools provided to the human team member.
o Develop human/computer symbiosis in art: Combine the graphic
generation capability of modern machines and the esthetic
sensibility of humans. Of course, there has been an enormous
amount of research in designing computer aids for artists, as
labor saving tools. I’m suggesting that we explicitly aim for a
greater merging of competence, that we explicitly recognize the
cooperative approach that is possible. Karl Sims  has done
wonderful work in this direction.
o Allow human/computer teams at chess tournaments. We already
have programs that can play better than almost all humans. But
how much work has been done on how this power could be used by a
human, to get something even better? If such teams were allowed
in at least some chess tournaments, it could have the positive
effect on IA research that allowing computers in tournaments had
for the corresponding niche in AI.
o Develop interfaces that allow computer and network access without
requiring the human to be tied to one spot, sitting in front of a
computer. (This is an aspect of IA that fits so well with known
economic advantages that lots of effort is already being spent on
o Develop more symmetrical decision support systems. A popular
research/product area in recent years has been decision support
systems. This is a form of IA, but may be too focussed on
systems that are oracular. As much as the program giving the user
information, there must be the idea of the user giving the
o Use local area nets to make human teams that really work (ie,
are more effective than their component members). This is
generally the area of “groupware”, already a very popular
commercial pursuit. The change in viewpoint here would be to
regard the group activity as a combination organism. In one
sense, this suggestion might be regarded as the goal of inventing
a “Rules of Order” for such combination operations. For instance,
group focus might be more easily maintained than in classical
meetings. Expertise of individual human members could be isolated
from ego issues such that the contribution of different members
is focussed on the team project. And of course shared data bases
could be used much more conveniently than in conventional
committee operations. (Note that this suggestion is aimed at team
operations rather than political meetings. In a political
setting, the automation described above would simply enforce the
power of the persons making the rules!)
o Exploit the worldwide Internet as a combination human/machine
tool. Of all the items on the list, progress in this is
proceeding the fastest and may run us into the Singularity before
anything else. The power and influence of even the present-day
Internet is vastly underestimated. For instance, I think our
contemporary computer systems would break under the weight of
their own complexity if it weren’t for the edge that the USENET
“group mind” gives the system administration and support people!)
The very anarchy of the worldwide net development is evidence of
its potential. As connectivity and bandwidth and archive size and
computer speed all increase, we are seeing something like Lynn
Margulis’  vision of the biosphere as data processor
recapitulated, but at a million times greater speed and with
millions of humanly intelligent agents (ourselves).
The above examples illustrate research that can be done within
the context of contemporary computer science departments. There are
other paradigms. For example, much of the work in Artificial
Intelligence and neural nets would benefit from a closer connection
with biological life. Instead of simply trying to model and understand
biological life with computers, research could be directed toward the
creation of composite systems that rely on biological life for
guidance or for the providing features we don’t understand well enough
yet to implement in hardware. A long-time dream of science-fiction has
been direct brain to computer interfaces  . In fact, there is
concrete work that can be done (and has been done) in this area:
o Limb prosthetics is a topic of direct commercial applicability.
Nerve to silicon transducers can be made . This is an
exciting, near-term step toward direct communcation.
o Similar direct links into brains may be feasible, if the bit
rate is low: given human learning flexibility, the actual
brain neuron targets might not have to be precisely selected.
Even 100 bits per second would be of great use to stroke
victims who would otherwise be confined to menu-driven
o Plugging in to the optic trunk has the potential for bandwidths
of 1 Mbit/second or so. But for this, we need to know the
fine-scale architecture of vision, and we need to place an
enormous web of electrodes with exquisite precision. If we want
our high bandwidth connection to be _in addition_ to what paths
are already present in the brain, the problem becomes vastly more
intractable. Just sticking a grid of high-bandwidth receivers
into a brain certainly won’t do it. But suppose that the
high-bandwidth grid were present while the brain structure was
actually setting up, as the embryo develops. That suggests:
o Animal embryo experiments. I wouldn’t expect any IA success
in the first years of such research, but giving developing brains
access to complex simulated neural structures might be very
interesting to the people who study how the embryonic brain
develops. In the long run, such experiments might produce
animals with additional sense paths and interesting intellectual
Originally, I had hoped that this discussion of IA would yield
some clearly safer approaches to the Singularity. (After all, IA
allows our participation in a kind of transcendance.) Alas, looking
back over these IA proposals, about all I am sure of is that they
should be considered, that they may give us more options. But as for
safety … well, some of the suggestions are a little scarey on their
face. One of my informal reviewers pointed out that IA for individual
humans creates a rather sinister elite. We humans have millions of
years of evolutionary baggage that makes us regard competition in a
deadly light. Much of that deadliness may not be necessary in today’s
world, one where losers take on the winners’ tricks and are coopted
into the winners’ enterprises. A creature that was built _de novo_
might possibly be a much more benign entity than one with a kernel
based on fang and talon. And even the egalitarian view of an Internet
that wakes up along with all mankind can be viewed as a nightmare
The problem is not that the Singularity represents simply the
passing of humankind from center stange, but that it contradicts some
of our most deeply held notions of being. I think a closer look at the
notion of strong superhumanity can show why that is.
_Strong Superhumanity and the Best We Can Ask for_
Suppose we could tailor the Singularity. Suppose we could attain
our most extravagant hopes. What then would we ask for:
That humans themselves would become their own successors, that
whatever injustice occurs would be tempered by our knowledge of our
roots. For those who remained unaltered, the goal would be benign
treatment (perhaps even giving the stay-behinds the appearance of
being masters of godlike slaves). It could be a golden age that also
involved progress (overleaping Stent’s barrier). Immortality (or at
least a lifetime as long as we can make the universe survive 
) would be achievable.
But in this brightest and kindest world, the philosophical
problems themselves become intimidating. A mind that stays at the same
capacity cannot live forever; after a few thousand years it would look
more like a repeating tape loop than a person. (The most chilling
picture I have seen of this is in .) To live indefinitely long,
the mind itself must grow … and when it becomes great enough, and
looks back … what fellow-feeling can it have with the soul that it
was originally? Certainly the later being would be everything the
original was, but so much vastly more. And so even for the individual,
the Cairns-Smith (or Lynn Margulis) notion of new life growing
incrementally out of the old must still be valid.
This “problem” about immortality comes up in much more direct
ways. The notion of ego and self-awareness has been the bedrock of
the hardheaded rationalism of the last few centuries. Yet now the
notion of self-awareness is under attack from the Artificial
Intelligence people (“self-awareness and other delusions”).
Intelligence Amplification undercuts the importance of ego from
another direction. The post-Singularity world will involve extremely
high-bandwidth networking. A central feature of strongly superhuman
entities will likely be their ability to communicate at variable
bandwidths, including ones far higher than speech or written messages.
What happens when pieces of ego can be copied and merged, when the
size of a selfawareness can grow or shrink to fit the nature of the
problems under consideration? These are essential features of strong
superhumanity and the Singularity. Thinking about them, one begins to
feel how essentially strange and different the Post-Human era will be
— _no matter how cleverly and benignly it is brought to be_.
From one angle, the vision fits many of our happiest dreams:
a place unending, where we can truly know one another and understand
the deepest mysteries. From another angle, it’s a lot like the worst
case scenario I imagined earlier in this paper.
Which is the valid viewpoint? In fact, I think the new era is
simply too different to fit into the classical frame of good and
evil. That frame is based on the idea of isolated, immutable minds
connected by tenuous, low-bandwith links. But the post-Singularity
world _does_ fit with the larger tradition of change and cooperation
that started long ago (perhaps even before the rise of biological
life). I think there _are_ notions of ethics that would apply in such
an era. Research into IA and high-bandwidth communications should
improve this understanding. I see just the glimmerings of this now,
in Good’s Meta-Golden Rule, perhaps in rules for distinguishing self
from others on the basis of bandwidth of connection. And while mind
and self will be vastly more labile than in the past, much of what we
value (knowledge, memory, thought) need never be lost. I think
Freeman Dyson has it right when he says : “God is what mind becomes
when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.”
[I wish to thank John Carroll of San Diego State University and Howard
Davidson of Sun Microsystems for discussing the draft version of this
paper with me.]
_Annotated Sources [and an occasional plea for bibliographical help]_
 Alfvén, Hannes, writing as Olof Johanneson, _The End of Man?_,
Award Books, 1969 earlier published as “The Tale of the Big
Computer”, Coward-McCann, translated from a book copyright 1966
Albert Bonniers Forlag AB with English translation copyright 1966
by Victor Gollanz, Ltd.
 Anderson, Poul, “Kings Who Die”, _If_, March 1962, p8-36.
Reprinted in _Seven Conquests_, Poul Anderson, MacMillan Co., 1969.
 Barrow, John D. and Frank J. Tipler, _The Anthropic Cosmological
Principle_, Oxford University Press, 1986.
 Bear, Greg, “Blood Music”, _Analog Science Fiction-Science Fact_,
June, 1983. Expanded into the novel _Blood Music_, Morrow, 1985
 Cairns-Smith, A. G., _Seven Clues to the Origin of Life_, Cambridge
University Press, 1985.
 Conrad, Michael _et al._, “Towards an Artificial Brain”,
_BioSystems_, vol23, pp175-218, 1989.
 Drexler, K. Eric, _Engines of Creation_, Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1986.
 Dyson, Freeman, _Infinite in All Directions_, Harper && Row, 1988.
 Dyson, Freeman, “Physics and Biology in an Open Universe”, _Review
of Modern Physics_, vol 51, pp447-460, 1979.
 Good, I. J., “Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent
Machine”, in _Advances in Computers_, vol 6, Franz L. Alt and
Morris Rubinoff, eds, pp31-88, 1965, Academic Press.
 Good, I. J., [Help! I can’t find the source of Good’s Meta-Golden
Rule, though I have the clear recollection of hearing about it
sometime in the 1960s. Through the help of the net, I have found
pointers to a number of related items. G. Harry Stine and Andrew
Haley have written about metalaw as it might relate to
extraterrestrials: G. Harry Stine, “How to Get along with
Extraterrestrials … or Your Neighbor”, _Analog Science Fact-
Science Fiction_, February, 1980, p39-47.]
 Herbert, Frank, _Dune_, Berkley Books, 1985. However, this novel was
serialized in _Analog Science Fiction-Science Fact_ in the 1960s.
 Kovacs, G. T. A. _et al._, “Regeneration Microelectrode Array for
Peripheral Nerve Recording and Stimulation”, _IEEE Transactions
on Biomedical Engineering_, v 39, n 9, pp 893-902.
 Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan, _Microcosmos, Four Billion Years of
Evolution from Our Microbial Ancestors_, Summit Books, 1986.
 Minsky, Marvin, _Society of Mind_, Simon and Schuster, 1985.
 Moravec, Hans, _Mind Children_, Harvard University Press, 1988.
 Niven, Larry, “The Ethics of Madness”, _If_, April 1967, pp82-108.
Reprinted in _Neutron Star_, Larry Niven, Ballantine Books, 1968.
 Penrose, R., _The Emperor’s New Mind_, Oxford University Press, 1989.
 Platt, Charles, Private Communication.
 Rasmussen, S. _et al._, “Computational Connectionism within Neurons:
a Model of Cytoskeletal Automata Subserving Neural Networks”, in
_Emergent Computation_, Stephanie Forrest, ed., p428-449, MIT
 Searle, John R., “Minds, Brains, and Programs”, in _The Behavioral and
Brain Sciences_, v.3, Cambridge University Press, 1980. The
essay is reprinted in _The Mind’s I_, edited by Douglas R.
Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett, Basic Books, 1981. This
reprinting contains an excellent critique of the Searle essay.
 Sims, Karl, “Interactive Evolution of Dynamical Systems”, Thinking
Machines Corporation, Technical Report Series (published in _Toward
a Practice of Autonomous Systems: Proceedings of the First European
Cnference on Artificial Life_, Paris, MIT Press, December 1991.
 Stapledon, Olaf, _The Starmaker_, Berkley Books, 1961 (but from
the forward probably written before 1937).
 Stent, Gunther S., _The Coming of the Golden Age: A View of the End
of Progress_, The Natural History Press, 1969.
 Swanwick Michael, _Vacuum Flowers_, serialized in _Isaac Asimov’s
Science Fiction Magazine_, December(?) 1986 – February 1987.
Republished by Ace Books, 1988.
 Thearling, Kurt, “How We Will Build a Machine that Thinks”, a workshop
at Thinking Machines Corporation. Personal Communication.
 Ulam, S., Tribute to John von Neumann, _Bulletin of the American
Mathematical Society_, vol 64, nr 3, part 2, May, 1958, p1-49.
 Vinge, Vernor, “Bookworm, Run!”, _Analog_, March 1966, pp8-40.
Reprinted in _True Names and Other Dangers_, Vernor Vinge, Baen
 Vinge, Vernor, “True Names”, _Binary Star Number 5_, Dell, 1981.
Reprinted in _True Names and Other Dangers_, Vernor Vinge, Baen
 Vinge, Vernor, First Word, _Omni_, January 1983, p10.
Segundo Rodney Brooks, diretor do laboratório de inteligência do MIT: “A nossa meta nos próximos trinta anos é ter um controle tão apurado sobre a genética dos sistemas vivos que em vez de fazer crescer uma árvore, cortá-la e fabricar uma mesa a partir dela, seremos finalmente capazes de ‘fazer crescer’ a própria mesa.” (Grupo ETC, 2005).
”One by one the eggs were transferred from their test-tubes to the larger containers; deftly the peritoneal lining was slit, the morula dropped into place, the saline solution poured . . . and already the bottle had passed on through an opening in the wall, slowly on into the Social Predestination Room.” Aldous Huxley, ”Brave New World”
The artificial womb exists. In Tokyo, researchers have developed a technique called EUFI — extrauterine fetal incubation. They have taken goat fetuses, threaded catheters through the large vessels in the umbilical cord and supplied the fetuses with oxygenated blood while suspending them in incubators that contain artificial amniotic fluid heated to body temperature.
Yoshinori Kuwabara, chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Juntendo University in Tokyo, has been working on artificial placentas for a decade. His interest grew out of his clinical experience with premature infants, and as he writes in a recent abstract, ”It goes without saying that the ideal situation for the immature fetus is growth within the normal environment of the maternal organism.” Kuwabara and his associates have kept the goat fetuses in this environment for as long as three weeks. But the doctor’s team ran into problems with circulatory failure, along with many other technical difficulties.
Pressed to speculate on the future, Kuwabara cautiously predicts that ”it should be possible to extend the length” and, ultimately, ”this can be applied to human beings.” For a moment, as you contemplate those fetal goats, it may seem a short hop to the Central Hatchery of Aldous Huxley’s imagination. In fact, in recent decades, as medicine has focused on the beginning and end stages of pregnancy, the essential time inside the woman’s body has been reduced. We are, however, still a long way from connecting those two points, from creating a completely artificial gestation. But we are at a moment when the fetus, during its obligatory time in the womb, is no longer inaccessible, no longer locked away from medical interventions.
The future of human reproductive medicine lies along the speeding trajectories of several different technologies. There is neonatology, accomplishing its miracles at the too-abrupt end of gestation. There is fetal surgery, intervening dramatically during pregnancy to avert the anomalies that kill and cripple newborns. There is the technology of assisted reproduction, the in-vitro fertilization and gamete retrieval-and-transfer fireworks of the last 20 years. And then, inevitably, there is genetics. All these technologies are essentially new, and with them come ethical questions so potent that the very inventors of these miracles seem half-afraid of where we may be heading.
Between Womb and Air Modern neonatology is a relatively short story: a few decades of phenomenal advances and doctors who resuscitate infants born 16 or 17 weeks early, babies weighing less than a pound. These very low-birthweight babies have a survival rate of about 10 percent. Experienced neonatologists are extremely hesitant about pushing the boundaries back any further; much research is aimed now at reducing the severe morbidity of these extreme preemies who do survive.
”Liquid preserves the lung structure and function,” says Thomas Shaffer, professor of physiology and pediatrics at the School of Medicine at Temple University. He has been working on liquid ventilation for almost 30 years. Back in the late 1960′s, he looked for a way to use liquid ventilation to prevent decompression sickness in deep-sea divers. His technology was featured in the book ”The Abyss,” and for the movie of that name, Hollywood built models of the devices Shaffer had envisioned.
As a postdoctoral student in physiology, he began working with premature infants. Throughout gestation, the lungs are filled with the appropriately named fetal lung fluid. Perhaps, he thought, ventilating these babies with a liquid that held a lot of oxygen would offer a gentler, safer way to take these immature lungs over the threshold toward the necessary goal of breathing air. Barotrauma, which is damage done to the lungs by the forced air banging out of the ventilator, would thus be reduced or eliminated.
Today, in Shaffer’s somewhat labyrinthine laboratories in Philadelphia, you can come across a ventilator with pressure settings that seem astoundingly low; this machine is set at pressures that could never force air into stiff newborn lungs. And then there is the long bubbling cylinder where a special fluorocarbon liquid can be passed through oxygen, picking up and absorbing quantities of oxygen molecules. This machine fills the lungs with fluid that flows into the tiny passageways and air sacs of a premature human lung. Shaffer remembers, not long ago, when many people thought the whole idea was crazy, when his was the only team working on filling human lungs with liquid. Now, liquid ventilation is cited by many neonatologists as the next large step in treating premature infants.
In 1989, the first human studies were done, offering liquid ventilation to infants who were not thought to have any chance of survival through conventional therapy. The results were promising, and bigger trials are now under way. A pharmaceutical company has developed a fluorocarbon liquid that has the capacity to carry a great deal of dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide — every 100 milliliters holds 50 milliliters of oxygen. By putting liquid into the lung, Shaffer and his colleagues argue, the lung sacs can be expanded at a much lower pressure. ”I wouldn’t want to push back the gestational age limit,” Shaffer says. ”I want to eliminate the damage.” He says he believes that this technology may become the standard. By the year 2000, these techniques may be available in large centers. Pressed to speculate about the more distant future, he imagines a premature baby in a liquid-dwelling and a liquid-breathing intermediate stage between womb and air: Immersed in fluid that would eliminate insensible water loss you would need a sophisticated temperature-control unit, a ventilator to take care of the respiratory exchange part, better thermal control and skin care.
The Fetus as Patient – The notion that you could perform surgery on a fetus was pioneered by Michael Harrison at the University of California in San Francisco. Guided by an improved ultrasound technology, it was he who reported, in 1981, that surgical intervention to relieve a urinary tract obstruction in a fetus was possible. ”I was frustrated taking care of newborns,” says N. Scott Adzick, who trained with Harrison and is surgeon in chief at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. When children are born with malformations, damage is often done to the organ systems before birth; obstructive valves in the urinary system cause fluid to back up and destroy the kidneys, or an opening in the diaphragm allows loops of intestine to move up into the chest and crowd out the lungs. ”It’s like a lot of things in medicine,” Adzick says, ”if you’d only gotten there earlier on, you could have prevented the damage. I felt it might make sense to treat certain life-threatening malformations before birth.” Adzick and his team see themselves as having two patients, the mother and the fetus. They are fully aware that once the fetus has attained the status of a patient, all kinds of complex dilemmas result. Their job, says Lori Howell, coordinator of Children’s Hospital’s Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment, is to help families make choices in difficult situations. Terminate a pregnancy, sometimes very late? Continue a pregnancy, knowing the fetus will almost certainly die? Continue a pregnancy, expecting a baby who will be born needing very major surgery? Or risk fixing the problem in utero and allow time for normal growth and development?
The first fetal surgery at Children’s Hospital took place seven months ago. Felicia Rodriguez, from West Palm Beach, Fla., was 22 weeks pregnant. Through ultrasound, her fetus had been diagnosed as having a congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation a mass growing in the chest, which would compress the fetal heart, backing up the circulation, killing the fetus and possibly putting the mother into congestive heart failure. When the fetal circulation started to back up, Rodriguez flew to Philadelphia. The surgeons made a Caesarean-type incision. They performed a hysterotomy by opening the uterus quickly and bloodlessly, and then opened the amniotic sac and brought out the fetus’s arm, exposing the relevant part of the chest. The mass was removed, the fetal chest was closed, the amniotic membranes sealed with absorbable staples and glue, the uterus was closed and the abdomen was sutured. And the pregnancy continued — with special monitoring and continued use of drugs to prevent premature labor. The uterus, no longer anesthetized, is prone to contractions. Rodriguez gave birth at 35 weeks’ gestation, 13 weeks after surgery, only 5 weeks before her due date. During those 13 weeks, the fetal heart pumped normally with no fluid backup, and the fetal lung tissue developed properly. Roberto Rodriguez 3d was born this May, a healthy baby born to a healthy mother. This is a new and remarkable technology.
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of California at San Francisco are the only centers that do these operations, and fewer than a hundred have been done. The research fellows, residents working in these labs and training as the next generation of fetal surgeons, convey their enthusiasm for their field and their mentors in everything they say. When you sit with them, it is impossible not to be dazzled by the idea of what they can already do and by what they will be able to do. ”When I dare to dream,” says Theresa Quinn, a fellow at Children’s Hospital, ”I think of intervening before the immune system has time to mature, allowing for advances that could be used in organ transplantation to replacement of genetic deficiencies.”
But What Do We Want?
Eighteen years ago, in-vitro fertilization was tabloid news: test-tube babies! Now IVF is a standard therapy, an insurance wrangle, another medical term instantly understood by most lay people. Enormous advertisements in daily newspapers offer IVF, egg-donation programs, even the newer technique of ICSI intracytoplasmic sperm injection as consumer alternatives. It used to be, for women at least, that genetic and gestational motherhood were one and the same. It is now possible to have your own fertilized egg carried by a surrogate or, much more commonly, to go through a pregnancy carrying an embryo formed from someone else’s egg. Given the strong desire to be pregnant, which drives many women to request donor eggs and go through biological motherhood without a genetic connection to the fetus, is it really very likely that any significant proportion of women would take advantage of an artificial womb? Could we ever reach a point where the desire to carry your own fetus in your own womb will seem a willful rejection of modern health and hygiene, an affected earth-motherism that flies in the face of common sense — the way I feel about mothers in Cambridge who ostentatiously breast-feed their children until they are 4 years old?
I would argue that God in her wisdom created pregnancy so Moms and babies could develop a relationship before birth, says Alan Fleischman, professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who directed the neonatal program at Montefiore Medical Center for 20 years. Mary Mahowald, a professor at the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago, and one of her medical students surveyed women about whether they would rather be related to a child gestationally or genetically, if they couldn’t choose both. A slight majority opted for the gestational relationship, caring more about carrying the pregnancy, giving birth and nursing than about the genetic tie. ”Pregnancy is important to women,” Mahowald says. ”Some women might prefer to be done with all this — we hire our surrogates, we hire our maids, we hire our nannies — but I think these things are going to have very limited interest.” Susan Cooper, a psychologist who counsels people going through infertility workups, isn’t so sure. Yes, she agrees, many of the patients she sees have ”an intense desire to be pregnant but it’s hard to know whether that’s a biological urge or a cultural urge.”
And Arthur L. Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, takes it a step further. Thirty years from now, he speculates, we will have solved the problem of lung development; neonatology will be capable of saving 15- and 16-week-old fetuses. There will be many genetic tests available, easy to do, predicting the risks of acquiring late-onset diseases, but also predicting aptitudes, behavior traits and aspects of personality. There won’t be an artificial womb available, but there will be lots of prototypes, and women who can’t carry a pregnancy will sign up to use the prototypes in experimental protocols. Caplan also predicts that ”there will be a movement afoot which says all this is unnecessary and unnatural, and that the way to have babies is sex and the random lottery of nature a movement with the appeal of the environmental movement today.”
Sixty years down the line, he adds, the total artificial womb will be here.
”It’s technologically inevitable. Demand is hard to predict, but I’ll say significant.” It all used to happen in the dark — if it happened at all. It occurred well beyond our seeing or our intervening, in the wet, lightless spaces of the female body. So what changes when something as fundamental as human reproduction comes out of the closet, so to speak? Are we, in fact, different if we take hands-on control over this most basic aspect of our biology? Should we change our genetic trajectory and thus our evolutionary path? Eliminate defects or eliminate differences or are they one and the same? Save every fetus, make every baby a wanted baby, help every wanted child to be born healthy — are these the same? What are our goals as a society, what are our goals as a medical profession, what are our goals as individual parents — and where do these goals diverge? ”The future is rosy for bioethicists,” Caplan says. Perri Klass’s most recent book is ”Baby Doctor.” She is a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center.
Source: NY Times
O movimento pelo acesso aberto à produção científica (também conhecido como Open Access, Ciência Aberta, e outros nomes) já não é novidade há uns bons anos. Desde seu surgimento já tivemos diversos manifestos, lançamentos de revistas específicas que adotam essa política, algumas editoras permitindo a publicação de artigos nesses moldes em revistas convencionais, debates sobre formatos, tentativas de implementação de políticas públicas sobre o tema, sociedades científicas disponibilizando os anais de suas conferências para o público em geral, e mais.
Recentemente a Sociedade Brasileira de Automática (SBA) tornou público os artigos apresentados das edições de 2001 à 2011 do Simpósio Brasileiro de Automação Inteligente (SBAI), importante fórum de pesquisadores da área de automação, inteligência artificial, otimização, robótica, e afins.
Aproveitando esse episódio resolvi começar uma lista, ainda que incompleta, com conferências e revistas de acesso aberto da área de inteligência artificial e suas sub-áreas. O que me chamou atenção é que há um número até razoável de conferências e revistas desse tipo com alto impacto na comunidade de pesquisadores quando levamos em conta o índice Qualis para ciência da computação (extratos A1-A2-B1), que também atribui notas para conferências. Utilizei o índice definido na Avaliação Trienal 2010, pois o índice para conferências da Avaliação Trienal 2013 ainda não foi publicado.
Isso foi uma constatação positiva pois uma das críticas que o Open Access recebe é o baixo impacto de publicações desse tipo quando comparadas à publicações fechadas, já estabelecidas há mais tempo.
Vamos à lista, e se você tiver alguma contribuição favor colocar nos comentários que irei atualizá-la aos poucos:
- Artificial Intelligence* (Qualis A1)
- Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research (Qualis A1)
- Journal of Machine Learning Research (Qualis A1)
- AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence (Qualis A1)
- International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (Qualis A2)
- International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (Qualis A1)
Aproveitando o tema gostaria de parabenizar a Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), ex-American Association for Artificial Intelligence, por disponibilizar os anais de todas as suas conferências e ainda apoiar o Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research e o International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence. Você pode visitar a biblioteca digital da AAAI e baixar os artigos das revistas, conferências, e relatórios técnicos, ficando exclusivo para sócios apenas os artigos da revista não-científica AI Magazine. Gostei bastante dessa política da entidade e, como a defesa do acesso aberto é um tema caro para mim, pretendo associar-me à AAAI assim que possível.
E você de outra área, já teve curiosidade em buscar por revistas e conferências de acesso aberto em seu campo?
* Importante dizer, a revista Artificial Intelligence, publicada pela Elsevier, não é de acesso aberto. Entretanto, você pode criar um cadastro gratuito na IJCAI e ter acesso ao conteúdo da revista – o que não garante que estes artigos estarão disponíveis sempre.
Fonte (Ctrl C + Ctrl V): http://blog.filipesaraiva.info/?p=1227
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Os homens do mundo estão acabando. O excesso de estrogênio em substâncias criadas pelo homem como agrotóxicos, plásticos, latas de comida e outros, estão contaminando toda a cadeia alimentar que multiplica a concentração ao longo do processo, chegando ao seu máximo no topo da cadeia alimentar: o homem.
A fertilidade masculina está em xeque, a contagem de espermatozoides é maior em homens de 40 anos do que de 20. Nascem muito mais mulheres do que homens porque o estrogênio entra na placenta na formação do feto através de outras proteínas que não são barradas como acontece com o estrogênio puro.
Além disso, os homens estão cada vez mais femininos, bebês muito expostos desenvolvem gostos semelhantes com das meninas, não jogam tanto futebol, tem mais amigas mulheres e talvez isso explique o crescimento exponencial de homens homossexuais.
Por um lado é muito triste que a fertilidade humana possa vir a acabar e a nossa raça seja destruída para que algumas pessoas possam ter mansões de 50 quartos e tomar Veuve Clicot no café da manha. Por outro, pode ser positivo porque se continuarmos crescendo e consumindo dessa maneira precisaremos de 4 planetas em 2050. A humanidade tem que parar de crescer ou mudar de mentalidade. Me assusta o futuro que vem pela frente.
Vai ser tipo filme!
E não tem jeito, as ciumentas vão sofrer muito ainda. Pela sobrevivência da espécie, os homens férteis terão que ser divididos e as previsões muçulmanas de haréns pós-morte serão realizadas no lado de cá. Bando de kamikaze otário.
Mais informações nesse documentário da BBC lançado há 11 anos atrás. Na época a circulação do filme foi proibida pelas grande empresas químicas, hoje está no Youtube.