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Norway to the future
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
 
I'm outta here
Today, futurenorway will move, and change name. While the topics will be the same (and yes, the archives will of course be exported), I am moving over to my own server (well, it's hosted, but nevertheless), using my own MoveableType (well, it's the freeware version, but nevertheless), installed all by myself (a little proud, but it turned out to be a bit more user friendly than my last attempt to install phpWiki -- eventually that will come as well).

Finally, no more banner ad at the top (and so far no Google ads).

The new site is

butterflyeffects.org

The tagline is

"Things that may or may not affect you future"

And the author will still be your's truly. See you there!

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Mullah Høybråten does it again
Norway's minister of health once again demonstrates how to abuse political power to enforce your own intolerant points of view. After having kicked 40% of Norwegians out on the street from bars and restaurants (I am personally looking forward to see the number of pneumonias and lost productivity when the stormy weather arrives in October), he has now copied Bush' way of handling progress in the biotech research field. Daginn Høybråten, member of a christian missionary sect, has replaced his strongest critics on the Norwegian Biotech Advisory Board, a supposedly impartial board of scientists and stakeholders regarded as a number one authority in biotech legislation and debate.

Høybråten has replaced two of his strongest critics on the board, and appointed his Christian Democratic party colleague Torleiv Ole Rognum as vice president. The tabloid Dagbladet comments that this is the first time two men have held the top positions on the board. Jan Erik Solbakk, one of the critics who was thrown out, characterizes the change as an exact copy of Bush' manipulation of the Council on Bioethics. Høybråten now has to explain himself to the parliament on his behaviour in the case.

Norway has a tradition for adhering to strict principles when it comes to ethical grey areas. Our biotech law states that

Formålet med denne loven er å sikre at medisinsk bruk av bioteknologi utnyttes til beste for mennesker i et samfunn der det er plass til alle. Dette skal skje i samsvar med prinsipper om respekt for menneskeverd, menneskelige rettigheter og personlig integritet og uten diskriminering på grunnlag av arveanlegg basert på de etiske normer nedfelt i vår vestlige kulturarv.

which translates into

The purpose of this law is to ensure that clinical use of biotechnology is utilized to the best for humans in a society where there is room for everyone. This shall happen in coordination with principles of respect for human value, human rights and personal integrity and wihtout discrimination based on genetical heritage on the grounds of the ethical norms of our western cultural heritage

Which is a statement that opens for several interpretations. It is easy to agree on statements such as "best", "room for everyone", "respect for human value", but the connotation may vary quite significantly from person to person. Therefore, it is imperative that an advisory board on the ethics of biotech has integrity. This integrity can only be acheived if the board represents the different views on the issues at hand.

The law is one of the most restrictive in the world. It does not allow anonymous sperm donation, the option to choose your donor, nor the option of using the sperm from a newly deceased partner. Fertilized eggs have to be destoryed after five years. There is a total ban on research on fertilized eggs and stem cells, as well as therapeutic cloning to produce healthy cells for genetically caused diseases. Diagnosing fetuses for malignant genes is for some reason only allowed when the mother is over 38 years old. Biological material collected for research has to be destroyed after the research has been completed (there are some exceptions to this rule). The law has been criticized by many, the National Research Ethics Committee have in an official statement called the law "inconsistent in the choice of norms used".

Norway's biggest newspaper writes that "it is not unnatural to ask why not the law has opened for 'foreign cultural' ethical and cultural ideals". OK, it may be a valid point, but the ideals of western society regarding personal freedom, the right to choose your own destiny and a free society with equal rights for everyone is one of the more useful thoughts created by our culture. Going to lengths to accomodate dark age points of view should of course not be encouraged. I am more shocked (but not really surprised) to see that the board is made up of only genetically Norwegian members. Not very representative, considering that we have significant ethnical minorities living here.

Lack of integrity and inconsistency is leading Norway into an awkward (and in the long term dangerous) ethical position. No matter how hard we try to keep our own hands clean, we are part of a larger setting, and biotech is a global issue. When -- not if -- treatments to diseases based on research on aborted fetuses or cloned cells are developed, then what do we do? Do we refuse our own citizen's the right to these treatments? Result: massive flow of people going to Sweden to get the treatments. Only the ones who can afford it, of course. Do we reserve the right to not take part in the research, but use our oil money to buy the treatments for our citizens? The allegory of the hen, the grain and the baked bread becomes rather tame in comparison.

We have a law about abortions in this country. It states that, until the twelfth week of pregnancy, an abortion can be performed if the mother is willing. Please stop me if my logic is skewed here, but if we allow abortions on fetuses, and do not allow murder, then fetuses under twelve weeks old are not considered living beings. The definition of life is an awkward one, but if we use this as a proxy, then a lump of cells is not life per se. This law is consistent with international practices on abortion, and can be considered ethically acceptable according to western cultural ideals. Placing a price on a life is impossible (even though insurance companies do it all the time). If we can justify abortion, then how can we disallow using cloned cells to save lives? If a fetus has been aborted, and this has not been considered murder, what is then wrong in using the remains to save a life?

As a transhumanist, I reserve my right to use applied technology to overcome the limitations of the human condition. I own myself, and I have a copyright (now that word will get a new meaning) on what defines me as me, namely my DNA. I should be able to decide what to do with it, until it is no longer mine, which usually is through reproduction. If cloning some cells from my body, even starting the process of life formation, I believe I should be allowed to do that, not only for therapeutic reasons, but also for augmenting my biological functions. This is of course still far fetched, but discussing the ethics is a useful thought experiment, as the rate of scientific and technological progress is increasing exponentially. The purpose of the biotech law, "to the best for humans in a society where there is room for everyone ... in coordination with principles of respect for human value, human rights and personal integrity ..." are from my ethical point of view consistent with the right to modify ones body with the help of technology. Giving those who want it a chance to live better than well will create better humans, who in turn are able to function for to the best for humans in society, keeping room for everyone in coordination with respect for human values.

Firstly, Høybråten needs to be chastised for abusing his power. Secondly, in the future, transhumanist viewpoints must be allowed on the Biotech Advisory Board.

Phew, some steam off there. And right now, my Winamp started playing Bowie's I Demand a Better Future.

Oh, and the link in the title here is a part of a googelwhack.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2004
 
We come in peace
Finally, after months of planning, rewriting and generally bogarting the much-needed bylaws, the Norwegian chapter of the World Transhumanist Association was approved today. Huzzah! Invites went out to the Norwegian members of the WTA, and the first positive reply came after 20 minutes (Chemometrics; now where's my Wikipedia; ah. there. Now I feel enlightened). A small step for transhumanity, a slightly bigger step for me (been planning this a while).

PS: You really want to invest in this blatantly underpriced piece of art from a young, beautiful, aspiring (and starving) artist. Yes you do. Go fetch.

PPS: The Blogger staff have added a commenting service (probably some time ago), as you may see below I am running two (for now). Use the new one please, I wish one didn't have to click twice, I'll double check the settings at some later time. Still no option to get email replies when I provide my insightful answers to your memes, too bad.

PPPS: Sleeping four hours really jump starts my brain, for some weird reason. Wonderful ideas keep popping into my head today, from origins unknown. I should sleep less and work more, but then again.

PPPPS: For the linguistically adept: It sure is easy to leave the first s out of Transhumanist when hacking away at the keyboard. Makes you think.

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Two pieces of brain snacks
As with everything else I stumble upon, everyone seems to have seen, read and commented it, so without further ado:

They're made out of meat - Terry Bisson

Weird Flotsam - CheeseburgerBrown (Kuro5hin)

Short stories, big thoughts, fun reads.

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Monday, June 14, 2004
 
Bowie, London and lagers in the park
Looking at my posts the last months, I can see that writing only about future trends and science news is giving me a writers block; it demands a certain plan from the start when writing, and for one who has no idea where a newly started sentence will end, this is not the way to go.

Over to London. On Friday, that is. Finally, it's been almost five years since my last trip there. My first trip was in '97, I was attending IB, and the teacher dubbed the trip "The Cinderella trip"... We were a bunch of bright, just-been-allowed-to-drink, horny teenagers, and this teacher had us be back at the hotel by midnight. We were protesting, no compromises. Midnight. No two o'clock reasonably early curfew we might have respected. While we had some great days, I remember lying in a park in Stratford-upon-Avon just before attending Henry V at the theatre, drinking cheap lagers, trying to kill the headache from the day before. Two and a half hours of a WW1-staged Shakespeare play was a bit too much that day... I remember the flowers, this was in September, just after princess Di had been killed; I was thinking more about what all the money could have been used for than mourning her death.

The second trip was in '99, with the shipping interest group at my business school. We were a bunch of bright, heavy-drinking, horny twentysomethings, and this time there was no curfew. We were, however, supposed to visit a number of companies, often very early in the morning. I remember wearing an old suit, sunglasses, smelling last night's Jägermeisters each time I took a breath, drinking cheap lager in the park, going to Hippodrome and thinking that was the coolest place I'd ever been.

This time there will not be curfews nor company visits. Only the predicted severe hangover from the Bowie concert on Thursday; and until then, worrying about whether it will rain cats and dogs that day (lousy spring in Bergen nowadays). I'm visiting some friends, with some friends. I will finally get to visit British Museum, and have some lagers in the park.

My thesis is progressing, albeit rather slowly. Several reasons for this. First of all, I find spending time with my girlfriend even funnier than reading about complexity theory (and I really like complexity theory -- and I am seriously not ironic here). Second, since I already have a job, the incentives for finishing off the last tiny part of my studies are not too great; I do of course need the title (Siviløkonom falls somewhere between a bachelor and a masters degree), but I don't need it for getting that essential first Real Job. Third, and bear with me on this one; I really want to spend some time on this paper. For the first time in my life, I am writing about something that really interests me, so I tend to get sidetracked into related concepts all the time while researching. I also have plenty of reading to do (not much systems theory in our curriculum), so it will be some time before the first words are written in Word. At the time being, I am structuring things in the fabulous 3-D concept mapping software used at Ray Kurzweil's page, called The Brain. I hope I will be able to export the information there to another mind manager program when structuring the thesis itself, but it will in any case be a nice reference for use now and later.

And what am I writing about, you ask? Still without a research question, I tend to give a new explanation every time I talk to someone about this. The broad topic is learning organizations, more specifically I am writing about how tacit knowledge evolves through self-organization in a complex adaptive system. Or something like that. With related subjects being everything from Artificial Intelligence, Chaos Theory, System Dynamics, Evolutionary Biology, Emergence, to practical applications through the use of collaborative software such as wikis, blogs and instant messaging, this will take some time, but the path is definitely more relevant than the goal in this case.

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Saturday, June 05, 2004
 
From one bad smell to another
I was just at Garage; that is, Bergen's number one rock hangout/pub/bar/nightclub.

Before: a thick mist of cigarette smoke covered the basement floor, making everyone's eyes run, people coughing whilst lighting up another fag and having their beer at the same time. No need for dry ice smoke at the concerts, we made it ourselves. And we loved it.

Tonight: almost vomited from the smell of sweat, farts, urine. People were obeying the new law, placing their pints wherever they saw a spot while popping outside to have a few drags. Luckily, the weather was OK, so no trouble yet. I just try to imagine the smell and lovely atmosphere one rainy day in October, when you cannot go outside without the fear of catching the mother of all colds; people cramming in the doorway to get a whiff of warmth while sucking at their cigarettes. Sweaty, slightly pissed off, wet people trying to enjoy a beer.... lovely.

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Friday, June 04, 2004
 
The beer religion
This idea popped into my mind this spring, and that everyone I talk to seem to dig: the establishment of the religion called "Øl" (Beer). Not a religion per se, we can register what is referred to as a trossamfunn (belief society) with the local authorities, and having done so -- eventually -- get state sponsorship (the Norwegian state sponsors religious groups per member on a yearly basis). If this picks up, we can become a quite large group practicing Beer, and the state will pay the organization for it. Too good to be true? Maybe, but at least it is worth our best effort!

So, to all my Norwegian friends and readers. Here is an initial draft to get the idea spreading. Please download and send me comments, revisions, ideas, and -- if you want to join -- your name, birth date and address, so that we can show the bureaucrats that we are many and ready to roll. Spread the word to whomever you think may be interested, giving them the address to this post so that they can download and comment themselves.

Oh, one thing. I will not make a very good leader for this religion, and to be honest, I don't think I want to be. I just want to set the snowball rolling, so whoever wants to become leader for what just might become a large movement, drop me a line (that is j o n m a r t i n - a t - g m x d o t n e t).

When we have had some responses and people wanting to join, the letter will be finalized and sent. Remember, for this to work, we need all the brainpower we can muster; devil's adcovates to show why this shouldn't work, creative minds to create our versions of the ten commandments, marriage and funeral rituals, and so on, people who know the law, people who are good public speakers, persons who can design flyers, persons to hand out the flyers to beer-drinking people in bars and everything else.

There is not much info on the criteria on how to start a religion, the only step-by-step article is this one from Gateavisa, which explains the formalities and a few problems to be overcome. Do your best to dig up more info, and let us make this into a great collaborative project we can be proud of when it appears on the front pages of our biggest tabloids (come on, it has to do with alcohol and religion, they love this stuff).

So, ask yourself (and your friends):
- Do you like beer?
- Are you not religious enough to be a part of our state church?
- Would you like to see the money the church gets from having you as a member go to a better cause?
- How about letting an organization who uses it to arrange religious meetings involving beer get it?
- Tired of mr Bondevik and Høybråten's way of dealing with 'tolerance'?
- Here is a chance to beat them at their home field!

In the beginning, there was hops, malt and barley...

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Better Than Well
I should be writing my thesis, and I should be finalizing a database for my job, but I seem to end up doing all the other things that are occupying my mind, as one often does when one has important things to do.

So, today we signed the papers needed to register Norsk Transhumanistforbund (Norwegian Transhumanist Organization - the local chapter of the World Transhumanist Organization. This is our second attempt to get it registered, but given that my first application was almost without documentation, this one will go through the system like a breeze. More info will follow when Brønnøysund have done its job (should be within next week).


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Yes, commander
Stephen Hawking definitely needs an upgrade. Try out Scansoft's text-to-speech demo; it even has Norwegian as an option. Not bad at all.

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It might just help your daily planning
Stumbled upon this. Someone claims to have the formula for tiredness. Take a small test and get a 24-hour graph of how awake you should feel. Neat, unfortunately it assumes that you have a steady sleep cycle. I go to bed between nine in the evening and six in the morning sometime, so I guess I cannot judge whether this test could be useful for planning when to study, etc. Maybe when I start working...

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Thursday, June 03, 2004
 
Mellow rebeginnings
Like crawling out from under a rock; peeking at the all too bright sun, this is. Someone sent me some well placed words, hu probably won't read this, but thanks anyway. And whilst sitting here in the dark, spreading wikified memes to this small, select audience, the block still looms. So many thoughts, ideas, projects evaporating bit by bit while feeding the brain with junk data. Alas, where to start.

Ah, the cigarettes. While prone to forgetting from time to time that I do smoke, I cannot help but feel a bit sad about the new law. For me, no problem. I'll just not smoke when I go out, or go out when I smoke. The problem is that there will be no problem. In a couple of months, people will already have forgotten the past, adapting their lives to yet another minor adjustment in the system. The collective mind is neither especially bright nor has it a very good memory. For all it's worth, history is indeed written by the winners. The most successful memories get recorded, securing their place; imagine the mutations they must have gone through to end up chiseled in stone. Prehistoric times certainly have a blissful appeal.

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