Resources for Nanotechnology, Transhumanism, and Rationality

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Here are some Web resources for nanotechnology and transhumanism, and print resources for nanotech, transhumanism, and rationality. Disclosure: Book links are affiliate links, of course.

The Foresight Institute
The first and oldest public think tank dedicated to the advance of beneficial nanotechnology. Foresight works with governments, researchers, and others, offering education about the risks and potential of nanotechnology. Foresight also makes available the text of several of K. Eric Drexler's books on nanotechnology.
Author Eric Drexler's Web site on nanotechnology. Drexler is the author of several of the books on nanotechnology listed here, and is widely recognized as one fo the leading figures in nanotech.

Ralph Merkle's Nanotechnology Pages
Dr. Ralph Merkle, another leading figure in nanotechnology, has assembled this page, with information and extensive links to nanotech on the Web and in print.

"The Portal to Everything Nanotech." Covers everything from new innovations in nanotechnology to investment news, research reports, and government and political issues surrounding nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology news, products, jobs, and innovations. Publishes hilights from Nanotechnology magazine, and offers a free weely email bulletin on nanotechnology.

A large, sprawling, densely-packed Web site jammed with essays and information touching on almost every aspect of transhumanism, nanotechnology, life extension, and artificial intelligence, maintained by author Ray Kurzweil. Includes an interactive "avatar" bot, message forums, and just about everyhting else you can imagine.

The Singularity Institute
The Singularity Institute is a research organization and think tank dedicated to artificial intelligence, and to the idea that AI is not only a real possibility but also a potential force for good, offering to free humanity from its upper limits on intelligence and understanding.

The World Transhumanist Association
Founded by James Hughes, author of Citizen Cyborg, the World Transhumanist Association is an organization dedicated to the ethical use of technology to expand human capacities. Available in a number of languages, the WTA Web site includes news, information, and email lists, and organizes events of interest to people in the transhumanist community.

This is a community-centered site focused on human enhancement and life extension news, which features articles, forums, Weblogs, and an RSS feed.

The Extropy Institute
The online home of the Extropian movement, one of the earliest transhumanist groups. A non-profit educational foundation, the Extropy Institute is dedicated to the impact of changing technologies on humans and human society.

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Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler

If you read only one book on nanotechnology, this should be it. This book, famous in nanotech and transhumanist circles, lays out in bold strokes the changes that nanotechnology offer, and explain why nanotechnology may be the most significant innovation since the Agricultural Revolution, promising easy and cheap manufacturing on an unprecedented scale, and radical improvements in human health and longevity. Note: the complete text of this book is available online from the Foresight Institute.

Beyond Humanity? The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement Allen E. Buchanan

A deep dive into the ethics of transhumanism and specifically the use of biomedical technology for human enhancement, this book is a solidly-reasoned, grounded rebuttal to the likes of Leon Kass who argue that human enhancement is intrinsically evil. A dense, academic read, but well worth the effort.

Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization by K. Eric Drexler

Advances in manufacturing technology, such as the ability to fabricate things from the atomic level up, are already taking place in semiconductor labs. This technology, Drexler says, has the potential to create radically more of the things people want--at far lower cost, and with fewer environmental impacts. The result will shake the very foundations of our economy and environment. Drexler envisions a future where solar panels can be manufactured as cheaply as cardboard, and computers can be made for the same cost as aluminum foil. What will this mean for the global economy? How will it change the standard of living of the entire planet?

Nanosystems by K. Eric Drexler

Eric Drexler's other books on nanotechnology talk mainly about the promises inherent in nanoscale manufacturing, and how nanotechnology offers the promise of reshaping human society in ways unprecedented since the Agricultural Revolution. This book is a nuts-and-bolts guide to how nanotechnology works, how nanoscale devices can be made useful, and possible design and construction techniques for nanotechnology. Note: Dr. Ralph Merkle has a page which collects comments on and reviews of this book.

Unbounding the Future by K. Eric Drexler, Chris Peterson, and Gayle Pergamit.

The followup to Engines of Creation, this book provides a practical introduction to molecular nanotechnology and presents a number of "scenarios" from the perspective of a near-future citizen describing various aspects of nanotechnology and their implications. Note: the complete text of this book is available online from the Foresight Institute.

Nanobiotechnology by Christof Niemeyer and Chad Mirkin (editors)

This is not an overview or a philosophical work on nanotechnology; it's a textbook on current techniques in biological nanotechnology, aimed at an audience of molecular biologists and chemists. It discusses techniques for synthesizing useful nanoscale objects from protein and DNA molecules.

Nanotechnology for Dummies by Richard Booker and Earl Boysen

This book is aimed at laymen, primarily investors and businessmen, who want to understand nanotechnology and its potential implications for manufacturing, electronics, materials science, and so on.

Nanotechnology: A Gentle Introduction to the Next Big Idea by Daniel Ratner and Mark Ratner

This book is intended as a non-technical introduction to the ideas behind nanotechnology, and their applications in computer science, manufacturing, and other industries. This book focuses primarily on the impact nanotechnology may have in industry, manufacturing, and computer science, and talks about the potential economic impact of large-scale nanotech in research and industry.

Introduction to Nanotechnology by Charles P. Poole and Frank J. Owens.

Clear and accessible, this book is an introduction to the basic ideas and technologies behind nanotechnology. While it does not talk about the social or political implcations of nanotechnology, it offers a general overview of the science behind the next big thing.

Soft Machines: Nanotechnology and Life by Richard A. L. Jones.

This book explains, in a clear and energetic way, the challenges of building machines on a nanomolecular scale. It explains why nanomachines do not work like smaller versions of the machines we're all familiar with, and discusses the non-intuitive, quirky, and often bizarre natural principles that govern the universe at the nanometer scale.

Nanofuture: What's Next for Nanotechnology by J. Storrs Hall.

Written by a researcher working in nanoscale engineering, this book is an introduction to the practice of building machines on an atomic scale. Discusses the stages of nanotechnology, and explains practical applications of nanotech, from manufacturing to creation of artificial antibodies to destroy viruses and bacteria.


Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future by James Hughes.

If you read only one book on nanotechnology and transhumanism, read Engines of Creation. If you read two, read Engines of Creation and Citizen Cyborg. This book is not about nanotechnology; it's about constructing just, fair, and equitable societies in a time when nanotechnology, and especially biomedical nanotechnology, is promising to change many of the most basic assumptions we make about what it means to be human. What is a "person?" Does an intelligent machine have rights? How can we create just societies when new medical technology changes the most basic assumptions we make, such as human mortality? Note: the principle argument of this book is available online in the essay "Democratic Transhumanism," which you can read online.

The Transhumanist Reader by Max More and Natasha Vita-More (editors)

This survey of transhumanist thought, presented as a series of essays about the philosophy and goals of the transhumanist movement, represents the current state of the art of transhumanist thinking. Part science, part philosophy, this book explores the implications of radical longevity and other advances in biomedical technology.

Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies -- and What It Means to Be Human by Joel Garreau

Garreau argues that we are at a turning point in human history. This book, a New York Times Book Club premiere selection, talks about current advances in medical technology that offer the promise of real-life superpowers: better reflexes, greater intellect, and more. These capabilities, he says, are going to become an ordinary part of our lives within the next couple of decades. Where will they take us, and how will they change what it means to be human?

The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurtzweil

A look ahead at developments in computers and especially artificial intelligence (AI). In this book, Kurtzweil argues that technology increases at an exponential rate, and that if current trends in computer science continue, we will see computers within our lifetimes that are smarter than human beings.

Are We Spiritual Machines? by Ray Kurtzweil, George Gilder, and Jay Richards (editor)

This book is a followup to The Age of Spiritual Machines. In it, Kurtzweil sets forth the arguments from The Age of Spiritual Machines; namely, that rapid technological development in computer science makes artificial intelligence not only possible but inevitable. The next four sections of the book are arguments against Kurtzweil's vision; followed finally by Kurtzweil's rebuttals to those arguments. An excellent dialog on the subject of artificial intellifence.

Designer Evolution: A Transhumanish Manifesto by Simon Young

This book, like Citizen Cyborg, is a rejection of the idea that there are certain things that human beings were simply "not meant to know," and puts forth the idea that ethical, responsible use of approaching biotechnology offers us the ability to free ourselves of the limitations which have long been throught to be part of the human condition.

Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever by Ray Kurtzweil and Terry Grossman, M.D.

This book vigorusly supports the idea that anyone who makes it through the next fifty years or so may live to see a time where advances in biotechnology and biomedical nanotechnology extend human lifespan indefinitely. A combination of lifestyle tips for the here and now and predictions for future biomedical advances, this is a must-read for anyone interested in life extension.

Liberation Biology: The Scientific And Moral Case For The Biotech Revolution by Ronald Bailey.

This book is written from a decidedly Libertarian perspective, and presents a vigorous argument in favor of choosing new medical technologies from the standpoint of individual self-determinism. Bailey says that ultimately, people will tend to choose in favor of the health and potential of themselves and their children, and that belief in human self-determinism requires allowing people to make these choices.

More than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement by Ramez Naam.

In 1999, researchers searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease genetically engineered a strain of mice that can learn things five times as quickly as their normal kin – super-intelligent mice. More recently, scientists looking for ways to help paralyzed patients implanted electrodes into the brain of an owl monkey and trained it to move a robot arm 600 miles away just by thinking about it. More than Human examines the promise and potential of applying similar technologies to ourselves, discusses the science behind human enhancement, and explains why we should embrace rather than shun the promise of becoming more than we are right now.


The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

A thorough and fun look at various forms of pseudoscience and intellectual flimflam, from alien abduction and crop circles to television psychics and the Loch Ness monster. This book debunks a number of popular superstitions and offers what it calls a "baloney detection kit"--a set of intellectual tools that can be used to separate the chaff of superstitious nonsense from the wheat.

Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time by Michael Shermer

This book is a survey of weird beliefs, from Creationism to Holocaust denial, from UFOs and alien abductions to television psychics. In it, Shermer explains the biological basis of the human brain, talks about how the wonderful flexibility that characterizes the human mind opens the door to erroneous beliefs, and presents a set of cognitive tools to help prevent adoption of untrue beliefs (such as psychics and alien abduction), and rejection of true beliefs (such as the Holocaust). This is one of my favorite books on rationality.

How We Know What Isn't So by Thomas Gilovich

As humans, we tend to believe things--athletes perform in "winning streaks," morebabies are born during full moons, and so on--that simply aren't so. There are many reasons for this: human brains are wired to seek out patterns even where none exist; we tend to remember things that confirm our beliefs and forget things which don't; and so on. This lively book examines the reasons behind the things we believe, and explains how to avoid the most common pitfalls that can lead us astray.

Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds by Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini

Piattelli-Palmarini is the director of the Cognitive Science Institute in Milan and a research associate at MIT. In this book, he demonstrates how nonintuitive such basic things as probability can be, and how mistakes in understanding these principles can lead even intelligent, well-educated people astray. This book describes "seven deadly mental sins" and suggests ways to overcome bias and "mental sloth."