Robots will dominate, and the countdown is underway.

The division between the two parties will become so heated that assassinations and intrigue will culminate with a war unlike any the world has ever seen. The number of fatalities will be so high that the event will be referred to as "gigadeath."

Hugo de Garis's 2005 book, The Artilect War: Cosmists vs. Terrans: A Bitter Controversy Concerning Whether Humanity Should Build Godlike Massively Intelligent Machines, reads a lot like the premise for a sci-fi summer blockbuster. But de Garis isn't just musing.

"I will try to persuade you that it is not science fiction, and that strong reasons exist to compel humanity to believe," he says in the introduction of The Artilect War.

This may or may not be science fiction, but the book's author is a professor at Utah State University who heads its "Artificial Brain Project." Take a look at de Garis' website and see what some of the boosters of transhumanism think lies ahead.

And news has just come in of what must be the first product recall for a nanotechnology product. ("Nano" means tiny—a nanometer is one billionth of a meter—and this cleaning product used minute particles that may have caused lung damage. It is not clear what caused the problem, and it could have been something else.) According to the report in the Washington Post,

At least 77 people reported severe respiratory problems over a one-week period at the end of March—including six who were hospitalized with pulmonary edema, or fluid in the lungs—after using a "Magic Nano" bathroom cleansing product, according to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin.

Safety issues are big worries with this emerging technology, as are longer-term concerns about the uses nano may be put to (see the Center on Nanotechnology and Society for more information). The transhumanists see nanotechnology as the key to the kind of scenario de Garis sets out, in which scientists change humans into something else by giving them superhuman powers. Even if transhumanists are half right, what lies ahead will dwarf the significance of the stem-cell wars.

More Good Stem-Cell News

Meanwhile, the evidence is mounting that Americans' fixation on embryonic stem-cell research is not simply an ethical mistake. While stem cells from embryos may one day be shown to produce "cures," so far they have not cured any of the many terrible diseases that their proponents say are their targets. But adult stem cells—from umbilical cord blood, or born children and adults—are showing incredible promise. Even the press, which has been curiously reticent to admit this fact (as if it involved giving in to the crazy opponents of embryonic research), is now getting the word out.

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According to The New York Times, in a piece titled "Regrow Your Own," just as amphibians and reptiles can regenerate themselves (even the loss of a limb), so could humans.

Stem-cell therapy has long captured the limelight as a way to the goal of regenerative medicine, that of repairing the body with its own natural systems. But a few scientists, working in a relatively obscure field, believe another path to regenerative medicine may be as likely to succeed. The less illustrious approach is promising, in their view, because it is the solution that nature itself has developed for repairing damaged limbs or organs in a wide variety of animals.

If that work is still at the stage of theory, how about this. Two weeks ago, I shared a platform with Dr. Richard Burt of Northwestern University at the vast Experimental Biology conference in San Francisco. He summarized the extraordinary work he is doing with "adult" stem cells in a range of diseases including lupus, multiple sclerosis, and even diabetes. You can see him at work in this ABC News clip.

What about this one? According to Reuters, cells (technically called germ cells) have been taken from the human testes and turned into other key cells:

U.S. researchers said on Saturday they had transformed immature cells from men's testicles into powerful stem cells, which they then coaxed into becoming nerve, heart, and bone cells.

And lest anyone believe (as unfortunately many do) that only here in the U.S. is there serious opposition to destructive embryonic research, a recent piece in The Scientist warns that opponents in Europe may prevent the European Commission (now the semi-government of 25 nations) from funding such research.

Yet the press continues to give entirely false impressions. For example,

Properly coaxed, stem cells from embryos can form any part of the human body, including heart muscle or brain neurons. The cells are taken from five- to seven-day-old human embryos, a process that destroys the embryo.

Of course, there is no truth at all in this statement. These sentences read as if this process is already taking place—that "properly coaxed cells" that are "taken from five- to seven-day-old human embryos" have formed heart muscles and brain neurons and other "part[s] of the human body." Embryonic stem cells have yet to cure anyone, and they have had only marginal success with animals.

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Related Elsewhere:

For the latest findings on adult stem cells, see Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics.

Previous Life Matters columns include:

Outsourcing Birth: Let an Indian Woman Have Your Baby | Plus: Good news from Europe on stem-cell funding. (April 5, 2006)
The Abortion Agenda: South Dakota's Move in Context | Plus: The latest on the biopolicy agenda and some outrageous lies on stem cells. (March 30, 2006)
Our Cloning Friends, the Brits | The U.K. and disaffected American researchers lash out at U.S. cloning laws. (March 17, 2006)
The Truth, the Partial Truth, and Nothing but Evasions | How to sell unethical science. (March 2, 2006)
The Pursuit of Enhancement | The latest from Brave New Britain. (Feb. 22. 2006)
Poaching Eggs | The latest sad story from the Korean soap opera—and a lack of Talent in Missouri (Feb. 17, 2006)
The State of the Human | President Bush sets out a vital agenda for ethics. (Feb. 2, 2006)
Are You My Sperm Donor? | Plus: Another Hwang turn, more small surprises, and other life ethics stories. (Jan. 26, 2006)

More CT articles on bioethics are available on our Life Ethics page.

Life Matters
Nigel M. de S. Cameron is now president and CEO of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies. His "Life Matters" column, a commentary on bioethics issues, ran from 2005 to 2006.
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