Despite some gains in the last 50 years, there are still not enough women pursuing careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). For example, a 2011 report by the US Department of Commerce showed that only one in seven women were engineers. Additionally, approximately only 30 percent of women make up the computer science field. Naturally, as a transhumanist—someone committed to using science and technology to radically improve the human experience—I am dissatisfied with this. I believe it's in the best interest of society to have more women actively pursuing careers in STEM.
Given that today is Mother's Day, I wanted to use my blog to interview Nicole Sallak Anderson, a computer scientist, mother, and novelist. Her new science fiction novel eHuman Dawn is well-written, exciting, and full of transhumanist themes. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Nicole when she spoke at a Transhuman Visions conference in Piedmont, California.
Q. Nicole, what led you to pursue a career in computer science?
A. When I was 12, Apple computer donated several Mac II computers to my school, as well as money to pay for a computer science teacher. Because I was on the Math Counts team, I was pulled out of math class with a few other kids and taught to program. I loved it. The first programs I wrote were short, animated stories for the Kindergarten children. Oh the graphics in those days!
As I began to apply for colleges, my heart's desire was to go into journalism and creative writing, but my father refused to pay for it, stating college was an investment on his part, one that should guarantee a living wage so that he didn't have to take care of me. So I thought about my other hobby…writing software. That's when I chose to pursue a degree in computer science and the rest is history.
Q. How did you become a novelist?
A. I never forgot my love of storytelling, and in my late twenties I began to write novels and short stories again. eHuman Dawn was the first to gain the attention of an agent. Three years ago, I had a dream in which I was living in a robotic body, and the government was powering down our cities in order to flush out terrorists. From there, the eHuman Trilogy was formed, beginning with eHuman Dawn.
Q. Was transhumanism always something you were interested in?
A. Technically, no. Until my dream, I didn't spend much time considering life-extension technologies. Yet, I've always believed in technology as an elegant servant in many ways. In addition, I've long felt that we've barely tapped into the power of the human mind and body. There's no reason we can't live to be 150 years old, we just haven't invested time and money into the problem of early death. On the contrary, our society invests heavily in the technologies of death and destruction, rather than in life and construction. Just look at our military budget vs. investments into high tech green energy, transportation or health systems. It's completely backwards.
Q. What does the transhumanism movement mean to you, and how does the eHuman Trilogy play a part?
A. To me, transhumanism means becoming more human and investing in humanity because we're important and we matter. Technologies that improve our memories, intelligence, and survival are of the utmost importance. Research into AI and how it can help manage our cities and our future civilization is crucial. Yet I also feel a sense of caution is important as well. If we invest in transhuman solutions because we fear death, we're incredibly vulnerable to manipulation by those who own the technologies. Many transhumanists claim that the human body is the most frail thing on earth, and that to live in a computer would be more secure. I disagree. That security will depend on who owns the energy source needed to power the computer our consciousness lives in. That someone could walk into a room and unplug me for any reason what-so-ever does not feel secure to me.
eHuman Dawn addresses these issues. I hope the novels will inspire an effort to make the movement towards immortality more robust and secure. Human rights issues must be addressed sooner than later.
Q. What is the main message in eHuman Dawn?
A. In a nutshell, I'd say the message is, "When you entrust your dreams, identity and immortality to technology, you entrust it to those who own that technology. Are those in charge of our society worthy of such power?"
Stopping research into transhuman and life extension technologies is NOT the answer. Nor is fearing those who wish to become immortal. This is going to happen at some point in our history, regardless of any resistance. I hope to bring a voice to the discussion surrounding consumer protections and rights.
For example, right now there's a huge debate on big data and what is done with it. What's private on the internet? What isn't? Who owns the flow of information? Now is the time to set laws that protect the users from the producers, not later. What we decided to do in this post-Snowden era will guide us as we create networked houses, cities and, with time, humans.
Q. Why do you think so few women are interested in careers in technology and transhumanism?
A. When I was in grade school, the ratio of boys and girls interested in math and science seemed even. My small, Apple sponsored computer class in junior high was split 50-50. But when I got to college, I was one of five women who graduated in computer science that year. Often I was the lone female, surrounded by men. Which to me, wasn't a bad thing. I love men. I love their logic and sturdy emotions.
My female friends weren't interested in my work. Nor the books I read. I'm really not sure why, but one instance stands out in my mind. I went to an all girls high school, and being smart and intelligent was encouraged. During my senior year, the school became co-ed and for the first time, all the honors math and science classes were mixed. I remember the first week, when the teacher asked us a question, the only hands that went up were the boys. Girls I'd known to be incredibly outgoing in class were now silent, looking down instead of at the teacher.
It shocked me and to this day, I don't understand it. Perhaps somewhere women get the message that to be smart is to be unattractive. Combine that with the sentiment that only geeks like math and science (another destructive stereotype) and you find the higher you go in such subjects, the less women participate.
As for me, my intellect and ability to reason have always been very important. I couldn't imagine my life without science fiction, algebra and computers. Picking up a book on quantum physics or reading about the Bitcoin revolution are exciting to me, even if I am, "a girl."
Transhumanism falls into this category of the geek. The good news is, I think more and more millennial females are okay with being seen as a nerd. As that happens, perhaps even more men will let go of the stereotype as well, allowing a whole new generation of people to participate in bringing humanity forward with new, exciting, technological advancements.
Nicole Sallak Anderson blogs and speaks on singularity, transhumanism, internet privacy, data manipulation, and human consciousness. Follow her at www.ehumandawn.blogspot.com or on Twitter @NSallakAnderson.
Zoltan Istvan is an award-winning journalist, philosopher, and activist. You can find him on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Zoltan is also the author of the recently published #1 Philosophical bestseller novel The Transhumanist Wager. Available in ebook or paperback, the controversial novel is a revolutionary reading experience. You can check it out here.