Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Robot Cult Is Right!

Upgraded from the Moot, "h+ ftw" (this means roughly "transhumanist, for the win!" or, something like "Robot Cultists Rule!") comments: "I must feel sorry to say this, Mr. Carrico, but Michael Anissimov is right." To discover in what Michael Anissimov is "right" according to my enthusiastic Robot Cultist, poor mite, follow the link. I have summarized the text you will find there thusly:

Shorter Michael Anissimov:
"If this one idea that doesn't make any sense (embodied human intelligence can be "digitized" without loss) is treated as 'true' then all sorts of other ideas that also don't have any connection to reality (techno-heaven, sooper-brains, sweet sweet soma, whole earth as wilderness park for robot tourists, magic for realz, telepathy, borg-collectives, and immortality) suddenly seem worthy of serious public consideration as well, even though they aren't, except possibly as science fiction, and even as science fiction these topics are a bit tired (well, that last part is mostly me, but you get the gist)."

That is to say: Classic Robot Cultism.

And I'm not at all "sorry" to say this.

Before you complain that I haven't done justice to the role of "functionalism" in this unkind abbreviation I must say that neither has Anissimov in the original -- not by a long shot -- and that this lack is incomparably more injurious to his "case" (it is really too generous to so describe his extended indulgence in the usual superlative wish-fulfillment), since his whole "conclusion" presumably relies on the "truth" of this "functionalism." Now, it seems to me that "functionalism" names a philosophical discourse more than a thesis, really, one with many contested variations and contested positions and contested implications among which Anissimov provides no substantial sense of his own preferred version or reasons for his preferences let alone reasons to think why he thinks these preferences straightforwardly "true" when every version on offer is in fact utterly controversial.

I recommend that poor H+ FTW either take up the actual science that inevitably bedevils the slick hype-nosis of the Robot Cultists and learn earlier rather than later the value of critical thinking and/or university education and/or therapy -- or else you can just go back to church with the rest of the Robot Cultists and continue to congratulate yourselves on how "right" you -- and only you -- are to insist that actually embodied intelligence could or will somehow migrate into cyberspace or that human life could or will somehow manage to be prosthetically immortalized or that history could or will end through nano-cornucopia, paradisical virtuality, or the singularitarian arrival of the Robot God, and, you know, start waiting.

I must say, that if the silly handwaving of the transhumanists, extropians, techno-immortalists, singularitarians, cybernetic totalists, and libertechians didn't compel the attention of the unwary to the cost of us all through its eager activation of irrational passions -- mostly panic and greed -- always already occasioned by disruptive technoscientific change, through its appealingly facile oversimplifications of technodevelopmental complexities, through its misleading pseudo-priestly neologistic and guru-friendly mumbo jumbo masquerading as "cutting edge science," through its dramatic media-ready framing of issues of general concern, through its ready appropriation by incumbent interests ever eager for new rationalizations for elite-technocratic control and corporate-militarist responses to global problems (usually caused or exacerbated by themselves in the first place), that is to say, if the Robot Cultists were not positioned to do so much real and abiding damage at a time when sensible deliberation about technoscientific change has never been more urgent in fact, then it would surely be better by far just to ignore their foolishness altogether, along with the few hundred mostly North Atlantic white guys who preach it.

Unfortunately, these formulations both filter out into the mainstream in dangerously deranging ways while, more fortunately though no less tediously and embarrassingly, represent in their very extremity clarifying crystallizations of reductionist, elitist, eugenicist tendencies that prevail more generally already in mainstream neoliberal development discourse.

21 comments:

ddjango said...

I read Michael's piece and I wanted to punch him in his mortal snout.

So there.

Dale Carrico said...

Remind me not to annoy you any time soon!

h+ ftw said...

"I recommend that poor H+ FTW either take up the actual science..."

Quite to the contrary, I am in the sciences, as opposed to you. I feel quite comfortable in saying that I am far more familiar with actual science than you are, Mr. Carrico. You waste your time preaching philosophical BS to a bunch of college students who are in your class only to fulfill a gen-ed requirement when you could be doing something real, something that actually matters, like scientific research. But no, you instead criticize people who actually have a dream that they want to fulfill (and yes, these things are quite possible, in that they don't violate any known laws of physics).

You might call me an optimist, but I believe that anything that is possible will eventually be created by human ingenuity, including superintelligence, mind-uploading, and immortality (well, for nearly all intents and purposes, immortality, anyway). Anyone who says otherwise falls generally into one of the following categories (combinations are allowed, too): bio-conservatives, Luddites, pessimists, and know-nothings (when it comes to science). Personally, I would lump you into the Luddite catagory--your aversion to such commonplace items such as cellphones or cars speaks volumes...

Regardless, this has had nothing at all to do with Michael Anissimov's post (and your blog post didn't, either), so I will change the subject, if you don't mind. In his post, Anissimov said that:

"Regarding objections to talk of uploading, for anyone who 1) buys the silicon brain replacement thought experiment, 2) accepts arguments that the human brain operates at below about 10^19 ops/sec, and 3) considers it plausible that 10^19 ops/sec computers (plug in whatever value you believe for #2) will become manufactured this century, the topic is clearly worth broaching."

Do you not believe those three things? Do you believe that intelligence can only be generated by neurons, synapses, etc? Do you believe that human brains can perform an infinite number of calculations/second? Do you believe that computers will never be able to perform as many calculations/second as the human brain? If you said "Yes" to any of these questions, then my assertion that you know nothing of science is confirmed. If you said "No" to all three of these questions, then, logically, you must admit to the possibility of mind-uploading, correct? Those are the (tentative) requirements for mind-uploading, and they are all reasonable.

Anyway, perhaps the only thing to do is wait and see. Are you prepared to eat crow when the time comes? I know that I am prepared to die a mortal death if the things I believe do not end up happening (but I don't find that particularly likely). Well.... cheers!

Dale Carrico said...

I am in the sciences, as opposed to you. I feel quite comfortable in saying that I am far more familiar with actual science than you are, Mr. Carrico. You waste your time preaching philosophical BS to a bunch of college students who are in your class only to fulfill a gen-ed requirement when you could be doing something real, something that actually matters

I wonder if you are yet another Robot Cultist who in claiming to be "in the sciences" ultimately refers to the amusing status of a computer programmer of no great accomplishment who additionally fancies himself a biologist because he has read Dawkins.

You will be unsurprised to discover that I am not much perturbed to hear that you find my time wasted in rhetoric and political theory and aesthetic criticism. This is, after all, the usual dismissiveness of reductionist bores, very much the expected thing.

Keep steadfastly to your techno-utopian faith dear Robot Cultist! Perhaps the Robot God, when at last he effloresces upon the nets from your zeros and ones, will see fit to gobble up wastes of space like me and other elite effete aesthetes in humanities departments and transform us all spit-spot into computronium to facilitate the efficient determination of pi to a bazillion more digits or something useful like that.

You might call me an optimist

I am far more likely to call you delusional and irritating.

I believe that anything that is possible will eventually be created by human ingenuity

What if some outcomes that are logically possible in the abstract are not amenable to simultaneous fruition? Who chooses? How? By what criteria? Decided by whom? Oh, never mind.

superintelligence, mind-uploading, and immortality

These terms, you will forgive me, have all the meaning of their cousin phrases, "squared circle," "perpetual motion machine," "Son of God," and "Microsoft Works."

Anyone who says otherwise falls generally into one of the following categories (combinations are allowed, too): bio-conservatives, Luddites, pessimists, and know-nothings (when it comes to science).

You are free to call me anything you like, of course, but given the actual meanings of those terms (which I know very well), it is notable to me that I really am not well described by any of them at all. I begin to worry that your imagination is as impoverished as your thinking skills are facile.

Do you believe that intelligence can only be generated by neurons, synapses, etc?

I believe that every intelligence in your acquaintance has been so generated (although I do disapprove the short shrift you give sociality in your "account" of intelligence), and that this is not a negligible fact. I know that what we mean by "intelligence" has arisen significantly out of that circumstance.

I do not know whether or not I might rightly come to think of radically differently constituted beings as "intelligent," "lovable," "rights bearing" (all different, but related questions), but I certainly don't exclude any of that from logical possibility. I do see that question as more complicated than tends to be registered in discussions by Robot Cultists.

I do not see that my opinion on for all we know non-existing beings has much bearing on what we know of actually existing beings, the weird prejudices of Robot Cultists on this question notwithstanding.

I do know that even if radically differently constituted intelligences find their way into human company this has far less bearing on questions of the "migration" (a verb that really can only have metaphorical force when one attends to it with any care at all) of differently materialized intelligences from one form to others, let alone lending themselves to wish-fulfillment fantasies of techno-spiritualized immortalization.

Do you believe that human brains can perform an infinite number of calculations/second? Do you believe that computers will never be able to perform as many calculations/second as the human brain?

I believe that in your use of the word "calculation" here you are, again, allowing metaphor to do most of your heavy lifting for you, and not at all to the effect that you mean it to, which suggests to me -- I'll admit a bias in these matters -- that you would do well to "waste" more of your time trying to grapple with "philosophical BS" whose dupe you, rather hilariously, for the moment, are.

If you said "Yes" to any of these questions, then my assertion that you know nothing of science is confirmed. If you said "No" to all three of these questions, then, logically, you must admit to the possibility of mind-uploading, correct?

Oh, dear, things are looking rather bleak for our author aren't they, dear readers? The Robot Cultist who expects to "upload" his "mind" into cyberspace there to live forever in eternal bliss in communion with the Robot God is talking such sense how ever could I hope to equal him with my meager poetical fripperies? Alack, I lack, am licked!

I know that I am prepared to die a
mortal death


Are we expected to applaud? Prepared or not, you most certainly will die, as will every single person reading these words.

Intelligence is embodied, lives are vulnerable, history is the interminable struggle and reconciliation of a diversity of peers who share the world, progress, including technoscientific progress, is ineradicably political, people whatever their powers are essentially finite.

Until you understand these things you are at best a silly child and at worst a real danger to your fellows, robots or no robots.

h+ ftw said...

"I wonder if you are yet another Robot Cultist who in claiming to be "in the sciences" ultimately refers to the amusing status of a computer programmer of no great accomplishment who additionally fancies himself a biologist because he has read Dawkins."

You're right, I am an amateur programmer. And yes, I haven't written any code that has or likely will ever make a difference. But I am not a computer scientist--I'm a mathematician, and I see mathematical models of intelligence being far more important in the near term than writing the actual code. And there theoretically will be a way to model intelligence in the relatively near future (~10-15 years): brain scanning. This will give the data that models will follow from, and once the models are developed, engineers and computer scientists will then take the reins and attempt to create superintelligence. But that's really not worth thinking about right now--it's still quite a ways away, and I'm not even close to being involved in that kind of stuff (I'm much more into really abstract math).

"What if some outcomes that are logically possible in the abstract are not amenable to simultaneous fruition? Who chooses? How? By what criteria? Decided by whom? Oh, never mind."

Well, obviously I wouldn't envision a scenario that would be logically contradictory. And I would say that most likely the "who decides" will unfortunately be chosen undemocratically by the engineers, computer scientists, and chemists working on these problems. I would say that this is decidedly non-ideal, but I don't see much of a chance of something else happening.

"These terms have all the meaning of their cousins, "squared circle," "perpetual motion machine," "Son of God," and "Microsoft Works.""

Now, I don't entirely think that those are fair comparisons. It has been proven, mathematically, that it is truly impossible to "square the circle." Likewise, it has been shown to be physically impossible to create a perpetual motion machine. "Son of God" I won't even go into; it's not impossible, just impossibly silly. And finally, I would contend that Microsoft, does, in fact, work (though I'm not much of a fan of doing much more on my computer than using the internet or word processing).

But regardless, these are profoundly different from superintelligence, mind-uploading, and immortality. This is because each and every one of these have: 1) Not been proven to be impossible. And 2) Actually seem to be quite possible with our current understanding of physics. Thus, if you are going to present an argument against these ideas, at least say that you think that they will be very hard to implement. Just don't say that they're impossible, because there is no data to support that assertion (and quite a lot that would seem to contradict it).

"I believe that in your use of the word "calculation" here you are, again, allowing metaphor to do most of your heavy lifting for you, and not at all to the effect that you mean it to, which suggests to me -- I'll admit a bias in these matters -- that you would do well to "waste" more of your time trying to grapple with "philosophical BS" whose dupe you, rather hilariously, for the moment, are."

My use of the word "calculation" was meant to signify one boolean operation being performed (a zero to a one or vice versa). And it is quite reasonable to expect that computers will soon (very soon, that is) be able to perform more calculations per second than a human brain. Of course this doesn't actually signify anything meaningful, since software is the thing that's really holding back AI. But it does show that if the software were to be developed (which is definitely possible, since there are ~250,000 new intelligences being created every single day) it would be able to run, and not take an inexorably long time doing so.

"Oh, dear, things are looking rather bleak for our author aren't they, dear readers? The Robot Cultist who expects to "upload" his "mind" into cyberspace there to live forever in eternal bliss in communion with the Robot God is talking such sense how ever could I hope to equal him with my meager poetical fripperies? Alack, I lack, am licked!"

I was showing that the prerequisites for mind-uploading are all possible. If a substrate can be created that would simulate the architecture of the human brain, but is non-biological, then you would be able to perform mind-uploading. This would at least satisfy my idea of mind-uploading; there are others, but I would consider it to be the placing of the consciousness/personality/brain architecture into a substrate that is more durable/faster than our current biological substrate. And this seems to be likely, theoretically, since it should be possible to create a duplicate of the architecture but using different building blocks.

"Are we expected to applaud? Prepared or not, you most certainly will die, as will every single person reading these words."

Well, I guess that we'll just have to disagree on this one (though I will admit that I don't see much chance of my surviving the heat death of the universe. But I digress).

"Intelligence is embodied, lives are vulnerable, history is the interminable struggle and reconciliation of a diversity of peers who share the world, progress, including technoscientific progress, is ineradicably political..."

Intelligence is currently embodied, lives are currently vulnerable (though I do mostly agree with your definition of history).

"people whatever their powers are essentially finite."

Yes, that is true, but our powers are unbounded. There does not seem to exist any kind of limit to what people are theoretically capable of doing (yes, there is a finite amount of energy in the universe, but I'll ignore that for now). Thousands of years ago, there was no way to construct large buildings, have people fly through the air at tremendous speeds, or peer at some of smallest possible structures in the universe (and for that matter, the largest structures as well). These seemed impossible, but they were shown to be, through technology, possible. The developments listed above are not going to be last such developments; people will continue to break past obstacles, some of which we can't even begin to imagine right now. Just please, for the sake of me, and for the sake of everyone reading this, don't underestimate human ingenuity. It has done great and horrible things, and it will continue to do great and horrible things. Just don't put any limits on what we, as a species, can do... we will inevitably shatter them.

giulio said...

I envy your ability to summarize a long article in only a few words. So, I wish to try summarizing your summary of Michael's article, the rest of your post, and your last comment.

My one word, 8 letters summary:

Bullshit.

Go Democrats said...

H+ ftw wrote:

"You waste your time preaching philosophical BS to a bunch of college students who are in your class only to fulfill a gen-ed requirement when you could be doing something real, something that actually matters, like scientific research."

This is the kind of comment that makes me think that someone missed out on some important exposure to the liberal arts and humanities; and also makes me wonder why philosophers hang around with transhumanists who hate them so much.

Michael Anissimov said...

ddjango, I agree, fuck free speech! Let's punch people we disagree with. Dale, as a professor at a historic center of human rights, it's funny that you don't object to such talk more seriously, even if it's "just" a blog comment.

Funny summary, I thought the "sweet sweet soma, whole earth as wilderness park for robot tourists, magic for realz" were the most rhetorically amusing.

Functionalism is an ongoing philosophical discourse as well as an idea. When Block writes "The Problem with Functionalism", he's talking about a specific idea that he defines, though.

"embodied intelligence could or will somehow migrate into cyberspace"

Somehow!

"singularitarian arrival of the Robot God"

Creation, not "arrival".

"mostly panic and greed"

Greed would be to focus on riches in the immediate moment at the exclusion of humanity's long-term future. Panic would be to be afraid without realizing that things can be done to minimize the likelihood of an un-egalitarian outcome to uploading.

"through its dramatic media-ready framing of issues of general concern"

You're one of the few people that really understands and appreciates this.

"ready appropriation by incumbent interests ever eager for new rationalizations for elite-technocratic control and corporate-militarist responses to global problems"

Hasn't happened, strongly doubt it will, and the risk from such interests (Republican businessmen, I assume you mean) is severely curtailed with this current Democrat-led Congress and White House, which I hope will continue to be the case for a long time.

"few hundred mostly North Atlantic white guys who preach it."

Diversity in H+ is increasing, thankfully.

"reductionist, elitist, eugenicist"

Not elitist.

Happy 2009, btw, Dale.

Dale Carrico said...

why philosophers hang around with transhumanists who hate them so much

I can only speak for myself, but I take transhumanist formulations seriously because they seem to me to exert a disproportionate and deranging influence on technodevelopmental deliberation at the worst imaginable time. As I have said, superlative formulations have force because they

[a] activate customary irrational passions that are already occasioned by disruptive technoscientific change (panic from mistaken impotence, greed for mistaken omnipotence), because they

[b] congenially oversimplify and dramatize technodevelopmental complexities (transcension, apocalypse, revolution, immortality) for lazy, undercritical, or overwrought people and media formations, because they

[c] conduce to the benefit of incumbent interests that portray themselves as more knowledgeable about matters of "advanced" or "accelerating" developments to justify circumventions of democratic deliberation, or frame technodevelopment in terms of "existential risk" that divert deliberation down corporate-militarist avenues (geoengineering, megascale infrastructure, centralized co-ordinated response).

I can go on, and have done, but I think you get the picture. The point is, most of the reactionary formations that have menaced late-modernity (extractive-industrial-broadcast epoch) began as marginal subcultures of cocksure white boys sure they had the Keys to History. The silliness of superlativity is not enough to justify ignoring it or failing to understand it, especially once we see the context of techno-utopianism in which it so legibly locates itself.

I also believe that the Robot Cultists in their extremity provide unusually distilled illustrations of the associations, dynamisms, guiding figures and so on that also play out in more mainstream neoliberal "globalism" and "development" discourse.

Anyway, as you know from the title of my blog, my hero is the political theorist Hannah Arendt, who insisted that the philosopher's task is understanding, and where politics is concerned this means "thinking what we are doing."

I find that understanding the transhumanists and discerning the ways in which mainstream developmental discourse is illuminated by reference to their extremity helps "think what we are doing" in a moment of unprecedented planetary catastrophe (resource descent, climate change, WMD proliferation), planetary promise (proliferating p2p formations), planetary disruption (the shift into non-normalizing genetic, prosthetic, and cognitive therapies).

h+ ftw said...

Just as an aside:

"Upgraded from the Moot, "h+ ftw" (this means roughly "transhumanist, for the win!" or, something like "Robot Cultists Rule!")."

Actually, "h+ ftw" means exactly "transhumanism, for the win."

Dale Carrico said...

Michael -- obviously I judged ddjango's comment to be a joke, though no doubt I might now be construed as "soft on terror" if you really want to play it that way.

Your whole case depends on "functionalism being true," which makes it a little perplexing why you say so little about what this functionalism that must be true actually consists of but enormous amounts of time describing science fictional wish-fulfillment fantasies. Even more extraordinarily, you provide a link to a wikipedia page on "functionalism" that presumably stands in for the work of offering the account of this presumably key notion for your case -- and anybody who follows the link discovers not a singular claim of which one can easily say "it" "is" "true" (which is what you seem to demand of it) but a constellation of contested views. Do all these variations equally imply all the science fictional outcomes to which you devote the majority of your post? What are the differences that make a difference. I believe that you have not been lead by a conviction into a set of striking futurological conclusion, but that you are already personally invested in the futurological projections and treat a glancing treatment with a technical discourse as the occasion you pretend these projections are serious rather than simply indulgences in superlative handwaving. One finds this sort of thing in "serious" or "intellectual" accounts of religious faith all the time, of course, and so it isn't surprising to find it here once one grasps what is in my view the essential religiosity of superlative technocentrisms.

You object to my characterization of your accounts of the "mind's migration into cyberspace" as amounting to "somehow." "Somehow!" you sputter.

Look, I know the cybernetic totalists and uploading scenarists and dead-enders of the Strong AI Program all fancy themselves embroiled in deeply technical programs of research and academic discourse, but to me it is no different than the admittedly quite brilliant hosts of medieval scholars engaging in technically demanding debates about the number of angels that can dance on pin-heads. Neither intelligence's embodiment nor its sociality seem to me remotely adequately accounted for in your discourse -- you are slaves to figurative language you mistake as literal language, you rummage around in an attic of discredited philosophical debates replaying their moves with no awareness I can see of their history. It's not that you can't be smart well-meaning people (although some of you are neither, and conspicuously so), it's just that you all seem terribly ignorant, in the sense of ignoring quite a lot that is palpably material in the matters you claim to care about, for who knows what reasons with who knows what effects where your formulations capture the imaginations of the undercritical.

To your credit you seem to take seriously my worry about the ways in which technocratic elitism and a focus on existential-risk empowers especially incumbent extractive- industrial- broadcast- interests but you disagree that this is likely, and you point to the welcome repudiation of Movement Republicanism in America as encouraging. I agree with the latter of course.

But, it is important to realize that incumbency is not confined to Republicansims, the Democratic party is divided between corporatists and progressives and you can be sure that the corporatists will gain enormous resources in the eclipse of Republicanism.

One would be wrong indeed to imagine the Clinton presidency as a progressive one, and there are questions (I think these are a bit paranoid -- but Larry Summers does not inspire confidence) whether Obama is too Clintonian himself.

I don't doubt that you disapprove of elitism on principle, but one's views can entail elitism whatever one's convictions, you know, in which case the proof of your disapproval is the way you adapt your views to resist this tendency.

I seem to remember you have at one time made the argument that "accelerating change" befuddles traditional deliberative mechanisms, a view that provides a rationale for the circumvention of democratic deliberation on technodevelopmental questions and ensures that elitist ends will prevail in policy (given the fact that I think the whole discourse of "accelerating change" merely confuses the destabilization of neoliberal financialization of the global economy from the perspective of its relative beneficiaries you will see why I am especially suspicious of these moves). This is a thesis that conduces to the benefit of elitism.

I do not know whether or not you join with other more prominent transhumanists in describing certain parochially desired non-normalizing therapies as "enhancement" in the service of "optimality" -- with the implication that other lifeways, whether they are desired or not, whether they are normal or not, are "unenhanced," "suboptimal." If you do then this too conduces to an elitist politics, in this case legibly eugenicist. One hopes you do not agree with this prevalent strain in your subculture, but more to the point one hopes -- in disagreeing with it if you do -- you spend a lot of your time elaborating its implications and resisting it.

I have also pointed out that "existential risk discourse" -- which is an avenue of focus through which Robot Cultists are presently seeking to avail themselves of more academic and governmental respectability -- tends to prefer technocratic over democratic strategies, tends to propose capital-intensive centralizing industrial-scale solutions to what it takes to be public priorities, tends to activate authoritarian formations in just the way terror-discourse (of which existential risk discourse tends to be an expression) tends to do. All these are tendencies conducing to elitism, whether you explicitly disapprove elitism or not.

As for your point that "[d]iversity in H+ is increasing, thankfully," I'm sure you will agree that diversity had nowhere to go but up in H+ and that even its improved diversity is surreally unrepresentative of the planetary diversity into which it is well-pleased to propose total, er, "transcension."

Happy New Year to you, too, Michael.

Dale Carrico said...

Actually, "h+ ftw" means exactly "transhumanism, for the win."

It should go without saying that I provided an additional gloss for those readers who wouldn't immediately have a sense of what "for the win" meant. In other words, you proudly boast about an "exactness" that renders inexact understanding more likely while waving your finger like the Church Lady at an effort to render your claim more generally legible. Pretty typical substitution of a fetish of objectivity for its substance from a self-congratulatory technocratic elitist without much in the way of a clue, I must say.

Anonymous said...

I envy your ability to summarize a long article in only a few words. So, I wish to try summarizing your summary of Michael's article, the rest of your post, and your last comment. My one word, 8 letters summary: Bullshit.

I wonder if Prisco realizes the damage he causes to his public reputation as one of the leaders of the transhumanist movement with juvenile comments like these...

Antonin said...

By Jove, Dale !

All this text and still you didn't so much as - I dunno - PROVE that ______, ______, ______, ______, ______ and of course ______ cannot, will not, in any summarily imagined course of THE FUTURE I can come up with at a moment's notice, happen.

Seeing as not one of those ______ exceed what I know as (my complete knowledge of) the laws of physics, and seeing also that a bunch of Can-Do can tear down any remaining obstacles, I'd say someone has some Robot-God-reckoning in the pipe.

But then, you po-mo types still have a lot of stuff in that pipe, eh? If you start around the "End of History" part I say you should be done by 2012.

Dale Carrico said...

Antonin is offering up a delicious spoof, but it is amazing how straightforwardly this mimes the arguments Robot Cultists dish out.

In demanding "proof" of impossibility of their at best practically implausible at worst incoherent preoccupations and -- even more hilariously, imagining they can provide it for their own wish-fulfillment fantasies -- they show time and again that the self-appointed "champions of science" who daydream superlative technoscience are conventional would-be priests and prophets more invested in the futurological hype rackets than in contributing to actual consensus science.

It is true that neither am I engaged in scientific scutwork, but then I have never suggested otherwise. My focus is rhetorical and critical -- I have no anxieties about the value of what I do on my own terms, and no need to clothe my work in the superficial coloration of "science" to justify it. Still, from my vantage it is easy to see the ways in which the force of the utterances of so many who believe or pretend "science" to be on "their side" are indulging instead in the most facile doggerel literary gambits imaginable.

It was especially delicious the way you connected this to the usual (and usually social conservative) discourse of anti-postmodernism. Of course, I don't consider myself "po-mo," and consider that phrase a rather sloppy way to corral together a host of actually incompatible figures in 20C philosophy and criticism the better to dismiss without reading their troubling writings (whatever their various merits or not) for people who are temperamentally disinclined to benefit from them -- which is fine -- or who identify with reductive technocratic triumphalist fantasies of fumigating the humanities altogether -- which is not at all fine, but the kernel of some of the worst kind of fundamentalist, authoritarian, totalitarian, eliminationist politics.

As you spotlight in your parody, it really does beggar imagination that Robot Cultists who are among the most flabbergastingly underaware and underaccomplished people on the planet will declare their handwaving about digitizing and hence immortalizing their minds in cyberspace in the company of world-historical superintelligent superpotent Robot Gods to be substantial hard science and then go on to declare sensible criticism of their hyperbole "unscientific" "unimaginative" "relativist" and "without result to show for itself."

But, then, it would be stupid of me to expect otherwise than stupidity from the stupid, I suppose.

Dale Carrico said...

I wonder if he realizes how the second part of the sentence "as one of the leaders of the transhumanist movement" already accomplishes "the damage he causes to his public reputation" highlighted in the first part of the sentence.

Robin said...


This is the kind of comment that makes me think that someone missed out on some important exposure to the liberal arts and humanities; and also makes me wonder why philosophers hang around with transhumanists who hate them so much.


This strikes me repeatedly, too. I'm sure Nick Bostrom (to take the obvious example) loves the attacks on philosophy from the hilarious self-en-titled "scientists" in the transhumanist movment.

Sounds like someone went to DeVry instead of being exposed to the liberal arts (or why they're so valued in professional fields of every sort.)

Anonymous said...

Sounds like someone went to DeVry instead of being exposed to the liberal arts (or why they're so valued in professional fields of every sort.)

For our host, everything boils down to how well it moves along his political agenda. Some things move it along nicely. These things 'make sense'. Some things don't seem to help or hurt. These things 'conduce to incumbent authoritarian interests', or some such.

Either you're with him or you're against him. It's not about facts. It's not about what's true or false. It's about the relative status of the groups to which he belongs. He's a feces-slinging monkey.

Dale Carrico said...

For our host, everything boils down to how well it moves along his political agenda.

Which is?

Either you're with him or you're against him.

There are plenty of people with whom I can productively and pleasurably disagree. Robot Cultists, Movement Republicans, libertopians, fundamentalist theocrats, it is true, not so much.

It's not about facts. It's not about what's true or false.

You mean the "fact" of "artificial superintelligence," the "fact" of "mind uploading," the "fact" of "negligible senescence therapies," the "fact" of "utility fog," the "fact" of the singularitarian arrival of the "Robot God"? Yes, for me it's not about Robot Cult "facts" that aren't facts.

He's a feces-slinging monkey.

Ooh ooh ah ah ah!

jimf said...

> All this text and still you didn't so much as. . .
> PROVE that ______, ______, ______, ______, ______
> and of course ______ cannot, will not, . . . happen.

WOODROW WYATT: Do you think it is **certain** that there is
no such thing as God, or merely that it is not proven?

BERTRAND RUSSELL: I don't think it is **certain** that
there is no such thing as God, no. I think it's exactly on
the same level as the Greek gods and the Norwegian gods --
the gods of Olympus and the gods of Valhalla -- they also
**may** exist; I can't prove they don't. But I don't think
the Christian god has any more likelihood than they do.
I think they're a **bare** possibility.

-- "Bertrand Russell Speaks His Mind"; Woodrow Wyatt interviews,
1959.

Robin said...

Worse than assuming that rhetoric and philosophy are aimed at proving something is probably the assumption that science PROVES (note the very important capitals) anything.

The scientific method is by and far the best method we have at getting close to real knowledge about the world. I don't imagine any of us here will deny that. But to believe that we PROVE things with it... ugh. That's religion. Religion is unrevisable. Science is PROUD of it's ability to revise when a better answer comes along.

So anyone looking for PROOF OF ____, _____, etc. is a bad scientist AND a bad philosopher.

Don't worry. It seems as if h+ (wtfever it is now) are happy to have an elite ruling class, so if you can't even get the basics of Thought 101 down, you can always shine their robot shoes for them.