It's easy to discount Superlativity once you've slogged through the critique.
But try to recapture the state of mind with which you skitted over the ideological framing of "tech news" before you gave Superlativity any serious thought. Try to recapture the disinterest with which you passed over platitudes in popular, professional, and academic media that treat some scarcely worked through genetic technique as justifying the question "do you want to live forever?" Or that straightforwardly claims that economies or societies or personalities somehow "evolve." Or that declares the "experts" worry that "people" are unprepared to make good decisions in the face of "accelerating change." Or confidently proposes that "good design" (alone?) can achieve what are in fact palpably political accomplishments like sustainability, social justice, democratic participation, security, liberty, progress. Or that oh so politely indicates that some human lifeways, however wanted they may be by those who incarnate them for the present can nevertheless be declared "suboptimal" in the face of "enhancement" that is "sure" to "engineer" them out of existence for the more "optimal" morphologies and lifeways of the bland blank catalogue-models and workaholics we presumably pine to be in our best most clearheaded moments.
Superlativity as it is celebrated by the Robot Cultists is indeed an unsubstantiated, sociopathic, inelegant, infantile mess of theses and themes, but it is at one and the same time an iceberg tip, a symptom of a deeper more prevailing tendency to a reductionism conjoined to elitism and loathing of life that plays out in mainstream neoliberal and neoconservative corporate-militarist global "development" discourse, a constellation of attitudes crystallizing in something like a futurological programme and suffusing the self-image of whole academic disciplines and professional populations, among them some that attract torrents of cash and uncritical enthusiasm.
It's easy to expose the facile formulations of the futurological congress, to snicker at the oafish ever-marginal Robot Cult. But there are strong structural affinities between the ruling rationales of corporate-militarist incumbency and the superlative mindset. One might surely have felt the same disdain a lingering intelligent look at the Robot Cultists inevitably inspires, and with equal justice, in the early days when another klatch of badly off-putting off-kilter boys with toys who fancied themselves the smartest things in any room unleashed Neoconservatism on the world to the cost of us all.
What could be more perfect than an article in the Financial Times informing us that
Google and Nasa are throwing their weight behind a new school for futurists in Silicon Valley to prepare scientists for an era when machines become cleverer than people.
The new institution, known as "Singularity University", is to be headed by Ray Kurzweil, whose predictions about the exponential pace of technological change have made him a controversial figure in technology circles.
Google and Nasa's backing demonstrates the growing mainstream acceptance of Mr Kurzweil's views, which include a claim that before the middle of this century artificial intelligence will outstrip human beings, ushering in a new era of civilisation.
To be housed at Nasa's Ames Research Center, a stone's-throw from the Googleplex, the Singularity University will offer courses on biotechnology, nano-technology and artificial intelligence.
The so-called "singularity" is a theorised period of rapid technological progress in the near future. Mr Kurzweil, an American inventor, popularised the term in his 2005 book "The Singularity is Near".
Proponents say that during the singularity, machines will be able to improve themselves using artificial intelligence and that smarter-than-human computers will solve problems including energy scarcity, climate change and hunger.
Yet many critics call the singularity dangerous. Some worry that a malicious artificial intelligence might annihilate the human race.
Mr Kurzweil said the university was launching now because many technologies were approaching a moment of radical advancement. "We're getting to the steep part of the curve," said Mr Kurzweil. "It's not just electronics and computers. It's any technology where we can measure the information content, like genetics."
The school is backed by Larry Page, Google co-founder, and Peter Diamandis, chief executive of X-Prize, an organisation which provides grants to support technological change.
"We are anchoring the university in what is in the lab today, with an understanding of what's in the realm of possibility in the future," said Mr Diamandis, who will be vice-chancellor. "The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it's a crazy idea."
Despite its title, the school will not be an accredited university. Instead, it will be modelled on the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, the interdisciplinary, multi-cultural school that Mr Diamandis helped establish in 1987.
I leave it as an exercise for the reader (for now) to simply pluck out the unsubstantiated superlative platitudes contained in this breathlessly evangelizing account (did you notice that even the notional registration of skepticism in the article essentially functions as a demand for more funds for our "serious" singularitarians?), to observe the way in which these relentlessly reductive and at once hyperbolically expansive techno-utopian chants co-mingle and reinforce one another. Truly diligent readers may enjoy connecting the dots between these ideas and their proponents to the most ardent expressions of market fundamentalist ideology as well. As for the reference to the "N.I.C.E." in the title of my post, consider it an ambivalent recommendation of a dusty somewhat silly but still prescient book.