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

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Far Out

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot: Far out ideas are crucial of course to the progress of science, and rightly cherished as such, but they don't actually count as warranted science until they manage to attract an actual consensus.

If scientific consensus finds some technoscientific claim unwarranted chances are that it is just that, unwarranted, even if it is true that some such views eventually do achieve consensus and so contribute to scientific progress. (Hi, there, would-be singularitarians, techno-immortalist uploaders, sooper-longevity pill-poppers, holodek dreamers, eugenicist schemers, drextech cornucopiasts, nice to see all your fresh-scrubbed froth-mouthed faces again!)

Futurological subcultures not scientific, they are better conceived as fandoms, communities of shared enthusiasm that identify with idealized outcomes or with would-be gurus (or sometimes even figures who themselves might otherwise pass muster as proper scientists or scholars or experts however marginal some of their notions might be) and substitute insular echo-chambers, passionate tribal devotions, and uncritical True Belief for the actual substantiation, experimentation, falsification, publication that yields scientific consensus.

In the really extreme modalities of futurological sub(cult)ure I criticize most emphatically here, like the eugenic transhumanists, the techno-immortalists, the singularitarian Robot God priesthood, the nano-cornupiasts, and so on, I fear that these tendencies are particularly pronounced, too often caught up in, at best deeply vulnerable to, the cul-de-sac of outright cultishness and all its unfortunate authoritarian paraphernalia.

25 comments:

Martin said...

It is notable that actual scientists are much more skeptical about those technologies than transhumanists (the Technology Review challenge comes to mind). Yes, none of them are physically impossible, the question is how, and more importantly, when will those technologies be developed?

jimf said...

> [A]ctual scientists are much more skeptical about those
> technologies than transhumanists. . . [N]one of them are
> physically impossible, the question is how, and. . .
> when will those technologies be developed?

Well, you know, transmutation of lead into gold isn't physically
impossible either. We now, centuries later, know that the
alchemists of the Middle Ages were completely off the track both
in their conceptualization of the "problem" and in their approach
to solving it.

Now that we do, in principle, know how to do it (i.e., we can
conceptualize the subatomic transformations that need
to take place in order to accomplish transmutation of elements -- meaning
we know about atoms and atomic nuclei, and protons and neutrons,
and the atomic numbers of the elements, and so on) we still
don't know how to do it cleanly or cost-effectively, and
we still don't know when (if ever) such a thing could be done
cleanly and cost-effectively (SFnal hand-waving about
"femtotechnology" -- that's the stage of manipulation of matter
beyond "nanotechnology" dontcha know -- aside.)

It is an interesting addition to our knowledge of the evolution
of the cosmos to have realized that transmutation of light elements into
heavier ones -- by supernovae over billions of years -- was absolutely necessary
in order for Earth and its inhabitants to exist at all, something
that no one during the Middle Ages would have had the intellectual
framework to even conceive of.

Dale Carrico said...

Hi, Martin!

none of them are physically impossible

question is how, and... when will those technologies be developed


The whole point of this post, as you say, is to stress that futurologists confuse marginality with consensus and behave as fandoms rather than technoscientifically literate people, whatever their self-congratulatory "champions of science" declarations. But I do want to stress that this criticism is not the end of the story by a long shot as far as I'm concerned, but just scratching the surface (it's a pretty damning surface to scratch for the Robot Cultists, certainly, but there's much more afoot).

I think that in declaring superlative outcomes "not impossible in principle" or destined to be accomplished in the fullness of time, we concede far too much to Robot Cultism. What does it mean, exactly, to imply that (robust programmable poly-purposive replicative room-temperature) drextech is "not impossible"? How in declaring "it" possible are we distinguishing among the dense constellation of claims that actually constitute the life of "drextech" as a discourse mobilized by futurologists in the world, some of which are claims from physics, others from chemistry, others from biology, others from coding, others are actually altogether metaphorical, and so on?

The "drextech" that relies on all these claims for its force and intelligilbiliy in the present, on the basis of which it solicits enthusiasm and understanding, we can say of that "drextech" that it is "not impossible" in principle? Really? I daresay we are in nothing even remotely like a position to pretend to know such a thing.

When I criticize nano-cornucopiasts, for example, my critique isn't primarily arising out of skepticism about the very notion that novel materials and techniques are surely going to emerge out of the nanoscale, but skepticism about the unqualified investment in marginal projected developmental narratives and outcomes that futurologists are so invested in, as well as the aspirations they freight these narratives and outcomes with -- for example, one finds the same facile greed and pining after immaterializing omnipotence in mid century discourses promoting plastic, or late-century discourses of digitality and virtuality.

It isn't "the science" in some naive construal of self-assertive factuality that directs hapless futurological enthusiasts to frame their hopes and expectations through these figures when they start talking about "nanotech" it is the citation of more prevailing discourses they are scarcely even aware that they are caught up in (and there are comparable figures and topoi framing all the customary superlative discourses, transcendence, technocratic circumventions of stakeholder politics, immortality, robot slaves, designer kids, love potions, superintelligence, on and on and on).

Technoscience might eventually achieve breakthroughs in complex responsive software/robotics, nanoscale materials and manufacturing technique, exquisite genetic, prosthetic, cognitive therapies, and so on that those who come to enjoy them might regard in an abstract sort of way as "imagined in a roughly premonitory way" by some of our current crop of futurological handwaving without that handwaving actually managing to get a single actual scientific detail right, without embedding itself here and now in anything like the methodological and conceptual frameworks on which those accomplishments depend for their eventual payoffs, without contributing a single practical assistance to their development (except perhaps for a little jolt of inspiration, and some might find that inspiration just as easily in a Shakespearean sonnet or a whiskey glass or a whispered prayer or a rentboy's dick, depending on the actual researchers involved).

jimf said...

> What does it mean, exactly, to imply that (robust programmable
> poly-purposive replicative room-temperature) drextech is
> "not impossible"?

Hey, in the new SF novel _The Unincorporated Man_
http://www.amazon.com/Unincorporated-Man-Dani-Kollin/dp/0765318997
New York City ca. 2310 (still the largest city in the
Solar System ;-> ) has a "Drexler Plaza".

(If you liked Wright's Golden Age trilogy, you'll love this
one too.)


"Um. . . sebastian," said Justin [our hero, an early-21st-century
billionaire revived after 300 years of cryonic suspension, and
the instant enemy of a higher-up in the corporation whose employees
revived him], slowly pivoting the small computer
in his hand.

"Yes, Justin."

"This DijAssist [Dij = digital, get it?], the one you seem to be
living in. . . it was Hektor's [the main bad guy's], right?"

"Yes."

"Dunno why, but it makes me nervous."

"As far as I can tell, Justin," answered his fledgling companion, "I am
interfacing with a standard unit. If it makes you nervous we could
implant you with a handphone and you could use that to communicate with
me, or you could get another DijAssist."

"I like option number two. Let's get a new one and dispose of this."

"As you wish."

The bottom drawer of his dresser opened up, and in it were various
objects Justin could not identify, and one that he could now.

"Take this DijAssist," commanded sebastian's voice from inside the
new unit, "and throw the old one in the garbage. It will dissolve
on its own."

Once the switch had been made, Justin felt better. He knew it
defied logic, but at this point he was going on gut. He'd let
experience catch up in due time. He then went to the door and, sure
enough, a[n ID] badge was waiting for him.

His DijAssist chirped to life. "Place it on the left side of your
chest. It will stay."

As soon as the badge was on, the door slid open, and Justin was
confronted with the hustle and bustle one would associate with a small
but efficient medical center. People and objects were busily moving,
walking, and even whizzing about. He stood in the doorway of his
room for a full ten minutes. He watched and made ample use of
sebastian's Neuro [24th-century Web] access to understand some of
the stranger anomalies around him, chief of which was the absence
of any doors along the corridor. He watched in utter amazement
as walls opened up and closed to fit the person or person entering
or exiting. [Future Shock alert -- susceptible individuals should
stop reading now!]

"Please explain what I'm seeing, sebastian."

"You're referring to the permiawalls?"

"Yes, I am. If that's what you call those openings," Justin replied.

"It is. Permiawalls are constructed of molecules that can sense
approaching objects. Once the object is within a specified range
the wall calculates the amount of room the object will need to
pass through."

"But why don't people bump into each other?"

"Look closely," answered the avatar, "and you'll see clearly
demarcated lines indicating exit and entry points."

"Ahh," responded Justin, noticing the floor markings. "Not to sound
petty, sebastian," he continued, "but how come I don't have a
permiawall?"

"Strictly speaking, Justin, you do. The configuration of your door
has been changed on the orders of Dr. Harper [our hero's reanimation
specialist and romantic interest]."

"Dr. Harper?"

"You know her as Neela [not to be confused with _Futurama_'s Leela,
voiced by Katy Sagal]."

"Why, of all things, a sliding door?"

"Although I'm not aware of the reasons, my data search has shown
that three files on twentieth-century views of the future have
recently been accessed by an individual with a revivalist-grade
rating. It is a 93.4 percent probability that the recipient
of the information is Dr. Harper. In viewing the data I have
determined that your culture had an almost religious belief that
doors in the future would slide open. Rather than shock you by
walking through a wall, Dr. Harper wisely decided to have a
sliding door that would go **whoosh**, and so make you feel
comfortable. That was most insightful of her."

[It's also indicated later on that there are still Trekkies
in the 24th century.]

Martin said...

The "drextech" that relies on all these claims for its force and intelligilbiliy in the present, on the basis of which it solicits enthusiasm and understanding, we can say of that "drextech" that it is "not impossible" in principle? Really? I daresay we are in nothing even remotely like a position to pretend to know such a thing.

Your body is teeming with molecules that make thermodynamically improbable, atomically-precise molecular transformations in a statistically reliable way, and all at 37 C. Bacteria, fungi, plants and cold blooded animals can do it at ambient temperatures. Psychrophiles can do it close to 0 C, or even below 0 C if the salt concentration is high enough to drive the freezing point down. We definitely know that it is physically possible. In fact, it was biology that inspired Drexler to become interested in nanotechnology in the first place.

my critique isn't primarily arising out of skepticism about the very notion that novel materials and techniques are surely going to emerge out of the nanoscale, but skepticism about the unqualified investment in marginal projected developmental narratives and outcomes that futurologists are so invested in...

Right, the science is a means to an end: immortality, superintelligence, superhealth, etc. It is unclear if, how, and when those goals will be achieved. I don't know how one can assert that nanotech will be used to achieve any of those goals when we don't know what form nanotech will take. Ten years ago it was nanobots, now it is desktop manufacturing, ten years from now it may be something else.

Dale Carrico said...

Right, the science is a means to an end: immortality, superintelligence, superhealth, etc. It is unclear if, how, and when those goals will be achieved. I don't know how one can assert that nanotech will be used to achieve any of those goals when we don't know what form nanotech will take.

We are in a position to make an even more forceful critique. It actually isn't at all new for True Believers to handwave about "immortality, superintelligence, superhealth, etc." Priests and gurus have been selling that sort of crapola for centuries. It actually matters that there are conceptual confusions that beset notions of superintelligence, superlongevity, and a politics-circumventing superabundance if you really take the time to submit them to scrutiny. It's not just that the goals are questionable as to developmental timetables, it's not just that the technoscientific assumptions deployed in their service are marginal and yet treated as consensus, it's that other things are afoot when people pine after or claim to be able to secure for the properly faithful an immortalization of life when life as it is lived in the world has always been a vulnerable embodied metapbolism of organisms with their environment, to produce a spiritualized certainty-bearing superintelligence when intelligence as it is experienced in the world has always been embodied, social, contingent, to arrive at a superabundance (whether technocraticized, roboticized, plasticized, fabbicized, nanoboticized, utilifoggicized, digitized, virtualized, femtocized, or who knows what the magick presently preoccupying the futurological congress happens to be) that could circumvent the actually ineradicable impasse of stakeholder politics in which a diversity of equitable peers differ on ends in a shared world. This isn't a problem of misplaced confidence in marginal technoscientific notions mistaken for warranted consensus, it is a problem of using words in a deeply problematic way to feed personal delusions or sell some scam.

AnneC said...

Dale wrote: It actually matters that there are conceptual confusions that beset notions of superintelligence, superlongevity, and a politics-circumventing superabundance if you really take the time to submit them to scrutiny.

Indeed. I noticed a ton of this confusion in the response threads to some of PZ Myers' recent posts on crankiness-inducing futurists. The more futurologically-inclined commenters seemed to have a lot of unexamined assumptions about what "minds" and "selves" are, as if these things have even yet truly been quantified or concretely described by neuroscience. When that's not true, much less true to the point where anyone gets free license to talk about "transferring into a robot body" as if this is transparently coherent.

Dale Carrico said...

Exactly right.

jimf said...

Anne Corwin wrote:

> The more futurologically-inclined commenters seemed to have a
> lot of unexamined assumptions about what "minds" and "selves"
> are, as if these things have even yet truly been quantified or
> concretely described by neuroscience.

Let alone by **computer** science, for crying out loud!

jimf said...

Anne also wrote:

> . . .PZ Myers' recent posts on crankiness-inducing futurists. . .

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/02/futurists_make_me_cranky.php

"And don't get me started on Ray Kurzweil. That guy is bonkers."

Michael Anissimov said...

Thank you Dale for more semi-inspiring stuff to think about.

To judge whether or not drextech, intelligence enhancement, AGI, etc., are possible or not requires actually reading the primary sources lauded as the standard-bearers of such hypothetical technologies, along with maybe a few dozen associated articles or press releases involving real modern-day scientific advances in tangentially related areas.

For instance, to criticize Drexlerian MNT requires at least skimming Nanosystems and thinking about it seriously, as Dr. Jones has. If the whole thing is as mystical and irrational as Jim and Dale suggest it is, it shouldn't be exceedingly hard to point out obvious technical holes that Eric glossed over in his effort to push his ideas. This would win over MANY more people to the view that drextech enthusiasts are simply wrong. (Like Smalley was attempting to do before he died.)

Speaking from the perspective of a "True Believer", I don't put 100% stock into any particular route to the three S's (superintelligence, superlongevity, superabundance). The reason I consider them as plausible within my lifetime (which will likely continue until 2060 at least) is because there are so many possible routes to each of them, and these routes each seem to reinforce each other in a way that is fault-tolerant.

Martin (S. I presume), if you look at the board of advisors of the Methuselah Foundation, you see many leading scientists in gerontology research... why? These are "actual scientists", yet many dozens of them support Aubrey's radical transhumanist vision.

Martin, I sort of wish I could understand more about what your ideological position is nowadays. Unlike nearly everyone else that comments here, you're scientifically well-educated, and can actually pay attention to science-oriented arguments that we transhumanists make.

A lot of the annoying downside of transhumanism has to do with charismatic would-be thought leaders that can't actually come up with interesting ideas or science on their own. These have been on the decline in recent years. Then there are people like Anders Sandberg, Nick Bostrom, and James (Hughes), who give the movement real intellectual meat. Particularly, the former two are mild-mannered academic Swedes, so it's quite difficult to imagine them being led astray by personality cults and other facile accusations tossed around by Dale here.

Yeah, Jim's penchant for copy-and-paste is annoying as hell. Just remember, "Objectivism = Scientology = Transhumanism" and you can ignore pretty much ignore everything he posts.

Anne, if you believe in functionalism, it really is that easy. A high-resolution scan of a human brain implemented in a computer would really be that person. If functionalism is true, it's mostly a matter of 1) scanners high-res enough, 2) computers fast enough, 3) sufficient sensory stimuli/social interaction to avoid making the upload go crazy.

jimf said...

Michael Anissimov wrote:

> Martin. . . Unlike nearly everyone else that comments here, you're
> scientifically well-educated, and can actually pay attention
> to science-oriented arguments that we transhumanists make.

Yes, of course "we transhumanists" are, ipso facto, "scientifically
well-educated".

Except for people like, er, Richard Jones and other, er, real
scientists. Those party poopers! Why can't they just dry
up and blow away?

> Jim's penchant for copy-and-paste is annoying as hell. . .

Though that's hardly the main reason you're annoyed by my
posts. Funny, back when I was posting on the Extropians'
(the style was identical to the style I use here; nothing
has changed except the **content**) I received a fair amount
of back-channel **appreciation** for my posts.

That was before I became an Enemy of the Singularity, of
course.

> Just remember, "Objectivism = Scientology = Transhumanism" and
> you can ignore pretty much ignore everything he [I] posts.

And a good deal of what you post as well, "[s]peaking from the
perspective of a 'True Believer'".

> Anne, if you believe in functionalism, it really is that easy. . .

Of course "believing in functionalism" is simply a fancy way of
saying "believing that the mind is independent of its physical instantiation"
or, more to the point, "believing that the mind can be 'implemented' on a
digital computer, given the right hardware and software", so
calling it "functionalism" doesn't make it any more obviously
true (for brains, anyway: it certainly works for computers! --
e.g., running your old PDP-11 or VAX programs via a SimH or Charon-11
emulator on Intel hardware, or running your old Sun Sparc
programs via Simics or QuickTransit on Intel hardware).

Not too many neuroscientists believe in that kind of naive
functionalism anymore. Gerald M. Edelman certainly doesn't (I'll
spare you the cut-and-paste in my email archive this time).

Robin Zebrowski can certainly comment on this -- its her area
of expertise. But is she "scientifically well-educated"? Hm. . .

> Then there are people like Anders Sandberg, Nick Bostrom,
> and James (Hughes), who give the movement real intellectual meat. . .

And Giulio Prisco, who gives the movement real intellectual
potatoes. (Sorry, I couldn't help it.)

Michael Anissimov said...

Jim, I actually totally welcome criticism of the "Singularity". I just wish that it was more serious, citation-filled intellectual criticism rather than political/cultural criticism that's more about creating an in-group and an out-group. The "enlightened liberal anti-transhumanists vs. Randian libertarian transhumanists" framing, which is your and Dale's lifeblood, is a pathetic oversimplification, though apt in some narrow circumstances.

I love Richard Jones. I think many of his critiques are extremely insightful, and represent a more mature, coherent, science-based criticism of many transhumanist ideas that Dale has the intelligence to offer but not the personality. The reason I mention Dr. Jones on my blog all the time is because he has great critiques.

There are plenty of transhumanists who aren't scientifically well-educated, but relative to the rest of the population, we are. It's easy to criticize the more idiotic transhumanists, but what's more interesting to me is when Dale (and much more rarely, you) offer arguments that can be directed towards all transhumanists, including the most intelligent.

I never really read the Extropians extensively, and if I was on that list when you were copying and pasting huge tracts of literature, I'd probably complain to the moderator. In any case, the Extropians heydey is before my time.

Michael Anissimov said...

By the way, a small circle-jerk of Robot Cultists and fellow-travelers who cite one another in an echo chamber doesn't actually count as consensus science, but that is probably the best way to go if you're trying to sell your scam to the rubes (among whom you may be one yourself, sadly).

The vast majority of what I read and have read is mainstream consensus science. My bookshelf, over 100 news items from Eurekalert and Physorg per day, etc. For years I've been a mainstream science writer that has produced almost 2,000 short articles for wisegeek.com on mainstream science matters. I may not be an academic scientist but I am a popular science writer that loves science.

And just for shits and giggles I will point out that "political/cultural criticism" isn't inherently outside the realm of "intellectual criticism"

Good point, but why shits and giggles? It's possible to be serious and civil, isn't it? That's what I love about Obama and dislike about the GOP and radical leftists. (Note that Obama can be very liberal without being ad hominem in every sentence he utters.) The engagement style. Yours is full of vitriol, like Boehner making fun of reporters' hairstyles.

You're right, they're not outside the realm of intellectual criticism in fact, and if you see transhumanism solely as a political/cultural phenomenon, then I guess it makes sense to address it on that level.

Indeed, since the superlative aspirations that actually constitute the substance of transhumanism (apart from the eugenics, that is) are not strictly speaking scientific, but either pseudo-science or opportunistic hyperbolizations of science

Heavier-than-air flight, nuclear bombs, the Internet, etc., would all be considered superlative before they happened, but they did anyway. The question is not whether superlative technological outcomes are possible (they clearly are), but which ones are for real and which ones are BS.

I don't agree that transhumanists are so scientifically literate as all that, although I know this is a particularly cherished line in self-congratulatory bullshit you all like to indulge endlessly.

I feel somewhat entitled to self-congratulate in this manner because the majority of my waking hours over the past seven years (since I graduated HS) has involved reading mainstream science. I don't know about others.

But don't worry you're little head about such things, sooper-scientist.

Mean-spirited and reactive, just like Jim F. Your blog and language is probably the most mean-spirited of anyone I read online. If a friend of mine were as mean as you, I'd tell them they're being an asshole and wonder what terrible experiences they went through such that they have to project their anger onto everyone else. Yes, I'm sure you'll come up with another mean response to address my qualm with your attitude, but that's Dale Carrico!

Let's repeat it a thousand times, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" This is the kind of college protest-style liberalism that makes it difficult for the Democratic Party to hold on to power in swing states. Thank goodness our President is Mr. Cool, and nothing like you.

I am sure Richard Jones is immensely edified to know that you prefer the ways in which he disapproves of you more than the ways I disapprove of you. It's a little surreal that you seem to imagine I would worry particularly about the disapproval by a Robot Cultist of my critique of their foolish ideas.

I'm just speaking my mind, you and everyone else can ignore it completely if you like. I think Dr. Jones would appreciate it as he doesn't dehumanize me like you do. Basically, the strong impression I get from this blog is that I'm dirt, all my ideas are dirt, my motivations are dirt, my thoughts are dirt, and my life is dirt.

You're not young enough anymore for me to make excuses for your continued advocacy of Robot Cultism, by the way.

25 on the 10th, and me and Sarah Rose are going to Disneyland. Wooo!

jimf said...

Michael Anissimov wrote:

> I actually totally welcome criticism of the "Singularity".
> I just wish that it was more serious, citation-filled intellectual
> criticism rather than political/cultural criticism that's more
> about creating an in-group and an out-group.

The point you persistently seem to miss (and I still can't quite tell
whether it's because you're really so self-deluded that you can't allow
yourself to see what's staring you in the face, or whether you are disingenuously
spinning PR like a Catholic bishop "handling" a sex-abuse scandal) is
that the discourse surrounding "the Singularity" has never even
attained the stature of being worth "serious, citation-filled intellectual
criticism" on the level of its own pretentions to serious observations
in the fields of chemistry (in the case of "molecular nanotechnology"),
or biology (in the case of "engineered negligible senescence") or either
the philosophy of mind or neuroscience (in the case of all the handwaving
about "rationality", "ethics" or "artificial intelligence"). You're hangin' out
with the cranks, Michael, whether you know it or not.

To the extent that it has even been noticed by people of
the caliber you're pining for engagement with -- Douglas Hofstadter
is a recent example of somebody who has bothered to mention
it in public -- "the Singularity" just hasn't been taken very seriously.

To the extent that it's an artifact of the science fiction
community (and Vernor Vinge is primarily known as an SF
author, after all, not as a mathematician), then you've kind
of had your answer from some of the smartest people in
that corner, too -- Bruce Sterling, Greg Egan, David Brin.

You're not going to get much more, because there just isn't
enough substance there for the best minds to bother with.

To complain and insist otherwise makes you sound, yes, like
Ayn Rand pouting because academic philosophers never took
her seriously, or like a Scientologist lamenting that L. Ron's
"tech" hasn't been recognized as a brilliant gift to humanity by
the "wog" world. Or like the "creation scientists" I hear
on the car radio claiming that "of course everybody **knows**"
that Darwin has been **thoroughly** discredited (only in
some parallel universe of discourse that has nothing at
all to do with professional biologists or with anything
that deserves to be called "science"). Or like UFO "investigators"
pretending to be seriously looking for evidence of alien
visitations or abductions, or for evidence of government
coverups of alien contacts. Or like paranormal "researchers"
doggedly insisting that ESP hasn't been given a fair shake
by the mainstream scientific community.

> The "enlightened liberal anti-transhumanists vs. Randian libertarian
> transhumanists" framing, which is your and Dale's lifeblood, is a
> pathetic oversimplification. . .

**My** framing is that your particular corner of Singularitarianism
is an example of a guru-wannabe with the keys to history playing
Pied Piper to a claque of determined True Believers. (Like -- you
betcha, but hardly restricted to -- Rand and the Objectivists
or Hubbard and the Scientologists.)

Dale Carrico said...

I deleted a comment I thought better of, but apparently not before Michael responded to it, hence the italicized text in Michael's latest.

Dale Carrico said...

Heavier-than-air flight, nuclear bombs, the Internet, etc., would all be considered superlative before they happened

Not in the sense I use the term. Look it up.

Dale Carrico said...

Your blog and language is probably the most mean-spirited of anyone I read online.

What bland reading habits you must have.

Dale Carrico said...

Let's repeat it a thousand times, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" This is the kind of college protest-style liberalism that makes it difficult for the Democratic Party to hold on to power in swing states. Thank goodness our President is Mr. Cool, and nothing like you.

I think your robot cult is dumb, deluded, and dangerous, and I say so and I say why. Of course it makes you mad. Why on earth would I care? I'm not quite sure where you are hoping to go with this false and facile political analogy. Neither you nor I are the President nor in anything like the situation in which his strategy makes the sense it does. Sometimes ridiculing the ridiculous is exactly the right thing to do. And, by the way, your DLC-style analysis of the "difficulty" the Democrats presumably have in "swing states" doesn't connect with reality either.

Dale Carrico said...

dehumanize me like you do.

so, posthumanize yourself, that'll show me

Basically, the strong impression I get from this blog is that I'm dirt, all my ideas are dirt, my motivations are dirt, my thoughts are dirt, and my life is dirt.

I'm not in any kind of position to declare you to be "dirt" as a person, nor do I have any interest in such a thing, nor does such a notion even make much sense to me in general. To the extent that you advocate robot cult bullshit you are indulging flabbergastingly stupid, ridiculous, dangerous, and ultimately reactionary ideas. You may very well enjoy listening to the same bands I do, you may have a sweet disposition, you may be handy around the house, you may otherwise sympathize with appealing causes, you may be kind to small animals, you may have any number of delightful qualities that contribute to the wonderful world of you as a person. I have no idea what any of that is supposed to have to do with anything. I critique and also ridicule Robot Cultism -- if that is enough to make you feel like dirt, you should think about therapy.

Dale Carrico said...

The vast majority of what I read and have read is mainstream consensus science.

I guess that's possible. Get back to me when the vast majority of what you write and talk about is likewise mainstream consensus science or concerned with such. You'll find if you do that you will never once have any cause or inclination to make recourse to the words transhumanist, singularity, immortality, superlongevity, superintelligence, uploading, nanotech, or friendly AI.

Dale Carrico said...

If a friend of mine were as mean as you, I'd tell them they're being an asshole and wonder what terrible experiences they went through such that they have to project their anger onto everyone else.

Play this back in your head the next time you feel inclined to whine about how I am psychoanalyzing robot cultists when I point to their tendencies toward uncritical True Belief, the prevalence among them of body-loathing (hence the cyborgization fantasies, the obsession with immortalization, the denigration of the "meat" body, the "meat" brain, the valorization of the virtual and the digital), and so on.

Dale Carrico said...

I am a popular science writer

You are a pop futurist. Not at all the same thing.

Richard Jones said...

Sorry to come to this late, but since my name has been mentioned maybe it's still worth my clarifying a few things. My engagement with enthusiasts for Drexlerian nanotech began somewhere around 2003-4. I'd begun developing the critique which took shape in my book Soft Machines (which is in essence an refutation of arguments from biology to justify Drexlerian, "Nanosystems" style nanotechnology, of the kind that Martin cites above) in the late 90's, with a couple of low profile publications. As this engagement went on, at a technical level, I became more and more puzzled by some odd features of the spokesmen for Drexler - the strength of their will to believe in the face of sceptical arguments from mainstream nanoscience, the fact that belief in "Drextech" didn't come alone, but that it formed part of what an anthropologist might call a "belief package", together with a strong conviction that radical life extension would soon be possible, that we'd soon have superhuman artificial intelligence, and that this would lead to a "singularity". It also struck me as odd, in a time when nanoscience was truly global, that these people seemed to have a background that was rather culturally, ideologically and geographically specific. In this context I found Dale's analysis and critique extremely helpful and revealing. As I've written before, I've grown to realise that the technical issues that I'm qualified to write about aren't really at the heart of this business, and that Dale's perspective from rhetoric and cultural studies is really valuable.

On the matter of tone, there's certainly a difference in personal style in the way Dale and I conduct our critiques. I don't choose to express myself the way Dale does; but this doesn't mean I don't enjoy his writing or think he's not correct in many essentials. My natural tone tends to (sometimes ironic) detachment, but this also doesn't mean I don't sometimes envy Dale for his passion and engagement.

Robin said...

A high-resolution scan of a human brain implemented in a computer would really be that person.

I could be laughing at this one for a LONG time. I should bookmark this thread for when I'm feeling down.

I just keep picturing them all huddled around their HD Yule Logs wondering why it still feels so cold.