"Superlativity" as I use the term very specifically in my critique isn't a synonym for "really big epochal technodevelopmental changes." Like most technoscientifically literate people, I expect those, too, assuming we don't destroy ourselves any time soon instead with our waste or with our weapons. Instead, Superlativity in my sense of the term names the effort to reductively redefine emancipation in primarily instrumental terms and then expansively reorient the project of that emancipation to the pursuit of personal "transcendence" through hyperbolic misconstruals of technoscientific possibility.
This personal transcendence is typically conceived in terms that evoke the customary omni-predicates of theology, transfiguring them into super-predicates that the futurological faithful personally identify with, but proselytize in the form of "predictions" of imaginary technodevelopmental outcomes. Nevertheless, superlativity in my view is a literary genre more than a research program. It relies for its force and intelligibility on the citation of other, specifically theological/ wish-fulfillment/ transcendentalizing discourses, more than it does on proper technoscience when all is said and done. It is a way of framing a constellation of descriptions mistaken for facts, and embedding them into a narrative that solicits personal identification, which then forms the basis for moralizing forms of sub(cult)ural advocacy.
While Stephens's "expectation" that 5000 years of technological progress (and heaven only knows what even counts as progress on his accounting) is of course palpably silly, I don't think it inevitably expresses a superlative outlook. Possibly it does, but hyperbole, even fantastically inflated hyperbole, is not all there is to superlativity. Superlativity mobilizes unfounded irrationalist hyperbole about technoscientific change, but specifically in the service of delusive projects usually conjoining denialist wish-fulfillment fantasies of personal transcendence of human finitude with personal identification with what are taken to be world-historical "trends" or "movements" or, in extreme cases, highly insistent marginal ideological sub(cult)ures like "transhumanism" or "cryonics" that imagine and declare themselves avant-gardes of such world historical trends or movements.
Anissimov explicitly self-identifies as a Singularitarian and, thus, believes that the arrival on the scene of imaginary post-biological artificial superintelligence would shatter human history in unprecedented ways and that this event is sufficiently likely and proximate that we should be devoting the lion's share of our attention and no small amount of public resources to its anticipation. He also self-identifies as a Transhumanist and, thus, believes that "enhancement" and "transcension" of his intelligence, his mortality, his embeddedness in stakeholder social struggle through the application of imaginary "emerging technologies" is also sufficiently likely and proximate as to demand urgent personal investment and movement-building of a sub(cult)ure of like-minded individuals who would be privileged agents mobilizing and articulating this transcendentalizing technodevelopmental world-historical force.
That is to say, Anissimov most certainly is fully caught up himself in what I would describe as superlative technology discourse. And while it may be the case that he is right to describe fellow futurologist Gene Stephens as a fellow-superlative as well it isn't actually clear to me from his writing that Mr. Stephens is necessarily more than just a conspicuously silly person given to the usual self-serving futurological handwaving that likewise suffuses most of the insipid privileged futurological literary genres in our corporate-militarist social order: from the sleekly futuristic pastel-hued CGI imagery in fraudulent television advertising for boner pills and anti-depressants and anti-perspirants and underpants, to the soul-destroying corporate-robotic go-getter self-actualization pep-rally discourse of sales and management seminars, to the predatory disasterbatory prophecies in "position papers" from Defense Department friendly think tanks, and so on.
Anissimov very sensibly disagrees with Stephens's obviously idiotically false contention "that we’ll see '5000 years of progress' between here and 2025." But the imaginative moves that follow upon this disagreement are far more intriguing as Anissimov continues on to ponder: "It’s interesting how some 'non-transhumanist' futurists seem to buy more deeply into the strong accelerating change thesis than many (sometimes more cautious) transhumanist futurists." Certainly it is "interesting" how "one" becomes "some" here somehow, to be treated a moment later as even more generally representative, while transhumanists -- who say the sorts of things Stephens has said here with such stunning regularity that Anissimov will go on to describe Stephens's "non-transhumanist" talk as "transhumanist-themed" just a few sentences later in a rather delightfully incoherent effort to have his cake and eat it, too -- get constructed here rather fantastically as "more cautious" somehow, presumably because he takes himself to be at once more reasonable and exemplary and generalizes accordingly.
I won't even try to follow these odd self-justificatory twists and turns, but I will note that there may be some truth in Anissimov's larger point that "transhumanist futurism is becoming the new mainstream futurism" and that "superlative futurology... [may be the] new emerging consensus futurology" (even if Anissimov's example of Stephens's hyperbole ends up being just silly without also managing to be superlative strictly speaking).
I have long insisted that the reason I take the rhetoric and work of the marginal, noisy, and endlessly foolish Robot Cultists like transhumanists, singularitarians, techno-immortalists, extropians, digital utopians, nano-cornucopiasts, techno-libertopians and so on so seriously despite their marginality, noisiness, and arrant foolishness is because they have an enormously more damaging actual and potential impact on technodevelopmental discourse than their small numbers and great ridiculousness would seem properly to indicate.
Their hyperbole cites deep, widely-disseminated, age-old wish-fulfillment fantasies and narratives about our anxious inhabitation of human finitude, our susceptibility to disease, error, betrayal, duress, humiliation, exploitation, and the rest, at once exacerbated by disruptive technoscientific change and soothed by dreams of transcendent technoscientific change. Their discourse activates the very familiar irrational passions of agency that almost always accompany the technological imaginary, fears of impotence, fantasies of omnipotence. These citations of deeply familiar narratives and frames -- not to mention the ready susceptibility of so many deeply vulnerable people to just such mobilizations of irrational fear and fantasy in historical moments of disruptive technoscientific change such as our own -- render superlativity compelling however ridiculous it is revealed to be upon the least actually critical scrutiny, however deranging their impact on sensible technodevelopmental deliberation about stakeholder costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change at the worst possible moment.
I also worry that to the extent that their formulations feed the irresponsible hunger of broadcast-media for sensationalist and oversimplifying narratives, and to the extent that their formulations depend on the treatment as "neutral" and "technical" what are actually parochial or normative viewpoints ("enhancement," "efficiency," "progress," and so on), the rhetoric of the Robot Cultists also conduces especially to the benefit of incumbent interests, to corporate-militarist formations that command the resources to implement the megascale engineering projects and planetary research programs they tend to prefer and self-appointed technocratic elites to explain, justify, and administer these projects and programs to the majorities affected by them come what may.
And let me add again, as I so often do, that this structural tendency of futurological discourse generally and superlative futurological discourse particularly and especially to conduce to the benefit of incumbents and so conservative/authoritarian politics is a tendency that is largely indifferent to the professed political orientation of the futurologist, be he authoritarian or she democratic, be he righteous or she hypocritical: Every futurism is always also a retro-futurism, every sub(cult)ural identification with an imaginary "the future" is a moralizing anti-democratizing dis-identification with the futurity arising out of the diversity of stakeholders, peer-to-peer, in the present world opening onto tomorrow's present world.
Usually the jarring extremities (cyberspatial immortalization! nanobotic treasure caves! sexbots! history-ending superintelligent Robot Gods!) of superlative futurological discourse are smoothed out considerably as it circulates and disseminates into the mainstream enough to be of real use to the voracious ambitions of incumbency, but the contradictions and aporiae that are most conspicuous in superlativity proper still remain in force in the mainstream corporate-militarist global technodevelopmental discourse for which superlativity is the iceberg tip.
While neoliberalism rarely indulges in the dreams of Robot Cultists to upload their minds into cyberspace, its financialization and logo-ization of production partakes of the same fantasies of techno-dematerialization. While neoliberalism rarely indulges in the dreams of Robot Cultists to smash the state by inventing nanofactories to translate sunlight and dirt into abundance on the cheap and so end stakeholder politics, its market fundamentalist mantra of deregulation without end and fables of consumer-societies too self-indulgent for war partake of the same techno-libertopiansim. While neoliberalism rarely indulges explicitly in the dreams of Robot Cultists for techno-transcendence of all limits, its insistence that the meaning of life is the accumulation of wealth, that organizations must grow or die, that innovation without a specification of its content or end is the justification for every collective decision all beg the very same questions the Robot Cultists do:
Just where is all this "progress" finally going, how can movement without specified direction or end (and implied omni-predicated "ends," being incoherent, don't properly count as specifications) be meaningful at all? How can the same growth that has always meant flourishing within limits now be directed into a disavowal of limits? Is a life devoted to accumulating a mountain of skulls to survey from its summit the resulting devastation really a meaningful life? Is "innovation" in the service of exploitation, parochial profit-taking, buttressing incumbency really emancipatory in any sense worthy of the name? Is a "growth" devoted to the denial of death at the cost of death-dealing really a flourishing life or is it a cancer, a growth that destroys growth?
Neoliberal "developmental" ideology, or more broadly the contemporary neoliberal-neoconservative corporate-militarist system in this moment of its consummation and eclipse, is a profoundly irrational and delusive system of assumptions and works, it is true, but it may indeed be the case, as Anissimov implies, that nowhere are its guiding assumptions and characteristic works (and hence, in my view, its catastrophic irrationality) rendered more palpable and clear than in its condensed essence and extremity as symptomized in superlative futurological discourses which, no doubt, it would disavow in horror as surely as any ignorant monster smug and satisfied of its wholesomeness and handsomeness would turn from a too-revelatory look in the mirror or in the eyes of its victims.