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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Futurology Is the Quintessential and Consummating Discourse of the Unwholesome Whole That Is Neoliberal/Neoconservative Corporate-Militarism

The Me Generation denigrated the We and then, utterly predictably, found that me without we is incapable of a flourishing life (Ayn Randian pious puke to the contrary notwithstanding), let alone survival for anybody but the luckiest or most brutal few.

After a generation of chirping Reaganesque "government is the problem" and Clintonesque "era of big government is over" mantras, America is now a "No, We Can't" society, not just incapable of improving infrastructure and public investment, but at this point incapable of keeping its existing highways from crumbling, its neglected bridges and pipes from collapsing and bursting.

Americans have settled for CGI space stations in action films and military recruitment ads, ageing-and-death-denialist Americans sigh and pine to hyperbolic press releases from pharmaceutical companies peddling youth and pep and to reassuring futurological lies mis-shelved in science sections peddling nanoscale Everything for Nothing Machines and techno-longevity just around the corner, or imaginary geo-engineering technofixes to real climate crises, deceptions and delusions and derangements of The Future in pastel-hued soft porn tonalities handwaving away an utter bankruptcy and parasitism and inertia of conscience and criticism in the face of the demands, threats, and promises of our shared present.

Just as: The neoliberal financialization of economy fraudulently sells ever more fantastically leveraged debts as if they are assets, criminally externalizes costs onto the next generation or the next continent, and idiotically mistakes logos for stuff.

So too: The industrialization of ecology fraudulently sells the net loss of superficially increased yields purchased through wasteful, toxic, monocultural, energy-input intensivity as a "Green Revolution," pollutes the atmosphere and ground water, depletes topsoil and aquifers, disrupts local ecosystems beyond healing, externalizing the costs of contemporary waste and harm onto the next generation or the next continent, and idiotically mistakes the GDP and skyrocketing stock arrows for commonwealth.

And finally: Futurology is the consummation of neoliberal fraud, peddling the dislocations of global financialization as "the acceleration of acceleration" (which is indeed, perhaps, how an ever more precarious world feels, for a time, for those who are lucky enough to be relative beneficiaries of neoliberal dislocations, especially if they are stupid and short-sighted enough to imagine that riding the gravy train can last forever, and heartless enough not to notice or care about the distress and waste it imposes on the lives of their neighbors), peddling altogether-imaginary responsibility-deferring wish-fulfilling non-solutions to actual problems, from Robot God parental-supercomputers to "solve" intractable historical and political dilemmas, to nanobotic genies-in-a-bottle and immersive virtual pleasure palaces to "solve" intractable quandaries of poverty, to masturbatory megascale corporate-militarist geo-engineering and off-world migratory science-fiction scenarios to "solve" intractable ecological quandaries, to "mind-uploading" "bio-engineering" and "nano-medical" quasi-immortalizing super-therapies to "solve" intractable dilemmas of mortality, malnutrition, neglected diseases, vulnerability in all living bodies.

And like our fraudulent modern corporatists, selling hyperbolic expectations and barking PR pitches and debts and stealthily externalized costs and vaporware as if they were real assets, futurological discourses are suffused with the same contempt for the material, for the real: disdaining organismic brains and bodies in which intelligence and life are actually materially incarnated, disdaining the diversity of stakeholder knowledges and aspirations and struggles of which history and progress actually consists, disdaining the practices of laboratory testing and peer-review publications out of which consensus science generates its contingently warranted assertions (preferring, as they do, computer models and computer coders as their ideal "scientists" -- which is rather like preferring accountants as one's ideal "poets" -- grand hypotheses depending on glib general analogies from biology by non-biologists, charismatic cranks, pop-science bestsellers, and would-be gurus over actually widely cited and well-substantiated consensus scientists).

It is very much to be hoped that President Obama's jobs bill, coming swiftly on the heels of the heartbreaking sausage-making of healthcare reform, will re-open the long-relinquished progressive-to-New Deal era of infrastructure building and public investment (driven if nothing else by the pragmatic exigencies of mid-term elections, for which jobs jobs jobs will equal votes votes votes to maintain precarious Democratic majorities without which no actual governing seems possible given the monolithic obstructionism and ideological anti-governmentality of the Republican opposition, as Obama must surely grasp as keenly as anybody), employing millions of citizens in the repair of our catastrophically stressed infrastructure, in the construction of intercontinental high-speed rail to connect our cities, building an intelligent grid of dozens of millions of windmill farms and solar rooftops, building inner-city farmers markets, subsidizing the proliferation of small-scale organic and polyculture farms, planting a billion trees, building and healing community colleges and not-for-profit research universities and sending a generation of young people to school.

The market fundamentalists who have the President's ear make that a hard hope to maintain, given their role in the substitution of ponzi-scheming financialization and logo-ization for production, and in their penchant for prosperity on the cheap, purchased through outsourcing and crowdsourcing, cost-externalization and risk-shifting onto ever more precarious planetary populations they deem to be expendably infra-human (I'm talking to you, Lawrence Summers, you disgusting death-dealing actually dim-witted self-important scum-bag, and your whole neoliberal wrecking crew).

Americans need to wake up from the delusive dreams of neoliberal corporatist financial-fraudsters and neoconservative militarist imperial-adventurists (which, as David Harvey insists, are not antagonistic but in fact inter-implicated, a neoliberal/neoconservative, corporate-militarist unwholesome whole).

And, just the same, indeed, of a piece with the same, we need to wake up from the quintessentially American futurological fantasies -- originating in nuclear-plastic-petrochemical compensations for too-palpable apocalyptic technoscientific nightmares of nuclear war, accumulating trash, and suburban sprawl, by means of a constellation of schemes and frauds and daydreams of unbounded abundance -- and now consummating in faith-based initiatives like the transhumanists peddling their consumer-age eugenicism, the digital utopians peddling their vaporware, the techno-immortalist hucksters peddling their stainless-steel skin creams and boner pills, and the geo-engineers peddling their glossy corporate-militarist scenarios to combat corporate-militarist climate catastrophe, and so on and on.

Bruce Sterling once had Oscar, the protagonist of his quintessential Clinton-era neoliberal sf novel, Distraction histrionically declaim that America "invented The Future, godammit!" in a moment of hysterical huckster denialism in the face of real limits, and like the shattered protagonist in William Gibson's early sf story "The Gernsback Continuum," it's true, we Americans are still wading deep down in the muddy murky swamp of The Future we sold ourselves, vestigial futuristic chrome gew-gaws and art deco masonry fading in and out of the funk and fog like scarcely discernible sign-posts guiding us nowhere.

The Market is fueled by The Future: two dumbed-down deceptions like the ads on a sandwich-board holding each other up for scrutiny only so long as neither rickety face leans too far under the least pressure and collapses the whole mess.

And the free market fundamentalists are selling The Future most of all. Futurology is the quintessential discourse of neoliberalism, its starkest most insane unsanitary reductio. (I would say that this is activist-scholar Mike Davis's most urgent and abiding insight.)

And be sure, it is the palpable substance of futurity, that openness inhering in the diversity of contending collaborating co-dependent perspectives, productions, projects of self-creation in our present, in our presence, peer-to-peer, that we are selling for this parochial, packaged domestication of The Future -- futurity for The Future, freedom for force, foresight for hyperbole, investment for scams, problem solving for debts, products for logos, governance for landfill, our commonwealth for their shit.

19 comments:

Martin said...

disdaining the practices of laboratory testing and peer-review publications out of which consensus science generates its contingently warranted assertions (preferring, as they do, computer models and computer coders as their ideal "scientists"

Dale, I would have thought that you, as a vegetarian, would prefer models over meat mincing. How a propos of this comment that the Royal Society just released historical documents, where we get to read about 17th Century scientists investigating blood transfusions and the function of the lungs through the suffering of dogs. And don't even get me started on William Harvey.

Dale Carrico said...

Transhumanists peddling techno-immortalization and nanoslavebotic cornucopitopia are endlessly "deducing" the "inevitability" of their wish-fulfillment fantasies through facile generalizations from biology that shatter under the least scrutiny (immortal mollusks! cells are desktop nanofactories!), a scrutiny that never seriously arrives since they are not only not biologists themselves but almost always computer coders instead in veal fattening pens pimpling corporate America, all the while fancying themselves somehow to be sooper-scientists and Shock Level One! Masters of the Universe.

Robot Cultists embrace marginal crank positions on so wide a range an issues that their vaunted Champions of the Enlightenment schtick is even more surreally stupid than the usual crapola that gets peddled in that vein (usually with reactionary humanities relativist menace sloganizing in tow).

Look back at the paragraph from which you have snipped your clip and I think it will be plain enough that these are the connections I am drawing attention to in that passage. You may disagree with all that, but at least you would be disagreeing with what I actually said.

It's true that as an ethical vegetarian I do indeed think that human animals have inflicted all sorts of hideous absolutely unnecessary suffering on nonhuman animals in the pursuit of often redundant, often frivolous, often otherwise substantiable scientific results...

HOWEVER: [one] I don't think one has to be a vegetarian to disapprove cruelty, [two] even as an ethical vegetarian I do think that sometimes nonhuman animals experiments can indeed be justified even when they do cause suffering, and [three] none of this detracts from the points actually under discussion in the passage to which you are drawing our attention.

That is a plenty interesting discussion, but it is such a different discussion than the one at hand the raising of it as an objection to the argument seems a bit like a red herring, frankly.

jimf said...

> [L]ike our fraudulent modern corporatists, selling hyperbolic
> expectations and barking PR pitches. . . as if they were real assets,
> futurological discourses are suffused with the same contempt for
> the material, for the real. . ., disdaining the practices of
> laboratory testing and peer-review publications out of which
> consensus science generates its contingently warranted assertions
> (preferring, as they do, computer models and computer coders as
> their ideal "scientists". . .

Speaking of computer models, and the adequacy (or lack) thereof:

Cat Fight Brews Over Cat Brain
Sally Adee
November 23, 2009
http://spectrum.ieee.org/blog/semiconductors/devices/tech-talk/blue-brain-project-leader-angry-about-cat-brain

"Last week, IBM announced that they had simulated a brain
with the number of neurons and synapses present in a cat's
brain. . .

There are as many theories of mind as there are researchers
working on it, and in some cases there is a real grudge match
between the theorists. . . [I]t seems that none of these are
more bloody than the one between IBM Almaden's Dharmendra Modha
and EPFL's Henry Markram. . .

Henry Markram 11.24.2009
IBM's claim is a HOAX. This is a mega public relations stunt - a
clear case of scientific deception of the public. These simulations
do not even come close to the complexity of an ant, let alone that
of a cat. . .

Why did they get the Gordon Bell Prize? They submitted a non-peer
reviewed paper to the Gordon Bell Committee and were awarded the prize
almost instantly after they made their press release. They seem to
have been very successful in influencing the committee with their
claim, which technically is not peer-reviewed by the respective
community and is neuroscientifically outrageous. . . The only
innovation here is that IBM has built a large supercomputer - which
is irrelevant to the press release. Why did IBM let [them] make
such a deceptive claim to the public? The only possible reason I
can think of is that this a publicity stunt promote their supercompter.
The supercomputer industry is suffering from the financial crisis
and they probably are desperate to boost their sales. It is so
disappointing to see this truly great company allow the deception
of the public on such a grand scale. . .

Two years ago, when the same [group] claimed the mouse-scale simulations,
I cut all neuroscience collaboration with IBM because this is an unethical
claim and it deceives the public.

> Aren't you afraid they will sue you for saying that they have deceived
> the public?

Well there is right and wrong and what they have done is not only wrong,
but outrageous. They deceived you and millions of other people.
Henry Markram Blue Brain Project."


Ah, well.

Dale Carrico said...

Perhaps I should start a new thread for this topic?

Martin said...

jimf: Interestingly, several prominent transhumanists have criticized IBM's claims (or the media's version of IBM's claims). For example here: "I take exception to the recent claim that IBM has created a simulation that is supposedly on par, in terms of complexity and scale, with an actual cat's brain". And here: "If Markram is telling the truth in his allegations... then IBM has lost all credibility".

But the crux of Dale's comment was this: "fraudulent modern corporatists... disdain... the practices of laboratory testing and peer-review publications."

Peer review, yes. Laboratory testing, no. There's plenty of that going on. IBM is doing simulations because, well, they are a computer company.

Dale said: Look back at the paragraph from which you have snipped your clip and I think it will be plain enough that these are the connections I am drawing attention to in that passage. You may disagree with all that, but at least you would be disagreeing with what I actually said.

But I don't disagree with it. I just think there's place for computer models.

Dale again: HOWEVER: [one] I don't think one has to be a vegetarian to disapprove cruelty

I believe most IACUC members are not vegetarians.

[two] even as an ethical vegetarian I do think that sometimes nonhuman animals experiments can indeed be justified even when they do cause suffering

A point with which many vegetarians disagree. Perhaps you should get involved with Pro-Test. BUT anyone concerned with animal welfare should also support efforts to replace traditional animal testing.

Dale Carrico said...

But the crux of Dale's comment was this: "fraudulent modern corporatists... disdain... the practices of laboratory testing and peer-review publications."

Not only is that not the crux of my argument, it's not even something I say in my argument. The quote:

And like our fraudulent modern corporatists, selling hyperbolic expectations and barking PR pitches and debts and stealthily externalized costs and vaporware as if they were real assets, futurological discourses are suffused with the same contempt for the material, for the real: disdaining organismic brains and bodies in which intelligence and life are actually materially incarnated, disdaining the diversity of stakeholder knowledges and aspirations and struggles of which history and progress actually consists, disdaining the practices of laboratory testing and peer-review publications out of which consensus science generates its contingently warranted assertions (preferring, as they do, computer models and computer coders as their ideal "scientists" -- which is rather like preferring accountants as one's ideal "poets" -- grand hypotheses depending on glib general analogies from biology by non-biologists, charismatic cranks, pop-science bestsellers, and would-be gurus over actually widely cited and well-substantiated consensus scientists).

I attribute a preference for computer coders over actual consensus scientists and for digital models over actual results to futurologists, not to corporatists, and I compare this form of disdain for materiality among futurologists to a correlated preference among neoliberal corporatists for debt, hype, and externalization treated as assets (which they disdain) when they are not assets.

I just think there's place for computer models.

You will search in vain for a denial of that modest claim anywhere in my argument. I propose that futurologists disdain the material and the actual for digital animation. One can repudiate their preference for the one and disdain for the other while still comfortably allowing "a place" for computer models.

How many Robot Cultists have to blather on about existence proofs from biology whereupon they admit they are not biologists at all but coders, rhapsodize over Second Life, computer animations of molecular machinery, declarations that since minds aren't supernatural therefore they must be equivalent to computer programs, and so on before one connects the dots at hand?

It would indeed be odd to deny any usefulness at all in computer models to, say, climate science or vehicular design, but nothing of the sort is implied by my point about the disdain for mortal bodies and embodied minds, history materialized as messy social struggles among contending lifeways among Robot Cultists.

Dale Carrico said...

Me: [E]ven as an ethical vegetarian I do think that sometimes nonhuman animals experiments can indeed be justified even when they do cause suffering.

Martin: A point with which many vegetarians disagree.

You don't say! Come what may, I've got my reasons, and I'm content even if many vegetarians disagree.

The exploitation of human and nonhuman animals is so ubiquitous and intensive no-one fails to be complicit in it, even an ethical vegetarian of nearly two decades' standing who doesn't wear leather (like me), and grasping that fact seems to me to be an indispensable point of departure for any non-delusive form of ethics organized around concerns with the treatment of animals (including nonhuman ones).

Declaring the desirability of an ascent to a summit beyond nonhuman animal suffering is immediately understood to be impossible to anybody who pays attention to the realities of that exploitation, and hence the declaration seems to me to be a bit of cheap grandstanding that shows little sign of contributing much of substance to the actual amelioration of actual suffering of actual animals in the actual world.

I think the chief force of such declarations is to signal membership in a moral(izing) community for purposes less connected to desirable outcomes for nonhuman animals than those broadcasting the declarations seem to admit of.

But, yeah, sure, of course I disapprove unnecessary testing on animals. Duh. You uncharacteristically don't seem to want to do nuance at all this morning.

I regret that we are talking about whether or not an ethical vegetarians can ever approve laboratory testing on human or nonhuman animals in the Moot to a post that had something to say that matters to me on matters scarcely connected to the present conversation. It feels like something of a derailment. I'll post an anthology of my posts on vegetarianism and animal rights politics as soon as I finish teaching this week, since this is a topic I care about and would indeed like to hash out with other interested and intelligent folks, but in its place.

Martin said...

Mea culpa. Futurologists, not corporate researchers. Alas, I think that weakens the argument. Corporations don't publish to protect their work. Their bottom line is profit, not the spread of knowledge. But I've talked to plenty of futurologists who support consensus science and peer-review publishing.

And, as I quoted earlier, they aren't afraid to criticize computer models.

How many Robot Cultists have to blather on about existence proofs from biology whereupon they admit they are not biologists at all but coders, rhapsodize over Second Life, computer animations of molecular machinery, declarations that since minds aren't supernatural therefore they must be equivalent to computer programs, and so on before one connects the dots at hand?

It is true that a disproportionate number of futurologists have comp sci backgrounds and focus on comp sci "solutions". Infotech is one of the fastest developing industries, so I think this colors their expectations of the future.

However, futurologists are interested in biological alternatives, too. An example is The Methuselah Foundation. They want an existence proof of age retardation in a biological system (the mouse). Founded by futurologists, they have raised millions of dollars towards this goal.

Another example is their interest in personal genomics and the various personal genomics companies that cropped up in the last couple of years. One only needs to read their actual statements (on the various mailing lists) to see that they are not as narrow as your caricature.

Dale Carrico said...

Dude, Aubrey de Grey is a computer guy. And the Methuselah Mouse does not exist. As for infotech as one of the "fastest developing industries," the dot.bomb happened, that's part of the infotech story.

And come what may, Google isn't going to spit out the Robot God, Moore's Law isn't going to spit out the Robot God, nobody is ever going to be uploaded into cyberspatial heaven, cartoon molecules rotating on a flatscreen won't ever spin gold from backyard dirt.

Sorry, futurology is bullshit, even if its enthusiasts on "the various mailing lists" imagine themselves to constitute an avant-gard. And neither science nor sound policy on any actually existing question needs futurological hype and wish-fulfillment fantasizing to do its proper work.

Futurologists would have to be a hell of a lot wider than my caricature before they began to look the least bit worthy of consideration on their own terms (rather than as an extreme and extremely revealing symptom of more prevailing developmental pathologies as I prefer to consider them myself).

Martin said...

Aubrey de Grey is a computer guy. And the Methuselah Mouse does not exist.

You completely missed the point. A) The fact that a "computer guy" is pursuing biological solutions only weakens your argument that they myopically focus on comp sci solutions, especially since it's a computer guy, and not just a futurologist biologist. B) The fact that the mouse doesn't exist has nothing to do with the original question of whether futurologists focus too much on comp sci. The fact that they are pursuing biological research does.

And come what may, Google isn't going to spit out the Robot God, Moore's Law isn't going to spit out the Robot God, nobody is ever going to be uploaded into cyberspatial heaven, cartoon molecules rotating on a flatscreen won't ever spin gold from backyard dirt.

What does this have to do with the argument at hand? You regularly accuse me of not paying attention to your arguments, when you are the master of spinning off into tangents. Dale, I call this "shotgun debating": throw out a litany of statements so your interlocutor can't address them all, then accuse him of missing the point.

I agree with a lot of what you say, but I single out comments that I disagree with, or that I have questions about, which is what started this thread (re: models vs biology). I only "ignored" your larger point, A) because I mostly agreed with it. Should I offer an eBay style A+++++++++++++++ to every post I agree with? I think the differences between you and your readers are more interesting. And B), I don't have the time to make a point by point critique of your posts.

Dale Carrico said...

I'm saying he's a computer guy and SENS will fail at least in part because of it, because of the manifold pathologies of thinking life through the lens of code, so, no, I don't think my argument is weakened, and, no, I don't think I missed the point. I don't dismiss everything SENS touches on -- like most marginally more sensible Robot Cult types SENS piggybacks the crazy talk on some actual science, but overall SENS, IEET, SFAI, Foresight, Alcor, Humanity+, Lifeboat are all far more Scientology than Science in my estimation. I don't even consider that a controversial claim. Cue the Nazgul choir of howling Robot Cultists.

I must say I don't get all the protests about my not sticking to the argument at hand and going off on tangents and so on. You do recall you are commenting on a post I wrote, don't you? And that you strayed from that topic to talk about things I regard as a distraction? Sorry that you regard it as an impertinence for me to point that out. Bored now.

jimf said...

> I'm saying he's a computer guy and SENS will fail at least
> in part because of it, because of the manifold pathologies
> of thinking life through the lens of code

http://many.corante.com/archives/2004/03/16/relationship_a_vocabulary_for_describing_relationships_between_people.php
March 16, 2004
RELATIONSHIP: A vocabulary for describing relationships between people
Posted by Clay Shirky

Behold RELATIONSHIP, a vocabulary for describing relationships
between people. . . Here, just in case you were wondering,
is how you should be characterizing your relationships with one another:

friendOf, acquaintanceOf, parentOf, siblingOf, childOf, grandchildOf,
spouseOf, enemyOf, antagonistOf, ambivalentOf, lostContactWith,
knowsOf, wouldLikeToKnow, knowsInPassing, knowsByReputation,
closeFriendOf, hasMet, worksWith, colleagueOf, collaboratesWith,
employerOf, employedBy, mentorOf, apprenticeTo, livesWith, neighborOf,
grandparentOf, lifePartnerOf, engagedTo, ancestorOf, descendantOf,
participantIn, participant. . .

Describing relationships with a controlled vocabulary can sound credible
right up to the moment you see the vocabulary. . .

[W]e get friendOf, then for a semantic richness bonus, closeFriendOf.
But if we're going that route, where's veryCloseFriendOf? sleepsWith?
usedToSleepWith? Where's wentToHighSchoolWith? . . .

By extension, the seemingly oxymoronic friendYouDontLike is also a
valid category, as anyone in highly social environments can tell you.
(You often run into friendsYouDontLike at partiesYouHaveToGoTo.)

The RELATIONSHIP list should make it obvious that explicit linguistic
clarity in human relations is a pipe dream. It probably won't though --
the madness of the age is to assume that people can spell out,
in explicit detail, the messiest aspects of their lives, and that
they will eagerly do so, in order to provide better inputs to cool
new software.

jimf said...

"Martin" wrote (to Dale):

> I agree with a lot of what you say. . .

And yet you also wrote (if you're the "Martin" I think
you are):

"Even if, for whatever reason, designing AI turns out
to be an intractable problem, someone will eventually
evolve it on suffi[ci]ently powerful computers. . .

If my conjecture is true, then it seems that the
rational design of AI *as soon as possible* is
ever more pressing."

http://eugen.leitl.org/postbiota/sl4/0501/10711.html

;->

jimf said...

Dale wrote:

> [O]verall SENS, IEET, SFAI, Foresight, Alcor, Humanity+,
> Lifeboat are all far more Scientology than Science in my
> estimation.

Presumably he meant the Singularity Institute for Artificial
Intelligence (SIAI) and not the San Francisco Art Institute
(SFAI).

;->

jimf said...

> . . .the Singularity Institute for Artificial
> Intelligence (SIAI) and not the San Francisco Art
> Institute (SFAI).

Although it did occur to me that Dale might be making a
joke in which SF = Science Fictional. But that single
distortion would break the parallelism of the list --
infelicitous, from a rhetorical perspective.

;->

Dale Carrico said...

For "SFAI," read "SIAI." I teach at SFAI so it must have been at the tip of my typing finger. Thanks for catching that, Jim. An all-night grading marathon followed by an all-day teaching yesterday left me a bit frazzled and testy by the time I got around to looking at the blog. End of term is a bit of a slog.

Martin said...

Dale: I'm saying he's a computer guy and SENS will fail at least in part because of it

SENS is a different issue from the Methuselah Foundation. SENS is de Grey's pet project, and it may very well fail. Actual scientists concluded that it's too speculative to judge right now (in the Technology Review challenge from a couple of years ago).

The Methuselah Foundation provides a prize for a long-lived mouse, but the methodology is open to the investigator. That is at least an incentive for biological research that could succeed, irrespective of the merits of SENS.

jimf: > I agree with a lot of what you say. . .

And yet you also wrote (if you're the "Martin" I think you are):

"Even if, for whatever reason, designing AI turns out to be an intractable problem, someone will eventually evolve it on suffi[ci]ently powerful computers. . .

If my conjecture is true, then it seems that the rational design of AI *as soon as possible* is ever more pressing."


Nice quote mine from almost 5 years ago, when I was an active participant in transhumanist circles. I "left" that community around 2006, although I sometimes comment on Michael's and George's blogs. But then, so does Dale. As for whether I agree with it: I support research and development of AGI as one way of addressing technical and social problems. Unlike Singularitarians, I don't see it as the only or most necessary or most plausible solution.

In any case, my agreement with Dale is on the neoliberal character of many transhumanists. My specific disagreement in these comments was on the importance of computer models, and the quote you dug up kind of supports that.

jimf said...

"Martin" wrote:

> SENS is de Grey's pet project. . . **Actual scientists**
> concluded that it's too speculative
> to judge right now. . .

Speaking of "actual scientists": from the Extropians' list,
courtesy of a post by Australian SF author Damien Broderick.
(The link to Canadian SF author Peter Watts' blog came via
Scottish SF author Charlie Stross's blog. ;-> ).

It's Watts' reaction to the "climategate" brouhaha.

http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=886
--------------------------------
I don’t have much to say about any of that; maybe it’s all real,
maybe it’s been spiked, none of it compromises the overwhelming weight
of evidence in favor of anthropogenic climate change. Whatever.

No, what I want to address here is the attitude of the scientists, and
how that relates to the way science actually works.

I keep running into recurring commentary on the snarkiness of the
scientists behind these e-mails. They’re really entrenched, people seem
surprised to note. Got a real siege mentality going on, speak unkindly
of the skeptics, take all kinds of cheap shots unbecoming of the lab
coat. These people can be downright assholes. . .

The apologists have stepped up, pointed out that these were private
conversations and we shouldn’t expect them to carry the same veneer of
civility that one would expect in a public presentation. “Science
doesn’t work because we’re all nice,” remarked one widely-quoted NASA
climatologist. “Newton may have been an ass, but the theory of gravity
still works.”

No. I don’t think he’s got it right. . .

Science works, to at least some extent, **because** scientists
are asses. Bickering and backstabbing are essential elements
of the process. Haven’t any of these guys ever heard of “peer review”?

There’s this myth in wide circulation: rational, emotionless Vulcans in
white coats, plumbing the secrets of the universe, their Scientific
Methods unsullied by bias or emotionalism. Most people know it’s a myth,
of course; they subscribe to a more nuanced view in which scientists are
as petty and vain and human as anyone (and as egotistical as any
therapist or financier), people who use scientific methodology to tamp
down their human imperfections and manage some approximation of objectivity.

But that’s a myth too. The fact is, we are all humans; and humans come
with dogma as standard equipment. We can no more shake off our biases
than Liz Cheney could pay a compliment to Barack Obama. The best we can
do— the best science can do— is make sure that at least, we get to
choose among competing biases.

That’s how science works. It’s not a hippie love-in; it’s rugby. Every
time you put out a paper, the guy you pissed off at last year’s Houston
conference is gonna be laying in wait. Every time you think you’ve made
a breakthrough, that asshole supervisor who told you you needed more
data will be standing ready to shoot it down. You want to know how the
Human Genome Project finished so far ahead of schedule? Because it was
the Human Genome projects, two competing teams locked in bitter rivalry,
one led by J. Craig Venter, one by Francis Collins — and from what I
hear, those guys did not like each other at all.

This is how it works: you put your model out there in the coliseum, and
a bunch of guys in white coats kick the shit out of it. If it’s still
alive when the dust clears, your brainchild receives conditional
acceptance. It does not get rejected. This time. . .

Science is so powerful that it drags us kicking and screaming towards
the truth despite our best efforts to avoid it. And it does that at
least partly fueled by our pettiness and our rivalries. Science is
alchemy: it turns shit into gold. Keep that in mind the next time some
blogger decries the ill manners of a bunch of climate scientists under
continual siege by forces with vastly deeper pockets and much louder
megaphones.
--------------------------------

jimf said...

And speaking of science's "veneer of civility" -- the modern-day
Web seems to be giving "civilians" a look behind the (shower)
curtain that only insiders were privy to in days gone by.

In the case of the recently-publicized cat fight between Dr. Henry
Markram and Dr. Dharmendra Modha, the spectacle was at least
titillating, and perhaps even edifying.

Two things about that are certain, though: 1) Dr. Markram has
certainly burned his bridges with IBM. No more supercomputer
discounts for **him**! and 2) I'd hate to be in Dr. Modha's
shoes when IBM corporate begins to realize that mud has been
splashed on the company's reputation. This is the same
firm that (more than 40 years ago, of course) allegedly
parted ways with Stanley Kubrick over _2001: A Space Odyssey_
because HAL's going crazy might make their customers
(more) afraid of computers.

;->