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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Today's Random Wilde

Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.

A Reader Comments

Over in the Moot, Richard Jones comments:
[N]anotechnology… draws together so many disparate fields, but [superlative futurologists] are quite wrong if you think that transhumanists have a monopoly on trying to see the big picture -- on the contrary, many nanoscientists spend a great deal of time reading the primary literature from these other fields and engaging with scientists from those fields in person. But the need to engage across many fields doesn't mean that engagement can be superficial or at second-hand. It's significant that you tell us that we should be looking at science websites and blogs. Indeed, these are the main sources for transhumanist oriented blogs like Nanodot and CRN. Valuable though sites like physorg.com are, the source of most of their stories are press releases, not the primary literature at all [emphasis added -- d]. You shouldn't need a rhetorician to tell you that if you want to find reliable sources in any area, press releases are the last place you should look; they've inevitably got something to sell, and they're written by people who certainly aren't experts in science. Add to this the tendency of people with strongly held beliefs about the future trajectory of science to select those stories which seem to them to support those beliefs and you have a recipe for a grossly distorted picture of what's actually happening in science.

Kurzweil (or, more probably, his research assistants) is himself a prime culprit in this sort of distortion. It's an interesting exercise to compare what "The Singularity is Near" says about some piece of research with what is actually contained in the research papers being cited -- for an example, see my analysis of his claims about brain scanning.

And, elsewhere in the Moot, he continues:
[T]o be a convincing generalist it isn't enough to have some superficial impression of large areas of science that you've picked up from popular science books and science reports; you do have to demonstrate to the specialists you interact with that you understand, perhaps not the technical details of their current work, but the basics of their field at the level, say, of a graduate in that area. So, as a physicist, I'm not going to be impressed by people who, say, don't understand the Carnot limit on heat engine efficiency, or how you do a normal mode analysis of vibrations in a solid, or who don't seem able actually to read and understand the papers they cite.

Of course, the place your line of argument is leading is to say that technical knowledge isn't important in deciding the plausibility of the claims of the transhumanists. In which case, it's not a scientist that we need to examine the claims, but someone trained in critically dissecting the hidden assumptions underlying these arguments. Over to you again, Dale.

A Reader Comments

Over in the Moot, Robin writes:
I work professionally in AI, have for a decade, and had to look up this [Singularitarian] Yudkowsky bloke after seeing his name here several times. He can be the mortal god to the fanboys if he wants, because his name is non-existent in my field.

Also: I was teaching Aquinas on the Cosmological Argument on Monday. One of the famous "5 Ways" arguments for the existence of god is, straightforwardly, "Superlativity." We know 'good' and 'not as good,' therefore, there must be something that is 'the most good' causing those things, and this is god. My Intro Philosophy students who know it's the last week of classes and have their minds focused firmly on sitting outside and never doing philosophy again were ALL able to point out how absurd this argument is, and *why*. Yet somehow, the self-described scientific geniuses can't see the conceptual misunderstandings here and how their robotgod is the same as Aquinas' heavenlygod?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

More Reductionism

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:

The repudiation of reductionism in the sense I mean is not an embrace of supernaturalism but a simple reminder that one cannot derive ought from is, coupled with the reminder -- unfortunately, less widely affirmed but quite as crucial -- that oughts are nonetheless indispensable to human flourishing.

That life, intelligence, freedom are not supernatural but natural phenomena suggests that they are, indeed, susceptible, in principle, of natural analysis. But this is certainly no justification for treating our own conspicuously preliminary empirical understandings of life, intelligence, freedom -- or, better yet, essentially figurative formulations that scarcely even pretend to factuality (or consensus, whatever futurological protests to the contrary) except to their faithful -- as already adequate to these phenomena when they palpably are not adequate, just because it is not logically impossible that eventual understanding may become adequate.

Superlatvity Exposed

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:

I hate to break it to you but these figures Kurzweil, Drexler, Moravek, even enormously likable fellows like de Grey (and don't even get me started on that atrocity exhibition Yudkowsky) and so on you like to cite as your authorities are quite simply not taken seriously outside the small circle of superlative futurology itself -- at least not for the claims you are investing with superlative-endorsing significance.

Scientists rightly and reasonably cherish outliers, they benefit from provocation, and at their best will give a serious hearing to the extraordinary so long as it aspires to scientificity -- but there is a difference between this appreciation and the actual achievement of the standard of scientific consensus, just as there is a difference between the achievement of a popular bestseller and that of passing muster as science.

Ever heard of a citation index? You claim to care about facts above all. Well, citation indexes tell a story about the relation of superlativity to scientific consensus that there is no denying if you are truly the reality-based person you want to sell yourself as.

You can't claim at once to be a paragon of science while eschewing its standards.

You simply can't.

You keep trying to divert these discussions of the conceptual difficulties and figurative entailments of your futurological discourse into superficially "technical" discussions about superficially predictive "differences of opinion" about trumped up technodevelopmental timelines -- but you have not earned the right to be treated as somebody having a technical or predictive discussion in these matters.

No developmental "timeline" will spit out the ponies you are looking for at the end of the rainbow. This isn't a question of "predictions."

Pining for an escape from error-proneness, weakness, or mortality isn't the same thing as debating how best to land a rocket on the Moon or cure polio.

I am a teacher of aesthetic and political theory in the academy, precisley the sort of person many superlative futurologists like to deride as a muzzy effete fashionably-nonsensical relativist, but I am for all that a champion of consensus science, a champion of more public funding for research and more public science education, and as a proper champion of consensus science I am the one who tells you that consensus science is no ally to Robot Cultism, no ally of yours.

The proper questions provoked by the phenomena of superlative futurology are: just what renders the aspirations to superintelligence, superlongevity, and superabundance so desirable and so plausible to those who are personally invested in superlative futurological sub(cult)ures organized by shared desire for and faith in these transcendentalizing aspirations?

Turning to these questions one no longer participates in any of the preferred topics that preoccupy the Robot Cultists themselves, who like to treat pseudo-science and superficially scientific forms as shared public rituals, the indulgence in which substantiates in the present the reality effect of their wish-fulfillment fantasies about "The Future," so-called. No, when we treat superlativity as it is, as a narrative genre and a faithful sub(cult)ure, then quickly and quite properly the discussion instead turns terminological, discursive, literary, psychological, ethnographic.

It is no wonder that so many would-be superlative futurologists, as the pseudo-scientists they are, so disdain the thinking of humanities scholarship, which -- while it is indeed non-scientific is not ultimately anti-scientific like their own tends to be -- is precisely the most relevant and capable of exposing them for what they are.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Singularity Is Just Around the Corner

Pay no attention to computer crashes, crumbling infrastructure, melting icecaps, flu pandemics, dear Robot Cultists! We're building that Toypile to Techno-Heaven, you betcha! Immortal Robot Bodies and Holodek Orgy Pits and Desktop Nano-Anything Machines are imminent. Stay tuned for updates from our sooper-scienticians stationed in our secret labs in HQ up at the L5 torus.

Let's Be Mean to Giulio Prisco

Updated and adapted for shits and giggles from the Moot, some more of the incomparably idiotic stylings of Giulio Prisco, Holy High Pontifex of the Order of Cosmic Engineers, and exemplary superlative futurologist:
Extro dearest, I think you are wasting your time. You can say the most reasonable things like 2+2=4,

...or that your organismic brain can be "migrated" into cyberspace or into a shiny robot body and thus immortalized to "live" in a virtual or nanoslavebotic treasure cave in the company of history-shattering superintelligent Robot Gods...
but our host and his disciples

...people who agree with him on some questions while refraining, unlike we ourselves, from heading and championing literal membership organizations declaring themselves to be world-historical "movements" and "-isms" with shared "principles" delineated in online manifestos for all to see...
will claim that you said 4+4=2,

...even if you say it...
and call you an "eugenicist" or other names

...like when some of us declare there to be no difference between deafening a child with a poker and a deaf person selecting for deafness in a wanted child before birth because deafness is harm by definition, or when some of us declare all neuro-atypicality as inherently non-optimal, or when some of us declare that the mere fact that nonhuman animals exhibit non-human intelligence would constitute an ethical duty to "uplift" them into human-conformity if we could...
There is just no way to explain something to someone who does not want to understand.

It's true, Giulio, you'll just have to pray for us sinners who simply stubbornly refuse to recognize the Robot God as our lord and savior despite the flat-out manifest obviousness of the truths of the superlative aspirations to which you cling in your own faithfulness.

Today's Random Wilde

A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.

A Little Determinism, Reductionism, and Superlative Aspiration, and We're Off to the Races!

Upgraded and adapted from another exchange with "Extropia" in the Moot:
the fact that human beings would be prone to disease and injury caused by accident pretty much guarantees the eventual rise of medical science. We would rediscover antibiotics and anesthesia.

The more general point that disease provokes its address seems true enough, but as for the "eventual" discovery of antibiotics and anesthesia I thoroughly disagree there was any kind of inevitability of their discovery or the order of their discovery vis-a-vis other discoveries.

I'm not a technological determinist, I do not agree that there was any "natural" inevitability about the discoveries humans made nor their dissemination nor their application, since I understand the contingent historical, socioeconomic, and cultural dynamics in play in such processes.

One of the reasons I prefer the awkward phrase "technodevelopmental social struggle" over the term "technology" is because it reminds us and helps us to resist the temptations to retroactively invest technoscientific contingencies with inevitability and confuse our limited knowledge in the present (usually invested with deeply prejudicial desires) as a key to "The Future."
the wish that death could be cheated; that one could hold onto the vitality of youth indefinitely. It seems to me that, so persistent is this wish, medical science is bound to be rediscovered if history were run again

That's like saying people feed themselves when they are hungry because they are closeted techno-immortalists or indulging in the wish-fulfillment fantasy of discovering the fountain of youth every time they quench their thirst. Neither is true. Understanding, remedying, and curing diseases -- which, indeed, looks likely soon to include the remediation and cure of some conditions hitherto connected with aging -- isn't about techno-immortalization, "cheating death" (an expression saturated in adolescent religiosity to my eyes), or the invulnerability or eternalization I describe as the super-predicate of superlongevity in the superlative schema. You are hyperbolizing science into a profoundly unscientific sub(cult)ural aspiration for personal transcendence again.
Another technology that is very likely to be re-invented is the computer.

You think an analogue computing device arising out of Greek, Roman, or pre-Euro-modern Chinese civilization would have been morphologically the same, arising out of a water clock or an abacus or who knows what, as an industrial age computer; that it would acquire the same historical associations; that it would be freighted with the same figures and frames and aspirations, such that in every case "the computer" arriving in its "present" would mean the same thing to you as "a computer" does to you now? You think it would inspire the same intuitions and hopes?
Mathematics is so important to science, and a machine that can calculate is such a useful tool for maths (and science) that computers' reinvention is almost certain to happen.

Well, I disagree, or at any rate I disagree how detailed a developmental trajectory you can claim to be entailed by this usefulness. Necessity may be the mother of invention but it is very contingent indeed which necessities seem susceptible of intervention and to which ones we are reconciled, so invention has at least two mommies.
How the brain does what it does has fascinated us for millenia and I cannot imagine us losing that fascination. Therefore, the eventual rise of cognitive computing is a given,

"Therefore"?
because humanity is bound to gather data on how the brain works and use that to design and build computers that are brainlike.

"Brainlike"? Like? Just how "brainlike"? You can say the feedback of a steam release valve is "brainlike" if you want. You can say a bee hive is "brainlike." You can say cauliflower is "brainlike." You can spend the rest of your life delineating the ways in which a soup can is "like" a cereal box. Everything is indefinitely like and unlike everything else, what matters are the determination and communication of salient similarities and differences. And salience is a crucially normative, and therefore plural and contingent, rather than factual matter.

I don't agree there is anything remotely inevitable in the obsession of so many information and computer "science" people with entitative, agentic "artificial intelligence," I consider it an unfortunate accidental association yielding a deranging constellation of narrative frames and figures that at this point amounts to something like an ideology or a religious faith with endless bedeviling implications. I sympathize with Jeron Lanier's critiques of "cybernetic totalism" on this score, to cite somebody who speaks something like language you will likely take more seriously than my own.

I must say that it is classic the way you proceed from an assumption of technological determinism conjoined to a privileging of mathematical calculation and then move straight away to "inevitable" computers and brain modeling and the insinuation that the pony of techno-immortalization via "mind uploading" straightforwardly "follows." If I reconstructed your discourse this way in the abstract, you would decry my facile parody of a hard he-man science I am too literary to grasp, but then you simply reproduce the trajectory yourself completely oblivious to your own entrapment in your propositional and figural entailments. It's as if you are incapable of thinking what you are doing, so preoccupied are you with calculating out your givens.
anything that fulfills persistant wishes stands a good chance of being discovered or invented, provided A) solutions exist and B) we have time enough to work out what those solutions are

There is nothing in the wish itself that informs you as to "A", and "B" doesn't specify a timescale and so there are no ponies in it for Robot Cultists even when you clap with all your might.

You go on, rather refreshingly, to admit that nobody knows enough in the present to earn certainty about future technodevelopments and even admit that futurology is weighted down with hype and scam artistry and fringe loonies (your phrases, this time).

I agree with the tradition of pragmatic philosophy that we can best determine the substance of this admission on your part by observing your subsequent conduct. If you continue to indulge in such speculation to the exclusion of more qualified claims legible in terms of consensus science, or indulge it outside of sf fandoms that don't pretend to be policy think-tank or activist organizations, if you continue to identify as a member of a "movement" suffused with precisely the hype, scam artistry, and fringe loons you here disdain, we will know just what to make of the reasonable noises you find yourself making now, when backed into a corner by somebody who sees very clearly what superlative futurology is actually all about and what it is trying to get away with.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Virginia Woolf, Tilda Swinton, and Jimmy Sommerville Help Make Amor Mundi More Positive





Today's Random Wilde

The moment you think you understand a great work of art, it's dead for you.

Superlativity and Its Bigger Picture

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:

"Extropia" insists that the Robot Cultists are concerned with "the wider picture" as against the "narrow concerns" of people who are doing real science or who are engaging in real progressive activism. I doubt most of their fellow Robot Cultists will so readily concede that theirs is not a scientific enterprise. Indeed, their more conventional line is that they represent champions of "pure science" or "extreme science" as against post-modern relativists in humanities departments and meek sheeple scientists who get into actual citation indexes and all that jazz. They often seem to fancy themselves as constituting instead some kind of high priestly scientific avant-garde soldiering away, no doubt, in their secret labs (presently in their parents' basements but soon enough, you can be sure, in the asteroid belt or deep beneath the sea) building "The Future" one online manifesto at a time, and so on.

But credit where credit is due, I quite agree with "Extropia" that superlative futurology is not best understood as a practice of consensus science, policy-making, or progressive activism (to the contrary of most of its public advocates), but a sub(cult)ural discourse and its associated fandoms instead, devoted to creating a narrative to make disruptive technoscientific change meaningful to those who invest in that narrative, to solicit their identification in marginal communities of shared True Belief, and to answer to the irrational passions (and we all have them, just not the same ones) of the faithful.

Of course, I don't agree with "Extropia" that superlative futurology is concerned with "the wider picture" but just with one of many wider pictures on offer, and a rather flabbergastingly implausible, alienating, anti-democratizing one at that.

Superlative futurology in my view is invested in a constellation of imaginary idealized outcomes, usually denominated "The Future," which its practitioners identify as occasions for their personal transcendence and the shared investment in which provides the palpable compensation in the present of the pleasures and urgencies of personal identification in a self-marginalizing defensive moralizing sub(cult)ure.

That shared superlative futurological identification tends to come at the cost in the present of an ambivalent dis-identification with their worldly peers -- hence all the glib talk of "post"-humanity -- but this cost typically seems to them negligible if not actively desirable given that the Robot Cultist's desire for transcendence via superlative imaginary technodevelopments (superintelligence, superlongevity, superabundance) expresses the ambivalence, or even loathing hostility, here and now, of the Robot Cultists with the frustrations of an error-prone passionate thoroughly social embodied intelligence, with the frustrations of a disease-prone demanding vulnerable socially legible embodied mortal life, with the frustrations of the stakeholder politics of reconciling the ineradicable diversity of aspirations of peers with whom we share the world and the fragility of the freedom bodied forth through that interminable reconciliation.

Quite apart from the "technical" implausibility of the imagined outcomes and developmental timelines proposed by superlative futurologists -- hence their utter marginality from scientific consensus in the actual fields they superficially, selectively, and opportunistically graze for "signs" that their wishes might finally come true for them -- the Robot Cultists divest the concepts of intelligence, life, progress, and freedom of their social/embodied substance and then invest them in a compensatory amplification of blind, brute instrumental force, first rendering them meaningless and then adding insult to injury and confusing this with "emancipation." This in my view is what Superlativity's "wider picture" finally amounts to, really, an obliteration here and now through dumb robotic insensitivity of the open futurity inhering in the collaboration and contestation of the diversity of worldly peers with whom we share the world and history, all in the name of transcendence via the One True Way -- an arrival at "The Future" -- in which Robot Gods clash meaninglessly and inhumanly through the eternal dead night.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Would You Hit It?

No, You're the Cultist!

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot: "Extropia" declares me to be no different from a fulminating Creationist in my assessment that the curious claims of the Robot Cultists are faith-based in their essence. He declares the very confidence of my belief to reveal me to be the True Cultist. From inside the charmed circle of True Belief, glimpses of the outside world seem to get a bit... skewed sometimes, don't they, though?

As it happens, I don't claim to be completely correct in any aspect of my life, I'm not that sort of person at all. I'm a pragmatist by conviction and temperament both, and have no truck with certainties. I do hold strong opinions and delight in testifying to them and am well pleased to own up to the consequences. That is the substance of freedom in my view.

Among these opinions of mine, I am quite confident in declaring Robot Cultism to be a constellation of faith-based initiatives connected in only the most superficial way to the secular democracy of sensible educated enlightened people. The various branches of superlative futurology and their organizational life in the various Robot Cults are marginal both to consensus science and to prevailing progressivity.

Do I need to recite those views of the Robot Cultists again for the peanut gallery, by the way? The preoccupation with "migrating" organismic intelligence into cyberspace? Thereby to "immortalize" or super-longevize it? And so to "live" on in a virtual or nanobotic-slave Heaven? All under the beneficent eye of a history-shattering superintelligent Robot God?

Deny the obvious marginality of these beliefs all you want, you simply expose yourself instantly thereby as a loon (though the beliefs themselves have gone a long way in preparing us for that possibility already). No "arguments" are necessary on this score and, indeed, to indulge them at this level is actually to concede you ground you could not earn on your own crazy terms.

Once we are clear that it is you who are making the extraordinary claims (and, to be fair, I'll cheerfully concede and celebrate that extraordinary claims have often contributed their measure to human progress and delight, especially as aesthetic matters) then we should be agreed that yours are not the terms that define these debates, it is the skeptics you need to convince on terms intelligible to us, with evidences that pass muster on the terms of consensus science, with patient elaborations rather than impatient declarations of your self-evident superiority and certainty despite your utter marginality.

Unfortunately, I suspect you will find that once you engage in a good-faith effort to translate your project into such terms all that will be left that compels any kind of attention will consist of fairly mainstream secular progressive support of well-funded well-regulated equitably-distributed open technoscience in the service of solving shared problems.

Nobody needs to join a Robot Cult to work on actual software security, or actual healthcare, or actual materials science. The deeper psychological and social needs that are truly the ones the Robot Cult answers to -- for the overabundant majority of its True Believers -- are just as well met by a good therapist, a big bottle, a fine book of poems, some modest non-moralizing faith-practice, a good sound occasional fuck, or what have you. As they are for the rest of us.

Hell, Robot Cultists can still indulge for aesthetic and subcultural kicks in sf fandoms and futurological daydreams for all I care (I'm a big sf geek myself after all, I get the sensawunda thing) -- they just shouldn't keep pretending and trying to sell that what they're doing is science or policy or progressive politics in any sense of the word.

Once all that is well and truly cleared up Robot Cultists are just silly people following their idiosyncratic bliss and doing nobody any harm but possibly themselves. Who cares? Let your freak flags fly, as I will mine, for all the world to see.

It is the superlative futurological derangement of public technodevelopmental deliberation, it is the anti-democratizing politics of superlative futurology, it is the deeper more prevailing anti-democratic corporate-militarist futurology the Robot Cultists symptomize in their extremity that are the real dangers and problems that interest me.

Sure, little the Robot Cultists say makes sense on its own terms, either, but that's true of lots of other people and viewpoints that I don't devote my energy to critiquing.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Would You Hit It?

Fun With Robot Cultists

Upgraded and adapted from a couple of exchanges on the Moot: High Holy Pontifex of the Order of Cosmic Engineers Giulio Prisco declares fellow Robot Cultist "Extropia" to be "quite reasonable" in his disapproval of my critique of superlative futurology in what must be regarded as a stunning endorsement, and goes on to imply that I am a "stalinist mind cop." Needless to say, guilty as charged! Bow, bow futurologists! Bow down in your brains!

His point? I quote: "personal incredulity is NOT proof." That is to say, my skepticism about Robot Cultist claims does not constitute proof of their unworthiness.

Of course, it is the extraordinary claim that demands extraordinary proofs and patient elaborations.

Just to be clear, the beliefs we are talking about here in respect to the Robot Cultists are that their organismic intelligences might be "migrated" onto software thereby "immortalizing" (or "superlongevizing" or "indefinitely prolonging") "them" so that they can "live" in a virtual and/or nanobotic slave swarming treasure cave in the Presence of a history ending "superintelligent" post-biological Robot God.

These claims are indeed extraordinary enough that the burden of proof and patient elaboration on the terms of the skeptics and of scientific consensus and not the preferred terms of faithful falls to the Robot Cultists themselves.

To this Prisco responds: "this [sic] extraordinary claims have been formulated by several domain experts much more qualified, respected, and intelligent than you."

Note that he does not dispute the actual beliefs I attribute to him, not the mind migration, not the techno-immortalization, not the the nanobotic slave swarm, not the history-shattering Robot God, but only my lack of qualifications, respectability, and intelligence for declaring them extraordinary enough to bear the burden of proof on terms other than those preferred by the Robot Cultists themselves.

Of course, as Prisco points out, my "incredulity" doesn't constitute a "disproof" that the Robot Cultists are indeed building a toypile to Heaven.

I do think it is fair to point out that Robot Cultists are using words and concepts like "life," "self," "intelligence," "emancipation," and "progress" in ways that are readily shown to be far enough afield from their conventional understanding and proper entailments as to risk outright incoherence. And I have said so on countless occasions. For those reasons, as well as because Robot Cultists are conspicuously indulging in faith-based wish-fulfillment fantasies for which reasonableness and proofs aren't really much in point in any case, I can't say that I see Prisco or the rest of his futurological cosmic cohort arriving yet at the place from which they can demand "disproofs" in the first place. To indulge such demands looks to me to concede them a coherence and reasonableness they have never yet earned.

Evil

The Shrill One: "Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link. There’s a word for this: it’s evil."

Still in the Tank, I Guess…

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, from my latest response to "thanatz p.":
What prompted the blogosphere outrage ... was the message the WH was pushing hard via Gibbs and Emanuel Thurs-Sun that there would simply be no prosecutions.

That "hard push" to which you refer was an immoderate exaggeration contradicted (or, to be generous, complicated) by other actually available facts. The title of the post that prompted your initial comment was "I guess I see these things differently" because it seemed to me I was literally seeing different things than the outraged were seeing.

Comments by Gibbs and Emanuel seemed to me to be genial conciliatory noises made for the benefit of tractable opposition forces by people whose role wasn't to make the decisions of an independent AG as to prosecutions in the first place, while Obama's release of the memos seemed to me yet another facilitation of the process of prosecution that his stance on lawfulness on the campaign trail followed by his reversal of lawlessness upon entering office coupled with his awareness of upcoming Congressional commissions and reports all seemed orchestrated to accomplish. It just seemed to me Obama was being more intelligent in the way he was proceeding than others who wanted the same outcome were demanding he be, all because they were less patient and less pragmatic (and rather paranoid) to no good purpose.
Indeed that I think he needs be strong-armed into doing things he advocated on the campaign trail is not due to juvenile assumptions about supposed evil intentions or sinister motives, but rather the recognition that he must deal with extremely powerful institutional structures that remain fundamentally unchanged from their state in the Bush-Clinton era and which themselves are capable of pushing back.

But of course that's why he's leaning on slow-moving multi-lateral processes that cause blogospheric impatience, and making conciliatory noises that provoke blogospheric outrage. You point to declarations of principle made "on the campaign trail" as if to suggest Obama has compromised the dedication to lawfulness that won him the election (among so many other things) somehow even though he literally reversed the lawlessmess immediately, tried to re-invigorate the proper separation of the branches of government and de-politicize Justice and so facilitate the proper processes through which lawfulness must actually be re-established (I actually have quibbles with some of his moves on this score but the thrust is clear and clearly different from the one that drives your comment), released the memos that have pushed the process forward at exactly the moment when a host of other reports are emerging in the media from professional and congressional committees all to consolidate support for what might be unprecedented prosecutions, made conciliatory noises to nervous institutions fearing scapegoating in the face of such turmoil, and so on.

You seem to see complex competing institutional dynamics as reasons to presume Obama a hypocrite and failing in consequence to observe facts that look to me to contradict that presumption in Obama's actual conduct. The very moves that prompted outrage were more properly understood in my view as signs that Obama is sensitive to the institutional complexities you claim to grasp are in play here. I'm glad you say you don't impute sinister motives to Obama, though. Some commentators of whom I would have expected better have done just that through this episode, and not at all only those mouthbreathing jackholes of the right.
[T]he country needs to show Obama that it wants this.

Well, I certainly agree with this. But I disagree that those who desire prosecutions of lawlessness should have needed this reassurance given the actual facts, nor do I see that the process of prosecution itself has been advanced by the freakout that prompted the walkback. The Right is too disorganized to take advantage of what could have been a squandering of political capital and a loss of control of messaging, but that's just luck. We can't count on that luck forever, we should be more intelligent.

We should certainly be signing petitions for impeachments (links to such have appeared on this blog, for example) and disbarments and organizing rallies to express outrage at perpetrators (and not against the President!) and to push back against Bush loyalists who try to spin respect for law as partisanship and media outlets that push this sort of line, while showing support for the Administration and congresscritters who take the risk of supporting prosecutions themselves.

Endlessly and impatiently scouting for signs of betrayal and hypocrisy while at that very moment the Administration facilitates delicate damaged accountable information-gathering and consensus-gathering and alliance-building and message/momentum-building processes eventuating in prosecutions in the face of complex oppositional forces is possibly not really so productive as you seem to think it is?
When Obama's proxies explicitly reject the rule of law people should get angry.

That never happened, by my lights. I think you made a mistake. Your heart's clearly in the right place, we're clearly on the same side, and if Nixon Reagan Bush Gingrich W. has made you skittish that is certainly understandable. But I think we should all stop confusing hairballs coughed up by sensationalist media based on decontextualized statement snippets as signs of betrayal and hypocrisy in the face of multitudes of facts that complicate such a picture to say the least.

As I said before I was especially upset at those who saw signs of palpable betrayal in Obama even as he intelligently facilitated processes through which the very outcomes they desired would properly be accomplished -- this seemed to me to amount to outrage against doing things intelligently -- and upset at those who used this immoderate overreaction as rationale for rhetoric claiming a Bush-Obama equivalence that is, frankly, outrageous and flabbergastingly wrongheaded. I can't see how that helps progressives at all. I think our President is doing an amazing job, and remains an incomparable force for actually-possible progressive change in the world.

It's More Than Fun to Ridicule the Ridiculous Robot Cultists, It's a Duty

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:

Transhumanists and Singularitarians and Techno-Immortalists and Ayn Raelians and all the other Robot Cultists are indeed cranks, and also quite as silly a sub(cult)ure as they are a marginal one. You must remember two things though -- One, they represent in my view a kind of clarifying reductio of the hyperbole, reductionism, eugenicism, alienation, and anti-democratizing elitism that characterizes prevailing global neoliberal technoscientific developmental discourses more generally; and Two, Neoconservatism provides a recent lesson that a marginal and palpably idiotic sub(cult)ure of boys who say things that are useful to incumbent interests in just the right way at just the right time can do flabbergasting amounts of damage to the world despite being silly marginal cranks when all is said and done.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

No Pony for You!

I'm a bit preoccupied with teaching for a couple of days, so I may be blog-fluffing more than blog-posting today and tomorrow. Of course, it's easy enough to get you something to chew on, just dredging up exchanges from still-ongoing Moots that most of you will have long-since stopped scrolling back down to. Here is my latest response to dead-end Robot Cultist "Extropia" from earlier this morning, for instance:

I expect you have heard of 'Moore's Law'

Round and round we go. Let me quote myself from an earlier already boring turn on the superlative carousel:
Despite the palpable brittleness, the incessant crashes, the unnavigable junk manifested by actual as against idealized software, despite Lanier's Law that "software inefficiency and inelegance will always expand to the level made tolerable by Moore's Law," despite the fact that Moore's Law may be broken on its own terms either on engineering grounds or in its economic assumptions, many Singularitarians still seem to rely on a range of imbecilic to baroque variations on the faith that Moore's Law amounts to a rocket ship humanity is riding to Heaven. Others have shifted their focus these days to the nanoscale, but they still seem to find Destiny where scientific consensus sees a mountain range of problems demanding qualifications and care.

I do not believe anything we have learned about the brain rules out the possiblity of one day building machines who think.

First, It's commonplace for the faith-based to pretend that their inability to imagine a disproof constitutes a proof of whatever extraordinary claims they're personally invested in. Second, I don't trust that you all know what you are talking about when you say "who think." There is much more to the "thinking who" than is dreamed of in your philosophy. (And, no, I'm not talking about a mystical "soul.")

past efforts at AI failed: They lacked power

Reductive instrumentalization of reason? Check. Thinking all you need is a bigger and bigger and bigger hammer to arrive at your wish-fulfillment fantasies? Check. Dumb boys with toys who think they're the smartest guys in the room without actually grasping even the most basic things about intelligence, emotion, sociality, or practicality in the actual world? Check.

"JimF" asks a question: So you think you **are**, in some sense, your Second Life persona, eh?

"Extropia" answers: As a first approximation, yes


No, you're not. Really, hon, you're not. Your life is not your "Second Life." You're also not a photograph taken of you. Not even if it's from Glamour Shots. You're not a brain scan of you. Nor would you be an "upload" of you. (Cue Soup Nazi voice) No robo-immortalization for you!

Shorter Dick, Vice

Torture isn't just evil but yields false information, but when you are actually looking for false confessions to justify an immoral illegal war you want to wage for kicks and profits it can be very useful which makes it good after all, if you will, which you probably don't understand because you're not working on the dark side, as it were, like some soopergeniuses I know, myself included.

(About that blog title -- every goddamn pun intended.)

Today's Random Wilde

There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

Would You Hit It?

It's Centaur Wednesday, Y'all!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In the Tank...

Upgraded and adapted from a response to a comment in the Moot:

I'm not the least bit less aware of injustices in this white racist patriarchal corporate-militarist society than you are, nor of their corrupting impact on our governing institutions, although it is unclear to me if your cynicism is really so stark that you are forced into advocating armed revolution or if, ultimately, you must trust the same processes I'm admitting I trust, but you just want to pretend to be more hard-core and unrelenting about it because that's the trip you're on.

I'm not the least bit less eager for prosecutions of warcrimes than you are, I'm just not indulging in the "progressive" fantasy that in a better world such prosecutions would be unilaterally and instantly implemented by an enlightened despot who happens to agree with you, or with me for that matter.

What's Actually Happening

[Today's NYT]
[E]ven as he tried to reassure the Central Intelligence Agency that it would not be blamed for following legal advice[,] Mr. Obama said it was time to admit “mistakes” and “move forward...”

And while Mr. Obama vowed not to prosecute C.I.A. officers for acting on legal advice, on Monday aides did not rule out legal sanctions for the Bush lawyers who developed the legal basis for the use of the techniques.

The president’s decision last week to release secret memorandums detailing the harsh tactics employed by the C.I.A. under his predecessor provoked a furor that continued to grow on Monday as critics on various fronts assailed his position. Among other things, the memos revealed that two captured Qaeda operatives were subjected to a form of near-drowning known as waterboarding a total of 266 times….

On Sunday, Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said on the ABC News program “This Week” that “those who devised policy” also “should not be prosecuted.” But administration officials said Monday that Mr. Emanuel had meant the officials who ordered the policies carried out, not the lawyers who provided the legal rationale….

[T]he Democratic chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees are pushing for a commission to look into the matter. At the same time, the administration faces pressure from abroad. Manfred Nowak, the United Nations’ chief official on torture, told an Austrian newspaper that as a party to the international Convention against Torture, the United States was required to investigate credible accusations of torture.

The policies have been reversed or are being reversed. You can pretend that this doesn't matter, but it does.

Obama is President, he is not a prosecutor, and the actual prosecutor is supposed to be independent. Rather surreally, the thing for me is that I fully think there will indeed be prosecutions, impeachments, disbarments, and consequences across the board for these illegal policies (something I scarcely imagined possible in the dark days), and I see nothing that anybody is saying as any reason to doubt either that they will be or even that Obama wants just this result. He's a Constitutional scholar, you know. Those who say Obama should be demanding these prosecutions and raising hell in the face of a nervous CIA whose support he actually does need rather than simply supporting his AG when the process unfolds are being far less scrupulously principled than they seem to fancy themselves as -- remember, we like independent judiciaries and smooth functioning accountable processes in our nation of laws.

When Obama asked for advice about the release of the torture memos, many in his cabinet urged secrecy but Holder quite properly recommended their release and they were released. By all means, ignore the implications of that. You may notice that the Administration is walking back the impression that Emanuel's Sunday slip-up, if that's what it was, suggests the architects of the torture regime are to be immune from prosecution. You may not have noticed that even if those who were "following orders" are to be so immune, this wouldn't necessarily immunize all those who participated in some of the acts of torture we've already heard about which seem to go beyond even the immoral and illegal pseudo-limits specified in the memos themselves.

Let the process unfold, keep the pressure up, but don't undermine the work that is also underway with silly self-indulgent declarations about Obama's "complicity" in war crimes as he struggles under the auspices of damaged laws and institutions and processes to make things right. We don't approve of "Unitary Executives" even when they say things we approve of, surely. Stop shooting yourselves in the foot to no purpose.

Today's Random Wilde

I can resist everything except temptation.

By the way,

of course I know that Americans in general still support Obama enthusiastically, especially considering the actual pain and problems out here, and also that the world at large is still sighing its rather silly collective orgasmic sigh over Obama, and so on. My annoyance is with certain public progressive voices that I counted on for sense in the midst of the distress of the Bush era but which now seem all too quick to indulge in the most senseless reflexive paranoia and impracticality imaginable.

I Guess I Just See These Things Differently

The Justice Department is actually supposed to be independent from the Presidency and the Attorney General isn't supposed to make prosecutorial decisions based on political considerations. I'm sure you can find clips on YouTube in which President Obama explains these things to you. Look, torture is a war crime, war crimes are crimes, we ourselves wrote and signed the treaties that made them so, and prosecuting crimes is what happens when there is reasonable suspicion that they have been committed.

Of course President Obama and Rahm Emmanuel have been making conciliatory let's look forward not backward political noises exactly as they have done in respect to pretty much every topic imaginable at this point -- maybe you've noticed? -- it isn't exactly clear to me why people are losing their lunch over this stuff.

Frankly, it isn't even clear to me why people think Obama should actually be telegraphing prosecutorial intentions in respect to numbers of high-level officials in the administration immediately preceding his own even if he has them -- he may indeed not have them, in which case I disagree with him without finding his obvious reasons entirely unreasonable -- certainly I don't think he should post Wanted signs up on post office walls with pictures of the war criminals of the Killer Clown Administration on them just because if he doesn't Naomi Klein (whose books I love, by the way, and actually teach in my critical theory classes, so give it a rest, please) is sure to write another article reminding us that Obama doesn't poop ponies just in case, presumably, we are unaware of that stunning fact and in consequence of which certain usually more reliable people of the left will momentarily lose their minds again.

Are people claiming that Obama's general let's solve this problem and then work on the next problem m.o. constitutes undue political pressure on Attorney General Holder? Are people worried that Holder is too caught up in political considerations himself to exercise his proper job in these matters? I mean, that's why we appoint special prosecutors, right? You know, there are actually processes literally in motion right now in Congressional committees that look to me easily as facilitative as frustrating to eventual justice on these questions. That's not far from how things should look in a relatively functional republic of laws, if you ask me.

But since no pixie dust is in evidence I guess it just plain makes sense that impatient Americans who've lost that lovin' feelin' would interpret Obama's focus on upcoming EFCA and healthcare battles instead of warcrimes prosecutions for neocons as clear signs that he is finally more or less the same as Bush and that "true" progressives should vote for unelectable Greens from here on out and leave the governance of the country to a marginal white racist patriarchal corporate-militarist theocratic rump party or perhaps take to the hills in some sort of leftist Red Dawn scenario or whatever it is that is driving all this immoderate freaking out about a President who is doing more good while coping with more evil awfulness than any in living memory, consummately holding together a diverse and sometimes divided pampered and sometimes infantile nation of hundreds of millions of opinions and guns soaking in the blood of its immoral wars and the steaming shit of a Greenhouse future it made and trying to make something better. Deny it if you will, I guess I just see these things differently.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hannah Arendt on AI

And now for the third and final excerpt of something like an unexpected trilogy of excerpts from Hannah Arendt today. Although this is likely to be the first many readers encounter in consequence of the chronological arrangement of posts in a blog, I do want to stress that this is the third, and in many ways least interesting, of the trilogy, an excerpt that needs the earlier two (first here and second here) to take on its real salience as a complement to what I criticize as superlative futurology. This passage appears in The Human Condition, on pp. 171-172, and nicely ties together some of the themes from the preceding discussion.
If it were true that man is an animal rationale in the sense in which the modern age understood the term, namely, an animal species which differs from other animals in that it is endowed with superior brain power, then the newly invented electronic machines, which, sometimes to the dismay and sometimes to the confusion of their inventors, are so spectacularly more "intelligent" than human beings, would indeed be homunculi. As it is, they are, like all machines, mere substitutes and artificial improvers of human labor power, following the time-honored device of all division of labor to break down every operation into its simplest constituent motions, substituting, for instance, repeated addition for multiplication. The superior power of the machine is manifest in its speed, which is far greater than that of human brain power; because of this superior speed, the machine can dispense with multiplication, which is the pre-electronic technical device to speed up addition. All that the giant computers prove is that the modern age was wrong to believe with Hobbes that rationality, in the sense of "reckoning with consequences," is the highest and most human of man's capacities, and that the life and labor philosophers, Marx or Bergson or Nietzsche, were right to see in this type of intelligence, which they mistook for reason, a mere function of the life process itself, or, as Hume put it, a mere "slave of the passions." Obviously, this brain power and the compelling logical processes it generates are not capable of erecting a world, are as worldless as the compulsory processes of life, labor, and consumption.

Again, we have in the reference to the "worldlessness" of instrumental calculation and its effects a unique Arendtian usage. For Arendt the "world" is profoundly political in its substance, akin to the sense in which when we speak of "worldly" concerns we often mean to indicate more than just planetary or natural concerns, but public and cultural affairs more generally. On p. 52 of The Human Condition, she writes that "the term 'public' signifies the world itself." She continues
This world... is not identical with the earth or with nature... It is related, rather, to the human artifact, the fabrication of human hands, as well as to affairs which go on among those who inhabit the man-made world together [emphasis added --d]. To live together in the world means essentially that a world of things is between those who have it common, as a table is located between those who sit around it; the world, like every in-between, relates and separates men at the same time.

Among other things, it seems worthwhile to draw attention to Arendt's idiosyncratic understanding of the "world" especially since this is the world the love of which Arendt announced in her personal motto, Amor Mundi. Think of the way in which we are born into a speech, a "mother tongue," the existence of which long precedes our birth and will continue on long after our death, but which, for all that still consists entirely of our own performances of it, performances that at once sustain it in its existence but also change it (through coinages, figurative deviations, and so on).

Your Taste in Despots

I will admit to a certain perplexity in finding some voices on the left that seem almost as upset at President Obama's unwillingness to assume the role of "enlightened despot" as they were upset at President Bush's eagerness to assume the role of unenlightened one.

MundiMuster! Sign the Resolution to Impeach Judge Bybee

[Found via The Courage Campaign]
"These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations....They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values....These memos make it clear that (Judge Jay) Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him." -- Editorial in the New York Times, Sunday, April 19


When President Barack Obama released the contents of President Bush's torture memos, America learned the full extent of the horror that was unleashed at Guanatanamo Bay on detainees. One of the memos was written by Jay Bybee in August 2002. It authorized the use of waterboarding, "cramped confinement", "walling" -- where a detainee's head is repeatedly pushed against a wall -- and even putting insects into a confined space with a detainee.

Jay Bybee is now a federal judge here in California, serving on the important Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco. He has not been held accountable for the lawbreaking he committed and enabled.

The California grassroots are determined to change that. Los Angeles Democratic activists John Heaner, Agi Kessler and Richard Mathews have sponsored a resolution calling on the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings against Jay Bybee.

Please join the L.A. County Democratic Party, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, the Crooks and Liars blog, and People For the American Way by signing your name in support of this resolution. DEADLINE: Friday 9 AM

Text of the Resolution:

RESOLUTION TO IMPEACH JUDGE JAY BYBEE

Whereas, the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the people a right to petition the government for a redress of grievances; and,

Whereas the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment, the supreme law of the land under Article VI of our Constitution, requires the prosecution of those who authorize torture, waterboarding is torture, and both former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Richard B. Cheney have admitted to authorizing waterboarding; and,

Whereas former Assistant Attorney General, and current Federal Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Jay Bybee signed the "Bybee Memo," or "Torture Memo" of August 1, 2002, which advised the C.I.A. that "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment was at times allowable under U.S. law, and authored, co-authored and signed other memos on "extraordinary rendition" and "enhanced interrogation," more of which are being currently revealed to the American public as the new administration brings them to light; now,

Therefore be it resolved that the undersigned urge that the United States House of Representatives begin impeachment proceedings against Judge Jay Bybee of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, charging him with facilitating the authorization of torture while employed by the United States Department of Justice; and,

Therefore be it further resolved that a copy of this resolution with its original authorization be sent to the Office of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, and that copies of the signed resolution be sent to each member of the California delegation to the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

Sign the resolution. Remember, the DEADLINE is Friday 9 AM

Hannah Arendt on Common Sense

This is from The Human Condition, pp. 283-284. To be clear here, Arendt is proposing that two quite radically different modes of rationality have been described with the term "common sense," and that the prevailing one substitutes for public deliberation an instrumental calculation insensitive to, and indeed obliterative of, the fragile substance of enacted and re-enacted human freedom (for which, in any case, it also substitutes the meaningless seductions of an endlessly amplified instrumental force). I'm pushing the grammar of the first sentence quite a bit here -- though not to the cost of its actual sense, I am confident -- not because I think it is unclear or ungraceful as written (far from it), but just because I want to stress the way in which it is proposing the key distinction on which what follows depends:
[C]ommon sense... once had been the ["sense"] by which all other senses, with their intimately private sensations, were fitted into the common world, just as vision fitted man into the visible world[. But] now [it has become] an inner faculty without any world relationship. This sense now [is] called common merely because it happened to be common to all. What men [sic] now have in common is not the world but the structure of their minds, and this they cannot have in common, strictly speaking; their faculty of reasoning can only happen to be the same in everybody. The fact that, given the problem of two plus two we all will come out with the same answer, four, is henceforth the very model of common-sense reasoning.

Note that in denying that humans can have the structure of their minds identically in common, Arendt is not denying that there is obvious salient structural overlap in that structure (in fact, she takes this for granted by the paragraph's end), she is denying instead that salience is restricted to the ways in which they do overlap. Philip Rieff's encomium to Freud, that he "democratized genius by giving everybody a creative unconscious," is very much in point here. That we might indeed be neurocomputationally identical in our shared recourse to instrumental rationality provides little reason to imagine we are comparably identical in our capacity to make meaning, express value, divert literal into figurative language, unpredictably interrupt custom and calculation and so "change the subject" in the deepest sense and so on. To deny that "strictly speaking," we actually "cannot have in common" the "structure of [our] minds" is actually to a certain extent little more than the facile materialist admission that we think with different brains even when we think with them similarly, but also that the material structure of these different brains surely materially attest to the different memories, customs, dispositions they incarnate. Be that as it may, Arendt is freighting this distinction of instrumental as against deliberative conceptions of common sense with extraordinary significance. She continues:
Reason, in Descartes no less than in Hobbes, becomes "reckoning with consequences," the faculty of deducing and concluding, that is, of a process which man at any moment can let loose in himself. The mind of this man -- to remain in the sphere of mathematics -- no longer looks upon "two-plus-two-are-four" as an equation in which two side balance in a self-evident harmony, but understands the equation as the expression of a process in which two and two become four in order to generate further processes of addition which eventually will lead into the infinite.

Here, I believe, we find the gesture of superlativity in perhaps an unexpected place, perhaps a foundational place, in which an initial reduction or impoverishment of reason into instrumentality is compensated by a promissory amplification of instrumentality, means without end or ends, functionally substituting force for freedom.
This faculty [ie, instrumental calculation] the modern age calls common-sense reasoning; it is the playing of the mind with itself, which comes to pass when the mind is shut off from all reality and "senses" only itself.

It is crucial to grasp that the "reality" from which this instrumentalized mind is cut off is the substantial reality of the public sphere, the world in common made and sustained by peers acting in concert. Arendt is not literally mistaking instrumentalization as a kind of comatose state, although she would likely point out that both states amount to the radical objectification of a subject no longer able legibly to act in the world on her own. Arendt is not denying that objects of calculation have an alterity that can frustrate our ends and confound our expectations, but proposing that they must first be constituted as objects, subsumed within our conventions, to be legible as frustrating or confounding in salient ways in the first place. Under the mode of instrumentalization a thing to be known must first be made by us or made-knowable by us, we can only trust what we make. This is an argument she elaborates at great length prior to the passage I have quoted here, in an extended reading of the Cartesian Doubt. As always, there is much more to say here than I have time to say it where Arendt is concerned. For now, I will treat the next couple of sentences continuing from the passage above as a conclusion of this particular discussion:
Whatever difference there may be [between intelligent individuals, once their intelligence is reduced to instrumentality] is a difference of mental power, which can be tested and measured like horsepower. Here the old definition of man as an animal rationale acquires a terrible precision: deprived of the sense through which man's five animal senses are fitted into a world common to all men, human beings are indeed no more than animals who are able to reason, "to reckon with consequences."

What intrigues me about this last comment is that while it seems to decry the reduction of human beings to the status of animals (a reduction that has never much disturbed me, since I am quite happy to concede nonhuman animals their share of dignity and a stake in the collaboration of peers in sharing and making a world worth living in), it seems to mark more emphatically in fact the further reduction of human animals to mere mechanisms, an altogether more troubling move it seems to me, and one prone to all sorts of mischief.

Hannah Arendt on Futurology

Arendt is speaking here of "think tanks" like the Rand Corporation who were gaming out genocidal and suicidal war scenarios in the epoch of Vietnam and Mutually Assured Destruction and with the most murderous and disastrous imaginable consequences, fancying themselves consummately rational in their palpable irrationality all the while. Arendt is not addressing what I describe as superlativity here, but it will be very clear that superlativity is an intelligible amplification of this thoughtlessness misconstrued as deliberation. The piece is excerpted from On Violence, from the anthology Crises of the Republic, pp. 108-110.
[T]here are, indeed, few things that are more frightening than the steadily increasing prestige of scientifically minded brain trusters in the councils of government during the last decades. The trouble is not that they are cold blooded enough to "think the unthinkable," but that they do not think. Instead of indulging in such an old-fashioned, uncomputerizable activity, they reckon with the consequences of certain hypothetically assumed constellations without, however, being able to test their hypotheses against actual occurrences. The logical flaw in these hypothetical constructions of future events is always the same: what first appears as a hypothesis -- with or without its implied alternatives, according to the level of sophistication -- turns immediately, usually after a few paragraphs, into a 'fact,' which then gives birth to a whole string of non-facts, with the result that the purely speculative character of the whole enterprise is forgotten. Needless to say, this is not science but pseudo-science[.]

This last comment is crucial, since with this judgment it becomes clear that Arendt's earlier description of the futurologists as "scientifically-minded" was not an attack on science but on a kind of pseudo-science that sells itself as science. Needless to say, the "unthinkable" in this passage is mostly a matter of the actual contemplation of nuclear war (an inherently and absolutely unreasonable and unconscionable calculation), but we know from the "Prologue" to The Human Condition that it is not only the unprecedented self-destructive potential of nuclear weapons that confront humanity with its dissolution via the thoughtless unfolding of the instrumental logic arising from technique unrestrained by public deliberation, indeed technique amplified and misconstrued as an apt substitute for the freedom of public deliberation.

In Superlativity, in my sense of the term, the "unthinkable" has connected up to the theological "unthinkable," to the Mystery of Divinity evoked by the very incoherence of the omni-predicates through which "God" is presumably apprehended as unapprehendable. The promise of personal transcendence via the technodevelopmental aspirations to superintelligence, superlongevity, and superabundance preoccupy superlative futurology, but they are pseudo-scientific in Arendt's sense of the term, while mobilizing the anti-scientific energies of the Mystery as well. Taking up the superficial coloration of scientificity while failing to pass muster according to its legitimate forms, even more extraordinarily Superlativity evokes worldly experiences like intelligence, life, and emancipation, and then evacuates them of their worldly substance as biological, social, historical phenomena in a repudiation of the world and embrace of supernatural reward ("The Future") that is quintessentially faithful.

Arendt's critique of futurology continues on, a bit further down the page. You will discover that I am not forcing a false association on Arendt in describing her critique as anti-"futurological," even if I do extend its terms in a number of ways I can't know she would approve of.
Events, by definition, are occurrences that interrupt routine processes and routine procedures; only in a world in which nothing of importance ever happens could the futurologists' dream come true. Predictions of the future are never anything but projections of present automatic processes and procedures, that is, of occurrences that are likely to come to pass if men [sic] do not act and if nothing unexpected happens; every action, for better or worse, and every accident necessarily destroys the whole pattern in whose frame the prediction moves and where it finds its evidence. Proudhon's passing remark, "The fecundity of the unexpected far exceeds the statesman's prudence," is fortunately still true. It exceeds even more obviously the expert's calculations.) To call such unexpected, unpredicted, and unpredictable happenings "random events" or "the last gasps of the past," condemning them to irrelevance or the famous "dustbin of history," is the oldest trick in the trade; the trick, no doubt, helps in clearing up the theory, but at the price of removing it further and further from reality. The danger is that these theories are not only plausible, because they take their evidence from actually discernible present trends, but that, because of their inner consistency, they have a hypnotic effect; they put to sleep our common sense, which is nothing else but our mental organ for perceiving, understanding, and dealing with reality and factuality.

The force of this final point turns on Arendt's understanding of common sense, and as it happens that understanding of common sense is one that made her an early under-appreciated critic of the traditional program of artificial intelligence. I will turn briefly to that understanding in my next post. What I would emphasize for now, though, is that Arendt is not simply making the claim that futurology underestimates the complexity and dynamism and vicissitudes of the history it claims to predict and so should take greater care to qualify its overconfident assertions (although that is indeed a recommendation that most futurologists would do well to take on board). She is actually making the more forceful claim that futurology as a discourse is premised on the substitution of the mode of reason that is instrumental calculation for the mode of reason that is public deliberation, and since the latter for Arendt is incomparably more suited to address the substance of human history -- the narrative of a diversity of peers unpredictably acting in the world -- to which futurology seeks to address its own attention, this substitution of instrumentality for deliberation risks more than factual and predictive errors but more seriously still the inculcation of an insensitivity to that substance of history and its freedom that actually manages to undermine its reality. To lose sight of differences that make a difference, like the difference between political power and instrumental force or the correlated difference between public deliberation and instrumental calculation, results, as Arendt writes later in the same piece, "in a kind of blindness to the realities they correspond to" (p. 142), and since these are political realities that must be enacted and re-enacted to maintain their reality, blindness to their salience is too likely the prelude to their loss.

The other thing to say is that it is possible, as always, to read Arendt's lucid and graceful prose with a sense of real gratification but without quite grasping the full force of her arguments, since she deploys everyday terms like "routine," "act," "calculation" in a very specific rather than glib way, and that the force of her account ultimately derives from the ways in which these terms are embedded in the provocative constellation of distinctions she is endlessly introducing into conventional thinking while sometimes seeming simply to be thinking conventionally. This makes even long excerpting of her work a tricky business, since it is easier than usual to draw an incomplete or misleading insight from taking her writing out of its extended context. I hope I can recompense the risk of multiplying such misunderstandings through injudicious excerpting by seducing readers into reading the actual texts on their own terms through judicious excerpting.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Superlativity Is Neither Enlightened Nor Scientific

Upgraded and adapted from a response of mine in the Moot:

There is nothing in current technique that "implies" the arrival at the superlative outcome in which you are personally invested.

What I see is humanity discovering things and applying these discoveries to the solution of shared problems (and usually creating new problems as we go along) where you seem to see a "trend," a series of stepping stones along the path to an idealized superlative outcome. This time, you are calling it "control of matter with atomic precision." What you probably really mean by this is something like the arrival of "drextech," or the "nanofactory," a robust programmable poly-purpose self-replicating room-temperature device that can transform cheap feedstock into nearly any desirable commodity with a software recipe.

I call this superlative outcome "superabundance," and this particular superlative aspiration is also familiar in a great deal of digital utopianism and virtuality discourse of the last decade, just as it suffused discourses of automation and plastic in the post-war period before that, just as it drove the alchemical project of turning lead into gold for ages before that.

The aspiration to superabundance is the infantile fantasy of a circumvention of the struggle with necessity, ananke: in psychoanalytic terms a pining for a return to the plenitude represented by the Pleasure Principle and renunciation of the exactions represented by the Reality Principle. Or, in different terms, it is an anti-political fantasy of a circumvention of the struggle to reconcile the ineradicable diversity of the aspirations of our peers with whom we share the world (where all are satisfied, no personally frustrating reconciliation is necessary).

In both of these aspects, it seems to me that this superlative aspiration is an irrationalist repudiation of the heart of what Enlightenment has typically seen as its substance -- the struggle for autonomous adulthood (as against subjection by parental, priestly, or otherwise unaccountable authorities) and for the consensualization, via general welfare and the rule of law, of the disputatious public sphere. It is worth noting that many superlative futurologists like to sell themselves as exemplars of "Enlightenment" while indulging in this infantilism, anti-politicism, and irrationalism. In a word, they're not.

It is not the available science that inspires your superlative aspirations, but science that provides the pretext and rationalization for your indulgence in what is an essentially faith-based initiative.

We are talking here and now about superabundance and in particular superabundance in its nano-Santalogical variant, but the same sorts of moves are taking place in the other variations: in which Singularitarians, for example, indulge the wish-fulfillment fantasy of either personally achieving or at least of bearing witness to the arrival of post-biological superintelligence, the Robot God Who, if Friendly, solves all our problems for us, or Who, if Unfriendly, ends the world in an ubergoo apocalypse, in either case constituting a history-ending Singularity (hence the name of their particular variant of the Robot Cult); or in which techno-immortalists indulge the wish-fulfillment fantasy of personal immortality -- or superlongevity, or "indefinite lifespan" or whatever term that is currently fashionable among them to try to sounds less religious while pining after the quintessentially religious promise of eternal life.

Common to these discourses is the divestment of a familiar phenomenon (like personhood, intelligence, or life) of the actual organismic, social, and biological substance and context in which it has always hitherto been intelligible, very likely to the fatal cost of the coherence of the resulting ideas of these familiar phenomena, but then providing a compensation for this divestment of substance with an investment of radically hyperbolic aspiration. According to the terms of my Superlative critique, these hyperbolic aspirations function more or less as pseudo-scientific correlates to the conventional omni-predicates of theology -- omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence -- translated from the project to apprehend the supernatural divinity of God to the project of a personal transcendence into a differently super-natural demi-divinity via technoscience, characterized by superlative aspirations to superintelligence, superlongevity, and superabundance.

Now, quite apart from all that, you go on, in the usual way, earnestly to recommend to me that the cutting edge of superlative futurological discourse has abandoned this or that particular formulation, has taken up this or that "technical" variation, that I have failed to distinguish the position of Robot Cultist A from that of Robot Cultist B, and so on.

You will forgive me, but there is no need for those of us who confine our reasonable technoscientific deliberation to beliefs that are warranted by consensus science to lose ourselves in fine-grained appreciation of differences that fail to make the difference that actually makes a difference in such matters. You rattle off the handful of preferred figures who tell you what you want to hear, barnacled up in who knows what baroque jargon and ptolemaic epicycles, as though these are widely respected widely-cited figures outside your sub(cult)ure.

But they are not.

As a very easily discovered matter of fact, they are not.

It isn't a sign of discernment but of its opposite, as it happens, that you can recite the minute differences that distinguish three disputants on the question of how many angels can dance on a pin-head, when the overabundant consensus of relevant warranted belief has become either indifferent or hostile to the notion of angels dancing on pinheads as such.

It is the extraordinary assertion of belief that demands extraordinary proofs and patient elaborations. You are invested in a whole constellation of flabbergastingly extraordinary claims -- expectations of superhumanization and near-immortalization and paradisical plenitude -- and yet seem to demand as the price of skeptical engagement with your discourse that critics become conversant with disputes the relevance of which depends on the prior acceptance of the whole fantastically marginal and extraordinary enterprise in which they are embedded. Meanwhile, the public life of your discourse, whatever the technical details you believe to undergird it, continues to proceed at a level of generality and hyperbole built up of metaphors, citations of myth, activations of infantile wish-fulfillment fantasies, and supported, at most, with vague conjurations of inevitable progress, triumphalist reductionism, and a handful of "existence proofs," usually from biology, that aren't actually analogous at all in their specificity to the idealized outcomes that drive superlativity, at least not at the bedeviling level of detail that concerns consensus scientists and accountable policy-makers but not so much ideologues, priests, and scam artists.

We are offered up claims built upon claims built upon claims, few of which have excited the interest or support of a consensus of scientists in the relevant fields, and fewer still of which invest these claims with the idealized outcomes that are the preoccupation of those who indulge most forcefully in superlative discourses as such.

Superlativity, in a word, is not science. It is a discourse, opportunistically taking up a highly selective set of scientific results and ideas and diverting them to the service of a host of wish-fulfillment fantasies that are very old and very familiar, dreams of invulnerability, certainty, immortality, and abundance that rail against the finitude of the human condition.

They are a distraction and derangement of those aspects of Enlightenment that would mobilize collective intelligence, expressivity, and effort to the progressive democratization, consensualization, and diversification of public life and the practical solution of shared problems.

Progress is not transcendence, nor is enlightenment a denial of human finitude.

There is more than enough sensationalism and irrationalism distorting urgently needed sensible public deliberation on, for example, the environmental and bioethical quandaries of disruptive technoscientific change at the moment.

The Robot Cultists and their various noise machines are not helping. At all.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Will You Go Galt With Me?

Be Reasonable

Bush was so bad, and the direction America was heading under Bush was so disastrous, that those who sought to speak about it "reasonably" often seemed thereby to endorse obvious tyranny, criminality, and madness as though they were within the bounds of the viable, failing to grasp that this concession itself not only facilitated but functionally constituted the very devastation of standards, legitimacy, reasonableness to which they imagined themselves committed in their failure. That was a terrible problem.

A whole new set of problem emerges now because Obama is not only not as bad as Bush, not only is his Administration and the Democratic Congressional majority not driving America in the disastrous direction devoutly wished for by the movement Republicanism consummated and disgraced by the Bush Administration, not only are we conspicuously reversing America's course before our eyes day by day to avert the very crisis of the last years, but, frankly, more than that, Obama is simply the best, most progressive, most talented, most pragmatic, most popular President in my lifetime, probably in generations, and, it is to be hoped, the greatest President since FDR.

He is all those things without being anything remotely like being right all the time, or as progressive in all things as I for one would like. But those who are not being reasonable about Obama's present difficulties in enabling and facilitating best-progressive outcomes in a world of flawed laws and corrupt institutions and actually powerful anti-progressive constituencies, those who measure Obama's performance against presently unattainable standards and in finding him wanting as a result declare him to be a betrayer of progressive democratic ends, or to find him indistinguishable from Bush risk undermining his power as a change agent in the left wing of the actually possible.

If you are frustrated about what appears to you (as it might also so appear to me) to be Obama's too-corporatist response to the financial crisis, if you are frustrated in what appears to you (as it might also so appear to me) to be Obama's too complacent response to the lawlessness of the Bush-epoch, the thing to do is to organize on that basis to push Congress from Obama's left to "make him do it" -- support the ACLU, and EFF, and the members of the Progressive Caucus, and many others who are saying very much the same things and are actually palpably in a position to do something about them. The thing not to do is to throw up your hands like a prima donna in discovering that Obama is unable as well as uninterested in unilaterally implementing democratic socialism or its like on an America that doesn't seem particularly eager in the main to embrace your vision (however much I might or might not sympathize myself with it).

Nobody reasonable actually thinks Obama is a messiah rather than simply a President who truly is and can be a progressive change agent if we support him and push him to do what he knows we elected him to do. So, do please stop pretending it is helpful endlessly to point out that Obama is not such a messiah. It was indeed helpful to a point to point out that Bush was a diabolical force (I indulged my share of that sort of thing right here on this blog for years), but it is just plain laziness to fancy that the work or progressives now is simply to expose Obama as less than angelic. Things are harder now for the likes of us, more complicated, because, among other things, we are actually assuming a measure of real responsibility as a represented majority in the institutions of governance of our own country.

Retreating into facile idealizations at a time like this, indeed just a hundred days into a new actually progressive Administration beset by crisis on all sides (hell, some progressives scarcely waited more than a week to start to declare their sense of betrayal and disinvestment in a non-messianic Obama) is profoundly unserious, it reveals an essentially aesthetic or moralistic attitude toward the work of actual progressive democratization, in my view.

It's not that I think this sort of narcissistic radical left rejectionism is really all that rampant -- in fact, I think that most people are very supportive and understanding of our great President -- nor is it that I think people aren't entitled to their different opinions or anything like that, however useless in my own opinion. Let a bazillion flowers bloom and all that, let freedom ring, let your freak fags fly, and so on.

It's just that some of the very figures to whom I turned most frequently for sanity in the depths of Bush's killer clown epoch, now seem to me to be among the few who are applying comparably uncompromising standards to the Obama Administration, exercising a kind of misplaced consistency that in denying differences that make a different in the changed circumstances of our historical moment and the actual chance it represents, amount when all is said and done to the assumption of a level of abstraction away from the lived details of political reality that render their judgments the furthest thing from sanity.

When the direction of the country changes for the better by your lights, you have to alter your strategies to mobilize and multiply the momentum of that promising movement. You protest to frustrate only the momentum that is leading us all to disaster. Intelligence changes with changed circumstances.

Those who are presently losing their minds over Obama's "betrayal" of the far left vision they seem to have fantasized his election would impose of America for some reason (a far left where, mind you, I reside myself, so it's not like you need to convince me of the appeal of the vision of a democratization of all spheres of public life, including economic life) are exactly as useless and silly, finally, as those racist secessionist libertopian hicks who are presently losing their minds over what they imagine to be Obama's "success" in imposing precisely this far left vision on an unwilling America, presumably by rebuilding the re-education camps as well as nudging tax rates slightly back in the direction of what we all know to have been the totalitarian socialism of the Clinton-era 1990s.

Precisely because Obama is reasonable (even where I find him wrong), while Bush was the iceberg tip of an irrationalism now exposed in its full-on fulsome fulminating ridiculousness in the present marginality and hate-mongering of the tea-baggers and theocrats of the bedraggled GOP Rump, those who would demand Obama be unreasonable in the service of righteousness (even where I find them right) are just as wrongheaded and frustrating to this moment of progressive promise as were those who pretended to find the GOP reasonable in their palpable madness and authoritarianism.

Note to Drivers of Automobiles in My Neighborhood

No, the traffic lights aren't there simply to remind pedestrians that we are your inferiors while you barrel around obliviously and at pointlessly high speeds to your enormously important desired destinations.

Special Problems in Post-Bush America

Matthew Filipowicz wonders:
Now I'm not a lawyer, nor am I currently wanted for any crimes (as far as I know). But, just the idea that my case or the case of someone I care about could be tried in front of [torture-memo author and now federal judge with a lifetime appointment Jay] Bybee scares the crap out of me. Would I be able to ask the judge to recuse himself because he's a war criminal? Would he [c]ite, as legal precedent, episodes of 24? Imagine having to call a man who thinks it's legal to slam your head into the wall, to lock you in a tiny confinement box with bugs crawling all over you... imagine having to call that man "Your Honor".

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Would You Hit It?

It's Centaur Wednesday, Y'all!

Mixed Nuts

While my focus has been on Futurological nutters today, right wing nutters have, of course, been teabagging in the tens across the country. I can't quite understand why anybody is astonished by the embarrassingly low turnouts or by exhibitions of wingnutty crazy on display -- anybody actually reading the polling knows that overabundant majorities still support the President and the work he is doing and those who are seen to be working to help him achieve his objectives. Essentially, what has happened is a re-staging of the election which a few months ago reduced the Republican Party to a regional middle-aged white Confederate rump party, plus a small fringe of libertopians and racist hate groups. Given that for over a generation an out of touch minority has been able to sell itself -- with the invaluable assistance of broadcast-corporate media -- as both the Real America when it's not and a Moral(izing) Majority when it's not, I can't say that I find it that unreasonable really that this long-coddled long-deluded minority has not yet quite come to terms with the actual reality of their circumstances. It's all so sudden. But one has to wonder about the media executives who decided to throw the dice in support of this doomed enterprise, just as one has to wonder about the higher-ups in the Republican Party who have apparently decided to treat a talk-show host as their de-facto leader (a talk show host who can whomp up an incomparably profitable audience through controversy, but who couldn't even be elected Dog Catcher in most of the areas he dominates in ratings). It's all very strange. I must say that I have enjoyed most of all those few Villagers who have tried to put a brave face on this fiasco, and in the name of fair and balanced reportage are suggesting that Democrats need to stand up and take notice of this "nascent movement," and take its demands into account in their governance. Given that one finds turnouts in individual cities for gay Pride events that dwarf the national turnout for this Republican tea-bagging protest of Bush's 2008 tax-rates, I fully expect these same Villagers to demand that the United States government legalize gay marriage, end don't ask don't tell, decriminalize rentboys, and replace Grant's face on the fifty dollar bill with that of Harry Hay immediately.

Robot Cultists Looking for Ponies in All the Wrong Places

Yes, the Robot Cultists really do say the unbelievably facile things I attribute to them. I quote at length and with many incredulous interruptions the following exchange between a transhumanist rather excitingly calling himself "Extropia DaSilva" and myself. Please to enjoy:
Maybe I am a fool, but I would have thought anyone would agree with the following statements: 1. Industry should seek to optimise its manufacturing processes, thereby maximising the efficiency with which we handle resources and minimizing waste and pollution, as far as is physically possible. 2. Medical science should strive to find treatments, cures and preventions for afflictions which are currently incurable, and should also strive to improve treatments and preventions in order to make them as effective as they can possibly be. 3. We should seek ways to make working with machines less frustrating, reducing the times when machines fail to anticipate our intentions and therefore act in ways which impede us and increasing/ improving the ways in which machines collaborate with us on whatever project may be undertaken.

Surely ["Surely"? -- Dale], if you accept 1,2 and 3 as the right things to do, you also have to ["have to"? -- Dale] accept ["accept" as what exactly? as in some sense real now? as logically possible? as plausible eventually? as plausible soon? as coherently imagined in some particular scenario on offer? -- Dale] A) molecular nanotechnology B) indefinite lifespans and C) artificial general intelligence. After all, if you agree with 1, you have to agree that industry must seek to improve manufacturing processes until a point is which when products are assembled to atomic precision [wait, why does accepting 1 entail the arrival at A or even the aspiration to so arrive? -- Dale]: the very definition of molecular manufacturing. If you agree with 2, you can hardly disagree with the notion that medical science should not rest until each and every way in which quality of life can be adversely affected (in medical terms, at least) is countered with an effective treatment or prevention. Somewhere along THAT road you MUST arrive at effective preventions for aging. ["MUST"? Really? -- Dale] And if you agree with 3 you have to accept that one day we will have technology blessed with minds that are the equal of human intelligence, simply because anything with LESS than human intelligence is not going to be as useful a teammate [That you seem to think it would be useful for something to be possible hardly makes it inevitable, nor does it even make it coherent necessarily to use the word intelligence to describe complexities that have some things in common with intelligence but not other things, nor have you explained why usefulness really requires personhood, when surely there are occasions in which quite the opposite is the case. -- Dale]

Now, there may be reasons why we can never actually arrive at a point in which products are assembled with atomic precision, or every medical condition is preventable, or robots have brains capable of producing minds the equal of our own. [To say the least. -- Dale] If there are indeed physical reasons why the best falls short of molecular nanotechnology, indefinite lifespans and artificial general intelligence, then obviously we just have to accept that it was a fool’s hope to dream we could ever achieve such goals. That, however, is not what I am arguing. I am not arguing that we COULD achieve A,B and C. [I wonder if you disagree with the obvious reality that many of your fellow futurologists do indeed and endlessly flog precisely these practical possibilities? Why aren't you arguing with them rather than with me, I wonder? -- Dale] Frankly, I do not know if it is possible or not at this point in time. [Well, let me just go on record to say, no, you won't be immortalized, no you won't meet the Robot God, no you won't be transported to a treasure cave with a swarm of nanobotic slaves to do your bidding. Sorry. It's hard to imagine what exactly could have lead you to imagine these outcomes as "in doubt" in any sense, but what the hey. -- Dale] Instead, I am saying that IF we COULD, THEN we SHOULD. [Note that if all Robot Cultists were arguing in this mode -- in general, I mean, not just because they've been backed into a corner by somebody who actually knows what he's talking about but also took the time to take them seriously enough to point out the obvious absurdities of their discourse on its usual terms -- none of the interminable squabbles about how Robot Cultists are essentially scientists, indeed an avantguarde of sooper-scientists, would come into play at all, since this is a moral (or ethical) case rather than a scientific one. -- Dale] Now, as far as I can see A, B and C form part of the transhuman agenda. [Oh, yes, that's for sure. -- Dale] So the question this begs is: How does a person reject transhuman goals, WITHOUT arguing that medical science should impose some arbitrary limit on its ability to treat ailments? How does a person reject molecular nanotechnology WITHOUT arguing that industry should produce more waste and pollution than is strictly necessary? How does one reject artificial general intelligence WITHOUT arguing that we should produce machines that are more frustrating to work with than they really need to be? [Well, the real question is what on earth would lead anybody to expect superlative outcomes in the first place? We don't know what all the limits of our technique will be, physical, ethical, political, indeed, not knowing such limits is itself one of the limits with which we grapple. But there is nothing in this imperfect knowledge that endorses the confusion of wish-fulfillment fantasies with conventional secular democratic and technoscientific progress, any more than this non-knowing endorses belief in a Creator God or an afterlife in paradise. It is always the extraordinary claim that demands the extraordinary evidence, and the affirmation of belief without evidence is never scientifically warranted. -- Dale]

I mean, surely anyone who went around saying ‘yeah we should make people accept a lower quality of life, pump X amount of pollution and waste into the environment and forever purchase machines that are dumber than is actually necessary’ would sound like an idiot, and possibly even evil. [How does the refusal to endorse unwarranted hyperbolizations constitute the refusal of actual progress in the real world? Robot Cultism is not the advocacy of but the palpable perversion of conventional secular democratic understandings of progress. -- Dale] How, though, can anyone reject transhumanism from an ethical or moral standpoint (again, the practical issues are another matter entirely) without arguing precisely that? [Superlativity is not in any remotely recognizable sense the standard or summit from which we measure actually-existing progressive commitment, it is a skewed and self-marginalizing witch's brew of hyperbolization and poeticization of selective scientific results and research in the service of marginal sub(cult)ural identification and wish-fulfillment fantasies of personal transcendence. -- Dale]

No, "Extropia," you won’t find magical ponies in conventional secular progressive values. Automation doesn’t spit out nano-santa treasure cave wish-fulofillment fantasies. Healthcare doesn’t spit out immortalization wish-fulfillment fantasies. Working on software and network security problems and user-friendliness doesn’t spit out superintelligent post-biological Robot God wish-fulfillment fantasies.

Nobody needs to join a Robot Cult to work on network security problems or healthcare problems or materials problems or renewable energy problems in the actual world, and, indeed, to join a Robot Cult is always a self-marginalization from consensus science and public policy devoted to this work in the real world.

You don’t get to piggyback your cultism on the consensus science that actually disdains you, nor on progressive causes that disdain you. You are not the voice of the reasonable who don’t in fact give you people the time of day, you are not a futurological avantguard, so much as a marginal fandom of cranks who cannot distinguish science from science fiction.

What you think you want doesn’t make sense on its own terms, it isn’t plausible on the “technical” terms you think you prefer, it isn’t reasonable by any conventional measure of reasonableness, and it functions to indulge your personal irrationality while facilitating the ongoing irrationalization of public discourse on technodevelopmental questions at a time of disruptive scientific change in which sensible deliberation is desperately needed.