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

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Aiming High in the Robot Cult

Still more "Mitchell" from the Moot:
Let's aim, not just to regrow broken spinal cords, but to restore anyone to physical youth who wants it. Let's aim, not just to optimize the learning ability of the brains we are born with, but to boost that ability to unnatural levels through technological means.


Well, first of all, the term "optimize" always contains an unstated "optimize -- in the service of which ends for what for whom": it isn't a neutral term, but a term occluding all sorts of moral, aesthetic, political contestations around what is meant by intelligence, what and who counts as intelligent, what intelligence is good for. The tendency of you transhumanist types to go off willy-nilly speaking of "enhancement" this and "optimiziation" that as though all these contestations either don't exist or aren't important typically makes transhumanist discourses on non-normative medical and prosthetic and cultural interventions stealthily eugenic (no doubt unintentionally in many cases) in addition to all the other idiotic and wrongheaded things they also tend to be.

But to speak more directly to your point here, I must say that I do not agree with you about the force of the "aim" you are mobilizing in your statement here. I think scientific and medical research tends to be driven by the proximately possible, I think its terms are suffused with laboratory conditions, funding exigencies, ongoing publications.

I don't doubt that many scientists also enjoy indulging in blue-skying about how cool it might be if we could one day regrow limbs or live for centuries or employ nanoscale techniques to change dirt to feasts and mansions for peanuts...

And I don't doubt that this sort of daydreaming fuels the imagination that drives some creative science in the lab or in the published paper, just as for others creative science is driven by the contemplation of God or James Joyce or a night of drunkenness or a night with a lover or a long suppressed traumatic event from childhood.

Even if we should grant and celebrate the often unscientific wellsprings to which the imaginative or motivational dimensions of critical, scientific, problem-solving rationality are sometimes indispensably indebted we need not and indeed should not confuse them for critical, scientific, problem-solving rationality themselves.

As anything but diffusely inspirational expressions of "wouldn't it be cool if," utterances like "let's aim for soopergenius IQs in sooper bodies that live for centuries in the Oort Cloud" have no legible connection to what is practically meant by "aiming" for anything at all where the rubber hits the road in laboratory practice, in the writing of the paper or the grant request or the regulatory study. Confusing such matters isn't a sign of superiority but of error or ignorance (some of it willful), and it is the furthest imaginable thing from helpful.

13 comments:

Mitchell said...

Responding a little hastily to some of your remarks made in the comment section here...

It is again said to be "problematic" that American transhumanism is full of white guys when the world is not. Why not go further and say it's full of Americans and therefore irrelevant, because America is yesterday's superpower? If I were to say that anything you do is pointless because you are an American and your time is over, that would be malicious, inane, wrong, and simply irrelevant. You would go on working with other Americans, you would find allies from other countries, and you would go on making your contribution to the world. If I as a non-American were offended by America, I would of course be free to determinedly reject the country and all its fruits, to live my life and make my partnerships solely with non-Americans, and it might even be a strengthening thing to do so. But it would be idiotic to claim that anything henceforth coming out of America must be wrong, just because it is dominated by Americans. The same thing goes for the activities of "white guys", who by my reckoning still make up one-third of the American population.

The "hungry bored lonely infant": that example is funny because that actually is an unpleasant condition and it can be transcended! An infant Seneca who said that it is best to resign oneself to wearing poopy diapers because it's just escapist fantasy to imagine ever taking them off would in fact be wrong.

Should "the lack of clear limits" (my words) make us "modest"? Well, we should just be honest. If you eliminate death by disease and ageing, but retain other causes of mortality at their current frequency, you get a life expectancy of about a thousand years. If you posit a more open-ended physical transformation: astronomical objects can have lifespans in the billions of years. We have no argument against the possibility of curing ageing, and we have no argument against the possibility of the more open-ended transformation. These things are now thinkable in ways that they formerly were not, because of what we learnt about matter and the universe in the 20th century. That is the intellectual situation. You can suppose that some presently unappreciated barrier will reveal itself somewhere between here and there, but we have no idea what that might be.

On the stark contrast between blue-sky fantasy and the quotidian reality of scientific practice: insert here your favorite proverb about drops of water eventually eroding a stone, thousand-mile journeys that start with a single step, and so on.

Dale Carrico said...

So, just to be clear, (one) you don't think it is a problem that your Robot Cult has always been and still remains mostly a bunch of white guys talking to each other, (two) you do agree that you are driven by impulses well-described as infantile, and (three) you really do expect your pet "then" statements to be taken seriously when they follow on the heels of completely unreal "if" statements like "if we assume we will eliminate all aging."

Congratulations, you really are a prototypical transhumanist, and silly to the hilt. Hope that works out for you.

By way of conclusion, you seem to think just because you think something thinkable it assumes thereby the coloration of the possible. But this is as little true of techno-immaterialed minds and techno-immortalized lifespans and post-politicizing techno-abundance as it is of Aquinas' wishing makes it so "proof" of the existence of God. Your superlative aspirations are not High or Big, they are incoherent, they are confessions of deep confusions about quite fundamental questions concerning of what human intelligence, flourishing, and freedom actually consist. If I may be permitted what will seem an immodest and impertinent suggestion, while I daresay you are a bright and well-meaning person in my view you are lost and deluded and in need of the guidance of deeper and more critical thinking. You aren't even right about what you think you think is thinkable. The last place you need to be wasting your time is in a Robot Cult if you want to become a more sensible and useful person in the world. Good luck to you.

Divine Potentate said...

With regards to aging

1.
There are animals that do not appear to age. Genomic sequencing is dropping in cost fast. Analysis and understanding of life at its most basic is increasing.

2.
We're seeing vast research into cellular therapies and tissue engineering. This will allow for the repair of the body with technology never before seen.

3.
Synthetic biology is making stupendous progress. Ever more complex pieces of dna are being synthesized and being introduced successfully.

Give decades to all of these combined and you can see that the idea of organs and cells modified with knowledge from comparison between the apparently ageless and closely related aging(In some cases said to even share the same genome.) organisms should bear fruit.

Know too that animal safety is of little concern and proof of concept tech will likely be first tested with them without regards to safety or approval. Once it is shown in animals, the populations of the world will become desperate not to be "the last to die of aging", not to miss the coming boat, they will push the politicians with all their might.

Dale Carrico said...

You are going to die, sad sack.

PS: I must say, Robot Cultists do seem to share with Movement Republicans and other killer clowns with shit for brains that they are literally beyond parody. "Godlike power" is of course the rough translation of this moron's handle. Please to enjoy, my Condensed Critique of Transhumanism.

Divine Potentate said...

all creatures die, but there is a difference between a worm's lifespan and a man's lifespan. Greater lifespans are possible, and while death would still be possible, difference in length would make all the difference. Time is like money, very valuable more valuable than money, and while a man cannot attain infinite wealth, there is a difference between the poor homeless man in the street and the multi-billionaire in his penthouse. Likewise there's a difference between shorter lived and longer lived organisms, that the infinite appears unattainable bears no consequence on this difference.

If I know of rocket science, and the advances with regards to sending living things to space prior to the public unveiling of related space programs. Saying a man will touch the moon will seem ludicrous, for tens of thousands of years not a single man has done it. But with knowledge in hand the possibility is merely an engineering problem not something out of fantasy land.

Advanced tissue engineering will allow for entire defect free organs to be created. The similar concurrent advances in genetic engineering and knowledge of aging will allow for modifications to such organs, modifications such that they are akin to those of the ageless. Are you assuming that say in fifty years there will be no significant progress? What will stop people from modifying such organs with the traits of other organisms?

One has to assume for lifespan to fail to extend, that tissue engineering, stem cell therapies, treatments for cancer and neuro-degenerative diseases will all be stuck in the mud throughout the coming decades. Why would that be? When our tools are often said by researchers in the field to surpass the imaginable just a few decades ago, and the tools decades forth will be likewise superior to our present ones? What barrier do you postulate will stop progress, when the internet is now present, and computational power is growing stupendously along with the research tools? When researchers in a few decades will have the petaflop capacity for realtime protein folding simulations in their very desks?

Divine Potentate said...
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Divine Potentate said...
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Divine Potentate said...
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Dale Carrico said...

all creatures die, but there is a difference between a worm's lifespan and a man's lifespan

No shit sherlock. I know this will come as a shock to you, but most people don't have to join a Robot Cult to grasp these elemental truths. The idea that it is, generally speaking, a desirable thing to live a longer healthier lifespan than not helps account for the overabundant majority of people on the planet who think safe consensual accessible healthcare and well-funded well-regulated medical research is a good idea, ceteris paribus (not that we'll see that kind of sensible arrangement anytime soon in the crap shack that is the ol' US of A).

When you Robot Cultists move from saying vacuously true things like "health is better than illness and comfort is better than suffering" to saying things like "this guy in our IT department is a secret soope-genius who is going to invent a super-technique that will deliver sooper-longevity within decades, and then this guy who can't distinguish science from fiction who heads our sooper-genius futurological 'think-tank' predicts we will soon 'migrate' our 'mind-selves' from our organismic brains into 'cyberspace' wherupon we will be even more sooper-longevized still" what is happening is that you are no longer saying things that are stupid because they are obviously and uncontroversially true but saying things that are stupid because they are obviously and batshit crazily are false. That's how it is with you Robot Cultists -- you either say things everybody knows, except you are all too sociopathic to notice this, or you jump right over the line into ranting like religious maniacs about robot-immortality and robot-sooperintelligence and robot-soopermorality and robot-apocalypse and robot-heaven (hey, kidz, it SCIENCE!) mostly because, like most religious maniacs, you are scared of the mortality, vulnerability, error-proneness, and contingency of the human condition.

As for all your vapid interminable predictable to being coma-inducing futurological prophesies slash fraudulent sales pitches -- I would prefer it if you would write them down on paper rather than make them in online comments sections because then at least they would have value as something I can wipe my ass with after I take a dump.

Divine Potentate said...

What sillyness? When did I mention uploading?

There are countless problems with the ideas regarding uploading(such as continuity of identity), and no knowledge on whether they will ever be resolved.

The feasibility of uploading bears nothing on the feasibility of extending biological lifespan.

Regardless, even if human biological agelessness is implemented in this century or not. One would still be subject to disease, crimes and accident. So one could die prior to or even after receiving such treatment.

Irregardless of the time-frame of such a solution, working towards it should not be abandoned merely because one might not be alive by the time the solution is implemented and thus not benefit directly.

Unlike the fountain of youth or alchemy, biological agelessness should be feasibly brought about by understanding and manipulation of life at its most fundamental level. An end to aging is something to be proud of, and something that is worthy of working towards irregardless if it takes decades or centuries.

Dale Carrico said...

Drink deep of the fountains of your faith, DP, write poetry, go to a whorehouse, march down Main Street in a diaper with a whistle in your mouth. Follow your bliss, guy, let a bazillion blossoms bloat I always say. But don't expect me to pretend you are engaging in serious science or technodevelopmental policy talk when you wax futurologically prophetic in this way and don't pretend my indifference or hostility to such blueskying is unscientific or unserious.

I think maybe you should wait for the actual "end of aging" to arrive before indulging in pre-emptive pride at having the idea that staying young would be nice (a sooper-genius notion that has occurred to most people by about age twelve, by the way, along with the notion that it would be nice to be really rich). Even better, hold your breath while you wait.

And please don't whine about misplaced references to mind-uploading or other futurological chestnuts that typically freight your chosen schtick. Hobnob with Robot Cultists, indignantly defend their asinine articles of faith, expect to get looked at funny by people of sense.

Divine Potentate said...

Aging seems like it could possibly be cured. So given that, investing in checking out whether such is indeed truly possible and the difficulty of solutions, is something to be advocated. After all one never knows one might actually directly benefit. This often requires funds, and funds usually increase with public interest.

So as I'm interested in seeing what this promising avenue of research yields, it seems perfectly reasonable to mention it from time to time in public discourse.

As regards for the idea of being rich, to me wealth does not provide the sort of security I desire. My body as well as the technology that surrounds me and the creative people who provide the content I consume are all extremely delicate. True security requires neither 'straw', nor 'sticks', it requires 'bricks' or else your house is blown away. That such 'bricks' seem nearly impossible to obtain, true. That one should simply put up with the way things are? I don't think so.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”-George Bernard Shaw

PS with regards to the previous multi-post, the system sent a "too large" error message, and I didn't know what had happened so I tried resending and then splitting and resending.

Dale Carrico said...

Reasonable people don't join Robot Cults.

I am an advocate of informed, nonduressed, consensual, single-payer public healthcare, an advocate prosthetic self-determination as an elaboration of Pro-Choice commitments, and an advocate well-regulated publicly funded scientific and medical research yielding warranted consensus toward the solution of shared problems.

No devotee of futurological discourse, and certainly nobody in a silly Robot Cult -- and that means you -- whatever their steely determination and vapid can-do hyperbole will ever achieve the least bit of knowledge or progress more than I and other secular sustainable social democrats can manage with perfectly mainstream-legible commitments such as the ones I advocate myself.

No Robot Cultist has ever contributed an ounce of substance to science or progress through their hyperbolic frames and prophetic intoning. All that is actually distinctive to futurological discourse (that is, cannot be found elsewhere in its substance) seems to me to consist in its essentials either of pernicious marketing and self-promotion or of faith-based utterances in the service of infantile wish-fulfillment fantasizing and sub(cult)ural membership signaling of a more or less organized religious nature. Read up more on the extensive reasons why I think so elsewhere if you would engage with me further on this topic, whether you find that you agree with me or not.

Before you reply again, I should warn you that you frankly seem neither informed nor interesting enough to be worth my serious consideration, and you are rapidly losing your entertainment value as well. I may start deleting your comments unless they show signs of grasping the contours of my critique that would justify a continued exchange on this forum of mine in particular, or possibly unless you managed to say something so surreally idiotic that I might go ahead and post it for shits and giggles.

My best to you in all your sensible endeavors, Mister Godlike Powerman, d