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

Monday, March 21, 2011

Resigned to the Futurological Broken Record

Upgraded from the Moot, "JimF" tells of his adventures perusing Kaku's Physics of the Future at his bookstore's New Arrivals table:
So I looked up stuff about computers and the brain and AI and shit, and after reading most of a chapter about how AI researchers have reluctantly conceded that brains aren't much like digital computers (we['re] no crazy futurists here), I skip ahead and find out that Friendly AI is the likeliest AI scenario for our future (credited to none other than Eliezer Yudkowsky, too. Right there in print.)

On the zombie afterlife of and weird phony authority that comes to attach to endlessly debunked formulations and unfulfilled promises and opportunistic PR repackaging efforts by futurologists, I'm pretty much resigned at this point to the fact that here in hype-notized zero-culture anti-intellectual America at any rate persistent techno-boosters -- however rampagingly crass and idiotic they are -- really do almost always eventually manage to beat out their critics -- however relentlessly right these are. This is mostly because, even at their most disasterbatory, futurologists are saying enormously reassuring things, pretending to know things when we can't because there is always much more going on than we know about, and peddling funhouse mirror variations on "the future" in which present values and lifeways are grotesquely amplified and then hawked as "change" in ways that flatter elite-incumbents and as "transcendence" in ways that console the mob. Of course, the critics wouldn't for the life of them want to join in the vulgar techno-booster parade come what may, and since the facts are mostly on their side anyway it all comes out in the wash. So a bunch of frauds attract unwarranted attention and hence make things pointlessly harder for sensible people, that's the crappy American dream isn't it?


jollyspaniard said...

I think their hold on the public imagination is in serious decline. Most people have lost hope in technological salvation. That in and of itself isn't necessarily a good thing as many of them are not passing Go and proceeding directly to resentment politics, conspiracy theories for one have never been as popular. The two are different sides of the same coin both are justifications for apathy.

Dale Carrico said...

I think their hold on the public imagination is in serious decline.

I hope you are right, but I don't think you are. I see serious institutional consolidation happening in the superlative futurological archipelago -- less splash, but far more cash.

The suave eugenicisms stealthed and/or celebrated co-dependently by transhumanists and bioconservatives the last two decades (with a long pre-history) always provided clarifying symptoms and reductios of more prevailing attitudes and policy discourses, but were no more threatening or revolutionary than Lady GaGa is now as she splashily re-enacts these themes now. (At least now it's got a good beat and you can dance to it.)

Cryonics captured the mass mediated Spectacular/Culture Industrial "imagination" enough to become a pop culture commonplace but it's just as true as ever that nobody is getting their heads frozen. But the intrusion of BigPharma salvation-peddlers and techno-hype fraudsters into the doctor patient relationship via tee vee commercials is incomparably more dangerous and belies what might be pitched at first as a story of futurological decline.

Extropians and Cypherpunks were charismatic nutters, I guess you could say, the futurological froth on the neolib/neocon kettle of the 90s. But the danger posed by the wonk-poseurs of geo-engineering futurology right here, right now is to my mind orders of magnitude more dangerous, literally, to the prospects of earthly survival.

Mainstream futurology and neoliberal immaterialism is just as wrongheaded as fraudulent as ever, and this wrongheadedness and fraudulence is especially conspicuously at the superlative margins of its discursive and organizational life in the Robot Cult archipelago, where PR hype screeches into the register of transcendental religiosity -- but zombie lies don't die just because you debunk them or because they get abandoned by would be avant-gardists, just ask the neolibs and the neocons, they just become comfy couches ready at hand to be endlessly cited and recirculated by the thoughtless and the opportunistic long after they cease to inspire or illuminate anyone or anything in any kind of genuinely provocative way.

This, I have to suppose, is a large part of what Michael Anissimov is celebrating in his various recent "transhumanism has won" pieces, for example.