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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Humans Aren't Going To Alpha Centauri

io9 asks the question, How Will Humans Get to Alpha Centauri? The actual answer -- "We won't." -- won't fill those column inches, so much futurological handwaving commences instead. It would be a rather demoralizing spectacle if not for comments like one "corpore-metal"'s pitch-perfect bit of sane snark, "If there is any one piece of magic I really, really want to believe in it's FTL -- not time travel, not teleportation, not flying cars and such nonsense. But I call it magic because I don't think it's ever gonna happen." I think anti-futurological bullshit detectors are on the rise a bit lately. It is heartening, and I welcome reports of comparable signs elsewhere. -- h/t Eric

30 comments:

jimf said...

> How Will Humans Get to Alpha Centauri?

My bet is on astral projection.

;->

Dale Carrico said...

My mystic crystal revelation suggests you may be on to something... science!

Summerspeaker said...

You don't need faster-than-light drives to travel 4.3 light-years. If you think sending people to Alpha Centauri is beyond so implausible as to be unworthy of discussion, that clarifies your position on futurology more broadly. I, on the other hand, could imagine a nuclear-propulsion project with a flight time of a century or two happening in the near future given the right (wrong) political circumstances.

Dale Carrico said...

Yeah, sending a mob in a chicken coop on a multi-century incommunicado trip to an alien planet likely at best to be worse than earth on a bad day in every way via an actually literally unspecifiable unreal generation space ship is real fucking "plausible."

I love how this shit makes you dance giddily before the mirror, crowing how unimaginative squares like me should bow down to such demonstrations of your fabulous utopian vision and sooper imagination. Dood, you aren't the first huckster I've met at the rodeo.

Sending a hundred futurological fucks directly smack into the sun would produce an effect indistinguishable in every empirically observable way from your vaunted outcome... no communication, no discernible results, no impact on remaining human civilization.

In terms of actual building specs, you know, there really actually is no difference between your just slightly less magical cuz you say so nuclear generation ship and the Starship Enterprise: BOTH are literally unbuildable by anyone. BOTH would need scientific breakthroughs to happen which have not. BOTH would require organizational agencies unavailable to present effort.

Quite apart from all that, before we could arrive at the technical breakthroughs and infrastructural creation to even approach achieving your completely bullshit vision, there are literally countless environmental and support problems of actually existing human beings in the actually existing world that would be infinitely better served as the focus of such energies and creativity.

Here's an Iron Law for you to ignore because you are a bullshit artist who thinks that means you are a radical: No political problem for which massive space diaspora poses as a pseudo-solution would not be better addressed directly than through the enablement of massive space diaspora, and as a correlate to the same, no political problem for which space diaspora poses as a pseudo-solution would not bring that very problem with to the diaspora while at once exacerbating it through diaspora.

Can you follow that sooper-brain? All this sets aside, mind you, the glaring immediate and absolutely ferociously relevant point that all this is total bullshit, all pulled out of your ass, not to mention that dreaming about this crap really is little more than a way of not dealing with real problems thereby amplifying them.

In art such conceits can provide in those far more talented than you are the occasion for narrative and figurative re-imaginations and re-castings of the possibilities in our present... but as pseudo-science and ant-politics they are reactionary bullshit.

Dale Carrico said...

For newcomers wondering at my irritation, you should know this isn't the first, nor the thousandth, exchange I've had with Summer. Sometimes reputational capital, like conventional capital, stinks like filthy lucre.

jimf said...

> BOTH would require organizational agencies unavailable to present effort. . .

Have you ever read the early J. G. Ballard short story
"Passport to Eternity"?

Middle-aged rich guy's young wife is tired of being ignored
(despite the attentions of her hired "playboy") so the
husband gives in and goes shopping for a vacation trip
(the descriptions of the interstellar travel agencies and
the vacation packages they offer form the bulk of the story).

When he wakes up aboard the starliner "The Dream of Osiris"
(sans wife), he discovers the itinerary isn't exactly
what he had in mind.

Dale Carrico said...

Hee. Oh, I do so fervently love J.G. Ballard! Tho', like you, I've never once made the facile futurological mistake of confusing his poetry for policy.

Summerspeaker said...

I love how this shit makes you dance giddily before the mirror, crowing how unimaginative squares like me should bow down to such demonstrations of your fabulous utopian vision and sooper imagination.

Space exploration appeals to me intellectually and aesthetically, sure. I wouldn't say it makes me giddy. I did dance some this evening, but not because of Alpha Centauri. (It did come up briefly on the dance floor.) Nor do I advocate using resources on spaceships any kind at the present, much less nuclear generation ships. My affection for space exploration does not trump the needs and wants of the species.

In terms of actual building specs, you know, there really actually is no difference between your just slightly less magical cuz you say so nuclear generation ship and the Starship Enterprise: BOTH are literally unbuildable by anyone. BOTH would need scientific breakthroughs to happen which have not. BOTH would require organizational agencies unavailable to present effort.

You could have said the same things about Manhattan Project or moon landing beforehand. There's nothing terribly magical about using existing devices in a different capacity. Project Orion ain't science fiction but old hat at this point. The narrative goes that they stopped for primarily political reason, not because of insurmountable technical problems. Building a nuclear generation ship would be a vastly risky and resource-intensive process, but that hardly forecloses the possibility. Atmospheric nuclear tests happened, after all. The nuclear weapons stockpile remains. States don't necessarily care about the human toll.

Quite apart from all that, before we could arrive at the technical breakthroughs and infrastructural creation to even approach achieving your completely bullshit vision, there are literally countless environmental and support problems of actually existing human beings in the actually existing world that would be infinitely better served as the focus of such energies and creativity.

Absolutely. Again, I don't advocate building nuclear generation ships. I have trouble even imagining a scenario which I'd consider such projects worthwhile. This doesn't make the concept of riding those nuclear bombs magic. It's useful to separate plausibility from desirability. Organizations (states, corporations, etc) undertake all manner of projects I consider both plausible and harmful.

Dale Carrico said...

It's useful to separate plausibility from desirability.

Futurologists endlessly pretend that imaginary developmental outcomes are supremely "plausible" simply because they are logically compatible with our present state of IGNORANCE concerning the relevant science and engineering and in sublime INDIFFERENCE to the extent to which actual implementation demands countless intermediary developmental steps none of which are defined by the "logical" unilateral approach to the endpoint they are parochially fixated on rather than the moment by moment vicissitudes of developmental struggle in the real world, and all because this outcome is DESIRABLE to them, where "desirable" usually involves wish-fulfillment fantasies that would be as easily and probably better satisfied in therapy in any case. Magical is still quite an appropriate adjective to describe such "thinking," actually, whether you like it or not.

Building a nuclear generation ship would be a vastly risky and resource-intensive process, but that hardly forecloses the possibility.

Yes, it does.

And *of course* "Project Orion" was straight up Robot Cultism, futurological science fiction pretending to be science and science policy. "Old hat" isn't the word I would use to describe the husk of a typical futurological project after the denialism and juice dies away and all the True Believers move on to the next scam.

Leave it to an anarchist to think they know how "to think like a state."

andrewggibson said...

The best attempt I have seen/read/heard at exploring travelling far-far-away on a slow-slow-ship was a play in Dublin's Fringe Theatre Festival a few months ago, called Bypass (the play also had an appendix, link below). Better than Cities in Flight or anything else, it saw the inevitable breakdown of our humanity in slightly more optimistic (read: still shitty) terms than Dale would tend to.

"The air’s running out. And the only food left tastes like chalk. In fact, it is chalk. Join the crew of Sunflower Estates Six as they struggle to keep the inevitable at bay. Take part in the mythic rituals of suburbia a trillion miles from Earth, where the perils of telemarketers persist, the hardware store is always closed for lunch, and the postman only rings once."

Seriously. The only way humans are going to Alpha Centauri is if they (a) stop being human (and no technotranscendent nonsense), or (b) with an "heroic dose" of shrooms.

http://sunflowerestates6.wordpress.com/?ref=spelling

Dale Carrico said...

So true: The only way humans are going to Alpha Centauri is if they... stop being human Transhumanoids are endlessly pathetically mis-identifying with the protagonists of superlative outcomes who would have nothing to do with them.

Barkeron said...

Leave it to technomaniac fanboys to rave about exotic matter-fueled warp drives and nuke-fueled starships, but ridicule aspirations to establish first world living standards on a global scale...

Dale Carrico said...

Egg-ZACTly.

Summerspeaker said...

Yes, it does.

You seem to have missed most of the twentieth century. Nuclear weapons development lead to at least hundreds of thousands of cancer deaths, continues to threaten global devastation, gobbled up tremendous resources, and created contamination sites that will require cleanup and monitoring for thousands of years. That actually happened and is happening, for the less noble but more practical purpose of terrorizing one's enemies.

And *of course* "Project Orion" was straight up Robot Cultism, futurological science fiction pretending to be science and science policy.

Your no-true-Scotsman view of science always brings a smile to my lips.

Leave it to technomaniac fanboys to rave about exotic matter-fueled warp drives and nuke-fueled starships, but ridicule aspirations to establish first world living standards on a global scale...

Expect that they're just as likely to assert that technological progress will magically - here I use the word - eliminate poverty and oppression. Ray Kurzweil makes this claim explicitly. The promise - or scam, if you prefer - is that every will get nice things. Your critique doesn't speak to this.

Dale Carrico said...

You seem to have missed most of the twentieth century.

You seem to be missing this one. Summer, actually pointing out that something happened doesn't mean anything can happen. You are no different in this move from the usual transhumanoids who declare themselves the equivalent of the Wright Brothers just because they are willing to pick their noses in public places.

Actually Manhatten WAS a gamble and COULD have been a boondoggle (and WAS a catastrophe), and it was only fear of Hitler that nudged the cost-benefit needle -- but there is no Hitler/ mad scientist in the asteroid belt to do the same for the Orion Project and comparable BS, just some Trekkers who pine to make it more real than slash fic makes it.

Just because sometimes cost-benefit could be mobilized to make a go of long term megaengineering doesn't mean it could always do the same for anything.

I don't know if you've noticed but because of libertopian looting and deregulation (a discourse facilitated in part by misguided anarchists like you, by the way, whether you like it or not) the US can't pave its roads or keep its bridges up and may soon not be able to deliver mail on Saturdays. Before you crow about Apollo you should pause to consider that we very well might not be able to re-enact Apollo TODAY even if we wanted to. Meanwhile futurological fraudsters typically premise their megaengineering geo-engineering precisely on the failed state and market magic (ditto for our profiteering private "Space Program" fantasists).

I disagree with your claim that it is only those futurological fucks who explicitly promise technofixes to political problems like famine and climate change who derange our address of such problems through actually available educational/ regulatory/ infrastructual means -- I think the whole superlative imaginary forever distracts attention, energy, and diverts funds away from direct engagement, organizational and developmental, into hype, fraud, waste, fetishism, mistaken priorities, deranged expectations, misconstrued limits to the detriment of sense and survival and flourishing.

And you are a part of the problem.

Summerspeaker said...

Actually Manhatten WAS a gamble and COULD have been a boondoggle (and WAS a catastrophe), and it was only fear of Hitler that nudged the cost-benefit needle -- but there is no Hitler/ mad scientist in the asteroid belt to do the same for the Orion Project and comparable BS, just some Trekkers who pine to make it more real than slash fic makes it.

Sure. But that's a political rather than technical problem. You can't imagine some pro-space faction coming to power and pushing to restart the Orion Project?

Just because sometimes cost-benefit could be mobilized to make a go of long term megaengineering doesn't mean it could always do the same for anything.

Doing so is a matter of organization and political will. Proclaiming the things that have happened impossible requires both a belief in a static, knowable political status quo and confidence in one's assessment thereof. I have neither. That framework additionally elides how each of us produce possibility via discourse minute by minute.

Before you crow about Apollo you should pause to consider that we very well might not be able to re-enact Apollo TODAY even if we wanted to.

I agree with to the extent that everything is uncertain but not otherwise. What technical limitations prevent redoing Apollo? The "if we wanted to" condition assumes necessary political will.

I disagree with your claim that it is only those futurological fucks who explicitly promise technofixes to political problems like famine and climate change who derange our address of such problems through actually available educational/ regulatory/ infrastructual means -- I think the whole superlative imaginary forever distracts attention, energy, and diverts funds away from direct engagement, organizational and developmental, into hype, fraud, waste, fetishism, mistaken priorities, deranged expectations, misconstrued limits to the detriment of sense and survival and flourishing.

That wasn't my claim. My claim is that charge of ridiculing campaigns to increase standards of living fails to address Kurzweil/Anissimov/Yudkowsky/etc.

Dale Carrico said...

But that's a political rather than technical problem. You can't imagine some pro-space faction coming to power and pushing to restart the Orion Project?

The futurological conceit in a nutshell. EVERY technical problem is articulated by the political, every denial of this is an indulgence in the reactionary politics of superficial depoliticization. And what you can imagine is not a useful datum for anybody but your therapist.

Doing so is a matter of organization and political will.

No, Robot Virginia, wishing won't make it so.

What technical limitations prevent redoing Apollo?

Funding priorities and democratic processes and scientific illiteracy don't count as "technical limitations" in Robot Cult world. Please make a note of it.

ridiculing campaigns to increase standards of living fails to address Kurzweil/Anissimov/Yudkowsky/etc.

No Robot Cult claim is properly identified with "campaigns to increase standards of living." NONE. And futurologists don't count anything short of delivering them free handjobs any but a "failure to address" their guru wannabes. Why the fuck should I give two shits about meeting their nonsense standards -- the job is to expose them so their nonsense standards don't undermine standards that matter.

Dale Carrico said...

Look, my patience is nearing an end, as is your usefulness as occasion for a teachable moment for a mostly lurking readership. The title of this post is "Humans Aren't Going to Alpha Centauri." I don't think you really believe otherwise, I think you are just a troll getting jollies by shooting off your mouth to the contrary, writing checks your ass can't cash and you think that's cute because you are lame. If you really believe otherwise, would you bet your life on it, would you bet a mortgage on it, would you devote your life to it? No? Then don't expect me to pretend you are serious.

Summerspeaker said...

EVERY technical problem is articulated by the political, every denial of this is an indulgence in the reactionary politics of superficial depoliticization.

You don't think it's conceptually and theoretically usefully to distinguish levels of plausibility? (This probably shouldn't have a question mark.) If somebody tells they want to create a world of sustainable abundance based on existing agricultural and manufacturing techniques, I'm all for it. They say they want do the same via reverse-engineered secret alien technology, I'm less interested.

And what you can imagine is not a useful datum for anybody but your therapist.

Here we come to our core argument. I recognize the danger you see in futurological discourses but see more danger still in appeals to reality, especially political reality.

Funding priorities and democratic processes and scientific illiteracy don't count as "technical limitations" in Robot Cult world.

At least we understand each other!

Look, my patience is nearing an end, as is your usefulness as occasion for a teachable moment for a mostly lurking readership.

I'm quaking in boots. Really.

I don't think you really believe otherwise

Unlike you, I don't believe I know the future.

Barkeron said...

Well, 'speaker, I don't think that increased capacity building in the third world and better regulation to break the cycles of exploitation equal fever dreams about turning humans into robots made of super-jelly that only need electricity for their continued existence or mining asteroids to let everybody build their houses with pure gold bricks.

But maybe that's just because I'm a neo-Luddite little mind who's not visionary enough to see the greater picture of accelerating change innovating the world into a second Eden, eh?

Dale Carrico said...

You don't think it's conceptually and theoretically usefully to distinguish levels of plausibility?

Yes, but I know enough not to confuse futurologists as the least bit useful in making these distinctions.

I recognize the danger you see in futurological discourses but see more danger still in appeals to reality, especially political reality.

Quite so, and what you mean by this makes you a bad faith interlocutor, an unreliable political ally and an unserious person by my lights.

I don't believe I know the future.

You reveal your stupidity. Futurity on my understanding -- oft repeated and elaborated in exchanges of which you have no memory and from which you derived no benefit -- is a measure of the openness inhering in the present in the ineradicable diversity of its stakeholders. I have no interest in prophetic utterances, while futurologists peddle predictions endlessly. Wake up and smell the coffee, dumbass.

Summerspeaker said...

You reveal your stupidity.

That implies that I was hiding it.

Futurity on my understanding -- oft repeated and elaborated in exchanges of which you have no memory and from which you derived no benefit -- is a measure of the openness inhering in the present in the ineradicable diversity of its stakeholders.

Memory? Yes. Benefit? Hard to say. Acceptance to the exclusion of other frameworks? No way.

I have no interest in prophetic utterances

Yet you make them regularly. Declaring that humans won't ever travel to Alpha Centauri is just as much a prediction as declaring that they will.

Dale Carrico said...

Declaring that humans won't ever travel to Alpha Centauri is just as much a prediction as declaring that they will.

Actually, revealing the fraud of a pseudo-prophet isn't the same thing as indulging in pseudo-prophesy. But, as you say, you are stupid, and so such niceties may be beyond you.

Bored now.

Eudoxia said...

>Humans Aren't Going To Alpha Centauri

Of course not, humans are too frail for space. Transhumans will :>

Dale Carrico said...

As much as they ever will, they already are.

joe said...

I'm not surprised you picked out "corpore metal" he is one of our TH types over on Io9.

I don't agree with him but he is an ok type..at least nicer to talk to then many of the TH/H+ers I have met.


I don't know though, I think we should still try to push forward on space technologies and seeing where we can get to.

Not like sooper libertarianland IN SPACE!ect but exploration....I think thats a worthy goal.

Dale Carrico said...

Oh, I'm a huge and life-long fan of NASA and space science and human/remote exploration of our solar system -- but like you I have no truck with escapist libertopian asteroid mining L5 Galt's Gulch torus fantasies or colonization/ terraforming environmental escape-hatch fantasies. It is interesting how the prophetic pseudo-science of futurology, as against the wonder and understanding of consensus science, takes one from knowledge formation into the denial maintenance.

Incanur said...

Actually, revealing the fraud of a pseudo-prophet isn't the same thing as indulging in pseudo-prophesy.

This may come as a shock to you, but it's possible undermine dubious predictions without making grand claims of your own.

Also, stellar job excluding folks like Freeman Dyson and Carl Sagan from consensus science.

Out of curiosity, do you support space exploration under current circumstances? I can't see sufficient justification for even adorable project like the Mars rovers.

Khannea Suntzu said...

I think it would be hilarious to secretly build a nuclear rocket, and then launch, innundating the planet with massive nuclear pollution and just leave, establish a colony in the inner solar system and basicly just abandon Earth to slowly waste away. I am pretty sure the ruthless global elites are planning underground malls and luxurious survival spaces to weather the inescapable collapse of western society. It's only a matter of time before some thielian far right nut comes up with this. And if he or she does, I wish eir well. The planetary species is soul dead. It has no future. It has no visions, no hope, no aspirations. It'll just muddle on on this damn ball of dirty until it thrashes itself in to extinction.

Better that some get off this accursed ball before then.

Dale Carrico said...

Uh... yeah... hilarious.