In a new episode of his clown act against imagination, Dale Carrico replies to the io9 article proclaiming that “Humans Aren’t Going To Alpha Centauri.” The rude, aggressive and self-righteous tone that he uses in the text and the comments (as usual) shows that this is not a prediction but a rabid Thou-Shalt-Not in pure taliban style.Needless to say, not everybody will agree with everybody's favorite li'l Robot Cultist that exposing his fraud is tantamount to declaring war on imagination as such, nor that criticizing arguments he invites public scrutiny of through publishing them is tantamount to hate speech against the persecuted minority of privileged straight white techno-fetishists, nor that ridiculing what I take be ridiculous under my own name and risking the same ridicule from those who disapprove of my stance is tantamount to murdering and terrorizing my opposition in the manner of the Taliban... but, well, this is Giulio Prisco we're talking about here, and one doesn't expect sense or sanity from Giulio Prisco. As always, the reason to draw attention to the rantings of this rather ridiculous person is not to indulge in gratuitous cruelty but to point out yet again that this is a very active, widely read, widely respected person in transhumanoid, singularitarian, techno-immortalist precincts, officer and even founder of many of the higher profile and presumably respectable organizations and campaigns associated with what I call (as you see, for a reason) the Robot Cult archipelago. Prisco writes:
There are a few “slow” (in the sense of slower than light) ways to get to Alpha Centauri. We could get there with generation ships, much slower than light, which would take centuries (many generations). To achieve a respectable fraction of light speed… [But i]t may seem that it makes more sense to wait for the development of mind uploading technology, and then go to the stars… Our post-biological mind children, implemented as pure software based on human uploads and AI subsystems, will colonize the universe. As Sir Arthur C. Clarke said, they will not build spaceships, because they will be spaceships. Eventually, post-biological humans will travel between the stars as radiation and light beams. Similarly, it may seem that it makes more sense to wait for the development of really weird physics and 'magic' space transportation technologies before trying to go to the stars. As io9 says, faster than light travel and warp drives 'may not be as unrealistic as once thought.'As I already recently discussed in the post Robot Cultist Adds Two Fantasies Together To Arrive At Third Fantasy it isn't actually true to anybody but pop-tech pseudo-scientists that "warp drives may not be [as] unrealistic as once thought." Just because speculative physics not about warp drives at all are made to seem to be about warp drives by introducing all sort of additional stipulations not found in the original speculative physics and not justified by any physics, speculative or not, let alone any kind of reasonable cost-benefit or historical or political analysis hardly makes warp drives more "realistic" to hope for than they were. In other words, a very conventional futurological fraud is being committed in such formulations in which wish-fulfillment fantasists seek to attract attention and other rewards they have not and could not earn on their own terms by riding on the coattails of scientists and theorists whose work they profoundly distort in the process. I generalized the point in a later post referring to Futurology's If Magic Were Real Paradox, pointing out the typical sleight of hand through which futurologists make claims about the plausibility of superlative, probably impossible, essentially magical, outcomes by foregrounding a sound but speculative scientific or theoretical point and then smuggling all sorts of magical stipulations into intermediary steps.
As for Prisco's techno-immortalization via soul-uploading of cyber-angels into Holodeck Heaven, this premise is not just probably magical (and not in a good way) but actually conceptually incoherent. A commitment to materialism about consciousness actually demands the recognition that the organismic and historical incarnation of actually-legible human intelligence is non-negligibly materialized in brains, bodies, and social dynamics, and hence glib talk of "info-souls" and "soul migration" and "soul uploading" is precisely the vestige of theology it sounds like rather than the strict functionalist embrace of science the Robot Cultists like to peddle their views as for the rubes. They even accuse critics like me of advocating "vitalism" for noticing that a picture of you isn't you, thus demonstrating how completely captured they remain by the gravity well of spiritualist superstitution!
About the notion of "Generation Ships," I have long ridiculed the fancy that cooping up a crowd of stir-crazy perspiring hierarchical human mammals 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 space ship isn't exactly my idea of a more "plausible" alternative to warp-drive or teleportation magicks when subjected to actual scrutiny either. Frankly, just sending the crew directly smack into the sun would produce an effect indistinguishable in every empirically observable way from the futurologically pined-for outcome in question since no real time communication, no discernible results, no impact on remaining human civilization would follow from either alternative. And, again, in a very real sense, in terms of actual, you know, building specs there really is no substantive difference in the so-called reasonable futurological middle-way proposal of a Generation Ship from, say, the Starship Enterprise on one side and the Tardis on the other. The slightly less magical 'cuz futurologists say so nuclear-powered Generation Ship and the Starship Enterprise BOTH remain literally unbuildable by anyone, BOTH would require untold scientific breakthroughs to happen which have not and which are just as or more likely not to happen than to happen, and BOTH would require organizational agencies absolutely unavailable to present or real-world relevant effort. One would think such things would matter to folks who claim to be oh so supremely scientific and oh so supremely rational about their desired outcomes. Sadly, no.
Quite apart from all that, before humanity could arrive at anything like the technical breakthroughs and infrastructural implementation to even approach achieving the utterly nonsensical vision of offworld migration to Alpha Centauri (by the way, we wouldn't even want to live on the planet the scientists found there, just sayin'), there are literally countless environmental crisis and social 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. Prisco concedes that "thinking of today’s crisis economy and the political situation, it is difficult to imagine a mission to the stars in this century." He adds what I regard as the objectively nonsensical caveat that "it would have been as difficult in 1929, at the time of the great depression, to imagine a mission to the Moon in 40 years." Given the status of rocketry in 1929 I do not agree that it was the least bit difficult to imagine the stunt we pulled with Apollo, but I do think some might have said such a way of getting to the Moon didn't look like a sensible way to bootstrap a long-term sustainable human intercourse between the Earth and Moon, or from the Moon to other planets in our solar system. I am a huge fan of Apollo, but I do think such critics would have had a point. But that is beside the point. Prisco's Generation Ships and Mind Upload interstellar diaspora have much larger existential dilemmas going against them than the difficulties of planning a trip to the Moon in the depths of the Depression: as I said, there are profound denials of psychological, political, and even ontological reality at the heart of Prisco's proposals. Be that as it may, however, Prisco goes on to say:
We need to go to the stars, for the mental health of the zeitgeist. Not everyone can be a space explorer, but we are all partners and stakeholders in the cosmic future of our species and its “manifest destiny” among the stars. This is a powerful meme that could result not only in much more support for space, but also in a more positive and proactive attitude on other pressing issues, at a moment of our history where we need positive thinking, confidence and optimism.I simply could not disagree with Prisco more. I think it is, very much to the contrary, indispensable to the survival and flourishing of humanity that we grasp the shared vulnerability and shared potential for mutual aid of ourselves with all of our fellow earthlings. I think the death denialism and earth-alienation of the transhumanoids justifies and fuels and even demands suicidal unsustainability and complacent consumption and mindless fetishization that deals in endless death. I deny that there is anything even remotely "positive" or "proactive" or "optimistic" about wish-fulfillment fantasies of sexbots and techno-immortality and free nano-abundance and sooper-AI parents saving us and kissing all our booboos away forever. I think what Prisco fancies as a rocketship to sooper autonomy is nothing but rank infantilism, what Prisco fancies as a radical vision is just an amplified variation of the most complacent consumer celebration of the status quo imaginable. Prisco and the Robot Cultists who respect him may think they are on the Royal Road to "Manifest Destiny," but I daresay they might take a closer look at the genocide and exploitation and irrationalism and cynicism of historical celebrants of that very term.
To return by way of conclusion to the title of Prisco's reponse, "Let’s go to Alpha Centauri (and leave some crap here)," setting aside the scatology for the moment, I want to point out that the contraction "let's" is short for "Let Us" and that it would serve the futurologists well to remember that it is reality that isn't "letting" the Robot Cultists wallow in the techno-transcendence they pine for. I'm not the one taking all their toys away, I'm just the one pointing out that they don't have any toys to speak of and that they are not likely to get anything like what they want and hence they might be better served wanting something actually attainable and valuable instead.