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

Monday, October 22, 2012

Robot Cultist Pout and Stamp; Or "Manifest Destiny"

Widely respected in transhumanoid circles -- universal laughingstock outside the Robot Cult -- Giulio Prisco has posted a "response" to my brief Humans Aren't Going to Alpha Centauri post (the discussion in the Moot to that post has been lively and well worth reading generally speaking if you haven't taken a look yet, even without any luminous insights from Prisco to illuminate it). His post is entitled Let's Go to Alpha Centauri (and Leave Some Crap Here). Just to be clear, the crap to which he refers in the title (longtime readers will note Prisco's curious obsession with poop remains in force, ridiculed in the past by me here and here and here and here and here and here), well, that "crap" is me. Writes Prisco:
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.


Dale Carrico said...

I'll add one more point in the comments. Prisco whines quite a lot here about how mean I am, blah blah blah. As I've said before, I think responding directly to criticism demonstrates a measure of respect that I am not sure the likes of Giulio Prisco deserves, in the first place, but it is also true that I reserve my respect for the respectable by my lights and so long as I am standing by my determinations of respectability on my terms whining about how mean I am just looks to me to be what losers do when they can't win for losing. I am acerbic and the acerbic isn't everybody's cup of tea, but even those who harp about my negativity tend to have their own pet satirists and contrarians where it suits them, and are just being arrant hypocrites because they don't enjoy the sting of the dart that lands on their own back side as far as I can see. I do not only ridicule the ridiculous in this blog, but such ridicule is one thing I do here among others and nobody is making anybody read this who doesn't want to and nobody is forcing you to publish your views and offer them up to public scrutiny if you can't bear the prospect of occasional ridicule (as certainly I well know I open myself up for with this interminable string of strong opinions I unspool here). As far as the specific irritations I express to one commenter in particular, Summerspeaker, to which Prisco piously refers in his screed, I would point out that in those critical comments I also published this statement: "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." I consider that relevant, though Prisco's omission of it suggests he thinks -- to the extent that "thinking" is an apt word for what he is doing -- otherwise. Just saying. Also, too, fuck you, asshole.

joe said...

"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"

What!?....Who in the hell in the actual scientific community has even come close to suggestiong this stuff....Clarke wrote science FICTION does he not get this.

Does he just read entertaining sci-fi and just think "yep, gonna happen any time now"?.

I should probably keep an eye out for the 3 bears and that little girl squatting in their house and those 7 really short fellas with mining kit....

jimf said...

> Let's Go to Alpha Centauri (and Leave Some Crap Here). . .

We'll rename the Milky Way "Galt's Galaxy".

> Does he just read entertaining sci-fi and just think
> "yep, gonna happen any time now"?.

Well, yes. That's exactly what he does. ;->

jimf said...

> > Does he just read entertaining sci-fi and just think
> > "yep, gonna happen any time now"?.
> Well, yes. That's exactly what he does. ;->

And if you have the **effrontery** (what most people might
think of as good sense) to doubt it (or worse, to doubt it
in public), then **you** are some of the "crap" that will be left behind
when the True Believers beam themselves to the stars
on laser-propelled motes of Smart Dust.

And don't call it Religion! It's Science, dontcha know.

Athena Andreadis said...

He and his ilk apparently haven't figured out yet that io9 is not a science site and that Clarke wrote fantasy (and was a hack, but that's another conversation).

jollyspaniard said...

Clarke made hundreds of predictions, two of them came true (not involving new technology mind you just a maturation of exsisting tech) which is a prophetic sucess rate.

One small nitpick. Prisco doesn't seem to understand why it takes a long time to get to distant stars. It's not the time it takes to accelerate to top speed that's the problem, that's the easy part. You run your engines and use up your fuel pretty quick. It's the long slow coast to the destination. I suggest these guys develop some paint that takes fifteen thousand years to dry so they'll have something to watch for amusement on the way.

jimf said...

I dunno, maybe we have to give Giulio Prisco a break after all,
in light of:
Italy, the country that earlier this year declared it a
fineable offense to tell a man he has no balls, convicted
seven seismologists of manslaughter on Monday, for failing
to adequately assess the risk of a 2009 Earthquake that
ended up killing 309 people.

The scientists were sentenced to six years in prison. . .

Italy, which has been Benjamin Button-ing itself ever since
ushering in the Renaissance a few hundred years ago, is
expected to lead a formal Crusade against science-talkers by
the end of the century and discover science sometime around 2250. . .

On the other hand, if the Singularity **doesn't** arrive on
schedule, it sounds like Mr. Prisco may end up in hot water with
the authorities. ;->

joe said...

He's a witch (warlock?) burn him!!!

Dale Carrico said...

Nah, just spurn him.

jimf said...

> burn him!!!

"Every year sees a man less easy to save. At sixty all missionary
effort is hopeless; it takes burning at the stake."

-- Jean Paul Richter (1807)

(Sent to me recently as a birthday wish, by a friend who collects
these things.)

Athena Andreadis said...

Richter was wrong, of course: there are those who get cold feet as intimations of mortality grow closer. Plenty of men go gaga with religion after their first heart attack.

jimf said...

> Plenty of men go gaga with religion after their first heart attack.

Ah yes. SF author John C. Wright, for instance.