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

Monday, February 18, 2013

From Futurism to Retro-Futurism

Upgraded and adapted from my reply to comment in the Moot to this post:
To the extent that Robot Cultists regard themselves as a sooper-genius elite fit as no-one else is to shape history through their technological choices (usually involving buying things or talking about sf, hilariously enough) and/or explicitly genuflect to would-be gurus and celebrity tech CEOs they regard as a sooper-genius elite who are the real protagonists of history and/or implicitly shore up plutocratic elite/incumbent interests through their devotion to hyper-consumption, gizmo-fetishism, technofixes for all dis-ease, climate crises, poverty, and so on it isn't the least bit difficult to grasp the structural affinity of the transhumanoid/singularitarian techno-transcendentalists to reactionary politics. One hears a self-congratulatory pining after aristocracy in many of their works (often inflected with eugenicism/evo-devo, often it's just scarcely stealthed class privilege/nationalism), in fact, and, needless to say for my readers, I would hope, the sorts of "spontaneisms" that crop up so often among futurologists of both the crypto-right market and the pseudo-left luddic anarchist varieties almost inevitably amount to an endorsement of maximal consumption and acquiescence to the status quo. It is certainly no surprise to me to find futurological discourse in the service of reactionary anti-democratic politics, as I always say, "Every futurism is always a retro-futurism."


jimf said...

> To the extent that Robot Cultists regard themselves as
> a sooper-genius elite fit as no-one else is to shape
> history through their technological choices. . .

You just make him rage:
“No different from fundamentalists/ a cult”
July 29, 2012
By Chris Hallquist

It’s one thing to accuse atheists of making their atheism like a religion,
or accuse a particular group of atheists of being cult-like. In my experience
there’s never anything behind those accusations, but in theory you could
have a conversation about them by asking, “in what ways?” and so on.
But whenever I hear accusations of being “no different” from fundamentalism
or a cult, it just makes me rage. Last week I got two examples of this.

The first came from a (now ex-) Facebook friend:

> I find it ironic that people who are adamently anti-religous usually
> cite religion’s intolerance and judgements. By mocking biblical versus
> and working to get people to turn away from the[ir] faith, aren’t you
> being equally closed minded[?]

The other came from the comment thread on my “Neuroscience basics” post:

> I would stay away from LessWrong if I were you. Everything I’ve read
> about it suggests it’s effectively a cult based around the ideas of
> this Yudkowsky guy, not meaningfully different from Raelism or Scientology.

In both cases, my response is, “Excuse me? Do you understand the equivalence
you’re making, or are you just ignorant?” Here is what intolerance in the Bible
means, and here is a list of criticisms of Scientology. Whatever you think
of people who are anti-religious, or whatever you think of LessWrong, it should
be *obvious* that they are not the same.

Hmm. I'm sympathetic to the contemporary so-called militant atheists
(the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and
Richard Dawkins), even if Richard Dawkins has been accused of being
an "asshole" (in Aaron James's technical sense of the word ;-> )

But as for LWianism and Scientology (or LWianism and Objectivism)
being **obviously** not the same -- well excuuuse me, but I think it's
**obvious** that there are certain ways in which they **are** disquietingly
the same. And no, I'm not just ignorant. See, e.g.,
_The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power_
by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad

YMMV, I guess.

jimf said...
Responsible Omniscience; Omnipresence; Omnipotence AND Benevolence
would be the totality of the sensory apparatus of the new human.

Where have I heard these before? (Though she left off the
omni- in omnibenevolence. ;-> )

Note to wannabe deities -- we don't want no **irresponsible**
omnipotence 'round here.

Mitchell said...

Now we just need someone to write an ode to *irresponsible* omnipotence:

"As the atomic clock of postindustrial history counts us down to the acausally inevitable singularity of 2030, the majority of the human race is still unhappily oblivious, and yesterday's cognitive elite, the majority of the intellectual minority, still think the issue is whether or not the great transcendence will happen at all. But the new true cognitive elite, the minority of the minority, understand it's no longer a question of if, nor even a question of when, it's just a question of how it happens and to what end.

"This struggle - and it *is* still a struggle, with all the contingency of political conflict, it is not a matter of inquiring after a preordained truth in a spirit of passive lucidity - is the esoteric grand politics of our moment. And so it is time that someone took up the cudgel of Lafargue again, refashioned for our milieu at the threshold of godhood, and fought against the cosmic moralism which pervades 'friendly futurism', in support of the right to indulgence and irresponsibility.

"We shall be as gods - but what sort of gods? Will we be moral fanatics, weighed down with a wholly unnecessary angst that the universe has not yet been squeezed to yield the very last possible utilon? Or will we squander our cosmic abundance with extravagant joyful abandon, dancers at the endless end of time? The choice is still ours - for now."

jimf said...

> "We shall be as gods - but what sort of gods? Will we be
> moral fanatics, . . . [or] dancers at the endless end of time? . . .

Hm. Is this what "your inner Eliezer" currently thinks?

(That's the phrase you used in
How to get that Friendly Singularity: a minority view
Mitchell_Porter 10 October 2009 )

You know, 15 years ago when I first stumbled on **real people**
(as opposed to authors of books ;-> ) on the Web who talked
this way, I thought it was cool.

Now, I tend to react the same way this Reddit skeptic does:
ANTI_Hivemind 8 points 12 days ago

. . .

Let's face it now: Meet the next Scientology. It's either the cult of Matrixism
or something spawned from it. . .

This is a growing cult, more fanatic every day. At its heart lies the
human desire for a god - we'll simply make our own God! Already it has
a downvote/troll brigade on Reddit and other social sites to rival
every other. People **want** to believe in this, full stop. There's
an Oxford professor [Nick Bostrom] stirring this up from inside academia.

Batshit. Determined. Unified. Brainwashed. Get to know them now, /r/skeptic,
because you'll be fighting the greatest battle of your lives against them later.

EDIT Many many hours later: I've. . . done my
best to explain. . . just why computers are science, not pixie dust,
and brains are the product of millions of years of evolution and not
just something you can bang together out of rocks. See how they're all
coming out of the woodwork? Somewhere there's a call-to-arms on
/r/singularity or /r/matrix or some off-reddit futurist board
to troll / vote down the "suppressive person".

Seriously, the next cult. The way **all** cults start: with a
science fiction story that people wish were true.

Dale Carrico said...

Here's my ode to irresponsible omnipotence -- it's conveniently the same as my ode to responsible omnipotence: NA GA HA PEN. Followed by a yawn, a giggle, or a fart, depending on the context.

jimf said...


Isn't that Eddie Monsoon's mantra?

Dale Carrico said...

Cheer up world, it might not happen! Also, I believe, the slogan of the futurological "geo-engineers."

Mitchell said...

"Is this what "your inner Eliezer" currently thinks?"

The dominant discourse about "Friendly AI" is unnecessarily hyperbolic. The actual themes of value contingency, self-modification, and intelligence increase should be held apart from a variety of other dogmas and speculations that have wide currency in that community.

My earlier comment is just me having fun in exactly the promised way - combining the tropes of postsingularity techno-omnipotence and postrevolutionary liberation of the id. I know how to think such thoughts, but I can also do gritty and down-to-earth... Maybe we need a "gritty reboot" of Friendly AI. ;-)

Dale Carrico said...

Bag it for disposal.

jimf said...

> The dominant discourse about "Friendly AI" is unnecessarily hyperbolic. . .

Are you irrationally confident that's not an exaggeration?


Dale Carrico said...

Litotes, for days.