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

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

"The Future" Is Always Somebody Else's Pain and Payment for Our Sins

Also published at the World Future Society.

Over at the Robot Cult outfit IEET, the Institute for Ethics (where actual ethics are rarely discussed) and Emerging Technologies (where the technologies are rarely actually emerging), one of the Very Serious White Guys of "The Future," Dick Pelletier, has penned another of his incomparably desolating consolations, this one entitled (I shit you not), Overpopulated Earth? No problem, Experts Say; Technologies to the Rescue. Critics who lambaste my strawmen caricatures of a complacent, consumerist and reactionary futurology are invited to renew their complaints at the service desk. For those who crave more of Mr. Pelletier's curious construal of "the experts" and the things they presumably "are saying," do enjoy this reminder.

Pelletier's little number is positively (oh so very positively!) thrumming with lively refrains. "What are the solutions to overpopulation," Pelletier asks? Asked and answered!
1) improve rain-fed agriculture and irrigation management; 2) encourage vegetarianism and acceptance of genetically-modified foods; 3) speed development of molecular nanotechnology; 4) expand telemedicine efforts; 5) create new medical therapies to curb obesity; and 6) produce lab-grown meat without growing animals.
Robust reliable programmable self-replicating room-temperature swarms of billions of usefully positionable nanobots, mountains of nutritious meat-mush cultured from a single sacrificial cell -- who cares if nobody actually qualified is doing it or even anything remotely like it and few who are actually qualified think it can be done and everybody knows that even in the event that a thing is logically doable this doability remains a far cry from being practically, politically, profitably doable -- na! na! na! na! not listening! not listening! it's from Pelletier's lips to the Robot God's ears. The Nike swoosh and the bracing exhortation "Just Do It!" are not provided, but definitely implied.

But why pay attention to a negative nellie like me? Pelletier assures me that "billionaire Peter Thiel's Breakout Labs [has] funneled $350,000 into Modern Meadow, a startup company that uses 3D printers to manufacture food." Gosh! Between Thiel's dreams of coding a history-ending sooper-intelligent sooper-parental Robot God, and of building a secret pirate libertopian oil-platform paradise off the coast of San Francisco (when you're a Randroidal sooperman it's always nice to have a socialist paradise handy for, you know, hospitals and emergency rescue operations and hygienic restaurants and underhuman support staff and stuff), to think he's also working on 3D-printer cornucopiae for the poors to snack on just goes to show why we Takers just need to get out of the way so the Makers can get on with all that tremendous Making they do! (So far he's actually made a global hedge fund and had an unspecified hand in making PayPal's actual code, and made lots of friends denigrating diversity, but who's counting?)

Pelletier soldiers on:
Currently, genetically -created or –modified foods are too expensive, but using Kurzweil's "law of accelerating returns," experts predict that in the near future, lab-produced, nutrient-enriched meat will be priced competitively, and accepted by mainstream society as a healthier alternative to animal-grown food.
Perhaps you did not know that Kurzweil's "law of accelerating returns" -- which is not a law but the assumption of an entirely arbitrary subjective perspective from which one can tell a story of accelerating technological growth that looks plausible to those who want it to be true but not to anybody else -- is the sort of thing one can "use," really, let alone the sort of thing the use of which makes one an "expert" in anything, but presumably the extreme credulity demanded by the "law" is now considered by certain "experts" to create causal conditions such that things we do not know how to do and do not know that we will ever be able to do will become at once both knowable and doable. What can one say, but -- awesome, man!

Pelletier concludes by reminded us of "[t]he late Julian Simon," a futurist who "discarded the notion that too many people will cause us to run out of resources and space. Simon believed that adding more people would provide creativity and innovation to solve our overpopulation problems, forever keeping us ahead of the curve." I have always personally been struck by the habit Simon had of responding to objections, criticisms, worries about the scale of the stakes involved in such questions with the prototypically futurological response, "You wanna bet on it!"

Now, as you know, I am always criticizing futurological thinking as the systematic confusion of making bets with having thoughts, and I was always especially charmed by the way Simon and the nice futurologists over at Long Bets so eagerly literalized the point for me. Of course, to reply to a criticism with the declaration of a willingness to bet on the result is very much not to respond to an argument with an argument. I was always puzzled by the way this response so sufficed for so many futurologists. Since, really, Simon's performance of a willingness to bet that we will come up with some solution to problems of overpopulation and catastrophic climate change is not only not the provision of any sense at all of what solutions these might be or who is working on them under what conditions with what real chances of success, but is actually nothing but a kind of re-enactment of the very state of denial in which extractive-industrial-petrochemical-consumerist modernity is sleepwalking its way to extinction in the first place.

Yes, in the absence of actually changing our wasteful, polluting, exploitative, violent ways we are all of us always only betting our lives and the lives of every earthling with whom we share the world that the price we all know will come due for our abject foolishness will not come today but tomorrow or for somebody else. This catastrophic tomorrow, this terrorized foreigner is, and has always been, the real substance of "The Future" of the futurologists.


Black guy from the future past said...

Most people simply do not understand that science is not magic, and reality does not work in miracles. Every new technology that has been developed on the earth has had a huge drawback. Even supposedly positive developments like cures for smallpox and polio have had the drawback of causing populations that would otherwise be decimated, balloon. I am in support of easing suffering, but the drawback is now we have all these people on the planet earth, consuming the very limited resources of the earth, and we are finding that the negatives of preserving and lengthening life are very real. Yet at the same time these transhumanoids SPEAK OF IMMORTALITY!!! CAN YOU IMAGINE THESE RESOURCE HOGS LIVING FOREVER?! It's bad enough that human life has been extended on the average of 20 years more, especially in the totally reprehensible world societies that mandate excessive material consumption and extraction from the earth.

The simple fact is that the more human beings there are on the planet the more life quality will degrade and diminish. Most of the people being born are in poor resource exploited countries. How the fuck will these truly materially and intellectually deprived kids create solutions of any kind? Also, I must reiterate that any solution developed will result in very real problems and catastrophes to the effect we are witnessing now. Every solution that has been invented has led to the problems today. Even population reduction may not truly be a solution or answer, it does have it's drawbacks. However, if people on planet earth want to live better lives and ease the pressures they are placing on themselves and on the planet they need to stop procreating now. Both in the rich and poor countries. Also, it would be nice if there were no poor countries n the first place. The resources of one Bill Gates can help a few villages in Africa. This is an atrocity.

*Dick Pelletier is a fucking idiot and I hope he reads this comment.

Black guy from the future past said...

Also, as a heterosexual 22 year old. I am quite certain at this young age, (although many people much younger than me have already produced kids, yeesh) that I will not be having children. I personally think that having children in this day and age with the knowledge that 7 billion people and counting now populate the earth, is the most irresponsible thing a person can do. The human species already faces tremendous resource shortage in may areas of the world. to bring more humans into existence, which in turn will bring more humans into existence, is a cycle of vile death for the species and the other organisms that populate the planet. We will die out anyway as we are a biological species and we wil remain so forever, despite the appeals of transhumanists to the contrary. Let our end and exit be graceful, rather than an utter catastrophe that will result in the last of us and the other organisms being subjected to cruel and bitter misery. Our extinction is ensured. How we choose to become extinct however, is a matter of great concern.

Indeed the title of the post is apt. "The Future" Is Always Somebody Else's Pain and Payment for Our Sins. We have to stop this horrendous momentum, and the only way to do this is to change our current destructive and evil species activity.

joe said...

Bit of a connected delusion.

Yes that headline is correct....fuck those people who have no potable water or watch their kids die of measles I wanna live 4eva!

Governement should pay for that.

That's some awe inspiring level of self centredness there.

Dale Carrico said...

I never tire of reminding folks of Mike Davis's righteous declaration from Planet of Slums, now well over a decade old, that in terms of lives it could save and years of healthy lifespan it could add to humanity, clean water unquestionably the world's greatest miracle drug.