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

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Advice for Technophiles

In a nutshell, what would I like to see more of and less of in the discourse of progressive technology advocates and critics? Less ranting agin gument more policy, maybe? Less singularity more regulation. Less immortality more genetic medicine. Less clone more cure. Less evolution more creation. Less inevitability more choice. Less "super" more "open". Less AI more automation. Less hype more reasons. Less "more than human" more "more kinds of human". Less "Bright" more Separation of Church and State. Less America more globe. Less California Ideology more Canada Ideology. I'm just saying.


Michael said...

Hey Dale, I hope you're doing well. :)

I strongly agree with some of what you say here, and strongly disagree with some other things you say. I feel that you perform a valuable service to the transhumanist community in helping us "keep it real" and being PR-savvier. However, I deeply feel your conservative approach misses the severe urgency of preparing for the imminent near-future arrival of what you might call "superlative" technologies.

In the past few weeks I've been researching nanotechnology in depth. By any measure, this technology alone is "superlative" relative to our present-day levels of technology. Heck, nukes are "superlative" relative to throwing spears, aren't they? I realized that I could have easily replaced all mentions of Singularity and AI in our earlier arguments with references to nanotech and assemblers, and much of the fundamental shock factor would remain.

For example, you link the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology from your site, but I have a sneaking suspicion (perhaps unfounded) that you have not read that site in detail. To make a long story short, what Mike and Chris are arguing is that, within the coming decade or two, either 1) billions of humans beings could be dead, or 2) our Earth could be in a state of "near-utopia". (Mike's interview with Dr. J includes that exact phrasing.)

Chris and Mike's arguments ultimately emerge from cut-and-dry number crunching and theorizing in the domains of chemistry, physics, and so on. But their arguments are shocking and horribly disturbing. I strongly suggest you read the follow "Top 30 Essential Studies in Nanotechnology":

The "rational state of mind" to be in with respect to nanotechnology, at this moment, is one of panic. Our entire civilization could suffer terrible damage in the very near-term future. The US is not significantly ahead of other nations in development of the technology, and even if it were, the US has already stated that it will use nanotechnology in military applications. This is not the time to be conservative - this is the time to drop everything and work our asses off to ensure that we don't bite the dust in the near future.

If nanotechnology is developed and applied to the manufacture of bulk weapons, the consequences will be catastrophic.

I wish that saying "less inevitability more choice" would make it so. But nanotech will inevitably be developed this decade or the next despite any wishes to the contrary. Human opinions cannot change the laws of physics. If we approach the future with a linear (or soft exponential) view of progress, we will be forced to face harsh consequences when our model fails to map to reality.

There will be no politics, no economy as we know them after the arrival of MNT. Our current paradigms are more fragile than they seem, and would be radically rearranged in a post-MNT world, nevermind a post-AI world. Life ain't going to be like it used to be, and many transhumanists still don't get this.

(End of tirade.)

Anyway Dale, I want to post the above to wta-talk and/or extropy, but want to post it here first so you have time to respond at your leisure. I think that our exchanges (which are essentially debates, however you want to slice it, although they are clearly civil and non-confrontational debates) highlight a conflict occuring within the hearts and minds of significant percentage of transhumanists or even futurists in general. I see us, in a sense (sorta), as parallel to Lanier and Kurzweil, although I think we communicate more meaningfully and engage each other's points with more sincerity. I hope we can continue to engage in these discussions in the future (as time permits).

Anyway, now to quickly address a few of your specific statements in this post:

Ranting can be good for brainstorming, but it should always be in service of formulating solid ideas (policies), not in place of them.

I am strongly in favor of many types of regulation and am not a libertarian. Placing "Singularity" opposite "regulation" makes me think you associate the Singularity with disregulation. That's not what the Singularity is. The "Singularity" means the creation of an intelligence smarter than you. It's dangerous because an intelligence significantly smarter than you could kill you (and all humans) quite quickly if it didn't want you around. Humans are just bags of flesh dotting the landscape, trivial obstacles to a superintelligence with nanotechnology.

"Less immortality more genetic medicine". Hm. Is this an "angle" you're arguing for - that we should be talking about genetic medicine as a subgoal of gaining more credibility as a subgoal of garnering support to make real immortality possible within a few decades? (I'm trying to model your world model as best I can.) The implicit statement you're making here is that the humanitarian benefits of sounding conservative and appealing slightly to a great number of conventional thinkers outweighs the benefits of being "radical" and appealing *greatly* to a small number of highly progressive thinkers. Am I getting the gist or no?

Less clone more cure, less evolution more creation, less hype more reasons, less Bright more Separation of Church and State, less America more globe, less California ideology more Canada ideology, I agree with all of these things.

As far as "less AI more automation" goes, that's fine and dandy (I wouldn't horribly mind), but according to my current model, all it takes is one un-empathic AI that can improve its own hardware and abilities and we're all dead, dead, dead. You can't take precautions and you can't fight back against something that's smarter than you. You just die and that's it. I feel that AI is worth focusing on because it is potentially so lethal. A %0.001 chance of humanity being exterminated would be far more than enough to make this a really big deal.

On a lighter note, again, I hope you're doing well, and hope we can get together and watch some anime sometime this month! ^^ Btw, can you send me a copy of your MA thesis, if possible?

Michael Anissimov

George said...

Not so fast with your "more like Canada" comment. Recent months have seen a resurgence in conservative politics here. We're a couple of weeks away from the federal election, and it appears the Liberal government may lose its majority, or even the election altogether to Roy Harper and the Conservative party. There's been some backlash to recent progressive legislation re: same sex marriages, and some Canadians are actually pushing for closer ties to the US in regards to foreign policy and the North American ballistic missile shield. Ah well, there's always Europe...