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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Serious Science Vs. Superlative Silliness (A Recurring Feature)

Friend of Blog Robin comments, in the MundiMoot:
I scared more than a few people away from my own blog when they came bowing before Kurzweil's magic like fundamentalists at a tent revival, and I have to admit, it genuinely terrified me.

Having been in the AI field for the last 13 years, it also cheapens real progress when it takes 50 years to move one small step in our understanding while the fanatics are waving their flags that say the job will be done tomorrow.

About this recurring feature: I like to post reactions occasionally from qualified technoscientific figures to the Superlative ethos and to Techno-Utopian claims. Such people reaffirm from the position of their different expertise conclusions I have arrived myself at from my perspective. My own critique of what I call "Superlative Technology Discourse" is primarily lodged at the level of culture, discourse, rhetoric, and political theory. These also happen to be precisely the topics both my training and temperament best suit me to talk about in the first place. Superlative Technocentrics sometimes like to castigate me for my refusal to engage with them in what they call "technical debates" on what they regard as the "hard science" supporting their Superlative claims about imminent technologies delivering "us" superintelligence, superabundance, and superintelligence. This is because many Superlative Technocentrics like to fancy themselves as very "scientific," despite the fact that their claims and aspirations inevitably have taken them far afield of the qualified scientific consensus in the actual fields on which they depend for whatever substance their techno-utopian True Belief can occasionally summon. Two things to keep in mind in enjoying this recurring feature: First, it is perfectly legitimate to lodge a critique in the form I have done (even though other modes of critique, including more strictly scientific ones, are also legitimate and available from those better qualified to make them), and those who would productively engage with me about my own critique, whether they agree with it or not, should be prepared to engage with me on the terms relevant to the critique as it is actually offered. This should go without saying. Second, it occurs to me that many of those who like to ridicule my effete muzzy humanistic preoccupations as compared to their own solid, stolid He Man science seem to mistake as incomprehension of or indifference to or even hostility to science what is in fact my own technoscientifically literate recognition that I know enough science to know when I don't know enough to pretend to expertise and so defer to reasonable consensus, just as they mistake as a championing of science their own uncaveated, hyperbolic, palpably symptomatic, often essentially faithful and hence actively unscientific claims. This is a Fault. For an informal collection of texts offering up the general contours of my own critique of Superlative Technology Discourses, and especially the techno-utopian rhetoric, subcultures, and "movements" of various Singularitarians, Technological Immortalists, Nanosantalogists, Transhumanists, Eugenicists, Extropians, Cybernetic Totalists, and self-appointed Technocratic Elites, I refer you to my occasionally updated Superlative Summary. I always also welcome from readers pointers to quotations and critiques available online from actually-qualified technoscientific figures suitable for this recurring feature.


Michael Anissimov said...

You can't do very well in critiquing these technologies or their attendant cultural movements UNLESS they are technologically very implausible. Otherwise, you have been proven wrong... your arguments are a Jenga tower built on the premise that so-called superlative claims are hogwash.

Dale Carrico said...

I'm not critiquing technologies -- they don't exist to critique. As for me being proven wrong -- get back to me when the post-biological superintelligent Robot God arrives, when the nanobots create post-political superabundance, or when you achieve superlongevity by uploading into your digital or shiny robot post-mortal body. If you think the Superlative Critique is a Jenga tower you really must be out to lunch.