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

Monday, December 03, 2007


Superlative technocentrics who fervently believe in the imminent arrival of a postbiological superintelligent Robot God who will end human history, or in the imminent arrival of precisely controlled self-replicating nanoscale robots who will deliver a superabundance that will end human stakeholder politics, or in the imminent arrival of genetic and prosthetic medical techniques or brain scanning and modeling techniques that will transform some of us into imperishable robots and end human mortality always want to make you believe (and indulge themselves in the make believe) that they are the Wright Brothers or Thomas Edison. However all appearances are to the contrary.

What they are far more likely to be instead is the dot-eyed crank in the basement who thinks he’s got a swell idea for a perpetual motion machine or a scheme to square the circle.

Those who imagine they have demolished the critique of Superlativity simply by noting that vaccinations and moonshots and so on had naysayers would do well to peruse the incomparably larger archive of technoscientific hype and fraud and unintended consequences rather than dwell on the same handful of success stories they inevitably fetishize before trying to imply that all you have to do to be visionary is aspire to the incoherence of theological omni-predicates.

Superlative aspirations to Singularitarian superintelligence fail to grasp the inter-implication of mind and embodiment, superlative aspirations to Nanosantalogical superabundance fail to grasp the inter-implication of plurality and politics, superlative aspirations to Technological Immortalist superlongevity fail to grasp the inter-implication of life and vulnerability.

Superlative Technocentric hopes are essentially faithful and not scientific and the hysteria and false certainties Superlativity mistakes and peddles as hope are worse, essentially fundamentalist. One need not, and indeed should not, join a Robot Cult if what is wanted is to participate in technoprogressive education, agitation, and organizing to democratize technodevelopmental social struggle and so better assure that the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific change reflect the interests of the diversity of stakeholders to that change by their lights.


jfehlinger said...

> What they are far more likely to be instead is the
> dot-eyed crank in the basement who thinks he’s got
> a swell idea for a perpetual motion motion or a scheme
> to square the circle.

Yes, I'm afraid that just about all of what passes for transhumanism
on the Web is nothing more than the New Scientology and/or the
New Objectivism. YMMV. For me, same old same old. Instead of
mimeograph machines and envelope stuffers, we have bloggers
and Web site designers.

Well, whatever gets ya out of bed in the morning, I suppose.
Blogs and Web sites are still pretty cool, I guess.

BTW, I noticed this morning on the way the work, at a
newsstand at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the latest
issue of Scientific American Mind. It has an article
on "how to make your kids smart". Just glancing at
the article, it appears that the author believes part of
the trick is **not telling them** that they're "smart".
The author thinks that folks are much better off not worrying
about their innate talents (how much better they are than
everybody else) and simply focussing on solving problems.
If you make a mistake, it's not because you're "stupid",
it's simply because you haven't spent enough time, or done
enough work, or done enough research, or figured out the
right angle. For kids who have been thoroughly indoctrinated
about how "smart" they are, a failure is a serious ego
threat, and the responses can be drastic -- losing interest
in school, dropping the course, etc. (Been there, done
that!) I can't help but think there's a connection between
this phenomenon and the lust for superlativity. I.e.,
robot-god dreams as an ego-defense for somebody who **must**
maintain the image of being smart, and yet is daunted or
threatened by the mundane requirements of work and study and
**real** scientific research.

Nick Tarleton said...

Superlative aspirations to Singularitarian superintelligence fail to grasp the inter-implication of mind and embodiment

Do you have another post detailing this, or do you intend to write one?

The human mind appears to be dependent on embodiment, but it is not clear that a nonhuman intelligence would share this dependency.

jfehlinger said...

> Do you have another post detailing this, or do you intend to write one?

Why should **Dale** have to "detail" this, for crying out loud?

Read George Lakoff's _Philosophy in the Flesh_, or Gerald M. Edelman's
_Bright Air, Brilliant Fire_.

Dale Carrico said...

This rather suggestive paragraph appeared in a post this weekend, and proposes places where an interested reader could look for more, for example:

“Prisco admits that he reductively assumes: “I am the information encoded in my brain.” Of course, this cannot be literally true unless he is completely insane. He surely means to say that everything he imagines to matter most essentially about himself is information encoded in his brain…

“Of course, such a statement leaves to the side whether the “information” he is talking about consists of his memories, his dispositions, the complex relations among them (among these the relations between conscious, subconscious, and evolved dispositions), information as he would grasp and retrieve it himself, information on the basis of which a being could be modeled who would be indistinguishable from himself to an “outside” observer, and so on. Also, such a statement leaves to the side the crucial point that all information is instantiated on a material carrier, that even a “self” reducible to information on whatever construal would still always be embodied information, and hence it is questionable whether glib declarations about “migrations” of informational selves from bodies into digital networks or what have you are the least bit coherent once one attends to them with any care at all. These are questions that have been addressed at length by… Katherine Hayles in her critiques of Hans Moravec, for example, and in other aspects by Jaron Lanier in his critiques of “Cybernetic Totalism.”

All information is instantiated on a material carrier, and even nonhuman intelligence will be embodied even if its substrate is nonorganic. The real possibility of alternate substrate materialized intelligence offers no comfort to the "Uploaders" dear dreams of Technological Immortality, I fear, inasmuch as the possible plurality of differently embodied intelligences doesn't get you from there to intertranslatability or, more hilarious still from a figurative standpoint, "migration" from one substrate to the next. Sorry.

jfehlinger said...
John Brockman: Is there an East Coast and West Coast divide?

George Lakoff: Dan Dennett referred to the "East Pole" and "West Pole"
back in the early-to-mid 1980's, as if the proponents of the
disembodied mind were all on the East Coast and the proponents
of the embodied mind were all on the West Coast. Research on the
embodied mind did tend to start on the West Coast, but even then
the geographical characterization was oversimplified. By now, both
positions are represented on both coasts and throughout the country.
Cambridge and Princeton in the past have tended largely toward the
old disembodied mind position, at least in certain fields. But there
are so many interesting thinkers on both coasts and spread across
the country that I think that any geographical divisions that still
exist won't last long.

When Dennett first made that distinction, the great revolutions in
neuroscience and neural modeling were just starting. Cognitive linguistics
was just coming into existence. _Metaphors We Live By_ had barely come out
and _Women, Fire, And Dangerous Things_ had not yet been written. Nor had
Edelman's _Bright Air, Brilliant Fire_ nor Damasio's _Descartes Error_,
nor Regier's _The Human Semantic Potential_, nor the various books by
Pat and Paul Churchland. Over the past decade and a half, neuroscience
and neural computation have changed the landscape of cognitive science
and they will change it even more in next decade or two. Those changes
will inevitably move us further toward an appreciation of the embodiment
of mind. You cannot think anything without using the neural system of your
brain. The fine structure of neural connections in the brain, their
connections to the rest of the body, and the nature of neural computation
will keep being developed. The more we discover about the details, the
more we will come to understand the detailed nature of how reason and
the conceptual systems in which we reason are embodied.

The idea of disembodied reason was an a priori philosophical idea. It
lasted 2500 years. I can't imagine it lasting another 30 years in
serious scientific circles.