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

Friday, March 07, 2008

Transhumanists Believe It Is Bad To Be Sick Or To Suffer If This Can Be Avoided

This belief is one that nobody has ever thought of before. We are very lucky the transhumanists have come along to encourage us to believe these things that nobody ever thought of before except them.

If you believe that being sick or enduring avoidable suffering is bad you may be a member of this small elite band of brilliant original intellectuals without even knowing it. You should probably give one of their membership organizations your money.

Most transhumanists also believe in all or most of the following:

That the imminent arrival of a nonbiological superintelligent Robot God will end history in an event called the Singularity…

That they may be lucky enough to be immortalized by being "uploaded" into computer software (since we all know how reliable and eternal that is) or superhumanized with techno-barnacles and genetic elixirs that are on the immediate horizon (only, you know, all hidden-like for now)…

That differently enabled people who fail to function "optimally" according to the transhumanists' perfectly neutral and objective standards may be being abused whether they know it or not and so may require "enhancement" whether they want it or not in order to make this "abuse" stop…

That swarms of multipurpose programmable nanobots will soon make everybody who counts rich beyond the dreams of avarice…

That some people are "pro-technology" in some incredibly general way that seems not to be able to distinguish particular technodevelopments from one another very clearly while some other people are "anti-technology" in an exactly equally general way that seems not to be able to distinguish particular technodevelopments from one another very clearly either, and that this distinction matters much more than old-fashioned distinctions between "left" and "right" that silly non-transhumanists still seem to think are important for some reason.

All of this is perfectly obvious if you really think deeply about things the way the transhumanist intellectuals do.

Don't forget about the money part, though. They could really use your money.

For the pro-technology and stuff.

14 comments:

giulio said...

Thanks, Dale.

We do, indeed, believe that It Is Bad To Be Sick Or To Suffer If This Can Be Avoided.

Of course this is nothing new. Unfortunately for much of the human history there was not much that could be done against suffering, disease and death. What _is_ new is that at the beginning of the 3rd millennium we are beginning to realize that suffering, disease and death _can_ be cured. Of course this simple sentence needs several necessary qualifications, but I think it is basically correct. Transhumanists have the merit of recognizing this simple fact and boldly saying that, if this is not nature's will, then screw nature.

Let me fast forward past Dale's ironic (and mistaken) outline of transhumanism and come to the money part:

YES. If you want to use your money for something important, joining one of the transhumanist membership organizations is one of the best things you can do.

Dale Carrico said...

Classic Prisco: Let me fast forward past Dale's ironic (and mistaken) outline of transhumanism and come to the money part:

After charmingly admitting my characterizations of your views are correct -- even if I obviously assess them differently than you do, I did indeed try to describe transhumanist views as they really are by my lights -- you then go on a few words later to claim they are mistaken, hoping that no one will notice or remember the contradiction, I suppose, nor offering any actual clue as to what is mistaken about them exactly in your view, and then conclude by passing the collection plate and hawking your wares with perfect behavioral predictability, again, precisely in line with my characterization. It's this bulldozing cluelessness that makes your every contribution to the Moot the delight it is for me, I must say.

If I set aside all this for a moment, I can try to conclude a bit more substantively and point out, yet again, that if you are suggesting that the "merit" of transhumanism is its "boldness" in disdaining unecesssary suffering and death, it finds itself then in the wide company of billions upon billions of humans, living and historical, who likewise aren't thrilled about suffering, disease, and death and who think medicine is a good thing -- especially to the extent that it is consensually practiced, actually effective, and universally available -- but almost none of whom, you will possibly have noticed, have ever made the mistake of imagining they have to join a weird Robot Cult to affirm. As for your "realization," along with other transhumanists, apparently, that "death can be cured" (your words, your emphasis), I hate to break it to you, guy, but, stricto senso, you can't really "realize" such a thing until it's true... and it isn't.

Utilitarian said...

Dale,

If I were unconcerned with the collaborative process of communication and the actual meaning that interlocutors seek to convey I could nitpick your statement and say that it's not the case that "a balsa wood sculpture painted purple with red polka dots *CAN* be made in the shape of 13 orca whales jumping over an octopus." Since the thing doesn't currently exist, and it would take time to figure out how to design it, gather material, construct it, etc, it can't be created *NOW* or in the next five minutes for that matter. I would claim that we *can* find a way to develop renewable energy cheaper than coal, or therapies that reduce mortality and morbidity from cancer by a factor of 10, etc, *with time and research effort.* The sense is obvious from context.

Sometimes repeated attacks on people for using language in an ordinary fashion to communicate (rather than attempting the wasteful and Sisyphean task of composing missives with no ambiguity whatsoever for a hostile opponent to intentionally misinterpret) just aren't very productive. When I press you for using (and emphasising) universal quantifiers for statements that clearly have exceptions you wind up protesting that this is a poor use of time. Well, in similar fashion when you use BS rhetorical gambits, they worsen the signal-to-noise ratio of your blog.

Dale Carrico said...

Technology will never make anybody immortal. Is that clear enough for you? You are going to die. Yes, you, "utilitarian."

This isn't a "celebration," I'm not raising the roof in "deathist" joy at the prospect, but facing facts (something a "utilitarian" shouldn't be averse to, after all).

This bald barking plain reality is very much distinguishable from the question whether research dollars should be devoted to the cure and amelioration of ever more of the constellation of diseases and conditions that constitute the cause of death in individual cases of it -- and this constellation can include many conditions that hitherto have been taken for granted as incurable attendants to something rather vaguely characterized as "the aging process."

That we should devote research dollars to the development of cures for cancer and renewable energy is a question different in kind from the question of the efficacy of declarations that science will deliver immortality, superpowers, or fantastic wealth to the faithful.

If pointing this out is rhetorical BS to you, or lowers the signal to noise ratio of my blog in your view, I fear you will find me cheerfully uninterested in sending you the "signal" you might prefer -- which is in my view, after all, fucked up beyond belief.

Dale Carrico said...

Also, your comment that my

repeated attacks on people for using language in an ordinary fashion to communicate

to the extent that "using language in an ordinary fashion to communicate" refers to transhumanist and singularitarian claims about Robot Gods ending History, Robot Bodies sooperhumanizing and immortalizing folks, and Nanobots delivering treasures uncounted like genies in a bottle is, to put the thing plainly, high-larious.

Anonymous said...

Is this paper Robot Cultism?
hanson.gmu.edu/aigrow.pdf

Dale Carrico said...

Is this paper Robot Cultism?

It seems like a reasonably caveated academic paper going out on a limb to model nonstandard assumptions described as such. I'm not sympathetic personally with many of its emphases, but that certainly is neither here nor there.

All that said, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to find a text like this used carelessly by Robot Cultists to legitimize themselves (though their own thinking rarely meets the standards of the paper) and promote the false and facile views I refer to in the post (though these are not the views discussed in the paper). But I can't say that this would be the author's fault, although for all I know he might sympathize with such uses of his work. Again, that's neither here nor there as far as I'm concerned.

De Thezier said...

Dale said:

All that said, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to find a text like this used carelessly by Robot Cultists to legitimize themselves (though their own thinking rarely meets the standards of the paper) and promote the false and facile views I refer to in the post (though these are not the views discussed in the paper). But I can't say that this would be the author's fault, although for all I know he might sympathize with such uses of his work. Again, that's neither here nor there as far as I'm concerned.

That's exactly what they are doing with Nick Bostrom's work.

Greg in Portland said...

While it may seem obvious that much of so called transhumanism is, well obvious (who doesn't want to see an end to cancer or live longer). The answer to my parenthetical question is actually that quite a few don't. Some of them got high appointments in the Bush administration (you know Kraus and Fukuyama). So there actually is a point to affirming the value of medical advancements and morphological freedom as long as there are barbarians, particularly ones with political clout, who don't. The problems seem to arise when you give quirky names to that stance and especially when you mix it with a bizarre ultra-right political ideology.

Oddly, I think they really are two sides of the same coin (I know, coinlike and all that). The bioludd neo-cons think we should suffer because of God, or "dignity" or something and the THers think everyone should get all the medicine they can pay for. The results should be about the same. Life extension for the rich and powerful* and death and sickness for the rest of us.

* Somehow I don't see the neo-cons denying themselves life-extension technologies especially since so many are Straussians who regard themselves as a natural elite and the hoi polloi as lesser beings.

Dale Carrico said...

While it may seem obvious that much of so called transhumanism is, well obvious (who doesn't want to see an end to cancer or live longer).

Let me be clear here. To the extent that "transhumanism," so-called, consists of incredibly widely held views by people almost none of whom are transhumanist-identified -- like the view that consensual, effective, universally available medicine is good -- then the "obviousness" afoot here doesn't say anything about transhumanism particularly. What if I invent a koo-koo cult called technoscientilogism that claims as an axiom that 2 + 2 = 4. Have I just rendered technoscientilogism obvious, whatever its other axioms may be (for example, Axiom 23: "I for one welcome our new ant overlords")? Can I now claim that nobody who has even heard of technoscientilogism but who affirms as true that 2 + 2 = 4 is really a "closeted" technoscientilogist?

actually that quite a few don't. Some of them got high appointments in the Bush administration (you know Kraus and Fukuyama).

Bioconservatism and transhumanism represent exactly equally marginal, and in fact rhetorically co-dependent, extremeties of technodevelopmental discourse. One undercritically technophobic, the other undercritically technophilic. Both discourses activate irrational passions occasioned by uncertain, disruptive, intensive emerging technoscientific change, both discourses are attracting opportunistic public partisans (the bioconservatves were more conspicuous first in the context of the Bush Administration, but there is change in the wind on this score), and both discourses have disturbing vulnerabilities to appropriation for eugenic politics, as I point out here.

there actually is a point to affirming the value of medical advancements and morphological freedom

Advocating medical research and development as well as choice and consent in reference to reproductive politics, ending the racist War on Drugs, celebrating the autonomy and dignity and the actually-existing and emerging variety of the differently enabled and so on are all widely affirmed values embedded in longstanding political and cultural campaigns in the progressive democratic left.

"Transhumanists" who want to talk about living forever in computers and not having bodies that poop and superintelligent AIs that are coming to solve our problems for us or nanobots ending stakeholder politics by delivering Santa free lunches and so on contribute literally nothing but confusion and hyperbole to the politics of progressive technodevelopment. And more than half of them are proud political reactionaries or ignorant scientistic reductionists
anyway.

The problem is that if you listen to the so-called transhumanists too long you lose sight of where the action actually is, what the narrative thread in play really amounts to, and who your political friends and foes as a technoscientifically literate progressive secular democrat really are.

giulio said...

Re: ""Transhumanists" who want to talk about living forever in computers and not having bodies that poop"

This is your second reference to poop in a few days and, to make things clear, I will state that I actually enjoy pooping. When I was a student I even wrote a poem about poop for a literature class and, while the teacher did not appreciate it too much (he wanted some loooong essay with biiiiig words), the other students appreciated it immensely and wrote parts of it on the walls.

On the reading table next to my WC (I am one of those who like to read while pooping) I have a nice little book titled "What's Your Poo Telling You?" It is very refreshing to read this little book, whose intellectual content is certainly higher than some examples of poo (aka crap) disguised as deep insightful thinking.

The book begins with: "Not unlike a snowflake, each bowel movement has a uniqueness that should be regarded with wondrous appreciation".

And I do appreciate it. When the Robot God will upload me to an angelic immortal body in Cyber Heaven, I think every now and then I will enter a VR simulation of a physical body taking a good crap.

This is to say that I am no enemy of poop. On the contrary, I am actually a friend of poop.

But somehow I do not consider it as a central defining feature of my identity as some people seem to do.

Dale Carrico said...

I am glad to hear it.

bw said...

>Never deliver immmortality or really good AI, or uploading or superpowers.

Statistical tracking of life extension progress is 0.1-0.2 years of life expectancy each year since 1900. A good near term goal would be to increase the rate of progress by this measure and with a more accurate range of biomarkers. There will be delays (years, decades) in getting access for the latest and best procedures so that they are inexpensive enough to be widely affordable. they are development pipelines. However, the sooner we get things working then the sooner we can work on making them cheaper and simpler.

Two Massachusetts-based companies are working to develop drugs that modulate sirtuin activity. Of the seven human sirtuins, Elixir Pharmaceuticals has over twenty patents and patent applications related to the Sirtuin class of compounds, including SirT1 activators and inhibitors. SirT1 is the human equivalent of Sir2, a gene identified in yeast that plays a key role in the control of lifespan, metabolism, resistance to stress and other cellular regulatory pathways.

Sirtris Pharamceuticals has also developed small molecules that are initially designed to activate SirT1. Its lead drug candidate is currently in Phase Ib trials.

Those companies have a mix of private and public money (just like any other biotech company)

http://www.drugresearcher.com/news/ng.asp?id=74126-wistar-institute-anti-aging-nicotinamide-obesity-diabetes

Stem cells, organ replacement and SENS (engineering approach to rejuvenation). SENS is pretty much all privately funded.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rejuvenation_(aging)

IBM has completed detailed modeling of 10,000 neurons, and million of synapses for a rat cortex column. They are pressing on and believe they can scale up to 100 billion neurons over the next 10 years. Mix of private (IBM, Nestle and public money - mainly Swiss.) Stanford has a researcher working on 1 million neurons in hardware.

Superpowers - which ones are impossible ?

Wall crawling ? Currently gekkomat device allows it. Uses some suction and adhesion. a bit cumbersome. There is progress on superior adhesion.

Strength ? Myostatin inhibitors 4 times more effective than high dose steroids with far less side effects.

>Where "we" spend research
SENS is privately funded so if I and others choose to fund it instead of something you wanted funded then too bad. Make your own money and pay for what you want. For public money, you can lobby for your favorite projects and I can lobby for mine.

Dale Carrico said...

"bw" SENS is privately funded so if I and others choose to fund it instead of something you wanted funded then too bad. Make your own money and pay for what you want.

Another transhumanist libertopian mad scientist creating sooper powers in his secret lab in the asteroid belt... except, you know, not.

Let me make this clear: You're a stupid lunatic.

PS: Cutting and pasting content from the intrawebs doesn't indicate your "mastery" of technical content. Transhumanists might fall for this sort of thing, but nobody else buys it.

PPS: Something just occurred to... "bw"? It couldn't be.... "Fact Guy"? Oh, joy. So good to have you back, Fact Guy. I've been focusing on techno-utopians I've eugenic and immortalist variety lately, we could all use some diversion from the Nano Santa wing right about now.