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

Saturday, April 17, 2010

White Guys Forever Report

Perhaps this should be a regular feature? Given my ongoing exchange with apparently white guy transhumanist "Mitchell" about how completely nonproblematic he thinks it is that superlative futurologists are and always have been almost entirely white guys (like he is and I am, too) even though white guys are a minority of people in the world, a minority of people who will share tomorrow, a minority of people impacted by technodevelopments, a minority of people informed about technoscience issues, I trundled off once again to the stealth-Robot Cult outfit IEET's website to discover… lo! and behold! Out of fourteen portraits of today's featured authors and speakers, One Lady! She writes about vaginas. She calls them, rather unaccountably, "pandora's boxes." Progress!

1 comment:

George said...

Professor, I recently read something on another site that may have some bearing on your question about the unbearable whiteness of transhumanists.

You've pointed out that such people owe more to science fiction than real science. And aren't most SF fans male, if not white? That's certainly changing as geek culture expands, but perhaps the transhumanists are still behind the curve compared to the larger subculture.

You've also pointed out that the technological superlativists tend to ignore the immediate, incremental steps that slowly improve our levels of understanding and engineering. Never mind what "the market" selects from feasible alternatives. This suggests that their problem isn't just one of race or sex but also of privilege. They don't have to think about the basics.

I thought about this when reading an essay by Nnedi Okafor called "Is Africa Ready for Science Fiction?", available here:

She interviews Nigerian filmmaker Tchidi Chikere who points out that, "Science fiction will come here when it is relevant to the people of Africa. Right now, Africans are bothered about issues of bad leadership, the food crisis in East Africa, refugees in the Congo, militants here in Nigeria. Africans are bothered about food, roads, electricity, water wars, famine, etc, not spacecrafts and spaceships."

And Naunihal Singh adds that _The Matrix_ didn't click with the Ghanaian audience he saw it with. "The Ghanaians just weren't connecting to it. Bring the Terminator to West Africa, and he'd stop running in a day. He'd sit there and glitch. It'll be hard to make people afraid of a future where computers take over the world when they can't manage to keep the computers on their desk running."

Reading the rest of your dialogue with Mitchell I was reminded of these comments. In the case of Africa, and many other parts of the world including the forgotten corners of the U.S., not even the present is widely distributed, let alone "the" future. In such places resources are limited and technical priorities are very different.

Furthermore, it seems that the transhumanists' obsession with the combined intellectual capacity of imaginary computers is ironically myopic, in that they are losing the immense untapped intellectual capacity of billions of real human beings today. How much scientific and inventive potential is being lost because so many people lack reliable sources of clean water, consistent electrical service, or access to basic literacy (especially women and girls)? Meanwhile, why dream up immortality for the wealthy few when parasitic worms are robbing sight from people in Africa and the the southern U.S., problems that can be prevented with *existing* medicines?

Natural intelligences are being stifled, broken, and disconnected from the world. Are they ignored because they are "Other"?

J. Hughes once told me that he wanted to stop people from being peasants. But he and his friends should instead be listening to what "those people" want for themselves. That's a future worth sharing.

Since you are a science fiction fan, Professor, you might want to read Ms. Okafor's article. Take care.