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

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Martine Rothblatt's Artificial Imbecillence

In this week's White Guys of "The Future" Report I mentioned that the stealth-Robot Cultists of the IEET are featuring one not-white-guy for a change. Let me add the wee detail that it is Martine Rothblatt who is featured among the usual boys and their usual toys this week. I have had occasion to write about her truly appalling work before in The Imagination of a Robot Cultist, and More Serious Futurology from Robot Cultist Martine Rothblatt.

In this week's contribution Rothblatt asks the burning question: "Would Mindclones Have Rights?" an article beginning with the rather perplexing further question, "What is the path of philosophical and political struggle ahead of us to secure the rights of virtual, uploaded persons?"

Given the ongoing struggle to secure the rights of actual human persons (not to mention at least some nonhuman persons, if you consider Great Apes and Dolphins persons as well, as I do) especially in this historical moment of human trafficking and war crimes and climate refugees and neoliberal precarization one might hope an "activist" so eager to call up the names of "a Frederick Douglass, a Cesar Chavez, a Susan B. Anthony and a Harvey Milk" would direct her attention to real struggles for justice rather than diverting indispensable intelligence and effort into fake struggles on behalf of fictions.

Of course, the plight of "virtual" and especially "uploaded" persons is actually not only not-real -- compared to the all-too-real plights of millions upon millions of actual persons -- but also not-possible.

To say why uploaded persons are not only not-real but not-possible is a very long story, but suffice it to say for now, very briefly, that:

[one] you are not a picture of you; that

[two] intelligence in the world is actually always incarnated in biological bodies; that

[three] even if we grant that it is conceivable that something like intelligence (and even rights) could inhere in other than biological organizations it actually matters that none so far, factually, do; that

[four] intelligence is also always expressed in social and historical dynamisms; that

[five] the word intelligence denotes more dimensions than just "reckoning with consequences" in the manner of a calculator in its actual usages; that

[six] our concepts for the notions of intelligence and rights derive non-negligibly from these biological and social and historical and pluralist facts of the matter, such that to stretch them or reduce them to better accommodate the non-biological could just as conceivably be injurious to the realities these concepts presently name as helpful; that

[seven] efforts to evacuate intelligence of its biological and social and historical and pluralist references in the absence of any actually existing prompts to do so, given the evident defiance of actual sense demanded by this gesture, seems especially unnecessary and perplexing; that

[eight] even were we to set aside all of these objections and propose that otherwise than biological organizations might materialize legible intelligence this provides no reason at all to believe that biologically incarnated intelligences could be transformed or transferred without remainder into otherwise than biological organizations themselves; that

[nine] it should matter, especially to enthusiasts for such notions who declare themselves supremely scientific in their beliefs, that most of the actual plausibility for proposals to "upload" biological intelligence into non-biological substrates derives entirely from the metaphorical rather than literal usage of terms like "translation" or "migration" in these formulations to paint a compelling picture of the desired procedure but offering little in the way of clarity or substance concerning actual mechanisms; that

[ten] it also should matter -- at least to a point -- that so many who declare notions of "virtual" persons plausible or "uploaded" persons compelling do so in ways that also express what would otherwise surely be regarded as an unhealthy disdain for the vulnerability to injury, illness, error and the inevitability of contingency and death connected to biological and historical materializations of human lives, liberties, and lifeways and are no less often connected to what would otherwise surely be regarded as a pathological pining after invulnerability, immortality, certainty, easy money, comic book super powers, and infantile plenitude.

Rothblatt's pre-emptive crusade for the rights of not only non-existing but never-to-exist "mindclones" is a fairly typical futurological misdirection of concern from the urgently real to the altogether unreal (usually offered up in exchange for the payoff of an indulgence in wish-fulfillment fantasy for the many and concrete political advantages for the elite-incumbent few), an instance in which a sub(cult)ural futurist identification with the imaginary post-human plays out most substantially politically as a moralizing dis-identification with the majority of humans with which one is actually sharing and making the world, peer to peer.

It may initially seem paradoxical, but futurological misdirections of public concerns for social justice, moralizing dis-identifications with ones actual peers, radical derangements of the terms of actual policy in the present all usually function in the service of incumbent interests and reactionary politics above all else. Hence, my futurological brickbat that "All futurisms are finally retro-futurisms."

For more of a sense of what I mean by this and how it plays out so often, I would simply point out that futurological "bioethics" discourses about clones and human-animal hybrids seem to me to be surrogate discourses through which racist, sexist, heterosexist, and generational anxieties (among others) are at once expressed and disavowed, so that the substantial force of the anti-clone or anti-chimera discourse seems to me to play out in the company of racist immigration politics and sexist healthcare policy.

Similarly, I consider futurological "geo-engineering" discourses to represent the next chapter of corporate climate change denialism rather than their repudiation, a greenwashing diversion of green concern back into corporate profit-making, a reframing of the long-denied human-caused climate catastrophe into the demand that only those who profited most from environmental destruction can remedy that destruction and that nothing can count as such a remedy that does not, whatever else it may achieve, also keep that profit-making intact.

Even more to the point, at least where Martine Rothblatt's concerns are concerned, I am reminded of the many ways in which Jaron Lanier has pointed out how futurological True Belief in always-arriving-never-arriving "Artificial Intelligence" impacts actual coding practices, yielding user-unfriendly software that mistakenly "corrects" its users' wanted choices and proper spellings out of a misplaced romantic identification on the part of the coders with imaginary AI personages falsely fancied as if in utero, interred within crappy contemporary dumber than a bag of hair software coupled with a dis-identification with the actually existing actually intelligent human users of their products. He has also pointed out the insidious evacuation of much of the richness and contingency and possibility inhering in human historical and cultural change through the ever-wider adoption of "viral" and "memetic/genetic" mis-conceptualizations inspired by facile and reductive anti-biological biases driven by what Lanier calls the Cybernetic Totalist ideology of many coders and, one presumes, a culture that disproportionately valorizes them. Taken together, I like to think of the insensitive, authoritarian, reactionary, and inhumane reductionism and authoritarianism of these "Cybernetic Totalist" gestures of superlative futurology as matters of Artificial Imbecillence, what Lanier describes as Artificial Stupidity.


jimf said...

For a taste of the cyber-totalist culture of Project MAC and
similar enclaves in the 50s, 60s and 70s -- and the **personalities**
of the the people involved, whether you'd call them, by today's
lights, "pathological" or merely "neuro-atypical" -- I recommend
Stephen Levy's _Hackers_

And for a hint of the nasty side of all this (and similar things have
been said in public by Marvin Minsky and Hans Moravec, never mind
the echoes of folks like William Shockley, the transistor's embarrassing
co-inventor), here's a quote from Arthur C. Clarke from an essay called
"The Mind of the Machine", which I first saw in the Dec. 1968
issue of _Playboy_ (reprinted in _Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!_,

"The astronomer Fred Hoyle once remarked to me that is was pointless
for the world to hold more people than one could get to know in
a single lifetime. Even if one were president of United Earth, that
would set the figure somewhere between ten thousand and one hundred
thousand; with a very generous allowance for duplication, wastage,
special talents, and so forth, there really seems no requirement
for what has been called the global village of the future to hold
more than a million people scattered over the face of the planet.

And if such a figure appears unrealistic -- since we are already
past the 3 billion mark and heading for at least twice as many by
the end of the century -- it should be pointed out that once the
universally agreed upon goal of population control is attained,
any desired target can be reached in a remarkably short time.
If we really tried (with a little help from the biology labs),
we could reach a trillion within a century -- four generations.
It might be more difficult to go in the other direction for
fundamental psychological reasons, but it could be done. If the
ultraintelligent machines of the future decide that more than
a million human beings constitute an epidemic, they might order
euthanasia for anyone with an IQ of less than 150, but I hope
that such drastic measure will not be necessary."

Exactly what Mr. Clarke "hoped" might not, I fear, bear close
examination. As for the decisions of the "ultraintelligent
machines" -- projection, much? :-/

jimf said...

> . . .diverting indispensable intelligence and effort into
> fake struggles on behalf of fictions. . . not only not-real
> but not-possible. . . express[ing]. . . an unhealthy
> disdain for the vulnerability to injury, illness, error and
> the inevitability of contingency and death. . .
> pathological[ly] pining after invulnerability, immortality,
> certainty, easy money, comic book super powers, and
> infantile plenitude. . . dis-identif[ying] with the majority
> of humans with which one is actually sharing and making the
> world. . . what [Jaron] Lanier calls the Cybernetic Totalist
> ideology of many coders and. . . a culture that disproportionately
> valorizes them. Taken together,. . . [an] insensitive, authoritarian,
> reactionary, and inhumane reductionism and authoritarianism
> [which] Lanier describes as Artificial Stupidity.

And it's an old ideology -- at least 60 years old, something the
almost-twenty and recently-twenty White and Nerdy guys who
most fervently embrace the on-line >H and Singularitarian
communities may not realize. It's as old as the digital computer
itself, and was hatched among the folks who (quite usefully, if not
in quite the way they imagined at the time) brought the
digital computer into existence.

Marvin Minsky at MIT and his pal SF author Arthur C. Clarke
were **steeped** in this quasi-religion back in the 60's, at
the time when MIT's Project MAC was inventing timesharing operating
systems (Unix's granddaddy CTSS, and daddy Multics) on hardware
that was physically most impressive (the IBM 7094) and expensive
(ca. $3,000,000 1960s dollars), though the idea that artificial intelligence
might be created on hardware like that (or like that depicted in
1969's _Colossus: The Forbin Project_) now seems laughable. But
what the Singularitarians are reluctant to admit -- and what those
Project MACers would have been appalled to find out -- is
that today's **vastly** more capacious hardware, which is cheap
enough to be at my disposal in my own living room (and the computer
at which I type this is hardly state-of-the-art -- I've got
a 64-bit Windows 7 laptop with six times as much memory sitting upstairs
on my bed) is **just** as far away from any realizable plan to
host a HAL-like "AI" on it. Probably because, at bottom, the analogy
between digital computers and human (or any other kind of biological)
brains is flawed.

jimf said...

> [T[oday's **vastly** more capacious hardware, which is cheap
> enough to be at my disposal in my own living room. . . is **just**
> as far away from any realizable plan to
> host a HAL-like "AI" on it. . .

Or even, if you want to think of it as one giant computer,
Google's collection of an estimated 1.5 million such machines.

All at the service (most of the time) of finding porn on the

I love it! ;->

Olivia said...

if you search "dale carrico ucb" on youtube then a 8 minute martine rosenblatt talk comes up, i was too afraid to watch it all for fear of my mind being stolen.

Olivia said...

if you search "dale carrico ucb" then a 8 min video of martine rosenblatt shows up...i sort of got a panic attack when i read the description (i may have posted this comment twice, not used to this device, sorry if i did)

Dylan Clouser said...

I met miss martine yestrday when my husband did her hair and i also joined terasem and just because there is no proof doesnt mean there is proof of impossibility, you wrote this blog out of feeling negativety and thats what destroys our minds from working and evolving, your foolishness is what will keep u inside that tiny hole in the ground upon ur passing while the rest of us who work with her and not against her will make this a reality, she invented worldwide communications through satellite Nd built the entire network, i believe she can sustain our memory personalities and thought patterns as well, mr. Speudocritic

Dale Carrico said...

Just because you can build a red wagon it doesn't mean you can square the circle. You know, there is nothing positive about deluding yourself, but I do wish you the best of luck now that you have crawled out of reality's tiny hole and find yourself looking upon the sweeping vista of the techno-immortalist Robot Cult of your new guru. Hell, what do I know, maybe a picture of you really is you, only, you know, immortal, after all. Religion doesn't have to make sense, they tell me. Whatever gets you through the night.