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Friday, June 10, 2011

Those Faddish Futurologists

It's funny -- and not just funny ha ha, though of course it is also that -- to observe just how thin the line can be between Very Serious futurological flim-flam artistry and the earnest pitching of fad diets, New Age narcissistic psychobabble, and manic exercise scams. On they go, the futurological circus barkers, peddling their wares: immortality via robot bodies! freezing your head! nanobots in the bloodstream! "uploading" into virtual paradise! sooper genetic tweaks! and always just twenty years away! But the tune can change on the turn of a dime, they pause in the chorus of techno-sublime and suddenly instead they're peddling paleo! Atkins! alkaline water! positive visualization! Vegas pill-popper fairs! muscle confusion!

I suppose the most conspicuous illustration of the phenomenon is also the most influential of the superlative futurologists, Raymond Kurzweil himself, who cheerfully indulges his theo-futurological id in handwaving techno-whizbang volumes like The Singularity Is Near when he isn't being the Raymond Kurzweil who indulges in punchy little food fad numbers like The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life: How to Reduce Fat in Your Diet and Eliminate Virtually All Risk of Heart Disease and Cancer (you just gotta love that "virtually").

Although the straightforward credulity continuum connecting junk science, food fads, and self-promotional psychobabble is not exactly hard to fathom, I would also point to the ways in which these forms of kidding yourself for cash can also complement and enable one another in futurological sub(cult)ures like transhumanism, singularitarianism, and techno-immortalism.

As witness George Dvorsky, one of the Very Serious White Guys of the Future over at the futurological "think-tank" IEET: Seized by the momentary realization that all the usual Robot Cult preoccupations are no more available after twenty years of boosterism on their behalf than they were when they were being hyperventilated on the pages of OMNI, Mondo 2000, Great Mambo Chicken, and Extropy way back when (but in twenty more years, man, watch out, it'll be FAI, VR, SENS, Drextech, the whole nine!) the futurologist always has more proximate flim-flammery ready-to-hand, there are always thigh-masters to scrunch and livid green spirulina bone marrow shakes to gulp in those moments when one despairs at the absence of a buckyball-spiderthread space elevator on the horizon but still aches like crazy (and I do mean crazy) to accentuate the hyper-positive. Quoth Dvorsky:
Look, it’s 2011 and it’s glaringly obvious that we’re still quite a ways off from achieving the much heralded posthuman condition. The sad truth is that all interventions or augmentations currently available are fairly low impact by any measure…. So what’s a transhumanist to do? … An increasing number of transhumanists are taking matters into their own hands by working with what they got. And by doing so, they’re pushing the limits of their genetic potential.
He goes on from there to extol the virtues of the usual Cross Training regimens, Paleo Diets, and even the rather dubious Four Hour Body by guru of the moment Timothy Ferris.

While I am far from discounting the virtues of fitness and nutrition in a flourishing life, so long as one remains modest and moderate about the business, I can't help but comment on the body-loathing and hysterical death-denialism that seems so often to connect those who strive with punishing exertions after the Body Beautiful and who daydream about immaterial "selves" digi-immortalized and released into cyberspatial paradise... the strange sort of permanent adolescence that seems so often to connect the serial enthusiasms for hype-marketed crap-gadgets forever on the "bleeding edge" and an endless ego-churn of diet, exercise, lifestyle fads... the conspicuous lack of critical standards that seems to drive desperate futurologists away from consensus science time after time into hyperbole and junk (cryonics, old school AI, Drexlerian nanotechnology, geo-engineering, offworld migration, designer genetics, and so on) as well as into so many self-help self-hate self-improvement scams.

Just what is it with these foolish, facile, faddish, futurological fanboys anyway?


jimf said...

> Just what is it with these foolish, facile, faddish,
> futurological fanboys anyway?

Well, you know my answer.

jimf said...

I spent this afternoon sitting uncomfortably on the
floor of my local Barnes & Noble reading Daniel H. Wilson's

I was a little disappointed, I'm afraid.

I think Eric L. Harry's 15-year-old
_Society of the Mind_
does a better job on the theme.

I was particularly disappointed with the (brief and
sparse) conversations between various humans and the
superintelligent AI, "Archos" (who manifests as a little
boy -- shades of "Roddy" in Greg Bear's _Slant_ )

For me, the conversations with the AI are always the
creme filling in books like this, and it's been better
done, not only in _Society of the Mind_, but in

_The Adolescence of P-1_ by Thomas J. Ryan

_When H.A.R.L.I.E. Was One_ (1st and 2nd editions)
by David Gerrold

_An XT Called Stanley_ by Robert Trebor

and even

_Colossus: The Forbin Project_ by D. F. Jones

jimf said...

An extreme example?

Khannea Suntzu said...

We Dream. Guilty as charged. Many misses, a few hits.

Dale Carrico said...

You're confusing scams with dreams.