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

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Robot Cult: Connecting the Dots

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot "Eudoxia" said:
Not all of the Robot Cultists have to be best pals. Didn't Taurus say he hated Anissimov/Yudkowksy before? And I'm sure he doesn't believe in the resurrection-without-trying schemes of the whole Terasem/Turing Church/Giulio Prisco/PRAISE TIPLER camp.
Inter-sectarian clashes are, of course, commonplace in faith-based formations, especially defensive ones.

Nevertheless, the discursive, cultural, organizational, associational, financial ties are unmistakably there, and they are far from secret for the most part (though some of this is now changing).

It's not like the Robot Cult has been any kind of conspiracy, they have been, to the contrary, preaching for converts and barking the con at the top of their lungs from the rooftops. Robot Cultists have long struggled to overcome the substantial indifference of the mainstream: independent academic attention, consensus science, major financial backing. Only lately has some of that last leg started coming in, thanks to the existence of celebrity tech CEOs with far more money than sense.

As a rhetorician and critical theorist interested in the Robot Cult as a discursive and sub(cult)ural phenomenon, but also interested in technodevelopmental deliberation, discourse, and social struggle more generally, I think it is intriguing to note that the Robot Cultists have remained so marginal, defensive, and frustrated even as their sensational narratives and hyperbolic frames defined and deranged the terms of quite a lot of public technodevelopmetnal deliberation through a complicit ignorant superficial sensationalist mainstream and online media complex and structurally congenial marketing and advertizing forms. But I digress.

Many quarters of the Robot Cult have sought deliberately to sanewash their public profiles through re-branding efforts (the embarrassing WTA to h+ gambit, for instance) or through the creation of respectable think-tanks like IEET and the Future of Humanity Institute, but they were never particularly scrupulous about erasing their interpersonal ties with the more marginal extremes from which they were distancing themselves. The founders of crazytown nodes in the network are often the same people who went on to found Very Serious respectable newcomer nodes. Very Serious sanewashed islets of the Robot Cult archipelago still let through marginal voices, trying to provide of patina of respectability to marginal figures to whom they still retain conspicuous ties. Notice how the most respectable transhumanist Nick Bostrom still coddles patently ridiculous guru wannabe Elizer Yudkowsky, or how an off-the-rails but mainstream-legible figure like James Hughes facilitates the fanatic ravings of Giulio Prisco. One can connect historical ties as well -- you can draw unbroken lines from the key players in the L5 society to Drexler's Foresight Institute to the briefly respectable-seeming CRN (I'm not sure where the nano-cornucopiasts are these days, the absurd 3D printer vogue seems to have complicated that trajectory)... or, say, from Durk and Sandy's nutritional supplement hype empire to Extropy to Alcor and cryonics and Venturism to the Very Serious (but not) SENS folks... or indispensable ties in today's Singularitarians with a long tale of GOFAI (good old fashioned Artificial Intelligence) dead-enders.

Or one can follow the money: Peter Thiel, Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis, Elon Musk, Global Business Network. A slightly more respectable second sociocultural layer of hyperbolic techno-science (but often with prickles of legitimate academic and scientific work) cross-pollinates with the Robot Cult -- Well vestiges and Brand efforts, Wired vestiges and Kelly efforts, Edge and Brockman, TED and its hucksters, and so on. I suspect that the SENS folks and the Oxford transhumanoids are bidding to arrive at this second layer.

In a techno-triumphalist, consumer-fetishistic, competitive-conformist, corporate-militarist society such as our own there are broad affinities between the superlative futurological discourses in which I say the various sects of the Robot Cult indulge and more mainstream futurological frames and conceits that prevail over the deceptive, hyperbolic, developmentalist marketing forms that suffuse our public life more generally. Mainstream and superlative forms respond, exemplify, supplement one another:

And so, in many ways, extropian transhumanism was a kind of reductio ad absurdum of neoliberal globalism. In many ways, techno-immortalism is a clarifying extremity of the sexualizing death-denying motor at the heart of most television advertizing. In many ways, the eugenic "enhancement" discourse of the transhumanists exposes the coercive conformism driving competitive exploitive precarious industrial-extractive "market" oriented societies.

As I have pointed out repeatedly, perhaps most concisely here:
"Futurological rhetoric and fandoms represent the extreme amplification and reductio ad absurdum of the body-loathing, narcissistic death-denialism, crass materialism, complacent consumerism, technocratic elitism, market triumphalism, fraudulent profit-taking, hyperbolic deception and self-promotion that now utterly suffuses our public life through the prevalence of advertizing and marketing norms and forms and of neoliberal global developmentalist narratives and rationalizations. To grasp the ugliness and absurdity of these extreme forms is to gain insights into the pathology of many mainstream values and the deception of official elite-incumbent justifications. Where we have grown accustomed and complacent to these pathologies and deceptions looking at ourselves from the alienating margins of our own discourse can help us see ourselves and the urgency of the need to change all the more clearly." Nevertheless, "As Margaret Mead famously insisted, 'Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world.' The example of the neoliberals of the Mont Pelerin Society reminds us that a small band of ideologues committed to discredited notions that happen to benefit and compliment the rich can sweep the world to the brink of ruin and the example of the neoconservatives reminds us that a small band of even ridiculous committed people can prevail even when they are peddling not only discredited but frankly ridiculous and ugly notions. Futurologists pretend that hyperbolic marketing projections are the same thing as serious technoscience policy deliberation, which is a gesture enormously familiar to the investor class and the technology sector's customary membership, and the futurologists inevitably cast rich entrepreneurs as the protagonists of history, which is a gesture enormously attractive to the skimmers and scammers and celebrity CEOs of the technology sector's essentially narcissistic culture. Although their various predictions are rarely more accurate than those of chimpanzees at typewriters, although their various transcendental glossy-mag editorials and tee-vee ready techno-rapture narratives are rarely more scientific in their actual substance than those of evangelical preachers, although their dog and pony show sounds almost exactly the same now as it did five years ago, ten years ago, fifteen years ago, twenty years ago, twenty-five years ago as they still drag out the same old tired litany (super-parental robot gods! genetic fountains of youth! cheap nanobotic superabundance! better than real immersive VR treasure caves! soul-uploading into shiny robot bodies!), and all with the same fervent True Belief, the same breathless insistence that this is all New! the same static repetition that change is accelerating up! up! up! it is not really surprising to discover that the various organizations associated with superlative futurology are attracting more and more money and support and attention from the rich narcissistic CEOs of the technology sector whose language they have been speaking and whose egos they have been stroking so assiduously for years and for whom they provide such convenient rationalizations for elite-incumbent rule. You better believe that, ridiculous and crazy though they may be, the Robot Cultists with well funded organizations (like the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford, Global Business Network, Long Now Foundation, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology, Singularity Summit to name a few) to disseminate their pet wish-fulfillment fantasies and authoritarian rationalizations can do incredible damage in the real world."


Summerspeaker said...

If Bostrom is the most respectable transhumanist, that further undermines respectability.

Dale Carrico said...

I would venture to say that both my claim and yours are likely true -- something that doesn't happen all that often with us two!

joe said...

To be fair I'm not sure Musk belong's with this lot.
Especially of Kurzweil's increasing goofballness.
Or Thiel's...creepyness.

Musk has said repeatedly his fondest wish would be to set foot on Mars and die there looking out the front window of the first human colony...
That sounds a little more adventurous and risk taking then most cryonicist/TH etc types, who's only goal seems to be avoiding death by being super cautious, so as to get frozen then wait for the "glorious future".

Dale Carrico said...

JimF posted this elaboration to the comment that I re-posted as this original post, and the elaboration deserves to be read here as well:

> . . .from Durk and Sandy's nutritional supplement hype empire to Extropy. . .

A bit of entertainment from 1979 (via YouTube):

Tom Snyder Interviews Durk Pearson and Jerry Pournelle Pt 1

Tom Snyder Interviews Durk Pearson and Jerry Pournelle Pt 2

Tom Snyder Interviews Durk Pearson and Jerry Pournelle Pt 3
"While a student at MIT, he was a member of the
MIT Science Fiction Society and one of the writers for
the early underground comic _God Comics_. Pearson graduated
from MIT with a triple major in physics, biology, and

Pearson has patents in the area of oil shale and
tar sands recovery, lasers, holography and supplement
formulations. Pearson assisted with equipment design
and experiments for NASA's Space Shuttle. Pearson is also
an International Society for Testing and Failure Analysis

Pearson and Sandy Shaw are the coauthors of _Life Extension:
A Practical Scientific Approach_ (ISBN 0-446-51229-X, Warner Books, 1982),
_The Life Extension Companion_ (Warner Books),
_The Life Extension Weight Loss Manual_, and
_Freedom of Informed Choice: FDA v. Nutrient Supplements_,
(Common Sense Press, 1993). He and Sandy Shaw have co-authored
numerous articles on Life extension, cognitive enhancement,
anti-aging, Weight loss, and other aspects of nutrition.

Sadly, decades of supplementation do not seem to have
significantly retarded his own aging, **or** allowed him
to keep the weight off. Durk in 2009:

A bit of Durk Pearson trivia:
Wilson "Bob" Tucker, a fan who turned pro in the 1940s used to
use his friends, or at least their names, in his sci-fi and mystery
books. Other authors copied him, and using your friends or their
names on a sci-fi book became known as "Tuckerizing."

Dave did this a lot in the [Man From] UNCLE books. . .

To provide a sample, in the Dagger Affair, the inventor of the
energy damper, the mad scientist Keldur, was modeled on Durk Pearson,
who had just graduated magna cum everything from MIT and
was doing post-grad work at UCLA in physics. Durk went on to
become the famous life extension guru to the stars and
author of the book of the same name with Sandra Shaw, with
whom he co-wrote one of the Dirty Harry movies, _The Dead Pool_,
for client Clint Eastwood.

Dale Carrico said...

Again, I am not claiming a conspiracy exists, I am not identifying these figures with one another, I am delineating very real discursive, historical and organizational connections and overlaps.

Those who are uncomfortable with the these connections should take greater care about the company they keep and should be more judicious about their standards.

Nobody has to join a Robot Cult to advocate for even considerably more science education and research and it simply isn't true that science enthusiasm or even major subcultural geekery leads one into the edges of the Robot Cult or makes one Robo-Adjacent. That's all I'm saying.

About anti-gov/gimme-gov impresario Elon Musk in particular -- all I can say is, read more.

Dale Carrico said...

Another important JimF comment:

I think it is intriguing to note that the Robot Cultists have remained so marginal, defensive, and frustrated even as their sensational narratives and hyperbolic frames defined and deranged the terms of quite a lot of public technodevelopmental deliberation...

To say nothing of the popular "science" newsstand magazines.

_Popular Science_, of course, has had flying cars and nuclear-powered space planes on its covers since the 60's, when I was a kid. But nowadays rags like _Discover_, and even the much-debased from its glory days _Scientific American_ have life extension and brain- computer interfaces as all-too-frequent cover articles.

There's a standard formula followed by these hyperventilating articles, of course, which is also apparent in the glossy general interest news rags like _Time_ and _Newsweek_ when they have "Finally, A Cure for Cancer?" or "Artificial Heart Right Around the Corner?" or "Can a Pill Make You Smarter?" cover stories. That is, after a couple of pages of hyperventilation, there'll be a final two "Whoa there, Nelly!" paragraphs that basically reply to the cover question with the answer "Probably not, or at least not anytime soon."

Dale Carrico said...

And another:

> Didn't Taurus say he hated Anissimov/Yudkowksy before?

When and where did he say that? (And why would he say that?)

The only time I can recall his mentioning them at all was
recently in a comment thread on the "Chronosphere" blog[*] in
which he said "Mark ['Plus']’s insistent dismissal of Yudkowsky
as a 'high-school dropout' is myopic. Yudkowsy and Anissimov
are very clearly more astute than the vast number of inculcated
academics like Carrico."

[*] BTW, my comments in that same thread have not appeared,
and it's been more than a couple of days. So I think I
can assume with some confidence that they went straight into
the pooper. Taurus Londono should consider himself
privileged to the extent that, with Dale, he gets to poop
on both sides of the fence. ;->

jimf said...

> . . .the sexualizing death-denying motor. . .

And Dynamic Hair Management. Sigh.

I was in a waiting room this morning leafing through a pile
of _Men's Health_ magazines, and I came across an article about
one of the unfortunate side-effects of baldness treatments
for men (i.e., dihydrotestosterone blockers like Propecia). It
was amusingly illustrated by a photo of a guy with a
Daliesque drooping comb seemingly emerging from his crotch.

jimf said...

> Sadly, decades of supplementation do not seem to have. . .
> allowed him to keep the weight off.

We'll have to see if Dave Asprey has better luck in that

Maybe Durk needed to be drinking mold-free coffee.

Anonymous said...


jimf said...


Well, bless his little literal-minded Aspie heart.

He's assuming the use of the word "scam" constitutes
an accusation of specifically illegal activity.
It doesn't, of course -- something can fairly be
called a "scam" without literally being illegal.

Well, hell -- the cryonicists are on a roll with
Larry Johnson; maybe they think their luck can be
extended to intimidating (or actually persuading
a court to order) Dale Carrico to stop talking about
cryonics on his blog.

It seems like a long shot to me. I think they'd have more
luck by hiring somebody to follow Dale around, or
by stuffing a poisonous reptile in his mailbox. Now
that **would** be illegal, but hey -- it's (allegedly!)
been tried before.

Also, I'm inclined to wonder what **exactly**
Mike Darwin meant when he said "[C]ryonics. . .
disproportionately empowers people who are just
plain deadly and dangerous to deal with."

Or what might have prompted this allegation:
"The chief operating officer of Alcor for eight months before
becoming a whistleblower in 2003, [Larry] Johnson wrote his book
while in hiding, fearful for his life."

Dale Carrico said...

I'm totally down with neuroatypicalities, just not with litigious bullies and dumbass frauds.

jimf said...

> I'm not sure where the nano-cornucopiasts are these days, the
> absurd 3D printer vogue seems to have complicated that trajectory. . .

"After an arduous procedure to attach her prosthetic. . ." I guess
that means it took more than a dab of epoxy.

Eudoxia said...

> I'm not sure where the nano-cornucopiasts are these days

Checking Zyvex Lab's research page daily looking for updates.

Dale Carrico said...

Zyvex! Man, that's a blast from the past! Talk about the unbearable stasis of "accelerating change"...