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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Oxymoronic, and More

Last week I wrote that
the io9 sub-basement of the Gawker empire has rendered itself ridiculous by allowing a futurological fraudster fandom to colonize what was an enjoyably polycultural sf-fandom, whereupon the Gawker parent-site has been posting more critical and intelligent and qualified technoscience/digimedia content that is too serious sensible for what io9 has allowed itself to become. Any tent big enough to hold Robot Cultists is soon enough a tent empty of anybody but Robot Cultists. Annalee Newitz is absolutely smart enough to know better, but she chased Robot Cult eyeballs anyway with Dumb Dvorsky and comparable pseudo-scientific techno-transcendentalist digi-topian crapola -- so, live by the dumb-dumb Robocult, die in the dumb-dumb Robocalypse.
It would appear that, if anything, Newitz is doubling down on the stooped footure. I don't think I've ever encountered a grammatically legible sequence of words that consisted of literally nothing but oxymorons. But Annalee Newitz, slathering her usual love on the pseudo-intellectual pseudo-scientific Robot Cult, has indeed managed this feat, beginning a sentence with the breathtaking phrase: "Transhumanist philosopher Natasha Vita-More thinks..."

Transhumanist philosopher?

Philosopher Natasha Vita-More?

Natasha Vita-More thinks?

(For more Vita-More, do scroll down to her entry in the Superlative Summary. Much hilarity ensues.)

Here is a more extended snip, revealing that when it comes to Natasha Vita-More one can count on plenty of the moronic when the oxymoronic well runs dry:
Transhumanist philosopher Natasha Vita-More thinks these oldagers are going to be even weirder than tomorrow's eyeball-removing teenagers. They'll be backing their brains up onto computers all the time, so they will exist simultaneously in the real world and in digital simulation space. She told io9 that in a century, this kind of backup technology will put us in the strange position of being able to choose to die when we want -- or to die for just a little while, like taking a much-needed vacation: "All indicators are pointing toward people living well past 100 years," [declares Vita-More] "and in good health and vitality. Aging is slowing down and will be reversed to a large degree . . . And during this timeframe, it will be not only customary but highly consequential to back up our brains on a moment-to-moment basis. Further, transferring and/or copying a person’s brain, including consciousness and mind, onto computational systems will become a trend. At this juncture, it will be optimal for a person to co-exist in real time (the physical world) and within simulations (virtual environments, for example)."
It should be needless to say, that there are actually no indicators anywhere at all that people in general are living past 100 years, let alone well past 100 years in any available sense. To say that "aging is slowing down and will be reversed" is a lie, possibly a matter of lying to oneself, but certainly endlessly repeating such statements in public places where one is surely at least occasionally confronted with the overwhelming evidence to the contrary is lying in the conventional sense as well.

Most increases in human longevity are, of course, a statistical artifact of improvements in prenatal care, childbirth, and diminishing infant and childhood mortality. Human longevity at retirement age is scarcely improving (although futurological hype has provided the false rationale used by plenty of pampered the Senators in the US, who live as long and as well as the pampered Senators of Rome, to champion the reactionary evil policy of raising the retirement for everyday people who actually work for a living). While it is true in much of the over-exploiting rather than over-exploited regions of the world the proportion of the population at retirement age is growing somewhat -- plummeting birth rates are as much a part of this story as modest but welcome medical treatments for heart disease and some cancers -- there is no compelling evidence that the number of folks living well past a hundred is rising in any noticeable way (ancient literature records these flukes much the same way the popular press does today) and no evidence at all, compelling or otherwise, that any nutritional, hygienic, or therapeutic development has had ANY impact at all increasing the upper bound of human longevity.

That human beings don't want to get sick, age, or die has not changed from the first syllable of recorded time, but that wish-fulfillment fantasizing has no power to change these facts has not changed either, so sorry about that, folks. And denying such facts isn't "philosophy," it isn't "science," it isn't "policy," it isn't "serious," it isn't "daring," it is hardly even "thinking."

I won't even dwell for long in the usual idiocy of mind-uploading techno-immortalization mumbo-jumbo that follows forth in Vita-More's crayon-scribble techno-transcendentalism: but (once more, with feeling),
ONE, your brain is much more like a gland than a computer;
TWO, materialism about mind actually diminishes the plausibility of any successful "migration" from one material substrate to another since the material instantiating it is non-negligible to the substance of information (or deformation, or disposition, or whatever thinking and memory and character turn out materially to be when we actually know enough about them to really know about them as we definitely do not know now, cocksure declarations of futurologists and AI-deadenders to the contrary notwithstanding -- probably that should be its own bullet point, but whatever);
by the way THREE, that word "migration" up there (like the words "transfer," "translation," "transmission," "uploading" that are also futurologically popular in moments like this) is a metaphor and not a testable scientific hypothesis;
FOUR, you are not a picture of you, and that doesn't change whether the picture is a painting, a photograph, a brain scan, or an aggregated data profile;
and FIVE, even pictures don't last forever, after all, indeed we already routinely outlast them in our poor vulnerable mortal bodies anyway -- and actual computers of all things seem especially buggy, buzzy, brittle sites to look for a nook to reside for eternity in.
Natasha Vita-More is aging -- extreme exercise and pill-popping and cosmic procedures to the contrary notwithstanding -- and like everybody else Natasha Vita-More is going to die. We are all going to die. Denialism about death merely makes us a little bit more dead in our lives before we die is all.


ECMyoyo said...

Yeah, I dropped my monocle at the philosopher title. I remember Natasha from an old article on Extropianism from some magazine that probably should have known better.

io9 is in a funny spot with their science and tech coverage, as their commentariat is very entrenched in their worldview. There was an article pointing out that several big science fiction tropes are essentially incoherent (light sabers, for example) and there was a gnashing of teeth that probably terrified the site's editors.

Also wanted to add I'm having a great time going through your articles; you've done great work on this stuff and I'm pretty sure that I'll be reading the archives for a while.

Black guy from the future past said...

Yep. That's the article I forwarded to the moot Dale. Truly reprehensible crock of shit. Most sane philosophers and historians won't even dare speculate what the world, or human cultures for that matter, will look and function like in twenty years, let alone 100 years. Yet we have "transhumanist philosophers" and "futurists" telling us everything will be bigger, better , more splendid and knows... NO BOUNDS UNLIMMMITEDDDD PLEASURE FOR ALL!... I MEAN FOR RICH WHITE PEOPLE.... I MEAN FOR ALL!!!! Ugh, such empty rhetoric sickens me. I laugh out loud at such nonsense. My guess is not much will change, even in 100 years. Look at history from Egyptian times to now, that's 2000 years of change, what has fundamentally changed? Superficially, technology has altered drastically. Though one can even argue that even though the permutations have increased, the essential functions, for example getting from point a to point b, making work easier and faster, the directive of all tech, is unchanged from 2000 years ago. SO fundamentally both human behavior and even technology is FUNDAMENTALLY unchanged. These transhumanist "philosophers" (LOL) look at history, akin to how to comport themselves: totally superficial.

Black guy from the future past said...

Quick question Dale. I was having a discussion in my class yesterday about thought and consciousness (though quite frankly I am doubtful/skeptical of such things), and we all wondered what would happen if you transferred a persons brain into another body? Akin to how a heart transplant is done. The individual has died and has a written will deciding to donate their brain tissue to someone who is need of it. Better yet what if you took the lobes of a persons brain and transplanted it into two distinct living bodies? I have my own speculations on the matter, but I wanted to read your thoughts on the matter. Especially since you correlate the brain to a gland, which I am inclined to agree with. I am well aware that brain transplants are not possible as of today, but seeing as how adaptable the physical body is, and how transplants of every kind and type have been/are being tested, and have been successful, I wonder what will happen when surgeons successfully migrate brain tissue or cells from one patient to another.

Dale Carrico said...

I think we can cross this bridge if we come to it -- as I very much doubt anybody living or even thought of ever will. Nota bene: that in declaring the brain to be more like a gland than a computer I am not identifying it with a gland so much as dis-identifying it with a computer. I will add, however, more in the spirit of the thought experiment/romp you have generously invited me to indulge in here, that I do not agree with those who would insists that "I" am only my brain, nor do I concede that the brain alone is the site of the phenomena loosely evoked in the folk terminology "mind" "psyche" "affect" and so on when, to point to the obvious, say, nervous system extends throughout the body or when there is such inter-implication in what we deem perception, interoception, introspection, and so on.

Dale Carrico said...

I expanded that reply into a post, if you want to reply to a still more considered answer to your question.