Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All
Sunday, October 06, 2013
WIRED Discussion of Techno-Immortalist Flim Flammery
Klint Finley's recent discussion of the futurological flim-flammery of the "Lifenaut" techno-immortalists is pretty good (and I might even say so if he hadn't quoted me in it). Finley does fall into too many of the usual pop-tech traps when talking about futurological faith-based initiatives -- he begins by confusing science with science fiction in a way that undermines both (eg, science fiction like most literature is not essentially predictive but a critical engagement with the present, science is recognized as such in part by its testability and fasifiability, which neither literature nor futurological belief ever is), he proceeds to give futurological nonsense a substance it could never earn on actual scientific terms (eg, robots "ensouled" through surveillance profiling, gee, it sure sounds completely stupid on the merits but, heck, it's "nearer than you think!"), and then he falsely suggests that criticism of futurological conceits derives from a feeling that they are "creepy" rather than from the straightforward recognition that they are extremely implausible or even utterly incoherent (eg, you are not a picture of you, portraits -- including data profiles -- are no more immortal than mammalian persons are, and even if they somehow were their longevity wouldn't amount to longevity for the selves to which they refer). And like so many journalists more generally who like to end on an "evenhanded" note that empowers cranks at the expense of sense he writes: "People are very much afraid of dying, but that’s also why organizations like Terasem -- and companies like Google and people like Larry Ellison -- will always look for new ways of extending lives. And it only stands to reason that, one day, we’ll make some progress." Of course, medical doctors and researchers and policymakers have indeed been making convulsive progress for centuries and one is right to expect that we will continue to cure diseases and improve human wellbeing if we continue to support public investments in research and organize our politics to ensure equitable access to its results. But this is a very separate question from whether futurologists peddling wish-fulfillment fantasies about cyberangels uploading into Holodeck Heaven to scared, greedy, or otherwise foolishly credulous True Believers so that they will drop more donations in Robot Cult collection plates provides any support at all for this research or organizing and hence provides any substance for our true hopes. Finley very sensibly gives the last words to Paul Graham-Raven, with whom I heartily concur: “It turns out that technologies which extend, augment or otherwise improve human life are already here! You may have heard of some of them: clean water; urban sanitation; smokeless cooking facilities; free access to healthcare; a guaranteed minimum income; a good, free education.” Hear, hear! You can take a look at a transcript of the much longer, more carefully elaborated exchange I had with the author, from which he culled his choice quotations here.