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

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Techno-Transcendental Tool-Kit: Begging the Question Via Reductionist Scenario Spinning

I've noticed a recurring robocultic trick. Want to indulge in the wish-fulfillment fantasy that you can be prosthetically techno-immortalized by being roboticized? Want to indulge in the wish fulfillment fantasy that you or your consciousness can live, possibly forever, in an immersive better-than-real virtual reality?

There are many variations of this nonsense: say, you plan to keep accumulating "upgrading" attachments, or you expect to be genetically rewoven or nanobotically refurbished, or you plan to scoop your "brain-self" into an imperishable sooper-body or you expect to "migrate" or "upload" some digital scan or profile you treat as your "info-self" into an imperishable cyberspatial paradise.

In every variation, the dream depends on the mastery of techniques that neither exist nor are even remotely on offer. Typically, these are treated as inevitable eventualities nonetheless because they do not obviously clash logically (apart from the, you know, not existing at all part) with what we presently know about the relevant biology, brain science, computer science, robotics. Even though we do know that in each of the fields we do not know quite a lot of what we would need to know to get any closer to such aspirational techniques their aspirants just assume this logical possibility will remain even though there isn't really any good reason to think that what we would come to know that we must know will still be logically compatible with these daydreams when it comes to it. And of course all this sets aside such pesky realizations that we might destroy ourselves or incapacitate ourselves before we accomplished these outcomes even if they were logically possible in some remote logical sense, or we might decide to focus on different outcomes because of their expense, more urgent priorities, shifting values, historical complications, any number of things.

Absolutely we do know that we cannot now do what the techno-transcendentalists dream of doing, and absolutely we do know that the scientific state of the art provides few to no reasons to think we will plausibly master these techno-transcendental techniques any time soon enough, if ever, to justify dwelling on them in the face of other urgent problems.

Confronted with this rather discouraging state of affairs, I have noticed a robocultic recurrence to reductionist scenario-spinning ot thought-experiments: Since biological organisms are material systems aren't we already robots after all? How do we actually know we are not already living in a virtual reality and not the real world after all?

Setting aside the fact that most people don't spend a lot of time seriously worrying that they are brains in a vat or dreaming when they think they are awake for the pretty good reason that getting on with life seems to be premised on thinking otherwise -- strictly speaking, of course, if the lives we are now living are a matter of exploring a virtual reality program then that provides no reason to believe we could run an equally immersive and better let alone immortalizing virtuality on that virtuality, nor would this provide any reason to believe that who we have meant by who we are could continue what we have have meant by living otherwise than on that virtuality which is what we have meant by reality.

And setting aside the fact that there isn't much call for describing people as robots outside of futurological sub(cult)ures for the pretty good reason that actual people aren't like actual robots in the world in ways that matter to most people -- strictly speaking, of course, even if we do say that biological beings are a kind of robot after all that doesn't means that every kind of robot can do what every other robot can do, and just as both red apples and red wagons are red and yet few would confuse them, so too biological people robots and robots on automobile assembly lines and sentient humanoid robots in science fiction may all be robots and yet few would confuse them.

The whole point of this exercise on the part of the techno-transcendentalist is to get people to entertain as interesting and logically possible in the world here and now an outcome they pine for (we can become robots, we can live in virtualities) that cannot otherwise be made to seem reasonably plausible or even relevant in a world of actual problems demanding address. Even if we are robots in some since we are not robots of the kind Robot Cultists want to be, even if we are living in a simulation we are not living in a simulation of the kind Robots Cultists, equivocating on the differences they hope to invest their wish-fulfillment fantasies with a reality effect they cannot otherwise muster. It is a form of begging the question, enabled by the larger imposture of futurological scenario-spinning mistaken for scientific hypotheses or policy proposals.

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