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

Monday, December 05, 2016

A Deep-Pocketed Outfit Calling Itself "The Immortality Project" Is Feeling A Wee Bit Sensitive

So, this is an exchange that has happened (and for all I know will continue) recently:
Quite apart from the fact that nobody seems particularly agitated up to this point, and hence the exhortation to "Calm down" seems a bit odd, do take note of the date of this tweet and compare it to the dates of the tweets to which it is responding. Over six months had elapsed, and the tweets were the occasion for a few "likes" and then vanished into the scroll. I take it back, maybe somebody does indeed seem unduly agitated after all. To this unexpectedly latecoming bit of defensiveness I offered up the usual anti-futurological snark:
Who ever said robot cultists don't know how to party?
You gotta love that, "frankly."
Given the, er, hip Swiftism earlier on, I do think that last "Oh well" was a missed opportunity for a more on-trend Trumpian, "Sad!"

Longstanding readers of this blog know that it is never really a sound idea for futurologists to assume the reason I am not in the pews with them in their particular sect of robotcultism is because I just haven't familiarized myself yet with their stunning glossy promotional materials. A click on the Superlative Summary will reveal over a decade of close readings of futurological rhetoric on pretty much every topic that preoccupies the attention of our techno-transcendental "Thought Leaders."

In this instance, our intrepid Immortality Project twitterer has categorically denied the truth of my assessment of their little racket. Given that this exchange begins with their link to a self-described primer on transhumanism and then consists of their belated taking of offense that I would declare the piece a stale and unremarkable summary you will forgive me for saying their denial of a connection or interest in transhumanism (the first of my charges, all of which they declare be untrue, recall) is absurd.

Reading their own linked report of "Science Projects" they funded you will immediately encounter a study of reported well-being by Buddhists from a couple of American philosophers, a project in which people who spend time in a virtual reality (presumably loosely defined) including simulated post-death experience report satisfactions comparable to those who report having had near death experiences, another report on near death experiences, a project to find "immortality genes" possibly to prolong human lifespans in Hydra oligactis, and on and on. While your assessment of the worth of such studies may vary from my own, I daresay it is not so very hard to imagine why one might be inclined to describe these projects as a bit robocultic (VR and immortal jellyfish), pseudo-scientific (near death experience testimonials) or "New Age"-tinged (west coast boutique Buddhism).

As for my observation that the Project seems like "a transhumanoid normalization/academic infiltration effort" I will simply draw your attention to the Project's self-description on its own website's splash page: "[Our] questions include: whether and in what form(s) persons survive or could survive bodily death... the present time as an auspicious one to launch a unified, organized, and open-minded project that will (1) stimulate research from across the disciplines in attempt to make progress on these themes (2) disseminate this research to an especially receptive public..."
The reason that phrase is in quotes, by the way, is because it comes yet again from the Project's self-description of its research aims on its splash page. You may recall that these ambitions, like the Project's aforementioned proposals to fund techno-immortalization progress and proselytize the reasonableness and desirability of such priorities to a wider public, were the aims declared "modest" earlier in this exchange. So modest, indeed! And so very scientific!


Bizarro Freedom said...

I feel more and more that transhumanism wrecks genuine research into human health and life span because of their insistance on immortality and a variety of other body hating schemes but then again that is why i read this blog so i can see you expose them for the cult they are.

Dale Carrico said...

I think you make a good point -- people may lose the capacity to assess the costs, risks, benefits of legitimate medical research and qualified results when all of this gets hyperbolized through techno-transcendental marketing/TrueBeliever narratives of sooper-capacitation, immortalization, hyper-individualization, etc.

Mostly, I think this stuff lends itself to scams and frauds that reward privileged upward failures and sociopathic CEOs.

Lately though I wonder more and more about how the fetish for quantification in the epoch of ubiquitous but secretive algorithmic mediation may be even more dangerous: the idea that well-being, longevity, social order, the mysteries of the universe are all matters of cranking the calliope and running the numbers.

A lot of rather insensitive dullards are being celebrated as geniuses at the moment who seem to believe even person and even the whole universe is an algorithm, which is, at best, an occasionally and incidentally useful but all in all flabbergastingly inapt and inept metaphor.

The robocultic sects were early adopters of this metaphor -- what Lanier warned people about as the ideology of "cybernetic totalism" and what Hayles explicated in her readings of formative documents of information science -- with their Bayesian envangelism and information-theoretic death and crypto-anarchic fever dreams.

That robocultic discourses are a white-hot collision point for techno-utopian/dystopian eugenic-eliminationism AND digi-dematerialism makes them, as always, a fascinating and symptomatic iceberg tip of the suicidal-genocidal extractive-industrial-consumer-financial corporate-militarist monster of neoliberal/neoconservative planetarity.

But, as always, if you really want to see where the action is, it is better still to read the white papers at the think tanks and watch and late-nite commercials... there you find the throbbing catastrophic death-dealing life robocultic futurologal rhetoric condenses and clarifies and reduces to absurdity.