Yes, I am responding to a post on Dale Carrico’s blog again. Please don’t complain about it in the comments, or say it’s a waste of time, because it’s not, and the issues raised are very thought-provoking and relevant. The point is not to “win” an argument (arguments are not battles), but to elucidate and explore various issues. If it helps to avoid tripping your brain center that focuses on tribal politics (and thereby derailing a calm and rational approach), pretend his criticisms just fell from the sky, or were extruded by some machine. The reason why is because when you say “Dale is dum lol” in the comments, my readership look like idiots,in the way that comments on Digg and Reddit make the readership look like idiots. It also means you can’t take criticism in a calm way.
Dale’s post is entitled “Transhumanists Believe It Is Bad To Be Sick Or To Suffer If This Can Be Avoided”. I will reproduce it here, and add numbers to his points (to make them easier to respond to):
“1) This belief is one that nobody has ever thought of before. We are very lucky the transhumanists have come along to encourage us to believe these things that nobody ever thought of before except them.
If you believe that being sick or enduring avoidable suffering is bad you may be a member of this small elite band of brilliant original intellectuals without even knowing it. You should probably give one of their membership organizations your money.
Most transhumanists also believe in all or most of the following:
2) That the imminent arrival of a nonbiological superintelligent Robot God will end history in an event called the Singularityâ€¦
3) That they may be lucky enough to be immortalized by being “uploaded” into computer software (since we all know how reliable and eternal that is) or superhumanized with techno-barnacles and genetic elixirs that are on the immediate horizon (only, you know, all hidden-like for now)â€¦
4) That differently enabled people who fail to function “optimally” according to the transhumanists’ perfectly neutral and objective standards may be being abused whether they know it or not and so may require “enhancement” whether they want it or not in order to make this “abuse” stopâ€¦
5) That swarms of multipurpose programmable nanobots will soon make everybody who counts rich beyond the dreams of avariceâ€¦
6) That some people are “pro-technology” in some incredibly general way that seems not to be able to distinguish particular technodevelopments from one another very clearly while some other people are “anti-technology” in an exactly equally general way that seems not to be able to distinguish particular technodevelopments from one another very clearly either, and that this distinction matters much more than old-fashioned distinctions between “left” and “right” that silly non-transhumanists still seem to think are important for some reason.
7) All of this is perfectly obvious if you really think deeply about things the way the transhumanist intellectuals do.”
1) Everyone claims it’s bad to be sick or to suffer to a certain extent, but they seem to change their minds past a certain point, saying that some sickness and suffering is “natural”. For instance, it’s not as sad when someone over the age of 60 dies as it is when someone young dies. (Both equally deserve our sympathy.) Or that being depressed some of the time is normal. (Certain people, like me, have a high genetic set point for happiness, and are rarely depressed, and we should develop therapies to give everyone a high happiness set point if they want that.) Or that slowly growing decrepit and weak as you get chronologically older is acceptable. (It’s unpleasant, why rationalize?)
So transhumanists really are different. And we deserve credit for that. To us, no nonconsensual pain or suffering is acceptable. To lessen it, we propose not just modifying our surroundings (as has already been done for ages, and all of us fully take advantage of by living in heated houses), but by modifying our bodies and brains (which has only been done to a very limited extent thus far). Is Dale saying that modifying our surroundings is OK, but modifying ourselves isn’t? Or what?
For more on this, see Transhumanism as Simplified Humanism, by transhumanist guru Eliezer Yudkowsky (see what I did there?)
2) “Nonbiological superintelligent Robot God” is quite redundant. Nonbiological and robot are practically the same and superintelligent and God are practically the same. Anyway, yes, it makes sense that a superintelligent AI, if it’s technologically possible, would change the world quite significantly. For one thing, it could copy itself numerous times, and share cognitive content instantly.
Think about the differences between humans and chimps — we have 98.4% genetic similarity, yet humans can build a technologically advanced civilization, whereas chimps can’t. To chimps, we are “superintelligent”. If an additional 1.6% genetic difference, produced perhaps through gene therapy, created a new being smarter than us as we are than chimps, would it seem “superintelligent”? Yes, it would. So dismissing superintelligence so readily is foolish.
We’ve already used genetic engineering to enhance intelligence — in mice. It’s only a matter of time until it gets used on humans. And as for AI, we have no idea of telling how difficult it is, but we can say that once we get human-equivalent AI (even if it takes 100 years), superintelligent AI will soon follow. This is because of copying, faster substrate, instant information sharing, and other reasons. The debate is still open, but this is a technical argument, not a cultural one, and though Dale will never respond with a technical rebuttal (he never does), I’m putting it forth for the benefit of the audience.
Once superintelligent AI or intelligence-enhanced people are created, Homo sapiens won’t be the smartest species on the block anymore. It’s not the “end of history”, but it’s a damn significant milestone. Dale (and some others) like to laugh about the possibility and ignore it, because it doesn’t fit in neatly with their worldviews. That’s fine, because every day more people do take it seriously, and it’s a free country, so we’re free to continue doing so. (Though of course that won’t stop Dale from calling us mean-spirited names.)
3) The uploading argument just has to do with using functionalism as a philosophy of mind. I do, so I believe uploading is possible. Computing software isn’t necessarily reliable, but the question should be, “is it less reliable than a chunk of slowly rotting proteins?” The answer, in some circumstances, may be no.
As for “superhumanizing”, even simple things like better nutrition may be behind the global average rise of intelligence, called the Flynn effect. So obviously, we can modify our bodies to make them better, however we personally define that. Of course, you’d think Dale would be tolerant of people doing whatever they want to their own bodies, but in this case, he seems to be remarkably intolerant. Here’s an idea — if scientists come up with a therapy or implant that makes my life better, and it makes it to market, how about letting me use it without calling me names?
In the past, Dale has expressed support for the phrase “keep your laws off my body”, but he seems to throw it out the window unless it applies to a woman’s right to choose. Intolerance towards transhumanist modifications is the sort of thing that leads to laws against them, regulating people’s bodies by law. I have a better idea — be tolerant, and discourage laws that regulate what people do with their bodies. Dale is discriminating against trans-human individuals before they even have a chance to exist yet. That’s like double discrimination.
4) Transhumanists believe people should be able to do what they want. “Optimal” is subjective, though there may be significant intersubjective consensus on matters. For instance, some tribes in Africa believe that female circumcision is just fine and dandy, but civilized nations argue otherwise. We can’t predict what people in the future will think about the way we live today. No one should have their body touched or otherwise manipulated without their permission. I even think that spanking your children should be against the law, so I (a typical transhumanist) can hardly be accused of forcing people to be “enhanced” if they don’t want it. (Though I can be accused of telling people to refrain from physically punishing their own children, however reasonable they mistakenly think it is.)
Dale seems to have convinced himself that transhumanists advocate mandatory body mods simply because we feel the word “enhancement” is politically correct, while he doesn’t. “Enhancement” implies that some state of being or mind is more enjoyable or effective than another, heaven forbid the thought. He is so offended that we even use the word, he wants to demonize us for it. There’s another way: stop doing it.
An excerpt from the Wikipedia page on the topic may be illuminating:
“Many critics argue that “human enhancement” is a loaded term which has eugenic overtones because it may imply the improvement of human hereditary traits to attain a universally accepted norm of biological fitness (at the possible expense of human biodiversity and neurodiversity), and therefore can evoke negative reactions far beyond the specific meaning of the term. Furthermore, they conclude that enhancements which are self-evidently good, like “fewer diseases”, are more the exception than the norm and even these may involve ethical tradeoffs, as the controversy about ADHD arguably demonstrates.”
How about this. We accept that there are some enhancements that more people will agree are really “enhancements”, and some that are more controversial. We use the enhancements we want (or none), and force no one else to obey our opinion. There, wasn’t that easy?
5) I doubt swarms of nanobots would ever really be used in the near term, because it’s far easier to create nanobots simply fastened down into place and put in a vacuum-filled box. This avoids all the complex calculations necessary for swarming behavior, avoid infrastructure for flight, and allows a more controlled manufacturing environment.
I’m not sure that molecular manufacturing is possible, but I think it probably is, and if so, it will definitely increase our ability to manufacture what we want for lower prices. If molecular machines can be built into programmable nanorobots, molecular manufacturing will be possible. This would be especially beneficial for the world’s poorest, who lack even the most basic necessities. Whether or not molecular manufacturing is plausible is a whole other argument, again, a technical one, not a cultural one. Regardless, we can expect global per capita GDP to increase, as it has since the Industrial Revolution. By the standards of Medieval Europe, today we are wealthy “beyond dreams of avarice”. Who then would have thought that today we’d have metallic spires taller than their tallest buildings, capable of flying through the sky faster than the speed of sound?
6) I agree with Dale here that the “pro-techology” and “anti-techology” labels are insufficiently subtle to grasp the reality of people’s complex opinions. As for politics, plenty of transhumanists think politics is important and have their own political stance. That’s why the vast majority of people voted for an actual political group in WTA (World Transhumanist Association) surveys and very few people called themselves “upwinger”. As for Dale, it seems that anyone who doesn’t share his socialist views is considered an evil person. He maligns left-center transhumanists such as myself, saying we can’t really be such great people because we seem to get along with libertarian transhumanists. Apparently we should be polarizing ourselves more. That will help things get done.
7) Obviously not, as we can see from the above. Transhumanists advocate a diversity of opinions and welcome opposing viewpoints. This has always been true, and reading about it in the early transhumanist literature is part of what made me comfortable with applying the label to myself. In fact, I’d say the average transhumanist is far more tolerant of dissenting opinions than the average socialist, average Democrat, average Republican, average atheist, average Christian, or average Internet commenter for that matter. That is why I give Dale’s dissenting opinions air time on this blog even when there are plenty of other things to talk about.
Another argument Dale often brings up in his posts, but not in this one, is that transhumanists have a hatred of their bodies. This is absolute crap. My current body is just fine, and I make full use of it. I see myself naked in the mirror every day, and haven’t screamed once. I just don’t see it as absolutely optimal. But Dale seems to argue that those who don’t see their Homo sapiens bodies as completely optimal seem to have something wrong with them. Funny how his own argument, that no one knows what “optimal” is, blows up right in his face there. Dale: stop telling me and other transhumanists we hate our bodies. It’s BS.